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Discussion Starter #1
We wanted to start a build thread to document the build out on our new van. In the past, I did a fairly detailed build post for my "old" Jeep, which was a fun way to document progress and interact with the community that taught me so much. I'd like to do the same here.

Background:
My wife and I have been long time adventurists that always seem to be road tripping, either locally or across the country for week long vacations or short weekend trips. For a long time we truly car camped, as we slept in the back of our Nissan Xterra. The major downfall was the need to pull out our gear, stash it underneath or on top, and make-up our bed each night, only to repeat it in reverse the next morning. This included the occasional truck stop and rest area, too, which I was never fully comfortable with. We loved the improved sleep we got in the car and the ability to have a little extra to enjoy cooking and hanging out in the evening in more comfort. We had also always been cyclists to some degree, but started to become more active with two wheel pursuits over the past 7 or so years, and even more so recently as we find one of us signed up for biking events every month through the warm weather months. The price of our nice bikes never made us comfortable leaving them on the back for very long, so we have been wanting a camper van for some time. Once our son was born four years ago, the desire for a van only increased as we now certainly no longer easily camped in a single vehicle as a family, especially if we wanted secure bike storage as well. We were always eyeing the nice van conversions as we made out trips out west, but were never quite in a place to pull the trigger on a purchase. This year, we rented a Sprinter while on a week long Seattle trip and loved it. In January 2020, we finally made the move.

The Van Platform:
We picked the Promaster mainly due to the price versus the alternatives and the wider width to allow for cross-wise sleeping. Since we live in Wisconsin, front wheel drive seemed like a better choice vs RWD since we weren't ready to pony up for a 4wd Sprinter.

We looked for a bit to try to find a local van as we didn't want to risk a non-local purchase, but we didn't have too much luck. I never thought I'd buy a new vehicle, but after not finding any local low mileage 159" extended vans at a good price, we started to look for new. I think we did well on our purchase from a local dealership at ~21% under MSRP. It is bare bones, but what we were looking for and nothing we weren't. 159" extended, gas (no choice otherwise now), no windows (didn't want rear ones, and wanted awning style for one set up front), cruise control, backup camera, powered mirrors, 6 way seats for driver and passenger. Not much else really. We would have preferred a different color, but obviously white wasn't a deal breaker.

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The Plan:
We want a 3-person family adventure rig that is setup to support our bike events. Not looking to convert it into a mini apartment, but do want a nice fit and finish. We want to equip it with quality components while not going overboard on things we don't really need as this likely won't become a full time rig, although we plan to keep it for a while. We like working on projects/hobbies too and are fortunate to be in a place in life to allow us to do this, so there will be some wants vs needs included too. Highlights:

  • Queen bed with garage underneath for multiple bike storage
  • Third seat addition
  • Driver and slider window addition
  • Convertible bench in front of the main bed for a third bed
  • Basic galley setup with sink, cooler fridge, and simple butane cooktop to allow for outdoor cooking
  • No real bathroom/shower...just a cassette unit and shower head out back
  • Reasonably sized electrical - 170aH Lithium, 160W solar, 30A MPPT, 1000W inverter, 40A DC-DC
  • Easily convertible to two-person mode (seat removal, no permanent third bed) and convertible to allow for hauling of sheet goods and lumber
  • Comfortable enough for winter camping - Thinsulate insulation job, attention to condensation surfaces, Webasto eventually
Progress:
So far, we have been dealing with winter here in Wisconsin, so we have been planning and buying more than anything so that we can really hit the ground running as soon as we get warm days again. Initially, we are focusing on the floor since it isn't quite warm enough to spray adhesive for insulation yet and we really want to be able to install the third seat and L-track for the bike mounts. We have 1/2" poly iso in on the floor and 3/4" plywood cut and fit, although it needs a final scribing, trim, biscuit reinforcement, and polyurethane to seal it up. We are trying to get some Marmoleum on order as well so we won't be held up there.

Just a pic with the poly iso in. On the one "warm" day we had in January.

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Congratulations on finding the van. Those Ext. vans are HUGE so you can do anything in them. I like your plans but suggest polyisocyanurate on the walls in 1” and use the money you save to buy the Wabasto now!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I like your plans but suggest polyisocyanurate on the walls in 1” and use the money you save to buy the Wabasto now!
PolyIso was actually my plan for quite a while based upon your and other's comments on the forum, but we purchased the Thinsulate several weeks ago now. In retrospect, I'm trying to remember exactly why now. I wanted to do Thinsulate in the ribs, doors (fronts included), and headliner, so I needed to order some anyways. Plus we are a little time constrained for various reasons, and it seemed like it might be a marginally quicker install for us...maybe that is wishful thinking! The Webasto will happen regardless...it'll likely be installed afterwards versus at the start.

Anyone with thoughts on good flooring solutions that avoid the commonly stated pitfalls...not carpet (I know, RD!!!). I've priced out Marmoleum, about $425 to do the entire van. I'm worried about vinyl longevity...lots of opinions out there, but I feel like more are getting bubbling and movement than they say. Might just have to pony up for the solution that I know will work. Or is there an improved vinyl solution with a lower thermal expansion coefficient?
 

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Nice.. lots of space to work with.

With your plan to put a bench/bed in front of the crosswise bed at the back, you might be able to provide for a third seat by adding a lap seat belt to a well-built bench/bed. RVs that use couch/beds for additional seating use lap belts for sideways riders, not 3 point shoulder belts... might be able to design a porta-potti into the bench/bed design too!

Have fun with your build...
 

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On the topic of flooring you might leave it until the cabinets and the rest are installed and use Marmolium tiles to fill in the much smaller remainder. I did a bathroom on a job with rectangular tiles of about 1 ft by 2 ft. and it worked out well. I’d pony up for a good floor even if I had to wait another few months for the Wabasto.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
For the third seat, I had seen where others on the Sprinter forums and Thuel on this site had used a Toyota Sienna seat. After a little research I found that these were available in 2011 through current year Sienna vans (maybe...for sure through 2016) with the XLE package, but not all XLEs had them. My main reason for wanting this seat was that aftermarket brackets were available for it and it had the integrated seat belt and LATCH attachment points. The recliner is a nice bonus. I searched on eBay, which had very expensive options that were only sold in pairs, and even checked a local yard with no luck. car-parts.com didn't yield many confident results, but I eventually stumbled on autopartsearch.com that had better listings with decent photos. I had to go through all of the "Rear Seat" listings looking at photos to confirm I had the correct seat as none are listed as recliner style. You have to be careful as the driver side seat from a 40-20-40 split second row looks very similar with the integrated belt, but that belt is actually for the center seat position. I eventually found a gray seat from a 2013 model that had decently low miles and appeared to be in good shape. The seat was $100, but shipping was $200. Overall, it was much cheaper than other options I had seen at 500-600+ shipping. I dealt with the salvage yard directly and arranged shipment via freight to my wife's work. The seat showed up today. Luckily, it's in good shape, just needs a good cleaning

I am pairing this with a U-joint offroad bracket. They are usually sold in pairs at $250/pr (P/N SM001), but I admittedly got lucky and Chris had a lightly used bracket that he was willing to sell to me. This was a perfect project for this evening as I certainly wasn't going to work in the near 0 F weather tonight. Down to the basement shop! I wanted to document a few of the details on mounting the bracket since there wasn't a lot of info online.

Seat and bracket
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Bottom side. Need to remove the four clamp assemblies at the corners, cables, and QR handle, which comes out easily after a retaining clip is popped off.
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The bracket has a slight interference in two spots with the seat structure.
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A grinder with a cutoff wheel makes short work and the bracket can be bolted in. 4x factory bolts are reused in the rear into the captive nuts and the supplied nuts and bolts are used up front.
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All done!
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Oh yeah!!!
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That chair looks like money. I hate looking at photos with some of the shops. I only have hand tools, working off two plastic sawhorses in the grass, with a full 8x12 shed. But it was 65 here today in Va.
 

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I also just purchased a Ram Promaster High roof extended. I also wanted a slightly used van, found one after several months and it sold the day I inquired, so also went the new route, but did get a 2019. I had the very same thought process on why the Promaster. We wanted the ability to sleep sideways and maximize remaining space, front wheel drive (we live above NYC), and 21 feet in length barely fits in standard parking space, or at least other owners have claimed they have not had a problem parking in standard spaces. Amazon is really messing up the van market.

I was surprised by this article on Polyiso and losing R value as temperature drops?
 

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I was surprised by this article on Polyiso and losing R value as temperature drops?
It's really not a big deal, all materials have pro's and con's.
61035
 

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Before I read any online write-ups, I ask myself a few questions.
Who wrote it and what exactly makes them an "expert"?
(Anyone can start a website or blog)
And what are their motivations/incentives?
(Sponsors, etc).
 

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
Its an interesting topic as I'm an engineer with a thermal background. I specialized in energy systems and heat transfer. The amount of misinformation and lack of understanding of thermal systems on the internet is incredible. It is incredibly apparent in the DIY, and often even professional, van build world. I'm trying not to do a full energy analysis on my van, but I am curious. My wife told me I already think about this stuff too much.

I think the main thing is that we ensure we have SOME insulation to provide a thermal break from the outside and reduce surfaces for condensation and allow things to breathe. Once you get to the point of concerning yourself too much over an extra 0.5 R value, you are likely missing the bigger picture as window losses, thermal bridges, air leakage, etc begins to dominate overall heat loss/gain. Don't get me started on purposefully adding air gaps and reflective materials within walls...too many have allowed for-profit companies to influence our thinking to the effectiveness of their products because they don't understand the basic underlying physics.

EDIT: Okay I did some calcs...for the floor, assuming 20F outside, 60F inside, 10 mph wind:
  • No insulation: 820 W loss
  • 3/4" plywood (0.94 R value): 508 W loss
  • 1/2" insulation (3 R value) + ply: 211 W loss
  • 1" insulation (6 R value) + ply: 133 W loss
The difference between an R value of 3 and 6 on the floor is 78 W or 265 Btu/hr...or for perspective, 3.7% of a Webasto heater capacity. My take away...don't sweat the difference between XPS and PolyIso...consider 1" if you are going to be doing true cold weather camping.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I had a free day to myself last Saturday with "warm" temperatures. Before my wife went out of town we pushed forward a bit in the cold weather after work to get the plywood flooring in place during the week since I couldn't do it alone. It's 3/4" Birch faced with a single coat of polyurethane on the top surface and three on the bottom. I know it was in the teens when we maneuvered the pieces into place. Edges are reinforced with Dominos (essentially a biscuit, but tighter fit for a more flush top).
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On Saturday, I first worked on bolting the floor down. Since I didn't have access to all of the stock mounting holes from underneath, I used a couple of squares and premeasured the hole locations from inside prior to installing the insulation. This worked out really well.
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Before we dropped the floor in, I made some 2.5" diameter pucks out of 3/4" plywood to drop into the insulation at the mounting points so that the plywood could be cinched down without crushing the insulation. Countersinks were made into the plywood with a 1" Forsner bit and then 1/2" holes drilled for some M8-1.25 x 40mm hex head bolts. The floor has a little spring to it still, but I'm sure that will come out as more things are added.

My main goal for Saturday was to get the L-track in for the third seat and the bike mounts. I admittedly stole this idea from Theul's post. Before the floor went in, it took me a good while to determine the seat location so that the through bolts would fall within the ribs, and not on a edge. I attached the 21" long L-track members to the seat base, lined it all back up, made my marks, and then used a router to cut the slots in the plywood and cut out the remaining insulation with a utility blade.
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I wanted the L-track to be firmly bolted to the floor, so I filled up the 1-1/4" floor thickness with a 1/4" x 1-1/2" wide aluminum bar that was then topped with a 3/4" thick x 1-1/2" wide aluminum bar and then the L-track, which is about 1/2" thick. I needed the two pieces of material since the 1/4" bar needs to be offset slightly due to the rib locations not being perfectly where I wanted them. I through bolted all of this and used an 1/8" steel bar on the underside of the body. I'm happy enough with the placement since the outboard side bars were able to catch the folded lip of the main frame channel on the body, which should be a stiff area to bear load in the case of an accident, I just wish I could have located the seat inboard a bit more, but the frame channels were just in the way. The seat then bolted in with some high quality L-track fasteners. We'll be pulling the L-track back out when we do the flooring, and I plan to round the edges of and paint the steel bars and then spray undercoating as well. My 4yo was pretty pumped to ride in the van now that he has a seat even though he has no windows yet.
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The bike mount L track went in easily. Again routed the slot, but only 1/2" deep this time. I used some short 3/16" long 1/4-20 Tee-nuts to hold it down from the underside, essentially making a plywood sandwich. It is only there for holding bikes and I'm sure the 14 fasteners are enough.

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We are looking to have a nice weekend again weather wise, should hit the 40s, so the plan is for more work.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
A little update...

Two weekends ago we were able to take advantage of the nicer weather for a bit. Installed most of a 36 sq ft pack of Noico. In my past job, we had a system that required acoustic dampening to meet requirements and I found that the light weight insulation I tried really only helped attenuate higher frequency sound (which the ear is more sensitive to, so it does make a difference), which was enough to get me by in that case. I'm hoping the Noico will deaden the lower frequency sounds a bit. Its relatively cheap if you don't go overboard. We only applied to the doors, wheel wells, and side walls. The other areas like the roof seem to be rigid enough with their channels.

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Installed lowered bases (Sportscraft) and CTA swivels. I picked the swivels up from leisurelines.net out of the UK. Easy to do and arrived in a few days, much cheaper than US alternatives. Install on these went pretty quick. I like the swivels although they take a little effort to turn. Most importantly, they have no sway to them. There is a touch of rotational play, but there is enough resistance in the turning direction that they don't move while driving. I think I'll need to come up with a foot rest of some kind eventually...dangly legs aren't that comfortable.
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We have also been working on the thinsulate insulation. We have all of the main panels and doors completed (except for the front cabin area). I'll wait until wiring is done before we stuff the channels. Install has been very easy. For a while I was second guessing my decision not to use polyiso given the cost difference, but given that we are time constrained, there is some value for the easier installation. More pics later...but for now, the dog approves of our choice.

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Discussion Starter #15
Insulation is largely in. Doors are fully stuffed, ribs in the body still mostly need to be done, but I want to pull wiring first. Also installed a sheet of Marmoleum Real flooring and some aluminum edge strips. I ended up down the rabbit hole of the internet when it came to how best to install it. So we are floating it...saw some complaints of adhesive failure if you didn't meet the proper working temps. I'm sure it will be held down fine once cabinets and things are installed, and hoping with the lower expansion coefficient that it doesn't buckle due to temp changes. Bed rails (2x12s) are in temporarily to check things out, using rivnuts in the main horizontal body rails. Reese loading ramps across the span, which are positioned to give us around 39-40" for bikes. The nice thing with this layout is that we can easily lower the bed if need be by just cutting the rails down.

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We have most of the interior panels cut out and getting polyurethane on them. I don't have a firm plan from here forward, but we are thinking we'll get panels in, a functioning bed platform, and start on the electronics. We have the equipment and supplies to do the windows, fan, and ceiling panels...so should be prepped to make progress while we are being asked to stay home. This should at least give us a setup that we can use in the near future.
 

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Also installed a sheet of Marmoleum Real flooring and some aluminum edge strips. I ended up down the rabbit hole of the internet when it came to how best to install it. So we are floating it...saw some complaints of adhesive failure if you didn't meet the proper working temps. I'm sure it will be held down fine once cabinets and things are installed, and hoping with the lower expansion coefficient that it doesn't buckle due to temp changes.
This decision needs to be revisited. I agree that temperature of installation is an issue. I read reports of failed installation even near exterior doors in cold weather, but the weather is getting warmer.

Sheet Marmoleum is not like any other hard-surface flooring. Marmoleum telegraphs through even the slightest imperfection in the substrate, thus the admonition that the substrate be as perfect as possible. If it is not adhered properly with the goo that permeates the jute backing and effectively makes it a solid, the jute backing will act as a very imperfect substrate and the pattern of the jute will telegraph to the surface.

We installed our Marmoleum in January. To address the temperature issue, we installed it on 1/2” ply in our den, then transferred it to the van with the aid of a couple of hefty neighbors. We borrowed a 100 lb roller from the flooring store. Do not let the roller sit on the Marmoleum while you take a break. DAMHIKT)

Admittedly, proper installation is more work than other floors, but the result is well worth the effort.
 

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I find inexpensive vinyl rems and/or carpet is just as good for MY uses and if (when) it gets worn or dirty I just throw it out and replace it with something new.

Sheet flooring products, like Marmolium, should never be placed under cabinets and they should always be cut in at the very end of a job. This is a van, not a home (as much as many people would like to believe it is) and subjected to far more extreme environmental conditions than products designed for a home and that should always be part of the consideration when choosing materials
 

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I find inexpensive vinyl rems and/or carpet is just as good for MY uses and if (when) it gets worn or dirty I just throw it out and replace it with something new.

Sheet flooring products, like Marmolium, should never be placed under cabinets and they should always be cut in at the very end of a job. This is a van, not a home (as much as many people would like to believe it is) and subjected to far more extreme environmental conditions than products designed for a home and that should always be part of the consideration when choosing materials
I wanted a “waterproof” surface to protect the BB 3/4” plywood subfloor I was putting down. So I went searching for a full sheet flooring running the pattern in the direction I wanted 159 EXT🙄, & to get what I wanted running fake plank I had to buy13’ long by the width 12’ IIRC. Faced with this dilemma & complaining of the $900 material expense, my General Manager said the plywood you bought could take a stain & clear coat “waterproof”🤔. My build has 2 sheets of ply 4x8 & 5x10 (joints hidden - open floor is all part of the 5x10 showing).

Thus I finished my plywood like a hardwood floor & bought a rubber backed mat from Costco for $12 that I can clean or throw out as needed.

I agree with KOV, many home construction techniques transfer to Van DIY, and many do not. Technically one of these reasons is vans will suffer from the differential coefficients of thermal expansion of dissimilar materials greater than houses that are kept at a more constant interior temprature.
 

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We just painted ours a nice grey porch and deck color and camped nearly a year before we decided it felt cold on our bare feet often in spring and fall and in the SW winters. We have radiant floor heat in our house in NH so that may explain our discomfort. At that time we opted for a piece of cheap carpet which I believe was $19 off a roll at H-D stapled occasionally and cut around the cabinets. I expected to replace it about once a year for dirt but after 4 years it is still fine. It feels warmer than the plywood due to the thermal break of the conduction. We have a throw mat at the enterence to step on and remove our shoes if needed. That does get replaced about once a year. It is surprising how satisfactory the carpet has been. Most cars and trucks have carpet inside now too.
 

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Sheet flooring products, like Marmolium, should never be placed under cabinets and they should always be cut in at the very end of a job.
I respectfully disagree as to Marmoleum. Particularly given the necessity for rolling, it would be virtually impossible to properly install Marmoleum in a van by cutting it in as you describe. Rolling would be difficult enough even in an empty van. Properly installed, Marmoleum has no discernible movement in the small space of a van, and I reasonably expect it to last the life of the van, so there is no disadvantage to installing it first In a proper manner.

There is also personal preference. I would not want the possibility of a spill getting below the surface, and I cringe at the thought of the caulking required to make sure that doesn’t happen. Also, I can modify my cabinetry at will without replacing the flooring.

I agree you have a point as to vinyl floorings, but Marmoleum is not vinyl.

Ironically, cutting in is appropriate in commercial and residential, but not in the van. Sheet Marmoleum is one product well-suited for van conditions because it is aimed more at commercial than residential.
 
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