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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
Is this empty? I suspect you will gain a little once you have the buildout complete, but be careful of the putting in the Sumo Springs or likewise, as that may raise the rear and front a little, depending on what you put in.

I'll see about measuring the solar and the MaxxFan tomorrow for you.

Here is why I need a low profile solar panel solution.

The carport on my house. About a half inch clearance between the trim board at the edge of the carport and the top of the MaxxFan, when closed, with a full tank of gas.

View attachment 70520
 

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2021 Dodge Promaster 2500 - 159
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@mjm6 thanks for sharing your build progress and pics. Keep it up! Very inspirational.
Question about the headliner, do you feel like opening that up for insulation and sound deadened was worth it it at this point? I worry about the integrity of the clips being pulled.
thanks!
 

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Van #2 2021 EXT
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@mjm6 thanks for sharing your build progress and pics. Keep it up! Very inspirational.
Question about the headliner, do you feel like opening that up for insulation and sound deadened was worth it it at this point? I worry about the integrity of the clips being pulled.
thanks!
We have not done the cab headliner yet. It is a cost/labour vs benefit equation for us.

The cab is loaded with glass. A thermal curtain between cab/cargo area can help when camping.

@GaryBIS has a thermal loss calculator on his website if this interests you.

Windows are the achilles’ heel with heat loss & solar gain for a camper van. Then thermal bridging I think 🤔
 

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Discussion Starter · #45 · (Edited)
No this is built out. I don't know if it would clear with an empty gas tank.
OK, I made a few measurements without getting fully up on the roof as that ladder is put away right now.

I measure my MaxxAir Fan at between 5" and 5-1/2" above the deck of the roof. part of this will depend on where in the van you have your fan installed. I have mine in the flat spot on the front.

I measure my solar panels to be about 3" above the top of the van at the center. They are about 1-1/2" above the van and they are made with 15-series 8020, so they are 1-1/2" thick. For a total of 3" to 3-1/2" at the worst if I measured poorly.

Definitely lower profile than the fan, but if you have the fan at the front and the panels at the rear, they may be getting close because of the way the vans "kneel" a little to the front. When loaded, I think that is mostly gone, though, as the van sits down on the springs in the rear more as it load up.

Here are a few photos of the mounting bracket. It is basically the same for all four, and this arrangement will work perfectly only if you have panels that are wide enough for you to reach in the same way as I have done it. If they are narrower by a bit, you may need to put a spacer in the middle to get the full assembly out the have it reach the mount points.

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The Z-bracket is made by cutting two pieces of 2" x 0.1875" channel aluminum to length, drilling the holes in them, and then epoxying them together and placing a SS 5/16" bolt and washer with a Nylock nut and a washer on the inside. I made some calculations to get everything to fit, and it actually went together pretty close to perfectly.

In the top photo, the piece of aluminum and Nylock nut you see to the left is there to secure the 8020 frame to the solar panel. There's a handful of little aluminum pieces I made from strap material (1" x 0.1875" thick x about 3" long) to fasten to the 8020 channels and then to the solar panel mounting holes.

I think I did four on the outsides, one on the front and back on each panel, and then in the front and rear center corners, I added two additional connection points in the plate of aluminum that the solar panels sit on (since there is no 8020 frame between the two solar panels, they are butted together). You can see that plate of aluminum in the last photo. I made it oversized for two reasons... I wanted to strengthen the 8020 at the center because that is where the moment is at its greatest and so if the 8020 were to show a failure, it would flex and buckle in the middle. That is never going to happen, but this piece on the front and back completely ensures that won't happen. Plus, it works as a support point for the solar panels (as does the corner fasteners for the 8020 that you can see in the second photo). Overall, the thing is rock solid.

The 8020 for the sides and back is the 15 Series square with one smooth side, 1503-LS. The front piece is the quarter-round 15 Series 1517-LS. I figure it will be a little more aerodynamic. I got channel that only has a single smooth side thinking that if I ever wanted to put a connection point on the top, it would be possible to do that if I have a slot.

One thing to note. It probably weighs 125 or so pounds, so you either will need some help to get it up on the roof or you will need to di final assembly on the roof on a moving blanket.
 

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Discussion Starter · #46 ·
@mjm6 thanks for sharing your build progress and pics. Keep it up! Very inspirational.
Question about the headliner, do you feel like opening that up for insulation and sound deadened was worth it it at this point? I worry about the integrity of the clips being pulled.
thanks!
Thanks... I appreciate the feedback.

The headliner is pretty easy to get out, actually. It was a bit of work to do, but I wanted to put wiring in it for the rearview mirror camera, so I was going to pull it out anyway, and while I did it, I added Killmat and some insulation to the area mostly to deaden road noise as that has pretty high speed wind hitting it and zooming over/around the front of the van.

I looked at the clips carefully. If you get the upholstery tools in on the clip and pull it up a little, you can see the orientation of the split in the clips, If you can see that, you can get a CLEAN needlenose pliers on the clip mechanism to squeeze the clip pieces together and they come out pretty easily and intact. Every single one is/was reusable.

To do this well, you have to take the lower headliner (the cab headliner) out and also take out the upper headliner (in the shelf area). If all you are concerned about is some insulation, you could probably forego the lower one. That one really requires two people to remove. I pulled it to run the wires and it all went pretty smoothly actually. I found a video on YT for the lower headliner. Pulling the lower one made getting the insulation all the way down the front easy to accomplish. The upper one didn't take much to get out at all.

I think this was it... fast forward until you see him start on the lower one. I didn't use the goofy tool he has, just the upholstery pry tool and a pair of needlenose pliers.


I still haven't put all the clips back in the upper headliner because I think I may pull it to integrate it with the ceiling as I finish the build. I'm not sure how many In-Out-In-Out-In actions the clips will survive, but they certainly did OK for two cycles.

Overall, I'd say it was worth it to do for the sake of completeness, but it isn't going to have much difference in the total heating load in the van in the winter. It may make an appreciable difference in cooling load in the summer though, since it is where the sun will beat down the worst, and if you have solar on the van, may be some of the few square footage that is in direct sun.
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
Oh, there's one difference between the video and mine... My PM has the handles on the A Pillars to get into the van. So, to loosen the A Pillar covers to free the headliner, you just pop off the covers on the handles, unscrew the handle, and the A Pillar will be loose and you can pull it back at the top easily.
 

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2019 159 High Top - White, of course!
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Thanks for the details on the solar install. Definitely seems like it would fit my need. I will certainly consider this when I add my own solar. I will undoubtedly have more questions then. Thanks again. Looks like a clean, solid system.
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 ·
New update... I finished the physical install of the Thule Powerstep 550. It went in pretty easily overall with just minor modifications made to the install from the instructions.

I'm guessing that the muffler and exhaust is different in the Euro versions of this van since the one exhaust pipe mount interferes with mounting the hanger bar in the manner that they show in the manual. It only takes a simple adjustment to get it to work, but none of that is shown in the manual. Pretty simple to accomplish.

I'll also need to get a little heat shield material for where the exhaust line is close to the step. I bent the factory heat shield to help, but I think a little more would be helpful.

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I put it to the right side of the door because there will be a seat on the left side. It is centered in the opening between the seat and the right door frame.

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I tested it with my house battery and it functions, but it appears the frame catches on one of the step screws a little on the bottom. I'm going to have to determine if it is tweaked a little (the frame) or something else, and whether I should try to bend it back into position or take a file to allow the screw head to clear the metal frame. It's a bit of a hassle... it doesn't appear to be damaged, but clearly, there is a clearance issue. I can see it catching as the step moves in/out (when looking at the bottom of the step).

No matter, it's in and functional but I won't use it until I get the electrical in place. I still need to decide where I will be placing some of the items (control computer and the override switch). Once that is decided, I can finish the electronics for this.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how it looks, but I'm debating taking the aluminum and painting it matte black. Almost everything on the van sides is black.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 · (Edited)
I finished the floor install this weekend...

It was a long, arduous process. First, I had to secure the flooring I wanted (hexabirch plywood). Almost nobody stocks that in CA, but I found an RV upfitter in Salt Lake City that had sheets of 1/2" 4x8 sheets. I coincidentally was going to be going through SLC last fall so I arranged to stop there and pick up three sheets. Wonderful people and it worked out great.

Check out the shop if you are in the area or looking for parts for builds, they have been increasing their web presence a bit:

They also stock some Dometic products and other things. I ended up buying a handful of items from them, including a pair of Lion batteries, a sink, faucet, drain, the plywood... it was a pretty big haul. Wonderful people, and they are making some impressive conversions, too!

This is what the hexa birch looks like. The scale is relatively small, about 3/8" across the hexagon, and I think it will be quite sturdy and non-slip with wet shoes. The tape in the photo below is 3/4" painter's tape (three pieces slightly overlapped) that I'm using to mark the future wall members.

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My flooring cross section is as follows:

3/8" closed cell foam in the valleys.
1" XPS on top of that flus to the ridges.
1/4" birch plywood subfloor, glued to the XPS and the wood underneath (more on that in a minute).
1/2" hexa birch plywood on top of that, glued to the subfloor.

I staggered the seams of the XPS, the subfloor, and the plywood floor, so there won't be any softness in the plywood floor. I made a 1/4" lap joint in the 1/2" plywood with the router and some 1" strips of the subfloor material. The lap strips were glued in the rabbet in the one side in the shop, and then in the van when the final floor installation occurred, I glued the strips onto the other overlapping rabbet in the abutting piece to make them a complete, contiguous top layer. I used Gorilla glue for those joints because they are wood to wood and this would make them extremely strong. At the same time, the top layer was glued to the subfloor with Locktite PL 3X.

On the edges of the floor and wherever the structure is (the galley and the bed and garage frame), I put in some 2-1/2"x1" pieces of wood instead of the XPS foam. These were glued directly to the van deck using the PL 3X glue. This is so that there is a bearing capability in the floor wherever the points of concentrated pressure will occur (the structure, wherever we will step into the van, at the edges, in the corners, etc. Also, I did this where the tie-down screw holes are so that I could bolt through the floor and have a really solid bearing surface for the bolts.

Here is a photo showing some of the XPS and the wood framing that is under the subfloor. I the photo, you can see the edge of the floor at the sliding door, the reinforcement rectangle for the bench, a block to the right for an L-track point, and a pair of 4" pieces that will be where the heater is mounted. Above that, there is a block with a hole in it located at the van tie down location just in front of the wheel well:

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The edge of the flooring is built up with a piece of aluminum angle to clean it all up, and when the floor is done, it will have a piece of aluminum stair edge nosing on the top corner, so it will be nice and clean.

Photo of the wheel well and the tie down bolt. This one will be hidden in the structure of the bench when finished. The heater will be in front of it.

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Full van with the galley carcass in the approximate final resting place. One drawer is in the carcass. The remaining are waiting for assembly in the garage.

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Before I install the carcass in the van, I'm going on a run to get the birch plywood for the bed and garage area... After that, the galley can go in temporarily and I can start locating all the large electrical items on the passenger side, and get the majority of the electrical run throughout the walls and ceiling.
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 ·
I like the flooring material. Never seen them before.
How did you join the floor board seems?
I’ll draw a sketch of the floor cross section tomorrow to show you how the floor is assembled. It will show the floor joints in the top layer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #53 ·
Here is a pair of quick sketches for the floor cross-section.

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The bottom layer is the closed-cell foam from DIYVan. I used 3M-90 contact cement to adhere these to the metal floor. I was a bit conflicted about using this, but I figure it will probably help with road noise and will also provide more support for the next layer (the XPS pink foam).

The second layer is the 1" of XPS insulation board. It is glued to the deck as well, mostly to ensure none of the pieces will squeak. On the edges and wherever there will be a concentrated load (the galley walls, garage walls, ant the doors, at the corners, etc.) there is wood blocking glued down. That is show on the left side of the sketch. I put in two layers of wood; one to fill in the valleys and then a second that is exactly 1" thick so it frames in and is flush with the XPS. All glues in with the Locktite PL-3X adhesive.

The third layer (the sub-floor layer) is a sheet of 1/4" plywood. It is pre-finished on one side and is good quality, multi-layer plywood (not the cheap junk from the home centers). It is glued to the blocking with the PL-3X and to the XPS with the PL-300 adhesive.

The fourth layer is the 1/2" Hexagrid plywood. It is glued to the sub-floor with the same PL-3X. The seams are staggered. This is actually one of the primary reasons a sub-floor is used in wood construction (to provide support at the seams so there aren't soft spots in the floor).

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So, I decided that I wanted the seams the never be an issue, so even though I ad a subfloor, I decided that it would be appropriate to use an additional measure to ensure that the seams don't have any inclination to pop or move independently of each other. To do this, I could have used one of two approaches:
  1. Use biscuit joints between the pieces of Hexagrid
  2. Use a lap joint with another piece of wood between the pieces.
I decided that the biscuit approach may be risky because the 1/2" plywood (even though it is very high quality) might not leave enough material to work well. So, I took a router with a rabbeting bit set to 1/4" depth and 1/2" width and ran it on the bottom of the seams of both pieces. I then took a 1" wide strip of the 1/4" plywood used for the sub-floor and glued it into the bottom rabbet on the first piece. I used Gorilla glue for this, so it is permanent and probably as strong as the original plywood.

Once that first piece was glued down in the van (PL-3X), I put down glue for the second piece (PL-3X) and then put a bead of Gorilla glue on the 1/4" plywood strip and then placed the second piece into place and pulled them tight.

Lots of weight distributed on the full floor and especially on the seams for a few days.

All glued up and shockingly solid.

The actual assembly of the floor went pretty quickly. Just a few days to get it all cut and glued in with a few days between to ensure the glue was set. What took a long time was figuring out exactly where I needed to put in reinforcement for everything (which depends on the galley and other layout items, in addition to the location of the parking heater). That too a long time to think through and re-think, check, re-check, etc. For example, the heater had to move because I decided I didn't have enough room under the van for the piping (a beam interfered). That was a last-minute detail. Similarly, I had to move the location for a few L-track tie-down points because of the van structure as well. If I didn't think it out, then lay it out and measure where everything fit in the van, I wouldn't have spotted the possible conflicts.

I'm an engineer... can you tell? It's a nice challenge to develop these systems. It isn't the cheapest, fastest solution that will work, but the solutions are really going to work well for my intent.
 

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Wow, tons of thinking and planning there, just on the floor!
Very clever solution on the seams.

I used to be an EE way back then...
 

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Discussion Starter · #55 ·
It's been a month since I last posted on the build... I have made a lot of progress, and I will update with photos probably after this weekend. In the meantime, my master shutoff panel that I designed came in and I have filled it with the shutoff switches, so I thought I'd post a photo of that for people to see.

This goes in the rear of the van in the garage area right next to the electrical cabinet. I'll talk about the switch wiring a little later once I have all the hardware for that in-hand and operational.

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I had a company in Washington called Front Panel Express fabricate this for me, but there are others out there that can do the same kind of work. I debated doing a front panel myself but decided that they could do a better job and I should spend my time on things that need to be done in the van.


They have a panel builder software program that is somewhat like a CAD program, so you can build the panel exactly how you want it done (with limitations for materials and a few other things like that), and then it will also work up a price quote for you on the spot. Quite nice, and for a one-off like this, it worked very well. I could probably get this fabricated from another builder for less, but the process was very easy with these guys.

I have the drill pattern for the E and M switches worked out (perfectly, it appears) and I could probably upload a file with these in them for people to use if there is an interest in this.

This was fabricated with 3mm brushed anodized aluminum and the engravings are filled with a paint filler. All the screws are stainless steel with Nylock nuts on the back side. The E switch is rear mounted because it is so large and there would be no way to have the wires in the back otherwise, The M switches are front mounted but the surface mount block is not used, so the switches are about the same depth as the E switch overall. Overall, it looks pretty good IMHO.

One thing to note, there are ways to make this cheaper; I had them drill all the holes in the panel, but you could have them do just the large holes and then do the small ones yourself. It will save a little, but the cost is really minor. You will see that when you do the price quote in the software. Each machining operation is given a price, so you can see the cost to drill a handful of holes. It wasn't worth the savings to do it myself.

The Solar goes through both the Solar and the Main switches. The Solar switch is a two-pole, so both the + and the - will be switched, in other words, it is a complete disconnect. Code dictates that solar should be done this way. In the Main switch, only the + will be disconnected, along with the battery +. This is because my SCC indicates that the solar shouldn't be connected to the SCC if the battery is disconnected. So, while is seems redundant, it makes it impossible for me to disconnect the battery without also disconnecting the solar, and if I choose to disconnect the solar on it's own, it can be done while still having the rest of the system working.

I'm debating putting a second alternator disconnect near the driver's seat... I have one I can use. Any opinions on that?
 

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2021 ProMaster 1500, 136” WB, High Roof, Silver
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@mjm6 thanks for sharing! I'm definitely picking up some ideas and knowledge from your experience. Would love to hear how things are going.

How did you end up running the wires from the solar panels to the SCC? Apologies if you explained that and I just missed it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #57 ·
@mjm6 thanks for sharing! I'm definitely picking up some ideas and knowledge from your experience. Would love to hear how things are going.

How did you end up running the wires from the solar panels to the SCC? Apologies if you explained that and I just missed it.
Slow going the last couple of month, unfortunately. Other obligations have kept me from working on it much, but I have made some progress, which I can detail a bit in the coming few weeks.

The solar panels, ( two 210W Newpowa panels that output at 19V if I remember correctly), are wired in parallel because the SCC I have is limited to 25V. I decided to go with the Renogy DCC50S SCC because it would also handle the charging function from the alternator as well and I wanted to do that, but I didn't figure I would nee a lot of alternator charging so the 25A/50A limitation of that SCC wasn't an issue, and in fact it is more of an asset in my mind.

Anyway, 420W of solar at 12v is about 35A, so I'm not really maxing out the SCC. If it is limited to 25A, which it will be if I'm charging via the alternator, then it'll just accept 25A of current and the panels will be slightly underutilized. I don't see that happening much, because as long as I have sun, I will charge fully from the solar, and not use the alternator anyway, in which case, the SCC is limited to 50A.

So, in from the roof through a small gland from DIYVan in the roof with a pair of #8 solar wires and through a 2-pole switch to disconnect both positive and negative from the system. From there, the positive then also goes through the larger 2-pole switch that also disconnects the battery because the manual for the DCC states that you can damage the SCC if you have the solar plugged in and don't have a battery connected.

After that first switch, everything else in the system is #6 welding cable wire, so oversized a little. I standardized mostly on #6 for all of that kind of wiring, with the exceptions of #4 for the feed from the alternator and the 2/0 that I used for all the battery and inverter connections.

I can sketch a one-line if you need a little more info. I haven't tried to make a really clean wiring install because it is all hidden inside a cabinet and I didn't want to give up space to forcing the wire runs to be neat and rectilinear. So, I couldn't show the wiring and have it be understandable at all.

Hopefully, I answered your question, but if not, let me know, and I'll provide a bit more detail.
 

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Discussion Starter · #58 ·
New progress...

I finished some 1/4" bamboo plywood panels for the door inserts to replace the plastic panels that were on the van when I bought it. For the bottom panels, I was able to use the existing plastic ones as a pattern, but the top ones didn't have a cover, so I made templates out of cardboard and made adjustments until they fit.

However, the rear door top panels are a bit of an anomaly... They put in the panel relief detents that stiffen the panel, but they didn't make it large enough to accommodate holes in the recessed parts to clip on a panel in the same manner as the rest of them. Not sure why they did that. It offends my OCD sensibility to have all the panels on the van done one way and then have these two on the upper rear doors done differently, so I made straps for the hole that I riveted to each side and then drilled holes in them to accommodate the exact same fasteners as the rest of the panels. It took few hours that I could have been doing something else, but it is done now and they look nice and consistent with the rest.

Here's a few photos of some of the panels.
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You can see the upper rear doors are flush and use the same fasteners. I see a lot of people instead make a much larger panel that sits proud of the door and is fastened by the six holes that are an inch away on the sides and bottom and about 3 inches away on the top. I decided to fill those holes with the same fastener, just to keep dirt and bugs out of the cavity. I still need to find some kind of rubber grommet cap for the larger holes (the you can see one of on the right corner of the window).

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I've been working on wiring, so there is a bunch hanging down on the door right now. There will be a control panel up there and a small bank of switches in the B Pillar down on the left where you can reach them from outside easily.

I'll show some info on that in a little while once I have that a bit further along.

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I'm working on the electrical, the heater, the galley, the exterior lights, upper cabinets... and lots more, but it's somewhat piecemeal.

I finally have (I think) all the lights and the lighting controls I needed. I did some testing and they work nicely. I'll specifically detail this info in another post when I'm a little farther along and can show the lighting controls a bit better.
 

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Discussion Starter · #60 ·
Nice work on the panels. They look beautiful!
Thanks for the comment! I'm please with how they came out. I think I did about 15-20 different stain blend tests before settling on what I chose.
 
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