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My "Overnight Plus" Build II

80144 Views 117 Replies 27 Participants Last post by  Lolaeliz

This is a repost of my earlier thread with picture links that should actually work (not Google pics, that appears to have issues for some)

Having posted bits and pieces over the past year and a half, and now that my Promaster project has been road (and sleep) tested for a half dozen nights, I decided it might be a good time to bring it all together in one place.

A good starting point is my van, sitting at the dealer in VT. Found it online, worked the deal, drove to VT from CT and so the saga begins. Went to VT because I wanted a Graphite van, and CT dealers seemed to have ordered some in white, others in white, and the rest... in white! Purchased in August 2014.

It's a 159wb, high roof, gas engine, automatic 2014 Promaster.

In this thread, I plan to document some of the projects along the way as I continue to work on the project. Still a way to go.....

Hope this thread is useful to others who may view it for ideas, or as a reference on "one way to do it" or, for some, "what not to do!" If some of this looks familiar to old timers on the forum, it's probably because I may have posted some parts previously...sorry for the repeat, but figured it would be easier in the long run to have a single build thread.

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Design Thoughts

The basic design philosophy for my build is to create a comfortable camper for long and short trips, but not for sleeping in every night for an extended period.. then again....

On our first trip, we went for 3 weeks from CT to FL and back. Took about 6 days to get to FL, camping for one night in York PA at the Fairgounds where we were attending a large model train meet. About a week later we camped two nights in Ft Wilderness at WDW. Then on the way home during week 3, we camped for two nights at a County Park in Charleston. For us, this would be a typical trip, and suggests the projects included (and not included) in my DIY conversion. At each location, we only used an extension cord to hook up some 120VAC. No pipes, no hoses, etc.

Basic "wants list":

No propane tanks
No water or waste tanks
No heat (except for the van heater, and perhaps a portable electric space heater)
No air conditioning

Two couch beds
Kitchen cabinet
Portapotti in private area
12v Refrigerator/Freezer
Storage for hanging clothes plus suitcases
12v TV& DVD combo
Ham radio installation with antenna options
Ability to carry plywood sheets and 2x4's
Windows all around
AC outlets in various places
12V DC outlets and USB outlets in various places
12V battery bank inside the van ( 2 AGM batteries, plus inverter)
Table for eating, etc

Other considerations:
Quick changeover from couches to beds
Private toilet dressing area
As much storage as possible!
Most cabinetry to be removable so I can move large stuff if needed.

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The Floor

I decided that having 6'4" of height in the van, and being only 5'5", I could build a basement! With the floor in place, my new floor to (eventually finished) ceiling height is about 5' 8"

The original purpose is to let me transport 4'x 8' sheets of whatever without messing up the van interior. In addition, the basement has provided lots of extra storage space on trips.

3/4" poplar plywood floor. 3 pieces make up the bottom floor, then 3 more pieces for the top

I used moving blankets to pad the plywood and prevent squeaks. Wondered about moisture and mold issues, but it hasn't been a problem at all.

After the first floor was down, I made 4-1/2" risers bolted to the bottom floor. In this picture, the black blanket is on top of the top floor, and the blue blanket is in the basement before the top floor is installed.

Than added the top floor. I used high strength threaded rod at the hold down locations built into the van floor to hold the bottom and top floors in place. Cutout by the slider for easy entry.

At some point in the process I removed it all and put 3 coats of polyurethane on the plywood to seal it.

In use, the basement has a 50" x 98" x 4.5" space accessible from the back doors and a 50" x 24" x 4.5" space accessible from the slider door. The side space always stores two Harbor Freight folding outdoor chairs, plus "extras"
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Wheel Wells and Half Wall

Knowing that I would be adding CRL windows, I decided to make the inside walls about half height. Then a second upper wall would be added later in the process. Walls are 3/4" plywood and will eventually be covered with a 1/4" plywood panel covered in felt or vinyl.

The wheel well cabinets are only about 11" high because of the 6" basement. This worked out well because the beds didn't have to be made high enough to clear the whole wheel well.

The boxes have a lift off top to provide access to the space underneath. Future pics will show the finished boxes. These boxes are designed to stay in the van even if other items are removed. So, they became a good place to put some AC outlets for use at the back of the van, in the couches, and at the end of the couches.

ps. Kreg Jig - got one, good.... don't have one , get one! Invaluable tool for this project!
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120V Electrical Service

My 120V electrical plans have been to 1) Get Ac from outside the van to inside, and 2) Distribute the AC inside while maintaining the ability to have most modules (furniture ) be removable.

To get the AC inside, I installed an outdoor electrical box with a male 15A AC plug receptacle.

The wires connected to this plug are routed, via a waterproof set of fittings, to the inside wall of the van

(Wheel well box not in this picture... easier to see what's going on. The blue flex conduit is visible thru the hole in the van column. One of the threaded rods that holds the top floor to the bottom floor and metal van floor is also visible)

The outside plug is wired directly to the AC outlet built into the plywood wall pictured above.
The orange plug and wire are attached to the outlet that you can see on the metal column at the rear of the van. From that box, another wire, routed through flexible conduit goes over the top and down to the rear column on the passenger side of the van. Since this picture, I added a short, circuit breaker cord to the circuit to protect all the wiring past the feed through outlet.

The white plugged wire goes forward, (after the added circuit breaker cord) to an outlet mounted in the plastic shroud at the base of the B column behind the drivers seat, then across to a similar outlet in the passenger shroud.

On each wheel well box, there are outlets at the back corner to offer AC at the back, and to outlets mounted on the front of the wheel well boxes. These outlets provide AC inside the couches that will be located over the front section of the wheel well cover. Each couch has an AC outlet box at the front of the couch attached to a short extension cord that is plugged in at the front wheel well location. That provides AC outlets at the front of each couch. Because the outlets are attached by short extension cords, when a couch is removed, the cord is simply unplugged.

All the pluggable cords are very short (under 6') and the 3 wire cords are all 12AWG, so any outlet in the van can easily provide 15A of AC.

The only items that use AC in the van are: 1) a small space heater, if needed, and 2) the Engel refrigerator, which usually is running on 12V DC but auto-switches to AC if AC is available. With everything else running on DC, I feel that the AC outlets built in are more than adequate.
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CRL Windows... installed!

I decided that I really like the look of the van with full windows, so I ordered the set from CRL and installed them.

As others have said, the first cut into the othervise new sheet metal is the toughest. The trick is to get all the following cuts to be accurate on the first try... no do-overs!

I made a template for each window from 1/4" plywood. It was well worth the price of a sheet to insure accurate cuts and protect the paint on the sides of the van.

The template was bolted in place with two pilot holes, and worked well!

Then the hole was cut, painted and the window inserted with the trim ring tightened down. Needed help with the install from a friend, the back windows are about 7' long!

Hole cut. Note the metal ribs removed on the inside on the opposite wall.

And... voila! It actually took about 3 or 4 hours per window to get them all in. The slider window was factory installed. It should be noted that the tint on the factory window is lighter than the CRL tint. I still need to get a tint added to the slider window to get them all to match.

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Couch / Bed Build

Each of the two beds is a mirror image of the other. They are 14 1/2" high, 72" long, and 24" wide when in "couch mode." In "bed mode", the top slides toward the center of the van to extend the sleeping area to 30" wide. Sitting height with cushions = 18.5", just about the same as our couch at home!

The tops are hinged in 3 pieces, so that the top can be lifted for access to storage under each couch, and to provide for the extra 6" of sleeping space.

Couch mode. The cutout in the face of the bed is where it sits over the wheel well box, about 27" from the back doors.

Bed mode. In this picture you can see the way it sits over the wheel well cover in the back. The 6' length stick out past the slider by about 4".

We had cushions made at a boat cushion shop. They ordered the foam, and built the cushions to my specs. The firm foam he used is comfortable for seating and sleeping. The short backrest cushion is used as the filler when the couch is in bed mode.

These blocks are what allow the tops to slide, and keep the top from tilting when in the extended position. One on each end of the top, sliding on 4" wide rails at each end of the couch. They are bolted through from the top, into threaded brass inserts.

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at this point, KOV responded

Looks great Ed but are you sure ¾" ply is strong enough on the sidewalls? ;)

to which I replied,

short answer: No...but I couldn't find any 1" plywood! >:D

long answer: Because I wanted items like the couches, pocket doors, kitchen cabinet, etc. to be removeable, I attached the 3/4" plywood solidly to the van ribs with 1/4-20 bolts going to rivnuts. These cabinets are then attached to the 3/4" ply with 1/4-20 bolts into reinforced threaded inserts. The 3/4" plywood will eventually be finished with 1/4" plywood panels with felt or leatherette material.
Ham Radios

I installed 2 ham radios in the van. One is for VHF/UHF FM communications, and the other is a full 100W HF radio for talking "around the world".

Under the drivers seat provided a good spot for the radio unit (actual receiver/transmitter) - both radios provide for a remotely mounted control unit (knobs and dials)

Looking from the back

The FM radio has the controls unit mounted on the dash

The control unit for the other radio is attached by a tether wire and is used sitting in the back of the van.

I attached 2 antenna mounts on a plate mounted on the hitch bar at the back of the van. Different antennas can be plugged in at this mount.

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Tv / dvd

I found a TV/DVD combo unit at Best Buy that works on 12V. Not advertised for van/auto use, but it has a separate wall wart power supply so it works well in the van without spending lots of $$$ for an RV specific TV.

It's 22" and fits centered at the front of the van. I built brackets from plywood and attached it to the holes that hold the top headliner in place, putting rivnuts in where push-in trim buttons used to be.

For an antenna I use a magnetic mount ham radio UHF/VHF antenna that I put on the roof when needed. Works great! I get about 20 digital stations sitting in the driveway in CT.

And if there's no stations around, we stick in a DVD. The DVD player is built into the TV, so no extra wires.

There was some discussion about putting a 12V TV in a 13 or 14v van. I have been using this for about a year now with no ill effects on the TV or DVD functions. I think the wall wart designation at 12V is a rounded off number anyway, so the van DC has been totally workable.
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Hoop Steps, Grab Handle, Vinyl Floor

The step up and in for me at 5'5", is high. Based on others' successes on the forum, I added Carr hoop steps. Probably the toughest project to mount. I wasn't crazy about laying upside down under the van in the driveway to get holes drilled, rivnuts installed, and brackets mounted!

I put a 10" step on each side door and a 20" step for the slider. They really make a difference for me and my wife! Mounted as shown, they don't stick out past the wheel width of the van.

I added a grab handle at the slider... bolted into rivnuts I added to the passenger side B column. Holes in the sheet metal were already there! I used a generic RV grab handle that fit the hole spacing just right.

And, a vinyl floor from Lowes. The roll is 12' wide, so I bought a 6' wide length and it fit perfectly. While the plywood floor was out of the van for painting, I put it on top of the vinyl and traced the pattern to cut out. That made the install a perfect fit.

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Pocket Doors

Part of the design is to have a separate area for the portapotti and dressing area. I decided that pocket doors would allow the space to be open most of the time but closed for privacy.

I attached a double walled panel to each sidewall of the van using rivnuts and wood blocks with bolts. These this panels fit on top of the wheel well covers, and will stay in the van even though the pocket door panels are removeable.

These divider walls start right behind the end of the couch, and are about 28" from the back doors. The double wall provides a slot for the pock door panels to slide into, and are then bolted in place

In the picture above you can also see the top piece of the side walls installed, and the location of the AC outlet on the wheel well cover.

Next, I built the pocket door panels and attached to the side panels. These are removeable panels. 3 bolts, plus one attached to the couch box, hold the pocket door panels in place.

The pocket doors are inserted in the pocket door panels, and are set up for sliding open and closed using kitchen drawer slide hardware.

When closed, they form a privacy wall at the back of the van.

In this picture, you can also see the space in the basement. There are two 2' x 8' spaces. The center joist slides out to make a space big enough for full sheets of plywood. The sliding door hardware is also visible. At some point, this 3/4" oak plywood will all be polyurethaned.

Portapotti is attached to an optional base plate, and that is screwed to a wood base that is bolted to the wheel well cover. It is all removeable by taking out the potti and unbolting the base. Temporary cooler in place on the other side. This will be the location of the Engel fridge once I get it!

Note: Curtains are temporary until a decision is made on window coverings. The windows behind the pocket doors will be covered with plywood extending up from the lower sidewall, covered with black felt. From the outside all you see is black glass.
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12V Battery System

I purchased two Autocraft AGM batteries. About 100Ah each, they are big and heavy, but can be used inside the van.

To contain them, I couldn;t find an easily available battery box, so I built my own using a Harbor Freight toolbox. This size box is part of a 4 piece set of toolboxes that I bought for about $20 each.

I put the battery in the box, then used a 2x4 block on each end to attach a buss bar to allow me to make multiple connections to each terminal.

The battery boxes are also strapped into the support shelves to secure them to the couch box.

You can see the wood block and buss bar in the above picture. I used copper lugs (electrical dept at Home Depot) to connect the wire (6AWG) to the battery terminals and feed the buss bars.

The power feeds outside the box to heavy duty Anderson Powerpole conectors. I use them a lot for my ham radio connections. By using connectors, I can disconnect and move the two battery boxes easily.

I then built a plywood electrical panel that holds a 2000w HF inverter and an 55A Powermax RV charger converter. The inverter is used to power the microwave oven. The charger is used to provide 12V DC plus charging whenever I plug the van into AC. The 80A breaker manages the power from the charger to the batteries. There is also a breaker on top of each battery box.

The panel is installed at the front of the drivers side couch. Two shelves are also attached to the bed to hold the battery boxes in place.

Here's one of the batteries installed along with the panel, in the couch. Couch top is removed for clarity

.... and yes, there is a seatbelt for the front-most seating position on each couch. They are bolted directly through the metal floor of the van using all DOT approved bolts, washers and hardware!

Behind the power panel is a hole that is used to connect the wire from the Wirthco Battery Doctor isolator.

Another wire goes up the wall to the power distribution panel which is located behind the drivers seat on the side wall above the window.

This panel is temporary. In the two small black boxes are buss bars with screw terminals to allow multiple wires to be connected to the fused main power wires coming from the batteries to this panel. The dimmers are for the LED lighting in the van. The meter provides all kinds of useful info about the battery voltage, current draw, and cumulative data.

At the two back columns of the van, I added USB and 12V lighter sockets connected directly to the batteries to provide always-on power for charging phones, and plugging in 12V accessories.

There are similar connections available in the plastic shroud at the bottom of the B column behind the driver and passenger seats.
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Your excellent pictures are now viewable to me. Thanks for reposting.
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Thanks for the update. I see you got the Thetford Curve. My last van had one. It was so great I did a YouTube video of it. I bought a cheap one to start and regretted it,so I made a video to hopefully help others. Keep the updates coming.
Sweet build, some really nice ideas and wood work. Thats a lot of work! Look forward to seeing the progress!

Glad I could work it out... I guess Google Photos has issues!


The Thetford has worked well! Lots of capacity and no smell at all. It came with a bottle of deodorant that smelled pretty bad. I read a lot of reviews and ended up buying Coleman toilet deodorant. That stuff is great...100 plus degrees inside the van in FL, but couldn't smell a thing!

Stay tuned.....

Hey Ed I want to see the van! Get your schedule out and make a time to visit KOV and me! The pictures and write up are great. Thanks
Word of warning on all porta pottis.When changing elevation , always open valve to stabilize air pressure before doing your business. Don't ask how I found out.
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What size van and cargo floor length is this ? Sorry if I missed it.
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