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Hi everyone, its about time I start my build thread.

The who:
My wife, our dog, and me

The why: We have lived in the NYC area for a while (Manhattan and NJ) and have wanted to explore the world in a way that 1-2 week vacations do not allow.

The plan:
Full time travel for ~18 months - all across the US (including Alaska), Canada, Central America, and hopefully South America (if the wife agrees :D ).

The buy:
A 2017 Ram Promaster 2500 159" wheelbase, high roof, non extended, gasoline. A prior rental with 20k miles on it and it is certified pre owned (7yr, 100k powertrain warranty). Bare bones feature wise, but that's ok with us as the main things that we cared about we can purchase aftermarket and install ourselves. Good condition, as expected for a lower mileage, 1 year old van.

The (still evolving) plan and large items:
Layout:
Platform double bed in rear of van
2 bike storage under bed
Wet bath on drivers side infront of bed
Slide out love seat behind driver seat which expands to a twin bed
Kitchen across from wet bath, extending partially into open door
a/c on battery
all electric, propane free
A rough floorplan is below
layout.jpg

Larger items:

Nature's head composting toilet
Water tanks - inside van most likely
650-850 watts solar (2 325w Panasonic 62.5"x41.5" panels and possibly 2 100w renology or similar panels)
Midnite solar classic 150 (+2nd smaller MPPT controller if we add an additional 200w of solar)
GoPower ic2000 inverter/charger
500aH GBS Lithium battery system
Maxxfan deluxe
Dometic CFX-65DZ fridge
Tru induction mini duo cooktop
webasto air-top 2000 st gas

The unordered/undecided:
Hot water heater - I am thinking of using a marine heat exchanger such as an Isotemp model. A bit worried about the potential for coolant to infiltrate the hot water.
A/C unit - I am leaning towards the Autoclima Fresco 9000 Max, but the price is quite high. I am waiting for pricing on some other options.
Shower/water/wet bath - figuring out the plumbing issues with needing sump style pumps for high water tanks and if it is worth it. May move to grey water under van and fresh water in van.

I'll start putting in some posts/photos of the progress thus far and some questions.
 

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Welcome, let the adventure begin!
 

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Hot water heater - I am thinking of using a marine heat exchanger such as an Isotemp model. A bit worried about the potential for coolant to infiltrate the hot water.
We use an Isotemp hot water heater connected to our Promaster gas engine.

We've used an Isotemp or similar marine hot water heater on to 2 previous RVs and 2 sailboats over the last 30+ years with no coolant infiltration.

Forum member hbullivant has an Isotemp in his Promaster as well.
 

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A few things about AC on battery. That unit you posted really isn't designed for a van of our size. It's really meant for a VERY small cab for a truck. I have my doubts it would do much to cut down the temp of your van. It may take out some humidity, but it's still going to be hot. I wouldn't even bother with something that small. You'd probably need at least a 10,000btu unit or more when it's really hot outside (and when it's not really hot, you can probably get by without AC).

Another concern with your AC on battery plan is the amount of time you'd be able to run the AC. 500ah is only going to give you maybe 4 hours at which point you'd be left with completely dead battery. Recharging 500ah with solar would require probably more than a full day of bright sun even with 850w of solar on the roof. You'd be better off with your inverter/charger's 100amp charger. However if you'd have the ability to plug in, you'd be running your AC off AC power instead of battery. Also it'd be very difficult to fit 850w and an AC.

If AC is a must for sleeping, I'd suggesting installing a standard rooftop AC and only use it when you'd have access to power.

I think there is a user on here with 600W of solar with a 12V AC system. However I can't find that post.
 

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Rooftop AC and carrying a 2000+ watt generator is the reliable way to have cooling. Most other schemes are not prime time ready. Research before spending a bunch of money that doesn’t get the job done. You could save the cost of the AC and generator by reducing the battery and solar size, and will still have plenty of power. Just say’n, but if you decide to go the Battery to AC route let us know how you do. Good luck.
 
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Hi,
For a van you are going to live in for quite a while, I'd recommend that you do a simple full sized mockup in the van before commiting to the layout. Something like this: http://www.buildagreenrv.com/our-conversion/our-promaster-camper-van-conversion-interior-layout/
You can do this in a couple hours with scraps, and there is just nothing like being able to actually see and live in the real 3D thing.

The AC on solar is going to be the biggest challenge:

It seems like I've seen some reports here from people who have had had pretty good success with adapting a 6000 BRU/hr room AC to cool their vans, while others have not had such good luck this way. But, I think that if you do a really good job on the insulation and you have reflective insulating shades for the windows to eliminate direct solar gain (which can be very large), your proposed AC should be able to do the job. If you can limit the area you want to condition with curtains or whatever, that would also help.

The info on your AC says it uses 55 amp-hrs per hour when producing 9000 BTU/hr of cooling. If you have 450 amp-hrs of battery that can be used for the AC (leaving a little of the 500 AH for other things), then you could run 450/55 = 8.2 hours. If the insulation is really good and the AC only runs half the time, you might get 16 hours.

You can use PVWatts to estimate how much you would get out of 850 watts of solar on average in a day.
850 watts in Pheonix, AZ in mid summer delivers an average of 135 KWH per month, or 4.5 KWH (4500 watt-hrs) per day. This should give you about 4500 watt-hrs/12 volts = 375 amp-hrs. So, not quite enough to recharge your 500 AH with only solar -- if you are going to drive some each day, the van alternator can provide some more juice.

Its going to be a challenge to get 850 watts of solar and a roof fan (and AC?) on the roof -- might want to try to lay this out. I think Winston managed to get at least this much on the roof?

I think with careful attention to detail you could get the solar AC to work, but agree with RD that its a challenge and a generator (ugh) is the proven way to go.

Maybe you should just go north in the summer and south in the winter :) -- that's what we do -- no AC.

Gary
 

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I wouldn't even bother with something that small. You'd probably need at least a 10,000btu unit or more when it's really hot outside (and when it's not really hot, you can probably get by without AC).
That's a 9000 BTU unit, so he's not that far off from your estimate. It just looks small because it's a mini-split.

As far as the costs go, a rooftop AC with a generator makes more sense. Otherwise, a second alternator might help you to keep up with your battery capacity.

I'd originally considered a homemade volt-start system with a hacked remote-start system (I'm a software engineer with embedded controller experience) But looking at the economics and headaches and heartaches, I concluded I'd be better off just buying a Hymer, or scaling back my ambitions.
 

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That's a 9000 BTU unit, so he's not that far off from your estimate. It just looks small because it's a mini-split.

As far as the costs go, a rooftop AC with a generator makes more sense. Otherwise, a second alternator might help you to keep up with your battery capacity.

I'd originally considered a homemade volt-start system with a hacked remote-start system (I'm a software engineer with embedded controller experience) But looking at the economics and headaches and heartaches, I concluded I'd be better off just buying a Hymer, or scaling back my ambitions.
Ah, I pulled up the wrong model the first time. It said 3500btu.

EDIT: That looks pretty neat actually. I wonder of the condenser unit would perform if it were to be installed under the van. Only problem is it's 12V only. Not bad if you have a huge bank, but you're really going to be cycling those batteries. Would have been nice to have a 110v option for shore power.

http://www.badgeaire.com/images/Fresco_9000_MaXX_Brochure_BA_May_2017.pdf
 

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Discussion Starter #11
We use an Isotemp hot water heater connected to our Promaster gas engine.

We've used an Isotemp or similar marine hot water heater on to 2 previous RVs and 2 sailboats over the last 30+ years with no coolant infiltration.

Forum member hbullivant has an Isotemp in his Promaster as well.
Thanks - I've been looking at some of the threads on them. What size / model do you have? One thing I wanted to get a handle on was how long it took to fully heat the water after starting the car and driving.
 

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Yeah I agree. A mock up is important. Our first floor plan was very different, but a mock up showed us the hallway to the rear of the van was too narrow. Bikes + bathroom + hallway just didn't fit across the van.

We have started building reflectix window shades, reversible for winter (reflective on one side, dark on other) and I think have decent insulation, with at least 1 layer of thinsulate (r 5.5) over the entire body of the van and some sections of 2 layers.

Here is the layout for 850w of solar - 2 residential panels and 2 RV panels. The residential panels I found are interesting as they have a different cell configuration (96 smaller cells) which allows their width to be only 62.5", which fits a bit better across the roof of the van.
roof layout.png

The mini split a/c is quite useful for increasing the roof space for solar as you only would need to mount a condenser on the roof.

I've been told that in large sleeper cabs (Cascadia condos) the average consumption in low 90s F heat is less than 30amps, so I am hopeful that it will be sufficient (btu wise) and efficient (ah wise).

I agree, the generator route is the easier route (and probably better for most). We did think about it a lot and it was one of the ideas we had early in the process.

Hi,
For a van you are going to live in for quite a while, I'd recommend that you do a simple full sized mockup in the van before commiting to the layout. Something like this: http://www.buildagreenrv.com/our-conversion/our-promaster-camper-van-conversion-interior-layout/
You can do this in a couple hours with scraps, and there is just nothing like being able to actually see and live in the real 3D thing.

The AC on solar is going to be the biggest challenge:

It seems like I've seen some reports here from people who have had had pretty good success with adapting a 6000 BRU/hr room AC to cool their vans, while others have not had such good luck this way. But, I think that if you do a really good job on the insulation and you have reflective insulating shades for the windows to eliminate direct solar gain (which can be very large), your proposed AC should be able to do the job. If you can limit the area you want to condition with curtains or whatever, that would also help.

The info on your AC says it uses 55 amp-hrs per hour when producing 9000 BTU/hr of cooling. If you have 450 amp-hrs of battery that can be used for the AC (leaving a little of the 500 AH for other things), then you could run 450/55 = 8.2 hours. If the insulation is really good and the AC only runs half the time, you might get 16 hours.

You can use PVWatts to estimate how much you would get out of 850 watts of solar on average in a day.
850 watts in Pheonix, AZ in mid summer delivers an average of 135 KWH per month, or 4.5 KWH (4500 watt-hrs) per day. This should give you about 4500 watt-hrs/12 volts = 375 amp-hrs. So, not quite enough to recharge your 500 AH with only solar -- if you are going to drive some each day, the van alternator can provide some more juice.

Its going to be a challenge to get 850 watts of solar and a roof fan (and AC?) on the roof -- might want to try to lay this out. I think Winston managed to get at least this much on the roof?

I think with careful attention to detail you could get the solar AC to work, but agree with RD that its a challenge and a generator (ugh) is the proven way to go.

Maybe you should just go north in the summer and south in the winter :) -- that's what we do -- no AC.

Gary
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Ah, I pulled up the wrong model the first time. It said 3500btu.

EDIT: That looks pretty neat actually. I wonder of the condenser unit would perform if it were to be installed under the van. Only problem is it's 12V only. Not bad if you have a huge bank, but you're really going to be cycling those batteries. Would have been nice to have a 110v option for shore power.

http://www.badgeaire.com/images/Fresco_9000_MaXX_Brochure_BA_May_2017.pdf
It can be mounted under the van, but the distributor recommended the roof. It should be a bit more efficient above the van vs below it.
 

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...
Here is the layout for 850w of solar - 2 residential panels and 2 RV panels. The residential panels I found are interesting as they have a different cell configuration (96 smaller cells) which allows their width to be only 62.5", which fits a bit better across the roof of the van.
View attachment 41810
Hi,
If you have not already, you might want to have a look at whether your PV controller can handle a mix of two different kinds of PV panels. If the PV panels have a different number of cells, they will put out a different voltages. Some controllers are built to handle multiple strings of PV panels that produce different voltages, but this is not common in RV size controllers.

Each V panel has a voltage at which it produces maximum power. An MPPT controller adjusts the input voltage to be at this maximum power point for the PV panels, but it won't be able to do this exactly if one group of panels has a different maximum power point voltage than the other. As a practical matter, not sure how much difference this will make, but worth checking on.

Gary
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Hi,
If you have not already, you might want to have a look at whether your PV controller can handle a mix of two different kinds of PV panels. If the PV panels have a different number of cells, they will put out a different voltages. Some controllers are built to handle multiple strings of PV panels that produce different voltages, but this is not common in RV size controllers.

Each V panel has a voltage at which it produces maximum power. An MPPT controller adjusts the input voltage to be at this maximum power point for the PV panels, but it won't be able to do this exactly if one group of panels has a different maximum power point voltage than the other. As a practical matter, not sure how much difference this will make, but worth checking on.

Gary
Thanks, I do not think they would play well together. My plan is to have a second (cheaper, smaller) mppt controller for the 2nd solar array. The Panasonic panel has a Voc of around 70v, so certainly not a standard configuration that can be mixed and matched easily.
 

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The OP mentioned that he'd planned to use a separate charge controller if he added the Renogy panels, so it looks like he took this into account.

The Panasonic panels look interesting from a layout standpoint, I might be able to get by with just one of them. The charge controller planned for them is quite expensive, and I see the the voltage output of the panels is higher than most. I haven't shopped charge controllers, is there a reason for this choice? Are residential panels incompatible with cheaper RV-style systems?
 

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Are the residential panels rated for the vibration the van is likely to give them?
 

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The OP mentioned that he'd planned to use a separate charge controller if he added the Renogy panels, so it looks like he took this into account.

The Panasonic panels look interesting from a layout standpoint, I might be able to get by with just one of them. The charge controller planned for them is quite expensive, and I see the the voltage output of the panels is higher than most. I haven't shopped charge controllers, is there a reason for this choice? Are residential panels incompatible with cheaper RV-style systems?
Hi,
I used a single 315 watt PV panel that is intended for residential use. Its a 72 cell Solar World panel.

For me, the reason was just that its seems a bit easier and cleaner to install one large panel than 2 or 3 small ones. Has worked out well so far. Another small advantage is that it puts out a higher voltage than the usual 12 volt RV panels, which may allow a lower gage wire. I think RD brings up a good point on residential PV panels and vibration, but mine has been fine and I've not heard from anyone who had a problem with this approach.

It does take a controller that can handle the higher voltage of the large panels, and these are more expensive. I used the Midnight Solar Kid controller. Its a nice US made controller and is well made, and the company has a very good reputation for customer support. At the time I bought it, it was about $280 (which seemed like plenty), but they have since substantially raised the price.
There is at least one other controller out there that will do one of the large panels, but can't remember the brand.

The Panasonic panel with its only 62 inch height that could go sideways is really interesting for getting a lot of solar on the roof. The Voc is high, but it does look like the Midnight Solar Kid mentioned above could handle two of them in parallel. Would 3 of the Panasonic (about 10.5 ft of roof length, 975 watts) fit? -- I think the Kid controller could handle 3 of them.

More on these pages:
Charge controller: http://www.buildagreenrv.com/our-co...y-camper-van-conversion-electrical-and-solar/

Mounting the big panel: http://www.buildagreenrv.com/our-co...romaster-van-conversion-solar-panel-mounting/

I mounted my panel as low to the roof as I could (for less drag) and at the center point on each end of the panel I did a little blob of silicone sealant that filled the small gap between the high point on the roof and the PV panel frame -- thinking being that this would keep panel from deflecting down and hitting roof and that it would reduce vibration.

Gary
 

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Hi,
I used the Midnight Solar Kid controller. Its a nice US made controller and is well made, and the company has a very good reputation for customer support. At the time I bought it, it was about $280 (which seemed like plenty), but they have since substantially raised the price.
That's the first controller I lit on when I started to search. You can still find them around this price if you shop around. Might be old stock or an older revision. They had a nice web-based design tool where you plug in voltages and numbers of panels and so on.
 
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