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Discussion Starter #1
Got a new job back in my old college town in Northern California and bought a 2015 diesel 159" high-roof on the way to save money on a moving van from Los Angeles...

...plus, I had already spent several months saving Instagram van-life posts and collecting my favorite/most functional ideas, and then several more of sketching my design and doing research online.

About myself:
Almost 30, working professional now doing financial forecasting and analysis for a small agriculture in California. Spent the last ~6 years working for a large oil and gas company in the Bay, central CA, Hawaii, Texas, and LA (6 moves in 5 years). I was ready to slow my lifestyle down and transition my career path to a different industry. Moving back to my college town also meant being closer to family (who also settled here over the last few years) and my ex-now-girlfriend-again who lives in the Bay area and also enjoys the outdoors. My priorities have changed a bit over the last couple years, and having a nice house in a metropolitan area didn't seem quite important any longer. I explored tiny home options to move onto my parents' property, but the regulations around residential buildings are not quite progressive enough for the flexibility I was looking for. Originally I had been designing for full-time van life, but since I am back in a rural area where housing is more affordable I have scaled down to a simpler off-grid camping and road-tripping van.

I surf, fish, camp, snowboard, cook, and love spending time with friends playing board games and drinking beer - so all of those are key priorities in my build. I am about an 1-2hrs from some of the best mountains, fly-fishing rivers, and lakes in California, 2hrs from the Bay area, 3-4hrs from the northern coast and 7-8hrs from my friends in LA and the southern coast.

This thread will be my chronicle to track costs and a time-capsule for me to look back when I think "Dang, what was I thinking?" or hopefully "That was clever!" Also I welcome any advice, questions, and gut-checking from the community!

About the build:
  • Leisure battery bank with solar, alternator & shore power alternatives
  • Convertible dinette/bed for sleeping and socializing
  • Interior storage for lengthy sporting equipment - surfboards, fishing rods, snowboards
  • Roof rack and rear access ladder with a sun deck
  • Galley kitchen with stove, sink, and space for food prep
  • Outdoor shower and indoor porta-toilet (for emergencies only)
My goals are to complete the build with minimal costs for maximum functionality, relative to my desired level of comfort (not barebones, but not Sprinter-lux either). I spent about $26k (before taxes & fees) on the van, which had 48k miles before the move north. I reached out to several reputable van builders and got rough quotes based off my sketches and decided to do most of the build myself, but will likely outsource some technical consulting on electrical and carpentry. My target for the build costs (excl. van cost) is $20k.

Will upload photos of my progress & timeline so far.

Thanks!
Mitch
12/10/19
 

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Sounds like a plan.

Welcome to the forum.

I have a small "van focused" electrical shop in Livermore. We sell various levels of electrical system kits - from minimalist to power plant.

Feel free to look at our web store or stop by.

I will warn you ahead of time that our components selection is based on performance and reliability, not on lowest cost.

Harry
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Sounds like a plan.

Welcome to the forum.

I have a small "van focused" electrical shop in Livermore. We sell various levels of electrical system kits - from minimalist to power plant.

Feel free to look at our web store or stop by.

I will warn you ahead of time that our components selection is based on performance and reliability, not on lowest cost.

Harry
I used to live in Dublin, worked in San Ramon. What's the name of the shop? Would love to check it out. My low-cost goals will never sacrifice quality & reliability and I haven't bought any components yet (other than panels).
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Latest design sketches: updated cutaway elevation (not quite to scale) and rear profile for bed & storage planning (to scale 1":12")
  • I have since decided to do a table-to-bed dinette instead of a sliding bench-to-bed with dinette table
    • Added a slideout block table off the rear to raise the dinette and allow for taller under-bench storage
  • On the left side, bench storage will carry through the length of the van - my biggest surfboard is about 2.5' wide and 9'2" long, so ideally that will fit
  • On the right side, bench storage will hold bedding and the water jerry cans for the galley kitchen sink to allow room for a top-lid fridge widthwise across the galley
  • jotting down thoughts for window sizing
59770

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Discussion Starter #6
Here is a link to my current build plan; I am building from the outside-in, starting with the roof and all the holes I have to cut. My reasoning for this is - I've spent a lot of time planning, so I don't anticipate major positional changes for key components of the interior or exterior. I'd rather make the cuts, install my windows, fans, and electrical ports, and then insulate/build around them on the inside.
 

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See that you deleted the bulkhead. That's my preference-going from driving to living area without exiting.
 
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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
Roof rack, ladder, and solar/roof fan planning:

I looked at Aluminess and some various roof rack and ladder systems suitable for storage, solar mounting, a roof fan, and deck lounging. I ended up going with Prime Design's Alurack and rear door access ladder from Commercial Van Interiors in Sacramento, CA, because they are functional, affordable ($1500 all in), and fashionable. It would look awesome to have a tricked-out matte black roof rack and matching side-ladder, but I'd rather splurge elsewhere. Also, this system mounts to existing anchors on the van roof and the ladder latches with tension rather than bolting into the van body.

I do have to say, the ladder rung closest to the read door handle makes it a little inconvenient, so I may eventually move it over, but it's currently aligned where the instructions recommended mounting it.

I purchased the Maxxair Maxxfan Deluxe 6200 to use as the ventilation/fan system, and two Richsolar 180w 12v solar panels which fit widthwise on the roof, leaving about 35sqft of roof space open for decking. I am looking at Trex deck board which I would mount lengthwise (5.5" x 8' boards, cut down to 7-7.5').

Design sketch (to scale), and mocked layouts using cardboard, plus photos of the assembled ladder are shown below.

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59801
 

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I agree completely with the idea of starting on the roof and working your way down.

On sprinters, it is really a requirement, as the roof rack mount points are "holes", so you have to have access to both the roof and ceiling to tighten up the bolts and nuts.

I sublet space to help keep costs down, as you know, bay area business rents are not friendly.

I am working off of Rutan Drive in Livermore -just east of the Livermore airport.

The business web site is: https://wirlnet-inc.square.site

My approach is slightly different to accommodate local realities:
  • Many people are living in their vans, so they cannot leave them anywhere for very long to have work done
  • In many cases, the van is full of stuff, so there is little room to maneuver.
  • It is more efficient to decouple "building the electrical system" and "the van is available to work on it today"
  • My desire to be able to "ship a system" to people as needed.
The way that we do it, is to build the bulk of the electrical system into a "case" that is very easy to install, and then you can just plug in your panels, alternator connection, and end use items into the outlets.

We can run the panels either parallel or in series. It is slightly lower cost to run them in series, but not a big deal.

Not sure if you are on instagram or not, but there are a few photos there under wirlnet. Even one with a promaster and a 3 kW class setup.

I have a lot of tools, so you don't need to spend a bunch of money on that.

My email and phone are on the web site.
 

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Roof rack, ladder, and solar/roof fan planning:

Here is a link to my current build plan; I am building from the outside-in, starting with the roof and all the holes I have to cut. My reasoning for this is - I've spent a lot of time planning, so I don't anticipate major positional changes for key components of the interior or exterior. I'd rather make the cuts, install my windows, fans, and electrical ports, and then insulate/build around them on the inside.
Don't be too surprised if there are changes. All I can tell you is that so far, 100% of my customers have changed their layouts, ports, outlets, etc over time.
 

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As someone that does a fair amount of pier and surf fishing out of my van, I will say this. BUILT IN ROD STORAGE! I have some storage on the passenger's side interior wall where I can fit one piece rods up to 7.5ft, but if I had to do it all over again I would have added a false floor on the drivers side (Only accessible from the rear) where I could have kept the rods protected and out of the way. You won't miss the 3" if it doesn't overlap into the center aisle, and fishing rods just get in the way so easily everywhere else that it would make things so much easier.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
As someone that does a fair amount of pier and surf fishing out of my van, I will say this. BUILT IN ROD STORAGE! I have some storage on the passenger's side interior wall where I can fit one piece rods up to 7.5ft, but if I had to do it all over again I would have added a false floor on the drivers side (Only accessible from the rear) where I could have kept the rods protected and out of the way. You won't miss the 3" if it doesn't overlap into the center aisle, and fishing rods just get in the way so easily everywhere else that it would make things so much easier.
I plan to use a typical capped PVC pipe through the length of that storage area, and maybe one on the exterior. My longest fixed rod is about 7’, but it would be nice to not have to break-down rigged rods each time.
 

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Thule or Yakima sell ski racks that attach to roof..
Can do 6 to12 ft rods.....cabalis has cloth holder which attaches to each side of inside ceiling ....7-8 probably lenght....probably 6 rods could be stored...8 & bait and a heavier rod for red drum...for outer banks....i had both system in truck camper shell........i fish off piers now. U can leave reels on inside rods and if feel safe outside also


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Discussion Starter #16
Mitchell, I assume you are aware of the roof’s weight limitations? 300 lb, IIRC.
Thanks for the heads up! I've read 300-330lbs? Given the rack is about 85lbs and the solar is 30lbx (x2 = 60lbs), I have 155lbs to spare for the deck and hardware. I can't think of many scenarios where I may have more than 300lbs of total load while underway...but I weigh about 190lbs so I guess I won't be doing any workout routines or breakdancing up there.
 

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Everything on hold during rain - waiting for sunshine after Christmas day to seal the roof and install my Maxxfan. Spent the rainy weekend planning the solar and fan positioning on the roof rack and putting the Alurack crossbars together.
I hear you. I feel like it has been raining since Thanksgiving.
 

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Been raining alot here in Phoenix. We love it since water is always a much needed thing in life. That said, Its putting my van plans on hold too.
 

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We have noticed that when we are in the Pacific NW no one stops working for rain. Sonoran desert not so much.
 
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