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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Thought I’d kick this off, since I technically started building yesterday by swapping out a radio receiver.

First some background:


  • Who
    Me? I’m a son of a brilliant Electrical Engineer and accomplished Artist who grew up in Africa, because my grandfather was an elephant hunter turned game warden. I work as a Software Engineer, but I also designed hardware for many years for a cellular equipment manufacturer— mainly designing interface circuit boards and embedded controllers. I have design for manufacturability and 6 Sigma training, but something about me loves a good hack. It’s a value system that my father instilled in me modeled after the way he MacGyvered his family’s way through Nazi-occupied Holland during WWII after his father died.​
  • What
    A ProMaster van conversion of course. With a few unique twists. My aim originally was to build something similar to a Hymer Activ for a third of the price, but I took a left turn somewhere after I joined the forum.​
  • Why
    First, I been dreaming about building a Tiny House for years now or becoming a seasonal full-time RVer. There’s a whole host of legal and zoning issues surrounding Tiny Houses, and financially, full-time RV-ing will have to wait until I retire in a decade or so. So I combined the two and stopped dreaming and started doing. Second, Florida is hurricane country and I’ve seen my share since I moved here. I’ve been without power for weeks on end. I’ve had no generator and just a barebones evacuation plan. In light of Katrina and Harvey I feel the need to step up my hurricane game. This dove-tailed nicely with this project and I’ve been collecting dual-use equipment to support both efforts.​
  • When
    Someone asked how long this project was going to take, and I said forever. I really can’t say how long this is going to take. The important thing is I’ve started. The oppressive heat and humidity of Summer in Florida limits me right now. I’m not in a big rush, but I’m guessing a year might do it.​
  • How
    Good question. I’ve been told I have many good ideas (and an equal share of bad ones), but I’m not long on execution. So it’s fitting I’ll be working on an Italian-designed van. I plan to do a lot of proofs of concept and prototyping to hone my build and finishing skills. I’m not much of a visualizer, so I will be doing a lot of practical modeling and rendering to get things right. I’m not a cabinet-maker either, so I’m looking at weaving some prefabricated products into the project in unconventional ways. I work best with collaborated and appropriated designs, so I’ll be reaching out on the forum for solutions to problems, design exemplars, and I’ll hire outside help for some of the harder stuff.​


Design Goals

First, things I’m not going to do


  1. Swivel Seats.
    Seems like no-one is happy with these unless factory.​
  2. Propane tank.
    (I may have a 1 lb backup tank for a butane stove, however)​
  3. Lithium Batteries.
    I don’t think this is a mature enough solution yet.​
  4. Arbitrary Solar, Inverter and Battery sizing.
    I intend these to be measurement based, with decisions made Just-In-Time.​
  5. Bathroom sink.
    Plan a stainless bowl in a holder that you take to the galley and fill up with hot water for shaving. Don’t see the need for redundancy.​
  6. Design for more than two people.
    If more can fit, fine. But visits can take place outside the van.​

Stretch Goals

I had a manager who said a project should always have a few stretch goals to advance the state of the art and keep things interesting. This project has more than its share. Here’s where Walter White will “break bad” and become WisenHymer.

I fully expect some or all of these to fail.


  1. Solar water heater
    (fallback: engine coolant heater)​
  2. Murphy Bed
    (fallback: revised floorpan)​
  3. RV size bathtub
    (fallback: shower/wet bath)​
  4. Moveable/removable Thetford toilet
    (fallback: fixed wet bath)​
  5. Window mount air conditioner installed on roof and ducted through a vent
    (fallback: conventional RV AC)​
  6. Standing desk
    (fallback conventional)​

I expect #5 to be controversial.

A few points on this

  1. Air conditioning is a way of life in Florida
  2. The air conditioner in question has dual use. It’s also in reserve to cool a room in my house off a generator when power fails (part of Hurricane plan)
  3. The intent is to run AC off the smallest generator possible. I don’t intend to try and run it off of batteries, although I may try and run it off of an inverter while the ProMaster is running.
  4. If it doesn’t work, all I’m out is some ductwork and some off-the-shelf RV air-conditioning parts that I can sell at half-price on eBay/Craigslist



Goals


  1. Semi modular Layout
    where bathroom and under bed storage options are mission-defined.​
  2. Dog Friendly
  3. Aesthetically Pleasing
    plan on some artwork in bare wall spots that go along with a murphy-bed layout. Plan to modify the plain white exterior with an understated partial body wrap in lieu of painting.​
  4. Full service
    close to retail class B facilities, where possible.​
  5. Use best-in-class solutions where they make sense and are affordable



Preliminary Bill of Materials


  1. Gasoline Espar heater
  2. Engel MT80F-U1 Cooler (dual use)
  3. Froli bed system
  4. Westinghouse Microwave oven (600 watt) (dual use)
  5. Instant Pot Pressure Cooker (800 watt) (dual use)
  6. Induction burner(s) (800 watt) (dual use)
  7. Butane/Propane Gas One stove (dual use)
  8. Pontoon boat sofa (sofa/dinette/possible house battery storage)
  9. RV sink Chinese Smev from eBay
  10. Solar Panels TBD
  11. Charge Controllers TBD
  12. Inverter TBD
  13. House Batteries TBD likely AGM, possibly located in pontoon boat storage
  14. Kitchen Cabinets Ikea
  15. Medicine Cabinet Ikea
  16. Curt Trailer hitch
  17. Pioneer AVH-4201-NEX receiver with backup camera
  18. Westin Running Boards
  19. Tern Overland Seitz-style windows (if I can get them to fit)
  20. RV bath 40 x 24” Etrailer
  21. Awning TBD
  22. Water Heater Isotemp Spa 5 gallon
  23. Tanks Fresh inside, Grey underneath
  24. Generator TBD portable
  25. Insulation TBD present plan is 1” polyiso possibly with some thinsulate
  26. Lighting hope to use some (tasteful) dimmable LED strips I have on hand.
  27. Finishing TBD looking at tongue & groove pine, but may go with something else.
  28. Toilet Thetford Curve— ordered a manual pump for this from Amazon.de as the electric one is trouble-prone. I’m considering getting another one for spare parts and an extra “cassette”.


Fabrication


I’m a bit up in the air on this one. I’m considering using a profile system for the overhead bins at least, as I have experience and tools to work with aluminum. I also plan to use prefabricated items where they make sense. Prototyping will likely be in plywood.


Floorpan

Here’s what I have. The app I’m using on my iPad is a bit wonky, and the measurements are likely a bit off. I'm looking for another application for this. Don’t hold me to much of this, it’s a rough preliminary plan.

Some notes on the floorplan


  1. Yes, the Murphy bed does incur a bit into the tub area. Presently the area above the tub is open and there’s a bendable shower rod that extends to the ceiling and avoids the bed. I also plan a L-shaped privacy curtain rod for the bath area as another layer of water abatement. There’s two walls of bath surround. One on the van wall, and the other between the water heater and the bath. This arrangement has some minuses, but it solves the path to the toilet in the middle of the night problem.
  2. It doesn’t show, but there’s a fold-down table planed to meet the pontoon boat couch. This is only roughly planned and will take a lot of experimentation to get right. I’m considering a TV/monitor and some foot rests in this area as well. It’s going to take a lot of experimentation to make this work.
  3. The Engel cooler sits over top of the water tanks behind the driver. It’s pretty darn heavy, so I’m looking at ways to safely secure it and help lift it. Might need a block and tackle or a winch.
  4. The Thetford Curve is intended to be mounted on a teak shower mat, so that it can be moved or removed as necessary. I’m looking at a tent-like wardrobe at IKEA that fits in the tub too. On trips where you won’t plan to use the toilet, you can leave it at home and swap in the wardrobe.


Whew! If you've made it to the end of this TL;DR post... thanks! I'm going to need as much help as I can get, and I appreciate your attention and your inputs and opinions.
 

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...
  • When
    Someone asked how long this project was going to take, and I said forever. I really can’t say how long this is going to take. The important thing is I’ve started. The oppressive heat and humidity of Summer in Florida limits me right now. I’m not in a big rush, but I’m guessing a year might do it.​

Funny, my build has been affected by exactly the opposite... too cold to work on in the cold New England winters! Just completed year 3, with a few more items still on the punch list!


An alternative to swivel seats? Here's a thought. This has worked out really well for me at a very low cost.... could be done on both seats if you wanted to. We use ours a lot! Probably faster than swiveling a factory swivel seat, too. Very comfortable.

http://www.promasterforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=51241

 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
An alternative to swivel seats? Here's a thought.
Nice idea, thanks. I may riff on this idea with a fold-down jump seat behind the passenger's. That's the sort of design collaboration, I was talking about.

The spot behind the drivers was going to be similar in my layout until I went with the Engel behemoth. Just as well, the Ikea cabinets I'm looking at are only available with a 15" depth which make it hard to accommodate a standard fridge .
 

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Actually I think the swivels are great, you should rethink this. It makes my 136” van’s 60 sq ft roving tiny house into an 80 sq ft tiny house. I did try two before I was happy. Here is the solution to loving your swivels. Buy the Sportscraft lowered bases from eurocampers.com and while you are at their site order a drivers side swivel base too. Install that driver’s side swivel on the passenger side! Go to swivelsrus.com and order a CTA swivel base for a promaster (they are the same on both sides. Install that on the lowered base on the driver’s side.
You will love ‘em. The van feels BIGGER. The footrest you build can hold the heater. The tool container still fits. They are easy to swivel and don’t really hit anything. The passenger seat will be swiveled towards the door giving better access to the front. The dogs(s) will find the seats are their favorite place to be while you camp. They swivel!

Not to judge but nearly all IKEA cabinets are sawdust and glue with a thin plastic surface. They are heavy, come in restrictive sizes, and are held together with a few cheap cast fittings. You can buy an inexpensive table saw and build 1/2” hardwood boxes brad nailed and glued together that are better in every way and in the sizes you want and need. Just saying. I did it so can you!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Actually I think the swivels are great, you should rethink this.

Not to judge but nearly all IKEA cabinets are sawdust and glue with a thin plastic surface. They are heavy, come in restrictive sizes, and are held together with a few cheap cast fittings. You can buy an inexpensive table saw and build 1/2” hardwood boxes brad nailed and glued together that are better in every way and in the sizes you want and need. Just saying. I did it so can you!
I'll take another look at the swivels.

Per the cabinets, I hear you on the quality. Was considering a "rub" in plywood of some of the pieces and just using the drawers and the facings. By that time, you might have built it yourself, I know.

I've also looked at some made-to-order unfinished user assembled cabinets that are made out of plywood instead of MDF. There are a couple of vendors, but they can get pricy.
 

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Can you find a cabinet builder in your area to do the drawers? Doors are easy and drawers are not too bad but if you never have I understand. Since I just sawed the openings to be the doors and drawer fronts the cabinet people could build and install the drawers and just add your faces.
 

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Interesting approach. Your open aisle would allow mounting furnace under pass seat without adding ducting. Cold air return from cab floor; heated air flows along floor to rear and creates a nice continuous flow of air. I built for one person also and love my fixed 24"x6'8" bed/couch with bins underneath and overheads above.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Your open aisle would allow mounting furnace under pass seat without adding ducting. Cold air return from cab floor; heated air flows along floor to rear and creates a nice continuous flow of air.
I hadn't considered that. Most people do the driver's side, but I figured I had to do something because the area behind the driver is blocked.

The Murphy Bed is planned as a full-sized 54" x 74" split into two 27" x 74" inch sections with slatted independent Froli headrests. I have half of the Froli system put together already and I'm testing with a 3" mattress. I've slept on it the past two nights and it's working out well enough that I've ordered another mattress.

The Froli system allows for ventilation under the mattress, so hopefully the heat will rise to meet the right places.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Drawers and doors are available mail-order from the internet, reasonable prices and quality. Attach to vertical ply and you are done, no frame needed. Frames waste space.
Thanks, this gives me some new vendors to look at. There's a lot of overlap.

Some of them do both drawers and fronts and cabinets. I'll research and post a summary later.
 

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Drawers and doors are available mail-order from the internet, reasonable prices and quality.
Any recommendations for decent ones (or forums where people use them)? I've found a few searching, but I don't think "flatpack" is the right keyword to find US manufacturers.
 

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...I have half of the Froli system put together already and I'm testing with a 3" mattress. I've slept on it the past two nights and it's working out well enough that I've ordered another mattress...
:) u r gonna luv it!
 

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Any recommendations for decent ones (or forums where people use them)? I've found a few searching, but I don't think "flatpack" is the right keyword to find US manufacturers.
Sorry I just saw this and am not in a position to answer right now. We are hiking in the Swiss Alps til the end of the month.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
Changes

Progress has been slow due to the weather and theatrical engagements I got roped into, but I've made a little progress and made some changes per feedback and prototyping. Details and highlights to follow later.


  • Passenger running board - installed
  • Curt trailer hitch - installed
  • Swivel seats - installed
  • Noico sound deading in cab - installed

Per inputs, prototyping and general head-scratching I've made some changes to the original plan.


  • Motion Windows on rear quarter panels and slider replace Tern Overland windows
  • Dual Murphy bunks replace single Full-sized Murphy bed
  • Swivel seats added (originally was on my not-to-do list)
  • Truckfridge TF130 replaces Engel
  • Pontoon boat sofa nixed
  • Ikea galley cabinet nixed in favor of self built with possible preassembled drawers and/or facing

Here's the revised rough floorplan:



Notes:


  1. Water heater (with TDB pump) and the Truckfridge are stacked on top of the water tank
  2. Fold up table behind the driver, so there's a dining area when swiveled
  3. Fold-up counter/table top on side of galley that serves as a passenger dining area / extended counter space
  4. Raised floor behind cab (footrest when swiveled)
  5. Overhead cabinets above both bunks

I did some prototyping of the full-sized murphy bed, and found that it was going to be difficult to attach its frame above the wheel wells. Clearances were tight to clear the ceiling when the bed was raised. The fold-down dinette on the back of the bed was problematic too, so I decided to cut the whole thing in half and raise the support frame up to mount the bunks on the ribs below the quarter panel windows.

Now I can have overhead cabinets on both sides of the van rather than just one, and still have room for open storage benches below. Rather than put pillows on them or put a couch there, I'm planning to leave them open and they can double as open storage or a spot to put stadium seats or reclining floor chairs on top. There are many options for these on Amazon and likely more comfy than I can build. You can also now lower the bed on the opposite side so you can look out the window while relaxing in the chairs. The bunks cover the window areas when raised, are lighter and only have to support half the weight as before, so the murphy bed design is simplified.

These changes left me without a dinette, so I added the swivels and switched the fridge from horizontal to vertical. Stacking the fridge above the water tank and heater brought the door to a convenient height. And the space needed above the Engel to allow the door to swing is used for a dining area for the swiveled driver.

Overall I'm pleased with these changes, but they introduce their own set of issues:


  1. The full-sized windows were ordered before I split and raised the bunks. While I like that when folded up the bunks serve as insulation, I'm concerned they may be hot or cold when first lowered.
  2. Unless I cantilever the bunks down a bit, they are about on level with the windows. This may make sleeping a bit cold/hot too and add privacy concerns. Shades or blinds will probably help this and add a thermal barrier.
  3. Unless I cantilever the bunks down, they are pretty high off the ground and I may have to provide steps.
  4. One of the bunks folds down over part of the galley, so I either have to lower the whole thing to below standard counter height, or have a step in my counter. This is mitigated by the fold up countertop/eating area on the other side, but I'm looking into ways to deal with the step. For example a drawer in the top of the main galley cabinet that pulls out horizontally and holds my cook stove.


I'm curious how people with the more conventional sideways platform bed mounted across the ribs in the back address 2-3 above. Many of you have smaller windows, but some must have full-sized windows and can say if these issues are manageable in real life.

My windows arrive this Friday, and I'm equal parts excited and terrified. The plan is to install the rear quarter panel windows first so I can get some practice before I tackle the slider which by most accounts is a tight fit. I'm not in a rush, so I may spend this weekend making measurements and templates etc, and wait until next weekend to screw up my courage and tackle installing the windows. That way I still have time to chicken out and switch to smaller windows ;)

Next steps beyond installing the windows are:


  1. Install an insulated floor
  2. Build prototype cabinets and practical mockups of everything else out of a bunch of 1/2" plywood and 2x4s I have. The idea is to get some practice with cabinetry and woodworking.
  3. Sound deadening for polar bear repellant-- I hear they are attracted to white vans ;)
  4. Insulate the walls (I'm thinking thinsulate due to ease of installation and removal)
  5. Based on the results of the prototypes and mockups, build the cabinets 'for reals'
  6. Solar / electrical
  7. Plumbing / bathroom
  8. Install fans / air conditioning
  9. Insulate ceiling (torn between polyiso and thinsulate)
  10. Finish ceiling (thinking headliner, perhaps over panels)

I'm leaving stuff that goes on the roof for last because my city (which is effectively one big homeowners association) has ordinances about parking RVs and commercial vehicles in your driveway. So far so good, but as soon as someone complains and I get classified as an RV, I have to store the van elsewhere and am only allowed to park it in my driveway three days out of a week.

As always, thank you for your help and inputs. You've already been a big help.
 

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  1. The full-sized windows were ordered before I split and raised the bunks. While I like that when folded up the bunks serve as insulation, I'm concerned they may be hot or cold when first lowered.
  2. Unless I cantilever the bunks down a bit, they are about on level with the windows. This may make sleeping a bit cold/hot too and add privacy concerns. Shades or blinds will probably help this and add a thermal barrier.
  3. Unless I cantilever the bunks down, they are pretty high off the ground and I may have to provide steps.
  4. One of the bunks folds down over part of the galley, so I either have to lower the whole thing to below standard counter height, or have a step in my counter. This is mitigated by the fold up countertop/eating area on the other side, but I'm looking into ways to deal with the step. For example a drawer in the top of the main galley cabinet that pulls out horizontally and holds my cook stove.


I'm curious how people with the more conventional sideways platform bed mounted across the ribs in the back address 2-3 above. Many of you have smaller windows, but some must have full-sized windows and can say if these issues are manageable in real life.
We have full size windows and a near-queen size bed running sideways about 8 inches below the lower windowsill, so our situation is a little bit different than yours as we are below the base of the window. The driver-side window has two crank outs (it's a CRL window). We have insulated shades. Cold has not been a concern, and we prefer to do our camping when the temps range from 30-85 degree F. When there is a chill, we warm up quickly under our down comforter on sub 40-degree nights, even if the bed starts out cold. It's just not a problem. I doubt this would be much of an issue for you, although you would be colder at window level. With heat, we sleep with our feet to the crank out windows and the fan on; or we open the rear doors (we have made a mosquito net to cover the rear); or we add a small clip on fan; or we combine all these. Privacy has only been a concern when we have the rear doors open, but usually we wait until night to do that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
We have insulated shades. Cold has not been a concern, and we prefer to do our camping when the temps range from 30-85 degree F. When there is a chill, we warm up quickly under our down comforter on sub 40-degree nights, even if the bed starts out cold. It's just not a problem. I doubt this would be much of an issue for you, although you would be colder at window level.
Thanks for the feedback. What sort of shades do you have? I've been looking at Proeddie's shade thread, and doing some research and I'm impressed with the R-value of double cell shades. Murphy beds are often implemented folding into wooden frames, so it may be possible to hang shades in the same frame.
 

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My crosswise bed is exactly at the bottom of my max-size Motion windows. No covering except "magic shade" pop up screens. From mid-teens to 100+, the windows have never been a problem.
 

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Thanks for the feedback. What sort of shades do you have? I've been looking at Proeddie's shade thread, and doing some research and I'm impressed with the R-value of double cell shades. Murphy beds are often implemented folding into wooden frames, so it may be possible to hang shades in the same frame.
I can't recall the manufacturer right now. They are the double cell type. You can raise them completely for a full open view; pull down just a light screen (single wall) shade that lets light in but provides some privacy; or pull down the double wall shades that are good insulation and room darkening.
 
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