8 Critical Elements Of A Modern Van Conversion

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THERE ARE MANY REASONS TO HAVE A CONVERSION VAN. MOST FOLKS WILL USE IT FOR AFFORDABLE TRAVEL, AND SOME DOING THE MORE EXTREME BOONDOCKING AND EVEN LESS LIVING IN IT PERMANENTLY.

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Some use it as their mobile office, while traveling around the country, others have made it part of the Tiny House Movement.

For me it is all about mobility and extended stays, while preserving functionality and comfort.

1. Independence:

Generators have been a source of irritation for many RV’rs for a long time, but their time has come, unless you have an air-conditioner to run. Solar panels have come a long way and even the smaller RVs can support multiple panels with ease. Especially the new high efficiency flexible solar panels that can be fit and hidden on top of the roofs of most cargo vans.

Elon Musk: “A battery by definition is a collection of cells. The challenge is taking a very high-energy cell, and a large number of them, and combining them safely into a large battery.”

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With prices as low as they are, van owners should not limit themselves to one panel, but go for the maximum that space allows. With flexible panels, weight is not an obstacle anymore and the maintenance of a photovoltaic system is simple anyway. What a relief it is to be off-grid, yet still be able to use all your gadgets with fewer limitations, even on long trips.

Panels have evolved dramatically during the last few years, however battery technology lacks behind and still poses restrictions on the entire setup. Deep cycle lead batteries or the better performing AGM’s are big and heavy and do create weight and space limitations. The newer Lithium Ion technology is around the corner, but hasn’t been tested fully yet for RV applications. These smaller and more powerful batteries will simplify the maintenance of a photovoltaice system, as they probably never need to be replaced for the life of the van.

More panels mean more free and renewable energy and increased independence from campgrounds!

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2. Comfort:

A good night’s rest may be hard to find in the average RV. Convertible sleeper sofas or dinette sleepers often leave you broken after a night on a thin pad or between pads, if the bed is constructed from several individual pads instead of a solid mattress.

Things have improved with the widely available memory foam mattresses and made it easier for van converters, who regularly work with non-standard bed sizes. An added advantage of memory foam is how little effort it takes to cut it to size. Surprisingly, even the least expensive memory foam supplies a level of comfort far better than any regular couch can offer. Just choose a thickness of at least 6 inches, preferably 8 inches or more.

A little comfort makes travel so much easier!

3. Communications:

Times are changing… A television used to be the only RV accessory. Today your kids want to be on Facebook and if you use you van as a Mobile Office, Internet is not far away. Add a cell phone to stay in touch and the minimum we need is a good phone and data plan, an external phone/wifi antenna, router, wifi-extender, a tablet and a laptop.
Either on a short road trip or while long term boondocking, good communications are becoming more of a necessity!

4. Safety:

Many of us already use GPS in our car, built-in or as an accessory. This should also be part of a cargo van conversion.
In addition, frequently backup camera’s add to driving safely. Adding these inexpensive camera’s to all sides of the vehicle with access to them from a tablet, would dramatically improve safety for these small Class B RV’s, especially for those who travel alone or as a couple. With night vision, this also creates a wonderful opportunity to watch the local wildlife, that crawls around your van at night.

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5. Energy saving:

Anybody who has traveled in an RV, has experienced the limitations on energy use in such a vehicle and owners are continuously on the watch for improvements. The recent developments around LED lights has made them more affordable, but more importantly, their ultra low power consumption makes them ideal as the light source of choice in recreational vehicles. Power consumption of light fixtures in an RV can be reduced up to 50x when you compare them to the old incandescent bulbs that are still so common.

And more energy savings means more independence.

6. Water saving:

Another big limitation on boondocking trips is access to water. Installing extra water tanks should fix that problem, if water wasn’t so heavy. At more than 8 lbs per gallon (1 Kg/L) you’re always restricted by the maximum payload of the van.

In some locations, where water is available from streams or lakes, one could use a good water filtration system to ease the problem; these system are not inexpensive and often energy-intensive.

For now, the best solution is conservation. Taking one-gallon showers and installing a water saving shower head like the Oxygenics, may extend your boondocking with a couple of days.

7. Insulation:

Winter cold and summer heat are the biggest enemies of every van owner and while better heating may be a solution, cooling is virtually impossible, unless you’re on a campground or have a large generator at your disposal.
A better approach is full insulation of floors, walls and ceiling; easy to install during a cargo van conversion, yet difficult for retrofit situations. Adding curtains and/or Reflectix to the single pane windows will further enhance the air tightness of the vehicle.

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8. Ventilation:

Good insulation brings with it condensation, with cooking, showers and heaters as the worst offenders. At least one vent and perhaps two, if you have a shower, are necessary to remove the moist air. They also help you stay cool in summer, without running a generator and A/C. The Fan-tastic Vent or MaxxAir fans use little energy and are proven accessories for any RV.

Composting toilet

Not on my list, yet worth consideration, is the new phenomenon of a composting toilet. Still bulky and expensive, but a possible improvement on the weight issues and disposal of black water from the RV.
These waterless devices work on the principle of separating the fluids from the solids, thus eliminating any foul smells. They make disposal a lot easier and eliminate almost all water use.

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