Access to the campervan gas bottle

Is it me, or are these post titles getting increasingly less intriguing?

Anyway, it’s always a slightly hairy moment when you take a power tool to the van’s shell. Particularly when the size of hole you’re cutting could not be easily patched up with a bit of sticky-back plastic and passed off as a ‘vintage’ feature if anything went wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t! So we now have external access to the gas bottle.

The 2kg gas bottle sits in a metal box, which would provide some protection in the (hopefully unlikely) event of any gas leakage. The three-sided box sits underneath one of the seats and we’ve now fitted a vented door to the outside.

Paul made two cardboard templates to work out exactly where to cut the hole: one the size of the box and one the size of the door frame. He lined up the box template on the inside and drilled a hole through the centre. He then lined up the centre of the frame template on the outside of the van with the hole, and drew around the outline. He then cut the corners using a 50mm hole saw and cut between the holes with tin snips.


Paul sealed all the cut edges with rust primer, squeezed a layer of silicon around the door frame (to prevent water seeping through) and pushed the frame into place.

He then bolted the door frame to the van using nylon locking nuts (try saying that after a Sunday afternoon beverage – I am failing miserably), so they don’t vibrate loose once we’re on the road.

The next step is to connect up the gas and have it certified.

The cupboard doors arrived from Laminex this week and are trying desperately to blend into our carpet before being fitted. Here’s a sneaky peek:

Wiring a campervan

Phase one of the campervan wiring is now complete – hurrah! There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Actually there’s not because lighting is part of phase two, but at least the fridge is whirring away nicely.

What follows is a very simplified description of how we got to this point. If you have any more detailed questions, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

<Disclaimer> Now, I am (clearly) not an electrician and neither, for that matter, is Paul. All the works described below are still to be certified by a licensed electrician to ensure we’re in no danger of electrocution down the track.

Okay. We have two main circuits: One that will plug into a 240v power source at a campsite, and one that is powered by a 12v battery for when we’re travelling off-piste.

Here’s an overall view:

240v power circuit

  • Paul cut a small hole in the shell of the van and attached a 240 socket so we can run a cable to an external power supply.

  • From the other side of the socket, a 2.5mm cable runs through a conduit (to protect from any sharp metal) along the inside of the campervan to a 16 amp fuse.

  • The fuse clips onto a small metal bracket, which is screwed to the van. The yellow and green cable shown above connects to the metal shell of the van (we had to scrape a small patch of paint off the interior) to provide the earth.
  • Three cables then run from this fuse. The first runs to a power socket for the battery charger – ours is a CTEK Multi XS 150000. The charger will eventually be hard-wired to the battery.

  • The second cable runs around the front of the living area, under the doorway (in the lower of two conduits) to the power point for the fridge.

  • The third cable will run to an additional socket. Perhaps for a hair straightener.

12v battery circuit

There are two circuits from the battery.

  1. The first solely powers the fridge when we’re not connected to external power.  The fridge will automatically recognise when we disconnect from the 240v, and will switch to battery power.

The cable runs from the battery to a 15 amp fuse, then through an isolation switch, around the front of the living area, through the top conduit in the doorway and to the fridge.

We used an 8mm diameter cable to prevent any voltage drop between the battery and fridge and it seemed to do the trick; even with a 4.5m cable, we’re getting a consistent 12volts to the fridge. In fact, we seem to have gained a few…

In this case, the van’s metal shell provides the negative connection to the battery. Very handy.

2. The second battery circuit will power all other elements, which we’ll install in phase two: the water pump, lights and extractor fans.

The cable runs from the battery to a 40 amp fuse, then through an isolation switch, around the front of the living area to the control panel. Each switch in the control panel has its own fuse, ranging from 10-15 amps.

We’ll use the control panel to switch on the lights, fans and water pump. The water pump sits to the left of the fridge, so the cable runs around the fire extinguisher above, through the top conduit in the doorway and past the fridge to the pump.

Isolation switches

Running the cables through an isolation switch means we can manually switch the circuit off if necessary. We have also installed a dual-battery isolator; the car’s alternator will charge our 12v battery while we’re driving, but the isolator prevents our battery taking power from the car’s battery.

So that’s it! We bought everything from Bunnings (surprise, surprise), Supercheap Auto and a local electrical shop. Phase two is to install the lighting and fans, which involves cutting a hole in the roof, yikes.

Converting a campervan – our favourite Google searches

If you have arrived at this post from Google or ‘another leading search engine’, I am wondering if you’ve found what you were looking for. When I first embarked on this blog, I had the rather lofty ambition of producing a kind of campervan oracle for people tackling similar projects. I have a sneaking suspicion that something has gone awry along the way. To test this theory though, I have developed a (not at all egocentric) fascination with the WordPress stats page. This is where, under the dubiously respectable guise of ‘professional interest’, I can find a list of search terms that have led people to this blog. (Fear not, I can only see the words you typed into Google rather than your postcode or inside leg measurement). Theoretically, this should tell me the topics that fellow campervanners need help with.

Interesting things I have learned:

  • There is definitely demand for a blog solely about campervan toilets. They are remarkably popular.
  • Campervan cabinets seem to be the nemesis in most people’s campervan conversions. (Just go to Bunnings!)
  • There is surprisingly high interest in gingham curtains. Maybe we could form a clique.

Some of the search terms have actually provided great inspiration for our own project:


‘DIY campervan bath’
– Now this is a fantastic idea, seats are overrated anyway. A bath would neatly fit in the living area and would require no cushions!

‘Tiling a campervan bathroom’ – what, the whole thing? That is dedication. I was planning to just stick a few mosaic tiles around the sink but maybe we should put a bit more effort in.

‘DIY slide-out room on campervan’. Now there’s a thought. I quite fancy a study. Unlikely though, seeing as I’ve been campaigning in vain for a slide-out roof for several months.

Some search terms have been more concerning:


‘Mould in campervan toilet flush tank’
. Hmmm.

‘Campervan toilet won’t flush’. Oh dear.

‘Campervan toilet still won’t flush’. This person was getting desperate.

‘Campervan toilet leaking water on floor’ I’m hoping that Google swiftly directed this poor person to a mop and bucket and they’re not now standing up to their ankles…

I also feel I might have lured some unsuspecting audiences here under false pretences, because quite a few people have arrived at the blog having googled ‘calming colours’. This must hark back to our early interior design plans to create a zen like atmosphere; I’m sure anyone hoping to be faced with a calm and serene environment beat a hasty retreat at the sight of our eventual fabric choice. Hopefully the people who googled ‘fun campervan upholstery’ left feeling a bit more fulfilled.

Over the course of the project I’ve tried to include most of the popular themes along the way, but there are some specific questions that keep popping up, so I’ll try and answer these in separate blogs. First will be how to attach cabinets to the shell of the campervan. After that, I should finally be able to report on the electrics because after several weeks surrounded by wires, apparently we’re almost powered up.

Incidentally, if you are converting your own campervan and have any questions or comments, please post them here!

Ps Thanks for everyone’s comments and messages about the cushions; I’m under the impression you’re getting a bit concerned. Luckily I’m not the sort of person who turns into a procrastinating perfectionist when faced with a bit of pressure* and I’m making steady progress. Photos coming soon!

*this might not be completely true.

How to convert campervan seating into a bed

After much pencil chewing and imaginary beard stroking over how to convert our campervan seating into a bed, Paul had an epiphany.

The first stage was fairly simple. By hinging an extra panel onto the long section of the L-shaped seating, we could pull it out to create the base of the bed. As shown here:


Paul had to cut the top panel marginally shorter than the bottom one, so it would clear the overhanging worksurface when pulled out. This will be hidden though once the seat cushions are on.

We’ve continued to use the same material for all the seating panels – I imagine the staff at Bunnings are somewhat intrigued by the sudden demand for their cheap pantry doors. It’s been a readily available form of MDF though with a glossy plastic coating, and has been really easy to work with.

The challenge was creating the supporting leg underneath the pull-out bed panel. The moment of revelation occurred when Paul worked out he could add another panel, which, when hinged, would act as a back rest in one position, and a supporting leg when folded down:

In the bed configuration, the two seat cushions will stay in position, and the two backrests will lie side by side on the other half. The bed is actually wider than I’d imagined; I was visualizing us both having to lie on our sides and turn over in unison, but it’s about 1.2m wide, which is fairly comfortable.

This week Paul has also fitted the master control switch, and bought the battery and the charger, so the next job is to start wiring everything up. Since winter arrived early in Brisbane, I have been lobbying for a nice warm fan heater, in case the van is finished before August. I’ve been advised to just rug up.

Creating a campervan kitchen

I’ve had a polite request for more campervan photos, so here’s a pictorial update on the kitchen (with as few words as I can muster!)

So our exciting delivery from Caravans Plus last week revealed a ceiling fan, a gas stove and a kitchen sink:

Caravans Plus has been a very useful supplier, we also bought the Thetford toilet and gas bottle casing there. And although they’re based in NSW, the delivery charge for everything in this picture was only about $30.

In preparation for installing the stove and sink, Paul came home every evening last week and lovingly sanded and oiled the wooden worksurface. Then he sanded it again with a finer sandpaper, oiled it again, sanded it again and gave it a final coat of oil for good measure. And then he cut a huge great hole in the middle to fit the gas stove. Still, the rim of the worksurface looks lovely and smooth:

The lid also comes down to create an extra worksurface:


It was obviously a cloudy day in Brisbane.

Paul also prepared the worksurface on the other side of the kitchen where the sink will sit. 

Neither the stove or sink are connected up to anything yet. 

The hardest bit with the worksurface was cutting around the handle next to the door – on the right hand side of the photo above. Paul used a cardboard template to cut around the edge, and the patent-pending right-angled pencil made another appearance.

So here’s an overall view of the kitchen, I think it’s looking beautiful!

Paul has already started work on the seating / bed configuration, so that will be the next chapter in the story. Just don’t mention the seat cushions. I was distressed to discover I have inherited no sewing genes whatsoever, and combined with an innate lack of patience and defiant new sewing machine, progress has been fairly slow.

Campervan layout – a feat of architectural design?

Before we started work on the van and it was still an empty shell, it was hard to imagine we’d be able to squeeze in a kitchen, bathroom and living room without it all looking very cramped. Yet somehow, now the furniture is in and the walls are up, it’s like our little minibus was always destined to be a cosy campervan. Everything just fits. It is compact and bijou! Clearly all those Thursday nights we’ve spent watching seven series of Grand Designs have been worth it – Kevin would be proud! (Actually, Kevin would say it could have been even better if we’d employed an architect, but never mind.)


The internal structure is quite defined now, and the walls have gone up between the bathroom and kitchen. Paul bought these as pantry doors and used a cardboard template to cut them to shape around the side of the van. The bathroom door will be a bit trickier. Ideally we’d want a rectangular panel that slides across the gap, but the position of the wheel arches on either side means it could only open half way. So the options are to fit a double door that opens into the bathroom, or hang a few strings of beads. That one’s still on the drawing board.

 

The toilet and bathroom basin are now bolted down, and the back of the toilet is fixed to another panel to facilitate the rear-entry swivel benefits, as shown below.


The seating is coming along, and the next stage will be to construct and fit an extra horizontal panel that will hinge out to form a bed. This has been a more contentious issue than you would probably imagine, and the subject of many robust discussions between Paul and his various campervan advisers. Whichever method he chooses, it’ll be one of the next jobs.

A lot of the work coming up will be less visible and includes the wiring and electrics. My sewing machine has now arrived and I may attempt another place mat before launching into the cushions. Thank you to everyone who has expressed a preference for a particular fabric. Surprisingly, almost everyone chose the same one.

(I suspect a conspiracy.)


Campervan kitchen – in go the cabinets

We’ve had to bring in reinforcements; Paul’s parents, Jean & John, were staying last week and earned their keep by knocking a few cabinets together. J & J are also keen campervanners and have just embarked on their second tour of NZ in a v posh 4-berth campervan.

So the task last weekend was to build and fit the kitchen cabinets that will house the sink, gas stove and fridge. The ‘build’ part was made easier by buying ready-built cabinets from Bunnings! Well, they were flat-packed but still easier than just buying a load of wood. Amazingly they fit perfectly width-ways, so Paul just had to take some of the height off the bottom, and cut round all the wheel arches etc at the back.

So from left to right is the bathroom basin, then there’ll be a wall, then the kitchen sink, then the fridge.

The cabinet on the other side is for the gas stove and grill.

The fridge is a Waeco CoolMatic (80 litres), which is bigger than we thought we could fit in, and has a little ice box at the top for our frozen peas. It’ll be wired in with 6mm cables to the 12volt battery and should last about 3 days before the battery needs to be recharged. That should be plenty long enough, as I can’t imagine we’ll ever go that long without plugging into power somewhere – not intentionally anyway, and if the worst comes to the worst, we’ll just have to have a couple of meals of warm beer and defrosted peas.

The next job is to source and fit the two water tanks underneath the bathroom and kitchen sinks. Paul thinks he might be able to get them from a 4WD shop this week. He also wants to figure out the seating / bed combo; this has already prompted many colourful conversations between him and his Dad, as they both have very different ideas about how to build it. I think Paul is going to take advantage of J & J being in NZ for the next few weeks to make a start on it.

Thetford cassette toilet C200, swivel, flush tank, rear entry

This is the (slightly disconcerting) description of our campervan toilet.  I have been assured, though, that the rear is actually the best place for an entry point, and just refers to how you access the waste tank. Phew. And the swivel aspect means we can position the toilet with the rear facing towards the back door (for optimum cassette removal), but swivel the seat round so we don’t have to sit facing the wall.

As the photos below probably do a better job of explaining.

The toilet is freestanding at the moment, but will be secured to the wall that separates the bathroom from the kitchen.

And we have got the crème de la crème of campervan basins! It is twice the size of the basins in our house, and plenty big enough to have a personal wash twice a day. (Sorry, these Gavin & Stacey references just keep rolling off my tongue – anyone would think I was obsessed.)

Paul bought the bathroom cabinet and basin from Bunnings, and just had to saw 10cm off the bottom of the cupboard, and cut around the wheel arch and a couple of other protruding objects. I say ‘just’ – this was in 35 degree heat yesterday. The cabinet still needs to be bolted onto the floor, but we need to fit the waste-water tank underneath the basin first.

The next job is to fit the dividing walls, so we can start fixing things into place. Having tried out almost every conceivable colour for the walls, I think they’re going to be white.

Buying the van – what happens next?


Tues 11 October 2010

So after a seemingly endless, global search that saw us trek out to car yards as far away as Strathpine and Acacia Ridge, we’ve finally found the perfect van, hurrah!!

Well, I say we…

Paul had very precise requirements, and was starting to lose hope that there were any Toyota commuter vans in Queensland that represented exactly what he wanted (i.e. diesel, automatic, low mileage, low cost, no signage emblazoned on the side, one careful lady owner etc). We had seen and discounted quite a few for various reasons, and unfortunately every salesman we encountered had the same reaction, exclaiming with a sharp intake of breath and a shake of the head that they were as ‘rare as hen’s teeth’.

Not to be defeated, I logged on to carsales.com last Friday morning with the now ingrained list of requirements, and at the top of the list was a lovely looking van. It was petrol, not diesel, but other than that, it seemed exactly right. A 2006 model with only 41,000 km on the clock and best of all, it was $32,000 – $3,000 less than we thought we’d have to pay. It had somehow slipped through the cracks on Paul’s search, but he agreed it looked promising. That evening, Paul rang the contact number listed, and the guy said he had theoretically already ‘sold’ it to two people who were scrambling to arrange their finance, but if we could promise cash the following day, it was ours. Well. That was a turn up for the books.

Keen not to be gazumped ourselves, on Saturday morning we drove in torrential rain to yet another interesting Brisbane suburb, Rocklea, where we met the owner in a printing & signage workshop where the van was being stored. It had recently come across from WA, where it was owned by ABC Childcare. It wasn’t too good to be true, it was a beautiful van – clean and shiny with no dents and hardly any wear inside. It also came with a free fire extinguisher!

We gave it a thorough test drive in the garage, and then dashed to the bank down the road for a cash deposit before he could sell it to anyone else.

The owner was great, and promised to arrange for all 12 rear seats to be taken out, get it certified as a 2-seater vehicle and also re-register it in Queensland – all without charging any extra!

Sat 16 October
Paul drove back to Rocklea yesterday to transfer the rest of the money and drive the van home – sans 12 rear seats. Luckily it fits perfectly down the side of the house. So here it is: ooooh, aaaaah.

Campervan

 

Plenty of room!

Sat 23 October
The first job was to get the windows tinted, which Paul arranged at Auto-Tint in Capalaba. They used the darkest legal tint and promised no bubbles. It looks pretty good:

 

In the afternoon we also joined 5,000 other people wearing this season’s pac-a-mac at the Brisbane Caravan and Camping Sale. It was good to check out the various fixtures and fittings, including lighting and sinks, that we can use in the van, although admittedly we spent most of our time swooning at the fantastic Winnebagos that slept about 16. Our van does not resemble a Winnebago. We found a conversion company who were helpful, and can do either the whole van or just the tricky bits. The look on Paul’s face suggested he would quite like someone to do the whole van, so we had to make a swift exit.

At least we can get a quote for just doing the cutting work to install the gas bottle and ventilation.

Fri 29 October
It’s all systems go. One of Paul’s colleagues has done a 3-D design of the van, which shows everything should fit in well, with our living / dining / sleeping area at the front, a kitchen in the middle with hob on one side and sink on the other, and a tiny bathroom at the back:

Sun 31 October
Paul spent all day yesterday building a mock frame inside the van, to show where each bit will sit. Here you go:

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

 

The only issue that keeps rearing its head is the height of the van inside. It’s 156m high, and because I’m 170cm and Paul is a bit taller, it means that spending any length of time standing or walking through induces a rather stiff back and neck. One option is to raise the roof an extra foot or so with either a hard or soft pop-top so we can freely move around, but Paul is not keen.

Cutting the roof off would obviously be a major job, fairly expensive and not particularly one for the driveway. It would decrease the rigidity inside and make it hard to have an internal wall separating the bathroom (particularly with a soft-top), reduce fuel efficiency and limit the number of multi-storey car parks we could frequent.

Of course, we won’t be spending long periods standing or walking inside however high the ceiling is. But it seems a shame to spend time building a lovely kitchen and bathroom if it’s then too uncomfortable to use them. Anyway, lots of people have tried to persuade Paul and he is having none of it – he says I can fry his breakfast kneeling down at the cooker. Hilarious.
Sun 7 November
We’ve had no luck with the conversion company, who as it turned out were not interested in just doing part of the job. So Paul’s going to tackle it all himself – any excuse for another trip to Bunnings to buy some shiny new tools.

He ordered a stainless steel box for the 9kg gas bottle, which arrived this week. The plan was for it to sit underneath the seating bench but it’s a bit tall, and means when we put the seat cushion on top, the seat will be at window height. To avoid passers by getting a perfect view of our derrieres through the (albeit beautifully tinted) windows as we sit and enjoy our cups of tea, we might have to get a smaller gas bottle, that fits under the seats as we planned. A 2.5kg bottle should be fine just for weekends away anyway.

Sun 20 November
There were a few sweaty palms today, as Paul had to cut a nice round hole in the side of the van for the electrical power point. I can’t imagine there’s much demand for minibuses with portholes, so there’s no going back now!

Still, it went beautifully: