Three- 180 watt Grape Solar panels. We chose them because they were the only ones that fit our roof.
All of the other brands hung over the edge of the roof.
Grapes panels were 55 inches long and everyone else were 65 inches long.
Yes, they had more power but you see panels hanging over the edge.
The roof rails are set at 52 inches apart, which meant the panels didn’t extend beyond the roof.
From the panels in series the positive and negative wires go through a watertight plastic cap that glues to the roof and is sealed against the elements.
They go directly into the MPPT controller.
Victron 100/50 MPPT controller
How this actually works is the Negative goes into the controller and the positive goes into a breaker in the mini-disconnect box. From that breaker it goes to the positive of the controller so it can be shut off for servicing. It then comes out of the MPPT controller into another breaker and the other end of that breaker goes to the positive bus bar in the mini disconnect box.
Breakers are Midnight Solar 50 amp DC breakers
Now if you are planning to be plugged in mostly at campgrounds and you’re in hot weather then I say install a 50 amp shore plug and install a roof air conditioning unit.
If your like us and am trying to stay away from camp grounds then all you need is 30 amps. Some campgrounds only have 30 amp receptacles.
Best of all worlds is to install a 50-amp system and they make reducers to drop it to 30 amps if need and even down to 15 amp 110volts
I thought I needed 500ah of power, which I really do.
I did the research and found someone selling Lithium batteries that fit the bill and were less expensive then the other systems I looked at.
He had new Chevy Volt Lithium batteries starting at 100ah all the way to 800ah systems. An entire battery from a Chevy volt would be huge and too much power for an RV. So I purchased it a year in advance of getting my van and just kept it charged just waiting for my van.
Once I had my van and installed the battery I found that that battery was not going to work with my system. It does work for everything except the voltage was too low to charge the battery through the alternator. The Volt battery could only operate between 9-12 volts DC, which was, fine and worked perfectly except I couldn’t find a regulator to reduce the power down that low.
So after leaving home we had a charging issue with the solar controller so I stopped at Northern Arizona Wind & Solar and they stock the Battleborn batteries.
I purchased 2 100AH batteries and after 30 minutes and a new charge controller was on the road again.
Since I installed my alternator but was never able to use it I thought now is the time.
Especially since the weather was looking unfavorable and not going to work for our limited power supply.
I contacted the alternator company. Nations Alternators and he only had one recommendation in San Antonio, Texas, which we would be driving though between Christmas and New Years. The Company LMC checked and they were able to take me the next day. Adam the owner was extremely helpful and knew his stuff. This was a specialty Limo custom build company. When we arrived they took us right away. Their main electronics guy jumped right in and knew what to do.
Basically all they had to do was cut off the old belt and install the new one and reset the regulator for the type of lithium batteries we had.
We went for coffee in the industrial hip neighborhood and on our way back Adam called and said it was ready for testing. 5 minutes later we were getting a charge. The entire ordeal took less then 2 hours. If you are ever in San Antonio go check out their shop and use their services.
Now fast forward two more weeks and I see we are using 50% of our capacity.
So I ordered two more batteries and had them shipped ahead. Getting to Florida they were waiting for me. Another 45 minutes and a little reconfigure I was able to stack the batteries on top of each other and now I have 400ah of Battle Born Lithium batteries.
Quick recap of the system
540 watts of solar on the roof, which run through a Victron MPPT 100/50 controller
Midnight solar mini disconnect box that everything runs into to shut off for service.
4- Battleborn 100ah lithium batteries
A dedicated "Nations" 280 amp alternator with adjustable regulator to control output!
Victron Multi-plus 3000/ inverter for all of my 110volt needed
30 amp shore power tied into the inverter
AC/DC breaker box where all of the circuits are controlled by!
Before you jump into the interior you need to figure out a few things that go behind the walls, like plumbing ,electrical and vents.
Once this is done then you can layout your wall coverings.
Windows is a big issue for many reasons.
You want as much natural light as you can get into the van yet there is a balance.
The main issues you will be dealing with are heat and cold.
I would purchase a van with as little windows as possible.
You can always add windows but you cannot cover them up.
Let’s talk about cold first.
There is a new company producing double pane plastic windows.
They come in multiple sizes and you can cut the openings to fit the windows you purchase. Yet remember that windows, even double pane windows are a source for cold air to come into your van. Limit the number and size.
Heat being the second issue!
If you have ever had your car sitting in the sun all day you know how hot it can get inside. What happens is the sun bakes into the glass and creates an oven effect.
It can easily get up to 150 degrees inside the van. Enough to kill anything inside!
Again limiting the amount of solar gain through the windows is a big deal.
Now shades help a lot but there will still be a thin barrier of heat between the inside glass and your insulated shades.
Insulated shades are an absolute must and you cannot live without them.
Even in 50-degree temperatures the inside of the van can heat up on a sunny day.
On a cold day they can keep the heat in by as much as 50 degree range and reduce the amount of heat needed to be comfortable.
Make sure they are well insulated and fit so there is a tight seal all around.
Also remember when designing your van you will need a readily accessible place to store them.
As part of the window system one of the must haves for any Sprinter conversion is a roof vent. We have had both the Fantastic Fan and the Maxxair. They are basically the same. The only difference is you can use the Maxxair in a rainstorm and the cover is a little more heavy duty. Other then that they both have 10 speeds and all the bells and whistles. One thing you can do is adding an interior cover to the fan in winter and summer again for heat and cold.
Also some people think it important to have two fans running in really hot weather.
I guess if you can afford the additional roof space go for it.
Otherwise I feel one is enough if you do all of the other things like good insulation and window shades.
Lastly the other issue, which may or may not affect you depending on what type of camping you do, is NOISE!
Fewer windows are better; glass or plexi-glass windows both transmit sound.
Plus depending on the insulation thickness in your van you will reduce sound substantially.
If you are stealth camping sound can be a major issue when you are parked under and overpass or at a truck stop or Wal-Mart or even a noisy camp ground.
They can be mad from any and all material.
You can be as creative as you’d like in this area.
My suggest from being a general contractor all those years is you want a surface that will reflect light, since you are living in such a small space light is your friend.
(See above for window suggestions)
One thing you want is to utilize as much of the vans space as possible without compromising interior space.
With that said most of the vans have a ceiling height of about 6’3”-6’5” ‘s tall.
Now here is where you don’t compromise.
I would build a grid system over the existing metal ribs in the ceiling.
Lowering by 1” or more if needed.
What that gains you is the ability to add more insulation in the ceiling.
If you’re not a tall person then I might add a 2x4, which makes an additional 2-½”s
We have already talked about insulation so more is better.
IF you feel you want to have a lot of options for your build then purchase the airline track and create a grid that will work for your needs.
There are a few different kinds of track and some are surface mount and some recessed. Purchase based on how you want it to look in the end.
Now to narrow your choices!
Aluminum sheet can be one of the nicest finishes on a ceiling.
It can come in multiple colors including white and be easy to install with two or more people. Especially if you have your ceiling framing and airline track located.
Another nice option is ABS hair cell plastic in white. This also comes in multiple colors.
1/8” to ¼” is flexible and light enough but you can get it thinner or thicker depending upon your needs
Now this is where you can get creative but remembers the weight.
Barn board, ¼” plywood painted, T&G pine, tile, maps glued to the surface, wallpaper, etc.….
Now putting looks aside which one is easier to keep clean.
Which surface will hold up better for the long haul?
Which surface will be more resilient to scratches and other damage?
How easy will it be to replace a section if it does get damaged?
Now your walls can either match your ceiling or be something totally different.
A nice feature would also be to insulate your walls and build them out slightly to make the surface easier to cover if it’s squared off where the ceiling meets the wall.
The wall panels can also change based on where it is located in the van.
For example if it is a counter top back splash you want to use a material that is easy to clean and doesn’t show dirt. You can also use magnetic material to attach kitchen items to.
So walls once again can be anything you want.
One of the most used systems involves using a cloth material over thin plywood.
Always best if you use foam padding underneath.
This is better for sound absorption and also things don’t bang around the van.
This is a time consuming process and you need a big space and a large plywood table to lie out your project. Yet once it’s done it will look extremely professional and add a little more insulation to the van.