Finishing the Roof Panels

There's basically two remaining 'utility' projects left in the van: fiberglassing the bathroom, and installing the grey water system. Besides that, there's a bunch of cabinetry and finish work to do. Here's the large back panel that goes over the bed with the cutout for the roof fan.

Next, I created a little light fixture by gluing a 18g sheet of stainless steel to a sheet of  3/8" ply, then trimmed it out with a rabbited set of mitered bamboo sticks. This gives the fabric panels a recess to live under so they terminate into this fixture in a nice joint.

I messed up the wiring to feed the recessed LED lights, causing myself undue vexation rewiring the lights so they function correctly in parallel, but besides an hour of electrical rework, the panel went up easily.

It's a little difficult finding an angle in the tight van quarters to get a good sense of what the panels look like installed. One thing this photo above illustrates well however is a craftsmanship issue we had with the fabric we chose. You can see those dark lines running down the fabric from a screw. That's a thread pulled out caused by driving a screw through the fabric, which tends to grab a thread and twist it up onto the screw shaft, leaving a distinctive run in the pattern. It's not overly distracting, but I wish I'd taken the time to carefully prepare a hole in the fabric before screwing into it to avoid this problem. I'm guessing burning a hole into the fabric prior to drilling with a soldering iron would do the trick.

The image above gives a little better impression of the overall affect of the finished panels on the van. If you have been following along, you may remember that the upper corners will all be covered by cabinetry, so I'm not concerned about the unsightly gaps. The missing light in the stainless fixture is the result of a DOA LED. I ordered a replacement along with the two last lights that will go in the far back panel. If you look closely you can see the wires poking out of the center light in the back.

There's still two more LED light bars to install, one below each upper cabinet. We have a lot of lighting options, which was a goal. I think there are a total off eleven different light switches, not counting those in the storage areas or the two for the outdoor lights or the yet-to-be installed bathroom light. Believe it or not, I don't think that's overkill, but time will tell when we have all the units working.

An aside: we ran the air conditioner in the van for the first time recently only to find it doesn't work. Jen took it in to the local dealer who diagnosed a dead compressor, requiring ordering a new one from Germany. They stated that about 10% of the chillers in Sprinters are dead from the factory--not something I'd expect from the prestigious brand. It seems Mercedes is in an interesting place with how they handle commercial vehicles like the Sprinter here in the States where Mercedes is only known as a premium luxury brand. I'm finding a number of small, relatively trivial issues that suggest lower quality control than what I associate with the Mercedes brand. I'm not necessarily saying that this is a problem with the Sprinter--I'm more just noting that I have an unconscious expectation for this vehicle living up the the Mercedes name as I have been indoctrinated to understand it by a lifetime receiving the brands PR and marketing. I'm guessing that's a prime reason why Mercedes licensed the Sprinter brand to Freightliner and Dodge: they do not want to degrade these ultra-premium consumer associations with what is basically a commercial-class vehicle.  I'm guessing that in Europe, Mercedes doesn't enjoy quite the cachet as here in the USA. While most of the time I'm sure Mercedes is quite happy with that distinction, in the case of the Sprinter, I think it shows how difficult it is to market a commercial class vehicle to a public expecting only the highest workmanship.

I'm not suggesting that there are issues with the Sprinter overall. I'm sure that the air conditioner will be working just fine after the repair that will be covered by warranty. New cars can certainly have small issues that aren't caught before they are sold to the customer which doesn't not reflect poorly on QA. But think of a Sprinter more of a commercial brand than something produced by an luxury nameplate.

The farthest back ceiling panel has a little port hole that allows access to the wifi booster. This unit is directly attached to a 3db antenna on the roof. It will get covered with a little bamboo lid. The wifi booster is a straight crib from how this guy set it up over at sprintervanusa . This photo shows the difference between the look of the self tapping screws I use to tap a hole and the stainless finish screw and washer, which, to me, is a big improvement.

Overhead Cabinets

I'm starting to work on the overhead cabinets in earnest. There will be a 44x15x9" bank above the refridgerator, and a long bank that spans the entire van on the slider side. This will be even narrower, something like 6" deep or so. Honestly I'm not entirely sure it's worth the effort or cost, but I'm rather committed to it now for a number of reasons, one of which is that it covers up a bunch of joint slop I left on purpose with these overheads as part of the overall design.

The cabinet doors will all open upwards using these fancy Blum Aventos HK-S hinges. These guys are un-cheap but I like that I don't have to hinge and then also stabilize them too. These units serve as a hinge, but they also keep the door in the upright position.

I'm also working on the drawers in the galley cabinet. I bought the  drawer boxes from They are OK. I'd rather have hardwood drawers (I don't like the how the ply looks dovetailed together). They are a great time saver: I really don't want to spend my time making these things. In the picture below, you can see the first bamboo drawer front roughed in. After I rough in the other three, I'll pull them all off and finish them. The Blum draw slides hold themselves closed pretty well, but if we take a sharp right turn, they will occasionally open. I'm not sure if I'm going to do anything about that or not. 

Made a frame to fit between the galley cabinet and the wet/bathroom

Installed the jamb and rough fit the door below the sink. There's a lot of fine fitting to do. I built out the right side cabinet with some 3/4" sheet so the drawer fronts will  do the euro-style overlap on that side. With that in place I did a final measurement of the width and ordered the drawer boxes.

Unlike the cabinet doors, the door under the bed is inset, which is even less fun to fit so the reveals come out correct. It will be interesting over time to see how all the frames move around  as we drive the van over the years & what doors stick or need to be adjusted. You may notice there's also a new door to the left of the fridge. the inner dimension width is only 4 inches or so which is really too small for much of anything. I think we will end up getting some recycling boxes in there or something like that. The little wedge in the right corner on the bathroom door side is a little step to help get up onto the bed--it works better than it looks like it would.

While I'm waiting for the last set of drawer boxes to come in, I turned back to the overhead cabinet that goes over the fridge. 


Spring, 2017: After our first winter

It's been a few months since I updated--we went on a two week trip down to the St. George area of Utah in the fall, our first longer trip, then didn't do much at all in the van over the winter, which was pretty harsh for Portland, with over a week of subfreezing temps  and snow all over the place. We learned some lessons both from the longer trip and from the overwinter.

The first lesson is that our water tank is far too small and inefficient. I'm planning on adding another 20 gallons as the primary tank, relegating the existing tank to a aux. In addition, I'll be changing it so it can be drained over winter. I didn't think much about the van during our cold spell, which was unwise. Turned on the water after the winter to discover that that the water pump had split from freezing. the crack in the picture is likely (but not for sure) from the water freezing. It's also possible that I broke it some other way. I strong suspect freezing the be the reason though.


Continuing the Wet Room

The shower/bath project has been a total pain. This is the one chunk of work I've really regretted doing. My fiberglassing is so bad that I've chosen to cover it all with plastic. I'm sure it's water tight, but it is ugly as hell and I'd never be able to live with how it looks. I've decided to cover it all with HDPE. I traced a paper outline of the wall inside the bathroom, then transferred that over to a HDPE sheet, cutting it with a jigsaw:

Unfortunately, I had to screw the plastic to the enclosure. 

The joint is welded with a specific HDPE cement which requires pre-treatment of the joints with a torch. Probably just should have used acrylic. Oh well, too late to change now.

after getting the walls in place, I put the drain in and fiberglassed over the whole floor so there's a thin layer of fiberglass over the metal drain opening in the image below. In essence the drain is now integrated into the bottom of the shower. If water gets behind the plastic sheet, it will hit the fiberglass bottom and still go down the drain.

I then installed the rest of the plumbing and shower head. You can see a little metal toggle switch where the cord comes out of the mixer. This is a on/off switch so you can get the temp mix right then turn the water off. This is pretty key to have when you want to save water. I leak tested the plumbing under pressure then sprayed into a bucket. The pressure is going to be plenty. One small negative is that even when the water is turned of, the head continues to drip for basically ever, meaning the head will likely live on the ground as you won't want to potty with the potential rogue drip landing on ya.