Author Topic: Living in a Van 2.0  (Read 3165 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Living in a Van 2.0
« on: December 12, 2012, 09:13:27 PM »
Well, it's been a while, there has been a lot of progress, and the long awaited post has finally arrived!

The van is just about complete, with only a handful of details and some aesthetics to bring it to a close for the most part.

That said, I'll pick up more or less where the original thread left off.

Not long after the first thread was put up, I was ousted from the wally world parking lot, which may have been all for the best. The cooler had spilled about half it's contents during a ride, having fallen off the "desk" it was sitting on. I had no way of dealing with the water, and the issue that ensued tried desperately to make me very ill.

I began to smell mildew after a month or so, and knew that it wasn't good, but didn't understand to what degree. Turns out, it was black mold, and had all but taken over and become self aware. Getting bumped from the parking lot may have saved me a devastating stay in the hospital, because had it not happened, I would have been in serious trouble. Pneumonia most likely.

There was nowhere to go from the wally world lot, and since I had begun to clean up, my parents were a little more willing to help than they had been. I took one final trip to Tidewater, to set up a camp on the side of the house. Making the trip had me a little worried; the van was having serious issues trying to get up out of one of the many tunnels in this area. 35MPH and in 2nd gear, and wasn't happy about even doing that. So here it sits until I get the computer/sensor issue figured out. I drive it around the neighborhood from time to time just to "stir the juices".

Within a week of getting here, we removed everything from the back and tore the carpet and padding out, going down to the metal. What we found in the mean time was insane; everything was completely covered in a black/dark green slime, emitting a smell that would gag a goat. It's a wonder there wasn't a lot more effects from this, I'm guessing it was supressed somewhat since everything was still fairly saturated. Two and a half gallons doesn't readily evaporate, particularly in an enclosed area.

In these first two pics, you can see where the highest concentration of water is, and how the mold had grown to the point of making its way to the upper parts of the carpet. This was particularly disturbing - the visible layer of carpet was layed over the van's original carpet. A few choice phrases came to mind as the severity of the situation became apparent...




The view from the back. The dark spot in the front passenger side was the highest concentration. Had the highest funk factor too. :(



Another shot from the side. The tell-tale darkish green tint says it all. Good thing for you there isn't smellivision yet. :o


Oddly enough, after removing the van's original carpet from the floor, there was little visual sign of mold at this point, but there was a little bit of darkening (seen toward the front of the van), and the putrid smell of mold became apparent after it sat for a few minutes in the open air. Any consideration we had for keeping the original carpet down went out the window quickly after that little discovery.

We pulled the original carpet out, and everything underneath was completely coated in a moist, dark green slime, front to back, side to side. Clearly, it was going to be quite a job to get this thing cleaned out. After doing some research on mold and how it lives, procreates, thrives, and survives in, we had our work cut out for us. It may just be the only organism left hanging out with the cockroaches in the event of a global nuke-fest. I hope to never find out. I didn't get any shots of the slime on the metal, we had protective gear on and didn't want to contaminate anything more than absolutely necessary, which included the camera. :-\

The first thing to do was to determine the best way to kill the live mold. There isn't a whole lot that can do this without being extremely toxic to humans in the process. Good old fashoned bleach was the best way to go. It is capable of killing the live spores, and dissolving the "goo" that they produce to stick to their substrate of choice.


Unfortunately, mold cannot be effectively erradicated from porous surfaces by any means, and so any materials with any kind of nooks and crannies that were contaminated with it must be disposed of or destroyed. This includes wood, fabric, paper products, and so on. Only glass, metal, and certain plastics can be cleaned up and not pose a future risk.

After scrubbing down the metal floor with the bleach mix and removing everything that had a porous surface as practical, the reconstruction began. With this, I was given an opportunity to make it better than it was before, and I ran with it. Very little of the original contents made it to the finished product since most of it had to be replaced anyway, and there have also been several additions as well.

Next thing was to determine how to prevent the mold from returning. Turns out this is almost as difficult to accomplish as removing it. Mold is extremely adept and can survive in any number of circumstances that reasoning logic would think of as inhospitable to anything. Mold is capable of feeding off of almost any organic substance, and as such, there are very few inhibitors that have the properties required to prevent reccurrence.

I thought about soap film, engine oil, vaseline, you name it. All of them provide an environment that mold can actually THRIVE in, believe it or not. There are only two commonly available chemicals that will resist the propagation of mold, while being non-toxic, and non-corrosive (in this application at least): Vinegar and Baking Soda. Sounds strange? Well, it is, until you realize why they are effective.

I wasn't exactly keen on the idea of everything smelling like vinegar in here for however long it would take for the scent to subside (if ever), so I went with the latter. They both work on the same mechanism, causing any spores that are present to go dormant. Mold can break down almost any organic material to get it's primary food source - Carbon. Both Vinegar and Baking soda are organic, but the pH of both falls too far outside the mold's survival range, so the result is that it cannot multiply.

Mold is all around, it's inescapable. Inside, outside, underground, you name it, it's there. But under most circumstances, it does not pose a problem because it's concentration is so low that the toxin it generates isn't enough to have any effects. The van undoubtedly has a higher concentration of mold than it ever did before the spill, and always will. After an infestation, there is no such thing as complete erradication, only mitigation. The process described below is a little insurance policy to prevent it's return.

Prior to laying down the first coat of baking soda, dense foam water resistant matting was cut to fit around all of the bends and curves as required to cover the entire floor area where the carpet would soon go. This was a little challenging, but was one of the more fun parts of the reassembly process.


 

The first block, cut to fit into the front of the drivers side area behind the seat.




The remainder of the pieces cut and assembled together in their final test fit before removal for use as a template to cut the new carpet.




The foam padding removed and flipped over, laying on the backing of the carpet for marking the cuts.


The carpet marked and ready for cutting.




The carpet, cut to the dimensions for fitting into the van. At this stage, the backing was impregnated with an entire box of baking soda, and brushed down into the fibers with a foxtail to make it stick inside as it was moved back to the van, so that it wouldn't come out. This becomes the first line of defense against a spill in the van. Any water that moistens the carpet will activate the baking soda, and stop any mold that has any possibility of multiplying dead in it's tracks.



Continued . . .
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2012, 09:14:26 PM »
. . . Continued

The foam rubber provides a little bit of protection from mold due to it's hydrophobic properties. Rather than seeping straight down to the metal, water will tend to run along the upper surface and head for the edges, wherever gravity pulls on it.



Below this, the tertiary protection, a second layer of baking soda, is laid down directly on the metal flooring in the van. This is the final stop. It will take a significant spill for water to make it this far, and with all of the pH upset, mold will still have a difficult time multiplying. A large spill cannot be ignored, as eventually it will be able to start multiplying again, but this will buy a significant amount of time before action absolutely must be taken. Baking soda is weak enough that it doesn't pose a significant corrosion issue, particularly since it's not actually on bare metal; the floor is painted.



The padding reinstalled, with some of the spattered baking soda visible around the edges.




The carpet laid in place, ready for the next phase is van reassembly. Looks decent if I don't say so myself. :)

Once the mold was taken care of, reassembly of the van began. There were several things that I wanted to change about it, but this took some careful planning, as every cubic inch of this thing is precious space that has to be used in the right way. What I came up with still isn't ideal, but works well for now.

One of the first on the to-do list was the addition of some more stealth. My number one lesson learned about the two month stay in the wally world parking lot is that you have to blend in. Having a solar panel on top did not help obviously with this, but peering eyes looking around inside easily realized that this wasn't just a van. Someone was clearly living in it, and surviving off of what was at hand.

The first stealth addition involved a partition between the cab and cargo areas. It needed to block light, and appear as if the van was being used for some kind of work vehicle. It's not the typical looking partition as one thinks of them in a work scenario, but fits close enough that it should at least HELP lower the eyebrows back to a somewhat normal level.




The partition from the cab side. The passenger side is on a set of hinges, and can fold down, toward the windshield. It was originally planned this way to provide unobscured vision while driving and also to facilitate less explanation during state inspections. It's kind of a grey area in VA; only two rear facing mirrors are required for it to pass, so in theory, I wouldn't need any center rear view mirror at all. Didn't want to push my luck. The driver side of the partition is fixed in place, and is recessed somewhat to allow the driver's seat to go back as far as it can.




Part of the partition from the cargo side. This is a cubby that doubles as a shelf in the cab, and provides extra storage in the cargo area. It also forms the barrier between the main batteries and the cargo area, as well as the structure that the control electronics are mounted on. The passenger side-most part of the cubby was later repurposed as a heating chamber to mix drafty air with heated air and slow the velocity of the discharge down. The heater was not currently implemented at the time this photo was taken.




An interesting challenge of keeping the stealth factor yet providing ventilation presented itself during the development of the propane heating system. Visible here is the original orientation of the light trap for the vent fan. It allows air to freely flow through it, while blocking all light. It does this by a series of folds that make the air zig-zag back and forth through flat black painted channels. You can shine an extremely bright spotlight into one end of it, nothing will be visible from the other whatsoever. As it sat in this orientation, the airflow was being drawn in from the cab, and displacing carbon monoxide in the air in the cargo area. There is a gap in the rear of the van where this contaminated air could exit.




Another shot of the light trap, taken from the rear of the van. Just below and to the far right of it is the fan speed controller.




Here is the ventilation fan. It is 4" in diameter, and moves a decent amount of air when on "turbo". The speed controller allows for just barely running to high speed (using a buck converter), with a bypass switch that connects the motor directly to the 12V rail for maximum throughput. It spends most of it's time on about 40% power, and does a sufficient job of keeping the CO detector reading 0. The scorch mark above the fan was a "cheat" I used to finish removing some excess wood to get the hole round. ;D




It's hard to imagine that a job of this nature doesn't carry with it some clutter and confusion along the way... Here's one of many such pictures taken along the way illustrating just how bad it got from time to time. :)



Continued . . .
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2012, 09:15:37 PM »
. . . Continued


As things started to fall into place, I decided to take on one of the more elaborate parts of the whole project, that was in desperate need of revamping. The electrical system I had in play, while getting the job done in the wally world lot, was hardly what I would call anything close to ideal.

I didn't have any 120VAC in the wally world lot whatsoever, in fact, even though I had a 400W inverter, the only thing I ever used it for was the soldering iron, and that was plugged into the car with it idling to provide me the juice I needed to make things happen. I wasn't happy with all 12V stuff in the van, and wanted the ability to do either 12 or 120V, so I set out to do just that.



Here are the first of the AC feeds running back to what would ultimately become the control box... master breaker, GFI, changeover relays, Kill-A-Watt meter, and so on. There is plenty of space between where you see the cables coming out, to the cubby up above, and then inside the cubby as well. What better location to bring them all together?




At the time, I didn't have the new batteries yet, and I got tired of having the extension cord dangling out of an open window. It was time to make this thing look somewhat professional on the outside. For $25, I procured a panel mount plug, wired it up, and sealed it all in place. At a later time, I added a blue LED that shines through the plastic to indicate that it is connected to an AC source. After all, everything gets it's power from blue LEDs, right? :P



Here is the installed panel mount plug, from the outside. My only real regret in hindsight is that parking on the "wrong" side of the road is illegal here, so the cord always has to run under the van and up to the connector, on the street side. Oh well, would have been a little more complicated putting it on the other side anyway. That's where the tire jack and such is located... Plenty of obstacles over there.



Every project needs a little black box, right? This was no exception. Theres nothing to see here, just 3 relays that do their thing when the source of power is switched from grid to inverter. They control things like grid to inverter changeover, inverter remote powerup, heat mode (removes one element on battery mode to keep load within limits for the inverter), heat-on-battery alarm, etc. No lights, no bells, no whistles. At least not within the box. Just relays. And a bunch of wires.



Here's the black box actually being a black box. Toldya there aint anything special about it. :)



Here I have pulled away some of my make-shift insulation to expose some of the final wiring that brings the AC and DC together. Lots going on in a small space. If you look closely, you can see the glow of the blue LED on the grid connector at the top center of the picture. Nice touch, huh? In this pic, the master ground tie point is not grounded to the van yet because at the time, the negative of the main batteries wasn't either.



Above the black box and the associated wiring that all leads upward, the 10A master magnetic breaker, Kill-A-Watt meter, GFCI, and dimmer (for low heat control, soon to be removed) are visible. Below the main breaker (not visible in the pic) is the inverter off/auto switch and a bi-color LED indicating which power source is supplying the AC to the van. Green for grid, Red for inverter.




These are the main batteries, a set of two 6V 235Ah golf cart batteries. They are jumper-fused at 100A, have 5 connections going to the negative rail, and 4 going to the positive. The extra on the negative goes to the van's frame, which can be seen coming down between the two batteries.



Here is a wide shot showing how the DC charging, storage, and distribution are laid out, and the inverter for producing AC. The locations of the components were chosen with the contents of the door in mind, so that everything fits appropriately and gets adequate ventilation. You can also see that the cover going over the top of the batteries slants upward just a touch; this is to assist with hydrogen escape. After the batteries were installed, the vent fan was reversed so that the air now flows from the cargo area to the cab, with the front windows cracked open (with rain guards installed). This has proven an excellent method of mitigating three problems with a single fan. One, extracted heat acts as a buffer, reducing further heat loss from the cargo area than if it were directly vented outside. Second, it pulls the carbon monoxide out of the cargo area when it is present. And third, it forces any hydrogen that has risen to the top of the cab out of the open windows.



Continued . . .
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2012, 09:16:12 PM »
. . . Continued


A closeup of the DC system. Lower left - BZ 250W MPPT charge controller (courtesy of Rover), Upper left - Schumacher 750W MSW inverter (spare fuses wedged above it), "Ring" between charge controller and inverter - DIY remote shunt for the meters in the cargo area, lower right - Auxiliary 12V 12Ah SLA (on maintenance charge) for various miscellaneous uses. The astute eye will recognize this as the original "main" battery from the wally world days.



This is one of my more prized creations. It was my first attempt at a real smart charger that was capable of more than a couple of amps for some NiCds and such. It is a 3 stage Bulk/Absorb/Float charger that I made out of an old APC UPS. I dumped quite a bit more money into it than I care to ever admit, but it's unstoppable... 25A on bulk mode, and up to 4A on absorption and float modes. With the manipulation of a couple of switches on the back, "slow recovery" (from a severely discharged battery) to prep it for bulk mode can be accomplished, as well as equalization. In "normal" mode, it is fully automatic, just set and forget. The little red disc underneath the front of it is to prop it up so it can get air properly until I make an appropriate board for it to sit on.

The problem of heat made itself well known in the wally world days... and while things have changed, heat is still a problem. Only this time, it's not an issue of getting rid of it, its producing it. I took a hybrid approach to this, and while the circumstances aren't ideal yet, I have made several strides in maximizing bang for buck. The heating system is by far the most complex system in the van, as it has several modes of operation to optimize energy usage depending on what is available.



This is the rear heater, one of two electric heating systems in operation. It is comprised of two 200W "MyHeat" $10 jobbies from wally world, and each has been modified so that the heating elements and fans are controlled independently. For the rear set, the two heaters blow into a common "manifold", with a single 4" fan doing most of the grunt work for moving the air through them.



The front heat heater is designed a little bit differently than the rear, even though all the same components are used. Both 200W units have been modified as well, with a single "grunt" fan to do the work. The difference is in how it mixes the air before it comes out. Early on, it was noticed that there were drafts that would form when the air got to a certain temperature, and was made worse by the vent fan running. After several experiments, this is what I came up with...

To describe this accurately, operation needs to be broken down into the 4 basic modes that the heat system operates in. There is a single stage digital thermostat for basic heat regulation (High power), and the "fan on/auto" switch is used as draft control (Low power).

On grid, High power ties all 4 heating elements together in parallel, and runs them as if they were a single units. All fans spool up to a pre-set optimum speed selected to get maximum output from the elements. The total heat output is 800W, and is sized appropriately for the van, capable of exceeding a 40F differential between inside and outside when conditions are right (no wind, "insulation" appropriately placed, etc).

On battery, High power ties both front elements and only one of the rear elements in parallel. The primary reason for this is that the inverter is rated at 750W; I didn't want to push my luck by running it at 800W, so by dropping one element out, the total is 600W.

With either grid or battery, Low power ties the front two elements in parallel, and the rear two elements in parallel, and the two sets in series with each other, for a total of 200W. The fans run at a reduced speed to get optimum heat from the elements.

The Fan control is set up with a buck converter that allows both speeds to be independently adjusted, because ceramic heating elements aren't linear devices. There is a dip in the resistance (corresponding to a peak in heat output) as they warm up. If the fans run too fast, they won't reach optimum output. If they run too slow, they risk overheating.

All 6 fans are tied in parallel, and are controlled by a single buck converter. There is also an added feature I implemented using the current limiting of the buck. I set them to run at the highest speed, then backed the current limiting down until it just began to kick in. The result is a nice, smooth, quiet transition between off/low/high. The fans make little more noise than the typical heating vents in a house system.

The next 3 pictures show the (admittedly) scary nature of a "grown in place" system. If I were to ever rebuild it, I would do the next version on a suitably sized board and make everything nice and neat. Such is life...



The original version of the heater control system after becoming functional. In this particular case, it was cold, I was running out of propane, and just needed to get it online. Rat nest ensued. :(



There was a serious problem with the relay that changes modes from low to high that required attention ASAP. There was severe arcing that was setting up plasma paths from hot to neutral when the relay would release at the peak of the sine wave. This was damaging the contacts, pitting them and causing deposition of contact material on the inside of the relay's case, and even tripped a 15A breaker not once but twice! Something needed to be done, and quick. The fix came after a long brainstorm in IRC between Ross, myself, and others. The subject of solid state relays (which apparently aren't readily available in DPDT form), and so the concept of even a DIY version involving triacs and such came up. Drew up the schematic and everything. In a moment of giggles, I thought, why not, nothing to lose... I had a set of 0.22uF 600V caps that were supposed to be for another part of the van, but were nowhere near the right part for that. I figured, what the hell... and soldered them across the problem contacts. This is what resulted (propped up in place by a pair of needlenose for the pic), and guess what? No more arcing! :)



So, here it sits, all packed down in the cubby, with the thermostat extensions run out of it. Also integrated into this system now is the all-important "on-battery heat-on" alarm. I had this concept on my mind, and was tinkering with it one night, and Murphy's law struck like lightning the very next day. And guess what? No alarm. Yet.

This simple, yet important addition to the system works similar to a 3 way switch for the lights in a house. The major difference is that one of the switches is replaced by a set of relay contacts that is controlled by whether or not the grid is present. This forces the alarm to always be in an "armed" state. When grid is disconnected and the heat is on (elements do not have to be actually operating), the relay switches over and completes the path, setting off a really annoying beeper to let you know that you're potentially going to drain the batteries from running the heat. Acknowledging the alarm and muting it is simple... flip the switch to the other position. Life is quiet, and any drain from heat is of your own doing; it did warn you after all, and you told it to shut up. :)

When the grid becomes available once again, the annoying beeping comes back with the idea being that you need to "reset" the alarm back to it's "armed" position so that it can once again alert you of potential battery drain.

I can't speak for everyone, but I'd rather be rudely awakened in the middle of the night to change how I heat the van, than to wake up to an even more menacing sound - the inverter low battery alarm.

If the master heat switch is off, the alarm is disabled.



This is the new configuration for the instrumentation. The light trap, smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, meters, thermostat and "movie screen" are all in one spot now. When I changed over to using the vent fan to push hydrogen out, I read up on carbon monoxide, and found that it has a density almost identical to air, so it didn't matter where I pulled the air from. Having the intake lower does however remove the cooler air that sinks to the bottom, rather than warm air from the top which would be a waste, of course.

Everything is in working order here, and tested regularly, so those that were concerned with my wellbeing from smoke/fire/carbon monoxide can rest easier.

One interesting note about carbon monoxide detectors... while they are calibrated to carbon monoxide, they will detect any flammable substance in the air (the detection cell senses these gasses by oxidizing them within the cell). I have gotten readings on it when there was absolutely no source of burning hydrocarbons (ie propane) when I did a test and sealed the van up the best I could and put the batteries on a high charge. The hydrogen caused the CO detector to register, although the numbers presented had nothing to do with the actual amounts of hydrogen in the air. Confirmed that this is indeed the case from various sources on the web. Useful thing to know. :)



Ahh, yes, the classification of heat and light sources that started all the paranoia on the first van posting. Heat, fire, carbon monoxide, and this little monster is no exception to any of those. It's simple in operation, although it has been modified since it's original inception.

It no longer uses the electric element inside the dryer, in fact, it's been completely removed. It now only uses the fan running variable speed on, you guessed it, a buck converter. Those things are just so handy, arent they?

The purpose of the fan isn't to "get the heat out", it is to dilute the flame by speeding up the air passing by it, acting like an active flame arrestor. A flammable gas gets it's stoichiometric mixture disrupted by this increase in air velocity, decreasing the likelihood of ignition. It's not foolproof, but does help. It's the same reason that jet engines have a special part of the combustion chamber that slows the air down right before it goes in to be combined with fuel - if it's moving too fast, it won't ignite.

This heater is not controlled by the thermostat in any way, and is primarily for use when the van is operating on battery. The electric heat is only meant to augment the propane when the van is in this mode.

Continued . . .
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2012, 09:17:01 PM »
. . . Continued


Of all the things that needed upgrading, the ceiling fan was certainly not far from the top of the list. I had a 4 inch fan up there before, and it would barely take the edge off at night in the wally world days. Just so happens, I was outside doing things to the van, and I looked across the street and saw a pedistal fan sitting there. Out in the street. As in, thrown away. Curiosity got the best of me, so I wandered over and picked it up, brought it back and plugged it in, to find out why it was being discarded. The controller in the handle was shot. Locked up on high. Couldn't change speeds, and couldn't even turn it off. Perfect! Mine now!

I took the pole off of it (which was later repurposed as an LED flood light stand), removed the nacelle, and wired up the low speed winding, bolted it to an old empty spool of wire, and hung it from the old dome light mount, and voila! Significant upgrade!

It needed to be tamed though, even on the low winding, it was a virtual wind tunnel in here. My first version of speed control involved an old wall wart transformer. Running the fan current through the primary, I put a 4R7 5W resistor across the secondary for low, and shorted the secondary completely for high. It worked fine while everything was out on the table, for several days, not a hitch. I went to finally go and box it up, with a fan on the heatsink etc, and the temp got a little warm outside that day, so the heat in the van was of course a bit elevated as well. It was too much for the primary on the tranny to handle, and blew out the winding. :(

Banging my head against the wall, I realized that I was not going to get it running again any time soon, so I moved on to other things while I thought about it some more. Another one of those interesting IRC conversations with Ross led to the concept of using a capacitor in series with the winding to provide the limiting for speed control. Long story short, a 10uF 370VAC cap was right about where I wanted it. The only issue now is that when on inverter, there is significant buzzing in the motor, a property that was tamed by the inductive counterpart before. But power factor is much better now, so I suppose that's as good as its going to get on MSW. For high, I just jump across the cap (the fan control is a 3 position center off switch).



In the process of making the fan into what it needed to be to work as a ceiling fan, I finally found a use for some EL wire I had run across some time back at wally world. I never put it up because the stuff is kinda frail, and doesn't tolerate a lot of bending and flexing. I wanted to use it on something unique, and found that the rim of the fan cage was it. Above is the power supply I made for it... Kinda a peculiar story behind it, but the box it's in is the original power supply container that held the little inverter and 2 AA batteries. It burned through batteries pretty regularly, so I came up with the idea of taking an old 120V cell charger and gutting the board out of it. With a little modification, I made both fit in the case and could even put the original screws in!

There was a casualty involved when I made the first one... The inverter doesn't like 5V... I blew something out on the first inverter, but luckily I had a second. In the picture above, the fix isn't present (that's the first rendition)... I ended up using 2 1N4001 diodes in series to get the voltage down to about 3.6V, which worked fine. I let it run for several hours checking temps just in case before doing final assembly. Everything was cool to the touch. :)



Here it is, hanging from the ceiling. Not bad if I don't say so myself. I do have concern that one of these days I'm going to whack the fan with my head (happens on a regular basis) and cause the spool to snap off... I have a couple spares...


I tried and tried to get just a single picture that showed both the mounting and the glow of the EL wire, but couldn't seem to pull it off, so here is a shot where it's a little more visible than in the one above. It provides a nice soothing glow that gives a good amount of atmosphere to the van while watching a movie etc. It's dim enough that it doesn't prevent one from sleeping either. :)



Here is the cap used to control the fan speed. Not much to say here, other than thanks again, Ross!



This is the main "workstation", with the power strip, LED night light, cables for the EeePC laptop, and DC Fan/Light control partially visible on the left. The LED night light has it's own battery inside, and is fed completely independently by a small solar panel attached to the passenger side sun visor. Not really sure why I did this, just sounded like fun at the time, so I did it. :)


This is just a shot behind the drivers seat, with the master bundle of cables that just about every connection anywhere in the van passes through. Good thing for fuses.



Here's a shot from the side with the slider open, giving a little better overall feel of how things are laid out. Lower left, LED night light. Upper Left, DC fan and (not visible) light. Between the two fans is the 4W bench LED that I use when I'm working on various things. It's on a makeshift gooseneck, so I can point it in any direction. To the right of that, the ceiling fan. Far right, toward the bottom is a 3 gang 12V "cigarette lighter" outlet. Now that the thermostat has been moved, the railing along the side of the bed will also be removed; it's more of a PITA than it's worth.



Here it is from the back with the doors opened up. Key things not mentioned before that are in this shot are the two lights at the top on either side, these are 2W each @ 120V, but are perfectly happy (and just as bright) running in series. Not entirely sure why that is exactly, but don't really care either. Left center is the master AC distribution strip, the little "extra" box at the top of it is the remote for the lights (more on that in a few), the orange plug is for the heating system. Down below that, a small storage container with a few odds and ends in it, mostly just some rarely used equipment and tools. To the right of that, The subwoofer and class D amp for the satellite speakers, and behind the knitted "insulation" is a set of 8 storage drawers, with a radio sitting on top of the bench.



Continued . . .
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2012, 09:17:51 PM »
. . . Continued


The bed's zig-zag string support was causing a few problems, the main one being that it was causing fatigue to the frame. The sides were beginning to bow in when weight was on it, and for fear it would inevitably kink, I went with another strategy. This also afforded me some easy access storage that was difficult to use with the rope going back and forth over the frame. With the use of a couple of zip ties, a length of appropriately notched PVC pipe, and a small piece of foam to "lock" it open, I can just raise it up and get from or put in whatever I need from it with relative ease. The board is 3/16" plyboard (essentially panelling), and supports my weight and then some (don't ask me how I know, hehe). The edges are starting to fail however because it wasn't made quite long enough, so when it shifts a little bit, the stresses get put on too small of a point, causing it to drop. Slowly but surely, this is destroying the wood. When we replace it, there will be small blocks of wood on either end that act as guides to prevent this.



Same thing, only from the back. That reminds me, the big white box in the lower left needs to come out of there; it's a 13.8V @ 60A modular switching power supply that I had considered using as a battery charger, but didn't feel like taking the time to set up current limiting in it. Now it just takes up space. :/




I had a set of two of those "handy switches - as seen on TV" things I picked up from wally world some time back... They are pretty cool little devices... The remotes resemble regular light switches, and contain a keyed chip inside that is easily changed by playing around with the solder joints that jump the gaps. The two I had were different (obviously), but my wife managed to screw me up royally when she moved my junk, so as I was able to find 2 remotes but only one receiver, I keyed the remotes the same, and now I can turn the lights on/off from either just inside the sliding door, or right next to my head when I'm laying down in the bed. :P



This is a shot of the auxiliary panel I was referring to that charges the LED night light on the bench. I is directly attached to the visor, and can be flipped up and out of the way for driving.



A shot of the cab from the drivers side. Man, I REALLY need to paint that doghouse or SOMETHING... LOL



After 99% of the soldering was done, I finally got the nerve to go ahead and paint the bench black. The bench (like everything else I own) bears the battle scars of soldering irons, and they were just unsightly. They are still somewhat visible, but not nearly so much. Besides, That's the target color for the entire interior. If it doesn't move, shoot it black. :)



I dealt with this annoying contraption made of 2 oddball pieces of cardboard to cover the back window for as long as I can remember. It never was worth a box of piss, as light still got in/out, and there was the constant challenge of even keeping it ROUGHLY in place. Opening the back hatch and doors proved to be just as much of a PITA, as half the time I had to completely remove the thing to get done what I needed to get done. Well, no more. I finally cut a piece to fit, sealed it up good against the body, and problem solved! Good thing too, I was this close to ending up in the looney bin just from that alone! :-\



And then there was Joose! 200ft of #12 extension cord should get me power from just about anywhere I want it to now, shouldn't it...



This one is thrown in here just because. This particular roll of solder caused me more frustration over the course of working on the van than anything else I encountered. It went into meltdown while sitting next to my 40 watter, and slowly made a ball about 4 layers thick that couldn't be cut, gouged, yanked, or anything else. I had to just keep pulling out from behind it as I could, until it got far enough behind the blob that I could cut it out. I nicknamed it Chernobyl, appropriately.


That's about it!

Things left on the list to do are:

Add the 200W of PV on the roof (should be in the works)
More aesthetic work on the inside (and eventually outside too)
Get the sensor/computer issue straightened out so this thing runs right
Change all of the fluids, give a good flushing
Install a battery isolator so that the alternator can charge the bank when driving.

Not much more than that however, at least for the time being!

Steve
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Van 2.0 Heater tweaks/upgrades
« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2012, 10:10:54 AM »
Two updates...

The electric system had a control level update that now allows both high and low heater configurations to be controlled by the thermostat at the flick of a switch now.

Before, only the high mode would cycle via thermostat control and the low mode was either on or off, depending on a switch on the thermostat. This allowed for decent draft control, as it kept the elements from cooling completely between cycles, but proved to be a problem in the morning when solar thermal would begin directly heating the van. Between the two sources, it would get uncomfortable quick in here even though the high mode cycling had long since stopped.

The system operates in a very similar manner as before, and low mode can still be forced to remain on when the thermostat is only cycling the high mode. Buy the flick of a switch backs off the high mode completely and cycles the low mode instead.

This has also proven so far at least that the overall energy consumption from grid is significantly lower when running propane along side it... Which of course translates to much better battery usage when heat augmentation is required by battery during the night if the temp outside suddenly drops and the propane is no longer maintaining the temperature adequately on its own.



ila_rendered
As you can see, I did a LITTLE tracing and cleanup in there... Tried to fix some of the confusion. A lot of the control side was based around that damn power switch anyway, so I separated the surplus loops and bundled them to help reduce clutter, got rid of duplicate connections/runs etc. Its still a mess, but looks much better than it did.



ila_rendered
This is my replacement for the less efficient, more finicky, and certainly more dangerous torch version of the heater. It is rather modified Coleman cat heater that originally had an on/off valve only, which was very difficult to get to operate in the midway zones for variable output. A quick removal of the shell revealed that the valve was integrated into a regulator, and simply depended on pressure on the valve stem to release more gas, and therefore more heat.



ila_rendered
Here is a closeup of how the valve was modified to provide variable heat. The knob twists inward and pulls back on the zip ties, in the process placing more pressures on the valve stem, causing a larger range of motion in the knob to have a much smaller effect of the valve stem. Completely off to widewide open involves 2 or 3 full turns of the knob now as opposed to the 90° movement that gave zero to wide open with nothing in between.



ila_rendered
Here is a closer shot of the essential working parts. The valve and the catalytic element.



Disclaimer: Making modifications to fuel burning equipment such as heaters, stoves, engines, rockets, thermite grenades, bathroom "sulfur" bombs, and placing unopened chicken eggs in microwave ovens can be extremely dangerous, and neither I nor AnotherPower.com, any of its owners, operators, or associated members hold any responsibility for damages incurred to yourself, others, or destruction of property. The information in this post is provided purely for informational purposes only. Any risk you take by attempting modifications such as these are at your own risk, and your risk only. In other words, don't try this at home! You have been warned!

Enjoy!

Steve
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.

Online tomw

  • Not as bad as you might think
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 737
  • Karma: +34/-0
  • hoplophobic people will fear my lifestyle
    • Zubbly's photos!
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #7 on: December 16, 2012, 12:06:23 PM »
Steve;

This post takes so long to load I usually  don't wait for it all. When it does load, I have lost interest.

You might get better responses if you chopped it into chapters?

Just from a practical standpoint.

Tom
Do NOT mistake me for any kind of "expert".

( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)


24 Trina 310 watt modules, SMA SunnyBoy 7.7 KW Grid Tie inverter.

I thought that they were angels, but much to my surprise, We climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies

Offline MadScientist267

  • Impossible Condition Curator
  • Senior Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *******
  • Posts: 1173
  • Karma: +22/-4
  • Rules? What rules?
Re: Living in a Van 2.0
« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2012, 06:28:45 PM »
Yeah, I see your point.... Looking into the best way to go about it...

Thanks for the input... ;)

Steve
Wanted: Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive.