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Thread: Sprinter DIY Camper Conversion Report

  1. #1

    Default Sprinter DIY Camper Conversion Report

    At the suggestion of a couple of members, here is our Sprinter camper thread. Not sure where it best fits but it sort of started in response to the Thetford cassette thread, so I'll post it here for now. Warning - this is long and has lots of pics so I'll try posting in segments.

    This is the first installment. We got our 2006 140" high roof cargo van in June 2009 and have been researching a long time so there is quite a lot to cover. We couldn't have done our conversion the way we did without this forum and the Sprinter Forum http://sprinter-source.com/forum/index.php so I want to eventually get as much up about what we figured out along the way as I can. Although our van isnít a 4X4 and we arenít going off-roading on purpose (well, maybe once in awhile) we did face a lot of the same decisions that other forum members have.

    First, thinking through how the van will be used was key for us. Sounds obvious, but we wanted the van for two main reasons: to carry my husband's sculpture (see www.bradstory.com) and to go camping and on road trips. Since we started the conversion we have sold my husband's pickup truck so now we also need the van to be able to carry his bike (and sometimes mine), to carry firewood once every year or two when someone gives us wood too good to pass up, and to take trash barrels to the dump for ourselves and my husband's 93 year old Mom.

    We wanted the camper aspect to be warm and comfy and friendly feeling and reasonably energy/cost -efficient. We chose the Sprinter for its space and also for its great fuel efficiency. We got 28 mpg on the Raven delivery trip. A bit less after adding all the weight of our camper conversion, but still over 25 mpg most of the time. We are in our early sixties and hope to have lots of trips in the next few years.

    My husband built boats for 30 years before turning to sculpture so he has the wood-working skills and most of the common sense in our partnership. My role is do the detailed space planning, the research and buying and any tasks that don't need high-end carpentry skills. Neither of us have ever been interested in taking care of our own vehicles before so we are both learning how to do that now together.

    The first key decision was how to make a comfortable bed that could be easily removed to carry other things. We thought about an Ikea bed and saw what Cedarsanctum did on the Sprinter Forum (thanks Jef!), went to Ikea and lay down on the slatted mattress support thingie they sell and decided to go that way. It flexes when you are lying on the bed so you don't get that unforgiving plywood platform ache but is firm enough for my bad lower back when combined with a mid-range Ikea foam mattress. The bed is really comfortable!

    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50160246

    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50139764

    We decided that we wanted a permanent built-in cabinet on each side of the bed to hold up the Ikea slats and to serve as a narrow storage compartment for underwear, books, shoes, jackets, laundry, etc. - one side for each of us makes remembering where this stuff might be a little easier and it gives each of us a place to set down eyeglasses, a book, a drink, stuff we want at hand quickly when we get up. There is room enough on them for extra pillows too if they aren't needed at night. These little cabinets are only as wide as the wheel wells and have three small locker tops spread along their length for access. There is a lip to keep the slats from sliding much in either direction so they stay in place.

    We like to read so we wanted good reading lights for the bed too. These came from Sailor Samís http://www.sailorsams.com/?gclid=CKr...FQWD5QodsWVgyQ

    We like to look out the windows while in bed and have fresh air close by and really wanted some rear window visibility while driving so we put in two opening Peninsula Glass windows in the back doors. http://www.motionwindows.com/special-applications.php
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    The second big decision was to have a fairly good permanent toilet setup. For various reasons it is important to us to have our own facilities on board and we figured from our boating days that we could also make a little toilet enclosure work for a small, but do-able shower space. We know most campgrounds have toilets and many have showers, but we wanted to be independent of these, if we could afford it and figure how to get it in the van. We have had porta pottis and I especially hate having to carry them around when full - the bad back again - so we ordered the Thetford cassette toilet through a Wyoming importer (see info in our second installment.) It needs a very low draw 12 volt connection for its electric push-button flush. Our fantastic fan was going in the round spot on the roof right near the toilet and it too needs a 12-volt connection.

    Third was to sort out our electrical needs and plan a system. We don't care about TV and microwave and hair dryers so we figured we could go with an all 12-volt system that depended on the van's alternator through a battery combiner relay, aiming to eventually add a solar panel. We knew we would need good AGM batteries to do this so spent quite a bit of time researching the batteries and how we would charge them. Our draws would be the fan, the toilet, a fridge, and 3-5 LED lights. We charge phones and eventually will charge a laptop off the van system but are using only the cigar lighter sort of inverter at present. We'd like an AC connection to use when it is convenient but it is in the 2nd priority group of tasks at present. So is the solar panel - no $ right now for one and we think our draw will stay low for awhile. We bring a heavy duty cord from my husband's shop for use with tools when we are somewhere with AC available.

    We went with 2 105 amp hr Lifeline AGMs connected to make a 210 amp hour house battery bank. Because I mis-measured the space under the Sprinterís passenger seat ever so slightly they wouldn't both fit there so we have them in a wooden battery box just behind the driver's seat - which will be under our kitchen counter when we eventually have one. (I even had cut two sticks the length of the batteries and put them in the space under the seat but I neglected to account for the taper of the box at the front top - many unhappy words were spoken before I accepted the reality of that space).

    Miki's adventure van experience from the Sprinter Forum convinced me the Blue Seas battery relay was the way to go - it combines the batteries when either is being charged and isolates them otherwise. It fits neatly in the space under the driver's seat and we liked that it would be as close as is feasible to both the starting battery and the house batteries. We had our local auto mechanic hook it and the batteries up and fuse everything to work with the van's electrical systems since we are neophytes on this, and then had a house electrician friend help us install a bus bar for fuses in the battery box and run our 12 volt circuits. Two outlets - 1 for the Engel fridge - 1 for laptop charging and misc. use on the cabinet near the bed; three light circuits, and hardwire the fan and the toilet. We got the Blue Seas combiner/relay and other wiring stuff for the battery installation from West Marine, but this stuff is widely available.

    We haven't gone more than a couple of days without driving the van while on a trip and thus recharging the house batteries, but so far we can use all the juice we need and I suspect the battery reserve is still ample. Wanting to keep this draw low is why we chose the Engel fridge. A lot of people on the Forum were going for the new Edgestar fridges which were in the $400 range rather than the $800 for the Engel, but the Engel draw is only 1.5 amps and we have noticed it doesn't cycle on very often.

    The other big choices - ones that had to be made fairly early and involved some money - were insulation and flooring. We wanted both sound and heat insulation. We heat with wood at home and know how important good insulation is - we put a foot of fiberglass in the attic of our house 30 years ago and heat our whole house on a few cords per year. We also find we get very tired from road noise and as we get older we suspect we will appreciate a quiet van even more. We have both insulated buildings with fiberglass and hate using it - I even worry about breathing the fibers now from places where they aren't sealed. We knew we needed to have the van ready for a New Mexico trip in April to deliver sculpture to a gallery for an exhibit and I had my two weeks off from work all scheduled. So we sprung for Armaflex and are really glad we did. It is fast and easy to install and provides noticeable sound deadening. We will have to wait until winter or really hot weather to test the heat insulation and we still have to finish the job but we got enough in to do the paneling around the bed and where other stuff was going. I found a source online and had it delivered in a combination of rolls and sheets to make up the sq footage we needed. It goes on with a roll-on adhesive like contact cement but formulated for Armaflex. http://www.armacell.us/WWW/armacell/...25775E003369BA

    We also went with recyled rubber flooring. Again for noise reduction, but also because it feels good to walk on for us and our dog, and because nothing slides around anymore! It is 3/8", very, very heavy stuff and you cut it with a box knife (or I did) and put it down without adhesive. The weight makes it stay put. This is the stuff they put on gym floors and you can get it from a variety of places, I think. I can dig up our source if anyone wants it.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Portland, Oregon
    Posts
    2,358
    Thanks for going to the effort to share your build with us. It looks like you've thought everything through quite well. Good luck on your travels.

    Mike
    Mike Hiscox

    2007/2012 custom Jeep Rubicon XV-JP motorhome
    2003/2014 custom Sprinter 2500 mid/tall motorhome
    2002 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4WD
    2006 Honda PS250 Big Ruckus Expedition Scooter

  4. #4
    Second phase:
    Since the first round of work we have gone to New Mexico and back and camped for a few days along the Rio Grande. The next round of work got us ready to go to Maine to a seaside campground and NYC Ė yes there is a campground near the city at Croton-on-Hudson park.

    My husband bravely cut through both sides of the van to install two Seitz opening windows, which are full awning windows with built-in screens and shades. These are very lightweight - I worry about bending/breaking something, but so far so good and the flexible frames made matching the curve of the vans sides less awful. Still, he had to shim around both windows inside and outside since the sizes available didn't exactly fit the indented panel for the windows on the sides of the van. A one-day job turned into 3 or 4 full days. Thanks to mhiscox for advice and pics of his installation to help us decide what size Seitz windows to order. They come from Holland and we had to wait a few months for them but no regrets. Wonderful when it is hot at night and you can have both sides open and the fantastic fan open. You can have the shade partway up to keep some privacy and still have plenty of ventilation.

    Importer is Darrin Fink at:
    RUF, Inc.
    756 Wagon Hound Rd.
    Douglas, WY 82633

    We also got our Thetford cassette toilet from him. You can see the access to the cassette from the doorway of the sliding side door. Really nice not to have to carry it through the van Ė you can do the whole removal and reinsertion of the cassette from the ground outside, and do not need to make a door through the side of the van this way.

    We have completed the Armaflex foam insulation and putting 1/4" birch plywood paneling on the walls and ceiling, except up by the cab. I put three coats of satin polyurethane on the sides and two on the ceiling.

    My husband has built most of the galley and we've used it on this summerís short trips. He installed the Engle 45 12 volt fridge as he used to do boat iceboxes - took off the cover and cut a thick cutting board to fit and hinged it to the counter. We got a fairly cheap cutting board from a restaurant supply website.

    We thought a lot about a stove top inside the van and finally decided to just have one burner. We do most of our cooking outside on a two burner folding Coleman stove (Fold n Go) which slides under the kitchen counter easily when we are underway. The inside burner is for tea, coffee, a fried egg, or pot of soup when the weather isn't great for outside cooking. I wanted the extra countertop space more than a big built-in stovetop and couldn't afford another appliance right now anyway.

    The sink is my delight. We got it at a bargain on a trip to Santa Fe NM last spring in the van, before the galley was even really planned out. Much cheaper than a stainless sink. It may not be practical for washing an iron skillet but I tend to do most of that outside anyway in a rubbermaid basin. It brightens up the whole inside of the van and makes us happy to look at it. I figure I'll put a rubber or vinyl pad in the bottom to prevent chipping when I do dishes in it.

    The domestic water setup is a 13 gal polyethylene tank, set in upright behind the sink, and a small 12 volt Whale on demand pump, installed on the wall under the counter behind the fridge. You can see the tank vent hose coming up the back of the counter behind the faucet. (This will be inside the overhead cabinets eventually.)

    Everything is in but the sink drain. It will go out through the floor of the van and when necessary we have a bucket to put under it. The fill for the water tank is just to the left of the faucet - the hose will just come in the window! We didn't want to cut any more holes in the outside of the van and this seemed so easy. Just pvc fittings for the fill opening, but potable water hose to the tank. The other hoses are also potable water hose: cross-linked polyethelene tubing (PEX). It is used for radiant heating in floors. It is somewhat flexible but more rigid than it looks and working with it takes some getting used to, my husband says. He had to fiddle quite a while getting the curves he wanted Ė finally bending it around a home-made mandrel.

    The water tank, 12 volt Whale pump, and tubing all came fron Defender Marine Ė http://www.defender.com/category.jsp?path=-1&id=51
    which we found to be the best value for good quality items. It is surprisingly difficult to find a non-plastic single faucet for cold water only - not a mixing valve, but I finally found one at Hamilton Marine
    http://store.hamiltonmarine.com/brow...6/4,40366.html

    No installed hot water but we have a Coleman On Demand propane hot water heater which we can set on the counter to have hot water at the sink or take outside to wash dishes or rinse off with there. (I shower outside in a bathing suit so no enclosure needed.) I modified the spray unit to be able to turn it off while shampooing and we use a different water container - the one that comes with the unit leaks and is not very user-friendly. Just put a garden hose spray unit with a trigger on the end. I read on this Forum about another modification that you can do to the Coleman unit to make the water recycle while it is off so you don't built up too much pressure. It involves another valve I don't have yet, but I will probably do it. My husband doesn't care about this shower thing so this is my baby. He figures we are camping so what is the big deal and he will wait for a campground shower.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  5. #5
    We decided on a home-built propane locker for a 10 lb tank. The 20 lb tank was too big for under our sink so it has been temporarily retired (for sale if anyone is interested Ė a Lite see-thru tank). Our locker is just plywood with some 1" cleats in the corner and base to stiffen it, gasketed, and with a hinged door on the front so the tank can be put in and out from the front - since it isn't accessible from the top. It has a vent hole in the bottom out through the bottom of the van with a boat clamshell vent cover to keep mud and snow out. We are going to run a hose permanently through the top of the locker up through the countertop so the one burner stove can stay hooked up on the counter. This involves making a gasketed opening in the top. Another hose will run out the side- we finally got all the propane valves and parts needed to make a shut-off on one side of a Y valve - so we can use our little Buddy heater or the hot water heater on the 2nd connection. That hose will be shut off at the tank unless it is in use.

    We specifically designed the propane system for camping appliances that use the 1 lb throw-away tanks rather than larger ones that need regulators. They stove, heater, and hot water heater all have their own regulators - the thing you connect the tank to. With adapters to use a hose to a bulk tank this works well and we don't have to get into the big deal propane installation issues. The Y and hoses and fittings are all Mr. Heater items except we sent away for the shut-off to install in the Y from the giant MSC catalog.

    Having this amount of kitchen built has already greatly reduced the clutter a lot but next are storage cabinets above the kitchen, above the toilet and above the cab. We are coping without them but would like not to have so many bins under the bed. Once they are in place we can install the little LED light strips we already have under the cabinets. We got them from Elemental LED and liked how low profile and flexible they seem. http://www.elementalled.com/flexible...-the-foot.html
    We havenít installed them yet so I will report back once we have but Iíll say even at this stage that getting the right items ordered to make the connections to our 12 volt system wasnít obvious. I still donít know if our electrician friend is going to have to help wire them or if I can do it with what I ordered.

    My husband will trim out the counter edges and around the windows when the cabinets go in. The top of the counter is ľ inch Corian over plywood. Our friend who used to be a Corian fabricator had it in his shop as scrap and generously cut and glued it to the plywood for us. Once we reach that point we will also figure out whether to finish off the front of the galley Ė we need easy access to the propane locker and want the heater to have a home there, so probably not too much more finishing will be needed. A bit around the fridge for sure.

    Eventually we hope to add one 130 watt solar panel to charge our batteries and paint the van the blue/black we like (leaving the top white for coolness) but we feel like we are getting there. Anyway, these items are big money so they will likely wait awhile.

    On the road we are as self-sufficient as we expected to be except we have to keep in mind a place to empty the toilet casette every few days. Digging a hole works sometimes, but we had to pay more than we expected to dump in some areas of New Mexico. Great to be totally self-contained most of the time however.

    The only other improvement we are talking about is being able to raise the Ikea bed frame and mattress to the ceiling when we want space in the van and arenít able or donít want to unload the bed Ė as we do when we are at home. We will just put some large screw eyes or perhaps even pulleys in the ceiling and tie hoisting lines to each of the four corners of the bed and up it goes. The wooden frame and mattress are quite lightweight. We have measured and it will clear the reading lights and should allow room for our folding chairs in back if we get stuck inside for a storm or if we need the space to move taller sculptures while traveling.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    1,447
    THANK YOU for taking the time to post this!
    It's a huge help for those of us working on custom builds.

    You've done an amazing job with your Sprinter.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    near detroit
    Posts
    883
    Agreed ! ! !

    Thank you very much, bstory, for sharing and taking the time to post photos and so many great details !

    You've done a wonderful job

    Cheers,
    Frank

    ____________________________________________

    "airsotts-narf"

    Save a Life, Adopt !

    Redline wrote: "no ring, no bling, bada-bing" ( http://roadtraveler.net/goodbye-bling-rings/ )
    2013 LivinLite Camplite 16DBS

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Running Springs, CA
    Posts
    572
    Quote Originally Posted by bstory View Post
    The sink is my delight. We got it at a bargain on a trip to Santa Fe NM last spring in the van, before the galley was even really planned out. Much cheaper than a stainless sink. It may not be practical for washing an iron skillet but I tend to do most of that outside anyway in a rubbermaid basin. It brightens up the whole inside of the van and makes us happy to look at it. I figure I'll put a rubber or vinyl pad in the bottom to prevent chipping when I do dishes in it.
    The sink is beautiful. Silly, but that was the first image I just had to click on.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    near detroit
    Posts
    883
    That sink puts any in a Unicat to shame
    Cheers,
    Frank

    ____________________________________________

    "airsotts-narf"

    Save a Life, Adopt !

    Redline wrote: "no ring, no bling, bada-bing" ( http://roadtraveler.net/goodbye-bling-rings/ )
    2013 LivinLite Camplite 16DBS

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    North of Superior
    Posts
    4,972
    Quote Originally Posted by HMR View Post
    THANK YOU for taking the time to post this!
    It's a huge help for those of us working on custom builds.

    You've done an amazing job with your Sprinter.
    Yes. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Very nice camper build.

    And your husbands sculptures are amazing. I sent out a few emails with a link to his website.
    Tacoma - For Extended Overland Travels
    Four Wheel Camper - The TARDIS

    Trip Reports - Travels with Hadley


    -Nathanael
    Large Format Photography
    www.KuenzliPhotography.com

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