Off-grid, full time truck camper (re) build journal - Driven to Adventure

Hi Everyone!

I thought it was finally time to put together a build journal in the hopes that something we do can be of some use to someone else down the line as we’ve gotten so much great info from this site over the last several years of planning!

About us….
Sarah and Greg, Sarah will ALWAYS be the one writing these updates :p I’m the researcher/crazy ideas half of the relationship and Greg is the electrical engineer/muscle!

The general plan...
We’re planning to travel full time beginning (hopefully) in the spring of 2019 (hopefully kicking off at Overland Expo West!) while working remotely part time. This is an indefinite adventure and we’re open to wherever it takes us! We’ve been planning this for almost 4 years now - by planning I mean financially planning as well as logistical planning. Since this is a build journal, I won’t go into too much detail on WHY we chose to go with a pre-built camper over the many other options. Building a composite flat bed camper from scratch was Greg’s dream but I felt like it would have taken us another 5 years to hit the road so we had to find something more realistic for right now which led us to this:

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It was hard work to get Greg to even CONSIDER an already built TC, mostly because he HATES the idea of wood campers and didn’t want ANY in ours since we’ll be living in it FT and as we all know, it’s not a matter of IF it’ll leak, but WHEN it’ll leak. You get the idea. Anyways, I stumbled upon Livin Lite which was 100% wood free and most likely meant we wouldn't need to upgrade our and when I saw the layout of the TC 11S, I was shocked. Another thing Greg HATED was a wet bath and the split bath design of the 11s was very familiar to campers he was used to growing up in France. The layout was so close to ones that we had drawn up to build from scratch that we eventually decided to get one. But then we couldn’t find one! There was apparently very few of them made. We waited months until one finally went for sale in PA (we’re in MI). We made the trek there, brought it home and haven’t looked back!

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After using the camper quite a few times this summer, we had a good idea of the things we needed to change before we hit the road fulltime. This is our current list:

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Noticeably missing are solar/electrical upgrades because we’ve already completed 99% of that task! It was way more time consuming than I anticipated but we’re really happy with how it turned out. Here’s the specs, followed by some pics:

4 180-watt Grape Solar panels (in parallel) for a total of 720 watts
6 Victron 12v AGM deep cycle 130 amp hr batteries (in parallel) for a total of 780 amp hrs. Batteries are in the middle, center of the camper. We had room for more solar but couldn’t fit any additional batteries in the same compartment.
Xantrex Freedom SW pure sine inverter
Midnite Solar Classic 150 charge controller

Rather than using several control panels to monitor our solar and battery bank, Greg is customizing a PLC to display everything related to our solar and batteries and perhaps even our tank monitors once we install them depending on the communication protocol.

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batteries.jpg

So far, we’re really happy with the amount of power we’re getting and we’re pretty confident that this is enough for us to live happily fulltime - with the caveat that we are getting rid of the dometic 120v fridge that we currently have. That thing is an energy SUCK and we also don’t like the ammonia absorption fridges for the leveling issues and fire risk. We’ll be replacing it with a DC powered 12v fridge. The difference consumption is HUGE.

Today we started the next big project - removing everything propane and prepping for the install of our diesel heat and hot water system. More on that next time!
 

Attachments

tanuki.himself

Active member
looks so very much like what I want to build - especially the north-south queen bed - and completely agree on the no wood rule. I'll be following the detail of your mods to see what mistakes I can avoid.....
 
We got a good bit of demo and prep work done yesterday for our diesel heat and hot water system. Selecting the exact diesel heater was a little exhausting. There are a lot of different Espar models out there and about 3 dozen different manuals floating around! Eventually we settled on the Hydronic II D5S with a high altitude kit.

Once we get the entire system installed we will draw up a schematic and post it. For now, here are the various parts:



Missing from the above picture is the diesel fuel tank which we’ve yet to purchase. The system will NOT be tied into the truck engine. We want it to operate independently as we anticipate having the camper off the truck from time to time. We know that we can create a system with a disconnect so that we can tie into the trucks engine and coolant system with a quick disconnect and that’s an option in the future if we decide we’d like that down the road.



After removing the above box where the propane tanks had been, we found that it was seriously lacking in insulation (as in, there was NO insulation behind it and you could actually see through to the inside of the camper!).




Since this is one possible location for our Espar heater, we decided to go ahead and take care of this while we had it all opened up.



We also removed the stove as well and the sink and counter which will both be replaced. Here’s the before pic:



And after:



This sink was RIDICULOUS! Neither bowl was wide enough to wash pretty much anything other than a water glass 🤦‍♀️ We’ll be replacing it with a single bowl version that is almost as long/wide. The stove won’t be replaced at this point. While we’d love a webasto diesel cooktop, it’s so pricey. We have a portable induction cooktop that we’re going to start out with. If we find that we *really* want that diesel cooktop, we can add it later.

The propane hot water heater you can see under the sink is going to be removed too.

As an extra bonus, we also had a guy see our ad on Craigslist and he came and bought our existing fridge! Here it is beforehand with the door panels removed in the hopes we can reuse them:



Getting it out required removal of the entire door trim and it barely made it through. Here’s a link to the new 12v fridge we’ve ordered. https://citimarinestore.com/en/vitrifrigo-marine-refrigerators-freezers/6177-vitrifrigo-dp2600-dp2600ibd4-f-2.html

The brand is Vitrifrigo which is very well known and liked in the marine industry. Although the physical specs are almost exactly the same as our old fridge, we’ll gain 1 cu of interior fridge space thanks to the internal compressor. The fridge doesn’t require venting so we’ll be sealing up the old side and roof vents to prevent airflow but we’ll leave the actual vents in place just because it’s better than ripping them out and trying to patch a giant hole in the roof! It (should) fit perfectly in the existing space.



Hopefully today we’ll decide exactly where we’re going to mount the heater and related components.


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Made some more progress on the diesel system yesterday but alas, it’s Monday, so things will stall as we return to the work week.

After going over our various options for placement, we decided to mount the heater in the old propane tank compartment.





The five liter heater water tank must be mounted higher than the furnace and there was not room to do this within the same box so we are mounting it behind this box a little higher in an interior storage cabinet. You can see where we drilled a hole for the tubing directly behind the furnace in the last picture above.



If you’re wondering how we’re going to fill this tank as the fill cap appears to butt up against the top, that’s a good question! LOL Above the tank is actually another storage cabinet where we’ll build a little trap door to access the water tank since we won’t need to access it very often.

On the other side of the divider you see in the picture below will be in the diesel fuel tank that will supply the system. It won’t take up that whole area so we’ll be able to have some storage in there as well.



In the next picture you can see the exhaust venting to the outside. We’ve purchased and are waiting to receive a replacement for this door that’ll make the compartment lockable.



As I mentioned before, we had to remove the entire door trim to get the old refrigerator out and when we put it back on, we didn’t seal it up 100% because we are expecting the delivery of the new refrigerator within seven days. So as soon as that arrives, that will get installed right away so that we can seal it up and put the door trim back on properly.





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Darwin

Explorer
Where did you purchase your Espar heater and where they helpful with making sure you got all the components you needed (besides the fuel tank)?

Planer sells fuel tanks BTW.
 
Where did you purchase your Espar heater and where they helpful with making sure you got all the components you needed (besides the fuel tank)?

Planer sells fuel tanks BTW.
We emailed back and forth with an Espar rep from Canada who was more confusing than helpful. I read about heatso.com on another build so I checked that out and found them very helpful through the chat function on their website. They were able to answers all of our questions. They are in Europe but our package arrived within days! Here is a link to the kit we purchased. You have to select some options, we chose the easy start timer and high altitude kit. It’s worth noting that you can’t buy the high altitude kit separately, you need to buy it with the furnace if you need it. https://www.heatso.com/espar-eberspacher-hydronic-d5s-camper-rv-kit-12v-hot-water-and-air/


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azken

Observer
Very ambitious and interesting undertaking..I've put your thread on watch..thanks for the post..nicely descriptive and photos help tell the story.
 

Lwing

Member
Too bad there wasn't more custom camper builder options, with today's cad and cnc you'd think it be easier to custom order, but what do I know,
appreciate your sharing. I'm debating buying an old Fiberglas 11' camper and gutting it and ripping it in half to narrow it up. Keep reading al these threads for ideas on a budget
 

Alloy

Member
We kept the absorption fridge and added an ARP https://www.arprv.com/ control. On on longer trips the fridge is packed so we'd like to add a 12V fridge. What do you figure the daily Ah consumption of the new fridge will be?

A Wallace XC Duo might be an option for the stove.
 
We kept the absorption fridge and added an ARP https://www.arprv.com/ control. On on longer trips the fridge is packed so we'd like to add a 12V fridge. What do you figure the daily Ah consumption of the new fridge will be?

A Wallace XC Duo might be an option for the stove.
This is the stated draw for the fridge but we'll definitely do our own testing and report back :)
fridge amps.JPG
 
Too bad there wasn't more custom camper builder options, with today's cad and cnc you'd think it be easier to custom order, but what do I know,
appreciate your sharing. I'm debating buying an old Fiberglas 11' camper and gutting it and ripping it in half to narrow it up. Keep reading al these threads for ideas on a budget
I agree, I wish there were more AFFORDABLE custom options. It seems custom builds are only available for the very well off
 
We had to go up north to winterize our boat this past weekend which meant we didn’t get to work on the camper. Monday night we hit up ikea and bought a new sink for the camper kitchen then we headed out to the camper last night to await the arrival of our new fridge!

It came on a huge semi truck and didn’t arrive till almost 7pm.


The driver was in a hurry to leave so Greg opened the box and checked for damage. It was all good so I signed and the driver left. That’s when I took a closer look and realized it wasn’t the fridge I ordered This is the fridge I ordered:


And this is the fridge that arrived:


They are exactly the same except for the appearance. We stood in the driveway trying to figure out what the heck to do (honestly I was just happy they sent the wrong fridge and that I didn’t ORDER the wrong fridge ). Ultimately we decided it was too much trouble to send it back. I was actually leaning towards sending it back because I really don’t know how the stainless is going to look inside but we’ll see . The stainless fridge is actually $200 more than the fridge we purchased but I still wish it was black!

Anyways, we removed the door trim again to get through the entry


And proceeded to load it in with the help of our friend (whose house is where we keep the camper right now).



Physically the fridge is a little smaller so getting it in was easier than taking the old one out. The interior is actually 1 cu ft larger than the old fridge. It fit *almost* perfectly in the existing cutout


Thursday we’ll head back out there to put some shims under it to close the gap, secure it and remove the film off the front so we can see how the stainless really looks in there

We’re also expecting delivery of the fuel tank for the diesel heat system Thursday and will pick that back up Thursday if we have time. If not, we’ll be out there working on it all weekend.



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