Friday, May 5, 2017

An Exciting Night!

Authors, like painters are the worst liars in the world.   Take for example three weeks ago, when I was writing to y’all about installing the furnace intake/chimney.   What I *thought* later when I was writing it all out was “Damn, I forgot to paint around hole edges, hope that doesn’t rust” but what I wrote was some schlock about “…to combat rust, always making sure you spray a little paint, etc…”   Looking like an expert is all in what you leave out.

Anyway, I got to serve as my own bad example.   I already had rust forming on the edge and a rust stain going down the side of the van!   The stain was just on the surface, it was basically rust colored water that had come trickling down from the sides of the holes.   It really is a fact rust forms quickly.   I picked up a can of rust inhibiting primer and made the rust a first priority.   

I masked up next to the chimney with a layer of tape, then with “fishing poster” paper outside of that.   I sprayed it first with the primer, waited about 45 minutes and then with white.   Hopefully the white paint doesn’t discolor too bad from the heat being blown out from the furnace.  I wanted to pick up some high temperature white paint but it was sold out at the big box.  I just used a can of regular I already had.

There are some small things came together tonight to make a big difference in the van.   Tonight at the big box lumber they had four color LED strip lights, complete with remote, on sale for $19.  I had been planning on building just such a setup using an Arduino control board I inherited from number one son’s electronics class days.   But truly, that wouldn’t have worked quite as well and would have cost me about $30.   This big box special got installed next.  

What I am finding is the revolutions in 12 volt lighting is what is going to turn this project into something amazing.   All this LED stuff runs at 12 volts.   I cut the wall wart (or whatever you call that brick on the end of a cord) block off of the power cord on this LED strip light. Then I wired it straight into the 12 volt fuse panel of the van.  A handy bug/feature is they blink when power is correctly applied to them.   Here is how you can use this your advantage.   You can’t damage it by reversing the polarity, but it won’t work.   So touch the bare wire ends to the positive and negative points of your 12 volt system.  I used the fuse panel for positive and the shunt for the negative.   When it blinked I had it right.   Reverse it, no blink.  Reverse it again, blink.   I consider that double checked, I wired it in.

Another good thing that got done tonight was to put in the first piece of side insulation.  This was a huge step because the last couple of nights have been kind of cold sleeping.   Sure the furnace would warm it up nice out in the center of the van, (the area I call “The Living Room” :-)  ) but because of all the metal surface area the temperature would drop again pretty darned quickly.  Plus, as I would sit in the back writing, leaned against a pillow against the metal wall, it was cold.   There was a couple of times I checked because I thought I could feel a draft over my neck.   It wasn’t a draft, it was just the cold radiating in from the steel.

So getting this insulation in place is huge!

No power or special tools required.   I took a measurement from the top of my bed, curving my tape, up the side wall to the bottom of the roof frame.   Then at the widest point from side to side.   From the floor to ceiling shelf back to as far as I thought I could tuck it under the flange on the rear frame member.   —Maybe an inch or so.   I then cut out that size from a one inch thick 4x8 sheet of foil lined poly iso foam.  

Getting the nuts off these carriage bolts was a job and a
half at least.  More work than mounting the rack on the van.
I had originally thought I would use foil lined bubble wrap stuck to the outside walls with adhesive.   I ended up deciding not to.   I had even already purchased the bubble wrap, so I will leave it behind at the shop as a contribution to the cause.  The reason I didn’t use it is, that I believe at best it is a waste of time.   Any foil lined insulation works only if there is an air gap between the foil and any other surface.  It is easy to imagine why.  If I put a piece of aluminum foil against the wall of the van, it doesn’t take very darn long and it is just as cold as the outside wall of the van.  Heat and cold both transfer really well through metal.

So in the case of the bubble wrap, what I think is the plastic is a solid material.   Not the best at transferring heat but it has more mass than air, I think it would transfer heat and cold better than an air gap.   That’s why I said “at best” up above.   I personally think using that foil bubble wrap would be worse than no insulation in that space at all.  But don’t believe my by-gosh and by-golly science, do your research and make up your own mind.

Foam tape in place to protect the rain gutter.
It was then on walls with no bubble wrap that I took my square of poly iso foam.  I also took to it with a sharp utility knife.  It was a matter of slowly trimming away the places where it doesn’t fit.   The poly foam is statically charged so it is pretty messy and wants to cling to your body.  Eventually though it will be fit into place.   

Taking that same floor to ceiling measurement from before, I cut a little five inch wide hunk of quarter inch plywood.    I drilled two holes in the plywood.  Then I pushed the insulation into place, so it conformed to the curve of the van body. Once there I ran some one inch self tapping metal screws through the holes in the plywood and into the strut.

I also got the pipe rack installed.   That was a fun job.   The worst part of it by far was getting the old bolts off.  I obtained a regular vicegrip and I was then able to lock on to the old bolts making it a little bit easier but it was still quite a job.   The foam rubber on the base was pretty well shot so I had picked up some double stick foam from the big box.   I stuck the tape onto the rack frame and just left the plastic covering over the other sticky side in place.  The new hardware I picked up was all stainless steel and looks real nice.   I can’t wait to see some solar panels up on that rack.

I’m going to close out on a bit of a rant here for a second.   When I was at the big box lumber store tonight I saw some cutting boards.   I thought, wow, those look a whole lot like one of the Corian knock off countertops I looked at a few nights ago.  Here is the screwed up deal.   When I started this whole van project joked about the fact that I would finally get my Corian countertops I have been dreaming about for years. I would *love* to have Corian in my kitchen.  I can not afford it.  I have made peace with that whole fact.   But I figured in this van, I would only need a little chunk.  …As it turned out fifty one inches long. Big joke, right because sure, I could afford a little bit like that. How much could that possibly cost anyway?  I found out.  Six hundred and eighty dollars!   Eight and a half square feet.   Crazy, I can’t even begin to afford that!

Ok, remember those cutting boards I started this whole thing out with?  Sure enough, they even have the name of the same company on the back label.  Here’s the rub, the cutting board, about a square foot is being sold for $6.   If I could glue together cutting boards, I would have my countertop for $51.  A difference of $629.   Someone is making a fortune on countertops.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Racking Some Time in the Van

Let me tell you how I write a blog.   I currently have ten story stubs being written.  A few of them are cans I keep kicking down the road.   I work on them from time to time but I might never get them ready for the publish button.  The rest are the chronological story of van building.   The net effect being the blog usually lags about two weeks behind the actual construction.   That last post though, the one about the whole “caught at the workshop” story, was current.  I had things I needed to say and felt I needed to say them right away.  That being out of sync along with a couple of weeks of reeling from the whole adventure, I wasn’t getting much van work done and even less writing.  We are now returning to the two weeks prior and the buildup of details that got me there.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast…

Since we last talked I have started regularly spending nights off grid in the van.   Really everything has been working great, except I need to change the cycle time on the furnace.   As it is, it gets fairly cool before the furnace kicks on.   Then it warms up nice when it runs, but the “off-time” is a wee bit too long.   Sadly I don’t have the tiny screwdriver required to make such an adjustment in the van and of course I always forget when I am at the shop.   Ah well, it will get fixed eventually.

Blown fuse on the left compared to a new one.
This morning is the first time I have tried to make coffee using the inverter after the arrival of the ANL fuses.   The fuse blew immediately.   A little research this afternoon gave me the reason why.  I didn’t see it in the installation instructions but in the sales literature on their web site.   Big, red, printed inside a box.   "Use a 200 amp fuse less than eighteen inches from the inverter."   …Great. :-(  Back to Amazon to order more ANL fuses.   I had misunderstood.   I can still use these 50amp fuses between the engine and the house batteries.  Just not from the batteries to the inverter.   Not a total waste.   The main problem really is how long it takes from the time I order until I have the fuses in hand.

I am also somewhat limited right now because I don't have a real good way to charge the batteries up.   I don't have the wire run from the engine alternator back to the house batteries, nor do I have any solar charging yet.  So mostly I am just using the 110v experimentally. 

Where I park at work might be troubling for most people, but it is a place I love.  I am a train fan.   Have been since youth.   I remember laying in bed at night trying to sleep.   (This is back before I discovered I am not an insomniac :-) )  Over the span of an hour or two I would hear the two freight trains of the night, whistling through the intersection to the north of us and to the south.    A beautiful lonely sound as it echoed on the plaines.   Two years ago I was in the process of building the HO scale train layout of my dreams.  Thats when my work location status changed and upended our lives.   That project is pretty much dead.   Where I park the van now though makes up for that just a little bit.  Outside the rear window of the van, maybe a hundred feet away is the first set of rails in a five lane freight corridor of my city.  My answer to how often the trains pass by my window would not be that dissimilar to that of Elwood Blues, “So often you don’t even notice”.

When I posted a few days back on Facebook I got some feedback about the furnace install I got jumped by a guy who said I was using the wrong type of fittings.   He said gas should only be run with flare fittings, I used a mix of flare and mostly compression fittings.    I always get worried, hearing stuff like that so I did a little checking into it.   I asked around and got some feedback from the van building community.   What I got was this:

Flare fittings are more susceptible to torque or vibration in the joined pipes. Flare fittings require skill and practice to install correctly. Good quality compression fitting can withstand as much or more pressure than the joined tubing. Installing compressions requires 2 wrenches and a cutter. Compression fittings should not be disassembled for installation. Push tubing into the fitting until it stops against the sholder in the fitting. Tighten the nut nut finger tight and then one and three quarter turns with the wrench. That is it.   Compression fittings can be broken and remade many times. Compression fittings are supposed to extrude some of the tubing to form a strong mechanical connection.

So, there you have it.   I have two people, I have two opinions.   I guess I will just have to hope for the best.    If I get a leak at some point I will consider changing it out.   For the moment I will keep using what I have installed.

The newly purchased roof rack laying on
the floor of the van.
Today on my regular Craigslist scan a roof rack showed up for $75.   Holy shit cool!   What I really wanted to buy was a three frame Weather Guard rack.   I didn’t need the three frames for strength, but I thought they might vibrate less in the wind once I have the solar panels mounted.   This Craigslist find today is a two frame rack.  So not totally what I wanted. When I questioned the seller about the hardware he said it might be missing some nuts and bolts.   When I told him where I would be coming from, a distance of 45, mostly city miles he told me he would knock the price down to $50 to give me the money to buy new hardware.   Ok, sold.   New I was looking at $575.

So now with the roof rack, this week I need to purchase the ceiling fan.   I need to get that mounted in place so the following week (or so) I will order the solar panels and charge controller.

If anyone is interested in helping out this project, I have started a Go Fund Me site.  I put this out as a tip cup, if anyone is interested in helping out with this project, you will earn my eternal thanks.   (  

Let me close with a Living on the Stealth public service announcement.  Don’t buy this tool.   I’d like to return it.   Actually, to be more truthful, what I would *like* to do is go there at night and throw it through their window.  I am going to *settle* for returning it.   I thought it would work fine for turning out some of the bolts on the new roof rack.   I should have bought a vicegrip, but it was twice the money.   You had to push a button to open the jaws wider to accommodate the edge of the carriage bolt.   But then as you tried to position the wrench in place, its jaws would ratchet closed and the wrench couldn’t open wide enough to grip the head.  Eventually I got one bolt off so I was able to go back into the big box to buy a complete set of stainless steel fastening bolts.  $47.   Still a good deal on the roof rack.