Making 120 volts from 12 volts

It’s magic! You can take 12 volts DC from a battery and turn it into 120 volts AC ready to power all your devices. In fact, the more you know about how electricity works, the more impressive that magic becomes.

The magic all happens in a device called an inverter. They come in different sizes – from something that might just power a small stereo all the way up to something that can run a whole house worth of devices.

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The battery is the heart of the van

700AH lithium iron phosphate battery

Without the battery, the van won’t have light, heat, cooking facilities, a water pump, or any of the other things that turn it into a useful place to hang out.

We chose to use a Lithium Ferric Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery. Lithium batteries can take a charge much faster than lead-acid batteries. They also don’t mind being left in a state of partial discharge, and they can be discharged to around 20% capacity without impacting their service life.  Continue reading “The battery is the heart of the van”

Turning sunlight into power – a solar controller

Your solar panel doesn’t produce a steady voltage or current, so it’s not a good idea to hook it straight to your devices or battery. Our panels, for instance, can produce 38 volts or more. That would fry any regular 12v equipment.

Luckily, solar controllers are designed to take the varying voltage and current and turn it into a steady output. There are two main types of controller – MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) and PWM (Pulse Width Modulating). Victron has a nice technical document explaining the differences between MPPT and PWM (PDF). It boils down to this: MPPT technology will get more power out of your panels, and is useful with more types of panel, but costs a little bit more up front.

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Will it fit? Will it work? Cardboard boxes to the rescue!

Mocking up the electrical area with cardboard boxes

Mocking up the electrical area with cardboard boxes

It might look like a mess, but the cardboard boxes in the picture above helped me to work out the design of the battery box and electrical area in the back of the van.

I cut cardboard boxes to size for each of the main components, and also traced the shape of the smaller components like switches, gauges and connectors. Then, I tried different placements in the van.  Continue reading “Will it fit? Will it work? Cardboard boxes to the rescue!”

Solar panels for “free” power

Solar is a great way to recharge a battery and keep equipment like fridges and fans running during the day.

There are many options for solar panels – different sizes, voltages, and types. You can get flexible panels that stick to any surface, or rigid ones mounted in aluminum frames designed for house roofs.

Along with the panels, you also need a controller. That takes the energy from the panels and converts it to a steady 12 volts to power equipment and charge a battery.

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Moving the bench seat

Bench seat in the third row position

The Crew van comes with a three person passenger bench seat behind the driver and co-driver seats. We want to use that room for a living area, so we have to move the seat back.

Luckily, the 2015 crew vans come with captive nuts under the floor in the positions the seats would take in a passenger van. It’s weird — Mercedes puts the nuts in place, but then puts a solid metal floor right over them.  Continue reading “Moving the bench seat”

Insulating – beating the heat and noise

We’re using several layers of insulation on the van walls and floor. Different products have different insulating properties – either heat or sound insulation – and so we need to use a bit of a sandwich.

A 50-foot roll of Thinsulate. Almost enough for a 170" wheelbase Sprinter.

The main heat insulation is Thinsulate – pretty much the same stuff as in gloves and coats, but 1-1/2″ thick and specially designed for use in vehicles. It stops noise as well as heat loss. We got this through Hein, another person who has converted a Sprinter van. He couldn’t find a supplier who would sell to him, so he became a supplier and now he sells it to other DIY-ers! Continue reading “Insulating – beating the heat and noise”