Sprinter Van Systems: Van Living 5
This post is about the elements and systems in my Sprinter van, which was built out by Mobius Concepts, and I hope it will give you some ideas for your own buildout….it would also be great to hear and see what others are doing!
And, the other posts in the series, in case you missed them:
To Van or Not To Van: Van Living 1
To Sprinter or Not to Sprinter: Van Living 2
The Buildout Priority List: Van Living 3
Sprinter Van Buildout: Van Living 4
First of all, figuring out what components you want in your van takes some real soul searching. Since I’ve been working with Mobius Concepts, several of my friends have decided to get buildouts done with them as well, and this is one area where Mobius really shines. Chris puts hours of thought into these systems, so if you go to Mobius for your buildout, be prepared for some real education and a lot of pondering about what and where. This is a really important part of your van!
Top priorities for me were lights, stove, fan for the cooking area, fridge, charging station for electronics, and batteries to run all these things. Also blackout shades for full stealth camping when necessary.
Things that seemed cool, but I wasn’t sure I “needed,” were a water pump for running water in the sink and a heater (there was some disagreement about “option status” for the heater from my boyfriend and almost everyone else I talked to–the majority rules that a heater is a major need in a van. Ok!).
The lights, fan, fridge, ignition for the stove (more on the actual stove later) and water pump for the sink all run off 3 deep cell batteries which are accessible from the storage area in the back of the van.
These batteries are wired into the alternator so they charge when the van is running, but don’t compromise the battery in the engine compartment for starting the van. Now, I know what you’re thinking: charge the batteries off solar! More on that right now 🙂
We have a Goalzero Boulder 90 panel on the roof which is charging a Yeti 400 battery, which we use for charging all the devices one uses nowadays: phones, laptops, speakers, cameras, etc.
This is a phenomenally great little setup! Ian is going to wire in the Boulder 90 panel so it also charges the deep cell batteries, in order to keep them fully charged when the van isn’t driving. That’s on the to-do list. You know, Ian’s to-do list.
The lights have separate switches around the van, and this is a great feature. My favorite is the switch next to the slider door, so you can open the door and immediately turn some lights on before getting into the van. There are also lights for reading at the head of the bed, with separate switches, and these are also really nice (it’s the little things, but amazing how much you appreciate them in daily use).
One thing I didn’t think I’d care about in the fridge is a tiny little shelf ice-maker section. It’s actually pretty sweet having ice. Fancy 🙂
A fan is key for any vehicle you’ll be cooking in, and really good too if you will ever have to keep the kitty or pup inside the “house” for a couple hours here and there. Ours can run with an inflow or an outflow, so you can make that decision based on temperature, but always with outflow when cooking. The only change I’d make on our setup would be to have a second fan above the bed for when it’s really warm at night–it would really help keep it more cool for sleeping. With that being said, the fan does allow in some road noise when driving on the highway, so keep that in mind.
As I said, I wasn’t sure I needed running water in the sink–for me it was going to be an enormous luxury just HAVING a sink and being able to do dishes without tossing water out. However, it has been really nice. Under the sink, we have a 5 gallon tank for grey water and a 5 gallon tank of fresh water. We also have 2 extra 5 gallon tanks of backup water that we can keep filled. We did learn the hard way that you need to winterize by unscrewing a small section of the pump to allow for expansion if the van will be parked in freezing temps and there’s still wetness in the pipes–Moab was exceptionally cold this winter and we had to replace a small part that froze and cracked in the pump. So although I was on the fence about the sink pump, I really like it and think it’s an excellent feature.
Now for the stove/heater. Mobius Designs uses a really cool German stove/heater system that’s combined, and runs off the diesel from the van’s diesel tank.
This is great because you never have to deal with propane (and this is why the fridge also runs off power rather than propane) ever again. It’s also space efficient: the stove is also the heater, so you don’t have to dedicate any space in your layout for the heater. It’s a pretty amazing piece of German engineering, and the heater definitely cranks!
The downside for me, since I like cooking so much, is that the stovetop functions very similar to an electric stovetop–those of you who are cooking junkies know that cooking on gas is a lot more responsive than cooking on electric, so that’s been a little change for me to get used to. For now, the pluses of no propane and space savings outweigh the minus of electric stovetop-style cooking.
Blackout shades is something that might be easy to overlook when thinking of all these power systems, but it is hugely important for stealth camping, and also for heat control. Mobius hand constructs their blackout shades, and they are sturdy, easy to use and very functional–this is one of the single most important elements for van living. The side shades for the front doors have small magnets along the edges, so they just snap into the window frames when you hold them up. The windshield shade is reflective on the outside, for heat control, and you put that in place like a regular windshield shade. The shades for the side windows and back “horse trailer” windows stay fixed, and roll up and clip up when not in use. We added some snaps to the shade on the slider door so we could remove it completely when not using it. All the removable shades stay in the attic area above the cab when not in use (this attic was also a Mobius add-on, and great for all sorts of other storage as well as the shades). Thanks to the shades, we can sleep in unplanned, stealth-requiring places such as, for example, El Cap Meadow 😉
To all of you who have been sending me pictures of your van buildouts and your buildouts in progress, thanks!!