Folding bed v.1.0

This is the first iteration of my bed plan. After using it for about 6 weeks I have found a few areas for improvement. Mainly the hinges, the set holes in the side of van and aesthetics.

Goal: To have a queen sized bed that was able to easily fold out of the way for day use and lounging.

Here is the bed at full queen extension:

Great to sleep on. Plenty of room. Feels like a normal bed.
The problem is how far it intrudes into the ‘living room’ of a 144″ wheelbase Sprinter. I wanted more room for cooking, editing and just lounging about.
So the bed needed to fold.

I actually took inspiration from another Sprinter conversion, but modified it. The other conversion had the lower section of the bed fold UP. This blocked off the bed for day use and also blocked off all the light from rear windows or open doors. It seemed like it bottled the van up too.

So I made mine flip down. I also integrated the swing down section into the bench seat as the back rest.

Here is the bed with the mattress section removed and in ‘bolster pillow’ mode:


This is still the rough v.1.0 so there is very little finishing touches. I plan on padding & upholstering the swing down section so that its more comfortable and looks nice.
You can see the section of mattress covered and on the bed. When you’re just using the bed as a day bed or a place to read or nap, that big pillow is actually pretty nice to prop yourself up on.

The mattress is a 6″ memory foam mattress that I found on Amazon. I just took a turkey knife to it and cut off 19″. This 19″ piece was sewn into a temporary covering.

The fitted sheets stay on the main section of mattress at all times. When the bed is made up for full sleep mode all thats necessary is to take the sheets that are folded underneath the main section and wrap the smaller section. The fitted sheets pull the two pieces of mattress together and it feels and looks like 1 piece. We could not feel any separation in the bed during use.

Here it is with the section folded down:


This gives us an extra 19″ of free space. And in a 144 thats huge!
Note the cheapo hinges I used from main bed to folding section. These will need to be replaced by through-bolted heavy duty hinges. They rattle right now.

Here is the underside of the bed:


I just used a spring loaded trailer bolt connected to the folding section of bed frame and then cut a hole in the van to match the bolt. I reinforced the hole with a section of aluminum plate and JB welded/screwed it into place.


Here’s a better angle. While the spring loaded bolt works great and doesnt make any noise, the hole I made needs to be cleaned up. It looks rough:


See what I mean? Yuk. This holds the bed with 2 adults on it no problem, but it looks awful. Need to think of a way to pretty it up.

And thats it for now. Like I said, I plan on re-iterating on several small problem areas, but after an extended trial cruise this idea has worked out great. Time to convert bed from day use to sleep mode is ~1 minute. There is also very limited monkeying around with sheets/bedding since most of the bed stays fully made up all the time.

ok, back to work on the galley now.


RIXENS Espar hydronic system


I decided to bite the bullet on the cost of Rixens system. I really wanted a reliable/compact source for hot water and solid air heating. The Rixen system fit this bill. For a cost…
Total: $4200.00 which included just about everything needed to set this up.
The only items I needed to purchase was a 50′ roll of radiator hose, antifreeze and some clamps.

To preface; I am not mechanically gifted nor have I ever done anything like this before. Also, I have not installed the water lines/plumbing yet.

Box arrived with this:

I decided to not tie into the engine coolant line as that seemed unnecessary(and even more complicated). Here is the schematic Rixen supplies:

There is also a lot more tech details and specs in the downloadable pdf’s from Espar. Rixens diagram above is a simple way to get your head around what you’re doing. The actual manuals go into pretty exhaustive detail.

I was leaving on a 6 week trip that was going to include Wyoming and Idaho for several weeks of skiing so I needed to install this thing quickly. The install that I did was temporary and everything but the furnace itself is going to be moved for the next(final?) install.

The furnace unit itself is almost identical to the OEM booster heater. I decided to install mine very close to the OEM unit(I have this option).  Here it is installed:IMG_7157

You can see the radiator hoses(‘In’ and ‘Out’attached to the top of the unit. Rixen supplies 90degree elbows to make this possible. The furnace is similar to a D2 unit as far as dosing pump, air input and exhaust.
The main wiring harness just snaps into place. However the dosing pump harness is a bit of a pain. Espar supplies these DIY harnesses with the unit. They are over engineered and a real pain to work with.
(The brackets in the foreground are for my ‘basement’ box idea.)

Hoses then go up into the cab through a couple holes I drilled. These have since been weather proofed with rubber glands.



The system heats up coolant and circulates it through the closed loop. The coolant expands when it gets heated so an expansion tank is needed. I decided to go the extra mile and have the AC power module added on. I think this was an extra $500.00 and allows the system to run from AC shore power if you’re plugged in. This seemed like a worthwhile investment as if you can avoid running a noisy diesel furnace, then shouldnt you…?

Here is the expansion tank:


The hoses attach to the bottom with brass 90degree fittings. This location was the one area I had problems with leaking. When I re-install I am going to try some teflon tape on the threads. Leaking coolant inside a vehicle kinda stinks.

You can see the plastic AC unit on the right hand side.


Here you can see the pump, the fan and some really shitty carpentry skills(again, this was only a temporary install). The line coming into the pump from the left goes directly to the furnace. If you follow the run, the hose disappears into the box and goes through the air exchanger/fan.




You can see the air exchanger/fan and ducts above. The coolant hoses are hidden under the mounting flange but coolant comes in one side, flows over some radiator fins and goes out the other. The fan blows hot air through the ducts.

Speaking of the fan… its loud. How loud? I dont have decibel numbers for you, but its annoying. I got used to it since it was keeping me alive in -10F temperatures, but I think I am going to look at changing it out with a different fan? Possibly a large case fan for PC’s…

I plan on re-installing the fan in a different location for 2 reasons.
1: Its loud.
2: You need to think about cold air return. My setup had the fan sucking air from my ‘garage’ area which is under the bed and is blocked most of the time and receives little heat. So the fan is sucking unnecessarily cold air and trying to heat it.

The pump is also loud. Its loud in a high frequency whining kind of way. I plan on mounting this under the hood.

The Espar code reader shown above is there only to diagnose errors. It does not control any aspect of heating. For temp control Rixen supplies a typical residential thermostat. The kind with the slider rheostat thingy. I found this to work pretty damn good actually. You can set the thermostat for 60 degrees and the system will indeed come on/shut off appropriately.

I also had Rixens throw in the altitude module(addtl$400) as I know I will be spending a lot of time above 5000′. You need to provide your own 1-way toggle switch for this(I just used an old house switch I had laying around). Basically you splice into the same diagnostics line that the code reader is on. The switch then interrupts the code reader and allows the use of the altitude module.
I’m pretty sure my unit was operating correctly. I used it for weeks on end above 5000(as high as 11,000) and I had no issues. I do wish there was an indicator light on altitude module saying it was operating, because as it is, you have no idea if its on or not…



-The expansion tank and pump will be relocated under the hood(where the aux battery goes). This will eliminate the smell from the expansion tank and kill the pump noise.
-Move the air exchanger/fan. Either under the passenger seat or into the galley cabinets.
-Change out the fan.


-The system easily heated my insulated 144 tall in some pretty harsh conditions. North Dakota and high altitude Wyoming in winter are no jokes.
-Like the D2 it uses my existing diesel tank.
-Once the plumbing is in, I will have on demand hot water in a convenient slick package.


-Loud fan and pump. I think this can be fixed.

Questions? Comments?

Less of a build report. More of a shakedown cruise recap

Somewhere in southern colorado.
Somewhere in southern colorado.

As you might have seen, there have been few updates here lately. Not because I gave up on the sometimes overwhelmingly large job of converting a van, but because I’ve been out on the road for the past 6 weeks.
7800 miles, 23 states and a lot of fun.

This was basically the vans shakedown cruise. A way for us to take a long look at the systems we planned to put in the van and how they work. A way to gauge the space available and our options for cramming stuff in those spaces.
And really, it was a great excuse to be a gypsy for a month and a half.

IMG_6528Before departing Buffalo I hurriedly installed several items in a beta/trial setup. This 2 weeks of scrambling almost broke me. My hands were so swollen and cut up from working in the cold that I had problems using them some days. Laying under the van while snowmelt trickled down my neck and diesel dripped into my mouth was sometimes enough to send me inside to contemplate just what the fuck I was thinking with this whole project. But then my hands warmed up, I changed clothes and just went back outside.



The electrical system is going to get an entire entry on its own as it was complicated and deserves a breakdown for people thinking about something similar. Quick version: I attempted to install the 2 Group 8 AGM’s under the driver side of the van in the battery box that I had designed. This did not go well. Not only were the batteries an absolute bitch to try and hoist up under the chassis, but the design/construction of the box was not up to the task of holding 350lbs of batteries as I bounced down the road. If any part of this box had failed at speed it would have been catastrophic. And by that I mean I would’ve wrecked my new van.

IMG_6519I ended up just putting the batteries mid-ship for the time being. This is a temporary solution. The carpentry skills on display here are not impressive.

When stuff like this happens all you can do is make the best of it. So the battery box will now be the vans basement. In a possible DIY Sprinter conversion first, I’m going to attach this box in the space under the drivers side, weather seal it, and create trap doors in the floor to access the space. It’s about 8-10cu ft of storage. Thats a lotta macaroni and cheese boxes…

I also installed the hydronic heat system. Again, this deserves its own post as I have not seen anyone else document a diy install of one of these systems from Rixens. New frontiers and all that. Another quick version: the heater worked out great. I was able to sit in the van in just a t-shirt in North Dakota while it was 2 degrees F outside. Pretty impressive. Full install post on this soon.

Since this is a build-out blog I think I will just condense the trip into some van porn with captions. Enjoy!

The first leg of the trip was Buffalo to Wyoming by way of Iowa and the Dakotas. I took my time and shot a mini project in North/South Dakota.


Made it to Wyoming. I had several days of skiing planned.
Made it to Wyoming. I had several days of skiing planned.


Jackson, WY. Taking a break from skiing to shoot some timelapses.
Jackson, WY. Taking a break from skiing to shoot some timelapses.


Teton Pass, WY. This was just before a monster system rolled through leaving 3' new snow overnight.
Teton Pass, WY. This was just before a monster system rolled through leaving 3′ new snow overnight.


Exploring Bridger/Teton National Park by skis. This was also where I spent the night. 9000' and -11 degrees.
Exploring Bridger/Teton National Park by skis. This was also where I spent the night. 9000′ and -11 degrees.


Road icicles.
Road icicles.


Dropping down south into Colorado to start the second leg of the trip.
Lunch break! Dropping down south into Colorado to start the second leg of the trip.


Georgia. This road was named Gator Hole Rd. Its where I spent the night and I did see a gator.
Georgia. This road was named Gator Hole Rd. Its where I spent the night and I did see a gator.


Clearwater Florida. After being cooped up inside the van in freezing temps, warm air and the ocean felt surreal.
Clearwater Florida. After being cooped up inside the van in freezing temps, warm air and the ocean felt surreal.


Woke up to the ocean outside the sliding door.
Woke up to the ocean outside the sliding door.


Last leg of the trip was a photo project in the orange groves of central florida.
Last leg of the trip was a photo project in the orange groves of central florida.


I ended up spending a week on the project and slept in the groves every night. Peaceful.
I ended up spending a week on the project and slept in the groves every night. Peaceful.


Lots of people want to know details about bathroom stuff. Here's some details
Lots of people want to know lots of details about bathroom stuff. Weirdos. Here’s some details

Ok, thats it for this one. Look for some serious updates soon.


Progress! part 2

Continuing the trend of getting shit done, the bed frame that I had drawn up(before I learned to use a CAD program) was completed.
Here is the (very basic) plans I used in case anyone else wants them.
I used 1″ aluminum box tube since we need to lay lengthwise on the bed(Im 8’6″ tall. not really).IMG_6459

The final product had 1 modification from the plan: We chopped 2″ from the length of the smaller piece. This is to take into account the section of Sprinter wall directly behind the slider door. On the passenger side it kind of bows out about 1.5″.

So why 2 sections? The layout plan and idea in my head was always to have a bed that was either 100% made up at all times or very close to it.
Messing around with folding couches into a bed at 2am in the dark sounded awful to me. But having a full queen sized bed lengthwise in a 144wb Sprinter eats up a TON of floor space.
My idea was try for the best of both worlds.
The smaller section swings down while we’re at a location and the piece of mattress that sits there gets thrown on the larger platform as a bolster pillow.
The 2 sections are always made up as far as sheets go.
I am waiting for the spring latches so that I can finish this part up and as soon as I do I will update with more photos and details.


Here is the main section already resting on the rails. My 2 Fullrivers are also showing off.


Here is my take on the rails. My case was definitely different than most as I have 2 sections of bed platform. The first section ends where the window cut outs are, so there is no place for me to tie in on the walls. I needed to create a support from below.IMG_6457

I used 1×3″ aluminum box tube and rivnuts into the sheetmetal walls. I had to use 2 supports per rail for a total of 4. This has proved very solid.


Here is the skinned larger platform. I used 1/2″ baltic birch. The plywood is attached to the frame with counter sunk 5/16 Tee nuts and the frame to the rails with the same.
Once all the Tee nuts were in and tightened the lateral stiffness of the platform really tightened up. Its pretty bomber and deflection is minimal with 2 adults on it.(maybe an inch).


Woohoo! Lots of forward progress the past few weeks.
Some weeks its all planning/researching/cogitating and the feeling that nothing much is getting accomplished starts creeping in. But then you have a week where 5 things all come to completion at once.
Like this past week.

For starters, I found a talented local welder that was able to take the plans from my last post and turn it onto a battery tray.


It was pretty wild picking this thing up. I had spent quite a few hours in the CAD virtual space trying to design it, but seeing it in the real world and picking it up and listen to it rattle was kind of trippy.
I know what you’re saying:   …calm down there, its just a battery tray.
Feel free to use the plans if you want. See prior post. It fits perfectly in a 144WB on the driver side just aft of the door.

IMG_6434Another project that wrapped up was the install of a drivers side CR Laurence window. This install has been documented a ton of times so Ill keep it brief.
– Drill pilot holes from inside the factory cutout.
– Line up holes on the outside with a straight edge.
– Cut it with a good jigsaw with a metal blade with at least 32tpi.
– Grind down the edges for a smooth edge.(I used a dremel with a grinding stone and this worked great)
– Prime edges
-Mount the damn window!

IMG_6433  IMG_6435 IMG_6437 IMG_6438 IMG_6439

The only real issue I ran into was the Aluminess ladder. The rear most awning on the window will not fully crank out as the ladder blocks it. It still opens up a bit and the front awning piece opens fully, so Im still ahead.

Electric Boogaloo

During the past 7-8 months of van conversion research, I’ve always glanced at electrical diagrams and winced. They just looked insane to me. Hundreds of spaghetti connections and acronyms that I didnt understand. Like this:
Thats a moderate install in the same size van as mine. Its a great diagram. But looking at it hurt my head.
Until I just decided to keep staring it and following multiple rabbits down multiple holes trying to decipher what was going on. I think I actually heard my brain learn new things.

The past week or so I have had several breakthroughs and even designed my first electrical diagram. Its just a hand drawn sketch and its not complete, but I feel way more confident now that I can tackle the wiring.
I am so smrt.


Once I had a better idea on how the system was going to work, I decided to get moving on the batteries. I expected these puppies to take a lot longer to ship, so I was pleasantly surprised when the battery shop had me come pick them up this week.
I wasnt pleasantly surprised to learn that these things weigh 350lbs combined. Thats 175lbs each! Which is also 10% of my entire conversion weight allowance (Sprinter has 3500lbs of payload capacity).

The FullRiver batteries get great ratings, and I went with AGM as I had real issues sourcing the newer(and crazy expensive)LifPO batteries. Theres 520ah in this bank. The 220amp alternator in the Sprinter should have no problem charging these guys up on long(or short) rides. The 300w solar panel should also contribute to a health battery bank.


I quickly turned to Sketchup to design an under body battery tray that was going to go under the van. Theres no room for these sons a bitches inside.
I crawled underneath, did some measurements and came up with this:
tray3traytraybracketholders  tray brackets

Still trying to find a local welder to fab this up for me in stainless. Hopefully soon…

Swivel seat and the rest of the insulation

The layout plan always had a passenger swivel seat in the mix. It opens up so much living space when the van is parked and the drawbacks are few(a little added stack height to the seat).

I sourced the swivel from Eurocamper. It wasnt cheap($270 after shipping) but after reading about other swivels and their issues I went with this one. It arrived in a box that weighed about 45 lbs and the only instructions were in German. Meh. The photos were easy enough to read.

Here it is installed. So far so good. This seat will act as a secondary lounge around place as well as a workstation with a foldable table. This will also be one half of the indoor dining experience that the van will provide when the weather is shit.


You can see some of the cardboard mockups that Ive been playing with too. I’ve been using Sketchup for most of the layout planning but sometimes seeing the plan and walking around in it is enlightening. And frightening.
…theres really not a lot of space in a van.

Heres a few more of the mockups:
225B4005 225B4002

You can see the galley behind the driver seat, the bed design and the computer workstation in the sliding door.

Last but not least is the insulation. I ended up ordering another 10′ of Thinsulate as I was stuffing it into a lot of places and it went quick. Money well spent though, the van is noticeable quieter and retains heat longer.

IMG_6411 IMG_6410

I’ve also come up with an idea for the Thinsulate. Curtains! I want to try and sandwich some of this stuff in between some fabric with seams so that it can roll/fold up above the window opening. Stay tuned on that one…

Boxes and ladders

These 2 guys showed up within 24 hours of each other. The ladder is from Aluminess and the box is a 12cf Yakima.


I had already gotten new load bars for the Thule towers that I scavanged from my old Element. Time to put a rack and a ladder and a box on this thang!


The box adds quite a bit of height to an already crazy tall vehicle. Gonna have to get used to that… The ladder seems rock steady and really well built(nice bead lines). It also looks pretty bad ass.

I do notice a bit of wind and buffeting with that thing up there but its a necessary part of my build. Light stands, softboxes, other kinds of grip stuff and misc long unwieldy gear needs to live up there.

I still love just driving this thing around!


Stereo upgrade(please)

The stock speakers in the  sprinter are a joke. And not a good one. They needed to be replaced immediately. So I went down the car audio forum clickhole again and came up with the following:
5 channel amp  2 chan for door speakers and 1 chan for amp
Polk 2 way component speakers    nice sound without spending a fortune
JL audio 10″ shallow sub      shallow mount sub that can fit under seat and still sound good
AudioControl Line out converter     important if youre using stock head unit

I trusted most of this install to pro’s. I just dont have the time to learn how to dismantle the dash, hook up amps and fab a sub box. Sometimes its better to just pay the professionals.
image1 (1)
Here is the sub box mounted under the passenger seat. The amp, crossovers and line out converter all sit under the sub box. I took the time to dial in the system before putting the seat back on the pedestal.
Tweeters fit into the stock location up front and I just disabled that weird useless front center speaker.
System sounds great and the passenger gets a little massage if shits turned up.

The Doors and my first fabrication

Lets talk about mid bass. See that giant gaping hole in the passenger door? Thats terrible for mid bass. Its terrible for any kind of decent response from a door speaker actually. The sound from the door mounted speaker will just bounce around in there and bleed out at the listener creating shitty, muted sound. I dont want that.


After several days trolling the car audio forums(not recommended brah) I came away with the knowledge that a door needs proper sound deadening AND an enclosure to make it sound right.
Fine. I can do that.
I bought a pneumatic Rivnut tool and some 1/8″ plywood and this is what I came up with:

You can see a few M6 bolts sticking out around the perimeter of the wood.  I used the Rivnut tool to create mechanical fastening points instead of the velcro that the car audio guys used. Velcro glue likes to come unstuck after a few years in hot places and the size of my enclosure was way bigger than those little sedan doors
…thats what she said. Merp.


Heres the enclosure covered in 3 layers of sound deadening.
You have the silver CLD mat, then the grey Ensolite foam and then the black mass loaded vinyl layer on top. If you look closely at the MLV layer you can see the bolts with washers on them. I decided to hang the MLV with those same Rivnut bolts as that stuff is HEAVY. Velcro would have failed.
Its pretty easy to see that the door is now going to act like a proper speaker and produce nice mid-bass, instead of just blasting sound around inside that gaping hole. This is also the most comprehensive sound deadening(for road noise) that I think is possible or worth doing. Brah.

This is the door trim. The backside of it. I placed several patches of the CLD mat(maybe 50% coverage) under the Thinsulate. You can see a small shiny piece sticking out near the speaker hole.


The Thinsulate was tacked onto the door trim with this stuff  and I cant recommend it enough. If you need spray adhesive dont buy the cheap shit.
The Thinsulate made the trim piece pretty heavy and once attached gave the entire door a really pleasing solid THUNK sound when closed.


And the speakers sound great. Time well spent.
Decibel meter reading coming soon.

Also this: