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Old 03-23-2014, 11:06 PM   #1
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Design questions

Just starting to plan a van and stopping SWB West next week on a road trip to take a look. My wife and I are newly retired and are upgrading from a 1987 VW Weekender. We like the openness of the VW but dislike having to move totes, coolers, and water jugs when we want to sleep (not to mention the uncertainties that come with traveling in an old van). We want some comforts like fridge, sink, heater but not others like shower. Clearance and 4WD will be used for traveling rough roads to trailheads and canyons, and for snow - but no off-road travel. Leaning toward RB size.
Will probably get a penthouse. I'm thinking "kitchen" galley on driver's side (sink, stovetop, fridge). Like the idea of having a potable water tank but not sure if I need any gray water storage with just a sink (can always use a small water container if we're in a spot where we can't let it run onto the ground). For second bed (windy nights or quick rests) I'm leaning toward a dinette near the rear but could also go with a sofa for the occasional extra passengers. Possibility of having table setup with dinette with second option of behind front seats (e.g., RB 12).

So, one of my questions how to get adequate storage without giving up a lot of windows for light and open feel. Most of the places we camp are pretty remote so we don't need the 'privacy' - for example, we've almost never had to use the curtains in the VW. Are there advantages to dinette setup vs. sofa? What kind of cabinets do folks feel makes efficient use of space for storage?
Another question I have is the ease of getting in and out of the penthouse - we're still pretty agile so I was thinking if the counter top was positioned correctly then that could act as part of a step up to the penthouse.
Any opinions about heater options?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts, help, etc.

Kirk
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Old 03-23-2014, 11:57 PM   #2
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Re: Design questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by kirk52
Just starting to plan a van and stopping SWB West next week on a road trip to take a look. My wife and I are newly retired and are upgrading from a 1987 VW Weekender. We like the openness of the VW but dislike having to move totes, coolers, and water jugs when we want to sleep (not to mention the uncertainties that come with traveling in an old van). We want some comforts like fridge, sink, heater but not others like shower. Clearance and 4WD will be used for traveling rough roads to trailheads and canyons, and for snow - but no off-road travel. Leaning toward RB size.
Will probably get a penthouse. I'm thinking "kitchen" galley on driver's side (sink, stovetop, fridge). Like the idea of having a potable water tank but not sure if I need any gray water storage with just a sink (can always use a small water container if we're in a spot where we can't let it run onto the ground). For second bed (windy nights or quick rests) I'm leaning toward a dinette near the rear but could also go with a sofa for the occasional extra passengers. Possibility of having table setup with dinette with second option of behind front seats (e.g., RB 12).

So, one of my questions how to get adequate storage without giving up a lot of windows for light and open feel. Most of the places we camp are pretty remote so we don't need the 'privacy' - for example, we've almost never had to use the curtains in the VW. Are there advantages to dinette setup vs. sofa? What kind of cabinets do folks feel makes efficient use of space for storage?
Another question I have is the ease of getting in and out of the penthouse - we're still pretty agile so I was thinking if the counter top was positioned correctly then that could act as part of a step up to the penthouse.
Any opinions about heater options?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts, help, etc.

Kirk
Well windows provide heat & cold when you don't want it and with a PH you'll get quite a bit of ventilation. But windows are fine and you can add what you want. Your talking about storage so I'm not sure why you would go with an RB unless parking is an issue for ya. Walkways are narrow and were not for me. At first I thought that was what I wanted until I actually went to SMB and took a look. For me I went with the 50 model but everybody is different. I use a step stool to get to the counter top (top of the large refrigerator) and to the PH bed.
Good luck on your build...SMB's are great.
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Old 03-24-2014, 07:43 AM   #3
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Re: Design questions

We have an EB-50 also and really like the openness and available storage. Cabinets are nice for things like food and cooking gear but the area behind the sofa on the 50 gives you space for bEdding, lounge chairs, BBQ, tools, and pastime gear like fishing stuff and snowshoes.

The grey water tank doesn't take much space and makes it easy to dump it when it is convenient...when you stop to make lunch at a paved rest stop, you don't need to put out the pail and later retrieve it and dump it.

A couple things to keep in mind which we have learned over the years but didn't think about before we ordered (but things worked out). First, everything in our van has a place. If you don't get a grey water tank, then you need a place to store the pail. And when possible, store things outside the van. We started with a small portable air compressor which needed a place to store it. We got rid of that one and had a bigger one installed under the van bolted to the frame. Our Hi-Lift jack is attached to the front bumper. Solar panels are on the roof rather than portable.

Our van came with the standard SMB table and we bought a roll-up table for outdoors when we weren't in a campground. But, we only used the van table a couple of times in the first few years and got rid of it. We also rarely used the outside table and stopped carrying it. There are owners who enjoy making more complex or extravagant meals while camping and those who cook most meals outside. We do neither. We will BBQ at least every few evenings but cook very simple meals, always in the van. Two lap trays eliminate the need for a table or dinette in the van.

Finally...in the 13 years that we have had our van, we've encountered strong winds at night only once. We've never sleep downstairs but always in the penthouse. I remember so well our first trip. Three days after we got the van, we took off and headed through Yosemite toward Death Valley. The first night was spent in a deserted campground below Tioga Pass and it started raining just after dinner. The next day, we four-wheeled up a dry creek bed (that was the road) in Death Valley to spend the night. But the third night made us realize how lucky we were to have discovered Sportsmobiles at a sportsman's show and bought one. We locked the hubs and made our way up a very rocky canyon above Badwater. Five minutes after backing into a fairly level spot to camp, the top was up, the propane was turned on, I had a cocktail in hand, and we were "camping". We could look down at Badwater from our camp spot, and the next morning, we woke up at dawn and watched the sun rise from bed in the penthouse...
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Old 03-24-2014, 10:06 AM   #4
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Re: Design questions

Welcome to the forum! Our first experience with a camper van was a friend's VW Westfalia. Like many, our desire for more stuff led us to the bigger vans.

We like the 50 type layout for a few reasons. The bench seat is better for lounging than the dinette type - you can't lean back in a dinette seat because of the curvature of the van walls your head hits the wall. There is massive storage space behind the seat in a 50. The area under the seat is mainly accessible from the back door but that hasn't been a problem. With a dinette, you can store stuff there but then you can't use the seats, and there is no good way to stop the stuff from moving forward.

We have never had a table inside the van or felt a need for one. It is too hard to stow, and would really be in the way most of the time. We usually eat outside and have a roll up table for "fine dining".

We have a fixed top so our storage vs. window equation is different. Most of our storage is overhead and under the rear bed. We do have two open shelves in the back passenger corner for our suitcases, so they are accessible from the bed area.

We like our Propex heater, it is much quieter than the old Suburban type. I would recommend the HS2800 (larger one) for the penthouse top.

We also don't have a grey water tank, but use a collapsible jug those few times it's required. If you do any winter camping, you might consider deleting the fresh water tank since it probably can't be used in the winter. If you read on this forum, most people carry jugs for drinking water anyhow since the fresh water tanks are so hard to keep clean. We had a Class C with a huge fresh water tank and we got so tired of dealing with the water and waste we just said NO when we got the van.
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Old 03-25-2014, 01:26 PM   #5
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Re: Design questions

I have something that's probably not too far from the sorts of ideas you have. Some thoughts.

First, EB. Really the only reason IMHO to get a RB is if you do very serious offroading, and you're not going to. Sure parking is a touch tougher, but not much; it's the visibility that most often makes it tough. And now with backup cams easy peasey. You'll l ike the room.

Penthouses are awesome. Best feature of the van for me. Just design a counter to use to step up. I occasionally sleep on the gaucho, either because it's warmer with top down, stealth, or wind. But up top 99%. My only regret is not getting the zippable screens.

I'd go ahead and get a water system. I'm sorta minimalist. I don't have propane and use regular camping stove under a heat shield. No hot water. But the tank is under the gaucho and way easier to deal with than containers, unless you are weight training. And spillage, sloshing, etc. It's very trouble free. And these days more and more camping areas require grey water storage. Having it built in helps (some places won't even let you camp unless it's built in), and takes less space than icky containers you have to haul out. I fashioned a connector so I can send a hose outside. And if need be I can still carry some extra water in cans.

For heating, I use a big ole sleeping bag, reflectix shades (well cut-to-fit pieces) for insulation, and occasionally a catalytic heater. Adding insulation to the floor helped more than I thought it would; I use cheap shop mats from Harbor Freight. Feels nice on the footsies too.

You're right about designed for max window space; the VW is a good ideal to shoot for. If you have to be inside you'll really appreciate it. The SMB templates don't really give a good impression of how much some of the tall storage option block views. I built mine with the refer, pantry and closet (tall stuff) behind a longitudinal gaucho on the driver's side, leaving a window over the gaucho. I figure I'm more likely to look out on the passenger side than street side, and no door to deal with (a consideration for you and why most put galleys on the pass side if they a gaucho like miine).

It is true it's harder in some ways to sit on the sideways rather than lateral gaucho. I'm 6-1.5 and I just slouch a bit, or use a passenger or drivers seat. Or kinda lounge sideways, leaning back on the rear end of the gaucho against where I have the fridge. I have all counter on the pass side from door to rear. So I use that as table, and it has window over it. Very nice to look out, and I love both the long storage I get in the center aisle, and the ability to get to everything easily. If I have a very lot of stuff, I can always use that back part for storage, like when carrying a raft and oars. I spent time in the VW camper set up and didn't like the forward facing gauchos...but they are better for passengers (you're just two, right?).

Finally, here's a view from my gaucho. Finally took out all the curtains. I don't use them and they cut down the light and view quite a bit. I just use that reflectix if I wanna block sun or keep in heat, or for privacy.



Rob
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Old 03-25-2014, 06:24 PM   #6
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Re: Design questions

We had a penthouse added when our van was 8 years old and really like it. We have had to sleep below twice in the 6 years we have used the penthouse. Once in heavy wind and once in extreme cold. We have a strong 5 drawer cabinet at the foot of the penthouse and use one of the drawers pulled party way out as the step to get into and out of the penthouse bed. Works easy for us.

We carry 18 gallons of fresh water and enjoy the convenience of only having to fill up every 4-6 days. I did install a 6 gal. grey water tank a few years ago for the parks that require one. Normally we drive with the valve on it cracked open. Our gray water is only washing soap and water waste.....no food waste. We do all cooking outside the side doors. We have a personal rule about no inside cooking.

http://youtu.be/5Xqk_G6k95M

Our layout gives us adequate storage but how ever much you have you will find a way to fill it.

We have EB, do not off road , do wish I had 4 wheel sometimes and 2 more inches of ground clearance.
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Old 03-28-2014, 03:02 PM   #7
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Re: Design questions

Our first SMB was a RB50 on a 2001 Dodge Ram Van. Drove it for thirteen years. Prior to that we had a
VW Eurovan and before that a VW Weekender. Our second SMB is currently under construction with an anticipated completion date in early May. This one will be on a Sprinter RB. Both SMB vans have the penthouse option. We have found that lack of storage in the RB has never been an issue. We do not have 4WD but do a lot of camping on BLM and Forest Service lands that require high clearance. We also occasionally find ourselves in cities where parallel parking is the only option and having a van that is less than 20 ft. in length sure is nice in those situations. We do most of our cooking outside the van and when we get to our campsites don't spend much time sitting inside the van unless the weather is really bad. Be sure you get an awning, it really increased the living space.
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Old 03-28-2014, 11:54 PM   #8
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Re: Design questions

Thanks for the input - quite a bit to consider and I'm sure we'll have more questions as we move forward on this.
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Old 03-29-2014, 08:20 AM   #9
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Re: Design questions

I would say that if you are coming from a VW you will find the E series vans are BIG. I still get overwhelmed by mine, 3 years after the transition from a Vanagon. If you keep even a half measure of the discipline you must have employed in the VW you'll have plenty of space in an RB. If there are just 2 of you, I think the walkway you get with the non-50 plans and the openness is great and if you set it up with 2 swivel seats at the front you don't really need a dinette, just a drop-in table between them. Though I think two single opposing bench seats, with storage underneath and a small table to go between them right at the back would be nice.. The water tank can be placed inside like the Vanagon and I see no need for a permanent grey water tank with the kind of camping you describe. Get folding stools for the doors, it's gonna be high up off the ground!

What fun to be able to do this from scratch but I think there's a real risk of runaway option picking. I suggest keeping it simple based on your VW experience and use unless there are things you absolutely have to have that the VW did not. (Like the heating you mention, I second the Propex, it is small and efficient).
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