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Old 07-18-2012, 07:44 PM   #1
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Planning new SMB build

Planning a new SMB build, and I've finally reached the point in my research and playing around with layouts where I'm ready to start posting and asking for some help. I've been reading this site for many months; visited SMB Indiana in June and have been doing my conversion van homework even longer.

My plan right now is to get the Sprinter 3500 DRW 11,030 GVWR, and I've been trying to iron out enough logistics to justify buying/ordering the van (would hate to realize in hindsight that it wouldn't work the way I envision being able to meet the primary functions). The end goal is an SMB Sprinter capable of all-season frequent "shorter" trips (3 to 5 days) and occasional sustained longer living (3-4 weeks) for 2 adults, 2 large dogs - with some storage capacity space that could be coverted to add 1 or 2 similarly-sized additional dogs in the future. Dog crate dimensions will need to be about 40" x 27" x 30"H (roughly). I play ice hockey and snowboard, so some trips would be related to that and more likely involve snow and/or cold weather. More often, though, it would just be hiking, biking, taking dogs interesting new places to explore or even just being able to travel more easily with the dogs for work or fun. Having driven cross-country with dogs in an suv in weather where the dogs could never be left alone in the car, I'm looking forward to being able to bring them with me without always being tethered to them.

Here are some questions that I could use some advice about:

(1) Expanding tank sizes & placing them vs. winterized options -What is the capacity for being able to increase the size of the tanks, esp grey and black, while still keeping it insulated and above the floor, as opposed to underneath?

(2) What cannot go where the DRWs are, in terms of galley options - I've been assuming that only beds, sofas, dinettes, etc. or empty cabinet cut-outs would fit. Is that accurate?

(3) The choice for where to put dog crates
Back of the EB/LB van seems easiest to design for. My instinct is that it is less safe, though, given the likelihood of being rear-ended as potentially the highest risk of accident. Am I overestimating this risk? The alternative seems to be some variation of what k9sprinter did in his Dobervan, but with 1 more person and fewer dogs, I can't just copy his plan. Hehe.

(4) Picking which SMB to use for the build - I can get to any of them for multiple visits during the build & don't mind driving from where-ever to pick it up, so I would like to choose based on which would be most comfortable with the type of customization I'm seeking and able to carry it out based on how we draw it up to begin with. But is it common to need to go back to the SMB that did the build to deal with problems, items under warranty, etc, after you've already bought the SMB? I worry about needing to schedule visits to Austin, for example, after I already have the van. And at what point in the design process is it ok to start working with someone from SMB? I met Jim and Nancy when I visited Indiana, and they certainly merit the nice stuff people here have said about them, but I'd hate to waste anyone's time if it is more likely I'd go to another SMB factory. [My impression is that SMB Indiana might be less "creative" about some of my desire to customize.]

(5) Batteries, power - This is probabaly a weird question, but has anyone tried to use Lithium Ion Phosphate batteries in an SMB build? I don't think I have the electrical engineering know-how to want to take on this kind of beta-test, and I came across some class A folk trying it out. Curious, though, if anyone else has taken this approach or another alternative to solar or lead acid batteries, or if even thinking about it would void warranties.

(6) Solar - Right now, I live on the east coast and spend some time in the PNW. However, due to work and life situation, it's highly likely that within a year, I'll be living in PNW. Would love to hear comments from anyone in the PNW with solar about whether they feel they made the right choice to have it.

I appreciate everyone who posts here sharing their experiences. It's been really helpful. Looking forward to picking your brains and maybe even sharing some of what I learn in the process...

-Sean
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Old 07-25-2012, 08:10 AM   #2
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Re: Planning new SMB build

Hi Sean,

We don't have our SMB Sprinter yet, but I have been through most of the design process with SMB Indiana so the latest advances are fresh in my mind.

1) If you have a shower, the grey tank(s) need to go below the floor. This still works for winter use if you dump some RV antifreeze in them. I don't think you would want to give up floor space to have them above the floor. You can buy tank warmers to keep them from freezing but they did not work well nor last long in my previous RV. With the marine toilet you can have 10 gal of black tank above the floor which should last 10 days for two people. You can have all pipes above the floor if you have a place for them to cross the van, such as under a platform bed. However, there is no or little insulation in the floor so without some extra heating arrangement the pipes will probably still freeze with temperatures in the teens. I am working on solutions to this problem which I will test this winter.

2) You are correct with what will fit above the DRW wells, except that with a dinette over them you still have room for a Espar D2 diesel furnace and the water pump, but not batteries. A small electric fridge could go above them, but not things that need to penetrate the wall such as a propane furnace or water heater.

3) I had trouble fitting everything we wanted for two people without dogs in the EB so I think you will definitely want the LB. You need to play with designs, but I think the dog crates will fit best in the back since they can cross the aisle there. A hitch on the back will help protect them.

4) I have experience only with Indiana. I do think you will want the closest one. The warranty work maybe can be done at any of the three (you need to ask), but the ones that built it will know best how to fix it since they all do things a little differently. I think any of the companies will try to accommodate your desires, but you will have to be the one who is creative. If you start at one place and they refuse to build what you want and you donít see a good reason why not, that is the time to ask another company if they can do it.

5) You would have to wire up different batteries yourself, a big task. The main advantage would be weight, and that is not a problem for DRW 11,030 GVWR. They can put two batteries below the floor in the back.

6) You know it rains a lot in the PNW, but I did spend a week there once with full sun every day.

I hope this helps. Let us know if you have more questions.

David
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Old 07-26-2012, 11:18 AM   #3
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Re: Planning new SMB build

Quote:
However, there is no or little insulation in the floor so without some extra heating arrangement the pipes will probably still freeze with temperatures in the teens. I am working on solutions to this problem which I will test this winter.
Is there any way to put in extra insulation and still have space in the floor? I lived in Minnesota for many years. I know the difference between winter and WINTER.

I know a few people here regularly ski. Don't remember if anyone tries to keep grey in use over winter, even with the antifreeze.

Quote:
You know it rains a lot in the PNW, but I did spend a week there once with full sun every day.
Yup. That's called summer (in some years). It's been great here since the week of July 4th, when summer typically arrives. Lots of sun.
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Old 07-26-2012, 12:55 PM   #4
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Re: Planning new SMB build

You could probably get SMB to put foam insulation under the plywood floor. Not sure about the ceiling. They will also put down carpet with foam under it. I have less than an inch headroom so we plan to put down a thick carpet runner only for winter camping. The ceiling height is about 74" with the vinyl floor and no insulation. If you have headroom ask SMB about more insulation.

If you have a macerator you need to keep it from freezing. You can put some RV antifreeze in an empty gray tank, open the valve to the macerator, then close it. Then it is probably OK to partly fill the gray tank and let it freeze as long as you are willing to wait for a thaw to empty it.

David
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