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Old 12-29-2010, 11:54 AM   #11
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Re: So many questions

... and continuing on the different strokes for different folks, here's my two cents worth.

First, my situation is different than yours. I have two teenage boys, wife (of course) and a 75 pound dog. We bought our van used. It is an "EB50" style.

- I have propane, but have been thinking of deleting lately. The reason isn't because of two separate systems, but rather that I have been wanting to put my van on a diet and try to lighten it up. I do like having a heater, but have always had problems with the propane heater at high altitudes (normally when I really want it). I'm not convinced I really need the hot water heater and would love to recover the space it takes up. We have only used the outdoor shower once and between the family used up nearly a tank of water for one shower each. My wife just requires washing her hair once every two days and we use a hot water pot for that. The propane does seem to last forever though.

- I have solar and two house batteries and love it. Ever since getting the solar and dual house batteries, I'm no longer the electricity nazi which my family appreciates. My van lives outside at my house and it is nice knowing everything is always charged up from the solar when it is time to leave.

- Large fridge is needed for us. I can't wait for our current fridge to die though so I can buy a more efficient and QUIET one.

- We use the microwave, but could live without it.

- We use the inverter and am glad we have one.

- We are glad that we do not have a built in stove. We cook outside probably 99% of the time and prefer having the counter space. Most of our cooking is on the small single burner stove that is in the door galley, but occasionally pull out the double burner Coleman or gas skillet.

- We have the "50" style layout and there are things I like and hate about it. I think I would prefer an open isle layout, but until I try it I'm not sure. It is staying as a "50" at least until the kids are gone and off to live life on their own.

- We have a porta-potti mostly for my wife's use. The rest of us head off with the shovel. It has always had an intermittent leaking problem of the fresh water. I have not been able to figure it out and just cuss every time it decides to leak for no apparent reason.

- We use the awning a lot and love it. Just wish it wasn't such a heavy load on the rain gutters.

- 4x4 is a must for us.

- Outside Aluminess box is great to have as is the underfloor storage.

- I removed the SMB "portable" table. It just didn't work for us. We have two of the metal slat collapsable tables that store in a bag similar to the terribly uncomfortable collapsable chairs (still have a to-do to get better travel chairs).

- We have a pop top and I had it converted to electric. I like having a lower roof line for 4-wheeling in the trees, but there are times I wish I had a fixed top for the ability to always stand up.

I could go on and on. The reality is that everyone's needs are different and no matter how you outfit it initially, you won't really know what works for you until you get out and use it.

Good luck!

Phil
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Old 12-29-2010, 12:15 PM   #12
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Re: So many questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
I'm especially curious to know about the things that folks commonly get and then find that they don't use.
- The biggest thing I would not get again is an uncomfortable bed. Most of the van conversion seat/beds have steel frames with springs. When they fold down they have cracks and hard spots, which are located under your hips and shoulders (seems like). There is an entire thread on this forum about what kind of extra padding to put on top of the bed!! Our next build will have a solid platform with RV mattress(es).
-Never used the microwave
-Almost never used the RV air conditioner, however we camp mainly in cooler areas
-Did not use the hot water system in the winter on short trips, because of the hassle of draining/filling
-Never used an inverter. However we didn't have computers and that could change things.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
A lot of folks seem to do away with the propane system. What sacrifices does that entail and what are the benefits?
-The main reason for the propane system is to have a forced air furnace. One of the main advantages of the camper van is being comfortable camping or even day-tripping year-around. The portable or catalytic heaters are inconvenient, unsafe, and grossly underpowered for us.
-We like the convenience of an instant-on stove, no set-up required.
-We also like the propane refrigerator, since we almost never camp with a hook-up. It will run several days, is super quiet, and doesn't put heat into the camper.
- The propane tank seems vulnerable to rock hits, and the piping needs to be inspected regularly to make sure there are no leaks. The burners in the refrigerator and furnace need to be kept clean and serviced.
- The biggest disadvantage to propane is finding propane and filling the tank. It can add a half hour to a fueling stop, and can be hard to find in small towns.
- I think the cost of a propane system and furnace is about the same as the cost of an Espar heater (gasoline or diesel).

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
Shower and toilet seem necessary.
Try to be realistic about where you will camp. It is a nice fantasy to imagine staying out in the boondocks for long periods of time, but many nights may be spent closer to plumbing.
- When we had a shower we only used it a couple times and ended up converting it into storage space. It is very nice to have but just uses too much water. For every gallon of fresh water you need a gallon of grey water storage... and you need to get rid of it.
- We like the porta-pottie for all the reasons mentioned above. Many of the places we camp have outhouses.
- If a flushing toilet is used, the black water tank needs to be dumped after every trip (ask me how I know). Grey water too if storing grey water. We found this operation to be the least enjoyable part of our trip. It always occurs on the last day, we're ready to be home - but need to stop and deal with sewage first! And dump stations may not be conveniently located.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
I work as a composer, so if I can set up a rudimentary studio (laptop, desk+keyboard, integration with audio system (or separate built-in audio) and speakers placed to left and right of desk at head height, that would make it possible for me to work from the van for pretty much indefinite length trips. That's the fantasy, for sure.
I found the passenger seat, swivelled around, to be the most comfortable seat for hanging out.
I do construction management in remote locations, and have thought about having a mobile office in a camper van. However I have decided that if I need a mobile office it will be in a trailer. The trailer could have a generator or solar, office space, additional storage, etc. It could be chained to a tree at a base camp or RV park. That would leave the van free for day trips.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
Financing. I certainly don't have 80-100K just sitting around in cash for purchasing a sportsmobile straight up, even assuming I could get a custom 4x4 build for that kind of money.
One way to reduce the cost of ownership is to use the van as a daily driver. That has the drawback of depreciating the RV portion of the van faster.
If you have equity in your house, second mortgages are going cheap right now. Ours is 3.5% and tax deductible.
I agree taking out a big loan on an RV is frightening, especially if you don't end up using it a lot. It really sucks to pay out big $$ per month and have the rig sitting there staring at you.

It might be prudent to buy a well-used van to start with, and see how the camping thing works out. You will also find out if you need 4WD.
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Old 12-29-2010, 12:31 PM   #13
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Re: So many questions

I went through what you are going through a little over one year ago. My SMB came out incredible and in the three months we have had it completed, we have not found anything that we regret having or not having. Even with a brand new custom designed SMB, there are trade-offs. We love the extra space that the extended body van provides and the stove, furnace and water heater are luxuries that keep my wife especially happy. The trade-off is the loss of maneuverability due to the extra length and the loss of storage and addition of weight from the propane accessories. For us, the pros outweigh the cons for having those things so there you go. Settle on your definition of "roughing it" and let that be the balance on which to weigh your decisions.

Some things to consider:
I love my solar panel. I drive to the beach and work on my laptop. I use a Belkin ACAnywhere 300W inverter and have a 135W Kyocera solar panel. On a sunny day, my battery doesn't even lose its charge. On trips we run the refrigerator all the time and aren't terribly stingy with the lights either and always have plenty of juice.

I love my porta-potty. Not having to go outside on a cold night makes it worth every penny and every cubic inch of space it takes up. Also, I would not have been able to insure the SMB as an RV without it.

I love my outdoor shower. A hot shower after winter surfing is an experience that can't be conveyed in words. I purchased a portable shower enclosure and a drain floor for when we camp so that our surroundings don't get soaked and it works well.

Regarding financing, we were fortunate enough to have enough cash to buy the chassis and enough in our home equity line of credit to cover the rest. I certainly can appreciate not wanting to wait as long as I did for a new rig so buying used might be a good option for you. Even one like this (viewtopic.php?f=7&t=5763) or this (viewtopic.php?f=7&t=5992&start=0) would be good to get your feet wet. They wouldn't lose too much resale value, you would have a rig right away and through time and experience instead of opinions and guessing, you would learn exactly what things you want in your new SMB.

Best of luck,
Steve in L.A.
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Old 12-29-2010, 04:02 PM   #14
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Re: So many questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by EMrider
One more:

No built in hot water system. Just a big PITA. A solar shower or other on demand hot water source is fine for showers.

R
Regarding what Mike said (below), we are just the opposite of this. The last thing I do is plan ahead for hot water, I can barely remember to flip on the h/w heater when I hit camp but once I get into the habit we have hot and warm water throughout the trip- the tank does a nice job of keeping the water hot while driving (despite that I don't fire it while driving) and having the built in outdoor shower is invaluable for washing feet and shoes after being out all day.

But any point from Solar to bumper style can be a whole different decision for different users, this one just struck me since hot water is one of the best features in our van, and I don't have any issue with maintaining the system.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ford_6L_E350
By now you have figured out that what is perfect for one person (or family) doesn't work for another. You really need to decide what is right for you.
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Old 12-29-2010, 04:39 PM   #15
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Re: So many questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveInLA
I went through what you are going through a little over one year ago. My SMB came out incredible and in the three months we have had it completed, we have not found anything that we regret having or not having.
Yeah, my obsession with getting an SMB is largely your fault, actually, courtesy of your threads on the build. Where do I send the bill?
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Old 12-29-2010, 04:48 PM   #16
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Re: So many questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
Where do I send the bill?
The bill? You mean my consulting fee? Don't worry about it.

Steve in L.A.
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:00 PM   #17
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Re: So many questions

Incidentally, what's the consensus on 4x4 vs 4x2 with shocks and lift and a winch front and rear? I've never done any real 4x4'ing. I'm mostly interested in being able to get away from people and not get stuck. 4x4 has some real advantages for traveling in snow, but I'm not sure if they are $12K worth of advantages. I would like to be able to head to Baja. I get the impression that most fireroads and such won't be a problem with 2wd so long as the clearance is there, and a winch would likely get me out of most jams I might get myself into, but I'd welcome the opinion of someone with more experience driving heavy vehicles offroad. There's a certain used SMB in the classifieds here that sure looks perfect for my needs.

What's the story on taking dogs to Mexico, by the way? Anyone know?
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Old 12-29-2010, 05:07 PM   #18
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Re: So many questions

2wd is fine until you get stuck.
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Old 12-29-2010, 06:37 PM   #19
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Re: So many questions

Here is my often-told response regarding 4WD. You find a descriiption of a hike that sounds terrific but it is 8 miles from the nearest paved road. No sweat...the road is in great shape. But a couple miles from the trail head, you come across a long sandy, dry gully. The sand looks awlful soft. Do you chance it? Even a winch won't help since there are no trees around or anything else to winch from. Go for it or turn around? With 2WD, you most likely turn around...with 4WD, shift into 4WD and keep going.

Or you are in Yosemite in the winter. The weather is great, few people around, and beautiful snow. But you see the weather forecast in the visitor center and they are expecting 9" of snow that night. You know that means chain control. What a hassle. Do you head home early, or look forward to freah snow in the morning...?

You don't need to be a serious off-roader to get the benefit from 4WD...
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Old 12-29-2010, 09:10 PM   #20
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Re: So many questions

Quote:
Originally Posted by cornercarver
>> I've never done any real 4x4'ing.
>>4x4 has some real advantages for traveling in snow, but I'm not sure if they are $12K worth of advantages.
>>I'd welcome the opinion of someone with more experience driving heavy vehicles offroad.
Both in my work vehicle and my van, I prefer having control of the steering and 4x4 does help in many situations. Being able to control your vehicle on slipery off camber trails does make a difference. Nothing like looking over a cliff when you're sliding around and the vans going where you don't want it to Of course I've been in that situation in four wheel drive a few times as well but I'd like to think the 4x4 option kept me from instant doom. I try to use the lockers to get me out of a jam rather than using them to get me into an area. It's a great feeling when you go over that unknown hill and find yourself screeming all the way down, then finding out you got to go back the way you came Ah...the joy of off roading.
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