Monday, October 8, 2012

change of plans

First of all, I would like to say thanks to everyone for the kind emails, thoughtful comments and encouragement John and I have received over the past few years regarding our truck projects. Plans have changed and the time to downsize our vessel for mobile adventures has come again. The appeal of nomadism, for us, was primarily rooted in our desire to avoid being stuck financially, and all the other ways a person can feel like their choices decrease exponentially every year that they travel down their chosen path. I want to be able to change my mind about everything, which includes traveling fulltime. I suspected that I'd like to settle somewhere, someday, perhaps in an intentional community of likeminded friends who are equally project oriented and unconventionally ambitious. Maybe build an earthship or underground lair out of shipping containers. Move into a cave or treehouse or abandoned building or island. None of this is off the table, and I'm not sure what will happen in the future, but for now we bought a house. (What!?) Yeah, you heard me.

A few months ago, I was browsing local real estate on craigslist (more out of habit than anything else) and stumbled upon a deal that seemed too good to be true. We went to look at it the next day, put in a cash bid and waited a few weeks to find out that we won. No mortgage, very low taxes, about 1 mile from the current primary income source, and just enough space for us and a roommate or two in the future when we get settled here. It's a 3 bedroom 900 sq ft ranch (w/ a 900 sq ft basement) without many urgent upgrades needed. Our gears are already turning with plans for this place, such as a sauna, chickens, bees, huge garden, recording studio, home gym, deck made out of pallets, and a workshop. There's so much potential here for saving and making money in fun and creative ways.

So, what does that mean for our plans to explore the country? We'll be getting a van, keeping it simple, and taking shorter trips whenever we feel like it. More couchsurfing and connecting with locals in the areas we visit (that's the point, isn't it?) and less boondocking and spending our travel time alone.

Just because the trucks are too big for our new plans doesn't mean they can't be perfect for someone else. If you're interested in purchasing the stepvan and finishing it yourself, there's not much left to do. We also still have the box truck and the mini truck available. We're not in a rush to sell, so I don't have any prices on them yet but if any of you are seriously interested, just shoot me an email and we can talk about it.

That's what's up with me. What's going on with you?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Aluminum angle was made into a backsplash again this time around. The only difference is that it's a little smaller and thinner, but it still seems to do the job of holding the countertop in place against the wall. The angle bracket that holds the refrigerator against the wall had to be filed down a tiny bit to fit above it so it wasn't necessary to drill more holes and relocate it. Also, as you can see in the photo, the mirror from the old truck has been installed.


Iron water pipes were cut to length and threaded for the shower curtain bar, towel/drying racks, and closet rod. That way, flanges could be screwed on tightly to allow the bars to slide in place and then loosened to fit perfectly.


We could have replaced the bulkhead door entirely, but didn't want to lose the look of a standard delivery truck so we decided to add another door behind it. A custom sized insulated steel door ordered from a home improvement store seemed like the best option for us. I think panels can make doors look pretty fancy, but we decided to just go with something flat and simple to ensure maximum insulation. There's just enough room for the handle and deadbolt between the new door and the old one.

In other door related news, John weatherproofed the threshold with aluminum angle and flashing then added a hinge pin stopper to keep the door from hitting the wardrobe.


John didn't want to buy ready made furniture for the new truck since we don't have extra space to waste for anything that isn't perfectly sized for our needs. Plus, we often end up disappointed then heavily customizing it when we take that route so it rarely saves time or money. The wardrobe, closet, simple box drawers and doors are all made out of plywood and painted white to match the rest of the built-ins. The box drawers for the refrigerator cabinet are finished now, too.

On the left side, the section with two doors is for hanging clothes and we each claimed one of the four drawers below that for folded clothes and personal items. The other two are reserved for dirty laundry and clean linens. The single door section on the right side will house musical instruments, and the two drawers below will be for miscellaneous storage.


We were going to reuse cork from the box truck, but most of it was warped or otherwise damaged and the rest was really difficult to remove without ruining it in the process. Plus, it was too damn cold out there. We were miserably shivering, trying as hard as we could to power through the discomfort but after tons of effort and few recovered planks to show for it, it didn't seem worthwhile to continue. Instead, we spent about $60 for two boxes of click-lock laminate flooring, skipped a full day of tearing out the old floor and got to start installing it right away. Plus, I think the lighter color looks better with the new design and it perfectly matches the countertop.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

hot air & hot water

We decided to stick with the Dickinson Newport propane heater from the box truck, but not the 10 gallon Rheem electric water heater. Instead, we went with an EZ Tankless Ultra that also runs on propane. We don't use much hot water, so the extra cost for propane will be negligible. Plus, it takes up much less space and not needing to plan ahead for showers will be nice. (We'd turn off the tank after using it to save power and now with half the roof space for solar panels, it'll be even more crucial to budget electricity when we get to the point of going without shore power.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Remember back in August when I said it would take a few months before we'd be ready to move into the step van? Well, as usual, a few months has turned into several and there's still so much to do. For a while it felt like there was never enough time or motivation to keep the project rolling at a steady speed; however, we entered the new year with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.

We had to decide between a few different ideas for the custom shower and mini tub. First, John found this thread about a guy who built a huge plywood aquarium, using cement board and drylok to make it waterproof so we considered doing something similar to that. We just had to choose materials that would be flexible or sturdy enough to be able to bounce around in a vehicle. I found someone doing a similar plywood aquarium but with paintable rubber, which would be a safer choice due to its flexibility. Other than the color (last time I checked, it was only available in black) I think this would be a great option if someone else is considering a DIY shower.

Our third (yet not final) choice was a seamless polypropylene tank, like the ones used for our water tanks, but with the top cut off for the tub. This would have been fine, if only we had listened to the old saying about how you should measure twice and cut once. The measurements were off by just a little bit so the tank wouldn't fit into the shower stall and rebuilding it would have been more work than coming up with a new plan for the tub. I figured that I could just order a custom tank to perfectly fit, but my jaw dropped to the floor when I received a quote of around $3,000 after shipping. What?!

We finally ended up having a tub fabricated out of aluminium sheet metal with diamond plate texture for a less slippery surface. It's welded at the seams, tested to be water tight, and I think it actually looks kind of neat. What do you think?

The edges and seams are caulked and the walls have been painted with several coats of high gloss exterior latex. Just need to hook up the water pipes and this part will be done.

I've already got some photos for my next post ready to upload. I'll try to get back into writing regularly and keep you all in the loop.

Friday, October 21, 2011

left side

It's getting difficult to take photos in the step van now. It's such a small space, which makes it hard to stand back and get shots of everything together so I might start making videos instead.

We didn't like the refrigerator base cabinet from Sunfrost, so that's a new custom one, still in need of some drawers. Got the wall cabinet installed above the toilet and vent put through the wall next to it. That's the same sink and countertop from the old truck, just cut shorter.

The refrigerator had a drain tray under the cabinet but we decided to do something different. John found a beverage holder for a bicycle and installed it with the drain tube going into a bottle. That way we can see when it gets full and easily empty it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

bed storage

This is definitely the most complicated piece of built in furniture with the most sensitive contents in the truck, so it took quite a while to finish. It is divided approximately in half from front to back, and the front half is divided into two side by side storage areas. The back is divided into two storage areas as well, one on top of the other. The bottom compartment is sealed from the inside and vented through the back wall and contains the battery bank. Since we will rarely need to access the batteries, items can be stored in the top compartment without much hassle. The front left compartment is where the power electronics go and the water system is on the right. This part didn't really stray at all from the initial design from the video I posted several months ago.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

tiny workshop

Well, here it is. The new workshop. John cut a truck bed liner for the flooring and secured two wall cabinets and a tool storage cart. The fan and air conditioner have also been installed but I haven't taken pictures yet. Additional ventilation for the AC will be needed but we've decided to put that off since we won't use it until next summer.

The work lights on the back can be switched on from the cab even when the truck is not running. This should be useful for any late night outdoor projects we end up doing in the future. That way we don't have to store and set up clunky external lights and stands in the dark. It's almost like having a porch light.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

location change

So much progress has been made over the past few months but there is still a lot of work ahead of us. So far, the main focus has been to make mechanical improvements to the vehicle. Almost every part on it has been cleaned, repaired or replaced so now it runs like it's brand new. We didn't get far on the interior yet so it'll take a few more months before it's time to move in.

Since John had to go back to work, we needed to move somewhere to finish the project within a reasonable commuting distance. Finding sleeping arrangements is a breeze, but not when coupled with space to park the box truck, step van and minivan as well as store building materials and use power tools. Thankfully, we were offered a great place to stay while we make our way through this awkward transition. It's a little one-room building that was formerly used as a milk house in a neighboring rural town.

Monday, June 20, 2011

mobile condo 2.0

John and I spent some time discussing all the things we'd change if we could do it all over again and decided to do just that. Start over. Right away, we found a great deal on a Step Van not far from home so it made sense to dive into the project head first. The second time around should be much faster and since June 1st we've been spending every day working on it. John took a leave of absence from work so we've been staying with relatives where we have some helping hands and a place to sleep during the transition.

mc2 2 mc2 3 mc2 4 mc2 5

Our new home-to-be is a 1999 Grumman Olson step van with an 18' cargo area, which will be walled off at 14' with the remainder allocated for garage/workshop space. With approximately double the insulation and half the cubic footage, this will be much more efficient and easy to manage. We'll be reusing most things from the mobile condo, but there are a few changes and lots of downsizing to do. No more trailer, mini truck, dryer, massage bed, living room chairs, piano, water heater tank and we'll have a smaller closet, countertop, and bed. One of the things that I'm really looking forward to is the custom shower & mini tub. I'll be able to do laundry in the tub, which is great for larger items like blankets that don't fit in the 5 gallon bucket.

Here is a video of the new layout design, just for the living area. I might add the workshop and the cab to the design video later, but the project is moving along so quickly that it'll probably be easier to just take photos and show you later. Anyway, I'm sure you'll get the idea.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I guess it's about time for an update, eh? Now that we've had a chance to live in the mobile condo for a while, I can say that I strongly prefer it over my former home. However, there are several things about it that I wish we had done differently. It's difficult to start a project that takes this long and expect your needs to be the same from beginning to end. Everything I read, learn, and do changes me a little and forces me to ask some important questions. Is this what I really want? What should I do to address my current preferences/problems? Should the things I don't like be accepted or changed? I like more things than I dislike about the mobile condo, but it's easier to write about complaints so here they are.

We converted a box truck and chose skylights instead of windows in order to blend in at rest stops, parking lots, industrial districts, and wherever else we might find ourselves. The lack of a through-cab entrance and a layout that couldn't work with a back door left us with few door options. First of all, since we couldn't find a commercial truck door that we liked and opted for the mobile home door, it draws a bit more attention than I anticipated. The second problem with the entrance is the height from the ground, which makes it impossible to get in without the double step folded out, and possible but difficult without the additional folding ladder. In most places, this is not a big deal to simply leave the steps out and put them away when we move on but there are a few occasions where this is not ideal and being inside with the steps up and door closed would be better. In that case, one would have to skip the folding ladder and get down on the floor to reach out and manually close the steps. Aside from looking strange, there is the issue of the cleanliness of the floor (especially if I just walked in with muddy/dirty/wet/snowy shoes) in that particular area which leads me to my next category, but before I go there I have to ask whether this part is even relevant. Even without a house-like door and cumbersome steps, could a 35' long, abnormally tall box truck with a bright blue cab pulling a 14' trailer blend in anywhere? How about when we're going through the slow process of loading and unloading the mini truck? It's the kind of thing that causes people to circle us in parking lots like hungry sharks and leave notes on our windshield to get more info about it. All of this is to say that we might have strayed a bit from the original intent and probably stand out just as much as a commercially manufactured RV.

life without a mud room
As I mentioned, the area near the doorway is difficult to keep clean. It seems easy enough to step in on the rug, remove shoes and place them in the boot tray without making a mess but it's not. Especially in the case of rain and snow with two people entering at the same time. We'd both hurry inside and shut the door, trying to work around each other to get our shoes off without straying off the rug but it doesn't always work out. Then there are the times when we're late and returning for a forgotten item and skip the shoe removal altogether. Or the times when we're parking in a generally muddy area where no amount of careful step selecting and tiptoeing can prevent a big mess from happening. The difference between this and having an average sized house is that when someone tromps in with muddy shoes and dripping wet coats, it's generally contained to a small area. In the truck, pretty much everything is near the doorway. Anyway, it would really be nice to have a separate place for shoes and coats.

too tall
One of the reasons why we chose our particular truck was because it has high ceilings. This allowed us to put lofts at both ends for the bed and bathroom so we could fit a large amount of crap in a medium sized footprint. The problem with this is that everything in the middle has 9' ceilings and just creates a huge air space to heat and cool. If we had lower ceilings, we could have combined our sitting/sleeping areas to make a much more energy efficient living area. This would have also been a plus for the solar panels because we hit the absolute max vehicle height without an inch to spare. It's fine for most places but tall vehicles like this are known for getting scraped up by low hanging branches on occasion, and that's something that worries me with such a big investment in the roof and the panels.

The plan was to keep our van until John retires then just use the mini truck as our daily driver once we start traveling. That way we can find places to park the truck where we don't have to move it every day. This is what makes the mobile condo a lot like a house. Perhaps too much. We still have to commute and leave everything unattended for most of the day. VanDwellers seem to have it so much easier--driving their home wherever they go, fitting easily into parking spots, blending in. That must be nice.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

power electronics

power electronicsThe power electronics were installed a while ago but we didn't have time to connect them until now. We used 2/0 gauge cable and copper bars (to bridge short distances) for the connections. The bank is wired in 24VDC configuration.
battery cables
In a previous post, I detailed the components of our power system and it turns out that all of the ones we needed from Outback were available in a pre-wired package known as FLEXpower One. This saved us a tremendous amount of wiring time as well as time searching for small specialty breaker boxes and the like, not to mention a little bit of money, too. The only detail to stray from the original plan is layout. The FLEXpower One comes pre-mounted in an opposite configuration from what I intended. This puts the inverter away from the wall with the charge controller and MATE somewhat hidden behind it, which is probably for the best. Had the inverter been installed as planned against the wall, its cooling fan would have been afforded much less air circulation. We'll never know if that would have become a significant issue but at least now we don't have to take the chance.

To have more convenient access to the MATE, it was detached from the assembly and mounted on the driver's side wall.
power electronics 2
Since our solar panels aren’t installed yet, the system is still being energized solely by grid power from our host. This will continue until sometime in the spring when we have time and more suitable weather for outdoor projects.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

water FKA grey

under loft

I've been really bad about posting regularly this month. I try to keep our personal updates on my other blog unless it directly relates to the mobile condo. This has been a great way to ward off the trolls but also sometimes leads to neglecting one blog or the other. Anyway, I have several half written mobile condo posts and photos that I've been meaning to put up here and will try to get caught up. For today, let's talk about greywater.
bilge pump

From the drain tank, a sanitation hose runs into the truck to a hand operated bilge pump. This empties to the greywater tank. When full (or at least once/day) the greywater tank feeds to the UV/filter assembly before being pumped back to the main freshwater tank.
We could have easily installed an electric sump pump but decided it would be nice to not have everything automated just for the sake of automation itself. It's not difficult or particularly time consuming to pump small amounts of water manually, so why not just keep it simple? Most of the time I am truly interested and amazed by automation but I feel the same way about this as I do about pencil sharpeners and toothbrushes. Sometimes automation is overkill and it's nice to find your own line between convenient and crazy. I imagine that the same people who think I'm delirious for preferring to manually wash my clothes (despite the fact that we owned and could have easily installed a top-of-the-line, space saving, EnergyStar rated, front-load washing machine) will also find problems with this option. What's your take on automation? Do you think everything that can be should be, the inverse of that or somewhere in the middle?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

water pump and drain

The water pump and drain assembly was finished just before we moved. The rest of the plumbing connections will be hooked up when the water system is completely installed (we still have to connect DC power to the pump). The greywater/filter branch has been installed already; we will post about it soon.

To keep water out of the drain hose except when it's actually in use, a Y-valve will completely cut off the drain branch when normally operating the system. This will keep the drain hose from freezing in the winter.

For the water pump, we used a Jabsco Sensor Max 17. It is a bit oversized for our demands, but hopefully that will translate into a longer lifespan for the pump.

Monday, October 25, 2010

winter parking

winter parking

We spent the weekend organizing the mobile condo and the trailer. Even after all the purging we did before the move, we still managed to pack several more boxes of things to give away. It feels good to continuously find more that we can have if we want but prefer to live without. Aside from being incredibly busy and not having much time for blogging, we're happy and having lots of fun. How are you?

That's all for now. I'll leave you with some photos of our winter parking spot.
MC winter parking

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

so far, so good

We spent our first two nights in the mobile condo at the new location. There are still several things that need to be done but we've been busy and distracted with packing, giving/freecycling/craigslisting everything else, unpacking and buying our mini truck to take the place of the two scooters. The next project will be DC power, which will be used to run the water pumps, refrigerator, toilet fan and a few other things. There was no need to rush that part since we have shore power and access to a bathroom in the building next to where we park. Although, I'm looking forward to doing dishes in my own sink and buying groceries only once every week without worrying about it going bad. Hopefully there will be time to get it done this weekend.

I know I've skipped over a few other things that have been completed recently, but I'll catch up with everything soon when I have more time. I also have lots of photos to upload as soon as we find the camera, which is probably somewhere out in the trailer.

We really lucked out finding a great parking spot about three days before we moved the truck. There were other options but I'm much happier about wintering in a somewhat secluded place with amenities to make the transition easier. Plus, the property owner couldn't be any nicer. Overall, things are going really well.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

battery bank


I've got a lot of catching up to do here with all the progress we've been making. I guess I should start with the battery bank, which is installed and ready to be wired and hooked up to the power electronics. The shelf is made of ½" plywood and superstut. This may seem like overkill but four batteries weigh about 500 lb so this little shelf needs to be as sturdy as possible. It is also secured to the floor and wall for added stability.
battery shelf

We ended up purchasing different batteries than the ones we originally wanted. They are a generic version that is very close in weight, dimensions and capacity but cost about $1500 less overall. The Concorde batteries are a higher quality but we are hoping these universals will work just fine and hold up comparably.
batteries on shelf