Friday, April 29, 2016

Mounting panels below the fridge...a brief update.

I installed the panels below the fridge holding the power distribution/fuse box, the gas detector/alarm, the main furnace vent, and an A.C outlet.

This consists of a relatively permanent panel on the left, and one on the right that's removable for some storage and access to the gas valves.

The semi-permanent one has the fuse box and gas detector. I will eventually add a storage shelf accessible from beneath the bed. With all the wiring going to the fuse box, I don't want to be moving this panel very often. About the only reason to remove it will be if I need service access to the water heater or its gas and plumbing connections. Since it's an on-demand heater, antifreeze and a good blow-out should be sufficient for winterizing. No tank to drain, or bypass valve needed.

The right hand panel covers space where I plan to add 2 drawers above the heater vent.
One will be 6"deep. That leaves room for the heater flex hose behind. Another drawer, 12" deep will sit above the 6" drawer. Both will be on slides and removable. Not sure what will go in them, but it seems a shame to waste the space.
I may eventually make a door for those drawers, but at first, they will be hidden behind an easily removable panel. I can always cut the panel down to make the door, while maintaining the wood-grain pattern.

This panel also provides access to the front of the furnace. We will be putting a (GFI) outlet in the bathroom, and this point is right on the route. Since there was room to add an A.C. outlet, I did. So there. Maybe use it to plug in a vacuum.

Preparing the panel for cutout:

Test fit the panel and added the outlet:

  And buttoned everything up (minus the trim work).

Since I don't have any urgent need to use the drawers, I'll build and install them later. 

So now we're ready to dive into the john. Maybe I should rephrase that to say that the next step is completing the john (walls, counter sink, cabinetry, etc).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

For when ya gotta go: I compost a blog entry here

We installed an Airhead composting toilet.

Fair warning...this will probably be the crappiest topic we discuss, and I will approach it with a rather pissy attitude.
Further, in an attempt to use as many euphemisms for peeing and pooping as I can possibly squeeze out, the introductory section may fail to meet the brevity standards of the aesthetics committee. In other words, I may be sitting on the pot too long before getting off.

Introductory section:
Practical RV toilets come in two flavors, chemical based black holding tank & cassette types, and composting types.

We early made the decision to try a composting unit. Several reasons.
All chemical systems  mix #1 and #2 with chemicals. The chemicals are there in a desperate attempt to control odors. These systems require emptying the resulting lumpy chemical stew at an RV disposal site.

We didn't want to deal with the complexity of building a black water holding tank system. Valves and roof vents and under chassis tank mounting. A pain in the ass to design and build into a one-off limited space camper. A waste of the limited supply of perfectly good drinking water to flush after you use your aforementioned ass for its intended purpose. Then you need to lug around the flavorful mix until you find a socially acceptable dump site.

Cassette systems are pretty much mini, removable black holding tanks built into the throne. They may have their own flushing water reservoir. Dumping still should be done at RV dump sites. You need to allow adequate space in the bathroom to maneuver the cassette tank in and out of the pedestal. Tank size is limited to how much you can lift or roll in and out of your RV. The holding tank is typically much smaller than a normal RV black tank. Maybe 5 gallons vs. 20 or more. Some cassette toilets are designed to remove that tank through a hole in an outer wall...not viable for Annie's design.

Once we eliminated black tank and other impractical options (for example, litterboxes, underwear, etc. also have limited carrying capacity), we looked into composters. At least while they were empty, we liked what we saw.

Composters were designed to biodegrade waste into usable, non-toxic things like fertilizer. They come in 2 varieties: separating, and non-separating.

Non-separating units were #1 on the scene. They are typically quite large, and require significant ventilation control. Reason is that the stored organics are wet, the composting process is largely done by anaerobic bacteria, and the anaerobic byproducts include ammonia and other nasty smellies.

Separating units were dumped on the market as an improved way to address the size and odor issues. I'll leave it to the reader to conclude what gets separated from what.
They use  material like peat moss or coconut coir to mix with the solids, and along with some airflow through a vent, help dry them out. The chemical reactions are primarily aerobic, and (theoretically) almost odor free. Since this is also a drying process, the storage efficiency goes way up. The #1 design criteria for this to work is for one to divert #1 into its own bottle.

When the storage fills up, solids can be allowed to fully compost and eventually spread in places like flower gardens (NOT veggie beds). Or they can be plopped into a garbage bag and dumped into the trash. Liquids can be diluted and dispersed, like against a few friendly neighborhood trees, or just poured down a standard toilet.

To be clear, we have yet to actually use the composter.
All the reviews and discussions we've read indicate that a separating composter is the best choice for Annie's use.
Well, more accurately, for our use inside Annie. Annie doesn't have an independent biological digestive tract.
We will learn if this was a wise decision once it's too late.

Installing the toilet:
We're starting work on the bathroom. (walls, counter, sink, cabinetry, etc.)
The bathroom is a pretty small space.
We felt an urgent pressure to install the toilet now, to make sure that we had adequate clearance to move around, build the walls, etc. without finding out later that the toilet was unusable because of space issues. As I mentioned earlier, litter boxes were not a viable options.
Once the john was installed, it is easy to remove to do construction, and to put back if any space issues or questions arose.

There are two brands we considered: Air Head and Nature's Head. Both are probably very similar in capacity and effectiveness. We went with the Airhead for 2 space related reasons: the overall footprint is smaller, and it's possible to remove the pee bottle without needing to tilt back the main body. That means we can mount it closer to its rear wall.

Here is what the installed unit looks like:

First thing to do was establish the location. We had rigged up some cardboard as counter and door substitutes. Then we moved the AirHead around till we found the best position.
The unit is mounted by 4 floor flanges. (Say that fast 10 times.) Two for the main body, and 2 for the pee bottle

Marking the main body flange locations:

Next we located where the vent will go. We chose to vent through the floor, although wall or ceiling venting are also allowed. That way, with enough methane build-up under Annie, we can use a spark igniter to give a jet assist as we go over a large rock.

The bell shaped housing holds the exhaust fan. The gray pipe doohickey has an insect screen, and uses some of the supplied vent tube to screw into the bell.

Drilled the hole:

I made up a through the floor vent tube with some 1.25" sched40 and a bandsaw cut piece of 1.25" coupling.

Painted the hole from top and bottom, filled it and any gaps with Great Stuff, and dropped the tube in. Cut clearance for the flange out of the vinyl flooring, and glued the vent down with gorilla glue. Removed any of the Great Stuff from the inside of the tube. Added more Great Stuff at the underneath where the vent comes through the van body.

Wired in the fan, and screwed down the bell and (previously marked) toilet body flanges:

Installed the toilet and made sure that the vent hose fit properly:

Then, using the mounted toilet, attached the pee bottle and marked for the pee bottle flanges:

And completed the effort by removing the unit and flanges, just leaving the screws:

I hope that you all are properly moved after reading this entry, and that it wasn't too hard going.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Instrumental to Annie's functionality

A quickie post. We wired in Annie's instrument panel, and checked out all functions.
A couple of pics, then a few comments.
The rear of the wired panel:
It's hard to see here, but the cabling is strapped and supported so that there is no bouncing against the walls or the fridge. And LOTS of service loop left.
I will be boxing in the back when I start building the bathroom walls. 

A Major Problem:
Why do we call bathrooms bathrooms when the room has no bath??? I mean, what we're building is usually called a half bath. But why? Which half of you gets to bathe when there's no bath to bathe in?

And the front view:

We filled up the fresh water tank, and watched the progress on the SeeLevel monitor. The gauge tracks the level very nicely. I haven't yet calibrated its LPG readout, but it looks very close to what the mechanical gauge says...about 80%. Not surprising, since that is about what's normally considered "full" to allow for expansion.

The LPG was flushed and filled once, several months ago, with almost no use since then (except to check heater functions).
The question I'm trying to decide is if I should leave things the way they are, or at my next fillup, re-calibrate the monitor to read 100% at that point.

The Seelevel's water heater and pump switches work, as does it's heater pilot warning. I have a bit of concern about the water heater itself. More about this below.

The ML-ACR VSR's remote switch works exactly as expected, as do the Blue Sky IPN solar and the Magnum ME-RC50 inverter/charger monitors.

The thermostat mostly works as expected, but there may be an issue with the furnace. I did find the thermostat had an intermittent blank display, but I think that was just some bad battery connections. Problem hasn't reappeared since I tweaked and cleaned them.

Unresolved functionality:
1. I think that we're going to have a steep learning curve to get an appropriate temperature without wasting water using this on-demand water heater. So far, it looks like the flow is either too low to trigger heat, or too high to get the temperature up adequately. There seems to be a very narrow flow range where the temp is good.
If spousal unit or I have ongoing issues with this, I may design a preheat recirculating system. There was some discussion about that on the Ford Transit forum's copy of this blog. I hope we can avoid that added complexity.
2. For some unknown reason, the house furnace wouldn't stay ignited when I started checking out the thermostat hookup.. It would light up, and then stop, and try to reignite. It was getting later in the day, so I decided to hold off troubleshooting to the morning. Well, morning arrived (right on time, as it commonly does), and the furnace seems to be working fine. Can't fix it when it ain't broke.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Annie is being framed (and walled in)

I've started the cabinet framing and john wall work.
The first step was to add a small shelf above the fridge (and above its required ventilation clearance).
There are also side walls, cut to match the ceiling's curve.
I'll build the door a bit later, probably along with most of the other cabinet doors.

Next, I built a frame for a john wall. This wall will also hold instrumentation. The john's counter and sink will be behind it. Here you can see the fresh and gray water lines in that area.

The blue tape on the floor (in the above picture) will be where the john's entry doors will be. It's a 2' wide opening. there will be 2 doors, one hinged one the forward end of the frame I'm working on. The other door will be hinged on the forward wall of the john (to be located on the blue tape behind the driver's seat).

We spent a bit of time deciding what wood and finish to use. Our first overconfident guess was spar varathane and maple, but after painting several full wall pieces, the aesthetics committee unanimously concluded that it made the maple way too yellow.

So we smartened up and made some smaller samples with different wood and finishes.
We settled on a water based clear satin varathene and 1/4" maple ply. (The lowermost right in the above pic.

We painted up new full size pieces, and liked the way they looked. Next step was to layout for the instrumentation holes.

The instruments consist of the solar and inverter/charger control monitors, the water and propane tank monitor, the thermostat, and the VSR control switch.

The holes are cut. Man, I love that oscillating tool!

A hole for everything, and everything in its hole:

Mounted up the walls. They are being held to the frame with glue and brads

Next up will be hooking in the instruments, enclosing the space under the fridge and yet to be build closet, and building the closet.