The UpgradesSink and water system Favorite item first! We finally leapfrogged pre-Mesopotamian civilization and officially have running water. It only took us a few years to pull the trigger… Why didn’t we do a sink right away? Our rationale was two-fold: 1) Before investing in a water system, we wanted to see how much water we used and 2) The idea of drinking from a plastic water tank made my cancer radar ping like crazy. For 2.5 years, we simply used four 1-gallon glass jugs as our water source. It worked fairly well, but capacity was obviously limited and doing dishes wasn’t very fun. (Ok, it sucked!) In a burst of vanspiration, I bought all the components for a water system from the folks at Van Specialties. Then I took 17 trips to the hardware store and *presto* running water! There are lots of full posts out there about how to install a water system, but here are the basics. If you don’t have a local camper van store, I’ve linked to the same items online.
- Dometic folding-lid sink (Boat and RV Accessories sells it here as of June 2018 or here on Amazon for $70 more – why the difference?)
- 25 gallon freshwater tank like this one mounted over the rear wheel well using metal plumbing strapping. Many people use jugs under the sink, but this takes up valuable storage space inside the main living area. I simply drilled three holes (fill, drain, and line to pump) and used 1/2″ fittings. Super easy! Note: I chose to fill the tank by opening the rear doors rather than cutting another hole in the van. It’s easy to fill with a 25′ expandable hose like this, and the fill hole is sealed with a 1.125″ “plumber test valve.”
- 3 GPM Shurflo pump wired to 12V power with a $7.50 switch in between. A smaller pump would work fine as well!
- Gray water is currently routed to 2.5 gallon holding jug that we empty each night. After 2 months traveling with it, there’s no stink and it’s easy to empty anywhere. Do the polite thing and don’t drain your water onto the ground through a hole in the floor.
- Drinking water from the original 1-gallon glass jugs (just say no to buying bottled water!)
As an additional upgrade, I added an Eccotemp L5 propane shower to the back door of the van. For ~$100, the inconceivable luxury of a hot shower entered our lives. (Hot showers rule! We should have hot showers at home!)
I didn’t want a hooked-up shower all of the time though. Enter quick-connect fittings. Using an array of them from Amazon, I created a system that takes 30 seconds to set up, but doesn’t leave the back of the van a mess the rest of the time.
If you already have the Eccotemp shower, a propane tank with regulator hose, and a water hose, below are all the quick connect fittings you’ll need. Enjoy those hot showers!
- Reducing Valve & Coupling
- Garden Hose Quick Connect (contains 2 sets)
- Gas Quick Connect Disconnect Connector
- Brass Reducing Hex Bushing
Fantastic Vent upgradeWhen we first bought our van, we wanted the rain sensor and variable speed vent fan. Too bad I ordered the wrong one… The rain sensor isn’t such a big deal, but only having 3 speed settings – tempest, tornado, and hurricane – created some serious drafts even on the lowest setting. Luckily, there’s an upgrade kit that replaces the old kit. Pop out a few screws on the original, disconnect some wires, swap wires around until the sparking stops, and *presto* you’ve got a new fan. This is a 30 minute project that I’m glad I did. The one thing that threw me (not mentioned in the instructions) is that it’s necessary to sync the fan and remote control. Here’s the instructions on that.
Isotherm fridge efficiency enhancerThis cool upgrade improves the efficiency of our Isotherm fridge, our van’s biggest power draw. The claim is that it’s 30-50% more efficient; I’ll update this later when I have hard data. (Why, I’d like to know, doesn’t Isotherm just install this as a standard item in their fridges?) At first glance, this project was slightly intimidating. Turns out it’s simply drilling one hole through your fridge and rewiring a few things. Two things the 44 page instruction manual didn’t mention: 1) If you have an original thermostat with a light, it’s easier to simply reuse the housing and install the new guts in that to keep the light. 2) The thermostat in our fridge was connected to a temperature sensor in the freezer compartment. I didn’t know what to do with this and wound up just snipping the tube. It gave off a hiss, but nobody died. Watch this Youtube video that some kind soul created if you’d like step by step instructions. I didn’t bother watching/reading anything and it worked out ok!
All-Terrain Tires4×4 Sprinters are badass. I’d argue that most people don’t need one, however. Who wants to rally their home over stuff better traversed by a Jeep Wrangler? Our 2013 van is the 2WD option and we’ve driven 30,000 miles on the smooth stock tires. From gnarly access roads in Gooseberry Mesa in Utah to steep fire roads, we’ve covered a ton of ground with no issues. Still, there are times when some extra traction would help. When our tires started looking frayed, I researched options. Wildcountry, Toyo, BF Goodrich, and others were all on the table. In the end, I went for the ones that practically every Sprinter owner uses – the BFG 245/75/16 T/A KO2s. After all, no need to get creative when Sprinter Van Diaries and others can drive gnarly South American roads on their BFGs. I bought mine from 4WD.com and got $50 off on a set of 4, but any tire store has them, as does Amazon. After rumbling about for a couple months on them, I can attest that these tires are 1) grippier 2) give a better, softer ride and 3) are slightly noisier. Mileage after two tanks of fuel has us between 19-20 mpg, within 5% of our previous mileage. Worth it for increased badassity and peace of mind. Note: I also used black Plasti-Dip to “murder out” (see how hip to the jive I am with lingo?) the rims and front/rear Mercedes logo. This was purely aesthetic and I LOVE IT. Don’t listen to the internet claims that it takes 5+ cans to do this . You’ll need two and you’ll have enough to spray the neighbor’s mailbox and kid to boot.
Warmer interior lights and gear garage lightOur interior LED lights from West Marine work great. I dig having them individually switched and they look clean. The downside is that their color temperature is cold – around 3,500-4,000 Kelvin. A nice, warm light is around 2,700K, which is a much friendlier tone (and also what Chelsea wants). Since my aim is always to keep my awesome wife happy, I searched…and searched…and couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. Enter LED filters used for photography! I found this $7 sheet of photo paper from B&H Photo, cut out a few circles to insert between the LED bulb and the clear light cover, and we are now bathed in a warm yellow-orange glow in our cozy space. Huge improvement!
Trailer hitch for rear-mount bike rackOur bikes all fit inside the van, but sometimes I’m traveling or doing a day ride with buddies whose bikes are different sizes. (Or I want to haul 6 bikes!) I typically don’t leave the bike rack on the back, but this easy install hitch is cheap and requires zero drilling. I installed it in less than 15 minutes with a minimum amount of cursing. Recruit a friend to help!
LED light bar for gear garageI also added this 12V LED lightbar on a switch to the rear storage garage. It was hard to find what I wanted with a switch, but this bar from superbrightleds.com is awesome.
Increased/improved storage for gear garageOur gear garage holds our four bikes, but it also contains a ton of stuff for backpacking, climbing, and around camp (hammock, chairs, slackline). To make things super easy to access and maximize the storage space, I added a number of cabinets and structures. -U-shaped platform over the right rear wheel well to support two camp chairs. It’s 8”x12.5”x36” and I screwed two L-brackets to the top to hold the chairs in place. Wasted space, used! -For our camp stove, I opted to copy Sprinter Van Diaries. All I did was build a little alcove (accessed from inside) that took unused space from above the mountain bikes. We’ll continue to cook outside on the drop-down side table. -Cabinet over the center sliding drawer behind the bike handle bars (see above shot). -Another cabinet behind the center, slide-out storage array. This is easily accessed from inside the van and is where we’ll store our backpacking, bike touring, and climbing gear, plus another big area for miscellaneous items.
Remote switch for inverterOur inverter is tucked at the back of a cabinet. With some recent additions, accessing it was a bit tougher, so I bought this remote switch. Cut a 2” hole, plug in a telephone jack wire between the two, and you’re done. $20 well spent!
Mini-microwaveCan’t believe how much I love this thing! No longer can I pull the lazy card after a ride – “ohhh, I can’t be bothered to pull out the stove and heat up burrito ingredients.” My days of cold meals are over! For the install, I simply added an outlet in a storage cubby below our bed. Then I slid a 0.5 CF Whirlpool microwave in and WHAMMO, life was simpler.
Odds and Ends
- Sliding carriage bolts to hold rear sliding drawers in place. Under acceleration uphill, they’d sometimes break free from the ball catches I used in the past. No more!
- Two 12V USB chargers by the bed for charging phones and other devices without running the inverter
- Magnets to hold countertop storage boxes in place