Today was one of those van life days that made us just want to quit van life and do something different. We wanted to quit van life before we even got started. In fact, we’ve had a string of about 3 days in a row, where nothing seemed to go our way.
Anyone who has ever done a self-build van or skoolie, certainly can relate and understand where we are coming from.
Some days are just perfect. The temperature outside is great and every project just falls into place. The music is jamming on your Spotify list and no arguments or disagreements on how to get things done. It’s everything you have ever dreamed of and worthy of lots of Instagram posts.
Other days, however, are just the opposite. You can’t cut a straight edge with your skill or jigsaw. The plus nuts break loose and spin like a top inside the metal wall. The electrical is not doing what you think it should be doing. You just can’t wrap your brain around something you are trying to figure out.
It happens, and when it does happen, it is not fun! In fact, it really makes you wonder what you have gotten yourself into.
Thank goodness that most days building a van conversion is better than the not-so-good days. Otherwise, we might be buying another house or living off-grid out in the woods somewhere in a tent.
In the last few days, we have had a string of unfortunate mishaps in our build. Some were pretty minor and we were able to overcome them after stepping away and then approaching with a fresh mind and better perspective.
A Series of Unfortunate Events that Made Us Want to Quit Van Life Before We Even Started
One of the frustrating projects today was installing the ax handle in our entryway. The ax handle isn’t just some ordinary ax handle you can pick up at the local hardware store. This is a very special ax handle. It belonged to Nat’s dad.
He used this ax on many occasions. It was broken, but still had a good bit of wood on it. Instead of removing it from the ax head and discarding it for a brand new handle, Don had the brilliant idea to repurpose what was still left. Voila, an entry and exit handle for the van!
The handle itself turned out beautiful. The stain color was perfect, the polyurethane was even and smooth. That is about all that we could be happy about though at first.
Plus Nuts Are Nuts!
Plus nuts are either your best friend or the very bane of existence in a van build. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when they function properly.
They are designed to “lock” into the metal walls so you are able to attach a bolt and attach whatever it is you want to be anchored to that wall.
Our plus nuts for this project broke loose on 4 of the 6 ones we installed. It’s not as simple as unscrewing the bolt inside of the plus nut and then reattaching it. The nut spins, so removing the bolt halfway inside of it is a very delicate and frustrating procedure. Sometimes, you have to either drill the bolt or plus nut itself out of the wall.
We stepped away, cooled off, and re-approached with a better and more rational attitude.
Long story short, the plus nuts were corrected and we were able to mount the ax handle. Once it was installed, we realized that we needed to install one more bolt in it to make it more solid and secure. Since we will be using it every day and pulling on it with most of our weight to enter and exit the van, it needed to be a little bit more secure.
We got it done and are now super happy about its functionality and how it looks! Every time we enter or exit our van Raven, we can thank Ken!
How Frustrated Were We?
The next project that caused a lot of frustration, A LOT! So much we seriously almost quit van life before we even got started.
Getting our solar panels was something we were both looking forward to doing and dreading at the same time. We knew we wanted to get them hooked up and operating before we hit the road. Work out any kinks so to speak sp no surprises popped up while traveling.
The exciting part was having solar for off-grid living and adventuring. The part we were dreading was never doing something like this. The unknown factor can be quite intimidating sometimes. Nat loves a good challenge. Don likes things simple and easy!
Connecting the panels up on the roof was no problem. Drilling a hole through the ceiling is as easy! Feeding the solar cables, and then sealing the hole was not quite as easy as we anticipated, but manageable. What we thought would take maybe an hour, ended up taking 4 hours.
That is pretty much par for the course when we build out a conversion. In our minds, we have the process and procedure all laid out. When we actually begin the process is when obstacles and detours occur.
We are Scrapping our Solar Set up!
We found out, after spending approximately $3,500 on our solar set up that it won’t work for us. Let that sink in for a moment. Over three thousand dollars spent, and then realizing it is basically useless.
Our Bluetti solar generator needs a minimum of 35v of current to start the charging process. Our panels only have a maximum of 33v of current. So, what that means to us, is that we are unable to charge our Bluetti solar generator with our current solar setup.
Mind you, we have 620 watts of solar panels on our roof. The bad news is, that we are using two 210-watt panels and two 100-watt panels. When mismatching panels like this, you have to calculate the voltage out by the lowest common panel.
We have quickly learned that not all solar panels are created equally.
Also, we have to run our solar panels in “series” and not parallel or series-parallel. For some reason, that is just how the solar generator we purchased is configured. Well, with our panels connected in series, we lose about half of the total watts available and as I mentioned…not enough volts to start the charging connection.
We did purchase 240 watts of portable solar panels from Bluetti when we purchased the solar generator. They have a total of 38v. We connected them to the Bluetti and it started charging immediately.
All was fine and dandy until about 40 minutes into the charging we noticed two bubbles forming on our portable solar panels. It was as if the layer over the solar grid was delaminating.
This did have a minor effect on the number of watts our panels were able to generate, reducing it by approximately 8%.
We Are Quitting Our Bluetti
We began to question if the Bluetti was a good solution for our solar needs. Should we have instead built a more traditional solar setup with individual batteries and a charge controller?
Another thing that really concerned us with the Bluetti system we have in place is that while we are out traveling if something goes sideways with the Bluetti. We are without power. If one thing goes wrong with it, the entire power system is down.
Well, we made a tough decision and decided that we are going to spend more money and build a traditional solar setup. Batteries, charge controllers, breakers, and bus bars. More money and more space are being taken up in the van.
We are keeping the Bluetti and will have it as a backup power source. It will also allow us to forego an inverter as it has a built-in inverter to power and charge our 110v gear and appliances.
Well, we are not going to quit van life after all!
When it is all said and done, at the end of the day, we can rest well knowing we have done our best. Sometimes a van build doesn’t go exactly how we planned it. Sometimes, it goes exactly how we planned it.
When it doesn’t go well, we have to lock arms and problem solve together! That is where the magic is. When we team up and tackle a problem as a team!
We do not want to quit van life. In fact, we couldn’t be more excited to get this build completed, and hit the road. There are many adventures waiting ahead for us and we can’t wait to share them with all of you!
Stay tuned for our new solar setup. In the meantime, check out our latest blog post for 53 Van Life Essential Items.