Building the LiFePO4 battery

Finally, my battery cells arrived. It took much longer than expected due to customs delays. The seller shipped my cells by train from China and did send me a tracking. The cells would enter Europe through the Warsaw train terminal, and once arrived and released by the Polish customs, UPS would ship them from Poland to the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, this took a very long time, but once the UPS tracking was (finally) working I’ve received the cells within a few days.

Since I did order bare cells, I had to top-balance them myself in order to get the best performance. The cells can have different SOC levels (State-Of-Charge) and once in series, the cell with the lowest SOC would trigger the BMS to shutdown. By balancing the cells you’re equalizing all cells to be as equally close as possible, thus allowing you to use the most of its capacity. I’d opted for a top-balance, which is the most recommended way of balancing for RV usage.

Basicly: connect all cells in parallel, charge them to 3.65V till the current is (almost) zero and you’re done.
However, this can take a long time, especially if you have big/many cells and/or they are at a low SOC. It all depends on your power supply. Since mine could only deliver 5A.. and each cell is 280Ah, you can do the math: 4×280 / 5 = 224 hours if they were completely flat.
Also, I didn’t want to leave the cells charging unsupervised during top balance, so that wasn’t really an option, even if the cells were at 50% SOC it still would take 100+ hours.

So I connected all cells in series, and hooked up my BMS. I’ve set the high-voltage disconnect to 3.65V and connected my regular 24A charger. Using this method, I could charge much faster (11.6 hours if completely flat). But mine came pretty full, I think somewhere around 75% SOC. So after only a few hours of charge the BMS did shutdown as it should, since 1 cell reached 3.65. Once that was done, the cells were near full.

I rewired the cells in parrallel to do a full top balance. Since the cells were now either full or very close to, it only take a few more hours with my 5A power supply (set to 3.65V) to full charge all cells.

Once that was done, topbalancing was finished and I could start assembling the final battery.

I used concrete forming plywood for the case. Since the cells are aluminium I checked if they were connected to any of the poles, and yes, the outer case was +. Although the cells are covered in a thin foil, I wasn’t very happy to clamp them together, since the protective layer isn’t very thick. To reduce the chance of a short I’ve added some 2mm PVC between the cells (Which I had as leftover from my build).

The cells are clamped using M8 threaded rods, with a big washer and a locking nut on both sides. On the inside, I’ve covered the rods with plastic tubing, used for air pumps in a aquarium.
On one side I have left some space to mount the BMS. I also added a CF8 fuse to the positive terminal and added a main switch on the outside

For the negative pole, it’s connected to the shunt of my Victron BMV. From the shunt, there are 2 wires: 1 thick 50mm2 (0AWG) to my inverter, and a 5AWG to the BMS.

The output of the BMS is connected to my main fuse box, so everything is ran trough the BMS (loads, charger, DC-DC, solar and so on). Only the inverter is bypassing the BMS.
If there is an error, the BMS will shutdown and protect the cells.
I will add a relay to the switch of the inverter, so the relay is released once the BMS shuts down, thus shutting down the inverter as well, without having me to run the huge currents of the inverter through the BMS.
Altough my BMS is capable of handling 120A, I didn’t want to run the inverter, since it requires cooling and generally isn’t really recommended to run a BMS on or near its maximum rating.

The cells came with double busbars and M6 screws, but I’ve seen reports of people stripping the threads in the cells since that’s aluminium, so easy to overtighten.
To prevent this, and have maximum thread available, I’ve cut a M6 threaded rod into small (2.5cm / 1″) pieces and screwed them down to the bottom, making sure all available thread is used. Using lock nuts I connected everything on top. This gave me also plenty of length to work with (the included screws are too short anyway if you want to used double busbars, decent cable lugs and spring washers).
Using a torque wrench, I’ve thightend everything to 7nm, as stated in the datasheet so I should be ok.

Finally, it was time to add the cover. I’ve installed an aluminium air vent in it, and cut a hole to connect the wire from my shunt.
The box is securely fixed to the van using steel angle brackets, so even in case of a crash, it won’t come flying through my van (It does weigh approx 30kg (66lb) or so, so that’s something you need to avoid.

Finally, I had to adjust all chargers to the optimum settings for LiFePO4, so I’ve changed the solar controller, DC-DC charger and regular charger, and it was time to test.
Connected the normal charger to the mains, works. Started the van: DC-DC charger also started working, so I was able to charge 60A in that case (40A DC-DC, 24A mains charger, but I did have lights on so that was about 4A load)

Wiring Head-unit, rearview camera and DC charger

Now it was time to do some modifications in the main cabin. I still had to connect the wire from my DC to DC charger to power it on, and had to connect my rearview camera.

Initially, I planned to keep my existing headunit, a simple JVC radio with bluetooth, and use the provided monitor to use with my rearview camera.
However, this monitor was supposed to be mounted on the existing rearview mirror, but my van didn’t have one.. And even if it had, I wasn’t very happy to mount a ‘big’ screen: It would block my vision partially.
Also, I couldn’t find a nice place to mount it on my dash, without compromising my view, and I didn’t like having a ‘unit’ sticking out.

So plans were changed: I needed to get a simple in-dash monitor. Since i’m using my phone for navigation, which works fine for me, I didn’t need a satnav in the dash. Android auto or Apple Carplay was nice to have, but I wasn’t willing to pay for it ;).
That means I only had a few requirements: Bluetooth (I’m using it mainly for streaming, especially when in another country), FM radio (although if reception was poor, I still could use the bluetooth) and an input for the camera.

I found a cheap chinese radio at Banggood: The iMars 7023B “7 inch 2 DIN car MP5 player stereo radio FM USB AUX HD bluetooth touch screen support rear view camera”
Did fit my needs, and it was cheap: 28 eur (Approx 33 USD) including shipping. Nothing fancy, just some cheap Chinese thing. Arrived in only a few days.
Very lightweight, and small. Definitely within its price range: Cheap plastic..

I also had to get the appropriate mounting brackets: 2 pieces were required: A 2-din frame to support the radio, and a matching faceplate to fit it in a Ducato.
Found those on Amazon for 27 euro in total (Generic 2DIN frame and a CARAV 40-205 frame for the Ducato). Almost as expensive as the radio 😉

Installing it was pretty straightforward, however I had to do some cutting (Had to remove a piece of plastic seperating the existing 1U and the tray above). Also the generic frame wasn’t a very close fit, had to do some adjustents and remove some plastic from the outer frame to fit the tuner, but with some patience and carefull cutting with a knife it wasn’t a major issue.

Wiring was the next challenge.
I did run the wire from the dashcam through the passenger side to the radio. I only had to find a swithed power line to power the cam. Also, the radio required a 12V to automaticly switch the reversing camera. I didn’t run a wire from the back (reversing lights) so I had to find a wire somewhere in the cable loom underneath the dash which was only active when reverse was engaged.
In Fiat E-Learn (the digital documentation of the whole van, including engine and wiring diagrams), I found there is a wire from the reverse switch on the manual transmission to the main wiring cabinet under the dash. (Pin 8 on the E connector of the B002 unit below the drivers side).

From E-Learn:
The reversing lights switch I020 is supplied by the INT line protected by fuse F35 of the junction unit under the dashboard B002.
When reverse gear is engaged, the switch closes and sends a power supply to the reversing light in the right rear light cluster F031 (pin 4) via pin 8 of connector E of the junction unit under the dashboard B002.


So I spliced that wire, and ran an wire to the headunit This wire supplies the reversing signal to the headunit and powers the rearview camera. (So it isn’t powered on always, only when reverse is engaged).
I used the connector which came with the radio to act as a donor for a wire: The original connector of the Ducato didn’t have all pins connected, so I had to add 1 connection for the reverse switching line.

Once the radio was fitted, and the wiring looms and fuse panels were exposed anyway, I was up to the second job: The wire for the DC-DC charger.

I could just connect it to a switched 12V, but that would mean it will charge always when the ignition is on, even without having the engine runnning.
I however wanted to have it only active when the engine is running (so it would draw power from the alternator, instead of draining the starter battery if you’re for example having a small stop without the engine running, but with the key in ignition.

So again, Fiat E-Learn to the resque:
The connection between connector B (D+) of the A010 alternator and pin 25 of connector A of the M001 Body Computer allows the performance of the alternator itself to be diagnosed (in the event of an insufficient recharging level).

Found this wire (it was Green/Brown unlike White/Pink as stated in Elearn, but anyway), so I spliced this wire also, and connected the DC-DC charger and put some heatshrink on. And yes, it was working fine: DC charger only powered on when the engine was running and switched off when I stopped the engine.

Entertainment / internet

Nowadays, it’s pretty to have some form of entertainment during the nights or rainy days. My van is no execption.

Internet (4G)
In my experiences, a lot of campsites offer WiFi, but its not uncommon to be pretty crappy quality.
Since my travels will be mainly in Europe and the roaming regulations have changed, there is no reason NOT to use 4G/LTE. Coverage is pretty decent, and if available I can try wifi anyway. Since not all my devices have their own LTE modem, I want just to use wifi.

I’ve installed a TP-Link MR600 4G/LTE router. Similar to a MiFi router, but it has some advantages: 4 gigabit ports, capable of up to 64 devices, and I was able to get it cheap 🙂

The device is unlocked, so if I visit a country which isn’t covered by roaming, I can get a local prepaid sim card and insert it.

Audio
I didn’t include a sound system in my build. Getting decent sound involves some good design, especially when it comes to speakers. You can’t just insert a speaker in a cabinet and expect good sound.
Thats why I choosed not to install any sound system, but to get a decent bluetooth speaker instead. After reading some reviews, I found an affordable one: The Doss Soundbox XL. Not very known, but from all reviews I have found, they were pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of a $50 speaker and could easily compare it with a 3-times more expensive speaker.
Not the smallest one, but it does sound great, and has sufficient power to have a small party also. No need for a massive soundsystem anyway, since i’m likely to piss off any neighbors 🙂

Television
I don’t watch TV very often. Also, didn’t want to install a huge expesive dish on my roof. And with the various streaming options and TV apps most providers provide, there is no need to in my opinion (You can get a whole lot of prepaid internet to make up for the cost of a dish and subscription)
Also, I didn’t have the space (and didn’t want to) install a TV in my van. Most of the times, I can use my laptop, will do the job fine. And with the bluetooth speaker I have decent sound on the laptop as well.
For movie nights, I have a small projector, the Blitzwolf BW-VP1. This is a tiny cheap one, but with surprisingly good quality for it’s price (75 eur, approx $85).
And it’s a LED projector, so much more efficient than a regular one with the regular bulbs. Light output is off course lower, but plenty enough for use in the van. And it’s 720p, so picture quality is fine, since I’m not able to project on a huge display.
Finally: Its small and light, important when traveling in a rather small van. I’ve connected a Google Chromecast to its HDMI input, so I can wirelessly stream any content over my van’s wifi network.

Heating

In my van, I have 2 ways of heating during colder days.

During my build, I did install underfloor heating foil below the vinyl top layer of my floor. This is only on the parts where you can walk, so it can expose its heat. Under the cabinets and in the garage there is no floor heating (since this doesn’t make sense).

The floor heating is a thin (<1mm or so) heating foil. I’ve sourced this directly from AliExpress. In total, its around 400 watt of heating power. Not enough to be as primairy heating, but it will give you a nice heated floor and warm feets. Depending on the outside temperature, it might be enough to keep the van on its temperature during the night.
Main advantage of this: It’s comfortable and silent.

Disadvantage is its current draw: Around 400 watt. So its likely I’m only able to use it when connected to an external power source. I have connected it to a regular power plug, so if I want, I can connect it to my inverter and run on the batterie, but by default its only working when connected to outside power.

Another heating source will be a diesel powered heater.
When I bought my van, it included a Webasto Airtop 2000 diesel heater, which was installed under the passenger seat. It was connected to the main fuel tank, so no need to have a seperate fuel tank for heating.

During my build, I’ve relocated this Webasto to the back, in the garage below the bed. The outlet is in one of the benches, directing towards the front. Since my front cabin is seperated from the living space in the back, I had to relocated it. Since there is a gap between the bed and the rear doors, this will force air circulation. The heater draws its cool air from the back, thus behind the bed. Hot air is directed towards the front. Since hot air rises, I expect it to circulate through the hole van, giving me a nice evenly distributed heat.

Only part which was missing were the controls of the Webasto: The previous owner had it connect to a switch on the dashboard, so it would run either on (full power) or off. For my van, I wanted it to run also on low power, so I had to install some kind of thermostat. Most basic option was the Webasto Rheostat, which came with these models.
Unfortunately, they are very expensive: 70 euro or so ($80), which I wasn’t willing to pay for such a simple device (It only exists of a 2.2kOhm potentionmeter with switch and a LED), so I have build my own. In the manuals of the Webasto heaters is the schematic, they only lack the resistor value, but for the Rheostat this is a 2.2kOhm one.

The Rheostat doesn’t have a temperature sensor, it just relies on the temperature of the air reaching the input of the heater. So it’s not fully a thermostate, but it will do the job. If needed, I might relocate the temperature sensor.

I’ve bought a potentiometer with integrated on-off switch, so it will act just as the original Rheostat. This is included in my control panel in the upper cabinet.

The heater is now installed in the back. Exhaust is pointed towards the back. I also extended the fuel lines and cables, since it’s now in the back. All cables are routed underneath the van. For additional protection I’ve put them in a protective sleeve (Looks like some kind of thick heatshrink, which I had as leftover when it was a service van, I did recover these to be used later).

By default, the heaters are kinda noisy. After adding an exhaust muffler and an air intake filter it was much more silent (Especially the exhaust muffler made a huge difference). I used these parts from the cheap Chinese diesel heaters, so not genuine (expensive) Webasto parts. But if they fail, they are easilly to replace anyway.

Plumbing

In the van there will be a small plumbing system. Since I don’t have a shower, and also don’t need an outdoor shower, its limited to the kitchen area only.

I also don’t have water tanks underneath the van, since I don’t need huge amounts of water. Also, I don’t think it’s hard to get water, so no need to take huge amounts with me.
So i went with 2 small portable water cans of 20 Liter each (5.3 gallon). If needed, I can fill a 3rd one and store it in the back.
Both of them can fit in one of the kitchen cabinets. One will be used for fresh water, the other one as grey water.

I use a small submersible pump, which is connected to the kitchen faucet. Inside the faucet is a small microswitch.
This switch is connected to a small relay, which switches the actual pump.
Some people are reporting issues with the small micro switch switching the inrush currents of a pump, so I added a relay, to save the microswitch.

I also installed a small 12V / 200W boiler. This can hold 6L water (1.6 gallon). I also added a switch so I can disable the boiler if needed to save some power. (I calculated the boiler to use approx 35Ah battery capacity, so it’s quite a heavy user…

The boiler is a plastic one, with rather crappy insulation. I’ve installed it below my bench. In order to add some insulation I’ve wrapped it in some 9mm Armaflex leftovers, made a small box around it, and filled that with sheep wool.
And it did fit perfectly, I had just enough to run the duct from the Webasto heater through this compartment as well.

Both the boiler and the water tanks are in separate compartments. I’ve covered both with Vinyl floor liner. Also made all sides fully watertight for at least 3cm (about 1 inch). On the back, there is a gap of 5cm widht (2 inches), so if anything starts leaking, it will leak into the structural framing of the van, which has holes in it so it will drop straight to the ground, instead of damaging my floor.

DIY LiFePO4 battery – Acquiring cells and hardware

So as in the previous post, I found the EVE 280Ah cells. People on https://diysolarforum.com/ have had very good experience with these, and also recommended some sellers on Alibaba to source these from.

So I went ahead and bought 4 cells for my build. The seller (Xuba) was able to provide me with DDP shipping (Delivery Duty Payed), so including all taxes and so on. Recommended by users of the forum was to use either boat or train as transport, since that would be much cheaper than shipping by air. Yes, it will be slower (Generally people mention 30-45 days) but that was fine for me.

In order to protect the batteries and monitor them, you need a BMS (Battery Management System). They are available in a whole bunch of options. Most of the DIY people tend to use Daly, Chargery, ANTBMS, or JBD. Some of them are sold under various other brand names, but they are the same.
I opted for the LTT Power (JBD) branded 4S LiFePO4 BMS :https://www.lithiumbatterypcb.com/product/4s-or-3s-12v-li-ion-or-lifepo4-battery-smart-bms-with-bluetooth-function-uart-and-rs485-communication-with-60a-to-120a-constant-current/

This BMS is fully adjustable, does have bluetooth and is affordable. It also can handle up to 120A, so a smaller inverter can be connected to the BMS. (In theory: any inverter <1400W, but I tent to not use a BMS above 50-60% of its rated current). So for a <800W inverter: No problem. Since my inverter is 1500W, I’ll use my inverter directly connected, only controlled by the BMS (more on that later)

The BMS
– Balances the cells so they remain equally in charge
– Protecs the cells for overcharge, and overdischarge

The Daly BMS is a good option, and is easier to install (1 complete unit, unlike a more PCB-like BMS as the one I have), but its very limited. With the LTT BMS I can adjust various settings more specific. Also, it has low-temp protection, where the Daly doesn’t have it.
(LiFePO4 cells can’t be charged below 0°C / 32F)
There is a new Daly Smart BMS on the market, but there aren’t many reviews yet, and its more expensive, so I did go for the LTT BMS.

So total costs are $320 (cells), $200 (Shipping) and $60 for the BMS, = $580 for 280Ah Lithium… Much more affordable than $1000+ for only 100Ah!

Battery upgrade to DIY LiFePO4 – Introduction and charger

As mentioned before, the lead acid battery of 105Ah and the Xenteq 10A charger are for testing and initial setup only. I was planning on upgrading to Lithium.

During the build, I found there are plenty of options for Lithium. You can get a complete battery, eg a Victron, Liontron, Battleborn, NDS, Wattstunde and a whole bunch of other sellers. Also, there are unknown / lesser known brands, slighly cheaper.
But in all cases: Still pretty expensive, a 100Ah battery easily is around 800 EUR in Europe

I did some calculations, and based on my requirements (beeing able to run offgrid for approx 2 days) I’ve calculated I needed at least 70-80Ah of usable capacity. So with lead-acid, this would mean around 180Ah, since lead acid can’t be discharged <50% without seriously shorten its lifetime.

If I want to run my water heater also, I estimated I need another 35-40Ah / day.
Using the inverter also adds up pretty much, so with 100Ah Lithium I can safely run my refrigerator, lights, fan, but usage of other equipment has to be done carefully and depending on the solar.

So: The bigger: the better. Off course, the drawback is the costs. With 200Ah of usable capacity it would be great, and basicly nothing to be worried about anymore (since the solar will also help, the 315Wp will charge the batteries even in shadown, although very limited. 200Ah = 400Ah lead-acid = way too much weight, so lithium is definitely the way to go.

Also, it would be pretty massive in size. After searching for options, I found there are a bunch of Chinese sellers selling very affordable batteries. Most popular are (as of aug 2020) the EVE 280Ah cells. (There are also 105ah cells available).

These are not Lithium-ion, but are LiFePO4. This is much more suitable for van usage: Safer to use/build and a lot easier: Each cell is 3.2V so you need to wire 4 of them in series. Each cell has 280Ah capacity, so only 4 cells will do.
With Lithium-ion, each cell generally has a much lower capacity so you need to run multiple cells in parallel, and joining these into series to make for the 12V. Also, unlike LiFePO4 which is 3.2V/cell, Lion = 3.7V, so slightly more off 12V (4×3.2 = 12.8V)
And you need to have (or have access to) a spotwelder to create proper connections on Lion-cells….

The LiFePO4 cells however are much easier to use: Just a ‘block’ with M6 inserts, and included busbars to connect them in serie.
And, when sourcing them directly from China, they are cheap: $80 / cell. So for $320 + shipping you will have 12.8V / 280Ah.
Besides the batteries, you also need a BMS (Battery management system, more on that later)

I only have to replace the charger (Which I was aware of).

Lead-acid batteries require a slightly more advanced charging profile than LiFePO4. A decent lead-acid charger will periodicaly equalize the cells using a higher voltage, primary to remove sulphation on the plates in the battery. However, this voltage is way too much for a Lithium battery, so this will overcharge them!

During initial charge, the charger will start with providing its maximum current (Bulk stage). This continues till the battery voltage reaches the absorbtion voltage. Once the batterie continues to charge, the current drops. If the current is below a certain point (or time, depending on the charger), the battery will hit its float stage, and the charger only provides a lower voltage to maintain this SOC (State of charge). This is 3-phase charging… Fine for lead-acid.
More advanced chargers include more stages, eg equalizing. This can’t be switched of on all chargers, so you have to be carefull when upgrading to Lithium. Also, not all chargers can set to various voltages. ‘Wet’ lead-acid batteries have slightly different voltage requirements eg compared to Calcium-based batteries.

Also, while a lead-acid battery is limited in its charging capacity (generally recommended to have 1/5 C charging rate, so 20A max for a 100Ah battery), LiFePO4 can handle much larger charge currents (and discharge currents as well). So you can charge the battery much faster (although this slightly decreases its life if you charge it really fast).

Anyway: 280Ah with a 10A charger won’t really do, so I needed a bigger charger.

Since I have also DC-DC charging from the alternator (40A) and solar (about 25A max with optimal sun) I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a charger which I’ll probably use occasionally. So: No expensive Victron or so for me 🙂

I only just needed a ‘huge power brick’. So unlike the well known RV charger brands like Renogy, Victron, Ctek and so on, I went to the industrial market: This also uses batteries for various purposes. And as with a lot of stuff: Anything labeled ‘Campervan’ is way overpriced.. (This surely applies to most electrical stuff: Campervan electrics are overpriced, you can get the same quality or better at a marine hardware shop: Boats are using low-voltage system for ages, while campervans are ‘the new kid on the block’ where they can charge you 200%…

So I ended up at https://www.meanwell.com/, a well known brand in power supplies and similar stuff. On their website I found various chargers.
So I found the Meanwell PB-360. This is a very nice, robust charger, aluminium cased, and able to deliver 24A of charging. And its only 3-phase, so will work fine for Lithium. (Note: Not all datasheets of this model include Lithium, but it does work fine, and later datasheets do list it).
It was affordable: 100 euro ($120 or so) and the output voltage can be adjusted to some more conservative settings to increase the life of Lithium even more (more on that later).
Also, the absorbtion stage is not time-based, but current based. So no overcharging, it will go to float automaticly.

Ceiling

The ceiling is insulated with PIR plates, as explained in Roof, insulation, installing vent, fan and solar.

The top of the PIR boards are covered with self-adhesive Armaflex sheets (9mm thick).
With this, the insulation was equal in thickness to the support beams, and the wooden timber which I had previously installed. The Armaflex was already black, the wooden timer and everything else have been spraypainted black to make a rather solid black background.

On top of this, there will be a layer of black fabric. I found a cheap black fabric (2.50 eur / m). This is slightly stretchable, perfect for my purpose. Since this is rather thin, white spots might be seen through the fabric, thats why I made the ceiling black and spraypainted where needed.

Once cut to size, I used thumbtacks to temporary fix the fabric in place.

The final cladding will be made from slats of beech wood, just as the countertops and table. Also painted in the same color. The slats were 4.5cm (1 3/4″) width and 1cm (3/8″) thick, I used a wood planer to remove 4mm and make them 6mm (1/4″) thick (Save weight, gain usuable height).
After that, I’ve sanded them down, and painted them with dark varnish.

Once the slats were finished, I started installing them to the ceiling. The center slat also contained the lights, so I had to cut the appropriate holes first. Once confirmed everything was fine, I nailed them to the wood structure of the ceiling (About each 25cm / 10″), using a pneumatic stapler (which only created very small holes, barely visible).

I used some leftover wood of 12mm (1/2″) as seperator between the slats, exposing the fabric. Used this as spacer for equal with along the slats, nailed them and went to the next one. The fabric gives it a nice smooth backdrop. And once more slats are installed, I removed the thumbtacks, and the fabric is hold into place by the slats.

Electrics – Part 2

In the previous part, I described my primairy circuits (for all charging options and high-current stuff).

In the schematic, there is a 12-port fusebox. All general items are connected to this fusebox. In this post, some more information about all items connected.

I have a bunch of 12V items, which require separate circuits (or at least, I wanted).

  • Maxxfan
  • Waterpump
  • Webasto diesel heater
  • Electric boiler (water heater)
  • All LED lights
  • 12V outlet near the bed
  • 12V outlet in the kichen area
  • 12V outlet near the side door
  • Refrigerator
  • Bed system

For the LED lights, I added a stablisator. This has 8-40V input, and a 12V output, rated for 10A. (All lights on maximum power draw around 6.5A)
I did so, since the voltage in the van can vary, depending of the battery state. During absorbtion, it will go up to 14.2V, which is a 20% more than the LEDs are rated for. This definitely won’t increase their lifetime, so it’s easy and to be on the safe side, just add the regulator (its about $15 or so on AliExpress). Replacing lights will be PITA 🙂

In the van, I have plenty of lights. In the ceiling, there are 3 led spots installed, each 3W.
Below the cabinets, I’ve installed 2 LED strips, 1 in each cabinet, running the full length. (In total around 3.5m length). I used high power LED strips, so when needed, I can put them on full power.
Both strips are indepently dimmable using small soft-touch dimmers. Also the ceiling lights are a separate dimmer/switch.
On the cabinet above the cabin and on the panel in the back, I’ve installed RGBWW LED stips. Besides a normal white light, they can have any color.

On the bed area, I’ve installed 2 small 3W led spots, 1 for each bed. These can be used as reading light, or spotlight when needed. Just simple on-off switch, which was factory installed in the base.

All 12V outlets are the regular sigarette sockets. I simply plugin a car USB charger to have USB sockets for phone and so on. No fixed USB, just replace the USB car charger to whatever USB you require. With all the various standards, and evolving techniques, I can easily upgrade to USB-C, QC 4.0, or whatever will come in the future. (Unlike fixed USB chargers)

Electrics

Now it was time to start with the electrics. My setup will exist of 2 parts:
The battery and the high-current / charging stuff in the back (Chargers, inverter, main fuses and so on).
Under the bench in the back there will be a seperate fusebox for all the regular uses (Fan, lights, refrigerator and so on). With this, I was able to keep the high-current wires as short as possible.
For initial testing and build, I bought a small 105Ah lead-acid battery. I’ll replace this soon with a DIY build of 280Ah LiFePO4 (Lithium) batteries.
My setup is already suitable for Lithium (Except for the charger at the moment), so no major changes are required once the batteries are finished and installed.

Charging will be done in 3 ways

  • Using solar: I have a Denim 315Wp panel on the roof, and an Epever Tracer 3210AN solar charge controller
  • Using the alternator: I have installed a Renogy 40A DC-DC charger. This will limit the current draw from the alternator to approx 40A and will have proper charge characteristics for Lithium (and for now lead-acid)
  • Using the grid: I have installed a 10A charger (Will be upgraded once the Lithium will be installed)

The inverter is a Xenteq 1500W inverter, pure sinewave. Nowadays, pure sine isn’t that much more expensive than a modified sine wave, and I prefer to have a good clean power, so didn’t go for a modified sine wave (Which sometimes can cause problems). Also, with the 1500W I have plenty of power to run some equipment with a higher current draw.
(But for now I’ll limit this, since the 105Ah lead-acid doesn’t like these huge discharge rates).

For the main cables I used 50mm2 (1AWG) to be able to run the inverter without too much cable loss and heat. All cables are connected using cable lugs, covered with heat shrink.

I also added a switch to be able to disconnect everything from the battery at once in case of emergency, or eg when the van isn’t used for longer periods (To prevent flattening the battery eventually)

For the lights, I’ve installed a seperate 12V circuit, powered by a 12V regulator (a 10A buck/boost regulator, 8-40V input, 12v output). Most of the lights are made for 12V. But in a car/van, the voltage can be anywhere between 10 and 15V, depending on the battery type and SOC (State of charge). Since 15V is about 25% over its 12V rating, I didn’t want to expose my led lights to this (preventing premature burnout).

Everything else is directly connected to the fuse box (Maxxfan, boiler, diesel heater, refrigerator, waterpump and so on)

Unlike a lot of vanbuilers, I didn’t include any USB sockets in my van. Instead, I used the regular 12V outlets (cigarette lighter sockets)
Why? Since this is more future proof. A few years ago you needed a 5V 2A to charge your phone. Now, depending on the phone, you need QuickCharge for example, while other phones starting to adopt USB-C. The demand for power continues, and the technology continues evolving.
Having fixed USB ports would limit the usage to the system installed… Having a 12V socket allows me to simply upgrade the charger to whatever is needed at that time / whatever device I own.

I also installed a small 6 litre boiler for heating water. Yes, this draws a lot of power, and is not really recommended, especially with the 105Ah lead-acid battery. It will drain it pretty fast, especially with lead acid, where only 50% of the capacity is actually usuable (unless you’re willing to kill the battery, or at least shorten its lifespan significally)
But with the amount of solar, I still can run it, and power it on when needed.
Once the new lithium battery is installed, it won’t be less of an issue.