Could there be a duller bit of kit in the van? Possibly so, but this one certainly scores badly on the dullness to price ratio. It simply plugs into mains power – either an extension cable run from the house, or a campsite hookup cable, and then charges the leisure batteries.
This one has a couple of redeeming features:
- Its a lovely shade of blue
- It supports bluetooth, and has an accompanying app, so you can monitor the charge state from your phone, if you’re that way inclined.
It’s made by Victron, so it’s pricey, but well-made. It’s also perhaps a little underpowered for our 220Ah battery setup (30A might be generally recommended), but speed of charging is not really a high priority for us, and that’s the only drawback. It’s also very compact compared to the sine inverter.
£154 from 12V Planet.
Our overall philosophy about living in the van is that we want freedom; we want to be able to spend time in wild or remote places; we don’t want to be limited to visiting tourist destinations or places that cater to motorhomes and caravans. So we have big solar panels for electricity, and a large refillable LPG tank for cooking and heating.
That being said, sometimes you need to make use of the facilities – for a hot shower, a tumble dryer, or to top up the batteries with shore power. For those occasions, we bought this campsite hookup cable. It has a large standard weatherproof hookup plug at one end, 20m or thick orange cable, and a circuit breaker and 3 UK power sockets at the other end.
We can plug this into the campsite hookup, run the cable into the van, and then plug AC devices straight into this supply as well as plugging in the battery charger to fill up our batteries.
A more elegant solution would be to fit a hookup socket on the outside of the van, and hardware a 230V AC circuit with breakers and sockets. But that’s a lot of kit to buy and install, and so far this has been a good solution for the few times we resort to staying in campsites.
£35 from Amazon (affiliate link)
Almost everything in the van runs off 12V DC power, or can be plugged into a 5V USB port, which itself is connected to the 12V DC supply. However, some things need mains AC power. Some of those things will for the foreseeable future (a domestic vacuum cleaner, a charger for the cordless drill batteries, etc.). Some are heading towards a low-voltage DC future (small battery chargers, electric toothbrushes, laptops) but the ones we actually have still need 230V AC. For us, the main culprit is my laptop, which is not sufficiently modern to have a USB-C power port.
These inverters take 12V DC, ‘invert’ it to 230V AC, and provide (in this case 2) 3-pin sockets into which you can plug your appliances. In the case of the laptop of course, this has a transformer inside the power supply, which takes the power back to about 20V DC. So the whole chain is inefficient (there is a fan on the inverter to dissipate all the wasted heat, though ours hasn’t got that warm yet) , graceless, and involves trailing wires all over the shop. But it will do the job until the future arrives.
This inverter is of the ‘pure sine’ variety, which is apparently better for some fussy devices. It’s also overkill for our current power requirements (my laptop charger is rated at 60W), but I figured this would give us some flexibility in case we need it in the future. The only tradeoff, other than price (and they’re pretty cheap really) is that it’s quite big.
£130 from Photonic Universe (via Amazon) (affiliate link)
Otherwise known as a ‘mi-fi’, this allows us to take a 4G signal (via an external antenna) and create a wifi network inside the van. It has a pretty good battery, and charges by USB. Pretty simple to set up, and no complaints so far.
£80 from Amazon (affiliate link).
We have this mounted on the roof, wired up via the 2 attached cables to a Huawei 4G ‘mi-fi’ device; which sets up a wifi hotspot inside the van. The antenna, as well as being far more powerful than the one built into the mi-fi device (or our phones) is also mounted outside of the giant metal Farady cage which is the van. On a good day we seem to be able to get a good 15-20Mbps speed up and down.
This antenna is pretty good, and easy to fit. My only quibble is that the cables are only 50cm long, which doesn’t give you much leeway when mounting it to the mi-fi device. We also needed to buy 2 SMA-to-TS9 adapters.
£125 from Solwise.
If you follow #vanlifers on Instagram, you’ll see lots of photos of attractive people tapping way at laptops sprawled on beds in their vans. Much like the promotional photos of people checking their bank statements sitting barefoot on sofas, or silver-haired, fully-toothed oldies browsing through holiday websites on their iPads in Sunday magazines, these are mostly a load of rubbish.
However, for this life to work for us, we do need to be able to work in the van. So far, one week into our first serious trip, I can report some success. Continue reading “Working in the van”
I wrote a while back about prototyping the dog bed. We tested it out – it seemed pretty solid, and Loki was happy to climb up there – so I went ahead and built it out of better materials.
It consists of 3 main parts:
- A 60 cm x 80 cm Eurocrate plastic box, that we plan to use for washing – as a kind of mini bathtub
- A 30 cm extension, to make the total width more like 110 cm – enough for the dog to be able to lie down comfortably in a few positions
- A sliding wall that is sandwiched between the dog bed and the Eurocrate, which can be pushed back to allow him easy access, and pulled across to give him some protection while we’re driving. The wall has a gap at one end to allow him to hang his head off the side, which is one of his favourite ways to lie.
The two boxes both have removable lids made from plywood, and on top of these are two foam cushions with removable fleece covers.
We wanted to make something modular and flexible, but also safe and comfortable for Loki. So all the boxes are bolted to the wooden bulkhead so that they are secure when Loki gets in or out and as the van is in motion. But if we want to, we can unbolt them, and take the little extension off and use it as a seat, or take the Eurocrate outside to use for washing, as a seat or table.
So far, I think we’ve got a big thumbs up from Loki.