Victron 12V 20A Battery Charger

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.

Mobile Mains Power Cable (Campsite Plug to 3-Pin Sockets)

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)

1000W Pure Sine Wave AC Power Inverter

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)

Poynting 4G Antenna

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.

Treatex Hardwax Oil

One of many combination oil and wax finishes suitable for wood (Osmo is another popular brand which I haven’t used). It gives good plywood a beautiful smooth sheen, and is easy to apply with a rag.

Way better than water-based PU varnish, in my experience.

£26 for a 1 litre can.

Drawer runners

These are 45cm, full-extension, side-mounted, ball bearing runners.

If your drawers and cabinets are square, and a good fit, proper runners like these are the way to go (rather than fitting wooden rails for the drawers to slide on). They feel secure, smooth, and let you pull the drawer out all the way when opening.

My only regret is that these runners are heavier than needed, and we could have got away with some lighter duty runners.

£6 per pair from Screwfix.

Sequoia table legs

We bought two of these for our main table. The fitting is pretty straightforward, the floor plate is low profile, and they’re nicely made, but there’s no getting away from the fact that one or two table legs are not enough to support a reasonable sized table without framing or wobbling. That’s why conventional tables have skirts attaching the legs to the table top.

So we’re trying to design a table support system that uses a fixed rail at the back with these two legs at the front. More to come on that in the build diary.

£55 each from Chippy’s Workshop (one was slightly scratched on delivery, but otherwise this supplier is OK.)

Hammerite Underbody Seal paint

We’re using this to protect the gas tank, which is mounted under the chassis – i.e. in a space where it’s vulnerable to grit, dirt and road debris.

This is recommended by the suppliers of the gas tank, and claims to provide:

Heavy duty protection for underbody, wheel arches and other high impact areas. Powerful rust inhibitors based on the Waxoyl system displace moisture and seal the surface against further corrosion.

I think this is something where we’ll have to report back once we’ve had some time on the road.

£5 from Screwfix.

Hafele Gas Strut

We fitted these to the overhead cabinets, which have doors that open upwards above your head. The struts hold the doors open, but they also have some initial resistance which hold the doors tight when closed. Hopefully this will mean we don’t need to add latches to these doors.

They’re easy to fit, and they give the doors a very pleasing opening and closing action.

£4 each from Screwfix.