Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Project: The Undocumented Projects

I’ve gotten a few requests for the last couple years for pictures and details on several projects that I’ve done to my old camper that were never really photo documented or ever had a post written up for them. 

I’ve individually supplied the pictures and verbal details so many times that I decided to finally write a blog post about it so that I’ve got it archived somewhere Smile

So, thanks to me having a handy little camera in my HTC Thunderbolt, I was able to make quick work of documenting a bunch of “Now” pictures of things that I’ve done for the blog.

Since I didn’t detail when exactly I did any of these projects, I’m going from my best guess based on events when I did these projects, so, the month and year are my best guesses as to when I undertook these projects.

Pantry Cabinet Remodel (January, 2010)

The real project that started the whole remodel of storage in my camper, and also one of my more frequently asked about undocumented projects. 

The pantry cabinet began it’s life as a wardrobe that the previous owner had already decided was a waste of space as a wardrobe and rigged together a very simple makeshift storage rack in.   The previous owner also in his time of refurbishing the old KIT replaced the gigantic original Duo-Therm furnace that was located beneath the old wardrobe cabinet for a more efficient and far smaller Suburban DD-17DSI.

Sadly, he did a miserable job of filling in the opening where the furnace was with various individual scraps of plywood that looked horrible.



Shortly after I took ownership, I did a mild redesign of his storage rack and added a little bit of old wall paneling over the plywood mess to make it less ugly to stare at and it remained like this till January 2010, when I decided it was time to overhaul it all.

First Remodel


I completely gutted the compartment, tearing out all of the 1x1 and 1x2 wood that was loose and barely stapled into anything, as well as the old partition wall between the pantry and the refrigerator enclosure. 

The latter turned out to be a very good thing to have done as the bracing under the plywood floor of the fridge was just about completely gone, having broke and crumbled over the years. 

I reframed everything using 2x2 lumber and 3/4” plywood and made use of the wasted space in the old furnace compartment that wasn’t being utilized by the far smaller tighter clearance furnace. 

Final Product


The upright on the left side is set back on the bottom shelf to to allow for the propane lantern and catalytic heater stored in their cases on that shelf to be slid out past the lip of the pantry opening. 

In the drop down area on the right, I stow my two captain’s chairs and various other long camping odds and ends, like those heavy duty wiener/marshmellow roasting spits. 

I made the top shelf reach fully across in the remodel to better accommodate the storage of bread products, allowing me to stow several loaves of bread, hamburger buns, muffins, etc….

Another thing I did was covered up the old opening for the furnace once and for all using some leftover FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Paneling) I had left over from my bathroom remodel project of a couple years prior. 


Over Dinette Cabinet Remodel (January, 2010)

This is actually part of a combined project I did of the course of January 2010 while I was spending my downtime between work contracts staying with family (back before I found Island Cove RV Park and found a more permanent home Smile ). 

During that time, I decided to do away with the never-going-to-be-used fold down bunk bed that was wasting a lot of storage space above my dinette.  

The the main shelf of the cabinet itself was fine, but the design which used a double hinged front and fold back extension which held the front in the closed position (and had a habit of bouncing open on rough roads) wasted a full third of the potential storage space. 

Also given its fold down nature, there was a whole section of empty wall space that could have been utilized for storage over the dinette but wasn’t because of the fold down bunk. 

So, I tore it, turned it into an L shaped cabinet, and added newer, larger doors to ease of access and a double level shelf to maximize storage space.





Camper Tub Insulation

After my first winter living full-time in my camper, I discovered that the tub of the camper was made of nothing more than 3/4” sheets of plywood turned on end.  No 1x2 structure, just plywood with no insulation what so ever.

The simply solution was to buy a bunch of inexpensive 1x2s, build a frame up and then glue and screw it into the existing plywood, then fill the voids in the frame with 3/4” Dow Pink foam insulation, over the top of which I secured a single piece layer of reflectix, over while I installed Luwann paneling which I stained with Minwax Pecan combination stain/varnish, the exact same stuff I did the overhead cabinet with.





I tore out the entire frame of the front tank area, pulled the tank and insulated around it and placed it up on a proper 2x3 frame and plywood frame to support it.  Originally, it was simply resting on a sheet of plywood sitting on top of scraps of plywood and the black gas pipe and the old city water main. 

I rebuilt the front of the tank compartment with a matching 1x2 structure to the design of the original, but backed it with 1/2” plywood which I glued to the 1x2 frame and then added 1/4” luwann to the front, making it far more sturdy than the old broken thing that was there before. 

I ended up raising the overall height of the compartment a couple inches to allow for the extra height of the tank with it sitting on it’s proper frame. 

Since there was no good way to tear apart and reskin the door frames and finding cabinet doors that would fit size-wise without having to have them custom made, I simply got some very thin door skin and finished it, then glued it over the original fronts on the doors. 

I scrapped the old push button knobs for brass knobs and sliding latches for the doors which did a far better job of holding them securely shut to their new weather strip seals, keeping the cold air out. 

I also boosted the insulation factor of the doors by building out frames onto their backs and filling those with insulation so that the doors still came flush with the outside tub wall.


Replacing the Dinette area roof vent with a Shurflo ComfortBreeze Gold Fan (September/October, 2009)

This was actually part of a project in which I added Camco Louvered Vent Covers to all of the roof vents, but also scrapped the last factory original roof vent assembly over the dinette and replaced it with a Shurflo Comfort Breeze Gold vent fan. 

I had already upgraded the bathroom vent assembly to a Fantastic Fan I’d gotten from Sally and her Husband, fellow NATCOA members from up in Washington who’d removed it from their Past-time Truck Camper a year before, and while I liked the Fantastic Fan, I wanted the Comfort Breeze because:

A.) It had a real Rheostatic speed control vs the 1-4 preset fan speeds the Fantastic Fan had.

B.) It could be run closed with the fan set to exhaust mode to act like a ceiling fan in a home, mixing the air in the camper at slow speed when the furnace ran to get rid of having it be really cold by the floor and really hot by the ceiling. 

My only real complaint with the Comfort Breeze is it has made a sound like something is rubbing since day one, not really loudly, but it’s nowhere near as quiet because of that compared to the Fantastic Fan.





Under Cabinet Coffee Cup Storage (July, 2010)

Another of the little projects that I asked for help for on various RV forums on locating the safety cup hooks, but never really documented.

There’s not really much to this one, a fellow member had left-over hooks from his project that he very graciously gave me, going to the trouble of mailing them all the way from Georgia! Smile 

The cup hooks have a spring flap over the end that keeps the coffee mugs from coming off them while underway, allowing for me to utilize some of the space underneath the cabinet over the kitchen sink to stow a set of barely used and rather beautiful coffee mugs I picked up from the Free Stuff pile in the park’s Laundry Room. 

The mugs are located far enough apart that they can’t impact each other and are placed such that they can’t swing and bang on the wall.





I have roughly six coffee mugs, the other two are actually hanging up in the curved peak of the roof that is over the kitchen area, but aren’t visible because of the cabinet door being low and the cabinet being full.


Well, that pretty much wraps up the undocumented projects, there’s likely some that I missed that I’ll remember at some point later on, but the ones you just read about are the bulk majority of the undocumented ones that I’ve done in the last four years Smile.


Thanks for Reading!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Project: Fluorescent Lighting Upgrade

Well, I’ve once again managed to get lazy and not make any posts for a while….. Believe it or not, I have roughly 5-6 entries to post still that predate this one which I will hopefully get done this weekend, but we’ll have to see how my writing spirit holds up Smile with tongue out.


So, anyway, one of my biggest complaints I’ve had in all the time I’ve been camping were the rather dim Wedge-type twin light bulb light fixtures that my camper came with from the previous owner. 

While they weren’t bad looking, the light level, like all incandescent bulbs, would brighten and dim based upon the battery voltage and usually required all of them to be turned on to get a half-way decent light level in the camper. 

The popular trend these days is to convert to LED fixtures, which isn’t too bad, so long as you have a fixture that can be easily fitted with the LED blubs and have it still remain attractive. 

My fixtures, not so much.   The lenses on the fixtures are crystal clear plastic, which when I did attempt to scuff one to make it somewhat opaque, cracked. 

I do have one fixture that I was able to convert to LED, using a close to true cool white bulb over my kitchen sink, but it was an actual 70s original which an opaque lens masking the blub.   I did have to modify the fixture’s base to to accommodate the new nearly twice as long LED bulb (for the same light level as the original incandescent bulb I might add), but that worked out okay.

Had I been able to get a equal or greater level of light or, more simply, a similar Lumen output level, that didn’t look hideous in my existing fixtures, I would have likely gone the full LED route. 

So, I decided to take a page from what was the energy efficient choice of a previous technological generation, fluorescent tube lights. 

The first light fixture I upgraded was the dimmest of the two, the dual bulb unit over the dinette.  

For this one, I ended up picking up a vintage fixture from the 1980s manufactured by the long defunct McLean Electronics. 

It uses 18” F15 fluorescent blubs, which can be had at any Home Depot, Lowes, Maynards, Wal-Mart, etc…

I obtained the vintage pair (Sans one lens cover, the seller dropped it by accident) for $5, one to use and one for spare parts. 

I ended up disconnecting the original plastic switch and installing a newer flip switch on the end near the door where I’d normally be turning it on first when I came in. 

The new Fluorescent fixture consumes around 1.5 amps when running to generate 1650 lumens of light, not too shabby.



A couple months later, or more specifically, this past week, I upgraded the dual bulb fixture that was in the kitchen area from the dim twin bulb incandescent to a Circline fashion round fluorescent fixture from Thin-Lite

I chose to go with a Circline, or more simply round, fixture for the kitchen because the standard straight tube type suffer from the moderate draw-back of that the ends where the blub pins connect is darker than the primary output sides.

Since the fixture would have had to have been matched to the direction of the original fixture to cover the holes in the ceiling and the lack of finish paint (last owner), the darker sides of the light would have been facing the areas where I wanted to boost the light levels, the sink and the stove.

Now, Thin-Lite offers two sizes (and a variety of styles of the smaller size) of circline fluorescent fixture.   The 109 series is the smaller, using a 9” diameter fluorescent light, and more common, but only puts out a max of 1100 lumens of light. 


The 110 Series only comes in one style, which is less retro and a bit of attractive, but also larger, using a 12” diameter fluorescent light, with a light output of 1825 lumens (More if ya upgrade the bulb, which can easily be found in 2000+ lumen output units, which would be far too bright for an RV). 


I ended up going with the more expensive, larger 110 Series unit because I wanted to remain at equal or a little brighter for the kitchen as it’s the area that I do the most work in and need the greatest amount of light. 


Above you can see the new fixture in place and turned off.   Unlike the vintage unit, which still employs an old-fashioned transformer ballast and has a couple second warm up, the new Thin-Lite employs a modern electronic ballast which allows the light to come on and off as fast as an incandescent blub to full output. 

Here’s the kitchen again, with the new light turned on:


And here with the camera on the phone dimmed a little so you can make out the pattern of the diffuser:


While my power consumption hasn’t been really improved that drastically (roughly 6amps when both of the original fixtures were on to 3.8 amps), given that most of the LED converts calculate their savings of going into the less than 1 amp range per bulb,  my amps to light output ratio has been noticeably improved, having gone from roughly 1800 lumens total between the two original fixtures, to 3475 lumens with the new fluorescents. 

Now, to answer the big question that’s likely on the tips of a number of reader’s tongues, “Why do you need so much light?”  The answer is my camper is very dim on the inside, especially during the winter when the windows are blocked off with insulation.  

Now, add in the large amounts of dark colored wood making up the majority of the interior, which tends to absorb light energy vs reflecting it back, and that I don’t have the greatest vision in low light levels, and you’ll realize exactly why I wanted more light for equal or less power.

While I could have probably done this with LEDs, I came to the conclusion after crunching a few numbers that I would have had to double the number of light fixtures in my rig using some of the better LED Blubs to get a similar light level.  

Well, what about rope LEDS?   I looked into those too, they are promising, but I would have needed to have run a rope of them around the entire perimeter of the ceiling, in addition to adding extra into the fixtures to reach a light level I was aiming for. 

Given that I’m personally not aesthetically attracted to the look of rope LED lights, that would have shot down the running of a border of LEDs along the ceiling. 

In the end, I would have either ended up spending at least as much for new fixtures and quality LED bulbs (I consider anything direct ordered from Alibaba of China, a popular resource for LED converts, to of questionable durability) as I ended up simply replacing two of the existing fixtures ($85 total) both of which were manufactured in the US. 

So, to close, I’ve finally reached a comfortable light level in my camper again, and have done away with the age old brighter/dimmer game with the battery voltage levels for a nice constant level of light, or in short, I’m very happy with the end result Smile.