Marathon March

Things (you guessed it) didn’t go according to plan. But this weekend still saw progress on the van. I’ve got to give some major thanks to my SuperDad, because he did a lot of the heavy lifting and taught me how to use all the tools… and the materials… and ladders….

Alright, so I could operate a ladder. But now I’m basically an expert on ladder-usage. We used two different kinds of ladders and a step stool to get everything situated on the roof. And we moved them around to just about every possible configuration.

We really did get a lot done this weekend. And my exhaustion is the only explanation I’ve got for some of the lame jokes to follow. Consider yourself warned.

When I left off last time, I gave you guys the general schedule. Let’s see how things actually went.

((As I was writing this, I realized… this weekend is like a weekend in Vegas. I remember what happened, mostly, but it all kind of blurs together. So I think I got some of this out of order. I pieced the hazy memories together the best I can!))

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Today (Wednesday, March 20, 2019): Finish a detailed wiring diagram, buy the last supplies needed for the insulation installation, and possibly start installing insulation on the walls

… Well, we bought the last of the supplies for the insulation. My idea of a “detailed wiring diagram” is, I have no doubt, not what a professional would have done. This is what I came up with:

The image on the left is actually something I (mostly) copied from a post on an amazing website called  Gnomad Home  (and I did it a while ago). The image on the right is the one I actually did on Wednesday….

The image on the left is actually something I (mostly) copied from a post on an amazing website called Gnomad Home (and I did it a while ago). The image on the right is the one I actually did on Wednesday….


Honestly, neither of these is what I actually planned on doing. I wanted to do a wiring diagram with measurements and materials needed for each leg of the system noted next to that part of the diagram, but first I wanted to draw out where everything was going to go, so that ended up being the only part I got done…

I’m going to blame my lack of progress on the pressing need to finish a blog post before The Weekend of Insanity™ kicked off. (You know how needy those darn readers can be!)

SuperDad got home and we went out to get the lay of the land and come up with a plan. We threw around different ideas for insulating, argued a little bit, came to an agreement, and then got stuck on walls. Which, honestly, is probably something we could have gotten into after the insulation was finished, but I’m glad it’s behind us.

Empty, I can just barely lay flat across the van. But with insulation and walls, I wouldn’t really be able to. At least, not if we made the walls perfectly flat from the widest points of the metal body. The lower half of the walls of the van comes out an extra 3.5" from the upper halves. So I had this idea that we could recess the walls in the upper area just slightly so the bed would have an extra couple of inches on either end and I would still be able to lie straight across — I might even be able to point my toes a little.

SuperDad has less faith in his carpentry superpowers than I do, and pretty much told me this wasn’t going to happen. While I get that’s it’s going to be more difficult than just making the walls flat, those extra inches aren’t going to be load bearing… they’re more to keep my toes from bumping the wall. If this was just going to be a camper that I would spend three weeks at a time in, I’d probably be willing to give up those extra inches. But this is my home. I plan on living in it full-time for the foreseeable future. Not being able to lie flat in my bed is one of those little differences that I know would detract from that feeling of “home” that I’m looking for. I wasn’t budging.

We discussed it for at least half an hour (conservatively) before deciding to talk about it after the insulation was finished.

SuperDad and I went to Home Depot, a busy world of far too many options where we got lost for a solid hour longer than I thought we’d be there. Half the time we weren’t even looking at things for the next few steps of the build. We got stuck looking at wood laminate flooring for twenty minutes. There are some really nice wood laminates out there, though. I might have, at long last, found true love. (Wherefore art thou, Flooreo?)

By the time we got back from Home Depot, it was too late to do much, but we felt like we had things pretty well at hand. With good attitudes and a plan, we hit the hay. Sort of. I may have stayed up a little too late reading.


Thursday: Install the roof cap port for the solar panels, the mounting brackets for the solar panels, and continue working on the insulation (and cheer on the Nevada Wolf Pack at the NCAA tournament!)

Yeah… take everything above, except for the part in parentheses, and…. delete it. None of that happened. Actually, take the part in parentheses and delete it, too. The game was the cherry on top of the Day That Refused To Be Planned.

We got up early, went outside, got all set up. SuperDad started making templates for the solar panels — he suggested we name them so as to keep straight which one went of which side. I know he meant to name them something simple, he even suggested “Kilowatt 1 and Kilowatt 2,” but I knew what to name them right away.

Meet Fred and Ginger.


Meanwhile, I was cleaning the roof to prep it for everything it was about to undergo. Then we brought the templates up to figure out where the panels would go. We moved them around a bit, and then began to have some doubts that those tiny little feet could really hold the panels to the roof. Particularly since they didn’t seem to have a particularly tight grip when we dry fitted them on the panels. In fact, the feet kept falling off. So we spent a while looking at the feet and trying to decide if there was something else we could do to hold the panels tight.

In the end, we decided we trusted Zamp Solar and their product. Plus, we couldn’t think of anything else to add. Though SuperDad did want to make sure those feet would be sturdily attached to the roof, so he devised a steel plate-washer-lock nut combination to distribute the force over a greater area. Figuring that out and getting together a make-shift example to show the guys at the hardware store took some time.

Then we looked at the port cap (the thing the solar panels plug into on the roof), to see if we needed to pick up anything extra to install that. For the small hole that the wires would go through, we decided a rubber grommet would be a good way to add just one more barrier, and we needed longer screws because we wanted to secure the box into the rib.

Yeah, it’s a little confusing. Which is why we spent so much time figuring it all out.

By the time we had everything figured out and were ready to head to the store with list in hand, it was already 2 pm. Since the first hardware store we hit didn’t have everything we needed, we had to go to another one across town, and by the time we were headed home, it was less than an hour until game time…. time to clean up.

I was really disappointed. It felt like all my research and preparation meant nothing, and to spend a whole day out on the van and have no physical difference to the van whatsoever was discouraging in regard to how long this build is going to take.

Thursday night I really needed a break from it, and tried to just move forward and be fresh for the next day. Before bed, SuperDad and I made sure we had a specific plan for Friday morning.


Friday: hopefully, finish the insulation

By the time I got up on Friday morning, SuperDad had already run back to the hardware store to get some large fender washers to better support the solar panel brackets and a hole saw, since none of the bits he had were the right size for the grommet we got the day before. We headed outside, got everything set up, and then took Fred and Ginger and threw them on the roof so we could mark where the feet were going to go. It took some time to get them all flat on the roof, but we got it done, marked them all out, and put Fred and Ginger back in the garage. SuperDad drilled the pilot holes for all the brackets, and I filed the edges down and painted the holes with rust-proof paint. Then we set about putting all the feet on the roof.

It was a two person job. SuperDad put some sealant on the roof of the van, then dropped the bracket with the two bolts in place. Then I lifted the bolts up from the bottom and spun them so he could put a dab of sealant under them, then I pulled them into place. Then SuperDad held the bolts down while I put on a bit of Locktite, two fender washers, a lock washer, and a nut. I tightened the nuts with a socket wrench, and then we went on to the next one.


We did run into a bit of an issue with the larger fender washers on the inner feet, as the holes were too close together to accommodate the washers. So we got creative with a steel plate and made it work.

Unfortunately, we lost a bolt. So we got seven of the feet done, but couldn’t finish the job. We dry-fitted Fred, and found out that when the feet were bolted down, there was actually enough tension on them to easily hold the panel in place. I honestly think just the bottom half of the brackets would do the job, so I’m confident with the top half in place they’ll be good to go.

After getting Fred and Ginger back into the box, we figured out where to put the solar roof cap and marked the locations of its four screws. Once we had those sorted out, SuperDad drilled four pilot holes and I filed them down.

The next logical step was to drill the hole for the wires, which had to be about an inch wide. At which point we discovered the hole saw bit that SuperDad bought didn’t fit his drill. But before taking another trip to the hardware store, we decided to see what else we could do.

The roof vent adaptor came in the mail on Thursday, so we got to thinking we could get the fan installed. But after looking at the adaptor and the roof and the flange, SuperDad thought longer screws would be a good idea. So we took some measurements and wrote down the kind of screws we needed.

At this point a trip to the store was unavoidable, so while I did that, SuperDad glued down the fan adaptor with 3M 4200 adhesive. We were still more than a little behind my hyper-optimistic schedule, but I felt like we’d made progress. I felt like this whole construction thing was doable, if exhausting.


Saturday: definitely finish the insulation, start laying the wiring (and, hopefully, cheer on the Pack at the NCAA, again!)

Well, obviously the Pack was out of the NCAA, so that wasn’t on the agenda. But it was still a busy day. My mom is a rockstar, and she wanted to run to Reno as a bit of a pre-birthday treat. We hit Sierra Trading Post, and I found out what I’m getting for my birthday…. a pair of dreamy hiking boots. Which will definitely come in handy exploring all of those national parks after the van is finished! I also scored a pair of pants that make me feel like Indiana Jones.

We were home around 1 pm, but (unfortunately) I don’t have a monopoly on SuperDad’s powers. My mom needed him for a couple in-house-handyman tasks. In the meantime, I did a bit of work on the van, prepping everything, filing the two little holes left in the roof, sticking the butyl seal tape in the freezer because it was stuck to the plastic bag. But eventually I got to the point where the only available step was to either saw a hole in the roof (which is still something I’d rather not attempt completely by myself) or install the last solar bracket, which was a two person job.

We did end up getting both of those things done. I was even the one (technically) to wield the hole saw. Of course, we ended up with a slightly oval-shaped hole, so apparently I was right to let SuperDad handle most of the power tools when it came to punching through the ceiling.

I painted the final five holes in the roof before we had to call it a day.

We didn’t get a ton finished, but we did set things up to go smoothly on Sunday, and I felt good about being completely done mounting the solar brackets. That felt like something solid, a step that wasn’t hanging in the balance, still hovering on the to-do list despite having already put a lot of time and effort towards it. I was completely beat, and I was asleep by 10:30.


Sunday: continue laying the wiring/working on the electrical system

Obviously, that wasn’t even on the agenda by this point. Our Sunday goals were to finish installing the roof port cap and the ventilation fan, and hopefully start on the insulation.

I obviously got to bed early, so I got plenty of sleep, and I got to wake up slowly… I hung out in bed for a good hour before getting up at 8. SuperDad used his fancy espresso machine to make everyone coffee, and I was feeling like this was the day I conquered the world.

We went outside and SuperDad had the great idea to move our worktable out from the garage and put it right next to the van. I got everything we would need for the fan and the port cap installs laid out neatly on the table, and we got right into it.

Since the hole wasn’t quite even on all sides, the grommet we bought didn’t fit. But we were able to salvage a larger grommet from the cargo area lights I’d removed from the van. It took some maneuvering and pinched fingers, but we got it in there and it made a tight fit. Next we had to take one of the cords from the solar kit and connect it to the terminal inside the port cap. This cord receives the energy collected by both of my solar panels and will transfer it to the charge controller, which will then send it on to the batteries or to power my lights and fridge. Connecting wires is actually one thing I do know how to do. The concept is more-or-less simple: strip the end of the wire, connect red-to-red and black-to-black, tighten it all down, and secure with electrical tape so none of the wire is exposed. The difficult part here is how tiny and finicky wires can be.

Once that was connected, we pushed the wire through the grommet. Then the gasket included in the kit was placed over the four holes we’d pre-drilled, the port cap went down on top of that, and then we screwed it in and slathered it with sealant.


We moved right on to the fan. The butyl seal tape was actually really easy to work with, and very clean. The flange fit nicely and we started in on the screws, dry-fitting the fan once they were flush and then again after we’d tightened them.

Which is when we hit a snag. The holes on the fan were no longer lining up with the holes on the flange. We spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out the problem, took a lunch break, came back, backed out the screws to no avail, and finally SuperDad figured it out. The little metal tabs on the flange had slid down. By shifting them up a little and jimmying them a bit with a screwdriver, we got everything to line up. We screwed in the fan, then tightened the screws on the flange again, and then slathered everything on the roof with sealant.


All in all, we used almost the entire tube of the stuff. Dicor Lap Sealant. No van build is complete without it.

Suddenly, a whole category of van build tasks was wiped off the to-do list. The roof is finished. The only thing left to do is toss the solar panels up there when we’re ready to connect the electrical system.

While SuperDad was applying sealant to everything he could reach, I was trading out our fan and port cap installation equiptment with everything we would need to start installing the insulation.

I was really hoping we would be able to get all the fiberglass finished in one go, because I didn’t really want to deal with the full-body anti-fiberglass protection more than I absolutely had to. I’ve heard that fiberglass gets everywhere. I’ve heard you spend the next week washing it out of your hair, I know it’s nasty stuff to breathe in, and I’ve heard it itches like bedbugs.

I look ready for the apocalypse…

I look ready for the apocalypse…

Unfortunately, it was a bit late in the day already, so finishing the fiberglass wasn’t exactly on the table. But we did get about halfway done. We got into a steady routine: I measured a space and reported the dimensions, SuperDad would cut a piece of insulation, and I would stuff it in. We got this going smoothly enough that SuperDad was cutting the next piece while I was getting the insulation situated, so things moved quickly. Until we got to the back of the van, which was a little more complicated. There’s a lot of hollow space but no good way to fill it with the fiberglass.

All in all, Sunday felt like the best day. We got so much done, and were able to finish projects that have been in limbo for a while. (Most notably, the vent fan installation!)

It was a great finish to the weekend, and insulation is luckily something I can do most of the work on myself (though it’s less fun without my fearless SuperDad!). But I am hoping for a bit of a break, too. This weekend was a total marathon, and while I want to keep the momentum, I’ve got some other obligations, too.

My friend J. Luke Bennecke asked me to beta read his newest book, Echo from a Bayou, and I’m really excited to see what he’s come up with this time. His first book, Civil Terror: Gridlock, is a great read. You can check it out here if you’re looking for a new suspense novel! I also connected with a new friend on Twitter, Anna Read, whose work-in-progress is really great, and I promised her some feedback.

I’ve obviously also got my own work to focus on, like getting this blog post up (hopefully before my memory gets any fuzzier) and hopefully posting a few paid articles on Medium, as well. I’ve also got a website that needs updating, as well as a couple of short stories wanting to be published and a novel that needs polishing. Whew!

If I have time, hopefully I’ll finish the whole “KonMari Method” thing before I turn twenty-five.

(Punchline of that joke: I’m turning twenty-four this week.)


Monday: finish the ventilation fan install, buy supplies for the subfloor/walls/ceiling

Oh, look, that’s today. The plan right now (as of 10:57 am PST) is to go work on the insulation (cross your fingers that I’ll finish the fiberglass), then come inside, take a shower, give this massive post a quick proofread, and then go run some errands around town.

Well, seeing as it’s now 00:11 on Tuesday, I think it’s safe to say that plan didn’t exactly work out. I did get a bit of insulation finished, though!


Tuesday: catch-up day, finish up anything from the last week that didn’t get done, double check that every step so far has been done well and there aren’t any problems in need of fixing

Honestly, we’ll see. I might take Tuesday off and get back to it on Wednesday. It depends on how much gets done today and when SuperDad and I get a chance to talk about the foam board insulation installation.

Hopefully I can finish all the insulation and start laying some wiring this week. I’ll keep you updated.

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Thanks for reading, and expect another post later this week.