Van Build, or Comedy of Errors?

So, getting together materials and planning out the nitty gritty details of the build has been tedious and drawn out, and on March 10th I was hoping to get the last couple of things for the vent fan and complete the install— finally break ground on the actual construction. Sadly, the last couple of things I needed (the adhesive and sealant to fix the fan to the van) aren’t sold at any of the stores in my area. The closest I could find were a couple of similar products at Home Depot, but neither was advertised to do the exact job that I needed them to do.

I realized I was going to have to order these products online and wait for them, but since cutting the hole in the roof was the part I was most worried about and most wanted help with, my dad and I agreed that we could do that right away and I could finish the rest without him when the last couple of supplies arrived during the week.

We set about getting everything set up, and less than five minutes in, I managed to cut all four fingers on my right hand by hanging on to one of the holes in the ribs. Apparently they aren’t quite as “finished” as I thought they were. It wasn’t too bad, but my index finger definitely bled more than any injury I’ve had in years.

The whole thing just cracks me up because it literally happened less than five minutes of going outside with the intention to begin the actual construction work. I can only imagine how many bandaids I’ll go through before this is over. What a way to start the project.

Just to further the bad omens, our sunny early-afternoon turned snowy. I was adamant, though, that I was going to break ground on this thing today. So we finished the prep work — cleaning the surface and marking off the exact places we were going to drill— and got out the drill.

That went smoothly enough. I let my dad handle the power tool while I sucked up the metal shavings with a heavy-duty vacuum, and then my dad went up to tape off the area we were going to cut with the jigsaw.

Cue the second injury of the day. Darn those jagged metal edges.

At this point, the snow was getting difficult to ignore, and it didn’t look like the clouds coming towards us were going to be any better. The forecast had changed from “cloudy all day” to “50% chance of snow,” so we decided to cover up the four drilled holes and wait to see if the storm would pass.

It didn’t.

So I had four little pilot holes, but not the one big hole I needed. As much as I wanted to just do it myself and finish up this step of the project, I realized that was a really bad idea. I mean, I’ve used a power drill before, but only a couple of times and not since high school. A jigsaw is a little bit different. Plus, I would be standing on a mostly-stable ladder, and would have to lean over, practically flat, to reach the far side of the hole. The chances of me sawing a Rorschach blot into the roof instead of a square (or causing myself permanent scarring) were high. I want to do as much of this myself as possible. I want to use the power tools, want to learn how not to chop off limbs in the process. But this wasn’t the place to start.

Since my dad, the anointed Wielder-of-the-Saw, was out of town, we didn’t get another chance to work on it until this last Sunday afternoon.

Once again, we got all set up and ready to go….

And the adapter broke. It’s not the most vital piece, and plenty of van conversions don’t use one at all, but it ensures a better fit between the vent flange and the roof of the van. It’s designed to fit specifically to the curved and ridged roof of the van, and is flat on top for the flange.

Part of me wanted to just put in the vent fan without the adapter, but it would be a lot more difficult, a lot more likely to break the flange (which would be a lot more difficult to replace), and I wouldn’t be able to get as tight a seal between the flange and the roof. Leaks would be more likely, cracks in the sealant… In the long run, it wouldn’t be worth it to skip the adapter just because I’m a little impatient and frustrated.

We cut the hole anyway, but the adapter won’t get here until Monday, so the vent fan installation is on hold for now.

And, because apparently this project is more Comedy of Errors than Indiana Jones, cutting the hole wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, either.

Lesson Learned: Never saw through tape with a power tool.

The adhesive from the tape was practically fused to the van. I’m pretty sure it melted a bit from the heat that the saw generated. Even after we peeled all the tape off, the adhesive was left behind. It took me an hour of trying different household methods to get it off.

Pro Tip: Cooking spray might as well be acid where tape adhesive is concerned. I just sprayed on a pretty thorough layer, waited five minutes, and it all wiped right off.

I actually spent most of the day on Monday finishing up what I could of the vent fan install. I filed all the edges down until they were smooth enough to run my fingers over them without a single snag, cleaned the surface around the hole, put the broken adaptor and the flange on the hole to make sure everything would fit, and then covered up the exposed metal edges with white rust-proof paint.

I realized that having the wiring behind the insulation would expose it to the full range of temperature changes, and having it on top of the insulation, on the inside of the van, would allow easier access to it if I needed to change something or check how it was all holding up. Plus, it would solve the problem of trying to hold the wire in place against the metal walls of the van, because the foam insulation boards could take electrical staples. So we’ve decided to do the insulation before the wiring, though we still plan to put in the solar panels before the ceiling insulation.

So here’s the game plan for the next week:

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

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!)

Friday: hopefully, finish the insulation

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

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

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

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

In other news, since I didn’t have a fan install to finish, I figured having the house to myself for five days was a good opportunity to try out the KonMari Method. I hauled all my clothes, and then all my books out to the dining room and started going through it all piece by piece on a hunt for joy. I threw out two garbage bags of junk, filled two more garbage bags with clothes and six boxes with books to sell or donate, and filled three more boxes with a mix of clothes, books, and random items.

My room still feels like a disaster totally overrun with stuff. If this process does nothing else, it definitely provides some shock value. I’m not finished yet, I’ve still got the miscellany, paper, and sentimental item categories to complete, which is also on my docket for this week. Hopefully, by the time I’m finished I’ll be able to plausibly fit everything in the van.

I’ll try to post again Monday evening, hopefully with news that everything I planned for the week got done — even if it was one mishap after another.