Friday, March 16, 2012

Westfalia Improvements - Part I

The Westfalia conversion is a wonder of spatial efficiency.  The engineers packed a lot of useful features into a very compact area.  But it's not perfect.  There are small pockets of wasted space, and some features that the engineers either didn't think of, passed off as economically unfeasible or perhaps too suited to individual needs rather than the camping populace as a whole.

These are a few additions / improvements I've made to Westly so far.

LED Lights
Older Vanagon campers like Westly came equipped with a single incandescent bulb fixture mounted above the stove/sink area.  This very bright lamp illuminates the work area well but leaves other areas such as the top bunk in dismal shades of grey.  In addition, you are sure to see spots for awhile if you look directly at it, especially if you have recently been outside in the gloaming or pondering the embers of a camp fire.

I wanted to add more light, but didn't want to run wires all around the interior, so I decided to try battery operated LED lights.  I picked up a three pack of puck lights at Harbor Freight.

The little round white circles are the lights
These spin, pivot and have two light levels. The five LEDs are supposed to last 100,000 hours.  They come with a sticky-back hook & loop fastener.  I put one up in the cab area, one in the pop-top (had to glue this one up as the adhesive wouldn't stick to the fuzzy lining), and one by the back hatch.  I later added a different type with 6 LEDs over the sliding door.

The light bar on that one swivels so it can be aimed inside or outside.  Yes, it is a lot of  AAA batteries (3 each) but they do last a surprisingly long time.  And, the harsh bluish/white light is far from my favorite color temperature, but I get used to it after awhile. While no one is going to perform surgery under these lights , they do the job, and the investment was small.  As you can see, these were a compromise of price and convenience until I come up with something better.  My favorite outdoor light for camping is from a kerosene lantern, but that's not always the best choice inside a small, closed area.

Kerosene lantern on ABS pipe hanger
Can you tell I took all these pictures on the same gray, rainy day?
Marine Fire Extinguisher
The Westy came with a 5-B:C fire extinguisher mounted just inside the sliding door behind the front passenger seat.  This being a very important piece of safety equipment (especially when you are using things like kerosene lanterns), I figured that after 30 years it might be time for a replacement.  I chose a First Alert FE10GR model, rated for Class B: grease, oil, gasoline, kerosene and other flammable liquids and Class C: small fires in live electrical equipment.
Always accessible,  inside or out
Also accessible is the hand sanitizer, held to the wall by velcro so it doesn't get lost
It's refillable, and the white color is highly visible.  It is slightly larger than the original, so I had to drill a new hole for the mounting bracket.  The new bracket handily covered up the original hole.

Some important points to remember about fire extinguishers:
    Mount securely in readily visible, easily accessible location.
    If it has a gauge, needle should be in the green area.  No dents or corrosion.
    Don't test! Replace or refill after any discharge, no matter how small.
    When using, stand back and aim at the base of the fire.
    Be wary of the effects of heat and smoke.  If you're not up to the task, get out!
    For small fires only - if not immediately successful, get away and seek help!
    Replace at least every 10 years even if it's never used.

Portable Solar Panel
Some day Westly will have a large solar panel array mounted on the roof.  Until then, I use a low-power portable panel that I've had around for a number of years.  It's amorphous silicon cells have a maximum output of 70 milliamperes.
The ICP #04041
I recommend spending your hard earned money on something better
The top hinges open and has a prop to maintain maximum exposure angle.  Inside, four AA or AAA batteries can be charged, or it plugs into a lighter receptacle to introduce a microscopic charge to the van battery.  I also have a variety of adapters so it can be used to charge personal electronic devices. Placed on the dash (or roof when not driving) on sunny days, it works excruciatingly slowly.  I also carry a small hand crank dynamo with a USB port. That recharges devices like cell phones much more quickly.  Of course, I could just recharge the phone and batteries off the van battery, but generating energy from sunlight is more fun and saves the van battery for more important things like starting the engine when it's time to go home.

Update 05/12

I finally ditched the old ICP solar charger in favor of the GoalZero Nomad 7m.  The monocrystalline structure, rated at 7 watts is more efficient that the old panel at converting sunlight to electricity.

The Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit came with eight NIMH batteries - four each AA and  AAA and a flexible led lamp that plugs into a USB port. Phones, Ipods, Kindles, GPS's and other small devices can be charged directly from the solar panels under full sun conditions, or from the battery packs. There's also an adapter for cords with the vehicle lighter type plug end.

The panels are attached in a flexible cover that folds and fits in the glove compartment.

I've had good results placing it on the dash, or hanging it outside.  It weighs about one pound, and can hang on a backpack for charging while traveling on foot.

If you look at the reviews, you'll see some people have had issues charging their particular devices.  I haven't had any problems, but you might want to check that out before you decide to purchase a charger like this.  Some day, maybe we'll have more universal battery/charger standards.  

Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer
This little instrument keeps track of high & low temps.  I usually keep the wireless outdoor sensor inside the fridge to get an idea of what the temperature extremes have been (in the interest of food safety).  It's easy to place outside also, remembering to put it away when breaking camp.  I added a visor clip from an old garage door opener remote to the back so I could hang it in various easy to see places.

This particular model was very cheap, and has just enough memory to keep track of high/low temps for a week.  I may upgrade to a more robust model with barometric pressure, relative humidity, moon phases, sunrise/sunset, tides, excerpts from the Farmer's Almanac, etc. because I like to know these things.  Then again, I'm sure I could get all that with a smart phone app.  Now, if only I had a smart phone...

See more modifications here...

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