These comforts are really what separate the “mobile tiny house” from just “living in your van”.
This was the most expensive purchase besides the van itself, but it’s completely worth it. I bought the Wallas XC Duo stove / heater combination. It runs off Diesel right out of my gas tank, has 1.5 burners, and I can close the lid and it becomes an amazingly efficient heater. Takes a fair amount of battery to start up for ~2 minutes, then barely uses any at all. It was a bit of trouble to install, but vents everything outside the van, and handled the cold Colorado Rockies brilliantly.
If you don’t have the cash for something this fancy, most budget builds use a Mr. Buddy propane heater, and some sort of camp stove setup off the back or on picnic tables outside. Just make sure to vent things appropriately! The other downside to propane is for every molecule that’s burned, two of water are released, which can make things humid fast.
This was a Craigslist find that really helped save some dollars. It looks like a regular mini fridge, but is actually designed to run fully off DC power. It’s got a really high quality compressor, so it’s incredibly energy efficient (which you need running off a battery!)Some of these run on propane, but aren’t very efficient. Others claim to be 3-way compatible (gas, DC, AC), but are VERY inefficient off DC. Don’t try and use a regular AC house fridge, they take way too much power.
I installed mine below the stove, which you aren’t supposed to do for efficiency reasons (but I had no where else to put it!). So I added extra insulation to the sides and top to minimize overflow heat from the stove warming up my fridge and taking extra battery. I’m able to run the fridge for a few days without issue on 1 battery charge (indefinitely with the solar panel).
You absolutely need some way to get fresh air into the van, and hot air out of the van. The vent fan is the stealthiest way to do it. During hot days I leave it running at 20-30%; the solar panel provides much more juice than the fan uses.
The vent fan is so important, I have a whole page dedicated to it. Don’t skimp on this one, even if you don’t want a fancy build.
Do you want to run 120 Volt regular appliances? Well then you need an inverter to convert your 12 Volt DC (Direct Current) van power to 120V AC (Alternating Current).
There are some things to keep in mind:
– You will need to size the inverter based on how much power you want to draw from it. Devices list how much power they will take in “Watts”. Make sure your inverter can handle more Continuous power draw than your appliance requires. Keep in mind, most cheap inverters exaggerate this number.
– Cheap inverters are called “Modified Sine Wave” and you want to avoid them, unless you’re running stuff you don’t care about. Many electronics are very sensitive to how “clean” the power is. What you want instead is called “pure sine wave” and has a much cleaner waveform that makes sensitive devices happy.
– They are not 100% efficient. Power is lost in the conversion, which makes your stuff take even more power
– Pretty much anything that uses electricity to heat is going to take way more power than your battery/electrical system can handle
– I recommend moving away from AC power for as many things as possible. It’s better to use 12V DC for as much as you can. I use my inverter for my digital piano, projector, and studio monitor speakers that can only run off AC.
When you build a stealth van right, there’s very little light that comes in from the outside. This is where lighting comes in! I used LED Strip lights, which are nice because they can change color, have a remote, and I can cut them however I want to provide light.Anything other than LEDs takes too much power. Try to get something that runs off 12V directly, but keep in mind battery voltage varies, and can be anywhere from 11.6V to 13.5V (If your engine is running and you have your house battery connected to your alternator to charge).I will eventually find a better way to hang them.
Entertainment is important! Rather than try and shove a big power hungry TV in, or just solely rely on my laptop screen, I went full Ritz and installed a 720p portable gaming projector. It’s “short throw” which means it doesn’t need to be super far back to project the image, and is pretty power efficient.I can also unscrew it from the ceiling and project on th side of the van for movie nights!I use a RaspberryPi microcomputer as my media center running Kodi. It plays 720p content great, and can even be used to play retro
video games with EmulationStation! You could also use a Chomecast, Amazon Fire stick, etc.
Speakers / Subwoofer
Long road trips mean lots of music! I listen to electronic, so made sure to order a nice subwoofer. I like one that includes the amp, so I have less mess and a much cleaner installation and look. I also recommend upgrading your van’s speakers in the front, as
well as a better stereo receiver (Better for audiobooks too). Try Audible and get two free audiobooks!
Back up Camera
This is one I’m still struggling to get working right. I spent a lot of hours fiddling with it, and I think the problem is one of grounding. I need to run a better ground connection to my stereo so that it can send it all the way down the back of my van to the camera. The backup camera will work, until it doesn’t.
I got used to relying on the side mirrors, and backing up without it, but it’s still scary as there could be someone directly behind the van that I can’t see.
I bought a better Stereo Receiver that runs on Android (like your phone!) and has a motorized screen that pops out. Perfect for stealth, because with the screen down, it doesn’t look worth stealing at all.
You can get just the camera, or a kit that includes a screen. I much prefer using my stereo as the screen, as it’s one less thing to deal with. However, I had trouble with the install, so maybe a dedicated screen is better.
USB and 12V Car outlets
It’s a good idea to install these all over the van. You will have many devices that charge via USB, and more things than you realize use the “cigarette lighter” style plug.
I also liked having one with a voltage meter on it to keep an eye on my battery charge level.