Building a Caravan – The Walls and What Goes Within

Parts one and two of this project are here: #1#2

So, now we have acquired most of the stuff, so much so, that we have been able to start the actual building of this thing.

In the midway of April, with Waffle’s dad’s determined leadership the walls begun to rise. The walls obviously are the biggest and most visible part of the whole thing, and do require quite some time to get perfectly right.

We started with the outer wood structure at the front and carried on to measure and cut the sides.  The curve was calculated so, that the straight part of the wall would reach 70 cm of height, which would guarantee useful inner space as well as functional aerodynamics. To the sidewalls we got the profile of the curve simply by estimating the length of the straight part of the roof and then pending the flexible plywood between the point of 70 cm of height in the front and the ending point of the straight roof at 250 cm. Waffle had drawn sketches too, to give direction to the desired shape.

The holes for the windows were cut too. The positioning was thoroughly considered in relation to the TV and the sitting position and bed location.

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This is how we ended up with a wobbly structure of a front panel and two side walls. At this point I think it is rather acceptable to fall into despair and tell yourself that you are worthless and your great plans will never become reality.

After the sudden drop of confidence we gathered our minds and pursued our dreams again. Some screws and supporting skeletal structures later the walls stood up in a lot sturdier fashion.

Especially the curving part is well supported, since the bendable plywood is relatively skinny. There we used the skeleton studs as separators, so the space between each stud is 4,4 cm.  They are directly screwed onto the outer walls, from each end.  For the roof part, the studs stand about 25 – 30 cm apart. On top of that structure we placed another plywood, 15 mm in thickness to serve as the roof.

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The walls are studded lengthwise, again each horizontal stud is about 25 – 30 cm from another. In between them there are vertical bars to ensure stability,  the window hole is supported of course too.

At this point we needed to stop and think through the electricity installation. We needed to drill holes for all the cabling in the studs, so that the wires would be nicely hidden behind the insulation and the inner walling. Before putting in the said insulation and inner walls.

First of all there is the charge controller which regulates the power input from the solar panels on the roof to either the battery, or the appliances and lighting. We will install a set of witches for lights, and a few sockets charging batteries and for things like TV and fridge (or well, a cool box). Maybe also a main switch to cut off all the load from the system, just in case.

Followed a mission of drilling, passing wires and re-drilling and passing wires again. After that we had a mess; wires and cables running through the floor and the ceiling into walls and out of them. At that point we learned the importance of labeling, and counting.

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You see, if you don’t check which wire ends where you’ll end up with a total mess once the inner wall comes up and you can’t follow the length of the wire anymore. C’est du caca. Also you want to make sure, that all the wires that leave from the charge controller and switches, come out of the wall in the appropriate place too. Otherwise C’est encore du caca. After all the labeling and follow up on wires was done, we finally got all the mineral wool insulation (4 cm thick wool plates) in place and screwed the inner walls tight.

Getting it all right took about 4 reruns. There was every time something wrong,  wrong cables in wrong places, cables missing etc. We even noticed at the last minute, that the cables from the solar panels to the charge controller were not sufficient. You need cable made especially for solar panels.

Now we have an insulated wooden box in our hands, spewing wires out of its walls. The next steps will be mounting the interior. So structures for bed, cupboards and so on. And of course finishing the outer side of it, caulk the screw holes and seams, get the aluminium, mount the solar panels, make a door, give it a name etc. More on these things later!

 

 

 

 

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Building a Caravan – Where to begin?

You should start from the bottom.

So we were sitting a while at the drawing table. Thinking out the dimensions and what kind of space we would be comfortable to live in and what would be reasonable to drag behind our car. The internal dimensions are 145 cm of height, 300 cm of length and 145 cm of width. There is a curve at the front, for the aerodynamics, so the roof length will be a little less. Pinterest has been a wonderful source of inspiration!

Simply because it is a lot easier to build your cabin to match the bottom, than the other way round, we searched for the bottom first. We looked at the secondhand market, to find a proper sized bottom of a trailer in a reasonable condition. That turned out to be a difficult task. The trailer bottoms are not usually made for home built caravans, so they are often too short, and if they happen to be long enough, they are way too wide.

After a long search we started asking quotes from companies to build a bottom for us from scratch. That was not quite as easy as you might think either. First of all, our budget does have a bottom and most of the prices offered were breaking that bottom heavily. Plus many companies only offer a certain sizes and shapes and are very limited the possibilities of alteration.

Finally we hit a jackpot. Helpo trailers near Lommel in Belgium heard our calls and invited us over to make the plans and calculations. A few weeks later we drove off with a brand new trailer bottom, made to our specific measurements (157 cm wide, inside the wheels, 310 cm long on the outer edges), with some additional bits included; an edge to bolt the walls into and a towing hook at the front, for bicycles or buggies. the whole shebang mounted up to a cost of about 1100 euros.

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As we had the price for the bottom, it started to be easier to estimate the size of the complete pile of money for this project. After some research, we made an educated guess, that in the end of this our common wallet would be 3500 euros lighter. At this moment, the expenditure has been 2911 euros. With that we have acquired the following:

The walls first of all. The outer walling will be made out of 1,5 cm water resistant plywood, plus some bendable plywood at the front, to make a cool, aerodynamic curve. For inner walls we have softer 0,8 cm plywood with no water resistance. There is also the wood for the framing the whole thing (4 cm x 4 cm studs). In total the cost of the wood went up to 550 euros. Thanks to some bargains. The big plates of plywood are difficult to find in an affordable price. We also put some pennies (90 euros) to the side for the insulation, so that we can be all warm and cosy during the winter too. There is also a pair of windows (230 euros from Germany), since we kind of like the idea of being able to see outside.

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Those are the big things for our project. In addition to this, we have some luxury items. Waffle wanted electricity, so electricity he’s got. We ordered flexible solar panels (2 x 100 w) from China for about 250 euros in total, plus customs over here. Belgium is heavy on import taxation for these things.

Then, to get any use out of the solar panels we needed a few additional bits. A solar cell battery for 100 Ah (180 euros). Inverters (16 + 40 euros), we’ve got two, for things with heavy usage and things that are light on electricity. And a charge controller (120 euros) to make most out of the union of our battery and the solar panels. On top of that we have a pile of lighting, leds of course (35 euros) and sockets for appliances, pile of cabling and switches (80 euros of budgeted money for these).

Again we had difficulties to find a nicely priced battery from Belgium. For that we had to look from Germany. The thing to know here, is that you cannot use acid batteries, because of the gases they produce while charging. Or you can, but then the possibility of suffocation needs to be tended to. And the apparent danger of explosion, too. We solved this issue by going for a gel battery, but there are also lithium ones available. Cabling and the smaller bits and bobs are from Belgium, all the rest from China again, but mainly products that are sold also here, just with a different price tag.

There are also already some nice fluffy things for the inside of the trailer, meaning super comfy mattresses (2 x 70 cm wide, 190 euros, from Jysk) and pillows (35 euros). All nice bargains from the Netherlands!

We are still missing a few bits. The one obvious one is the stuff that is going to make it waterproof, the coating. We have been mainly looking at two options; Titebond and cloth, which seems to be a good and cheap solution, or aluminium.

The aluminium is of course the cooler option, but it is damned difficult to find in the size we need it to be. If any of you guys know where in the area of Benelux + Germany and France you can find Aluminium alloy 3001 in at least 150 cm wide, please shout, loudly!

Next time, I hope, I can write already about the actual building of this thing!

The most beautiful mornings

If you have been following our travels, you might already guess, that this post is not going to be filled with hotel recommendations. Instead this is a list of the 5 most memorable mornings, in the most memorable places around Europe for this duo of travellers. They are listed chronologically, since it would be way too difficult to determine which is prettier than the other. They are all beautiful, for different reasons.

One: Étretat

This morning has a load of memories attached, which might be the reason why it stands in this list.

It was the first camping / hiking trip we did together. We had been sniffing out places to camp in Normandy from maps and google. The first stop was on the cliffs bit outside Étretat. We arrived in the dark, only the beam from the light house near by was sweeping the waves and the white cliffs. The air was chilly and moist, the sound of the sea and the seagulls carried us to sleep.

The atmosphere in the morning was magical. Before opening my eyes I was transported to the sea, with the sound of the waves rumbling the rocks on the beach, the echo sounding from the cliff beneath us and the seagulls screeching on top of everything.

I still remember the salty moist in the air as we opened the tent door and looked over the English Channel. A fresh coffee on a camping stove with no rush to go anywhere made the morning perfect.

Two: Duror Bothy

The bothies of Scotland, who would not love them. One night on our grand tour Scotland we spent in the Duror Bothy, an old house with a rich history. On the way there we had gotten a little lost in the forest. Waffle did not have his smokes and all the fire wood was wet and the rain kept pouring down from the sky.  We were less than happy as we slowly started to get the stove working and the smoke actually going up the chimney.

During the night our (or well, Waffle’s) peaceful sleep got interrupted by a culinaristic mouse, who was after our chocolate mousses and Parmesan cheese.

In the morning the surroundings had changed. The grey rain had passed. The shy warmth of the sun was pulling fog out of the soaking forest and the fresh smell filled the glen. The bothy was still warm and our gear had dried up and now had a faint scent of smoke embedded in them.

It felt such a luxury then, to wrap warm clothes on while the water for breakfast was boiling. A piece of nature, with morning sun and the first signs of coming spring. There was such harmony there!

Three: Mt. Olympos

There was no second thought over picking this one. The day before we climbed the whole bloody thing, that is Mt. Olympus in Greece and came half way back down too, to a manned refuge, Refuge A.  No need to say, we were a bit tired. The plan of getting out at night to watch the stars was ditched as we drooled in the dorm room beds at 8 pm.

Oh, the morning then. We were up before the sunrise, having our yogurts with honey and thick slices of brown bread. Outside there was going on just the kind a spectacle you would expect a sunrise to be, on the world’s most mythical mountain.

The horizon over the Aegean sea was flaming in the light of the rising sun, leaving the slopes beneath us completely black still. Slowly the light started to tickle the peak of the Olympus itself, turning the grey rocks into orange. We and all the other hikers were there, just staring at the emerging light as the new day began.

Four: The Welsh Moors

It was one of our extemporish trips, this one. There sometimes are cheap ferries to cross the English Channel, and we love nothing more than cheap tickets. So there we were, searching for our third spot to camp, going through the small roads printed on the map.

We found a spot next to the river Usk, close to the town of Llanddeusant and the Usk reservoir. There was a small stream there and a view to the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Already during the night we could hear our neighbours. There were a herd of Welsh mountain ponies grazing on the moor around us.  The morning brought fresh and wet palette of pastel colors. No spectacular sunrises, nor musical sea scenes this time. The serene quietness and peace of the ponies made the memory of this morning stick to my mind as one of the most beautiful we have had.

Five: Refuge in the Fagaras

The evening before we had a choice. A mountain rescue hut above 2000m of altitude in slightly freezing conditions, or a hotel.

Hut it was, of course, plus it looked cute on the pictures in google.

As we reached the hut a slight feeling of doubt was creeping into our minds. It was practically just a large tin can with wooden platforms to sleep on. Still we stayed, stuffed our faces with large hot portions of food and tried to sleep. Huddled together like piglets, shaken awake every time the cold went too deep into our muscles.

I have never been so happy to be woken up by sunrise, to be able to crawl out of bed! Or well “bed”. It took courage, to shove a toe out of the sleeping bag to the freezing air of the hut. We quickly changed another set of clothes on, had extra portions of coffee, hot chocolate and cookies.

Getting a move on, blood circulating the muscles was priority number one. After a bit of movement, the decision to stay was rewarded. A crisp layer of frost was coating the mountains and the clouds were floating around us, letting through an occasional sun ray.

The sheer happiness of surviving this night makes the memory of the morning so beautiful.

There would be plenty more….

But these ones really stand out.

Having these breathtakingly beautiful mornings is one of the biggest reasons why we carry our homes on our backs while we travel. You plant yourself where ever you feel like and enjoy the 5 star surroundings. With no irritating tourists around and zero costs. Usually that means, that we go through some amounts of pain and suffering before getting there. That, I think, functions as a clue, that sticks the memories to our minds forever.