Campervan fixtures and fittings | Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Van Life Essentials: Key fixtures and fittings for your campervan

Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Saturday 15 August 2020 Limit your footprint, New Zealand, Take the right gear Leave a Comment

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When Paul and I decided to buy a campervan to travel around New Zealand for a year, we had no idea what to look for. Whether you have only a few (thousand) bucks to get you started or you want to create a luxury home on wheels, in this post we go through the key components to consider when buying or fitting out a campervan.

Maximizing the use of space is key for any size vehicle, but the smaller the vehicle the more multi-functional these fixtures and fittings need to be. But let’s go through each of them in detail.

Got your campervan but wonder what to pack? Check out our complete packing list for your campervan travels.

Our Ford Transit campervan parked on Queenstown Hill
Our Ford Transit campervan parked on Queenstown Hill

Sleeping and Seating

Consider whether you need the sleeping space during the day – for example, to work on your laptop computer in a comfortable position or to eat inside when the weather is cold and miserable. If you do, you will need to think about buying (or fitting) a campervan with a bed base and mattress that can be folded away to double as a seating area/workspace.

Mattresses can be anything from self-inflating sleeping pads to normal mattresses. If your sleeping area needs are not the standard size you can always get foam cut to size. Most importantly: Make it as comfortable as you can afford.

What about camping chairs?, you may wonder. We opted against them as they require storage space we’d rather use for more important things. We sit inside when the weather is gorgeous, but we still enjoy the scenery and fresh air with our doors and windows open. A picnic rug could be a good compromise if you want to have the option for al fresco dining without the storage issue.

Full Size 4 Inch Firm Conventional Polyurethane Foam RV/Truck Mattress Bed Cushion USA Made
  • One four inch firm slab of foam 33lb conventional polyurethane
  • 4" layer of Firm Superior Support Foam for spinal alignment and transitional support.
  • Our firm conventional polyurethane foam features a 33lb compression.
  • This firm conventional polyurethane foam slab is a supportive cushion reducing pressure points.
  • 30 NIGHT SLEEP TRIAL! 3 Year Manufacturer Limited Warranty! Not For Home or Mobile Home Use.
Dining room/Work space by day - Double bed by night
Dining room/Work space by day - Double bed by night

Water Supply

Beyond a good night’s sleep and somewhere to sit and eat/work, you’ll need water… to make coffee/tea, brush your teeth, wash yourself/your crockery etc.

If you travel around New Zealand and want to stay outside of paid campgrounds, your vehicle needs to be self-contained. The self-containment certificate requires fresh and grey/black water tanks of 12 litres (respectively) per person.

When it comes to water tanks, consider your usage, storage space and weight:

Either way, ensure your fresh water container is BPA free/made of food-grade polyethene.

Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon Rigid Water Container
  • Rigid, 7-gallon rectangular water container with molded contour grip
  • Space-saving design for easy storing and stacking when empty
  • New and improved screw-on vent; hideaway spigot for on-demand water dispensing
  • Suitable for outdoors activities and emergency water storage
  • NOTE: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will cause the water container to degrade and become brittle, increasing the chance of leaks. It is highly recommended to store water containers in cool shaded areas.

Power Supply and Lighting

Before you spend money on a fancy (or even basic) solar/battery system, consider whether you want to be

  • fully off-grid – with a DC system only,
  • able to switch between solar and mains power seamlessly – with a combined DC/AC system or
  • able to plug into mains power occasionally – with separate AC and DC systems,

decide on the voltage for your DC system (most use 12 or 24V) and calculate your DC power needs. We opted for the latter, meaning we can use our AC devices when plugged into mains power at campgrounds but otherwise use DC only.

Once you know your system/power needs, you can source the equipment for your solar/battery system.

Essentials

Solar panels

Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient ones out there, but in the end, it comes down to your power needs, roof space and budget.

DOKIO 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Module Durable RV Marine Boat Off Grid
  • 【Durable】-Withstands high winds (2400Pa) and snow loads (5400Pa); Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame allows extended outdoor use; the panels can last for decades
  • 【High Conversion Efficiency】- With high-efficiency monocrystalline solar cells, you can get higher efficiency. 25-year transferable power output warranty; 5-year material and workmanship warranty
  • 【Application】 -Basic generator component for 12V/24V battery charging for on-grid, off-grid and hybrid power system for home,garden,RV,Boat and agriculture.
  • Easy to wire and install,pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel allow for fast mounting and securing.
  • Amazon US warehouse fast delivery,Attentive customer service, any questions, please contact us at any time through amazon, we will be the first time to propose solutions for you.

Charge controller

While Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) charge controllers are more expensive, we recommend them over Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) charge controllers to maximize solar efficiency.

Morningstar ProStar MPPT Charge Controller | World Leading Solar Controllers & Inverters
  • Maximizes energy harvest
  • Protocols: Morningstar MeterBus, MODBUS, SNMP (enabled through EMC-1)
  • Up to 256 days of data logging
  • A Wire Box accessory to reduce hazards associated with exposed wires and connections can be purchased separately.
  • Five year warranty

Charging sockets

12V charging sockets are great but you may also want to consider USB sockets for those devices that charge via a USB cable.

12V 4.8A USB Car Socket Linkstyle 12v RV USB Outlet Touch Control ON/OFF, Dual USB Charger Socket Waterproof Power Outlet with Blue LED Light for 12V Car RV Boat Marine Motorcycle Mobile
  • 【Upgraded Touch Switch Design】- This 12v rv usb outlet designed with one touch control switch, battery power saving and more safety for normal use.
  • 【4.8A Marine USB Outlet】- The 12v usb outlet with two USB charging ports output: 5V/2.4A&2.4A (total 4.8A), 40% faster than conventional USB charging ports. Note: Not support Quick Charge.
  • 【LED Indicator Light】- With Blue LED indicator, the bright light on the 12v dual outlet socket will help you to find it easily in the dark. IP65 waterproof grade allows the charger socket power outlet to do a good job under bad weather.
  • 【Easy to Connect & Install】- The terminal on the back of the marine usb charger port signed with “+” and “-” for positive and negative poles. Built-in 10A fuse with pre-wire, easy to install and provide overload, over-current and short circuit protection.
  • 【Wide Compatibility】- Universal usb charger socket fit for most 12-24V Car Motorcycle ATV UTV RV Vehicles Marine Boat. ▶▶▶ 30 DAYS MONEY BACK GUARANTEE & 12-MONTH WARRANTY and easy-to-reach support for all your questions.

Batteries

Your house batteries need to be able to handle continuous (dis)charging, so heavy duty deep cycle batteries are what you need. Select your battery capacity based on your solar output and keep in mind that two 6V batteries in series are as good as (some even say better than) one 12V battery.

12v 200AH 4D Deep Cycle Replacement SLA/AGM Battery - 2 Year Warranty
  • 12v 200ah with 2 Year Warranty
  • L= 20.55in W= 9.9.37 H = 8.58
  • Sealed – Maintenance Free-Spill Proof
  • Absorptive Glass Mat System (AGM System)

Battery monitor

Almost as important as your batteries, the battery monitor shows you how much charge your battery system gets, whether you draw more than you produce (and if you may need a top-up charge from mains power).

LED Lighting

LED lights use very little power and are known for their longevity.

Kohree 12V Led RV Ceiling Dome Light RV Interior Lighting for Trailer Camper with Switch, White(Pack of 2)
  • 【High Quality Material and Reliable Performance】 this CE and RoHs approved double dome light has a life expectancy of more than 60,000 hours, lasts longer than standard bulb. It is also heat-resistant and anti-corrosive.
  • 【Easy Installation】 It has 2 two wires without polarity and comes with nuts and screws to hold it in place directly, suitable for smooth surface mounting.
  • 【Convenient ON/OFF Switches Design】 built-in 3-way switch that enables you to use one side or both sides of the light independently; it adds great functionality to any area for lighting and it is widely used as perfect replacement light for Car/RV/Trailer/Camper/Motorhomes/Marine Boats.
  • 【Lower Power Consumption & High Energy Efficiency】 It comes with two T10 Wedge panels with altogether 48 pcs 5050SMD LED Bulbs. It only draws 6 Watts and provides total 2 X 300 lumens of brightness.
  • 【Lifetime Customer Service】 We take full responsibility for our product and customer dissatisfaction. if there is any quality problem of our light or you are not happy with your purchase in our store, please kindly contact us and we are always ready to help.
Choose your solar array based on your power needs
Choose your solar array based on your power needs

Optionals

Inverter

Some devices we normally use with AC actually operate on DC (for example, laptops). You don’t need an inverter if you only use those devices. Just get a charging cable that plugs into a 12V charging socket.

If you want to use an AC only device (for example, an induction cooktop, toaster, blender, hair dryer or electric heater) with your solar system, you require an inverter and AC power outlets. We opted against an inverter as our heater alone would have depleted our battery bank in no time.

Krieger 2000 Watts Power Inverter 12V to 110V, Modified Sine Wave Car Inverter, Dual 110 Volt AC Outlets, DC to AC Converter with Installation Kit Included - MET Approved to UL and CSA Standards
  • 2000 watts continuous power, 4000 watts peak power, KR2000 modified sine wave power inverter converts 12V DC to 120V AC power, connect DC battery cables directly to your 12V battery and you have power on the go
  • Perfect for an Emergency, Hurricane, Storm or Outage - Our version of an all-inclusive! wired remote control, ANL inline fuse kit and 3 Ft battery cables included
  • We have your back. This inverter has all the protections that you will need. Overload, over voltage, under voltage, high temperature and short circuit. All of this is displayed on the LCD screen as well as input voltage, output wattage and battery level
  • Don’t just take our word for this inverter’s rating, this item has been tested, validated and approved by METLAB for both its safety and performance. MET Approved under UL std 458 and CSA std C22.2
  • You can’t go wrong with Krieger! We believe in our product and quality and we offer the warranty that proves it – “3 Years parts and labor warranty”

240V Battery charger

A battery charger comes in handy if you are stationary in crappy weather for several days (and you have the opportunity to plug into mains power to charge your house batteries). We opted for a separate charger as an inbuilt one was too expensive.

We bought an ex-rental, so our van was already fitted out, which made it difficult to change the solar/battery set-up as a non-expert. If you fit out your van yourself, DIY is the way to go (even as a complete novice, as it’s not rocket science). It saves you heaps of money, and you can easily fix any issues / alter the system down the track.

Refrigeration and Cooking

Unless you buy your food fresh daily or travel in the depth of winter, you will have to look at some form of cooling/refrigeration. Our campervan had an old three-way fridge (operating on LPG/Propane, 12V or 240V), but we replaced that one pretty early on with a 12V compressor fridge. Those ain’t cheap by any means but the three-way fridge drew too much power in its 12V setting and LPG just didn’t cool the items reliably (sometimes our food was frozen, sometimes not cool enough).

When it comes to cooking, consider whether you will cook mostly inside your vehicle or outdoors – and thus whether a portable or fixed stove is more suitable. Apart from an induction cooktop (which draws way too much power in our opinion), you’ll probably end up with some form of a fuel-using stove:

LPG/Propane

In New Zealand, LPG stoves need to be installed by a professional gas fitter, and LPG bottles need to be in an airtight compartment separate to the main cabin. Other countries are more relaxed / rely on carbon-dioxide monitors.

Non-LPG Alternatives

These include Butane stoves (cheap to buy but not very environmentally friendly, given one cartridge only lasts for a few days) and stoves running on Methylated Spirits/Denatured Alcohol or Biofuel.

Our stove and grill were in-built and used LPG
Our stove and grill were in-built and used LPG

(Water) Heating and Cooling

Our campervan came with a 240V electric (water) heater, but if we fitted out a van in the future, we would fork out the cash for a diesel heater/hot water cylinder.

It seems most recreational vehicles in North America have an air-conditioning unit installed. Our campervan didn’t, and even in the height of summer in New Zealand, we never needed it: our side window and ceiling skylight had insect screens, and both of them being open overnight, always created a nice breeze. Air cons (like electric heaters) use a lot of power, so consider the climate of the places you plan to visit because it’s not just the cost of the unit but also the cost of additional solar capacity or the need to stay in campsites for mains power you need to factor in.

Equally important as any heating or cooling devices are good insulation and window coverings (the latter also for privacy).

Emptying your toilet cassette is a necessary evil in #vanlife | photo courtesy of thedailyenglishshow.com
Emptying your toilet cassette is a necessary evil in #vanlife | photo courtesy of thedailyenglishshow.com

Toilet and Shower

Having an accessible toilet on board is one of the requirements to be considered self-contained in New Zealand. Toilet options range from (inbuilt or portable) cassette toilets to composting toilets. Even a simple bucket (with lid) may be okay for some van dwellers/countries (though not for self-contained vehicles in New Zealand).

Just after we purchased our campervan, the existing 20-year-old toilet failed, so we had to get a new toilet system. To match the existing wet room size, we went with the Thetford C402C Toilet at a total installed cost of NZD838.36.

A solar-heated shower is an inexpensive option during the warmer months: Open your back door/s and affix a shower curtain – voilà, you have an outdoor shower (just make sure you use environmentally friendly soap/shampoo). When buying a solar shower, look for quality material, a sturdy design (including a reinforced handle), an easy on/off shower nozzle, and go for black over any other color as it will heat up faster.

Not keen on outdoor showers? Why not install a wet room in your vehicle (if you have space) or stay at campsites with bathrooms?

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Do you live on the road full-time? What’s your set-up? Is there anything you would recommend that we’ve forgotten to mention? Please leave a comment below.

Feature photo courtesy of Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

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Planning to buy or fit out a campervan? Whatever your budget, learn here what key components to consider before you hand over the cash.
Planning to buy or fit out a campervan? Whatever your budget, learn here what key components to consider before you hand over the cash.
Planning to buy or fit out a campervan? Whatever your budget, learn here what key components to consider before you hand over the cash.

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