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Discussion Starter #1
Hello all,

I am embarking on the wonderful journey of converting an old ford econoline into a comfortable living space. My primary concerns for the project are power and heat; this post is about the former. I have decided that I want to go with a radiant floor heating solution to solve the issue of heat and hot water. Now I just need to figure out what water heater I need. I want to go all electric so that the only fuel I need to worry about is solar. I've done a little looking around and I found a couple options that might work, one is a 6-gallon electric tank water heater, and the other one is a small tankless. If anyone has any experience with similar situations, I would greatly appreciate some opinions on whether or not these would be appropriate and alternatives. The total area that I would like to heat is in the ballpark of 1600sqft. Right now I'm in the planning stages and am trying to put together a parts list so I can get a reasonable estimate for the whole conversion.
 

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You certain on that square footage for an Econoline van? 1,600 square feet is a reasonable sized house.
Never heard of hydronic radiant floor heating in a mobile platform.
You’ll need a pump, expansion tank, a way to maintain system pressure.
It’s a lot of stuff to install into a tight space like a panel van.
A lot of these stealth RV folks seem to like portable small heaters like the little buddy heater.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
You certain on that square footage for an Econoline van? 1,600 square feet is a reasonable sized house.
Never heard of hydronic radiant floor heating in a mobile platform.
You’ll need a pump, expansion tank, a way to maintain system pressure.
It’s a lot of stuff to install into a tight space like a panel van.
A lot of these stealth RV folks seem to like portable small heaters like the little buddy heater.
I probably did the math wrong. It's 230"x80". I did it again and wound up with 128sqft. A portable heater would be an alright temporary solution, but I'd like something more permanent.
 

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I think you need to figure up how many, and how big vs your roof space, solar panels you'd need to get the electricity to run a heater before going any further.
 

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I am embarking on the wonderful journey of converting an old ford econoline into a comfortable living space. ... Right now I'm in the planning stages
Plan to buy something that already exists.
Better yet plan to find an apartment to live in.
 

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Something else to consider. If you have an entire hydronic system built into your van, you’ll have to use glycol in case it ever gets parked and not used in freezing weather.
Something like this is a lot of weight, will take up a lot of space and just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for such a small space.
 

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It is not advisable to use your hot water heater as a radiant heater and hot water heater because over the summer your radiant loop is not used and the water in the loop tends to go bad.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Awesome. Thanks for the opinions and advice.

Plan to buy something that already exists.
Better yet plan to find an apartment to live in.
Yes, this would ultimately be the better option, but that's going to take far longer than ordering some stuff and fixing up my van. Not to mention that my income is sporadic which makes being able to live in something I own rather than renting something a far more appealing option.
 

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If you go electric water heater with solar panels you're going to need a two drawer file drawer sized battery bank, if you can even fit enough panels on the roof to power it.

That is basically the same size as a tankless water heater as well - so you're going to lose about the width of the van x a foot wide (idk maybe it could be under cabinets.)

Water heater must be vented outside so plan on having to cut a hole in it.

Unless you're staying in the deep south where it never ever freezes (no hanging out in the desert in the winter either) you will not be able to insulate the rad floor heating enough so it will have to run anti-freeze (aka you won't be using that hot water for anything else - no showers, no dishes.)



I was told by my husband that you'd be better off on propane than electric, but either way, it's not going to be as good as you think. He's an RV mechanic and NO RV mechanics up here will even LOOK at conversions because "they're /all/ terrible" - he said it literally costs them too much time to explain to their owners why it won't work the way they think it should/could/might to even think about working on them.

I saw your question and read it to him and he ranted for like 20 minutes about his co-worker taking on a job for a friend's conversion some years ago and basically losing their shop thousands of dollars in wasted time. Then he reminded me of that time I had the "idiotic" idea to convert a tour bus into an RV and ranted for another 10 minutes about that lol
 
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Discussion Starter #13
If you go electric water heater with solar panels you're going to need a two drawer file drawer sized battery bank, if you can even fit enough panels on the roof to power it.

That is basically the same size as a tankless water heater as well - so you're going to lose about the width of the van x a foot wide (idk maybe it could be under cabinets.)

Water heater must be vented outside so plan on having to cut a hole in it.

Unless you're staying in the deep south where it never ever freezes (no hanging out in the desert in the winter either) you will not be able to insulate the rad floor heating enough so it will have to run anti-freeze (aka you won't be using that hot water for anything else - no showers, no dishes.)



I was told by my husband that you'd be better off on propane than electric, but either way, it's not going to be as good as you think. He's an RV mechanic and NO RV mechanics up here will even LOOK at conversions because "they're /all/ terrible" - he said it literally costs them too much time to explain to their owners why it won't work the way they think it should/could/might to even think about working on them.

I saw your question and read it to him and he ranted for like 20 minutes about his co-worker taking on a job for a friend's conversion some years ago and basically losing their shop thousands of dollars in wasted time. Then he reminded me of that time I had the "idiotic" idea to convert a tour bus into an RV and ranted for another 10 minutes about that lol
Very good stuff to know. Since your husband does this stuff for a living, what would he suggest I do then? I don't exactly have enough money to invest in a new vehicle.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Whats the electric system going to consist of in the van?
I was looking at these for solar panels. Based off the specifications on my van (I need to go measure, but that's something for tomorrow morning) I could fit somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 of them on the top of my van. Probably should plan for three until I measure and make sure. That would give me a peak generation in the ballpark of 600w. Using this calculation: Solar panel watts x average hours of sunlight x 75% = daily watt-hours and the average sun-hours of minnesota after a quick google search I wind up with 600x4.53x.75=2038.5 watt-hours per day. If I run a 750watt computer 24 hours a day I wind up using 18kWh. Even at 8 hours a day, which would be plausible to get my work done each day would be in the neighborhood of 6kWh/day. This is very rapidly looking less and less plausible.
 

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Very good stuff to know. Since your husband does this stuff for a living, what would he suggest I do then? I don't exactly have enough money to invest in a new vehicle.
Unfortunately you wouldn't want his full advice... He'd say don't do a conversion OR buy an RV... I'd always had this lifelong dream of buying a big RV and touring the country, for some reason I always wanted one of those stickers where you fill in the states as you visit them... Oh and I just love those silver bullet type pull behind trailers too (Airstreams) He pretty much crushed my dreams and said there was no way we were ever getting an RV :vs_laugh:

Personally, I'd suggest getting a Mr. Buddy propane heater and go with that. The one I have (the bigger one) can heat my entire 24x24 garage easily...
 

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And what about a battery bank? And inverter?
For batteries, I was thinking probably at least two of these. for an inverter I was considering one or two of these. On the good news side of things, my cousin found a solar panel for $200 that's 300w and about the same size as the other ones I was looking at here.
 

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Given the parts and specs you posted there’s simply no chance you’ll ever have the ability to supply a water heater with constant voltage to maintain hot water plus run pumps and other associated electrics for a full working hydronic system.
 

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Given the parts and specs you posted there’s simply no chance you’ll ever have the ability to supply a water heater with constant voltage to maintain hot water plus run pumps and other associated electrics for a full working hydronic system.
Yeah. I've filed that idea in the "Not possible" drawer shortly after starting to talk to you guys. Now I'm trying to just put together a viable solar setup to meet my daily needs. I made a list here. Only problem is that those items plus four of the solar panels would eat up over $1700 which is almost my entire budget.
 

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Unfortunately you wouldn't want his full advice... He'd say don't do a conversion OR buy an RV... I'd always had this lifelong dream of buying a big RV and touring the country, for some reason I always wanted one of those stickers where you fill in the states as you visit them... Oh and I just love those silver bullet type pull behind trailers too (Airstreams) He pretty much crushed my dreams and said there was no way we were ever getting an RV :vs_laugh:

Personally, I'd suggest getting a Mr. Buddy propane heater and go with that. The one I have (the bigger one) can heat my entire 24x24 garage easily...
How long does the propane last?
 
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