Thursday, March 25, 2010

Talkin' Turkey

Let's roll up our shirt sleeves and get down to business.  Let's turn on some soothing tunes, pour a glass of wine and settle in for a bit.


Where do good ideas come from?  They come mostly from a desire for change.  Nomadic tribes got tired of following the herd and began to farm. 

"Hey, wouldn't it be cool to fly?," the Wright brothers proposed.  People thought they were nuts.  And the automobile was considered a passing fad. 

People say, "I sure could use 'x-y-z.'  Oh, that doesn't exist?  Hey, wait a minute....I know, I'll make it!"  An inventor is born.    

If I were independently wealthy, I may not have ever considered a life with The Roving Home.  And I would bet that most people who live in vehicles would not choose, as their first option, a life of van dwelling.

But, reality sets in and we're faced with a challenge.  That's when we ask ourselves, "How can I maximize what I've got?   What are my options here because I need a way out.  I want something better."

As I've said before, I've found a certain fascination with the RV lifestyle for quite some time.  I was already pointed toward this direction.  But, while having a fascination for it, I just never felt I had a reason to make the move.  The one thing holding me back has always been the feasibility of doing this in an urban area.  I wish to remain where I live and I don't really want to leave my career, anytime soon. 

Throughout my journey toward The Roving Home, I've come to realize that I am looking forward to the moment when I can spend my first night in my homemade dwelling.  Honestly, that wasn't always the case.  But the more I disect it and study it and get under its conceptual skin, the more it has grown from a cobbled together survival kit into a fully realized artistic statement.  I have crossed over from building something I need to building something simply because I can.

The craziest part about it all is that the more people I share the idea with, the more I'm realizing that I'm not insane.  Those who listen to what I'm doing don't necessarily cast it off as a crackpot design.  They actually seem to be accepting of the idea, and some even get a vicarious thrill out of following my progress.  And these are people who live in houses and who lead conventional lives.

It's kind of crazy.  I was originally embarassed at the thought, but now I embrace it.

I approach this build not as a last resort or as an escape from something beyond my control, but as a portal through which I will cross into another chapter of my life.  Who knows what this could bring?


Monday, March 22, 2010

RV vs Marine

"One if by land, two if by sea" -- a quote definitely apropos when referencing the cost disparity between like items purchased at an RV store and a Boat store.  My brother-in-law deciphered the "BOAT" acronym as follows:  Break Out Another Thousand.  That salt air and water does wonders for just about anything laying around for long periods of time.  Of course, everything you purchase for a boat that's metal will have to be coated with chrome or cast from stainless steel.  I'm not surprised about that.

But, come on.  Look at this reading light.

That, right there, is ninety-nine smackers, for chrissakes.   Good thing it's not a hundred, because then for sure I wouldn't entertain a lighting upgrade.  Do boat owners just spend all day at the yacht club with sweaters draped over their shoulders, counting their money?   

What's a "festoon?"  It sounds like a ceremonial gown made of colorful gauzy linen you'd wear at an Afghan wedding.

But, I will say this.  Some of the stuff you'd find at the boat store is rugged and well constructed.

That's an old fashioned pull switch - "out" for on and "in" for off.  How rad would that be for all of my switching needs in the Roving Home?   I can see a whole column of them on the wall of the galley. 

All joking aside, this is why you want to shop at the boat store for much of the infrastructure needs of your landlocked motor coach.   

I haven't seen one of these at Camping World.

These are pre-crimped with connectors, in various gauges and lengths.  Very handy if you don't have the means to properly prepare your own wire.  You need good solid connections for your solar and battery set up, or the whole thing is worthless. 

Now, a little bit about decor and cosmetics.  Here's something  I definitely have not seen in an RV store.

Flush Mounted Cabinet Pulls. 

You just push the center button in, and it pops out, unlocking the door.  Then it becomes a pull knob. 

$40.00 at the boat store, $10.95 online

That stuff is all resin!  No Glass!  I've never seen that at Camping World.

I've already got this cool 12volt socket on my list.  It will go nicely in the kitchen above the counter.  RV stores only carry versions in plastic.  Not so decor friendly if you ask me.


I dig those switches.  Very smooth.

And, some very nice flush-mount finger pulls -- sleek.

Got rope?

How 'bout a pulley?  They have a whole wall of them in every shape and size imaginable.

I guess the moral of the story is that the boating world has a lot of very useful and interesting stuff, so if you're in the market for a product that you just can't seem to find in your local RV store, don't underestimate the power of West Marine, or any boating store, for that matter.  I think, too, that boaters have to have a genuine working knowledge of all of the components in their rig, because they ain't callin' AAA for a tow to their nearest shop if something goes wrong.  I've found that marine suppliers generally have better quality equipment, and for some reason more interesting designs of various components. 

But as much as I like supporting my local brick and mortar establishment, I'm going to have to confess that at $10.00 a pop via the internet, I can outfit my whole interior with cool knobs for a fourth of the cost at my local boating store.  Sorry, West Marine, you got great ideas, but I'm going to have to do my shopping, virtually. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Made In America (Via China)!

Yesterday was almost Christmas morning.  Like a child, I ripped open my parcel that I'd ordered nearly three weeks ago.  And, there it was, direct from Hong Kong -- my LED light strip.  At first glance, you'd think it was a home movie, or something.

While not a home movie, it is in fact a 16' long strip of little squares that illumate with only 12 volts.  And the whole reel consumes a whopping 24 watts of electricity. 

Directly across that white line, you can actually cut the tape with a scissors.  The lines appear throughout the strip in uniform increments, giving the option to create a fully custom length.  I'm beside myself with joy. 

I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the shipping label declaring to Customs that my purchase of $78.95 is worth a lowly $15.00.  Bah hum bug!  Where's the love?

Seriously, though.  These lights are the coolest. 

I'll be using the LED strip for a few different applications.  Under the cabinet of my kitchen galley, I'll gang up a couple of rows, creating a nice soft and even task light for cooking.  But, for today, I'm building a very low-profile wall sconce that will throw some great light on my kitchen table while staying out of the way of my pull-out bed extension.  Indeed, less really is more!

I started with this tray that I picked up at The Container Store.  If there's not an outlet in your neck of the woods, you can go on line and check out all the crazy stuff they carry.  Luckily there's a store here in L.A., so I browsed the inventory and stumbled upon this great little gem for my application.

I started by laying out the strip and cutting at the nearest line that gave me a length I needed to fill the box.

The strips are already prepped with a peel and stick backing.  Again, a kid on Christmas morning!

Look at how nicely they laid out inside the box.  And, you can see the little white lines that delineate the cutting points.  The circles on either side of the lines are for dropping a dab of solder to secure your wires. 

And, they've even marked both sides of the clipping point with a + and - sign.  Honestly, it doesn't get any easier than this!

Now, a necessity for doing any work with 12 volt systems is a mini transformer.  I got really tired of hooking stuff up to my car battery with my jumper cables and loosey-goosey wiring wrapped around them.  The connections would come loose, my lights would flicker and flutter and I really didn't want to use battery power for continual loads when there's plenty of power from a household outlet at my disposal. 

Go to your local electronics store like Radio Shack, or something similar, and pick up a 12 volt transformer.  Just be conscious of the amperage rating, as you'll want to get something as large as possible.  I found this one that's good for 2.5 amps.  If you remember the equation from science class, it's Volts x Amps = Watts.  So, 12 volts x 2.5amps equals 30 watts.  My entire spool of LED lights is 24 watts, and I'm clipping only what I need for this project.  So, I'm golden with this power.   

To connect the transformer to whatever you're using, just buy a stereo speaker junction.  It's a super cheap item and a very convenient way to go.   This way you won't have to keep twisting and untwisting wires every time you want to look at your progress.

On the back side, you can just wire the transformer through the holes in the prongs.  I decided to give the connection a couple of beads of solder to hold it firmly in place. 

At this point, all I have to do is just push down on the tabs, insert my wiring and presto -- easy connections for constant hooking up and removing of test circuits.  And, for those of you who have never soldered before -- it's easy beyond your wildest dreams.  If in doubt, just ask the person at the store how to do it, or you can probably find a quick "how to" on Youtube. 

And, the structure is complete!  To quote my girlfriend when she stepped out to check up on me, "Oh my God.  Such boy fun." 

The two weird looking gaps in the middle are for the holes that I drilled 3.5" apart.  That's the distance at which you'll find your screw holes for any store-bought wall sconce.  During the framing stage of my interior construction, I'll build into the wall a universal mounting box that can accomodate any standard light fixture.  I figure there's always a possibility that I'll want to switch this out in the future.  Leave room for change!

Crazy cool.  Not bad for about 15 watts!

Next, I pushed the 1.5" bolts through the back of the box and slid from the front side an oversized piece of plastic that I drilled with mounting holes.  I then screwed on the rounded cap nuts for a little cosmetic charm, but not before adding a piece of vellum paper from the office supply store.  You can also print on vellum with your inkjet.  I'll be experimenting with a lot of cool imagery to add to the paper when I'm finshed with the van.   


It weighs next to nothing...


...and, sits about 1.5" from the wall. 
Easy as that.  My girl's daughter says it looks like a hotel wall light.  I'll take that as a compliment. 

I left the house at 11am this morning, bought everything I needed at three different stores, set up shop, put it all together and took this picture at 6pm...not too bad. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's funny.

For years now I've stayed up nights fantasizing about a life on the road.  We've all seen the retired folks behind the wheel of their highway worthy vacation homes --  some larger than others.  Every time I pass one of those giant behemoths I wonder if the occupants actually live in that thing full time or just use it for their big summer trip, once a year.

I've done the math with respect to retirement, and I see no value in paying off a residence over the course of a lifetime, only to turn right around and sell it with hopes of then paying cash for my final resting place, pun intended, in the name of "cutting back."  Big deal. 

Pretty anticlimactic, if you ask me.  Yet, it's exactly what my parents did, and they're quite happy.

I honestly don't think the average person of my generation will realize that kind of life profit margin.  I may be wrong. 

I thought about how much disposable income I'd have to "live it up" if my final residence were a motorhome.  And, if a large vehicle with all the creature comforts is what I had mind, then the answer is "not much."  An RV's energy consumption as built under current standards is atrocious.  It guzzles gas, is horribly insulated, has oversized appliances and is remarkably inefficient when it comes to electricity.  Parking is limited and can be quite costly in certain locations  -- not to mention any kind of mortgage I'd be paying on my $100,000 + retirement vehicle.
While it is true that there are very few options for beautiful homes situated in beautiful places that will have a purchase price of such a low figure...



                                                                $600,000 on the west coast

 ...once I tack on all of those other costs I'd still need a sizable income to keep my big RV afloat.

The Roving Home is actually an experiment.  In the big picture of my life, the cost is very reasonable.  It will be paid for upon completion.  It can be parked anwhere over night, preferrably in a place that's free.  It will be virtually self sustaining, able to sip energy due to a thick insulation and a small appliance load.  Of course, included in that efficiency is the willingness and desire to tread lightly -- to trim down what I've known since childhood to be the right way to live -- long showers, lights on all night and a full time refrigerator keeping bottles of condiments cold.  It's far healthier to eat fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, anyway. 

According to "What's My Carbon," I contribute 11.9 tons of pollutants to the atmosphere anually, due to my current energy cosumption and lifestyle choices.  Ouch! 

If all works out, then I do believe I will have found my future in lodging along with a way to save large sums of money, for my later years. 

I will always be able to build another Roving Home if there are things I really want to change.  And, the interior will be luxurious, with accents found commonly in a nicely designed house.  Why not, right?  It's such a tiny space.  It's not as if I have to buy three extravagent faucets.  All I need is one, so I can spend a lot more on it.  I'll need to refill the water and propane tank.  I won't have a large heating bill or a huge property tax bill.  I will no longer have my gigantic property insurance bill, electric bill or trash fee.   

I can't wait to roll up to my mom's retirement community in this thing.  She probably won't even open the door when I ring the bell ... provided security lets me pass through the gates.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Okay, so if I'm going to say this vehicle is a work van that someone parked in the neighborhood, then I may as well go all the way.  Right?  How about this as a door seal.  I created it today in photoshop.  I'm trying to mimic the city seals you see on work trucks, yet make it look like a private enterprise at the same time.  Am I smoking crack?  Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Honing in on Design

Yep, I changed my mind, again.  But, thankfully I haven't posted any of my previous plans for your critiquing pleasure.  I absolutely positively need a van with a 12' box.  An average-sized parking space is generally 18.'  A divided parking lane on a city street, from what I've gathered, is broken into increments of 19.'  Step Vans with 12' cargo bays are roughly 20' long, so that's pushing it, but doable.  I can't help it.  I need the extra 2.'  I'm going to run with it.  

The Layout

The badly hand-drawn line is the curtain that will keep the bathroom counter dry during showers.  

The feel I want for the galley will remain the same. It's something along these lines. But the color will be more of a rich dark stain and the counter will be butcher block. 

The Bathroom

The bathroom had changed configuration so many times, my brain almost couldn't take it.  Basically, I was trying to fit 10 pounds of crap into an 8 pound bag. 

And then...the clouds finally broke.  Simplicity prevailed.  After releasing the notion of a 10' long living area with crazy removable tables, conversion beds, and even an idea for a fold up vanity top with a sink basin attached, I sighed with relief.  "Of course," I said.  "It makes total sense.  Get rid of Inspector Gadget and come back down to reality.  It has to be two more feet!"  I wasn't sure what came over me, but I'll just call it an epiphany.  And, you know, it's the little things in life that thrill me the most. 

The bathroom vanity will fit nicely into a 2'x3' space.   


Picture all of the cabinet faces with an overlay-reveal that emulates this design... 

The scale in this picture seems almost exactly that of the vanity I'll be constructing.  The faucet will be similar but the sink basin will be recessed into the countertop. 

We mustn't forget the lighting.  Lighting is everything.  My 1watt LED spots will do the trick.


Back to my drawing. 

Behind the door under the counter on the left side is....ready? 

The toilet. 

Yes, it will slide out and hang in the air.  By the way, it's waterless.  Now, before you kick my whole van idea to the curb, don't get all hung up on waste.  It's just waste.  I'll get more into detail about my plans for waste at a later date.   And, I think you'll side with me after hearing my case. 

Here's the best vehicle I've seen, as of late. 

I found it on Craigslist with the help of the nationwide search engine "Craigslist Reader."  The 6.2 Liter Diesel has only 82,000 on it - perfect for a veggie conversion!   The problem is this:  I figure that upon my arrival to Cleveland by way of LAX, I'm already $300 in the hole, let alone slurping down God knows how many tanks of fuel to get the thing back to California.  I'm down a thousand smackers even before signing the check!  But, It may just have to be part of doing business. 

Definitely my kind of style, though.  The search goes on.   


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Recessed Lighting Test

I know, to some, this probably sounds really mundane and boring.  But, think about what goes on behind closed doors at an architect's office.  Believe it or not, they do consider how light is going to fill a space when the sun goes down.  They concern themselves with all angles of the environment they've created.

I actually wanted to be an architect in high school, but I really don't do well with math.  So, that was the end of that fantasy.  I don't do well with theory and measurements, either.  I need to see it and touch it and assemble it the wrong way before I can figure out how to do it the right way.  And besides, look at all the cars that get torn up in crash tests before the auto manufacturers finish building them.  Research and development is a very important part of the process and I knew that if wanted to get a professional quality out of this build, then I'd have to act like a pro.

The Test

I pored over the literature -- graphs and tables describing actual luminosity, beam angles, light spread and lumens at a given distance.  Yikes.  I got scared.  I am trying to adhere to a strict budget for this build, but for a definitive answer on what light would be best for each application, I had to throw down and buy a couple of sample fixtures -- yep, R&D.

The lamp on the left has about 10 elements in the fixture and a frosted lens, and the one on the right has a single 1watt bulb with no lens. 

So, at about 3.5 feet from the surface, the 1 watt fixture is pretty darned bright, but blueish in color.

The fixture on the left is warm in tone, very soft and not very bright.  It's suitable more as an accent light than as a task light.

So, here's the 1 watt fixture with some color added.  There's a little light reduction, but it's not bad. 

A Little Trick

In the entertainment world, much of the lights used for concerts and movies often have some element of color added to the fixture.  Able to withstand very high temperature, these thin sheets of plastic come in an infinite variety of colors. 


I tried adding a bit of warm color to the bluish 1 watt  fixture, as I'm not entirely fond of the blue light for accent or ambience.  But the punch is great for tasks such as reading.  So, here's the color I chose for the sample test.     

And, here's how the light changed.

Still bright but now warm in feel.  It looks like it may be a little green, too.  I'll have to work on the final selection once the fixture is in place and working in its environment. 

Since the single 1watt fixture is pretty harsh, once I install it I'll try adding a softening agent such as this frosted plastic sheeting.  I think I'll go with the 1watt fixture for the task areas since it's brighter, by far.  The other fixture I'll use for the central ceiling application, just to bring up the general ambience of the interior. 

I'd call the test a complete success -- a time and money saver in the long run.