So I did a little research...
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Ok, well that's an understatement. I did a LOT of research, and have come to a difficult decision -- I am going to build our camper, including the walls, from scratch. I certainly didn't make this decision quickly or on an impulse. On the contrary, Over many months and with much deliberation, I have weighed many variables including expense, quality, timeframe, aesthetics, material characteristics, availability of resources and construction skills, etc. I have spent countless hours in online research and have traveled thousands of miles to visit different companies that could provide quality materials or even a completed finish product. But, despite all of this time and effort, I find myself back to my original idea -- make our future home on wheels from scratch.
These are just a few photos from the recent trips, resources, ideas and inspiration etc. from the last few months of active design research.
My travels and research were not without value, however, as I now feel more informed and have a greater respect for this process. Simply watching a quick video on how someone builds something does not well-represent the countless hours of research, experience, decision-making and skill building that are imperative to a successful project. Plus, I have determined that there is no perfect solution that will check-off all of the afore-mentioned variables. Heading into a project that will test my skills and explore new materials certainly leaves me wondering if I've considered everything necessary for success. But, as will be our experience on the road, I've adopted a mindset of doing my very best to prepare in advance, and will lean heavily on the skills of awareness, anticipation and adaptation along the way.
I have sifted through the many good and bad examples out there in Youtubeland and have traveled to see materials, construction process and even fully finished products first hand and I now feel armed with information, compromises and clarity. I have been inspired by some ambitious examples out there including Everlanders, Outliers Overland, Ambition Strikes. The Traveling Together Journal and The Museroamer Project just to name a few. I also learned a lot from voraciously consuming various technical blogs like canter4x4.com and Doug Hackney's blog.
Early on, I was pretty convinced that I would be using the high quality composite materials from totalcomposites.com I even took a trip all the way up into Canada to visit their business in beautiful Victoria, BC. I was impressed by their materials and how they have worked on minimalizing direct thermal transfer. (Think sweaty aluminum framed windows). However, I decided to keep looking for other solutions for our habitat box, as I felt somewhat limited by design options and product expense. There are plenty of composite laminates out there that are based on a honeycomb core structure and are very strong, but do not provide sufficient thermal insulating properties. My research on finding a suitable product for the habitat box has led me to consider variables such as: thermal conductivity, thermal expansion, torsion, R-value, weight, strength, cost, workability, fire resistance, material sourcing and overall design aesthetics. After considering all of these factors,
I have finally come to the conclusion that there is no perfect material out there that meets all of my expectations. I am aware that it makes WAY more sense to find a product from an existing manufacturer, but I just can't seem to accept compromise on the variables that seem to matter the most. I suppose my future-self is probably saying I'm overthinking things (probably true) but from this side of the project, I just can't see clearly enough where I would want to compromise.
So, at the point I'm writing this, my plan is as follows:
On top of the truck frame, I will be welding a custom sub-frame from structural steel that will be designed to allow for chassis flexion (I will post more about this soon). Then, on the subframe I will build an aluminum deck 7.5' wide by 15' long with a 3" thick structural composite flooring attached directly on top of the aluminum deck. The exterior body of the habitat will have a carbon fiberglass exoskeleton that will capture the 2" thick composite sidewalls. The vertical corners and top edges of the habitat box will be either beveled or rounded and will be fabricated from high density urethane (HDU) and covered in carbon fiber. The walls, floors and ceiling will be a laminated composite sandwich of FRP, closed cell polyurethane insulation, and a honeycomb structural layer.
I have been working out this design process for many months now and I'm anxious to get past this design and research phase. So many variables go into this process so it's good to take the time to slowly work it out. Many cool ideas including pop-outs, hard sided lift tops etc. have been left on the cutting room floor, each iteration representing an inordinate amount of design time. Each hard cut has major implications on material choices, construction techniques, aesthesis and ergonomics and overall design function. This final design is a decent balance of simplicity and creativity and is a realistic project vision. I will expound on the individual reasons and considerations in additional posts -- so be sure to follow along! These pictures are just screen shots of some incomplete Sketchup drawings. More details like lower utility boxes, window placement and interior layout will be added in future posts.
Spring is here, the snow has gone away, the research has been done. It is now time to make this dream a reality! I will be documenting each step of the process in detail to show all that goes into this build. Hold on to your hats and glasses folks, this here's gonna be a wild ride!