Just wanting to start out

Hi my name is Zach, I currently live in Chicago. I’m seriously considering move full time into a van in the next few months once I start my PhD at a university in Houston. I have a dog and I am quite tall 6’3. This has been my dream for years, I spent a month living in a van last summer and love it even more. I am pretty handy spent some time framing and dry-walling basements in my younger years.

Things I need help with
Choosing the right vehicle, I want something small like a ford transit connect. But am worried about my height.
Life on the road-Worried about living in a city like Houston (or any) and the feasibility. Having my dog there, we walk a lot, but I am still concerned with leaving her in the van (do I just run the AC or a fan, can the battery handle that, Houston is hot)
The Build-I have a degree in Electrical engineering, but am still inept when it comes to electric work, can this be done by myself. Just using videos and reading materials
I am somewhat strapped for cash, but I know I am going to live in squalor, so this seems more enjoyable and cheaper in the long run.

Greetings & Welcome!

I think you can do it. A few suggestions:

Get a van with a low enough top to fit in parking garages. With ventilation, if you park in a parking garage the temps should be okay for your pooch.

Window vans make far better campers, and with the opening windows you can save a fortune by not needing roof vents. Mini vans can be found pretty cheap.


"For every complicated problem there is usually
a cheap, easy, simple, & safe solution." ~ Road Warrior

I live in Central Texas. The humidity is horrible. With your pooch and the humidity a window a/c unit or roof top unit would work. Not a swamp cooler. I don’t know what they use in Chicago, but when I was in Pittsburgh we didn’t have one. When we were in New Mexico we had a swamp cooler. A swamp cooler will not work in the humidity. You will need enough power to run an a/c. From the research I have done, solar is not the best option. Although, I think Jackry makes a device that may power a small one to keep your pooch cool. I asked them which one, but I forgot which model. Make sure you keep the amps low when you look for an a/c. Hopefully someone can chime in if I am wrong or has more info. Or…some parking garages have outlets close to the parking spaces. You could use that.

Here is an interesting thing I was introduced to few months ago:

Halfway that video is the portable split system.

same thing in eBay:

According to product page in eBay, max energy usage is 450W 1.6A at 230V.

In a FB group I’m in is one guy who bought the older model (2400) couple years ago and has reported good things about the unit. His new rv has 175W solar panel and 180AH leisure battery and that AC unit can run for hours without much effect on battery level when RV is not in shade.
21.8C indoors, 31.1C outdoor temp in shade, picture taken month ago when we had a bit warm here around the arctic circle.

That is obviously meant to be used by campsite shore power but as the example above shows it can run on battery power with solar assist for extended periods. Plan accordingly, do not use starter battery on this :slight_smile:


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the solar to battery ratio described doesn’t add up, and neither do the numbers in that A/C’s description. In that desc. it says 2400 BTU @ 750 watts of power. That is probably correct, but their other claims are likely off base.

2400 BTU also just isn’t enough to do most people any good. Even double that isn’t enough for many people. Most camper vans come with a much more efficient 12k+ BTU rooftop A/C, and many motorhomes have 2 or 3 of that size or bigger. Of course they all require either shore power or a generator. 5k BTU equals about 1500 watts of power needed, + 15-25% more to cover inverter losses. Even in the big RV’s they require shore power AND the generator to power more than one.

No matter how you slice it, a solar/battery powered A/C system is going to cost upwards of $10k and just isn’t worth it. A generator or shore power connection is much cheaper, safer, and gives you better options.

The only battery powered option that actually works and is energy efficient is swamp coolers. Besides the fan, the only power they need is for a fountain pump. Mine uses .9 amps on low, and 1.9 amps on high, and most importantly it works, and they only cost ~$50 to build.


PS: For anybody determined to have a real A/C, a window shaker & a generator or shore power are your best and cheapest option.

"#VanLife needs more supporters, and less promoters." ~ TruthMatters