What's your problem Vanlifers?

Hi !

As part of a course, our team of 11 engineering students must target a concrete problem and come up with an innovative solution (real product) to solve the problem. As several members of our team have an interest in the VanLife, we decided to focus our research on this topic. This is when you come into play. I would like to think what is your biggest problem with your Van that could be solved with a real-life product (you can be creative here and we’ll evaluate the feasibility)?

Thank you !

I’ve got some ideas of things that would make vanlife a lot easier:

A cassette-style water tank that allows fixtures to be plumbed up to it. Many vanlifers do the 6 gallon water jug shuffle both for fresh water and for grey water. For the fresh water, it could even be as simple as a water cooler jug receptacle that can be built in. For grey water, something like Thetford’s or Dometic’s cassettes, but with pipe inlets instead of a toilet fixture. Bonus points if you can come up with a housing that uses those existing cassettes.

A “universal” charger for the battery bank, that can take input from alternators (14v-ish DC), solar (up to 75v-100v DC), or AC (both 120v and 240v). I think EV charging stations are way underused by vanlifers. Some may argue that an ICE van shouldn’t be allowed to use an EV station, but the whole point of EVs is to be better for the enviroment, and vanlifers have much less of an enviromental impact than someone living in a home or apartment.

Maybe not “real product” enough, but a set of DXFs/paper templates for wall, floor, and ceiling panels for any of the common vans (Sprinter, Promaster, Transit, E-Series, Express/Savanna) would be a huge help to many people. Vancillary has shown that selling a paper template (cab shelf) is a viable product.

A 12v mini-split style AC system would be awesome. I’ve yet to find one in the 3000-5000 btu range that would be perfect for most van builds.

Maybe more if I think of them…

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Greetings & Welcome!

Here’s what comes to mind instantly…

A) A high powered portable AC/DC generator capable of running 24/7 silently, or nearly so, that requires no fossil fuels. On demand hydrogen, where you fill the fuel tank with water would be good, or perhaps portable self contained hydro power, like you can do with a river or stream, except small & portable. And doesn’t require batteries. Eliminating the need for house batteries would be a huge plus. Needs to be capable of powering A/C’s, heaters, fridges, microwaves, etc. One that starts/stops automatically on demand would be perfect.

B) A conversion kit to run our vehicles on hydrogen, converted from water as needed just before entering the engine.

(A) would solve all of our power problems & eliminate noise, pollution, & weather/sun related problems, and (B) would solve our gas mileage, fuel costs, & pollution problems.


"There are those who learn, and those who wish they had learned." ~ Good2Know

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The single biggest issue I’m facing in my build is energy storage. Electrical energy storage and utilization equipment - batteries, chargers, and voltage/current conversion systems - are both incredibly expensive upfront, and bulky and heavy, leading most people to use chemical storage (diesel, gasoline, propane) to directly convert to thermal energy or to electricity (generator). Batteries simply can’t compete economically nor from a payload (size and weight) perspective. There is simply no present way to economically store enough electrical energy to supply heating of water (for bathing and cooking) and/or HVAC for even the small living space of a van when viewed as a competition between chemical vs battery energy storage and utilization.


I totally agree, I only use my single house battery which is charged while driving to charge my laptop, phone, and a fan usually. Even my lights are powered by dollar store batteries. Everything else is fuel powered, and then I have a generator for a backup or if I need shore power.

Heat, cooking, hot water, and anything that is energy intensive are all fuel powered. (Diesel, kerosene, or cooking oil) I even have fuel powered lanterns for backup lighting.

Last summer I got a couple of liquid candle powered LED lanterns which are pretty neat, they’re called “Luminiser Thermoelectric Oil Lantern”. My only problem with them is that the liquid candles are disposable and not refillable, but I figured out that I could sit the lantern head over a mason jar cooking oil candle, and it works just fine so I don’t have to continually buy disposable ones.

The good news is that the majority of our problems are pretty easily solved with a little ingenuity, and don’t require a lot of money.


“Everything should be made as simple as possible." ~ Einstein

On a more realistic level, away from the energy storage issue somewhat, how about an integrated turnkey space heating and hot water system that runs off the vehicle’s gas or diesel fuel supply - at an affordable price. Something that would both heat the van when parked without running the engine and deliver 10 gallons of shower temperature water with the only electrical requirement being the water pump and ignition and blower for the heater. There are units available that do this, but they are in the $4K+ category. Can such a system be designed and built to 1st world standards for under $2K? There is a real need for such a system.


Gas heaters don’t usually seem to get good reviews, and both the diesel & gas ones require power. I don’t understand why people would choose something that’s complicated & requires power, when a system that is more efficient, simpler, cheaper, doesn’t require any power, and produces equally as dry heat is available.

I guess it all boils down to whether you want fancy & expensive, or simple & reliable. When fancy & expensive is dead & done, cheap, simple, & reliable will still be working like new. I don’t need to impress anyone but myself, and simple, reliable, portable, and easy to replace quickly & locally, is what impresses me. The fact that they are cheap is coincidental, but a nice bonus anyway.

Comfort, convenience, reliability, and sustainability are high on my priority list, and my choices reflect that. I am constantly on the search for better ways to do things, and so far, my systems are the best I’ve found anywhere or for any price. I haven’t had an equipment failure in over 10 years of living comfortably in my current van, with the exception of supposedly better choices that I tried and they failed to meet my needs.

Since my current systems are portable, they’ll work inside, outside, or in a tent. When campfires are banned, we can gather around my heater outside, and stay warm on a chilly night, while enjoying it’s flickering flames. When the evening is over it will heat my van.

Over the years, I’ve had many rigs, with many different systems. They all worked, but most had a fatal flaw for me… They were noisy. Every time the heat or water heater would come on, they’d wake me up. The same is true for the systems you’re thinking of. My current system is totally silent, which is really important to me. No more clank, thunk, whoosh, or ticking time bombs for me…


“Everything should be made as simple as possible." ~ Einstein