Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

April 22, 2014

Open Cavity - I Get Busy

With the refrigerator out of the van and the cavity open, I had easy access to the electric cavity from above by taking out the cavity floor.
In the meantime, I decided I was tired of clocking my head on the cabinet handles that stick out and got new ones to replace them. I found some very pretty ones that are a bail type (like on furniture) that also only drop down 1”. The hard part was finding ones with the screws 3 3/4” apart as most handles are 3”. The new ones stick out just 1/2” and are quite a bit prettier than the plain C ones that came with it. I also found ring handles for the lower cabinets and drawers that go well with the handles. Then I needed to do something about the other hole. I found 1” back plates that I can screw in after I paint the head to match. After I got the new handles, I decided that I would like the bail handles on the bath door better than the smaller rings, so I ordered a few more. It changes the character of van decor, and once again, I notice how much the cabinets need to be refinished. (Bonus! I can get the refrigerator thru the aisle now without taking off the cabinet doors thanks to the non-protruding new pulls.)
Old cabinet pull with New bail pulls to show the difference
The lower flat finger pulls on the cabinets and drawers.
New brown LP & CO Alarm unit in base.

Since the refrigerator was out of the cavity, I decided it would be a good time to add some electrical conveniences. One is a new AC outlet on the other side of the wall where I have my small desk area. There is one near the floor on the front of the bench on that side but it means I have the computer plugs going into that. Since I no longer have a 3-way fridge, I tapped into the AC outlet in the back of the fridge cavity to get the power for it. Took about a foot of wire and a new wire grommet in the box to make the tap.

There’s a USB charging port on my inverter so I thought it would be handy to run a wire thru the electrical cavity and up the wall to the top of the bench wall. Otherwise, I would have to run a wire along the aisle. Took me forever to find something to neaten the hole needed to put the USB cable thru but I found a 3/4” grommet made for wire in the electrical sections with faint lettering on the flange. It was gray but a sharp knife to gently take the lettering off, some fine sandpaper to smooth it up, and some bronze spray paint made it look quite presentable. But then it kept falling out of the hole. Hmmm. Some caulk and some tape to hold it tight fixed it right up. I also decided to change the romex wire running from the inverter to the inverter powered outlet, mostly because the plug I wired on the end is big. I got a cord made to replace a power tool in 14 gauge and with 3 wires. It isn’t as stiff as the romex and in vehicles, it is generally considered best to use stranded wire because of the vibration.

One of the annoying things is a dearth of 12V sockets to power the things when running on battery power. My van came with one on the TV antenna switch and one on the shroud holding the thermostat and CO alarm at the end of the counter. With all the electronics these days, that just isn’t enough. I like to read stuff on my smartphone before going to sleep and I like to have it charging at night but the cord is tight to go from that socket to the end of the bed. I string a cord from the socket near the door across the counter to run a portable 12V fan. Earlier, I wired the cigarette lighter in the cab with a switch and removed the ashtray so I could fit a 3-socket extension in there to run the things like the GPS and phone charger and I wired a 12V socket to the wires under the passenger seat to run the chest refrigerator/freezer I got last year.

I ordered 5 marine 12V sockets from an Amazon seller ($16 and change including the shipping) and wired them all in the bench area. One went on the other side of the fridge wall above the AC outlets and below the USB hole. Two more went to the back of each bench and on the rear of the benches facing the aisle for a total of 4 in the rear of the van. I wired them all to an empty fuse that was labeled for the electric seat/bed that I don’t have (and am very glad that I don’t as I find the benches much more versatile). There’s a wire for it but I can’t find the other end of it. I hope they have it taped off on the other end, wherever it is.

Each junction, I connected with wire nuts and used a small cable tie to secure the wires and then wrapped with electrical tape to be sure they stay together. The socket in the fridge wall branches from the wire to the rear sockets. I made another bridge at the end of the driver’s side bench to run the wires to the battery box, out a hole, under the van and up the other battery box to the edge of the van wall and to the other two outlets on the passenger side bench. The alternative to that would be drilling a hole in the van floor and I didn’t want to do that. I encased the wires in 3/8” wire tubing to protect them and secured them to the top of the bench frame with clips screwed in. The outlets and junctions are all at the very top of the bench and in the upper corners to have the least chance of getting bumped or abraided by things I have stored in the bench cavities. Taking advantage of gravity, ya know? I like to label all the wires so I can tell where they go to and use lots of cable ties to keep them neat. The rat’s nest that results in not doing that is a nightmare to deal with. I ran all the new wires to the back of the electrical cavity over the outside utility box and water heater and tied them together in a neat bundle. Rather than drilling yet another hole in the wall, I fed the 12V outlet wires thru the existing holes for the water pump and then back to the van side wall. Takes a little more wire that way but not any space as I got a plastic basket to provide a cover for the water pump.

I got the bright idea of adding a second 12V socket in the thermostat/CO shroud. I just tapped into the existing wire to add another socket. All these sockets probably couldn’t be used at once with a bunch of high voltage things, but having them where I need them is worth the effort to put them in. Most things aren’t very high voltage, like the phone charger but I do have to be cognizant of what electricity I use in the van.

That makes 9 12V sockets in the house part of the van and 2 more in the cab when originally there were 2 in the house and 1 in the cab.
12V socket wire inside cable protector and running around the top of the bench.
I used the existing access hole for the water pump behind the grill (to protect it from things stored in the bench.
Rear of fridge cavity with new 12 volt socket, inverter switch, old inverter outlet, new AC outlet
Wires nicely tidied with many cable ties under refrigerator

My CO and LP alarms started beeping and wouldn’t do the test so I replaced them. Seeing how expensive they are ($60-70 or more for each), I decided to replace them with a single dual unit. It has to be near the floor for the LP as LP is heavier than air and will collect on the floor if there is a leak. The new unit is a little longer than the single unit but there was room on the bench wall so got my trusty multitool with the saw blade and cut a bit longer hole for it. They used clips that I couldn't find ends for, so I cut the old alarm wires and crimped new connectors to power the new alarm with. The new alarm is the brown color so I painted the screws from the old alarm brown and they match nicely.

Having both alarms in the single unit means I have a cavity in the thermostat shroud and it is bigger than is now needed. I found a shadow box frame at one of the local hobby shops (NOT Hobby Lobby!) 6x8x1½ inches thick for amazingly cheap. I trimmed the wood back to fit the front of the frame and discarded the glass. I cut holes for the thermostat and phone wires to connect. I drilled 2 holes in the bottom of the frame for the 12V outlets. Glued the wood face to the frame. I used the copper and bronze spray paint to match the tin galley backsplash. I then cut a U shape plywood support to fit the inside of the box so I could screw it into the van wall. Then after connecting the thermostat wires, the phone jack wire (not really needed but it is there), and the 12V sockets, I slipped the box over the frame and secure it with 2 screws on each side going into the U support. Not nearly as ugly as the plastic shroud that was there.
Shadow box finished with phone jack installed and painted
Rear of shroud with 2 DC sockets phone jack and the mounting board
Mounting board screwed into the old shroud screw holes.
Thermostat, phone, and DC socket wires
Thermostat mounted
All wired up
New shroud with thermostat, phone jack, and 2 DC sockets in base.
And Mission Creep
While down on my knees working on the wiring, I noticed the paint on the cover for the electric panel is bumpy.  A little scraping and the paint flakes off and there's lots of rust. I get all the loose paint off and decide that I'd better get the rest off or it will look terrible repainted.  (A garbage bag with the Citrisolve paint remover and the cover inside took care of that nicely. The interesting thing is there was rust under the good paint too.  Interesting how the paint doesn't really stop the rust growing.  I use my favorite rust treatment that converts rust to a black inert substance and forms a film to prevent more rust. After it dries, I sanded it and used the scraper to get it smooth and find more rust underneath. Several rounds of that later, and it looks like all the rust is treated. 
I saw the furnace grill is dented and decide to take it off and push it back into shape and find - popcorn old maid kernels in the base of the furnace.  Oh joy. And the grill has bumpy paint indicating rust, and it is the same story as the electrical panel cover. There's some rust spots on the furnace metal so I painted it with the rust treatment too. I have never looked inside the furnace before.  I looked but did not find the tell tale mouse droppings but they must have been the culprit for the popcorn.  The hole in the van floor for the propane pipes is easily big enuf for mice to enter and unlike the other access holes, there is no foam insulation to seal it.  I think, I can fix that with some steel wool to deter mouse entry.  But later, I remember that propane is heavier than air and any propane unit must have a gravity fed hole to let any potential leaks drain out and not build up to cause a fire explosion. Oh yeah, it is open for that reason and must remain so. So the steel wool is removed.
Furnace with tell tale popcorn
There is a vent screwed to the inverter door for ventilation for the units in there and it isn't in bad shape at all.  But since all the other metal covers are getting rehabbed, I decide to remove it and paint it to match along with the white vent above the furnace.  I painted all the covers with the Rusteoleum Hammered Bronze paint.  It is far more decorative than the plain black or plain brown paint that was originally used and now they all match. Given enough time to fully cure, it is a pretty good paint.  I also stick all the screws into cardboard and paint their tops so they all match.
And I see that many of the plastic button cabinet bumpers are smashed and there's spots under most of them where the melamine finish is pulled off.  That is a big fail for the vehicle cabinets choice. 
I got felt bumpers to replace them after using wood putty to smooth the finish and some paint to cover the messes. Melamine is a crap finish as is particle board but re-doing the cabinets in plywood is a bigger job than I want to tackle right now. The felt should not deteriorate and damage the finish over time.
Bad choice for cabinet bumpers
Whew! I think I'm finally ready to clean it all up and reinstall the refrigerator.

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