Monday, December 4, 2017

The Van Goes Airless

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that will question my sanity at removing the air-conditioner from The Van, and they may have a point, but I have my reasons none-the-less.

For one thing, most of my camping is done in places without shore-power, and without shore-power the damn AC unit doesn’t work very well as anything other than a 100 pound chunk of metal sitting high up on top of the roof. In fact it’s been close to three years since that AC unit has done anything other than screw with The Van’s handling. Something any high profile vehicle can do without!

For another, I’ve already got a hole in the roof that I'm sure I could make much better use of than simply plugging it with an unused appliance. - - - OK, so that's pretty much just a different way of wording my first point, but that just goes to show how strongly I feel about it. 

I’ve been threatening to jerk the AC unit off The Van and replace it with a MaxxFan Deluxe vent for quite some time now. In fact it was scheduled to have been done a while ago, but stuff, you know, things like life and budget, got in the way.

Oh, I was feeling so smug about having the finances for this project all planned out, but then the smug got slapped clean off my face with three quick trips to Michigan in the space of three months (I had budgeted for one trip . . .) that burned through my travel budget, my project budget, and even had me tapping into our emergency funds.

No offence to the ghost of Frank Sinatra, but it was not a very good year!

I had resigned myself to cooling my heels and trying again with next year’s budget but then The Wife, sitting on my shoulder with trident in hand and her horns showing, (Oooh I like when her horns show!) convinced me that in the overall scheme of things the one-time cost of the MaxxFan wasn’t all that much, especially when compared to our monthly health-insurance premium, and it would be alright to ‘borrow’ against next year’s project budget. - - - OK, I’ll admit that borrowing against a future budget goes against my instincts, but that didn’t stop me from coming up with excuses why we had to make a city trip (that would take us right by Camping World) even before she hopped down off my shoulder. 

Instincts or not, I was standing at the door with the leash in my mouth like a puppy ready to go for a walk.

Normally I buy things like this from PPL. I’ve built several campers over the years and most of the stuff for them came from PPL. For a while there they knew me by name and gave me a commercial discount, but you may remember that when I tried to quit Good Sam last year they rejected my rejection and renewed me anyway with a fancy 'deluxe' membership, cost free. Well it just so happens that we pass right by Camping World on our normal run to the organic produce place, but to get to PPL we have to drive much deeper into the city than normal, so I got on-line and found that, with my Good Sam discount, Camping World sells the fan I want for the same price as I could get it at PPL, $250.

Well I’m here to tell you, that’s bullshit!
I pulled off the freeway at Camping World, checked against the back wall of the store to make sure they had the fan I wanted, went back up front to grab a cart, wrestled the big box into said cart, trundled my way awkwardly back through the narrow aisles to the checkout, handed the checker my membership card to get the discount, got into another wrestling match with the big box because I had foolishly put it in the cart with the UPC on the bottom where it couldn’t be scanned, then everything came to a screeching when he told me the bill was nearly $400.

“Oh no, that’s not right! On the web site the price is $250, $249.98 to be exact! “ At this point I had pulled the page up on my phone and showed it to him to prove I knew what I was talking about. - - -Apparently I didn’t

“Oh”, he said all chipper and bright. “That’s the on-line price, not the price we sell it for here at the store”.

“Oh”, I said all pissed and grumbly. “Well then screw this shit!” And walked out, not caring that I left the cart just sitting there in the way, because I won’t be back.

Like AARP, there’s always been a heavy marketing component to Good Sam but, also like AARP, they had some good points as well. But that ended a few years ago when Good Sam was tanking and partnered up with Camping World in a last ditch effort to stay alive.

Now the damn thing is purely a marketing machine using practices that border on fraud, so from now on I’m going to vote with my dollars, or rather lack of dollars, and shop elsewhere.

Even with the extra time, gas, and $2.40 in tolls, I came out way ahead by going on down to PPL to get my vent, for the advertised $250.

A few more $ for the supplies necessary to keep water from leaking through the great big hole in the roof, and I was ready for operation get-rid-of-that-damn-air conditioner.

Well – almost ready.

First I had to figure out how I was going to get that 100 pound beast off the roof of The Van while minimizing the risk of killing myself in the process. The second part of that statement is kind of important because, if you remember, I already tried to kill myself a couple times this year, once tip-toeing along a ledge in Dog Canyon and then again when almost ‘riding the chute’ all the way to the bottom of Little Grand Canyon, and wasn’t sure if I had used up my annual quota of freebee-mishaps or not.

After taking some measurements and running through a number of possibilities, some on the far-fetched side, (How many drones would I have to borrow to lift the AC??) I decided using a gin-pole attached to the tractor’s fully raised loader bucket would do the trick - - - maybe - - -

I grabbed a six foot length of inch and a half steel tubing left over from building the porch for the travel trailer, propped the ends up off the ground and stood in the middle. It flexed about an inch and a half under my significant weight but showed no signs of kinking even when I jumped up and down on it.

Using some quick, in-the-brain pseudo structural-math I figured hanging the 100 pound AC unit off one end of the tubing would give me less than 4 inches of flex, which I unilaterally declared acceptable. Though I also made note not to position myself under the damn thing – you know, just in case. (because I did not get all A’s in math class!)

I drilled a couple holes in each end of the tubing. On the tractor end the first hole was for the hook of a 440 pound rated strap I would use to attach the tubing to the bucket and I put a bolt in the second hole to act as an additional anchor-point for the second strap I added just to make sure the tubing and the bucket didn’t separate until I was done with them.

On the other end, the business end, of the tubing I installed a pair of bolts that would keep the two straps I planned on actually lifting the AC unit with from either falling off the end of the tubing or slipping down towards the tractor, since I figured neither one of those scenarios would end well.

With the travel trailer down on the coast being abused by Elmer, for the first time in 5 years I had access to the nice level concrete pad there beside the barn, so I took advantage of it

and carefully centered The Van under the raised gin-pole.

When ready, all I had to do was ‘dump’ the bucket a little to lower the gin-pole into position, strap the AC unit to the pole, ‘retract’ the bucket to raise the AC unit, then drive out from under it. --- um - maybe if I - nope, nope, I have a plan and I'm going to stick with it!

But I still had a few things to do before I would be ready for all that. (Whew! Who ever said procrastination was a bad thing never contemplated hanging a heavy weight over top of their beloved van on a kluged up crane!)

RV AC units, at least the ones I've had, use 120V power for running, but they also use a separate 12V circuit for the thermostat controls. I’ve been working with electricity since I was 17 and I’m here to tell you, electricity, in any form, can bite the crap out of a person!

So in addition to opening the battery disconnect switch, I also pulled the fuse from the 12V circuit feeding the AC controls since you can't be too careful.

Then I dealt with the 120V circuit as well by disconnecting the hot line from the breaker and the neutral from the buss-bar. (The Van is not plugged into shore power but I made sure the main breaker was off anyway!) Though not needed for the MaxxFan I left the 120V wire in place, just in case The Van eventually ends up in the hands of someone that would prefer AC to a fan, (Besides, removing the wire would mean taking down cabinets and ceiling panels and that wasn’t going to happen!) so I carefully insulated the ends of the wire and tucked them out of the way inside the distribution box.

Now I could begin disconnecting the AC unit from The Van, starting with the wires.

It was never very effective, but when the AC unit was installed a 4” ducted outlet was included. Since it sits just inches away from the unit itself, this was a handy place to pull the wires back through in order to get them out of the way.

The yellow 120V wire, along with the tan thermostat wire, will be coiled up into the ducted space, out of sight and out of the way but available if ever needed again.

The red and white 12V wires will be routed back to the new vent.

Fortunately Sportsmobile ran #10 wire from the panel to here, much heavier than needed for the 3 amps the AC unit required and more than heavy enough for the 10 amp circuit called for by the fan. (#10 wire is rated for 10 amps at up to 27 feet in length. This wire is less than 6 feet long and at full speed the fan draws only 3 amps.)

With the wiring out of the way I was able to back out the 4 long bolts and drop the control box, which also acts as the clamp to keep the AC unit from flying off the roof.

But even with that out of the way the AC unit wasn’t ready to come off yet. It was well calked and the calking wasn’t letting go that easily!

I used a pair of self-jacking Power-Poles, one of which can be seen above, to put upwards pressure on the AC unit while I worked a blade around the opening, gradually separating calk from roof.

There was a moment of triumph when the AC unit released from the roof, but that was quickly tempered by the knowledge that the only thing left to do now was the actual lifting of the unit.

(Annnd we're back to the tractor looming over The Van. . .)

The gin-pole was lowered, the straps were carefully positioned and tightened, everything was double checked; then I climbed back up on the roof and checked again, because this is the point where things could go terribly wrong!!

But eventually there was nothing left to do but very gently retract the bucket to raise the gin-pole to, if all goes as planned, lift the AC unit free.

Oh no, this isn’t stressful at all!

Damn! I could use some drugs right about now! And it better be the good stuff because I don’t even want to think about what my blood pressure is reading at the moment!

After I drove The Van out from under the dangling danger and gently eased the AC unit onto a handy cart, (The unit is already spoken for and just waiting to be picked up now) it seemed like a good time to take a break.

Except that there’s this big friggin’ hole in The Van!!

A nasty, dirty hole.

Silicon caulk won’t stick to silicon caulk. This is important because my favorite apply-once-and-pretty-much-never-worry-about-it-again outdoor caulk, designed for gutters and flashing, uses an MS polymer blend in its formulation and though proprietary, (at least that’s what the various companies claim, but I’m not convinced that it all doesn’t just come out of the same vat) most MS blends include compounds from the silyl group, which is related to silicone.

As far as I’m concerned, besides longevity and effectiveness, my favorite caulk has two other key attributes. It contains no solvents or isocyanates which might eat into the plastic roof-ring of the MaxxFan, and it cures chemically which means it will cure all the way through no matter how thick it’s applied.

Unfortunately, though silicone won’t stick to silicone, it sure as hell sticks to everything else and the only way to get it off once it's cured is to scrape, and scrape, and scrape. Not knowing for sure just what caulk had been used on the AC unit, I was going to have to assume there was silicone involved and remove it all before attempting to seal the vent in place.

Anticipating this, I had been watching the weather and chose not only a rain-free day, but also a cloudy day for this project, but as you can see by the hard shadow of the solar panel in the photo above, that cloudy part didn’t work out too well for me and I spent a couple hours up there on that highly-reflective, bright-white roof slathering on sunscreen under my chin and on the bottom of my nose in between bouts of frenetic scraping.

By the time I was done, besides noodled arms and cramped hands, there were little bits of cured caulk, ranging in size from really big snow-flakes down to tiny, dust-like specks, covering everything, but the roof was silicone free and ready for the next step.

Which involved bedding the roof-flange in place.

The MaxxFan is designed such that the bulk of the unit can be detached from the roof-flange and removed without disturbing the seal between flange and roof, always a good thing. The flange is a made of thick plastic and has clips that the main part of the fan/vent screws into when it’s slipped over the flange.

I laid a continuous strip of butyl tape around the mating surface of the flange then added a bead of caulk around the inside edge before setting it on the roof which had just been wiped down with alcohol. Once screwed down firmly but not too tight, another bead of caulk was run around the outside edge of the flange and a dab was added to each of the 16 screw-heads. By gently swirling my finger on top of each dab with enough pressure to move it but not enough to squish it, I ensured that there was a good seal all the way around each screw-head.

From here the job went so fast it was over before I knew it.

The electrical connections were made. (Remember that I have loads of room to pull excess wire back out of the way inside the ceiling so I left the wires generously long)

The unit was set into place against the built-in gasket of the roof ring and the 4 screws that keep it there were installed

The one-size fits all ceiling trim-ring was marked, cut down to fit The Van's relatively thin roof structure,

and installed.

I don’t know if the impressions left on the ceiling carpet by the AC unit will ‘fluff out’ over time, but for now they speak to the history of The Van. After all, she's not a virgin so there's no sense in freting over making her look like one.

Also note the round vent cover just peeking in from the left edge of the photo. It no longer functions as an air duct, but it does hide the coiled up wires left over from the AC unit era.

To finish up I slapped a 10 amp fuse and a new label into slot 12 of the distribution panel, closed the battery disconnect switch, did some testing,

and all that’s left to do is put away the tools.

With the AC unit up there The Van’s vertical clearance was 9’8”. Now, with the much narrower and shorter vent in the closed position, which it will be when moving, the clearance is 9’1”.  I wonder if I’ll be able to see a difference in fuel mileage?

Unlike the FanTastic vent, the MaxxFan has no rain sensor to close it because the cover is designed so that it can be left open in all but the worst of weather


and I can tell just by looking at her


that The Van is feeling lighter and more nimble, lean and mean, sleek and sweet, trim and – well I better stop while I’m ahead.

With limited cross-ventilation I'm pretty sure that extra vent and fan is going to make a big difference, but a full on review of the MaxxFan will have to wait until the calendar catches up to my travel budget and I have a chance to actually live with it. (Don't you just want to punch those doofuses that write reviews along the lines of my widget just arrived, packaging looks good, haven't used it yet, 5 stars right square in the nose?!)

For now it’s time to disassemble the gin-pole and put the tractor back in its barn.


  1. I was feeling proud of myself for successfully replacing my atv battery today. But, yours was quite a project. Thanks for showing the steps. My Scamp has air conditioning, and it protrudes and takes away solar panel space. I'm going to have to sort that out in the future, but I think I'll start by removing the tv antenna, which is even higher than the a/c and would open up solar panel space.

    1. I'm already debating whether to spend next year's (2019 since I already spent 2018's) improvement-budget on portable ground panels to supplement the 180W I already have, or use some of that recovered roof space to mount a couple small panels up there.

  2. Great decision to remove the AC. In your world if you are too hot, you can move to higher elevation. Another great job "down on the farm" as I anxiously await your next project. Budgets??? Don't talk to me about budgets. LOL

  3. For well over 30 years or RVing ( early 1975) Camping World has been a favorite place to stay away from.

    1. That's generally been my stand on Camping World too, but dang-it, according to their web-site I should have been able to get the vent for the same price without the extra city-driving. Foolish me. . .