Space Kap Plus camper conversion

This is my first post on EP, so please feel free to share any advice if I've missed/misfiled anything.

The idea to convert a SpaceKap to a camper came after being thoroughly disappointed with an Arctic Fox 990. The AF sprung a leak just a few months into owning it (I bought it used, so no warranty), and while repairing it I found the build quality to be rather sub-par; the fiberglass exterior is in fact about 1/8" thick, followed by a cardboard layer before the insulation. The issue with cardboard is that once it gets wet, it is extremely difficult to dry out and loses its shape, thus forming wet clumps and de-forming the thin fiberglass envelope. In addition to the cardboard problem, the AF has many seams (read: vulnerable to water penetration), is surprisingly poorly insulated, and weighs 4000lbs, requiring you to move it with a dually. All things considered, I quickly discovered that the AF was not for me.

About myself: I have experience building and renovating homes, I'm fairly handy, I spend most weekends either mountain biking or skiing in western Canada, and I need something that is 4x4, insulated, rugged, self-sufficient, big enough to fit myself, the girlfriend and our dog, and I'd like to get below 15L/100km in fuel mileage. My options:

4x4 Sprinter (or similar) van: Trendy, hip, and overpriced. I also do not like that fact that the camper portion depreciates at the same rate as the van, when really the van experiences much more wear and tear than the camper. I don't have $80k to spend on a van, nor do I expect to be able to find parts for these in small towns. Van: eliminated

Taco/FJ/Tundra/4runner and either a roof tent or a small offroad trailer: The roof tent is not insulated, so that makes this option useless 50% of the year around here. I also like the option of stealth-camping, as well as cooking indoors, neither of which are possible with an RTT or similar setup. RTT: eliminated

Manufactured Campers: While there seem to be some decent offerings out there, most offer luxuries I deem unnecessary (HWT, multiple beds, etc) and few are truly self-sufficient. Due to the excess equipment, most campers are either very heavy or cheaply built, neither of which suit my needs. Manufactured camper: eliminated.

Build your own: Obviously, if you’ve read this far, this is what I went for.

The Build:
I wanted a rugged, lightweight shell that I could pick up at an affordable price, and a SpaceKap (SK) Plus service body seemed like the best option. The SK is made from about 1/4 “ thick fiberglass (thicker in many areas, this is just the minimum thickness), with only one seam for the entire system. It is quite difficult to find an affordable, used SK in Western Canada, however I got lucky and picked one up in Penticton along with the accompanying jacks. Speaking of jacks, these units use removable jacks, which not only lowers the overall weight but also improves aerodynamics. My only issue with the SK Plus is the ceiling height (about 6’3”), as I am just shy of 6’4”. Although the height may seem close, the useable height is closer to 6’ once you factor in insulation, finishes and flooring. They do make the Diablo version which has a taller ceiling, but it is newer and costs almost $20k CAD.

The SpaceKap I purchased already had four windows cut into the roof as well as a very poorly installed vent. It needed a few minor repairs (nothing structural), a good wash, and a truck to go on.

Here is the SK on my old dually:
In terms of truck, I picked up a 2005 Duramax, quad cab with the long box. This one is fully loaded, has under 200,000 km, and was bone stock. I intend on keeping it fairly stock, only adding a Herd bumper, an Espar coolant heater and deleting the cat. It came with Michelin LTX which will do as summer tires, and for winter I’ll be using studded Duratracs. The quad cab suits my needs as I use the rear seats to store bikes in the summer and ski/avi gear in the winter. Skis themselves will be going on the back door of the camper, but more on that later.
Before I get into the “how” of the conversion, here is a list of my appliances:

Fridge – I went for a Nova Kool R3800 DC. This is a DC-only unit (ie, its only source of power is the battery, 12 volts), and uses only 2.2A of power per hour while running. This is very efficient compared to most other offerings on the market, and the R3800 seemed like the biggest fridge I could get that had this kind of efficiency. Given that RV fridges run around a 30% duty cycle, the fridge only draws about 0.66 actual amp hours.

Fan – There seem to be two brands leading the market for this product: MaxxAir and Fantastic Fan. I chose the latter as MaxxAir offerings seemed excessive, and the Fantastic Fan I had in my Arctic Fox had worked flawlessly. The fan seems to draw about 1.5A when it is running on low, and I have yet to use it on the other settings (I doubt I will ever have to).

Lights – I have four LED pods on the ceiling inside the camper, and 2 LED work lights on the back, should I ever need to illuminate the area behind me. Each light takes about 0.2A of power while it is running, and they are on three different switches, so when a light switch is “ON”, at least 0.4A is drawn from the battery.

Water pump – I opted for a SHURflo 4008-101-E65 3.0 Gal/Minute pump. There are both cheaper and more expensive options out there, but this one seemed to strike a good balance between quality and price. So far, it’s been fantastic.

Fun fact about the water pump: I wanted to be able to draw water from glacier runoff, so I’ve plumbed it such that the pump can, with the flick of a few switches, either push water from the tank to the sink, or pull water from outside and fill the tank. In order to do this, I had to sacrifice the tank’s breather hole to use it as a filler, and thus use the fill spout as a breather. When the tank is extremely full and I travel over rugged terrain, it can at times let a little water spill out, but this will be eliminated with the addition of a cap for driving, while continuing to use the existing cap for when the water pump is working. To fill the tank from a creek takes just under 10 minutes (29 Gal at 3 Gal/minute), which I think is pretty reasonable.

Heater – This part was hard to decide on, but I chose a Webasto AirTop 2000 STC heater. This will draw diesel from the truck’s fuel tank, meaning that I don’t need to carry propane in the camper. Diesel also burns a lot drier than propane does, which is important in the winter. Webasto heaters are very common in heavy equipment and large trucks in Canada, so getting support for this unit should not be an issue if it ever malfunctions.

Water tank – I wanted about a 27 Gal/100L water tank, but had pretty specific requirements in terms of layout and needed a cube-shaped tank. I ended up settling on a 29 Gal/110L marine water tank, which I’ve been very satisfied with.

Solar – Initially, I opted for a single, 100W monocrystalline panel. Through some basic research, I gathered that mono panels are slightly more efficient than poly, and that mine could generate about 5A per hour at peak capacity. My research suggested that MPPT solar panel controllers are significantly more efficient than their PWM counterpart, so I opted for a 30A MPPT power controller. My thought is that with limited roofspace to mount panels on and with limited room for battery storage, I would be wise to seek optimal efficiency. So far, using the camper during our western Canadian summer (i.e. long days), the solar setup can keep up, and I have yet to see the battery dip below 12.2V at night unless I park the truck in the shade. That said, our days get much shorter in the winter and cold is not conducive to efficient power transfer, so I will be adding a 50W panel to my setup to account for winter conditions and to keep the SK self-reliant.

I have since added Eternabond tape to seal where the fan meets the roof, and to the solar panel mounts. I will be doing the same to the mounts on the 50W panel when I install it.
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Battery – In short, adding up the estimated draw of all my electrical appliances, (i.e, for the fridge, we’re looking at 0.66A x 24hours/day = 15.84 Amps per day for the fridge, then repeat and sum up for all appliances), I came to the conclusion that I would be using between 20 and 30 amps per day. It is very unlikely that I would ever go more than a day or two without some sunlight, but I wanted to anticipate for potential snowfall on the solar panels while I may be away from it, so I opted to a MotoMaster Nautilus Ultra XD Group 31 High Performance AGM Deep Cycle Battery. For the Americans reading this, Motomaster is the in-house brand for Canadian Tire, which is one of the more common auto and sports retailer here in Canada. I realize that there are better offerings out there, but I went for this battery for three reasons:

1) Decent price, $525 CAD. This may seem like a lot for a battery, but if you start looking at Rolls and other large brands, it becomes pretty palatable.
2) 4 year warranty, and the fact that there are Canadian Tires in every city and most larger towns, means I can actually use that warranty as opposed to having to wait three weeks for a new brand-name battery to come in on order
3) Group 31 is one of the larger common RV battery sizes, and this particular battery offers 103 Amps, meaning about 4 days of “reserve” power (103A/25ish amps per day = 4 days of battery support).

I won’t go into the pros and cons of flooded batteries vs AGM, but being that my battery was going to be stored inside and given the performance benefits of AGM, going the AGM route was a no-brainer for me.

I should mention: this camper is 100% self-reliant in terms of electricity. Nowhere can I plug it in to make it work; for better or worse, it relies entirely on the solar panels for juice. I like the simplicity of such a system and the ease of mind that so long as the sun rises, the camper will take care of itself. If the sun were not to rise one morning, I probably have bigger problems than a low battery.

Stove – I did not want propane on board; not only does it create a myriad of issues for installation (vented yet sealed propane locker, propane lines, regulator, etc), tanks also take up a lot of room and despite having every intention to take the necessary precautions, I find it unsafe. Most RVs store their propane tanks outside, eliminating the size and danger concerns, but this was not an option for me as I want to remain relatively “stealth”, and short of strapping it to the back door or having custom tanks fitted to the underbody of the truck, I had nowhere to store it outside the camper. So, what are my options? There are a few diesel stoves (called “cookers”) out there, but these are prohibitively expensive and appear to be relatively finnicky. I ended up opting for the well proven and extremely simple Origo 2000 alcohol stove. This bad boy runs off pure alcohol, moonshine or methyl hydrate (the latter being my fuel of choice), is fairly affordable, incredibly easy to install and operate, and has almost no moving parts, promising years (or decades) of reliability. My only concern prior to using it was the efficiency of burning alcohol at altitude, as these are typically reserved for marine (sea level) use and alcohol has about half the BTUs of propane (i.e. half the stored energy, so it should only release half the heat energy that propane does). THAT SAID, this thing has been phenomenal and I think that every RV should come with an alcohol stove. It somehow boils water faster than my propane stove did in the Arctic Fox, even at high altitude (2000m or so), and seems to use less fuel than the propane unit did. I could not be more impressed with the Origo, and frankly I wish I could have somehow fit a two-burner version in my camper. For reference, a 4L container of Methyl Hydrate costs about $12 CAD, is available at Home Depot and most other hardware stores, and so far about 1L has boiled over 40L of water. The numbers don’t really make sense, but it just keeps working. Regardless of your build, I would absolutely recommend an alcohol stove.

Safety – To tie in all the electrical appliances, I have a 12-circuit electrical panel that uses automotive fuses (ATC/ATO). I also have a fire extinguisher and a fire/CO detector that runs off its own battery.

Toilet – The purpose of this camper is to be rugged, light and self-sufficient, none of which jive with a black water tank. Most of the time I use the bushes, and in the rare case where I need to go indoors, I use a Dometic 2.5 Gal portable toilet that sits under the bench. That’s right, if you want to go #2, you just flip the bench up and go. Once you’re ready to empty it, you just pick it up (the outside is clean, so don’t get icky), unscrew the lid, and dump it into a normal toilet, porta-potty or sani-dump. I imagine it will come in handy during winter or when my girlfriend joins me on a trip, but so far it has only been used once and worked great.

Grey water tank – I don’t have one. Lol. The only thing creating grey water is my sink, and I don’t do anything in the sink that I would have any issue doing camping (wash dishes, face, etc), and if I were camping, this “grey” water would just end up on the ground. Therefore, my grey water tank is the stretch of 1.5” ABS pipe that runs from my sink and drains onto my rear bumper. Bonus: less fluid = lighter vehicle = better fuel economy and handling.

Now, onto the conversion.
First, I started by cleaning the unit and removing any unnecessary equipment inside (shelves, brackets, old lights, etc). This specific SK came already partially spray-foamed, which was going to make the camper conversion a bit easier.

Once the SK was ready to be worked on, I did some minor fiberglass repair and installed the Fantastic fan and the solar panel. Both of these went in pretty easily, and I made sure to diligently seal everything along the way. The previous owners had done a hack job with the silicone, so cleaning this was a nightmare. I cleaned what was necessary to install the fan, but the rest of the silicone removal is more for aesthetics and will be done later. I also removed an old chimney and filled the 1” hole where it used to protrude through. For the fiberglass repairs, none of the holes were larger than 1” in diameter, so I used marine epoxy (you would need fiberglass mesh if the hole was larger than 1.5”).

I wanted to add a window in the door, but given the shape of the doors, I was limited to pretty specific dimensions. I scoured the interwebs, but this was to no avail, and I ended up lucking out and finding the exact window I wanted being sold in an industrial bay 10 minutes from my house. As the roof windows do not open, I needed to add one that allows for airflow such that the fan does not create vacuum inside the camper.
Next up, insulation. In terms of insulation, about 2/3 of the camper was already spray-foamed. Although double-walled fiberglass already has pretty good insulating properties, I insulated the exposed walls with 1” rigid board insulation (R5), the floor with ½” rigid board (R3, to maintain as much ceiling height as possible and because the eventual cork flooring was going to add some R-value as well), and then tied it all together with Great Stuff spray foam. I then added a second layer of ½” foam board where the water tank would go, as I wanted it to stay cool in the summer and thawed in the winter. After the foam insulation was secured, I covered and sealed the entire interior with a breathable, Reflectix-type material I bought off Amazon. Reflectix does not breathe and costs a fortune, so it is typically used for small portions of van builds. On the other hand, this “NASA tech” breathable reflecting layer was fairly cheap ($100 CAD for 500 s.f.) and the fact it breathes allows me to use it everywhere. The reason I value breathability is that despite triple-checking and double-sealing every potential leak spot, I will most likely experience some sort of humidity inside the walls of the camper at some point, and I want it to be able to dry by itself rather than having to take the whole build apart.
From here, the next step was to build the shelving; this was going to be a challenge as I wanted to optimise the little space available while not blocking the windows, and I had to account for the fact that there are no straight lines in the camper. After a lot of mental math, I put together the driver side cabinet, followed by the passenger side. These are secured to the only seam in the camper by screws, and the driver side one also has a fence bolt coming in from the floor as I couldn’t get satisfactory purchase from the screw in the seam at the front of the unit. Another concern with the shelving is that the access to the mounts for the camper to the truck are on the inside of the unit, so these have to remain accessible. Although this takes a toll on the overall insulation of the camper, I will just have to make due with removable panels backed by 1” rigid board that drop into the access holes - not a huge problem considering how well-insulated the rest of the camper is. After both sides were built, I moved on to the bed.
That 120V electrical outlet you see was eventually removed in favour of true self-sufficiency. IMG_8970.JPG
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...continued (see above for photos pertaining to the first few paragraphs).

The bed concept was a challenge; initially I had thought of building it width-wise over the cabover section of the unit, but I eventually realized that I would be short a few inches once I accounted for insulation and finishes. I thus decided to create a sliding platform that would be pushed onto the cabover (along with the mattress, folded in half), when not in use, and could be pulled out when the bed was needed. The rationale behind this is that when we are in bed, we don’t need to use the rest of the camper, and when we are using the rest of the camper, we don’t need the bed. The design is such that this sliding platform is guided by shelves on each side, and when it is pulled out, it drops down to latch into place and become level with the cabover, creating a flat sleeping surface on which to lay a mattress. The platform itself is built with 2x2s and ¾” ply, with 2 2” casters at the back to facilitate the sliding in and out. The most difficult part about building this was planning the entire shelving units before even putting them in the camper, to create the exact amount of space needed for the platform to latch in with only about 1/8” of play. Luckily, I was successful, and the bed has been absolutely brilliant to use. After the majority of the mill work was done, I installed some cork flooring. I used leftovers from a renovation we did a few years ago, so I'm not exactly sure which brand I used, but it's notch-edged approximately 1/2" thick cork flooring with a built-in foam underlay.

So once the camper was insulated, the shelving framed, flooring installed and the bed built, I moved on to adding appliances. After installing a hardwood countertop, I dropped in a single sink and the lovely alcohol stove. Since I decided against using a hot water tank, I sealed the hot water intake side of the tap with a gas fitting (I couldn’t find a plumbing specific ¾” threaded cap, and the galvanized steel should last about 70 years…probably much longer than we’ll be allowed driving around with home made campers). On the cold side, I put a valve which is used for that water pump sucking in vs pumping out system, and plumbed a line of flexible pipe to the water pump. I was initially planning on using PEX, but for some reason decided against it at the hardware store and opted for some landscaping piping instead. The piping I chose is rated to 50PSI, has worked well so far, and my plumbing system is simple enough that a PEX conversion down the road would only take an hour or two. At the output side of the water pump, I have a tee, with one side going to the sink and the other going to the water tank (let’s call it “upper”), each line plumbed in with a valve. On the intake side, I have another tee, with one side going to a city water connection fitting (where the hose to pull water from a stream goes, and yes I use an inline filter), and the other line going to the water tank (“lower”). Again, both of these lines have a valve in them. When I want water from the tank to the sink, I open the lower and the sink valves and close the upper and city connection valves. If I want to suck water from the creek into the tank, I close the sink and lower valve, and open the other two. I suppose I could also have a situation where water goes creek to sink, for which I could just open the city and sink valves and close both tank valves. To finish off the plumbing system, I added a filler spout to the tank so that I could also fill it with a hose. In hindsight, I could have just used the city water connection to fill the tank with a hose from a tap, but this puts a lot of pressure on the plumbing (i.e. hose water pressure plus what is created by the pump) and would eliminate what acts as a breather pipe. So far, the plumbing system works as planned.
Next, electrical. At some point during the last steps, I got off track from the task at hand and replaced the old, broken exterior lights with some new LEDs I mentioned earlier. This leaves me with an operational solar panel hooked up to nothing, as well as having wires coming into the camper for those two exterior lights. I started by fitting the battery inside the camper, below the toilet and next to the water pump. Yes, I realize that I have electrical next to plumbing, but everything is fused and so if the plumbing were to spray water everywhere, at worst I would have to change a $0.50 fuse. Once the battery was secured, I wired up the fuse panel, ran wire to all the eventual appliances and to the control centre (next to the bed), and connected the solar panel to its controller, the controller to the battery, and the controller to the fuse box. From there, each circuit got split up and hooked up. I won’t go into details about most of the wiring as it is pretty straightforward, but I thought it was worth mentioning that you’ll want to wire your lights in parallel rather than in series, because if you wire them in series, the total voltage is the sum of every light’s, thus exceeding your 12 volt system’s capacity. Other than that, as long as you understand the basics of an electrical system (+/-, power source, fuses, etc), there is nothing too wild about this design.

All wire connections are soldered and heat-shrunk. No shortcuts!
That fancy touch dimmer switch turned out to be defective, so I returned it and replaced it with a more conventional on/off double switch.

At this point, I’ve got a usable camper that just needs finishes. First up: covering the shiny stuff on the walls. I opted for cedar tongue and groove panelling. This stuff is really expensive, but cedar does not rot and I love the smell. Given the size of the camper, the more you breathe (i.e. add humidity), the better it smells!
My teammate at a bike race

So far, I have only had time to install the panelling that goes next to the bed and have yet to have the time to go any further with the work. That said, I can already tell that the insulation is doing its job well, as I can be cold outside and the cabover section warms up quickly enough (with no heater) to keep me working there in a t-shirt. I intend to finish the panelling, install the Webasto heater in the camper and the Espar coolant heater in the truck, add that 50W panel, and build doors for the cabinets in the coming weeks. After that, the only work I foresee is to sand and stain/paint both interior and exterior, add a ski rack to the back door, and clean up the previous owners’ nasty silicone job on the windows. As I continue along with this build, I’ll update this page. Cheers!

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