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Archive for March, 2017: Trying to keep Tabs on my finances
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Home > Archive: March, 2017

Archive for March, 2017

Insulation and Privacy

March 31st, 2017 at 02:08 am

Don't those two words just glide effortlessly across your eyes? Like a sultry, smooth PB&J sandwich? No? Ok, it didn't exactly work for me either.

But that's exactly what I was tackling earlier today. You see, after priority #1 (the bed) and priority #2 (emergency toilet), the next priorities in line for me are... well... insulation and privacy!

First though, let me step back and share a bit of clarity and perspective on this particular venture. You see, cardwelling is nothing like RVing for example. They seem similar on the surface, but underneath, the two couldn't be more different. Whereas RVs try to imitate and offer the comforts of a traditional house, cardwelling is more of an exercise in motorized camping. The same kind of camping that involves tents, sleeping bags, camp fires, and trying to fit everything in a backpack.

Point is, due to the severe limitations involved, Cardwelling ends up being a glorified form of camping, and it is important for anyone who is intrigued by the idea, including myself, to realize what you are signing up for.

Case in point, there is only so much you can do to insulate a car. Most insulation is either too impractical, will cause mold, or is too expensive as an option. That is why many opt for a cargo van instead, because they are much more workable in that regard. For cars, most people just put up reflectix on the window glass and call it a day. Some don't even go that far, and just accept that they are indeed "camping" and choose to become quite intimate with Mother Nature.

So that's what I did earlier today, cutting out reflectix to my windows, and see if that will work for me as well.

This isn't all bad news though. You see, cargo vans have one serious Achilles' Heel, and that's the fact that they don't have a practical solution for air conditioning. A van's AC simply isn't powerful and energy efficient enough to cool the entire van. However, cardwellers armed with a Prius can! In fact, the smaller the space, the more effective using the built-in AC will be. Knowing this, that is why I don't mind the tight spaces.

The simultaneous benefit of this option is that it also helps to ensure privacy when I am inside the vehicle.

Oh, and I also put on a protective seat cover. It looks very nice. Ok, I'm going to stop rambling for the night.

Blogging from my car

March 30th, 2017 at 03:57 am

Today's entry will likely seem absolutely no different from any other entries that I have written, but for me, there is indeed something very different about it. As I have already given it away, I am writing this entry inside my car.

Well, my car is still parked inside my garage until the pollen clears up and I complete my solution to ensure privacy.

But other than that, this entry is written on my smartphone, clipped to my car bed using a clamp with a flexy neck... and a bluetooth keyboard.

I am not sure if this is the best solution out there, but that is why I am testing it out by writing this entry. So, time will tell....

Other than that, I admit I haven't made much of any progress today. My official excuse was that I wanted to do some more research first, but honestly, I took some naps as I think not sleeping well the past several nights have finally caught up to me.

Anyways, this seems to be working, and hopefully, I'll have more to show for tomorrow. For now, I am going to head to bed.

What is home?

March 28th, 2017 at 10:49 pm

Anybody have any ideas? If so, I would love to hear about it.

As my camper car project continues, it was inevitable that I would start to ponder this question, and if this... car... could be it?

My best definition of home so far... and I confess it's not much of one, but I think home is a place where, when you are there, you can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you have returned....

Right now, I have two beds: My old closet bed (hehe) and the new car bed (oh my). You know, just reading that, I realized that I may not be a "normal" person. I dunno, it's amusing to me at least. I may also be easily amused haha.

Anyways, I noticed that when I lie down in my closet bed, I physically breathe a sigh of relief. However, I have yet to do that with my car bed, even though I plan to exclusively sleep there from now on. In my mind though, the car is still this "other place" that I do not yet acknowledge as home.

However, as I got stuck in traffic today, it dawned on me that getting stuck in traffic was irritating only because I was eager to get home, whereas for VanDwellers, since they are already home, I imagine a traffic jam would be more of a minor inconvenience.... Hmm, could my perspective eventually shift like that as well? After all this, I sure hope so.

Anyways, I finally got some sleep last night in my car bed. It was kind of intermittent, only because a friend of mine texted me last night. Otherwise, I slept just fine.

I also built a platform for my toilet bucket today. About the only thing I can imagine worse than pooping in a car, is pooping in a car, on an uneven surface that could potentially topple the bucket over. Maybe. The space is tight, but even the remotest of possibility was unacceptable to me, and so, a sturdy, level platform had to be built.

Luckily, compared to the bed frame, this wasn't as difficult of a project, so I was able to get it mostly done today. I also snapped a couple of pictures for show-and-tell:

There are still some small additions or changes I need to make, so this isn't the final version yet.

And so, as the sun sets, I am settling into day 3 of me living in my car... in my garage. Baby steps. Oh, and please feel free to tell me your ideas of home.

Sleepless update

March 27th, 2017 at 09:29 pm

Ok, so for whatever reason, I just couldn't sleep in my car last night. It's not the bed though. In fact, it feels really grand. Spending last night in it made me realize that this is literally all I need for a bed, and that even my regular twin mattress is bigger than what I actually need.

That being said, because pollen season just kicked up, and because I still don't have a built-in solution to maintain privacy from my neighbors, I decided to keep the car in my garage and sleep that way. Keeping the car in the garage also means having no AC or anything else because I would have to turn on my car, and that would cause Carbon Monoxide to build up inside the garage. So that's definitely not an option there.

Still, there are some interesting insights that is worth noting. For one thing, I am pleased to report that I didn't feel claustrophobic at all. When everything goes dark, it's really hard to tell at all how much space is around you.. that is unless I stretch my arms out. So, when I pull up my blanket, it feels the same as my regular bed does. The only difference is that there is a definite added "bounce" coming from the car itself whenever I toss or turn around.

Both the bed and the foam mattress still exude a strong odor. It's not a terrible smell, but I am not sure how to fix that, so I hope it will subside eventually.

I can also notice the subtle red blinking glow from my dashboard. It's kind of trippy to hold up my hand, and see it intermittently light up from the dashboard light.

Speaking of which, a potentially awesome thing that I can also do now is to be able to stick my arm out the side window whenever it rains, and feel the rain on my arm while still lying in bed. It's a shame my car doesn't have a sunroof, because this could be really extra awesome. I may have to keep this in mind in my future car.

Also, while lying there sleepless, something terribly important and ominous dawned on me last night: This car has to pass state inspections.

My car was due in April anyways, so before I continued any further with my build, I decided to just go ahead and get it inspected, and see what happens.

Because you see, I have done a lot of things to the car by the point, beyond just putting a mattress in there. I've also upgraded my headlights to LED that is suppose to improve safety by providing better lighting at night (while also drawing less power), as well as removing the front passenger seat, which caused my airbag lights to erroneously go off (hence the red blinking light), as well as installing bug screens on the rear windows that are duct taped in place, and last but not least is window tinting. Any one of these things can somehow fail inspection if not done properly, but together? Oooh.

But here's the crazy part: Out of it all, only the window tint did not pass inspection, and that was installed by a professional. In fact, I have one of the lighter tints they have in stock, simply because I insisted that my windows be legal.

Immediately after inspection, I drove straight to my tint guys to have the tint checked out, and if necessary, fixed. Tint guy tells me that they are absolutely legal, and checked it twice using their tint meter. I even took a picture as proof.

Tint guy then got on the phone with the inspection guy, and they kind of got into it, because inspection guy wasn't convinced, and in fact wasn't pleased at all when he saw me come back a second time, asking him to re-check my tint.

The inspection guy threatened to call DMV to have my car flagged and what not, but when he checked it again, lo and behold, it really did pass. Apparently, it was all the pollen on my glass that was skewing the results.

They were apologetic and all, which was nice of them, but I was just glad that this crazy contraction actually passed inspection. In fact, I was kind of surprised that literally not a single one of them even raised any questions asking about the missing seats and having a mattress in its place. I guess either they were used to seeing crazy interiors, or they just didn't want to know on a Monday morning.

Back to the bug screen for a minute, here's a couple of photos of them. It doesn't look like much, but they were a bear to install. It took hours, and at one point, I even cut my own finger with a box cutter. However, the result looked better than expected considering I've never done this before.

I think from now on, I'm just going to keep sleeping in the car and see how it goes.

I need to talk about pooping....

March 27th, 2017 at 12:15 am

Well, first of all, my new cot sheets arrived, and I washed them and fitted them to my new car bed. I bought new sheets, partly because I don't have any sheets that technically fits a cot mattress, and partly because I don't have any sheets that are black anyway. To celebrate the completion of the bed, I am going to attempt to sleep in it tonight. Hopefully, all will go well. Wish me luck.

With priority #1 mostly nailed down, let's talk about priority #2, which is an emergency toilet system.

Some RVers and vandwellers have a much more permanent bathroom setup for regular use, but me, I just don't have enough space. It's OK though, because it was never my plan to begin with to poop or pee in the car... if I can at all help it. Instead, my plan is to use public restrooms anywhere I can. Remember, unlike my fellow mobile compatriots, my primary goal is to save money, not necessarily be out in the remote regions of the wilderness in search of adventure, or to escape the so-called machinations of society.

Nevertheless, there may come a time (or three) where I may not have any choice at all, and will need a way to conduct #1 and #2, right in the car. Right. So, now, my focus has turned towards the construction of some kind of emergency toilet system.

As a guy, #1 is actually pretty simple. I can pee into a specially designated water bottle and call it a day. Hardly glamorous, but it will work.

However, for #2, that is going to require a bit more planning and construction. Most cardwellers actually put their "bathroom" on the driver's side rear seat. However, because of my car's hybrid setup, and because my car is especially small, this simply will not work for me. I've tried, and it's a no-go.

That leaves the only other viable space left, which is the front passenger area. Basically, it's what's left of the space between the bed and the glove box. The space is still incomprehensibly small, but after some testing using myself sitting on my future toilet bucket... well, this is literally the only space that will work. Also, there is only one way to sit comfortably enough-- side ways, facing towards the steering wheel-- that will allow me to do my business, hopefully not make any mess, while I continue mull over my existential crisis, questioning what on this blessed Earth am I doing with my life, sitting sideways, jammed inside a car, trying to take a dump?

For visual aid, I've included a photo to show how much space I am working with at this point. It actually looks bigger than it really is due to me having to jam through the edge of the bed on one end, and the edge above the glove box on the other. Oh and the floor is also uneven, so I will need to figure something out, while also keeping the bucket strapped down somehow.

Alright, let me go get my bed ready for the night. Wish me luck. I think I'm going to need it haha.

Bed sanded and painted.

March 23rd, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Ok, I think my bed frame is finally for-real done this time. I'm sure I probably forgot something somewhere, but for now, I can think of nothing further to do with it.

I sanded it down, and because my packet of non-toxic moisture sealant arrived in the mail today, I applied that as well. I don't think it's going to win any prizes at the county fair, but to me, it's a mighty fine looking table bed thingie.

A quick aside about this non-toxic sealant. First of all, it's just a little blue-gray bag of sand. I'm like really? This little bag of pixie dust can magically protect wood from all the harmful moisture and rain from the air? And I do what? I mix it with like up to a gallon of water with it? The very same liquid moisture that I am trying to keep away from my wood bed? You want me to slather and soak my entire wooden bed in it?

However, Amazon gave it hundreds of rave reviews, so what do I know? Also, I must've read the instructions at least three times, and that's exactly what it says. Ok ok.

As for sanding, it's nowhere near the finish of professionally-made furniture. However, I don't need it to be. I just need it to not stab me, while ripping small sections of the bed up and exposing it to moisture and rot. A simple palm sander was enough to get the job done.

Most of the burrs are gone, but I think I will still need to reinforce the edges with duct tape or something. We'll see though.

Also, I've placed an old yoga mat that I once bought from the dollar store in between the frame and mattress for further protection. Hopefully, it will also help prevent the mattress from slipping around too much.

Overall, the set up seems to be working quite well. However, I need to give the frame time to dry before I can really test it out.

Bed's done! Sort of.

March 22nd, 2017 at 11:47 pm

Great news. I finished my bed today. Mostly. You'd think adding "table legs" would be simple, but because they have to support my entire body weight, I had to spend a lot more time and materials to make sure they were strong enough to do so.

Also, it doesn't help that a vehicle has so many weird curves that I have to work around. Every leg is a custom job, and that means having to lift the entire heavy board into the car, fit it, measure it, and pull it back out, install the leg, and put it back in to check the fit. The following picture is a good example of this.

However, by the end of the day, I finally did it, and decided to add the mattress to get a better idea of the end result. I hope you find this as hilarious as I do, because... I mean look at it. It's bonkers.

What I find particularly funny about the next picture is that I had to remove my arm rest to fit the mattress. Not having it was a bummer, but now, I can just use the corner of the mattress as my arm rest. Yes, I tested it out, and it's glorious.

Equally glorious is a bit of gymnastics I have to employ in order to transition from sitting in the driver seat to lying on the bed, and back. It's just too much fun... omg this would be insane if someone caught me doing it. Also, I have to learn to do it right so I don't accidentally hit the horn with my feet. It's weird talking about all this as a grown man haha.

The bed frame isn't technically done yet though. The next and perhaps final step is to apply coats of non-toxic sealants to the wood to protect against moisture and rot. It's an important health issue to address, and hopefully will give it a nice shiny sheen to it as well.

Oh yeah, and I am debating if I need to get a belt sander to sand it down. The surface is rough, but I wonder if I can just roll with this?

Design update

March 22nd, 2017 at 01:19 am

I've been working hard at hardly working on my camper project... haha it's my typical response when someone asks me if I'm working hard or hardly working... nevermind.

Anyways, I've been super methodical towards my build, and also working as safely as I can around power tools, so it's taking me days to yield what seems like very small amounts of result.

I think it also doesn't help that I've never tackled anything like this before. My knowledge of building anything up to this point has been trying to assemble IKEA furniture without stubbing my toe. No stubbing equals victory.

Plus, the design parameters are breath-takingly limited. Naturally, I do not want to spend a whole lot of money. That's a given.

However, there is another budget worthy of note, and that is the budget of weight. My car is already one of the weakest car engines out there, which means everything I build has to be as light as possible. In the same vein, I also want to keep my MPG as high as possible... which also means building as light as possible.

You know what's another thing that is at a super premium? You guessed it: Space. My car also happens to be one of the smallest vehicles on the road, which means it leaves very little to the imagination as to what can or can not be done inside it.

Oh, and while we're at it, I also want to make sure I have everything I need in the vehicle, all the while somehow make it all look as nice and homey as possible.

You just gotta love a good challenge in the morning.

So, I've decided to approach this project from a... priority standpoint. Like for example, having a good, solid, flat surface to sleep on is a priority to me. A bed will also take up the most available surface space, so building this right is critical. This is what I am working on right now.

Unfortunately, and especially with a car this small, there is just no way around it. The sleeping surface will have to go straight down the passenger side, more or less from the glove box all the way down to the trunk. Yeah.

Coincidentally, this also turns out to be the number one sleeping arrangement used by others who have done camper conversions themselves.

Like them, I am essentially making a custom-tailored "table" to support my torso. I originally designed and built a frame for my entire body, but then realized... wait... why does my legs need this much support? Just my torso will do. My legs will do just fine resting on the existing trunk surface. This will substantially reduce the weight.

Also in this picture, you can see me experimenting with foam insulation. I don't know if this will work or not yet. Time will tell.

Oh and that wood platform is suppose to be crooked like that. I found that doing so gives me the most amount of space possible without weird curves getting in the way. It is designed to fit a cot mattress later.

In this picture, you can see the platform with the leg portion cut off (and is currently upside down). I was told the oak plywood is among the strongest board I can get, and I tested that it can indeed support my weight. However, it's iffy and does bend, so I decided to reinforce with it with those wood beams you see here. This also gives me extra anchor points for the legs next.

So yeah, anyways, this is where I am right now. Not much to look at, but I haven't stubbed my toes yet!

Removed the front passenger seat

March 18th, 2017 at 07:53 am

Too excited/obsessed to sleep, so after some more online reading on how to remove car seats, I decided to take another crack at the front passenger seat.

Though the front passenger seat is only one large piece-- as opposed to the half a dozen or so pieces from the back seat-- it was nevertheless trickier. For one thing, I had to disconnect my car battery to prevent the risk of accidentally setting off my air bags or something when I disconnect the three sensor cables underneath the seat. Each of them were like unique 3D puzzles on how to disconnect them without breaking them.

On top of that, I still had to figure out how to physically unscrew the seats out, which was another interesting challenge. Not only that, but I also had to figure out the size wrench I needed. By the way, it was 8mm, future me. 8mm. Why can't they standardize this? Like make it... 10mm across the board?

Anyways, at last, I am triumphant:

And that concludes the strip phase of this project. With the car cleaned out and ready to go, now comes the real hard part, which is the build phase.

That will start tomorrow. I will take it nice and slow. Measure twice, cut once. Baby steps.

Stripping the rear seats

March 18th, 2017 at 12:19 am

I spent the rest of the day stripping out the rear seats. Having never done this in my life, it turned out to be a bit harder than I thought. Eventually though, I did figure it out enough to get them removed.

Being such a pain to remove, I see now why a lot of camper builders avoid this part and decide to just work with the seats folded down. However, this wasn't really an option for me, with such a short vehicle, and the seats not being able to fold down completely flat. So I decided to give it a go at removing them. Never know until I try right?

Unlike normal cars, Hybrids have bulky batteries they have to place somewhere, and the Prius C have theirs under the rear seats. I can't move this stuff, so I will have to build my platform right above it. Doing so is not a safety risk though. I can't get it as flat down as you can with a regular gas car. Just another interesting bump to add to the challenge of this project.

Stripping out this stuff also helps reduce the weight of the car, although I have to admit, I was impressed at how light everything is to begin with. I guess it was necessary to maintain its relatively high MPG.

Another thing worth noting is that I hear more of the road now with the seats gone. An added higher pitched sound.... Not a big deal to me, but I want to make sure I note everything I can think of for future reference....

This includes noting that I used a 14mm ratchet wrench to unscrew all the bolts. The car battery would need 10mm wrenches instead, and I need to do that first before I figure out how to take out the front car seat to prevent the risk of air bags going off.

Anyways, I'm off to late dinner to think more on my next step.

Tinted the windows

March 17th, 2017 at 08:49 pm

Ok, so the first real step in my build phase is actually tinting the windows. I wanted to take it to the tinting guy without anything ripped out just yet, so I don't have to answer any awkward questions. So this became my step #1.

This is a really expensive decision to make, but at the end of the day, if I can't keep cool and maintain privacy, then this project is doomed to fail. Plain and simple.

Let me reiterate again that the summer heat is my #1 enemy. No matter how cold it gets here (in North Carolina), I can find a solution to fix that and stay warm. There is next to nothing I can do about the summer heat though, and stripping and having a fan on my face will only work for so long.

Heat is also the #1 reason why I chose a Prius to convert, because the Prius engine is so efficient that it is said to only need to idle maybe 5 to 10 minutes each hour to keep the vehicle's fans and AC running. Serendipitously, I just happen to be driving a Prius.

Window tinting, especially the one I selected, is suppose to passively but substantially reduce the amount of heat that comes in and gets trapped in the car. It also helps to improve privacy, which is another fairly important factor to consider.

A smaller benefit, but one that should not be ignored, is that it also provides superb UV protection, which can become a big deal if I am planning to spend a lot of time in this car.

Check out the result from the outside:

And here's the inside:

It's fairly subtle, but you can see it is indeed darker from the outside looking in, and yet, is almost undetectable from the inside looking out.

The final tidbit I'd like to say is that the tint can only be so dark to be street legal. This is the darkest that I am legally allowed to have.

Ok, on to the next step....

Time to get this show on the road

March 17th, 2017 at 05:52 am

Ok, it's been months, but I still have not changed my mind. Things are kicking off now though, starting tonight, but will begin tomorrow in earnest. Tonight is mostly last minute planning.

In case anyone is wondering, this is what I will be using to convert into like a... camper car:

Yeah, I know. It's a Prius C. They are tiny, even by car standards... and their engines are weak, which means I have to be very careful about how much weight I add into my build.

To recap, if this somehow works, I get to start a new chapter of my life. If it doesn't, I still have a decent commuter car.

So yeah, this is going to be an interesting challenge....