It’s been a while since I’ve last posted but rest assure, I’ve still been working on the new model making sure that every square inch has a purpose. The system engineering phase of this project took far longer then I would have anticipated because I wanted to provide the most innovative solutions in the areas that mattered the most: the kitchen, the bedroom, and the working counter spaces. I believe that this trailer is the true embodiment of what should be an extremely compact trailer that can handle the wrath of Mother Nature and be the perfect accompaniment for a road trip of a lifetime. I imagine myself being able to enjoy a warm evening staring at the stars or cozy in on a rainy day in this tiny luxury home. Late last year, I put the final finishing details into my plan and began to build it. All along the way, I’ve been documenting my handiwork in a multi-part blog series starting with this blog post.
Introducing the Silver Fox
The Vision: An extremely compact Aluminum skin RV designed as a tiny home without sacrificing the luxuries of a residential home.
|Overall Length||19’ 5”|
|Exterior Height||9’ 7”|
|Interior Height||6’ 5 “|
|Dry Weight||~4,000 Lbs.|
|Fresh Water Cap.||40 Gal.|
|Grey Water Cap.||39 Gal.|
|Black Water Cap.||17 Gal.|
|A/C||13, 500 BTU|
Curb Side View
Street Side View
A Flip Down Sofa in Day Mode
No TV will be complete without a comfy sofa.
Shared Bath and Kitchen Area
Years ago, I had the chance to observe the works of an architect in Arizona when he designed the house my sister has just purchased. One of the noted design features was the openness of the floor plan for a relatively small home. In order to achieve this, the architect eliminated the walls and hallways to combine the kitchen, dining room, and living room into one large open living space all under a vaulted ceiling. Then, the individual living spaces of these areas were partitioned through the strategic placement of furniture, house plants, and working counter spaces. I can still remember the sense of openness of the home. Family gatherings were particularly fun when I would be talking to my mom in the kitchen, still able to see other members of the extended family eating in the dining room, while my brothers were watching the games in the living room. So here is my interpretation of the same concept in a 7′ by 16′ box! Some people may ask, “Why the obsessi0n with making a big deal out of a tiny space? Shouldn’t you be outside anyway?” Yes, while it’s true that the idea of camping is to be outside, you can’t really be outside 24/7. Nature can be a lot more enjoyable when you can sometimes just hole up in a cozy den and get recharged for a few hours. Especially, when it rains!
When you need the privacy for a certain task, there’s a sliding partition that can be used to block off the shared area and provides total privacy for the occupant. The blocked off area provides a full size residential style bath area of 4 feet by 7 feet with a 48 inch by 34 inch shower stall. With an equipped Atwood XT® water heater that runs on either propane or electric mode, you won’t miss your stick and brick home’s bathroom.
Of Love and Kindness, a “Peace” coin
Okay, so that was the plan. The execution is going to be extremely challenging. The smaller the unit, the harder it is to stack so many flooring levels (i.e. main deck, curb side and street side slide-out decks, hidden bed deck) while allowing for tolerances between each deck. Additionally, with two large slide-outs on opposite sides of a very narrow seven foot wide body, the tiny RV will have to make use every cubic inch of its interior volume to accommodate the slide-outs when retracted as shown in the computer model below:
I have had many days of spending countless hours on the computer with the frame design. On one of those fine days, my wife of many years was looking at me kind of funny but she wouldn’t say a word. All morning long, I just had a nagging feeling that I was being carefully watched. Finally, I could not stand it any longer, I blurted out in an agitated voice: “What?”
With the sweetest smile and yet a sulking voice, she said: “Today is a very special day!”
Suddenly, an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame has taken over me. Oh no, not again! How could I have forgotten that today is her birthday? As many years as we have been married, she has never forgotten my birthdays. On my birthdays, she always started with a special breakfast then all day long I would be treated with kindness and kisses then topped off with a special lunch and then a lavish dinner. No worry, no task, no to do list. For one day of the year, I would feel the carefree relief of being cared for, just like when I was a little boy. On the other hand, her birthdays would be a series of sometimes last minute planned dinners, some clueless gifts, worse yet, forgotten just like today. There are times I just had to wonder, why did she let me get away with it all?
With the most sincere voice of a truly remorseful offender, I asked her meekly not hoping for any chance of forgiveness: “Honey, I am so sorry to have forgotten your birthday. What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Well, since you have been pretty preoccupied and agitated with whatever that you have been doing lately and the day is mostly gone, I will let you off the hook this time but …not completely. I want you to give me a chip or more like a coin. Call it a “Peace” coin so that I can use it whenever you are irritated or sad or whatever that’s bugging you. With this coin, whenever I’ve decided to cash it in, you will have to set aside the day and completely forget whatever that’s you are working on, be pleasant and spend the day with me”.
Gee, a clean “Get out of jail free” ticket and a vision of a carefree day at the beach with her? It’s just too good to be true! Not quite, but rather I’ve just been thoroughly schooled in the art of gift giving. More often or not, we tend to take our loved ones for granted. We enjoyed lavishly the attention and kindness that our loved ones bestowed daily on us assuming that we are entitled to it and never a thought for reciprocation. Least we have forgotten that it is better to give than to receive. More importantly, the “gift” doesn’t have to be of a material kind. It’s the time and effort that really count… but I would gladly give a rain check today. Ok, so here you go honey, your newly minted Peace coin circa 2016.
I wish that I could solemnly promise that I will never forget your birthday again. However, with my past checkered track records and in addition to getting older, the promise would seem pretty empty. Perhaps, this coin will be my constant reminder for things that are most important in life more than any material things. Rest assure that the lesson was well received.
Well, that was a memorable lesson, now let’s get back to the task of building the RV.
One Integrated Steel Frame with Built-in Slide-out Decks and a Hidden Bed
Conventional travel trailers started out as a rigid flat frame on wheels, then the “house” is built on top of it; but to pack this much real estate into a box of 7 feet by 16 feet requires a completely different engineering approach to frame design. The frame has to be one integrated unit with all major components (i.e. slide-out decks, waste storage basement, hidden bed frame) built as part of the frame itself. See the squished down basement? No room for anything but thermal insulation and various electrical wirings.
The most tightly packed section of the RV is in the rear where the shared bath and kitchen sink is. What above hides a huge engineering challenge of fitting all hidden components underneath securely in their proper places. Gas and water pipes/hoses are the worst to keep them streamlined. The waste pipes connecting to the waste tanks were designed to be a mere few inches long to prevent clogging. They all have rubber connections to allow for vibration without the risk of cracking the connecting pipe joints.
The placement of the water closet equipment was so tight and critical that I had to use computer modelling to ensure that the fitting and the sequence of installation was correct. The above shot was taken after the initial installation. Computer model below may be able to show the fitting of the final placement but it wouldn’t be able to tell you whether your hands may be able to reach certain part easily or not.
Fully Insulated Floor Basement and Waste Tanks
The entire floor basement is sealed and insulated. Three inches of thermal and sound insulation, then Reflectix ®sheeting.
There is a separate compartment for the waste tanks which was also fully enclosed and insulated. Plenty of room for hose storage, too. Presently, the black tank is 17 gallon but the frame can easily accommodate up to a 39 gallon black tank.
Notice the steel deck for the toilet? The toilet is rigidly held by the steel deck and its wooden floor to support the weight of the occupant. Below the steel deck is a straight 3″ diameter rubber hose connecting the toilet directly to the black tank, hence, the elevated platform and a low profile toilet to maintain the same typical toilet height. The tanks are supported by a different set of steel frame. The design is intended to separate the toilet movement from the tank movement so that it will help to keep the rubber seal in the toilet from ever leaking. I don’t ever want to fix an old and leaky toilet, period!
40 Gallon Inside Fresh Water Tank
Fresh water tank is placed inside to maintain at room temperature. Right above the tank is the water heater and pumps. Space is premium around here.
At this point, both slide-out decks were completely checked out and calibrated. Water closet equipment and waste tanks were installed in their proper places. This is when I can take a relief breather knowing that the design is feasible although I still have many months of works to go.
When fully extended the cavernous interior provides an instant cure for any cabin fever. This picture was taken when both slide-outs are extended and the cabinets and toilets are tentatively in place for a fit check. This is the first time the structure truly provides a spatial sense of the interior space and it did not disappoint.
Residential Size Counter Space
One of the recurring theme about this project is the use of residential cabinets and furniture instead of irregular size cabinets and furniture that you will usually find in many typical RV designs. The main design objective is to give the occupants a sense of living in a regular stick and brick apartment instead of a cramped tin can.
Light Weight Aluminum Curb Side Slide-out Frame
Aluminum Street Side Slide-out Frame
Residential Size Shower Stall and China Toilet
Finally, the shower pan and shower surround are placed in for fit check. These items are the same ones that typically used for stick and brick homes. It took more than two months to order them.
Hidden Bed in Deployed Position
Unlike many Tiny Home designs, at my age, I refuse to climb any staircase and sleep in a loft with the ceiling inches away from my face. I want a restful night of sleep. I want a residential sized 60″ x 80″ Queen bed that I can walk around. I am an early riser but I do not wish to disturb my wife’s sleep at 5 AM. Here’s the bare frame built as part of the chassis flipped down for clearance check. The bed frame and its expected mattress height of 8″ clear the ceiling by mere inches!
When the bed is not in use and in the upright, stowed position, there’s a 62″ flip-down sofa in place of the bed! Hmm, the only missing item is a computer workstation. I need one to design the next RV while camping. Okay, maybe the booth dinette will have to do for now.
Curb Side Exterior Aluminum Skin
Like the previous design, the RV is fully covered with aluminum skin. I don’t use rivets except maybe for a few strategic locations. I wanted a smooth exterior look. Can’t wait to buff her up and give her a clear coating. Oh, how this baby will shine!
The following pictures show the curbside slide-out in operation during a fit check. I have limit switches on both the extend and retract operations of the slide-out so I can set where the slide-out will stop.
Street Side Exterior Aluminum Skin
The entire street side slide-out is graced with a huge 60 ” x 36″ window. Like the previous design, all windows are double pane with dark limousine tint for maximum comfort.
When not in full hook-up mode, the door panel is fully closed and locked. The entire waste storage area will be tightly sealed all around with 1 1/2″ Styrofoam insulation. I plan to add a 1 1/2″ Styrofoam panel with cutout holes for water spigot connection and waste drain port so that even when the flap is open, the waste storage will still be completely sealed just in case I am camping with hookup in the Winter.
Windows fit checks
I’ve ordered these windows months ago based on the initial design calculations. They were very expensive but their quality is top notch. They were also non-refundable! The frames were built based on the initial dimensions while the same dimensions were provided to the window manufacture. Steel was welded. Aluminum sheets were cut and mounted. Any mistake will wreck havocs into the design. So you can understand my nervousness for this step.
First up, the kitchen and the rear bath windows.
So far, so good. Aren’t they gorgeous? It’s just too bad that I am such a pitiful photographer. The pictures I took don’t do justice for the RV in real life at all. Next, the street side window.
There was a little hick up since the manufacture has used pan head screws in some locations along the edge instead of the flat counter sunk heads which has caused some fit issues. No matter, they were easily replaced. This huge window is gorgeous both from the inside and the outside. The double pane and a limousine dark tin features will allow you to enjoy the outside views in comfort no matter what the outside weather condition may be.
Checking out the newly installed kitchen appliances
Let’s boil some eggs, shall we? Since I am not constrained by counter space, I installed a 21″ three burner range. My wife loves cooking and I love to eat. We are a match made in heaven. There’s still plenty of room for a full size microwave next to it. There is a 20 lbs. propane bottle in the slide-out storage accessible from the outside. I did not want to risk tethering the rubber propane hose to the slide-out fearing there’s a remote chance of slicing the propane hose. Years of working on airplane has taught me to leave no room for error when it comes to safety matters.
Plenty of 120 VAC outlets for the small kitchen appliances. There’s another four outlet box in the storage area accessible from the back of the slide-out and the through hole on the counter. The through hole on the counter allows the TV and the microwave to be mounted on the back of counter with all power lines hidden from view.
Kitchen Storage Galore
Pots and pans storage racks ready for action! Utensils are stored on the top drawer. There’s even a pull-out 13 Gallon trash bin right next to the kitchen sink.
Testing, testing…calling all LED’s
I am very particular about my interior lighting. The “warm” color has got to be just right. I simply can’t stand the “greenish” tone from many of the LED lights claimed to be “warm” color. I bought and tested many different types. Most ended up in the trash bin! To pass the visual test, each LED was mounted about 3 feet above my head, I then held a page of white paper with texts and pictures from a magazine. The page has to be easy to read and the paper does not reflect harshly to my eyes. I then look at my own skin tone, I shouldn’t look like a gremlin with greenish skin tone color. Then, it’s a pass! Could it be anymore unscientific and easy? The tests were conducted at night so that sunlight wasn’t interfering with the test. Yet, so many have failed the test and subsequently relegated to the trash bin!
I was looking for a true warm color of about 2700K – 3000K which would be closest to the familiar incandescent lights and the LEDs must have a very high brightness. However, a lot of the available high brightness LEDs tend to be in the “natural” white with a greenish tint. Some even flicker intermittently due to overheating when operating for an extended period of time. This issue manifests itself quite often with the round bulbs encasing in a plastic housing since there’s so much light is concentrated in a small area without a means to conduct heat away effectively from the LED bulb. So, I tend to stay away from this design.
I had quite a few quality issues since almost all LED were originally made with little or no quality control. I threw away quite a few LED bulbs and LED tapes before I’ve found one LED tape that has met my visual criteria and had a very good operational reliability. As for quality control, I am my own QA. I cut and discarded any defective sections that I’ve found. Not a happy camper with that but I don’t compromise on quality.
What I ended up doing was building my own LED lights from the selected LED tape using another part vendor’s Aluminum casings. It took a bit of time but it’s something I was happy to do. Here are what I’ve ended up with.
The warm color lights has a clear transparent cover to provide maximum brightness. The casings were 1 Meter long and made of Aluminum so that it can dissipate the heat effectively. The RGB mood lights and the light bar in the street side slide-out have oyster white covers to soften the effects. The mood lights have a remote control for changing the color and dimming. Both are indirect lighting at a 45 degree angle, hence the requirement for high brightness. In a small confined space, it is important not to subject your eyes to intense direct lighting so that you don’t feel like you are in a torture chamber. I wanted to “flood” the interior with a nice and even indirect lighting for a comfortable feel. Each of the light bar is 1 Meter long (or roughly 3 feet 3 inches) , although, I do have some that are 1/2 Meter long, too. As tested, the 1 Meter warm color bar draws about .87 Amp at 11.9 VDC or about 10 Watts. The 1 Meter RGB mood light bar averages about .362 Amp at 11.9 VDC (4.31 Watts) for each primary color (RGB); however, when all colors are on at max brightness, the light bar will consume roughly 10-11 Watts max. Perhaps, it’s a function of the LED chip controller? In any case, I’ve made a bunch of these.
This easy to reach light switch from the outside is used to illuminate the stair step for safe entry at night.
There are two light bars to flood the curb side slide-out with a warm and even light. They have separate switches to allow you control the amount of light desired in the interior of the living quarter. The reflected light from these light sources will cast an even tone throughout the living area of the RV.
The street side slide-out has its own light bar with an oyster shell cover to soften the effect since the area is small. I don’t want any harsh light overhead while I am enjoying dinner or working on my computer. The dinette will be doubled as a working desk. The 45 degree lighting angle will help to keep the light out of the direct field of view vision.
The kitchen sink has its own light bar directly overhead embedded into the base of the overhead cabinet so no direct light shining to your eyes yet the sink will be fully illuminated.
I plan to have two rows of indirect mood lighting on each side of the ceiling medallion, running the length of the RV at the middle of the roof. Each set will point outward to the side walls of the RV. When on, the entire interior of the RV will be illuminated with a pleasant light color of your choice. The ceiling medallion is still in-work so no picture yet.
Diamond in the Rough
Here she is. A blank canvas ready for furnishing and painting.
There are four sets of ceiling lights, each consists of a pair of light bars mounted on each side of the ceiling. The light switch at the kitchen sink controls the area in the rear. The next three sets are controlled by the switches at the electrical/battery storage box. Each ceiling light bar is 1 Meter long projecting light at 45 degree angle to the ceiling. See how nicely they illuminate the interior of the RV without any hash light directly at your eyes? All the lights have their own switches so that you can control the amount of light desired and to control your energy consumption in case you are boon docking.
Looking toward the front
- an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind
It’s been a long journey. It started out as a hobby to satisfy my itch for traveling and to ease myself into retirement. However, I’ve found out that I could not stop working! I’ve approached this project with the same work ethics and mental discipline as I have always been in my previous employment. Along the way, I’ve learned the values of failures as opportunities for improvements and the continuous mental capacity to learn new skills. The project has been quite a challenge in terms of design complexity and the physical demands it would take to fabricate the first article. Unlike many projects that I’ve done in my previous employment, the one luxury that this project has is TIME. Without a hard deadline, every design aspect, no matter how small, was hashed out in details for an appropriate solution as evident in the final outcomes. These design details took time. However, years of working for an aircraft manufacturing company has taught me well on how to deal with complex designs. Patience and focus have always yielded the desired solutions. I am quite happy with the compactness of this design, although, I think I have far exceeded the design weight goal of 3,000 lbs. Some last minute changes in frame structure, addition of new furniture and cabinets, bigger wheels, and some large appliances may have helped pushed the design past the weight goal. Did I forget to mention that this baby will have a nine cubic foot dual-mode propane/electric refrigerator? At the last estimate, I think my baby is already at 3,800 lbs. and counting! Ouch! Drop that donut, girl.
As you can see, I am almost done with this design. I intend to complete it shortly so that I can scale back on the working schedule to prepare for the running season again. There will be one or may be two more blog updates where you can see the final design all decked out with fine furniture, appliances, and all LED lighting. As far as electrical design goes, the design is centered around two modes:
- Full hook-up or generator power so that you can use the available 120 VAC electric to run air conditioning and electric heating together with all appliances, or,
- The 12 VDC battery mode whereas an inverter will provide 120 VAC for small appliances. The refrigerator is a dual mode running on either propane or electric. All lightings are LED and run on 12 VDC battery. There is a provision for an extra propane gas valve at the base of the refrigerator. This extra gas port is reserved for a catalytic gas heater, furnace, or both. I am leaning toward just a catalytic heater. I haven’t thought about solar panels and the RV does not have the space for a generator. A generator will require frequent accesses for refuel and maintenance. I don’t want to stuff the generator into a spot where it would be exceedingly difficult to service. For now, the generator will have to be in the tow vehicle. As far as solar goes, the electrical design can easily accommodate the solar option. The solar panels themselves will require some planning. I will work on that later if I feel like I need to have one.
So what’s with the “Obsession”? Well now, as you’ve known, I have missed out on a deal for a tow vehicle. As a result, this project was conceived. However, I’ve been thinking about designing my own tow vehicle using a commercial truck chassis. Uh oh, here we go again. I can envision the reaction from my wife. As tolerant as she is, I may have pushed past the boundary with this one…but I can’t get it out of my mind. If you are curious about the design of the tow vehicle, please go back and look at my first post on the Yellowstone project: Building the Frame Part I. I’ve envisioned that it would be something that will be used for sightseeing and exploring the primitive campgrounds and will allow you to overnight for a couple of days, if necessary. I have a design concept on paper and I have been looking at the commercial truck chassis available. Although I like the chassis offerings from Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, GM, etc., I haven’t been able to find a suitable 4 x 4 commercial truck chassis. I guess “4 x 4” and “commercial” normally don’t go together. May be I will call up the Big Three or the Big Five and see if they will work with me. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like I haven’t gotten hung up on the phone many times before!
Well, if “4 x 4” and “commercial” don’t mix, the military is certainly not shy about it, I can surely envision this bad boy as my tow vehicle! It’s not exactly what I have in mind, but the aggressive design philosophies are inspiring. I can just see a camo color scheme on my little RV to match with it. Right now, I just hope I don’t have to join the Army to drive it:
Motor Trend’s: GM, U.S. Army Unveil Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 Fuel Cell Truck
- Concept of operations – …describing the characteristics of a proposed system from the viewpoint of an individual who will use that system.
The other day a friend of mine who is still in the rat race came over for a visit. He was quite taken by the design, however, he was puzzled and asked “Why a tiny travel trailer?”. I took the opportunity to explain to him the concept of a retired person being the middle of nowhere, you can press a couple buttons, then presto, a luxury home to stay in for few days! When you’re ready to move on, just press the buttons again to pack up and head to the next exciting destination. He was deep in thought for a moment then spoke excitedly: “I can totally see having this at my employer’s parking lot for five days then tow it home on Friday night for the weekend. They have a large parking lot that practically empty most of the times.”. You see, my friend commutes up to two hours one-way to his place of employment and over the years, it has really taken a toll on him. Hmm, how many other uses can this Tiny Home have?
It’s been quite a lengthy post. Due to the compressed working timeline, I won’t be able to do incremental updates. The next post will be the final design looks. Check back to see how polished she will look in the end. You won’t be disappointed. Only the finest materials and furnishing will be used. In the mean time, I am making preparation for the next project while finishing her up – Designing a tow vehicle. If you have a favorite chassis to recommend, please do so. I would really appreciate if you would share your reasons for the recommendation so that I can better understand your view.
See you next post.
Options, options, options,..
Since most of our travelling will consist of just the two of us, the dinette seems under utilized. I am thinking of other uses for the street side slide-out space. Here are some of the considerations: