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Working on it

Caravan thoughts part 2: Design aims

Here's part two of my self-build caravan thoughts:

Design aims. The first three are the only really essential items - if I can tow it and use it to sleep comfortably in the dry then everything else is a bonus! :)
  • Light enough to tow behind a Morris Minor (ie. < about 650Kg gross weight).
  • Water tight.
  • Comfortable bed (preferably a good sprung mattress).
  • Based on the trailer-tent chassis I bought the other week.
  • Roof low enough when towing to see over it through the back window (ie. no higher than about 4 feet).
  • As narrow as possible both for ease of towing and storage.
  • Not excessively long (though length is less of a problem than width when towing).
  • "Interesting" design - should look different from other caravans. "Cute."
  • Fun to design and make.
  • Built to last and able to be maintained/repaired (life measured in decades rather than years).
  • Good quality materials and fittings - not the usual tacky fibreglass, melamine coated chipboard, weak plastic clips, etc. you find in commercially-built caravans.
  • Window 'glass' made from Perspex or similar due to weight considerations (though that doesn't mean using ugly plastic caravan double glazing units).
  • Not very expensive to build (less than a good second-hand commercially-built compact caravan).
  • Traditional construction methods where appropriate (eg. mortice and tenon joints in preference to metal angle brackets and screws).
  • As quick and easy as possible to pitch and strike.
  • Able to leave the bed in its 'made' state while travelling.
  • Able to pitch and strike in the rain without the contents getting wet.
  • Preferably all rigid walls - no canvas/nylon fabric components to make, seal and keep from rotting when they get wet.
  • Good, controllable ventilation.
  • Good natural light.
  • Good, low power consumption artificial lighting, including reading light(s) over the bed. Comfortable light temperature and no flickering.
  • Internal 12V battery to power lights, phone chargers, etc.
  • Battery able to be charged from the car (while engine is running).
  • Lock on the door for security.
  • Able to sit up and read in bed (ie. at least 3 feet headroom above bed).
  • Shelf next to bed for alarm clock, water, etc.
  • Ideally somewhere to hang wet outer clothes when you come in from the rain (including muddy boots) where they won't get the floor wet and muddy.
  • Decent amount of storage, ideally accessible from inside, but external cupboards are acceptable for things that aren't needed constantly.
  • Some insulation (though it doesn't have to be up to modern commercial caravan standards).
  • Possibly secondary-glazing on some or all of the windows.
  • Small kitchen area, preferably indoors.
  • Able to stand upright in kitchen area (ie. at least 6 feet headroom).
  • Kitchen should contain:
    • Sink with cold running water and ideally a draining board.
    • Places to store my Primus No. 5 paraffin stove, meths, matches, a small fire extinguisher, cutlery, utensils, pans, kettle, crockery, and at least some food.
    • Somewhere to hang towels.
    • Somewhere to hang a small bin bag.
    • Somewhere to put soap next to sink.
    • A heat-shielded cooking area with a metal tray to catch accidental fuel spillages.
    • At least one food-preparation work surface.
  • Flooring in kitchen area (if indoors) made from something comfortable to bare feet but which is cleanable if it gets muddy.
  • Ideally somewhere to stand up while getting dressed (this can be the kitchen area if it's indoors).
  • Internal water tanks to minimise pitch and strike time, removable and small enough to carry so they can be filled/emptied easily.
  • Preferably levelling accomplished by something quicker than conventional caravan corner steadies.
  • Definitely no awning due to the time and hassle involved!
  • Ideally a table that you can sit at while eating (probably sitting on the bed rather than dedicated chairs).
  • Reasonable ground clearance while towing.
  • Steps to get in and out easily if door threshold is high enough to make them necessary.
  • Possible to move it and set it up single-handed.
  • Would be nice if it had a decent resale value if I decided in the future to sell it on.
  • Mains electricity hookup is not necessary.
  • Preferably no big Calor gas bottle to carry around and keep filled.
  • Somewhere to store spare wheel (doesn't have to be easily accessible).
  • Would be good if the kitchen had some kind of fridge/cool box, ideally self-cooling rather than needing to beg campsite wardens to keep freezing ice packs for it.
  • Would be nice to have windows over/next to the kitchen sink and stove area.
  • Some kind of ventilation near the stove, designed in such a way to remove fumes without blowing the stove flame around.
  • Some clothes storage space inside the caravan (doesn't need to be an entire wardrobe).
  • Storage space inside caravan for toiletries and towel(s).
  • Some misc storage space in the caravan (for books, medicines etc.).
  • A heater would be nice for cold-weather trips.
  • Possibly some kind of lift-up upper tailgate to provide shelter outside door from rain/sun.
  • Integrated driving lights and number plate (ie. not a trailer board).
  • Would be nice if there was enough room inside to entertain a couple of guests.

The subject of my next post or two will be the design I'm working on. I've managed to come up with something that fulfils nearly all of the above aims. Internal storage space is still a bit of an issue, and the heater and self-cooling fridge are probably not practical without either mains electricity or a Calor gas bottle to power them (even if I found room inside the caravan for them). It will certainly look interesting and be fun to build!


May be way off here, but do you get enough sun for solar panels to be of use in this project?

When I was travelling about 6 years ago, I had a lantern that ran off rechargeable batteries, and I was a given an adapted battery charger that had a small solar panel as a lid. So I'm just wondering...
It's possible. I'm hoping to recruit the resident lighting expert (wibble_puppy) to design the internal electric lights.

I've also been pondering candle lanterns. I'd love to have a wall-mounted gas mantle lamp because they give off such a lovely soft warm light and a fair bit of heat too, but the lack of suitable wall space, the desire to avoid storing large gas bottles in the caravan, and the possible accumulation of fumes in such a small space make it impractical.
I've also been pondering candle lanterns.

Very cool as long as mounted very securely! I like these.
I think those type are designed in such a way as to not cause a fire if they get knocked over in a tent. I wouldn't want to use an ordinary candlestick in the caravan.
Yes. Precisely. I get nervous around naked flame.

But the lantern types are rather excellent. I have contemplated these for taking away.