Van Wifi: Ubiquiti NanoStation, Ubiquiti airGateway, Tycon Systems DC to POE Converter

The best resource I’ve found for improving WiFi range on the road is this guide on Private RV Wi-Fi and Making a Better Park Connection by Outside Our Bubble.

The guide and video take you step-by-step through the process of setting up a Ubiquiti NanoStation and a Ubiquiti airGateway. The guide recommends the Ubiquiti NanoStation Loco M2 and the Ubiquiti airGateway Wireless Access Point. I ended up buying the more expensive Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 and Ubiquiti airGateway Installer.

The M2 has double the antenna range of the Loco M2. This is probably overkill, but I sided with making sure I had enough range for any park. When choosing, keep in mind that a larger antenna means more power consumption.

The Installer version of the airGateway offers a USB power input. I paid a little extra money for this hoping I could power both it and the NanoStation from a USB source, but, as I expected, USB isn’t powerful enough to drive the M2. USB provides enough power to set up the M2, but not enough to pull in a WiFi signal. The Installer version is intended to power up equipment from a USB battery pack just enough to allow provisioning. So, experiment failed, but I had a backup plan. Once I hooked up a Tycon Systems TP-DCDC-1224 24V POE Out 24W DC To DC Converter And POE Inserter, the NanoStation had all the power it needed to pull in WiFi from afar.

If you get the Installer version, note that you must toggle a setting to get the same user interface referenced in the Outdoor Our Bubble guide, which uses the non-installer version of the airGateway. By default, the Installer version shows a minimized interface with fewer options. Changing a setting (I forget which one), reveals the full interface seen in the guide. For RV and van use, I’d skip the installer version and get the cheaper version without the USB power input.

The NanoStation is weatherproof. I mount it to a small length of 3/4” PVC pipe that tucks into a socket on the roof rails. From its perch, it has endured months of rain and snow and wind without incident.


Minivan Sunroof Fan Made from Corrugated Plastic, Muffin Fans, and a Dowel Rod

I don’t want to cut a hole in the roof of my minivan to install a Fan-tastic or MaxxAir fan. Everything I’ve done to convert it into a camper is reversible. I can return the van to stock if need be. Plus, the ceiling is full of lights and air vents I’d have to cut around, and a roof fan would occupy valuable roof space I’d rather dedicate to a solar panel.

The van is well-circulated by a pair of Endless Breeze fans placed in a second row window. When I have the back porch tarp deployed, the fans are protected from rain. I can’t always open the window or deploy the tarp though. On really cold days, I like to keep that second row window closed. In stealth camping situations, the tarp is much too large and conspicuous to deploy.

A roof fan is an ideal way to ventilate in all weather. It doesn’t require a rolled down window or a tarp. Since I can’t cut a hole, I decided to turn the sunroof into a roof fan. I filled the sunroof opening with a sheet of white corrugated plastic and then cut openings in that sheet for four USB-powered muffin fans. The muffin fans are designed for ventilating AV cabinets. They are light and low profile enough that the corrugated plastic surround is sufficient to support them–with help from a 1/4” dowel rod I had laying round.

I wish the fans were reversible with a switch. Changing the air direction requires unscrewing the fans from their chassis, physically flipping them over so that they blow the opposite way, and screwing them back in. I decided to have all four fans exhaust from the van, mainly because I was lazy. I’ll probably change one pair to intake from outside and exhaust into the van to establish a circulation loop.

The flush mount style of the fans allows the sunroof to close over the top of the fan assembly. Currently, rain protection for the fans is provided by another sheet of corrugated plastic clamped to the roof rails. When I’m camped, I clamp this sheet in place over the fans. Once I put solar panels on the roof (I’m currently using a suitcase panel), the front-most panel will shelter the fans from rain.

I use two AC Infinity Airplates that house two 120mm muffin fans each. They are chained together and controlled by an inline Off-Low-Medium-Hi switch. They are very quiet. Low is barely audible. Running them overnight on low has been sufficient to avoid window condensation.

The white corrugated plastic allows light through the sunroof. It acts as a diffuser. I worried I would miss having an unobstructed sunroof, but the suffuse ambience of the filtered light appeals. Enough sunlight gets through to keep me in touch with the circadian march of my surroundings.

A couple USB muffin fans, a sheet of corrugated plastic, and a dowel rod make for a cheap and practical ventilation solution. The only tools needed are a razor and a screwdriver. This can be done even cheaper by buying individual muffin fans instead of the fancy Airplate enclosures.



The Things of Van Life

I collected many of the things I use in my minivan camper into an Amazon idea list. I use all of these products, many of them daily, and recommend them. I continuously update the list to reflect what I’m currently using. As things break or otherwise leave my life, I remove them from the list.

This Amazon wish list collects items I want to add in the future. I’m planning to expand the solar system, add a catalytic heater, build a luggable solar generator, and add a spin washer.

Tarp Awning System

The awning system for the front and back porches consists of silver tarps clamped to the roof rail with ball bungees. Trekking poles, paracord, and stakes hold up the other end of the tarp. The guylines use a McCarthy Hitch, which is like a light trucker’s hitch employing a slip loop and a slippery half hitch. This hitch is easy to adjust and offers mechanical advantage.

The roof rails are extended with 3/4″ PVC pipe fastened with hose clamps. Simple and cheap. This allows using bigger tarps and centering them over the sliding side doors. Cross fittings are located at the back of the rails for use as antenna mast mounts. Eventually, I will paint the pipes black to match the factory rails.

This system has held up through big storms, including the ones slung our way by Hurricane Harvey. It keeps the Texas summer sun off, making for a pleasant outdoor extension to the van’s living space.

And here’s the front porch featuring a moon chair and a messy collapsible table. Yes, that bucket is the bathroom. 🙂

Mattress Insider RV Mattress

While shopping for a mattress for the van, Mattress Insider caught my eye because they offer cot sizes as standard. There’s no need to make a custom order, just pick the size from a dropdown. After checking their reputation on some RV forums, I decided to take a chance on an 8″ thick 30″ x 75″ mattress.

Three months later, I have no complaints. It’s a comfortable mattress. I have a litany of back problems, and this mattress works for me.

Optima Yellowtop Battery

The side and rear doors of the minivan are power assisted. After a couple days of camping, the starting battery is flat from door opening. Starting batteries provide cold cranking amps in a quick burst, not sustained loads. They aren’t designed to be run flat and recharged over and over.

So, I installed an Optima Yellowtop battery. It is designed as both a starting battery and a deep cycle battery. It has more reserve to handle more door opening and can deal with repeated discharge and recharge.

A WirthCo Battery Doctor battery isolator isolates the starting battery from the 160Ah house battery in the back of the van. The red 4 gauge wire runs the length of the car, connecting the starting battery to the house battery via the isolator.

The button marked PUSH is an override that allows charging the starting battery from the house battery. The starting battery must have some charge remaining for it to work. When my old starting battery ran flat from door opening, it was too discharged for the override to work. I’m curious how the override will behave with the new battery.

Tea Time in the Van

I've used Zojirushi thermal bottles for a couple years and like them a lot. The action on the cap is smooth and the flow is just right. Hot drinks can go all night and still retain enough warmth for them to be satisfying in the morning.

I recently added the Uniox to my van routine. It holds enough to almost fill the Zojirushi. A compact pairing.