VAN LIFE TECH

This page contains details of the van life tech we have in our little home. If I’m honest our van has a ridiculous amount of technology in it! For some, van life is about escaping the world, the screens and the tech that seems to be taking over every day life. I wish I could say that was the same for us but our van is essentially a tiny smart home on wheels!

So what’s so smart about our van? We can control most things in it from our phone, which means we can be miles from our van and check everything is ok. It also means when we want to turn the lights on we don’t have to walk the two paces to the light switch and can stay cosied up watching Netflix! Yep, we’re that lazy!

WHY HAVE A SMART CAMPER?

What’s with all the tech?

There’s a few reasons we have so much technology in our van. The first is it’s Will’s job! We work on the road and for Will that means we not only need reliable internet and computers to work on but he also needs some test gear.

Will’s job involves writing software for smart home systems, therefore, when we’re on the road he needs a way to test the code he’s writing. At one point we had three different systems installed in our van for testing, thankfully we’re down to just one now!

The second reason for all our van life tech is it helps us look after our van. On our roof, for example, we have tiny security cameras so we can check on our van when we’re out exploring. We can also check what’s happening outside if we’re in bed and hear loud noises. We can turn all our devices off remotely if we’re running low on power and we can open a fan to cool the van down ready for when we get back to it.

The last reason is Will loves all that stuff! Why do it the hard way if you can use some kind of gadget instead?! Being immersed in tech for his job it’s not surprising he loves having it in our little home too!

about van bathroom
Camper van power management
Touchscreen in van showing how van life tech can be controlled for each area of the van

POWER MANAGEMENT

Our van is pretty power hungry. We don’t have any gas in our van and instead we cook on induction and use the heat from our engine to get hot water. Our van has 500w solar on the roof and we also charge our 300ah lithium battery as we drive.

We like to travel in winter and regularly get wet, miserable days (in England especially!) so solar power is not always an option. When our battery is low we kill the power to any van life tech we’re not using. We do this with KNX relays that are connected to our Savant system meaning we can control the power to devices from the touchscreen in our van or on our phones. A DIY alternative would be to use TP-Link sockets. They come with their own app so you don’t have to crawl in to cupboards to turn things on/off.

We can cut the power to each device individually and we also have ‘low power mode’ where we can turn them all off (and back on) in one go. We can control power to the following:

Induction Hob

Even in standby mode our Cookology Induction Hob uses a small amount of power. For more info on power usage see our Pros and Cons of Cooking on Induction article.

Hot Water Tank

Our Isotemp water tank can act as both a calorifier (using the engine heat to warm the water) or a standard immersion heater. If we’re plugged into shore power we use the electric heating element for hot water but turn this off when we’re off grid. For more info see our How to Get Hot Water in a Van article.

Heating Trace Wire

Our heating trace wire defrosts our external waste water pipes in winter. It works on a thermostat so comes on when temperatures dip below 5ºc, but to save power we usually turn it on first thing in the morning to defrost anything that’s frozen in the pipes overnight. For more info see our Winter Van Build article.

Smart Home System

If we’re really trying to conserve power we turn our Savant smart home system off and control everything the old fashioned way. This turns our touchscreen off and the host that links everything together.

Security Cameras

We have 4 Hikvision security cameras mounted on the roof of our van. We can turn these on/off as needed.

Water Pump

If our van isn’t being used or we’re very low on water we turn our Shurflo Revolution pump off.

Music

We have Gallo speakers in our cab and in our living space, as well as an amp. We keep the power off to them when we’re not using them.

Amazon Echo

To be honest our Amazon Echo is usually off as she uses a lot of data if we’re travelling in Europe. When she’s on she can control our lights and tell us useless information!

HOME CINEMA!

Ok, home cinema might be a slight exaggeration! Think projector, speakers, dimmed lights and maybe some popcorn if you’re lucky!

Our mini smart home system has a little scene programmed in so we press one button and it dims the lights, turns on the speakers and fires up the projector.

We use a Yaufey mini projector mounted on the underside of our bed (our day time ceiling). It’s fixed with velcro (yep, high-tech but it means we can take it outside too) and we use a Roku streaming stick to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.

Our Gallo speakers provide the sound, although the projector does have a speaker built in too if you don’t have another option.

We project straight on to the wall of the van so don’t need a screen.

Van life home cinema

MUSIC

Copper Gallo speakers installed in our van

During our van build we decided to upgrade the speakers in our cab and add some to the living area of our van as well. We used Gallo Acoustics Micro SE speakers as they’re really compact but give off a great sound. These connect to our amp and we can play music from our phones as well as streaming services and radio.

If you decide to upgrade your speakers it’s also possible to connect them to your van’s existing radio/music system instead of an external amp.

We’re delighted to be authorised stockists of Gallo Acoustics Speakers and have selected a small range that’s perfect for van conversions and campervans. Head to our shop to view the range.

LIGHTING

We use 12v dimmable LED bulbs in our van. They’re wired using KNX back to our light switches near our side door. We can also control them from our van touchscreen, on our phones or using Alexa (when she’s turned on).

A good DIY option to control your camper van lights from your phone would be the Shelly RGBW2. This is a small device that works over wifi that you wire your 12v lights to and can then use their iPhone app to control them. This module allows for control of 4 lighting circuits so is perfect for a van. It also displays energy monitoring on the app so you can see how much power your lights are using.

SECURITY & SAFETY

We have a few different bits of tech in our van to help improve our safety. One thing I would definitely recommend including in your van build is a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. This is essential if you cook with gas or have heating installed.

We use a battery powered Nest smoke alarm which detects both smoke and carbon monoxide. It has its own app which lets you know if there’s any issues but my favourite feature is the motion sensor night light. It gives off just enough light so we can get around the van at night without needing to turn a light on. Ideal if you wake up needing the bathroom!

A few months ago we installed a Ghost immobiliser to our van. This stops our engine starting up without the correct code meaning it’s much harder for someone to drive off with her! Ghost immobilisers communicate to the Engine Control Unit and use buttons already in the van (such as the centre console and steering wheel) instead of a separate key pad. This means our van is safe from key cloning, hacking and even key theft.

Finally, we also have small security cameras mounted on our van. There are three on the roof and one near our front bumper. We can view these on our phone so if we’re away from our van we can check them if we’re worried. They’re mostly used when we’re inside though and hear strange noises around us, and even then it’s usually nothing!

We use Hikvision covert pinhole security cameras that are discreet, waterproof and give a colour picture in low light. We view our cameras through the Savant app but Hikvision also have their own app as well.

All of the above van life tech links together through our Savant system. This is essentially a hub that pulls in all the devices and lets us view and control them from anywhere. As well as the above items we can also control our Happijac bed lift and ceiling fans.

Savant is a smart home system used in houses, hotels, on boats, and now in our little home on wheels! It’s a system Will uses within his job but unfortunately it’s not a system that can be installed without a qualified programmer.

Savant touchscreen in our van showing how our van life tech links together on one screen

BATTERY MONITORING

Victron battery monitoring screen

None of the above would be much good without electricity! The bulk of our electrical system is from Victron. This comes with its own app to allow you to monitor battery levels, consumption and production. Unfortunately this doesn’t link in to our Savant system (yet!) but we have a control panel in the kitchen to monitor this, as well as the Victron app.

It’s so handy to be able to monitor this and it’s definitely worth the extra pennies to ensure you can. Not only will it prolong your battery life by ensuring you don’t run out of power but it also helps with power management too. For example, on days when your battery is full and there’s plenty of solar get all your devices charged up whilst you can!

The Victron system also shows us our fresh and grey water tank levels.

VAN LIFE TECH ARTICLES