Hello! Today we wanted to share with you guys our steps so far in our van conversion process. We are in no way professionals or recommending this is the right or only way in building a van, we just want to share our personal experience so far! We had a dream, we did our research, researched on YouTube til’ the wee hours of the morning, and asked a ton of questions to other Van Builders. But the biggest thing we’ve realized for us to get what we want, the way we want it, is trial and error. The only way you can learn something is by doing it! We wear many new hats now; electrician, plumber, carpenter, fabricator…..
We purchased our van, new off the lot in July 2017. We realize that’s not realistic for most people and it’s definitely not necessary. We bought it to use for our past business and shortly after closed the doors to that business, then started dreaming up our build. I also want to add that we know full time van life is not realistic for most families either, but we’ll be the first to tell you that weekend van life is just as good! we’ve been doing it for the last year! Huge advocates over here for unplugging and getting out there as a family, no matter if it’s close to your home base, or on the other side of the country, just go!
After we made the decision as a family to live and travel full time in our van, our first big step was designing the best layout for a family of 4 to live in 96 square feet, comfortably! We only did two design drawings because we knew exactly what we wanted. Our main design points we wanted were;
- able to walk all the way through to the back doors
- as big of a kitchen space and as much storage space as possible
- comfortable sleeping arrangements for all 4 of us
- a bathroom with a door to pee in peace (and all the mamas said amen)
- Storage outside of the van for all of our gear, we’re an active family with many hobbies that requires lots of “stuff” that gets dirty. Ie. stinky climbing shoes, sandy beach toys, musty wetsuits. Yup, NOT welcome inside my home! We’ll see how my OCD cleanliness goes living in such close quarters a few months in!
VAN BUILD: PHASE ONE OVERVIEW
STRIP TO BARE BONES
Our 3500 was new so it had ceiling to floor plastic wall panels and Standard construction flooring. Our very first thing we did (We ‘broke ground’ in February) was remove all of it. BUILD TIP “ If your van has stock flooring and wall covers, hold onto them to use as templates down the road!”. So Why did we tear the van interior down to metal? When planning the build, it was extremely important for us to build something that could handle an array of different climates. We like freezing our butts off in the mountains just as much as melting in the desert. Stripping the van down allowed us to properly insulate the cabin to better control our climate, no matter what the conditions are like outside.
INSTALL CEILING FAN
You have to cut a 14’’x 14’ hole in your vans ceiling!!! This was one of the first things we purchased. We got ours in and were too excited to wait to install, so we installed ours during a few hour break in a northern california winter hail storm. We don’t recommend this! Luckily, Travis sealed it really well and to our surprise there were zero leaks. Might I add that a few weeks later when playing with the electrical and overhead dimmers, we accidentally fried our fan and had to exchange for a new one! Big oops, but we learned from it! I’ll also say that not one thing in our build has come easy for us! Everything has come with hardship and lots of learning lessons and frustration. When we get something right, it’s usually after a few tries, 2-3 Home Depot trips, blood, sweat, and tears! We went with the Air Maxx fan (clickable link)
You will notice on a lot of builds that floors are heavily insulated with .5’’ – 1.25’’ insulation board and braced with structural timbers. We did something a little different because ceiling height was important to us. I couldn’t image living in something you couldn’t stand straight up in honestly, so we sacrificed some floor insulation for standing room. The floor construction consisted of 4 layers. The bottom layer being reflectix wrap sealed with reflectix tape (reflectix is not considered insulation). We used the material to fill the uneven floorboard gaps and create a transfer barrier to the second layer which is .25’’ hardwood ply, secured directly to the floor board to give us a nice level working surface. For the 3rd layer, we went with 3mm Pergo Gold Flooring underlayment and secured it with 3M all purpose adhesive spray, to add a little more insulation and give the floors a nice warm/soft feeling. For the actual flooring, we went with a Vinyl lock in place system from Mohawk Floors. Install was a breeze and we are very happy with the product. Vinyl was a easy decision- lightweight, waterproof, stainproof, and for the most part very hard to scratch.
For Insulation we used a combination of Wool, Fiberglass, Board and Foam. Be prepared to continue insulating specific parts of the van as the project progresses. We found that wool and fiberglass were very easy to work with as the van has tons of little nooks and crannies. The material is easy to cut and stuff in hard to reach places. Insulation board was used on the larger window panels and secured with spray foam insulation. The spray foam came in handy for the tight hollow beams with little or no access. Overall I really don’t believe you can over insulate, its a bit of a monotonous task, but take it slow and do a through job. You won’t regret it!
Laying the foundation of the build is the absolute most import part, but to be honest, it was a grind. This is the part of the van build we were absolutely most nervous about. We never even installed a plug before, let alone design an entire off grid living system. After hours and hours and hours and hours of research, we started the daunting task. We started simple, marked where we wanted plugs (ac/dc) and created a very simple diagram. For this part of the Build we were very thankful for the van lifers that had already paved the way with great resources. (Not DONE)
WATER & PLUMBING
Being a family of 4, storage inside the van is essential. That is why we opted to store our tap and grey water outside the van. Both our fresh and grey water tanks are specially designed by (Insert Link) for a sprinter van which made installation a breeze. Our 22 gallon fresh water mounts up right next to the fuel tank and 25 gallon grey water tank mounts in place of the spare tire cage. We installed the tank with Aluminum Angle and flashing straps. For plumbing we used PEX. The lines are plumbed into the van and ready to be hooked up to the 12v Pump. Check out RB Components
Talk about trial and error when it come to building your first van. At first, we went with .25” sanded birch ply. We completely finished the walls, took a weekend trip and decided that we weren’t happy with it. We want our build to be extremely durable and last, and for us, .25” ply was too thin. Rookie Error! Our kids kick and throw things and we’re clumsy. We knew it would only be a matter of time before there was a hole in the wall. We returned from our trip through Utah and immediately ripped all the walls out and replaced them with ½” sanded birch ply. It made a huge difference and was worth the money and centimeters it takes away from headspace. So much more durable and sturdy (and soundproof… we’ll be thankful for all the soundproof help with our wild children).
STAY TUNED FOR, VAN BUILD: PHASE TWO….
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