With the long, wet Oregon winters, getting out of town and spending some time on the road is what having a van is all about. Before taking off for our winter hiatus from the rat race, it was time to sort out some details in our budget van conversion. After a summer of playing as often and hard as we could, we were ready with our list of desired upgrades for the van.
Building a space to store our stuff was a high priority, but it was also time to actually put up the rest of the insulation and finish the walls.
To prepare for the reset, I pulled out everything and stripped the van down to bare walls. Ideally this would have been the time to get power and a ceiling fan installed. I was almost ready to bite the bullet and finance this one, but the waiting list at the local van fitters is substantial. In addition, the cost was a lot more than we were ready to spend. Buying a new van (and a house) meant no real budget for the conversion, leaving me with a can-do attitude, a pile of lumber, screws and a Milwaukee combo tool set to make it all work.
It didn’t take that long to disassemble the sink cabinet, bench and pull out the other cabinet, thanks to the fact everything was just screwed together with a drill driver. Sticking all the screws into a plastic bin for reuse later, and I started working on figuring out how I was going to suspend a ceiling.
At this point we only had Reflectix for ceiling insulation, so it was time to add the second layer of R-tech insulation. I learned my lesson with the spray glue (its a pain in the ass and will come off when it gets hot anyway) and just used Tyvek tape for the second layer of insulation. The wood ribs would serve to hold things in place.
After getting the second layer in, I had to figure out how I would attach the wall panels. I decided to replicate the walls and would bolt wood ribs up that I could screw into. I didn’t want to lose the head clearance though, so I found some cedar at Home Depot that was fairly inexpensive and low profile and started screwing it in. At this point I was also running low on self tapping screws, so I used some regular screws in some locations. Hopefully this doesn’t bite me in the butt too soon; I will probably have to replace or tighten them at some point..
The hard part was trying to decide how many ribs I needed. Did I mention I had no idea what I was doing? But sometimes you just make it work.
It turns out the answer is enough that the ceiling panel conforms to the shape of the ceiling. I didn’t have enough initially and the ceiling bowed in a few places. Removing the panels and adding a few more ribs fixed it.
I didn’t have nearly as many ribs in the walls.
The first time I attempted to do that walls they didn’t extend all the way to the ceiling. I couldn’t quite figure out how I wanted to run the ribs but I ended up throwing in the towel and just running beams from the floor up. This way I could actually run panels all the way to the ceiling. I actually could have added more insulation at this point since we lost a 1/2 of space on each side but I just wanted to get it done.
In hindsight I would have just run them ever 24″ instead of how I placed them, which was more based on the length of the sheeting I wanted to cover them with. Either way, we finally had some decent looking walls and a ceiling. The van feels a lot nicer with walls.
We also wanted to lower the height of the bed platform. Initially set with 40″ of clearance for bikes, it was much higher than it needed to be, and now that we had a ceiling we lost some headroom in the “loft”.
I had been concerned with fitting a DH bike in the garage, but as it wasn’t an issue, I decided to lower the bed a full two inches in order to have more head room with the newly added ceiling. The new version has 38″ of clearance, which fits all of our bikes on fork mounts.
I had to pull it all out to put the walls in, so I cut everything down two inches before reassembling it.
Adding a wood floor to the van
Then it was time to cover the industrial plastic floor with something a bit more homey. I had some panel flooring I bought off someone on CraigsList months ago, and installed it, ending with the bed. The bike garage was going to get dirty and we like having the utility aspect hauling stuff since I don’t have a truck anymore, so we left the back uncovered.
Adding the wood flooring wasn’t too bad. Measure, saw, check, file and check again. I’ve never installed the stuff before and while I did a decent job, if I had taken even more time, I could have made my cuts even more dialed. I found cutting things a bit long and filing it to fit produced the best results. Once it was all in I added a few screws to the wood panel underneath to hold it all in place.
Adding a kitchen and shelves
I wanted to add some wall mounted shelves for the galley but couldn’t figure out or find good references on how to install them safely. The last thing we wanted was to find ourselves in a bad situation where the wall mounted shelving is ejected and shot in the direction of our heads. I can control the van but I can’t control the driver behind me. I was also concerned about wall mounted shelves coming loose over time.
I finally found some inspiration online and figured out a solution I could easily implement. I’d connect the wall shelves to the cabinet that would make up the galley/ kitchen, and make it as one unit. Plus I could screw it directly into the bed to make everything solid.
There’s just one problem. While basic shelves are one thing, I’ve been hacking my way through this work and I really have zero experience with cabinetry. I wanted to make some pretty doors but at the moment I don’t have the time or patience. Ideally I’d take some workshops and join a maker space to learn how to do it right. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to acquire these skills, so instead the plan was to screw something together that would function as needed.
This was already build version two. Version three will involve a lot of beautifying, finishing and dialing in the rest but in the meantime, we have tons of trips and adventures to do and it will have to wait. The solution: put everything into bins and tubs and figure out a place for it all.
Pairing shelves with Rubbermaid tubs is pretty darn functional, but it feels a lot more industrial than I’d prefer. Most importantly though, we finally have a place for everything that needed a place. I haven’t bothered to finish the wood at this point; since it wasn’t finished it didn’t seem to be a good use of my time. The end result totally works and while I was going to change up the profile of the walls of the galley, they actually work really well as partitions, and I added hooks for jackets and gear organizers. I may even add a wall hanging shoe rack from Ikea.
We’re comfortable traveling, we can easily prepare food and everything totally works. I wish it was prettier, but I’ll make that happen when I can make the time. (unfortunately a lot of my free time is now sucked up by leading volunteer trail building efforts at Gateway Green in Portland.)
At some point I need to add that ceiling fan, so when I disassemble it, I’ll make sure I make it fancy when I reinstall it. I’ll probably rebuild the sink cabinet at this point as well.
Adding doors to the shelves and finishing it all would make it all look nice, but most importantly, I only have a few hundred bucks into this van conversion at this point. I should be able to reuse most if not all of the wood, but for now it’ll be a project for another day.
We also needed power for lights and to recharge our phones. I ended up just going to REI and buying a Goal Zero Yeti 400. I’m not 100% excited about this purchase but having lights makes a big difference. (will discuss our thoughts on it more in a separate post)
The major expenses to date for the van conversion have consisted of:
- The Milwaukee m18 combo tool set, $400 or so on sale at Home Depot
- Front seat swivel: $292
- Goal Zero Yeti 400: $450
- Water pump and sink stuff: $130
- High end rotomolded Canyon Cooler: $99-$229 (depending on size)
- Heatshield window covers for side windows and front window: $104
- Lumber, screws, insulation and other build materials: $400-700
I think at my last tally we’re still under $2500 for our adventure van build out.