In today’s world, the spectrum of how-to #vanlife is huge: you could go cheap, throw a mattress on a couple of milk crates, and call it a day, or drop a few grand and deck your rig out in all of the modern day comforts of home. Our van buildout fell somewhere in the middle, and at under $1,000, we managed to upgrade the milk crates to a savvy system of space-saving storage, wire-free lighting, and eco-friendly power without breaking the bank.
Check out Adam’s step-by-step buildout below!
- Strip the van completely. Tear out old insulation in the floor and remove all “utility van” accessories. Start with a clean slate!!!
- Address any problem areas.
- Insulate all cavities in the body of the van with fiberglass and foam insulation. (There are a lot of ways to do this, but this is how I did it).
- Wrap the entire inside of the vehicle with Tyvec. Tyvec is a moisture barrier, and will eliminate rust issues as a result of condensation.
- Insulate the floor and wheel wells. I used two layers of carpet backing material to provide cushion and R-Value.
- Add flooring material. Finish the floor by installing trim pieces by both the side and back doors.
- Now, with a starting point, lay out your floor plan.
- Build the bed platform. Leave a rough opening for a drawer and cut two holes in the back for storage you can access from the back doors. The underside of the bed is where a majority of our belongings are stored.
- Install the ceiling. I used ¼” plywood. It’s flexible, strong, light, and easy to install.
- Finish remaining insulation. I cut ½” foam insulation to fit each window cavity and then used spray adhesive to stick carpet backing material all over the walls to be used as sound deadener and added R-Value.
Now, with the bed platform in place and all the insulation complete, your van build out will take a very custom spin. Your layout decisions will cater to the functionality and purpose of the space you are creating. For Jess and I, storage and functioning workspace is what we needed most. I build a tall closet that is wide enough and deep enough to access easily and capable of storing a good deal of miscellaneous stuff.
Our cabinets, which there are only two of, serve as our food pantry, our kitchen, and our bathroom. In a separate location above the desk space there’s a small cubby that acts as our office supply space. Throughout this process, remember to be patient. Nothing in a van is square, level, or plumb. It’ll take some time to finagle and construct. Of course, no one can be sure that what you are building now will work for you later, but you have to start somewhere.
With the bed, closet, and cabinets in place, we found there was still a need for extra storage and seating. By installing a small bench seat with a flip-up lid, opposite the wall with the cabinets, we were able to achieve both. A small slide-out table (designed around the width and height of our Crazy Creek Leisure chairs) provides us the luxury to dine in front of one another, while still cherishing the small amount of floor space we have when the table is retracted. To cover the insulation on the walls, I again, used ¼” plywood to custom fit panels that gave the van a more finished look. Collectively we painted and caulked. Jess began to give the van the essential “homey touches” before the paint could even dry.
The final, perhaps most daunting, task was still ahead. To finish the walls, I needed to rummage some upholstery skills. Slowly, but surely, I spline rolled fabric behind the panels of plywood and used adhesive spray to ensure that overtime the fabric stayed. Dark gray fabric contrasted the white panels nicely. Finally, the ten-day project I had spent at least four months obsessing over, was finally finished!
Finishing the van was like turning a page in a book that leads you to a new chapter. There are still a lot of pages to go to complete the book, but it feels good to begin a new chapter. It’s exciting to think about the places our home on wheels will take us, the places we’ll get to go, and the folks we’ll get to meet. The van will serve as an epicenter for creativity, a spark of inspiration that will come and go with each new day on the road.
A big thanks to our boss, coworkers, friends, and family that helped us get rubber to pavement! A special shoutout to Pap for use of his shop, expertise, and humor, to the Daddio’s for the contribution of these awesome lights, and to Momma Ritter for her exceptional patience and sewing skills.
Like what we’re wearing? Check out La Sportiva‘s awesome lineup of clothing and footwear.