This is going to be a bit of an unusual post because it’s mostly a reference page for anyone planning their van conversion. It began on my forum when one of the members, “Falcon” was planning his conversion and the first thing you have to do is lay out a floor plan for basically how you want to arrange everything. He was a master of MS Excel so he used it to make floorplans that moved all the components around so that he could see which one gave the very best use of available space. You can read the whole thread here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/Thread-FloorPlans-Layout-drafts-requesting-input
When converting a van, the first and most important decision you have to make is where will the bed go, across the back of the van in front of the back doors, or along the sidewall. Sometimes the decision is easy because you’re too tall to fit across the back so it’s not an option. Most vans are 6 feet across, but many vans have plastic trim work that take up a lot of room inside the van and nearly all vans curve in from the floor so that they are much narrower at the roof than they are at the floor. The only way to know if your specific van will allow you to sleep across the van is to decide how high you want the bed to be off the floor and measure it to know it’s exact width.
So how high off the floor should your bed be? It’s a hard balancing act between two needs:
- You must be able to sit on the bed without hitting your head on the roof, that gets old really fast! If you have a high-top it’s not an issue, but if it’s a regular low-top, it’s a really big deal! When you’re deciding how much headroom you need, be sure to take into account the thickness of your mattress. Some people get 8-10 inch thick mattresses but I have to wonder if that’s wise, a good quality 4-6 inch pad should be all you need and save a lot of space.
- Next, you need to balance headroom with a desire to have the most under-bed storage you can get. Preferably, your bed will be high enough to get at least a 5 gallon bucket under it and ideally a Rubbermaid or Sterelite plastic Tote. They make it easy to organize your things and then slide them in and out from under the bed.
When deciding the height of the bed, be aware that if you have windows they are almost always the widest point so you may want to build the bed high enough so you are sleeping level with the windows–but be careful you don’t hit your head!
Even if you’re too tall to sleep across the van you still have one more option. By making the bed extra wide you may be able to sleep on it at a diagonal. I made the bed in the shell of my pickup 48 inches wide, which is the width of a piece of plywood so construction was simpler. I was easily able to sleep at a diagonal with plenty of foot and head room. My dog slept in one corner and I kept a duffel bag full of clothes in the other. Because I had a huge amount of storage room underneath the bed, which I organized with Rubbermaid Totes, I felt like that was the most efficient possible use of the space.
A word about constructing your bed. Nearly anyone can figure out how to build a bed out of 2x4s and plywood. Almost all hardware stores will cut the 3/4 inch plywood to the dimensions you need for your van. All you need to do next is to cut 2x4s the length you want the bed off the ground and use 2 1/2 inch deck screws to screw down through the plywood into the 2x4s. Be generous with the legs and put some as support in the middle of the bed as well. If you don’t have a circular saw, the hardware store will cut them for you, but they may charge. You can also get a hand saw and cut them by hand.
Once you know the location of the bed, everything else can start to fall into place. What you do next will depend mostly on your carpentry skill level. The best possible use of the space is to build your own custom design like Falcon is doing. That way everything can be exactly what and where you want it. But I know many of us simply can’t build our own because we either don’t have the skills, time, money or tools to do so. Fortunately, you still have some good, cheap and easy options:
- Plastic totes and drawers. If you can’t build your own these are an excellent choice. They are light, usually cheap and greatly help to organize you. Highly recommended!
- Used furniture is another great choice! Items that work really well are desks, dressers (I have a friend who used dressers as the base for his bed) book or display cases, kitchen or bathroom bases and many other kinds of used furniture. Once your bed is in the van and you know the size of the space the furniture has to fit into, start searching thrift stores, garage sales and used furniture stores for just the right things.
As you’re designing your van I encourage you to make use of vertical space. Many conversions I see have nothing higher than 2-3 feet and they lose a lot of space they could have gotten back by finding or building taller units. You have to find a balance in this that works for you. If you use all the vertical wall space you might start to fell claustrophobic and closed in,especially if you cover over the windows. But then you might not–we’re all different. What feels terribly confining to one person, might feel cozy and pleasant to another. Build to suit yourself!
Ultimately, the best way to design your van is to study different pictures and videos of them on the internet until you find the one that grabs you and you’re sure it’s what you want. At the top of the page on my website are menu buttons, one of them is “Van Conversions” pull it down and I have many different examples there.If you have the time, skill and tools you can then build your own. Because no two vans are exactly the same, you’ll have to make some slight modifications as you build.
However, even if you can’t do the build yourself, you still have another option and that’s to have a handyman do the build. Once you find the floorplan you want, the actual build is fairly basic carpentry that any good handyman can do. If you have pictures of the build, print those out and give them to him as a guide. All you have to do then is ask around your friends and co-workers if they have a handyman they can recommend.They may not be able to do the solar, 12 volt or even plumbing, but the basic build should be simple for them.
The floorplan below is what he decided would be the one he used. In a future post I’ll show you the actual build he did of his van and you’ll see it looks very little like this! I think there is an important lesson in that: balance is required in everything. It’s important we have plans for how we’ll build the van but there also has to be some flexibility as we actually do the build. Just like there are two sides of the brain, the logical, reasoned, engineering side (this is a perfect example of that) and the artistic, intuitive, touchy-feely side. Both should be involved in your design as much as possible.
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Here are some thing I use and recommend to vandwellers:
RV Patio Matts: Reversible RV Patio Mat Multi-color/Brown 9′ x 12′
Hnad Pump to put in a Sink: Hand Pump for a Sink
Coleman One Burner Stove I Use: Coleman One-Burner Propane Stove