How to Live in a Conversion Van

By Jason Ebacher

 

So here I am, the proud owner of a ‘92 conversion van, rust free. It really needs an interior detailing job and a muffler. The power windows lock and seats all work… Cruise control doesn’t.. All in all I feel I got a steal on this van for $1000. Needs some minor work like change all the fluids. I will also change plugs and give it a tune-up. There are some minor repairs to be made. But for the most part it’s in great shape.

Stealth:
For me stealth means being able to camp almost anywhere, in urban environments or a campground. In either situation it just looks like a van parked there. In a camp ground it may be odd there is no tent, but many people camp in their vans. In the urban environment, stealth just makes sense. You can go anywhere and fit right in with a standard van converted in a stealthy manner. And that’s my goal, I want to be able to go anywhere and just be seen as a standard van parked there, wherever it may be. I want to limit my run-ins with others that don’t understand what vandwelling is about. It makes my life better, their lives better, it’s a win-win! My reason for stealth isn’t because of shame, it is to hide the fact I’m in there, to avoid being bothered by cops or others that feel that vandwelling is not right. If they don’t know, it won’t matter.

The bowl idea came to me when I saw the one we had under the sink. I like stainless steel, so easy to clean. So, I went to a home improvement store and found a drain pipe with a bit to shorten it so I could fit it over the microwave.. Dremel tool helped there, and in cutting the drain hole in the bottom of the bowl SO for under $10 I have a stainless steel sink that looks really professional and really stylish. It’s fairly needed to cut the hole in the bottom and a really good thick one that was about 6″ long, I cut it down to about an inch and epoxied a plastic bilge pump hose to it. It fit right inside the drain pipe. I then slathered some 5 minute epoxy on it and put them together and held them till it set up. After it cures it’s very strong, leak proof and works very well.

Cook Stove: WalMart $20 two burner 7k BTU each burner. I didn’t know if it was enough BTU but when we made supper on it we found it to be more than enough.

5-6 Day cooler:it was on sale for $25, the color matches seats for storage or for beverages while traveling!

Tables:found 2 oak TV tray style folding tables at WalMart for inside the van. Nice, heavy duty, and fold flat for storage. They are to eat on and/or hold the laptop etc.

The Kitchen: (a mixing bowl) and drain is finished. Kitchen stove is mounted and gas cylinder located below the cabinet. Counter top (parquet oak flooring) is completed including backsplash. Heater/Furnace is mounted, Microwave mounted, Water tank in place waiting for pump. I am using Kerosene to heat my Van, not a cooking stove but heat that requires no electricity, I have heated houses with kerosene heater like this for two winters, they are 99.9% efficient and don’t stink except for when you turn them off then they put out a small amount in fact I sleep while its running. I put a microwave in my van, the reasons were simple: easy, quick meals and hot water. What I did was bought a smaller model the little 800 watt ones are fairly compact but still large enough for me to cook a plate full of grub. The other advantage is 800 watts is fairly small load, a hot plate for instance is 1200 watts and takes longer to cook so it wastes more energy. And yes as someone else stated, when not in use store stuff in the microwave . We place stuff like paper towels in ours so they don’t roll away and come unrolled. Works well. When you first lay out your arrangement in the van, you quickly find yourself utilizing space much more efficiently. Inches make a difference in a van. The other advantage of a microwave is less dishes dirtied, so less water used for clean-up. So in my book, a small microwave is absolutely necessary. I have a 2 burner propane stove, too.

The Bed: I have the plans all laid up for the bed and supports, the side for 3/4″ steel square tube that will sit flush with the 2×4’s.. Then there will be 3/4″ particle board over this to make the platform.  This design will allow for maximum storage space with maximum strength with no other supports beside the side rails. Right now the bed is an inflatable air mattress.

Also have battery box designs figured out.. I wanted to distribute the weight in the van evenly.. so, since my kitchen and other utility pieces are on the drivers side two batteries will go on the pass is kind of unused any ways.. the one in front of the wheel well will also double as a bed side table.. The inverter will go on the battery box in the rear of the wheel well.. and if this isn’t enough battery power with two batteries, I will make a third battery box for the drivers side behind the rear wheel well. If three deep cycle batteries aren’t enough.. I will have to rethink it. But with 300 plus amp hours of storage it should be fine.

Battery Box:
Wired in the 4 gauge wiring from the battery to the first battery box, fused it and also put my isolation relay on it. Wired the relay second battery box (it isn’t built yet but the lines are ready for when it is). Hopefully 2 batteries will be sufficient for my electrical needs. My batteries are the biggest deep cycle batteries that Wall Mart stocks, 115 amp-hours each. Hopefully it will suffice. If you’re not handy in any way, go to a car audio shop that builds their  own custom speaker boxes. They can build you a battery box, vent it ,carpet it, and do the electrical work, for a few hours of labor. You don’t have to custom build a container for them.Inverter: Got a 1550watt inverter for the van, it has been ordered, should be here in a week 🙂

I found some fabric that is perfect for blackout curtains for a $1 a yard. I bought 10 yards. Made curtains for the rear windows and one of the side windows. They are double thick and block out the light from a 60 watt bulb 2 inches from the shade. They work really well.

Divider curtain separating driving area from living area.

 

Media Center:
I’m calling this the media center panel or media panel. It  fits in the windows frame housing a 19″ LCD monitor and a pair of speakers that sounds good and were free, someone gave them to me working just fine.. they are just computer speakers..

This panel we made from 1/2″ particle board and basically was designed to fit the window and allow the screen to sit vertical as the walls of the vans slope in so it’s basically a L shape panel. The front face and then the lower leg that goes in and rests against the little ridge on the windows where the vent windows slide on. Some still have operational vents also.

Then we traced the speakers and LCD monitor on the panel and cut them out with a jig saw and fitted them. The fit on these items is very tight so they are pressure fit into this panel. We decided to cover this panel with cloth to match the curtains in the rear of the van. We left a little gap at the top of this for ventilation and we will sew up a little ruffles curtain for the top of them to allow air flow and no light escaping.. We will also do this on the bottom to allow air to flow into the van through the vent window but not allows light to escape the van.

Why a desktop computer? I have it, it’s already paid for, it’s expandable, and more future proof vs. a laptop, parts are much easier to get and replace… The list could go on and on…

Originally I was going to go with a laptop, but after considering all the pros and cons I decided a desktop would work fine, with a lightweight powe supply in it to conserve power, no reason to have a 450 watt power supply when you can get by with 250 watt.

Roof Vent:
vent that only sticks up about 3-4 inches. It has a over-hanging lip all around to keep rain out and also had a aerodynamic front part that was sloped nicely. It really looks like it belongs on a car vs. a house. Kind of hood scooping looking. It was a soft rubber-like plastic kind of like a rubbermaid container. They came in grey, black, and brown, it was $6. My van nearly matches the greys shade, grabbed it and took it home for brainstorming. Well after many ideas, and a few trips to other places and looking online I finally figured out how to make it all work.. I cut a hole in the roof for the vent, epoxied a screen in the vent to keep bugs out.. placed the vent on the roof and sealed it and screwed it to the roof draw), that they had at walmart they were $12 but what I did was ripped them apart and molded the casing, rewired (hardwired them to 12v) and basically made the two fans into one that would work and still look good.. I could have made it work with one fan, so the second fan was all for looks and keeping it clean looking.

Going To The Bathroom
For the most part I plan on using public restrooms, but for the instances when you just have to go, and don’t have access to a public bathroom, I do have a portable toilet solution. I found mine at a “fleet farm” store. It’s a 5 gallon pail with a toilet seat on it. I will use this for number 2s, with a bag liner something that is dry. Afterwards I can tie it up and dispose of it later. For urine I have a Port-a-johny, it’s a small pee bottle, you pee into it and seal it up. I also debated on the idea of a true “port a john” and decided that it was more inconvenient to have to dump the liquid from this device than it was to segregate the different types of waste.

The only thing I have concerns about would be when #2 comes out in a liquid form (diarrhea). I think the best advice there is to buy good trash bags to line the 5-gallon bucket with. I plan on lining the bucket all the time for ease of dumping the waste. The other strategy is doing a sawdust toilet or using kitty litter in the bucket. This will allow both wastes to be done in the same device. Using a plastic garbage bag liner is still easier as the 5-gallon pail device doesn’t seal totally so scent may get out. I really like the kitty litter idea. Use scented kitty litter and dump it when needed. Easy, fairly cheap compared to a true “port a potty” and easy to dispose of the waste as it will all be a solid.

Using kitty litter and shaking the pail when finished may yield better results. If you have a cat you know they usually cover up their waste. For them it is probably a survival mechanism, to not allow their scent to escape. Pay attention, nature really does provide the basics.

Cheap or Smart?  I in no way think you’re being “cheap” when living in a van full time. I think it is smart! Americans in general believe that bigger is better and they generally are very wasteful.  I believe we should only take up and use what we really need. I know single people that have 3000 square foot houses and only use the living room, bedroom, and kitchen: what a waste. If you really look into other cultures such as Europe, their houses look like efficiency apartments compared to the average American home. Our mini vans are the size of many RVs over there. Do you really need all that space in a house and all that material stuff in it? What things do you use daily, and what things do you use that you would not need if you didn’t have the house? If you look at those items it may surprise you greatly. I know everything I use daily will easily fit into a van or be easily replaced by other means. For instance, a toilet. I have a portable unit, but I would prefer to just use public rest rooms instead. So there are trade-offs. I do think living in a van full time would save tons of cash, or allow you to work less and play more. Is that “cheap”? I don’t think it is. If you live in a van full time (even if you owned land to park it on) you would save tons of money in property taxes and mortgage costs, insurance costs etc. Heck you could be totally self-sufficient and not even have power or utility bills. In today’s world you can get internet through your cell phone company and have satellite TV anywhere, even while you drive now!