For our community who have been with us for sometime you probably realized that we’ve reworked the van. By reworked I mean to say stripped it down to the sheet metal and done a complete rebuild. I’ll leave the old build info below incase it’s still helping
What follows is the our DIY campervan lovingly named Dolores. A beefed up, solar, efficient tiny home on wheels. There is a comment box at the bottom if you have a question, just ask I will attempt to help if I can.
After many miles driven to look at vans listed on Craig’s List, we met a kind couple in Spring Texas and for 2000 dollars drove a 1994 GMC conversion van home.
I chose a conversion van for the items which were already installed. The high top roof for example is quite expensive and labor intensive to install. However, on this older van it has little to no influence on the final resale value. Basically there are parts you would not get if you bought a cargo van, which in a conversion van are free; such as the captain chairs, electric bed 12 volt television etc…
I removed the interior from the front seats back, cut out the old shag carpet and kept every screw, bolt, and panel many of these parts can be reused or re-purposed. After installing half inch plywood to the floor, using a countersink bit and stainless sheet metal screws, I then sprayed the undercarriage with undercoat to prevent rusting. The plywood was then overlaid with thick vinyl snap together flooring from Lowes.
The flooring was trimmed with aluminum threshold molding secured with stainless screws attached to the plywood sub-floor.
Our last build relied on a rock and roll bed. A metal frame folding bed which by means of electric motors returned to the only living space seating in the van. We grew tired of putting the bed up and down every morning and night. The metal frame squeaked when we rolled over at night. As such this time I build a permanent bed frame. Thanks to a 10″ memory foam mattress we now sleep like the dead!
Below the bed is a dedicated area for the batteries, shore power charge-controller, water tank, and lots of storage. We’re able to fit an easy up, three large storage containers, a small cooler, and container of chords, hoses etc…, our chairs, and a small propane grill. (note: the orange tape on the wiring loom dictates 120volt wiring)
As mentioned above this is our (Shore Power) charge controller. When plugged into power at a park, our home, or generator this device charges our batteries, and acts as our 120 volt breaker box.
All 12 volt devices such as our refrigerator, lighting, fans, fantastic fan, and charging ports are individually fused. The main power cable for the batteries is fused both in the battery boxes, and just before it enters the distribution block. An electrical disconnect switch, the green handle above the block, can be turned to cut power in case of an emergency.
300 Watts worth of solar panels along with 215 amp hours worth of batteries take care of our electrical needs. Aside from air conditioning everything can run off of solar, including the refrigerator which only pulls 3.7 Amps DC. I love seeing a happy battery on the solar charge-controller.
Our phones, Kindles, laptops, and other devices charge by means of USB ports all of which convert 12volt to the required voltage and amperage for each device. LED strip lights secured behind the valances about the bed and living spaces. LED reading lamps are positioned by the bed and cabinets. LED’s put off lots of light yet use very little power. With every light on we are only using .6 Amps DC.
The picture above also shows where we keep our clothes. 6 removable wooden bins serve as our wardrobe. Offering the volume necessary to pack two weeks worth of clothing.
A 12volt smart TV with DVD provides entertainment when it’s raining. In reality we hardly ever use the television. Lauren’s an art teacher, who did the painting of Delicate Arch you see on the side wall, aka the foot board of our bed.
A tiny sink and curtains bring in a since of home. The weather station on the wall doubles as a monitoring station for the performance of our refrigerator. I simply put the remote sensor in the bottom of the fridge.
Lots of cabinet space is a must for long trips. But with bad road conditions stuff gets tossed about. Everything has a place and is secured with shock chord. I used a kit from Amazon designed for kayak deck rigging. The small table to the side removes and snaps to the other side of the cabinet. An old track pole and a few modified snaps made for a solid adjustable support leg.
Small touches make a small space feel like home. A very good friend and neighbor of ours made this for us.
I’ll add more as time allows. Such as the generator box, basket wrack, AC cover, swivel seat base, curtain hardware, how too, etc…
Behind the seat/bed is our gear storage. To keep stuff from sliding around the plywood was painted with a heavy textured deck paint, and then trimmed in the same fashion as the front flooring.
Over the long life of this poor van a few water leaks had damaged many of the fiberboard panels. We live near the coast and planned to use this van to camp on the beach. This influenced the use of hardwoods, and marine grade electronics. Every fiberboard panel was rebuilt from hardwood and painted in an attempt to turn down the purple Joker interior.
With the floor and ceiling completed it was time to take on electrical. Understand that this unit was never intended to be more than 5-7 days off grid. As such there are 2 electrical systems a 120v AC system, and a 12 volt DC system. An RV charge controller is like a homes 120 volt breaker box , a cars 12 volt smart battery charger, and a fuse block to protect the circuits you install. The inverter turns 12 volt DC power into 120 volt AC pure sign wave which enables us to run 120 volt devises such as our refrigerator or computers when we are not plugged into shore power. I will be adding solar panels this summer to extend our off grid window.
The building of custom cabinets and instillation of the refrigerator, sink, speakers, portable toilet, and air conditioner/ heater brought the comfort level up to class b motor home standards. It was important for this application to keep as many components using 12 volt as possible, while keeping power usage low. Every bulb is LED, including the strip lights behind the cabinet valances. When we are plugged into shore power the 12 volt components run off of the charge controller as it charges the batteries. When off grid the 12 volt components draw power from the batteries.
It was now time for those personal touches, the silly stuff makes it fun. After all when you sleep in a van next to a 1million dollar RV don’t you want them to feel secure in their assessment of your abnormality? Our final build with cost of van came out to around 4,800 dollars. This included all mechanical repairs, keeping in mind I did all the work. The entire system including the air conditioner, charging, lights, television, and water pump easily runs off of a Honda 2000i. Under this load the generator only consumes 1 gallon of fuel every 6-7 hours Currently working on cosmetics we have removed the running boards, and will soon rework the AC unit, and paint the fiberglass high top. In short more to come.
In the attempt of better lighting and to make our little van feel more like a home a solid mounted lamp seemed a good solution. A trip to the Goodwill yielded a less than beautiful lamp for “3 dollars” which when taken apart and the horrible floral insert removed became a solid project base. The metal parts were sanded and painted with a black low gloss spray paint. All the electrical parts were reused. An burnt out florescent bub base “free” was removed carefully from the old bulb. Inside this base is two wires which where then soldered to the 3157 GM turn signal socket “2 dollars”, removed from a discarded headlamp junkyard harness. The socket was then super glued to the old florescent base and wrapped in some electrical tape. A 3157 LED turn-signal bulb from Walmart”10 dollars” was installed in the socket and the lamps 120volt plug removed then tying the wiring into the 12 volt power and ground source of my van with a fuse and a remotely mounted switch.
If you have questions, need help with your build, or just want to tell me how horrible my work is feel free to leave a comment. If you are planning on telling me my work is horrible and pointing out non-stop criticism with no positive input the send button for you comment can be found at the end of the toaster you should be currently taking a bath with.