Updated: Apr 29, 2021
First of all, the what is whatever you want and the why is because you want it. That is your first rule of thumb. After that, it is all about discovering if you should change your mind. I believe one should always keep their options open. Also, just because a nay-sayer says don't do it... well... you must decide for yourself. Since we are about to start a new conversion I decided to review why we do what we do.
So, why did we convert a van? Because we wanted to. Many folks have done it out of necessity and my hat is off to them. Way to make it happen! Some folks buy one already built out and kudos to them as well. Some folks don't go the route of a van at all, they buy big RV's. That's great! They are allowed. Some folks wouldn't sleep in a vehicle of any kind and choose a tent or a 5-Star hotel. The choices are abundant.
Now that that is out of the way. Let's talk about different ideas and products. Aluminum framing? Wood framing? Type of wood? Your choices are wide open. Aluminum is great, lightweight and depending on the kind, it is rigid. As far as costs go, well I have no idea... I have never used it. I like wood. Baltic Birch is an exceptional quality of wood in my opinion. It comes in different thicknesses based on your want. We used 3/4 inch for weight bearing items, such as the bed frame. We used 1/2 inch for some shelving and 1/4 inch for some wall covering in areas. The edges router nicely for a cool finished edge and on weird curves and shapes, you just grab the saw. Speaking of saws... you may want a variety. We happen to love Milwaukee Tools... Check out a portion of our collection in the photo below and then click that link for some deals if you need quality tools for your van build. Now mind you, some folks like Makita tools, Craftsman tools, Ryobi tools, Black & Decker Tools, Harbor Freight Tools... Again, your tools are your choice. I've used all of the above with success and still have all my fingers. So there is that.
Noise reduction is important in Van Conversions. There are plenty of options to choose from to accomplish this. When you first get your big sheetmetal box on wheels you will immediately notice the road noise. Don't fret - this is fixable. FatMat Rattletrap is one brand that works well, we used it. Compare the thickness and square footage then decide on your price point. From what I have read and researched, if you apply this to the bare walls of the van and the wheel wells, problem is solved. You only need to cover about 25% of the bare flat metal.
Insulation in a van is a HOT topic! We used recycled denim. I've been blasted on FaceBook for this choice and the fact that I stand by our choice. Here is my experience in a nutshell... We built out the van using Baltic Birch and Denim insulation. I ended up spending almost three months living in the van in the Seattle area. Our MaxxAir fan install was not sufficient and it leaked. It took me a few days to get up on the roof to stop the leak and once I did I just knew in my heart that we would be tearing the walls down to remove the denim insulation. Well life happened and we did not get around to checking on the insulation for about two YEARS. During our recent remodel we took down the wall covering to check for moisture and mold on the denim. Nope, Nada, Zilch! It was just as dry and fluffy as the day we installed it.
So, if you want denim - use denim. The R-Value is awesome and they have since come out with an even higher R-value than what we used. It has a higher R-value than Havelock wool and thinsulate. My suggestion is to not use fiberglass in such a small confined area. Unless you do not mind inhaling the small particles of fiberglass. You do have Choices. Havelock Wool is a high quality product and rather expensive in my opinion, I decided to splurge elsewhere. Thinsulate is also a great product, likely easy to install as it can be purchased in rolls and cut to fit. See, your choice. I included some links for you to check out the different types for yourself.
So, I mentioned the MaxxAir fan earlier and a leak. That leak was not the fault of the fan. That is all on us. Well, maybe a little on them because we used the sealant they suggested. After the leak, we removed the fan and replaced it using a bead of the sealant they suggested and then heavily applied some Flex-Seal sealant, that did the trick. Ventilation is important in the van and you also have options on that. I know nothing about the FanTastic Fan brand because once I found out the MaxxAir could be used in the rain my choice was made. We've been in a serious hailstorm and near a tornado during an absolute downpour with the fan open... no issues at all. A really great idea came to us while traveling... we need better Airflow. So we fashioned the ugliest window vent/screen and used it during our first coast to coast roundtrip of 2020. When we got home we modified the design and named it K.IS.S. Airflow - Keep it Simple. These screens are awesome for fresh air and no bugs. They are made from ABS, which is a lightweight durable material commonly used by automakers for car parts. The micro-mesh is No-See-Ums quality and the design acts as a rain shield if installed just right.
Poop! Yes, poop. When you've got to go you've got to go. Personally, I refused to have a van without a toilet. My husband suggested a five gallon bucket. HA! I researched toilets and ordered the one I wanted. Knowing we did not plan on having large water tanks in our build, the Nature's Head was my choice. No plumbing required. No frantically searching for a place to poop. No five gallon bucket. AND No SMELL! Seriously, I've emptied the poop container several times now and the only thing I smell while up close and personal with the poop bin, is dirt. Weird, we don't even put dirt in it. We use loose coconut coir. The urine jug is a whole other container and has a screw top lid for easy transport to a place to pour it out. Easy peasy and no bags in a landfill somewhere with my poop in it. Gross. However, if you choose to go with one that requires you to bag it up, you do you. There are several options - including a five gallon bucket.
Before closing out Part one of this limited series, my husband wanted me to mention another What & Why. Modular components. We built all our van components to be easily removed. Pre-Covid Darin was using the van as his daily driver back and forth to work. In Covid Darin used the van to do a few handyman jobs here and there. In other words, the van can be converted back to a work van within 30 minutes in order to load tools and materials if needed. Since our remodel, it is unlikely that we will have to dismantle because we put in linear actuators to raise the bed to the ceiling to accommodate whatever we need to haul in the van. But we kept that modular concept anyway, what if we decide to remodel again? Everything is mounted on all-thread bolts and wing nuts for the most part. He has a more detailed description of the hardware but you get the idea. If not, send me a message and I'll have him talk you through it.
Stay tuned for the follow up to this post, the follow up to the Ford Transit conversion for my mom and for our most recent travels.