Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Van: Start to Finish

Even though I have already posted about the materials/devices inside my van, I think it might be interesting to show you how it everything came together.

It all began with me researching the best price for a cargo van. I wanted relatively low mileage, everything working under the hood, and a somewhat stealthy body. I looked through local trading post advertisements,, and local Craigslist ads. I found the best deal through, which took me to a car dealership in Norfolk, VA. I bought a used Dodge 2500 cargo van for 4500 dollars. It only had 41K miles, so I considered this a great deal. I sold my old car for 5500 to these guys, so I made a little bit of cash after getting hit with all the dealership fees and taxes.

After I had the van, it was time for construction. I cleaned out the inside and started with nothing but the van walls and a plywood floor board.


My first job was to add insulation. I put in a layer of R-3 styrofoam insulation and cut it into pieces in order to fit the ribs of the plain van wall.

In order to keep the insulation against the walls, I used adhesive spray and cans of Great Stuff foaming insulation. This stuff is great indeed.. You can spray it in tight spots and it will foam up overnight and provide excellent insulation for gaps and cracks.

After this piece of work, I decided to put up some horizontal 1x3 "ribs" to both provide a base for the plywood side paneling and leave space to add R-13 fiberglass insulation.

To continue solving the problem of temperature control, I went to my all around handyman friend, Rob Stone's, house. He helped me cut a hole in the top of the van (he used a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade) for me to install my newly purchased Fan-tastic fan vent. Once it was set in the 14x14 inch hole, we drilled the screws through the roof and then used silicone caulk to weatherproof. This was put over the screws in the outside of the van, over the screws in the inside of the van, along the 14x14 cut. This amazing unit keeps me extremely cool throughout the summer. I couldn't live (comfortably) in the van without it. Some helpful friends and online companions have suggested created an "ice conditioner" using this fan for simulated air conditioning. I will be doing a bit more research on the topic before I dive into it.

After listening to some excellent suggestions by Rob, me and my head full of ideas journeyed up to northern Virginia to see my parents for Mother's Day weekend. Driving this beast on the roads of Washington, DC forced me to learn how to drive the van very quickly.

When I woke up Saturday morning at 5:30AM, me and my Dad started planning how we would tackle the van build. The sequence of events to follow exhibit the most productive day I have ever lived :)

List of materials bought at Home Depot that morning:
1. Three 8x4 foot plywood sheets
2. Two 8x4 styrofoam sheets
3. Six 2x4 foot boards
4. One pack of 2 inch screws
5. One pack of 1 inch screws
6. One DIY three-shelf cabinet
7. Two cans of Great Stuff gaps and cracks
8. One pack of 12 pre-cut fiberglass R-13 insulation

When we got back home, we started working on the floor. There was already an existing piece of plywood on the floor from when I bought it, but we wanted to put two more layers of insulation for excellent temperature control. After measuring, we cut the styrofoam insulation to act as a template for the plywood. We verified the styrofoam insulation fit the floor, drew the exact pattern on a piece of plywood, then cut the plywood with a wood table saw.

Here is the styrofoam on the floor and then the plywood put on top of that:

Me and my dad then screwed down the plywood with the one inch screws and felt we were well on our way towards makeshift camper van completion. So far, this all took place before lunchtime. After getting the thumbs up from my dad, we started on the insulation.

What we did here is stuff R-13 fiberglass insulation between the 1x3 horizontal ribs and styrofoam insulation. As my dad was putting the fiberglass insulation in the walls, I was using duct tape to create a seamless transition between the pre-cut fiberglass.

Since all the insulation is up, we are ready to put up the plywood siding. We used a piece of styrofoam as a template once again- then measured, cut, and secured the plywood with the 2 inch screws.

Using some of the excess plywood and boards, we designed a box for each wheel well. Before they were closed off, we stuffed them to the brim with R-13 insulation.

Wow, we are getting it done at this point! But hey.. where am I gonna sleep? Well what does pops and mom have in the basement? My old college dorm IKEA bed and mattress. Perfect!! My dad and I engineered an elevated bed frame with the 2x4 boards, secured it to both the floor and wall with 2 inch screws, then screwed the IKEA bed on top.

At this point, the structural foundation of the van has been completed. 

After this was finished we did a few more things:

1. My mom assembled the DIY shelf (which had over 100 parts and took over two hours) and we screwed it to the wall.

2. We used Great Stuff to fill up any gap or open space we could spray into and wouldn't negatively affect my storage space.

3. A mattress, sheets, and comforter were placed on top of the bed frame.

4. My parent's excess basement carpet was cut and put on the floors.

5. I set up some black drapes and a tension rod to separate the driver's area from the living space.

6. All of my previously listed materials (from my last blog post) were either stored, configured, or hooked up in one way or another.

So here is the current look of my mobile abode:

I would really like to thank my parents, brother, friends, and peers for all their hard work, ideas, and support... I couldn't do it without you all!



  1. This is flippin' awesome. This is the coolest web page I've seen all day. The only idea that immediately sprang to mind was putting the bed on a hinge so you could fold it up; but if you're using the space underneath for storage anyway that may be moot. So, uh, you're really going to be living in this thing? If you park it overnight at work, can we have a block party around your pad?

  2. Dude... as a skeptic... as someone who thinks perhaps too honestly that you've gone overboard with this green idea... I'm impressed...

    Hats off to ya man...

  3. Hey man, looks like you and your Dad did a great job with the sides and floor and your Mom did well too! Looks like it will be comfortable!

    I am curious if you plan to do anything with the roof as far as insulating goes.

    What other plans do you have for it?

    Well done so far!

    97 Roadtrek 170P "Taj Ma Trek"

  4. Excellent detail! This is really going to help others with DIY van homes. :)

  5. Gack - Some of my friends suggested a Murphy bed for space saving, but due to time limitations I had to get everything assembled within a day (the hotel I was staying in was going to be another 700 bucks the next day!). After I save up a bit of cash, I may make that part of my future van remodel. Block party around the van? Any time :)

    Rick - Glad I could help bring you closer to the green side :)

    Mike - Ahh.. the roof insulation. Yes, I do plan on making this happen so I have insulation on all four sides, but procrastination and SCUBA lessons are getting in my way. I will probably just insulate the top with styrofoam and Great Stuff since I don't want to take up any more headroom than I have to. My next big plan involves getting further from the grid by installing a 100W solar panel and MPPT charge controller on my roof. Any information or links would help!

    Heidi - Thanks! I really hope it helps others the same way the blogs and articles I read helped me. Having all these ideas to consider helps design the perfect personalized van. After the build and some more time at work, I would love to hit the roads like you and Mike!

    NomadRip - Thank you :) Suggestions to better it are always welcome.

  6. That looks like a little slice of heaven! I might be the slightest bit envious.


  7. Nice article...still living in van?

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