I thought maybe it was time I put keyboard to blog and gave a little insight into just how we have got to the point we are today with the van. I still can’t quite believe we have her. It seems like it’s just too big of a thing, but she’s right there, parked up on the driveway waiting for adventure.
Since sharing this little dream I’ve had the most messages I’ve had about a project, and it makes me so happy that many of you are feeling inspired to do the same. Much like me, many of you always figured this would be a ‘tens of thousands’ job, but we are still in line to complete our project in a £6k budget (which includes purchase of the van at £2750). It is still, of course, a large sum of money. Not something we can find willy nilly, but as a family of four (5 if you count the pooch) and summer holidays abroad costing in the region of 2-3k in the summer, it feels like we will be saving so much money long term and actually having a better time in the process.
So, how can you do it too?
I’ll put it out there right now. We are no experts. This was a dream we had, and we’ve learned things every step of the way. Many people have done this for years, using different vans and even living out of them so it goes without saying, don’t take my word as gospel. The beauty in a process like this is that you can make what you want of it, and what matters most to us in our van might not be top priority for you. Make it feel right for you and you won’t regret a thing.
My plan in this blog is to try and provide a simple seven step process from finding your van to getting your van in a position for ‘the good stuff’ as I call it (that being the stuff you can actually see and get excited about!).
Buying Your Van
We spent a lot longer doing this than I thought we would. Both Kev and I are quite impulsive in nature, which can be both a good and bad thing as adults. I was concerned our excitement would get the better of us at this early point, but we are lucky to have a neighbour who spends all his free time playing with cars and motorbikes so we roped him in to help advise us on a few we wanted to look at. With us being a family of four, it meant we did need a larger van ideally. What we ended up with was a Renault Master (I believe it had 13 seats in originally) and when we did our research, these vans were highly rated for conversions. We drove a good few hours to have a look and the guy had bought it to convert himself and then got bored and ended up buying a ready made motorhome. This was handy as he had already taken out the seats which was a job saved and with pretty good milage for it’s age and no underlying concerns, our collective impulsive side kicked in and we bought her home with us. At £2750 we had a van that was partially cleared out already and in good working order. It goes without saying, make sure you go to see what you are buying and take it for a test drive. We saw 4-5 prior to this one and for various reasons decided they didn’t feel quite right.
Giving Her Some TLC
Once home it was time to give her a good clean and service. A few of the tyres weren’t great so we replaced those as well as the hub caps to get her looking smart. We also have a cage on the top of ours (which I LOVE!) so we sprayed that black along with the ladder at the back. This wasn’t hugely costly but getting her looking smart on the outside along with ensuring she was running well makes for an easy life once we get her on the road.
Strip Her Naked
I’d like to call this part therapeutic but I only saw the end point, I’m not sure Kev would say the same! But next is to clear your entire van. Ours had a semi built bed and some insulation but it wasn’t done very well so we decided to strip it all and start from the framework again. Our van needed to seat 4, and when we got her it had two seats in the back and two in the front. This left a real challenge in terms of creating a home to live in so we bought some new seats. A two seater in the front created three seats there and then we replaced the two seater at the back with a single one. We got these second hand but used the framework and bolts from the old seats and then had them properly checked over by a mechanic to be safe.
Plan Your Van
Designing a van is so much fun. The options are endless and with so much incredible inspiration out there it’s quite hard to settle on one idea. There is a fantastic page @plan.to.van which offers brilliant drawings of various vans with different needs. I also devoured Pinterest for inspiration. As I’ve said before, designing a van for two is a lot easier than doing it for four. We have so far changed design four times! I have to say though, I’m so glad we kept our minds open to new ideas as our final one, I ‘think’ is going to create a really flexible space. In terms of your planning, knowing your electrical requirements is a big one, as where you put your electrics will limit your options to changing things so just bear that in mind when planning. Other than that, have fun!
This was our nemesis. We watched so many videos of people doing this in various ways and really didn’t know which way was best. Our advice here is to speak to some van conversion specialists. There’s HEAPS of online tutorials on YouTube from people self converting but essentially, it’s always good to ask the experts. A lot of people use rock wool. Our concern with this was that it can hold up to 300 times its weight in water, so condensation could just sit in the wool and then potentially rot the van. We also looked at Cellotex, another thing people use, but with it being straight and not moulding to gaps and edges, it left gaps for condensation to drip down. This would end up under the floor boards, and again, rot the van. In the end we went for Dodo Thermal Liner. Self adhesive, flexible, metallised film with soft foam on the other side. It curves and moulds around all shapes in the van as well as providing heat and sound insulation in one. We also personally chose to invest in some sound deadening sheets on top just to remove that tinny sound you get when a van is empty. Finally, we stuffed the gaps with Dodo Thermo Fleece which is made from recycled plastic bottles. We also padded the gaps between the wall and cladding with this. This part is our most costly to date, which can feel frustrating as it doesn’t LOOK like much, but it really will set you up properly.
Insulation, ply wood and then laminate. Three steps to this part. Once we put the ply board down we actually used that piece to try and draw out our ideas before laying the laminate. It was handy to do it to scale and see if it would all fit. As it happens, we’ve changed plans twice since then, but this is a great time to get some tape out and have a play with space. Once you are happy you can lay your laminate, starting from one side over to the other. Kev used some additional no more nails to keep it fixed down as obviously there are a fair few doors that open leaving less edges to wedge the floor into. We made a bit of a saving with this as a friend had some laminate they gave us, but you can get this at a budget price as it doesn’t need to look particularly snazzy.
With your electrics as I mentioned above, you will need to know your plan in terms of layout and the electrics will need to be accessible. Ours began under our bed and have since moved to the centre of the van where we have a removable bench in front of it all. I recommend making a list of all the appliances you are like to want, and work out what is 12v and what is 240v. Anything that draws a lot of heat is likely to need more power. Buying an inverter is one thing I wouldn’t get second hand. Once you know what appliances are key for you, call up a specialist (we used a company that solely sells inverters) and tell them your list. They will be able to advise on the type of inverter that’s best and should also allow a little extra on top for safety.
Your cables will need running prior to insulation and after. Any that run over the ceiling with need doing first, then insulate, and those that run along the floor can be done after. I’ve attached an image Kev has sent to friends doing a similar project to explain the electrics (it makes NO sense to me of course) but apparently it’s easy to digest. Hope it’s helpful. If you want to get an electrician in to do this part, just be mindful they will need to do some before and after your insulation.
This concludes all of your prep phase. Once this is complete, you can start to think about cladding and building your space, which I will share on a separate blog. Our costs at this point were £4150, our biggest investment other than the van being the insulation which cost just shy of £500 in the end. I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. Here’s to adventures and memories to last a lifetime