VanLife: Custom camper build continues with bed platform, storage, kitchen


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Erin Lawrence

vanlife, camper van, custom build

The epic van build continues! I’ve been remiss in not posting an update about how far we’ve gotten on the camper van project. Truthfully a busy summer, then freezing cold and snowy weather in October has put us behind schedule. Plus, we’ve found that it’s guaranteed that any time you need to start a project in the van, there’s always one more thing you need at the home improvement store.

We started this project in June 2018 by tearing the former work van we bought used down to the studs. Read how all that went here.

Here’s where we’ve gotten…

July 2018 – Flooring installation in camper van

vanlife, camper van, custom buildWe started with flooring, to provide a good base for the overall build. We debated the merits of various types of flooring; basic plywood, wood laminate, vinyl plank laminate and vinyl roll/linoleum.

We initially got some advice from a dude at Home Depot that vinyl plank set over a 3″ foam board insulation (Owens Corning C-300 Extruded Polystyrene Rigid Insulation ) would be a good durable choice, so we bought some. After getting the underlay down, (3″ to provide good sound barrier and insulation) we started laying the planks and quickly realized that despite what Home Depot dude said, the 3″ foam was not a good substrate for the planks. Plus, the particular flooring we got began splintering when we installed it. Back it went.

vanlife, camper van, custom buildWe went with our backup plan; linoleum. We found a nice wood look vinyl roll for about $100. Using some special adhesive, it rolled out over the foam board, and we weighted it down with weight plates and left it overnight. It turned out pretty good, and the vinyl roll actually has a bit of texture to the wood look so it looks and feels pretty nice.

Insulation – Pro spray foam

After much reading, and some debate, we opted for spray foam insulation. We had read that it’s possible to do this yourself easily, whether you choose foam board insulation and stick it to the walls with adhesive, or buy (so many) cans of spray foam insulation. When we added up the cost and time involved to try to take care of this (and read that it’s actually possible to warp the metal sides of the van with the heat from the expanding foam!) we opted for a professional spray foam job. It took a lot of phone calling to find a company that had the van/truck experience and was available to do it for a reasonable price. In the end it took just a few hours at a northeast Calgary shop, and cost us about $700, and we feel it was money well spent.

August 2018 – Design considerations & Under bed storage

Even as things were starting to happen in the van, we were still making design modifications to the van.

vanlife, camper van, custom build

Laying out our kitchen options with cardboard. Spray foam visible in the walls.

We knew the bed was going to go longways at the back (heads at the rear doors), with under the bed storage for camp chairs, camping gear, and golf clubs as well as all the mechanical elements. We had designed the kitchen towards the front, and opted for two bench seats in front of the bed. We were struggling with how to incorporate a table, and frankly still are.

Hubby Roger, a master hobby woodworker put in a slat bed frame, bolting it into the truck frame, and supporting it with divided cabinets underneath. we used plywood for the cabinetry underneath and 2x4s for the bed frame. There’s also space that’s been left for a wall unit beside the bed to hold clothes and things, but that’s still a ways off.

Electrical, plumbing, power

We’ve purchased a battery, (Soneil 12V 100Ah) and it will eventually connect to the solar panels. We’ve also got a whole host of gear that will power and control our set up:

  • Blue Sea Systems m-Series Battery Switches
    Blue Sea Systems Insulating Cover for MaxiBus
    Blue Sea Systems MaxiBus
    WirthCo 20090 100 Amp Battery Isolator
    Baomain ANL-100A Electrical Protection ANL Fuse 100 Amp with fuse holder 1 Pack
    Maxxair 0004500K MaxxFan Smoke with Standard Remote
    ACOPOWER 40A MPPT Solar Charge Controller 100V Input HY-MPPT Series HY-MPPT40 + MT-50 Solar Charge LCD Display
    Blue Sea Systems ST Blade Fuse Block – 12 Circuits with Negative Bus & Cover
    Rupse Overload Protection 6 Gang Waterproof Car Marine Boat Circuit Blue LED On/Off Rocker Switch Panel Digital Voltmeter + 12V Cigarette Socket + Double USB Power Charger Adapter (Rocker Switch+
    Sug 3000W(Peak 6000W) Pure Sine Wave Inverter DC 12V to AC 110V 120V Converter for RV, Home, Car Use

Seaflo 12V DC 1.2 GPM 35 PSI 21-Series Diaphragm Water Pressure Pump for Caravan/RV/Boat/Marinevanlife, camper van, custom build

How to safely transport our dog in the camper van

We also wanted to leave a space for our dog to rest and ride safely in. Here Roger and I agreed to disagree over the size and configuration, as well as the location. There’s a shorter, wider area under the bed that will eventually have a door on the front where our rescue pup Rainie can travel. I preferred a tall and narrower configuration, but since I’m not the woodworker, I acquiesced.

September 2018 – Ikea Kitchen installation

When it came to the kitchen, we both agreed that an Ikea kitchen was the nicest looking, simplest and most cost effective option.

We chose white cabinets with a high gloss finish, opting for a 3 cabinet configuration on the driver side wall, and a single, double wide cabinet on the passenger side. The driver’s side cabinets house a 3-drawer unit, a second three-drawer unit behind a door and an open cabinet that will eventually house the fridge. The passenger cabinet will have a built in sink, plus a fresh water reservoir and grey water reservoir.

We opted not to put in a stove, choosing instead to get two single-burner induction cooktops that can be stored out of the way.

We also chose overhead cabinets too, though once we got the base cabinets in we very quickly realized the typical kitchen overheads are far too big and wide for a van. we will be returning them and opting for another custom build option, TBD. PLUS ...FIND OUT HOW TO EMBRACE A SIMPLE LIFESTYLE IN A BUSY WORLD. WE'LL TALK TO AUTHOR AND ADVOCATE BROOKE MCALARY ABOUT THE SLOW MOVEMENT.

Maxx Fan installation, Roof Deck & cargo box

We ended up going down a rabbit hole researching the Maxx Fan installation. Do we get it done professionally? Is it DIY friendly? Roger is up for almost any task, so he was game to do the installation, however cutting a hole in your van is pretty intimidating and I was leaning towards getting pros to do it.

The clincher was that we couldn’t find any reputable installers to do it. There were a few places that say they do it, but when they just don’t return your calls, do-it-yourself starts to look good.

In order not to damage the roof, you need a bit of a stable platform to work from. A sheet of plywood would probably do, but that’s not Roger. After spotting a huge cargo box on Kijiji for about $100, that touched off an idea. He repurposed some aluminum into rails for the roof and installed a small roof deck and a spot for the new-used cargo box. The deck also provided a space to work on the Maxx fan from.

The fun but unnecessary roof deck plan ate up some time and delayed some of the interior work. maxx fan installation, camper van, mercedes sprinter, dodge

Then a massive October snow storm hit. Subzero temperatures and 3 feet of snow meant it was too cold to work; particularly because the adhesive required for the MaxxFan, Sicaflex, needs to cure at very particular temperatures.

By mid-October it was finally warm enough to re-attempt. Roger cut the hold in the roof, and then quickly realized while dry fitting it, that the roof of the van’s ribs meant the fan wouldn’t sit flat. There was no moulding or anything included with the fan, so we were left to puzzle out a solution. A special flange was found on Amazon, but it would be weeks before it arrived, and with a gaping maw in the roof, there was no time to waste.

Roger did some more research and found a PVC moulding solution and crafted a special collar for the fan, sealing it well with Sicaflex. Once that was cured, in went the fan with a lot more Sicaflex. So far, so good. Then we ran the wires across the ceiling and back to the control panel in the rear.

Kitchen counter installation, with flush mount plug + USB

That’s where things are at. The kitchen counter went in this weekend and it looks outstanding! We found a pre-made herringbone acacia countertop at Lowes (about $200) that was big enough to do the main kitchen and the passenger side too. Hallelujah!

Roger also found a cool flush mount dual AC plug with two USB ports, so we inlaid it into the counter top and it looks great and keeps things neat and tidy.

 maxx fan installation, camper van, mercedes sprinter, dodge , kitchen

Up next… Solar panels, fridge, walls, lights

With the majority of things electrical now in, we’ll wrap that all up by putting in the wiring for LED overhead and under cabinet lights. We’re ready to put in the walls; plain white paneling but with a few chic design touches.

Roger is working on finishing off the under bed cabinet, both front and back, and finding a solution for a table. He’s also got his eyes on creating a hidden storage cabinet for stowing valuables, but he won’t tell me anything about it!

We also still need to purchase our solar panels and the fridge…they’re maddeningly much cheaper in the US, and don’t ship to Canada, so a short road trip might be necessary.

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