First post. I've skimmed through this forum and already have some good ideas. I'm in the initial planning stages of a DIY van conversion. My wife and I have a popup camper that we've been using for 10 years or so. It's on the verge of falling apart. My truck is getting old too. Instead of getting a new truck and a new trailer we're both thinking that a conversion van might be the way to go. Our needs are fairly simple and I'm pretty handy. I'll outline my concept first, and then I have a few questions. It will probably be 9 months or a year before we buy the van.
I'm thinking we'd get a lightly used Ford E250. They seem to be a good deal, and the fact that the back is bare metal seems like a good platform to build on. My idea is to put a queen or king size bed in the back, but not completely in the back. I'd build it maybe 8 inches from the doors, and then make a headboard. That way we could have some storage built into the back, accessible by opening the doors. I need a place to store extension cords, tarps, and so forth. I would make deep drawers under the bed that open both to the front and back.
I do all our cooking outdoors, so I would not build a galley inside.
I'd like to make some sort of sit down shower. I have a shower in the popup, so I have an idea of what that would be like. Space is at a super premium in a van, so I don't know if that would work out.
I would not be extending the roof. It would reduce fuel economy, and mostly when we camp, we only use the camper for sleeping. It would be nice to be able to stand to dress, but I think we can handle that inconvenience.
I would need 110v. My wife has a cpap (breathing machine) for sleep apnea. I'm familiar with inverters, chargers and deep cycle batteries in our popup.
1) Is there room under the hood for an additional battery, and if not where do you put them?
2) Is there any problem cutting a 14" square hold in the roof somewhere to install an RV vent? I'm assuming there is bracing but I'm hoping there is a clear area for a hole that size.
3) Is it possible to retrofit tilt-out windows into the back doors if it comes with non-opening windows? I'm hoping for just removing the existing window and slipping in a replacement.
4) I have a Kill-a-Watt meter. I can measure the KwH that the cpap uses overnight. How do I convert 110v KwH into 12v amp-hours?
5) I have a small Norcold 3-way fridge that doesn't work. Assuming I can get it fixed, how is the best way to plumb the van for propane? I can manage the plumbing itself, but what kind of tank do you use, and where does it go? How much trouble is it to cut a hole in the side of the van for access to the back of the fridge?
I'm sure I'll have more questions. I'm going to look at a van this week to get a better idea of the dimensions and start drawing up some plans. I'd also appreciate any feedback on my concept, especially areas I might want to re-consider.
Interesting idea for a rig. I own an E350 15-Passenger van. Here are my thoughts -
No, there isn't any real estate under the hood for another battery. One thought for the battery and storage space would be to get a front-mount hitch receiver and put a platform/tool box that could hold the battery, hoses, cords, etc.
I don't think you are going to get anything larger than a double bed across the back of the van - queens and kings are too wide.
You should be okay with a vent in the roof. Since mine is a passenger van, its got rear air and some of the ducts run between my ceiling and roof.
For the rear windows, I'd first consider tint film. It is nice to pop them open to vent the vehicle. Here are some louvers that you might consider -
I had a set similar to these on a Chevy van years ago
Rather than deal with a complicated fridge, propane lines & tank, and vents/access through your van side, maybe think about a 1000W Honda genny (front box mount??) and two 6V batteries to have a bigger reserve. Then look at a thermoelectic dorm fridge. Its not ideal, but saves a lot of install work.
Overall, you might look at a cube van to stay with the Econoline chassis, or even a Sprinter. I think you will find you run out of space pretty quickly in a regular body. Either of these options would give you more height in terms of movement, your shower, and general space.
Good Luck! Let us know how the project develops!
1993 Ford E-350 pushed by a 1988 Wilderness 24' TT
I think you're better off buying an older class B already ready to go. A lot of work to convert on your own, but if you do, line interior with dynamat, great for soundproofing. I don't really agree with the post above about avoiding propane lines and using a genny. A fridge can run well over 30 days on one regular size rv tank, so you could save much more on gasoline costs to run a genny by using propane instead, and even use the small disposable bottles to do it. All of this depends on your amount of usage of the rv, of course. You have to consider the hot water heater as well if you want a shower, and propane is way faster and more efficient at doing that as well
I really like the Sprinter, but it won't fit in my carport. That's another reason for not expanding the roof of the van (or getting a used motorhome). A Sprinter is still an option though, especially considering the fuel economy. One important consideration for us is that we are replacing a daily driver car.
Good tip on the foot room. I remember that from driving them in the past, but I had forgotten.
There's so much to think about.
This morning I came up with the idea of buying a 4x6 utility trailer and building a "kitchen in a box" to pull behind the van. Probably a box with two compartments, where the second compartment was for dirty clothes. I could make a fiberglass box that occupied about half the trailer, and then the rest of it could hold the battery, propane (up front for weight distribution), grill, etc.
I'm liking this idea more and more. It would keep most of the "camping only" stuff out of the vehicle.
Research the Sportsmobile brand of van conversions for ideas. They are more basic and off road oriented which is more of what you describing.
Also research pop up truck campers for equipment ideas. One idea is using a compressor type refrigerator rather than a propane refrigerator.
For more battery capacity use AGM batteries since they can be mounted in more ways, even sideways or upside down. They do not need the venting needed for lead acid batteries.
I don't know about the more current Ford bodies but the older Ford vans had a factory option for dual batteries. The second battery fit on the driver's front end of the engine compartment. Also when they offered a diesel Econoline didn't they have dual starting batteries? Research where they located the second battery.
For insulation extruded polystyrene is a good choice. More R-value than fiberglass batt or expanded polystyrene - bead board. In the corners where the foam board is harder to fit supplement it with spray foam. Dow Chemical's Great Stuff comes in 3 regular styles plus a fire resistant model.
For the extruded polystyrene Dow Chemical's Styrofoam brand and Owens Corning's Formular brand are the two most common brands. Find a commercial insulation distributor for the foam. The typical lumber yard will only carry a couple of styles. The insulation distributor will carry several styles, sizes and thicknesses.
Tear Drops and Tiny trailers. Most of the teardrops have the outside kitchens like you describe. There is a lot of good information on this site but sometimes some of the regulars posting don't always have the proper details. Insulation is one area that often is not correctly explained.
I converted a Chev G20 van several years ago and it served me well. I put in a 15 gal. water tank (under the floor) and plumbed it to a small sink. This was an absolute necessity in my opinion. I also added a small 2 burner propane stove that I supplied with one pound propane canisters. I could cook meals for over one week on one of these small tanks. I added a porta pottie mounted at the back of the van so that it was accessible through the rear doors. I had only a single bed that I mounted on a hinged plywood platform. That allowed it to be hinged up on the side of a wall for daytime storage (I usually just left it down though). When my wife came with me we used a small camping cot as a second bed and this was adequate. I gave some thought to a refrig. but couldn't justify the amount of real estate it consumed. Instead I used a high efficiency cooler that would keep food cold for 4-5 days on one bag of ice. It also served as a table. My van came with tip out windows so I didn't have to face that issue. I did add screens using velcro fastening. I used a gel battery for house power that I mounted under the passenger seat. You can wire in an isolator so that it can be charged by the alternator. My experience with the gel battery is that they don't last long and they cost a lot. The alternative is a standard deep cycle battery, but you use a standard battery, you have to be very careful about providing appropriate venting for the explosive gas they produce which really limits the places they can be installed.
Unfortunately, my van wore out after 225,000 miles. I was planning to convert another one, but when I started checking around I found that I could get a really good deal on a class B instead. It took awhile, but I ended up getting a Leisure Travel RV for only a few thousand dollars more than a similar age van would cost and the RV had only 30,000 miles on it. I would never have found a similar 10 year old van with that kind of mileage. I ended up with stove, fridge, water heater, air conditioning, generator, house battery, shower, large bed, furnace, etc.
You might want to keep a lookout for a good class b. Fall is the best time to buy so your timing might be pretty good now. Doing your own conversion is fun, but you won't get anything close to what you can get in a good class b.
Get a body builders book for the van. It will tell you everything that you need to do or can do safely to the van.
No opening windows on the rear would be allowed by FORD or by any body builder due to exhaust being sucked in and killing you. But if you have the disipline to make sure that they are closed while moving go for it.
If you don't cut the roof ribs a vent should be fine.