Friday, August 2, 2019

Converting the Van on the Super Cheap - First Steps

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you go through them to make a purchase I can earn a commission.  But I only link to products that I recommend based on my experience with them, not because of the commission. :)


It's about time that I start telling you about my Van Conversion!



It was a cool challenge to do my van conversion as cheap as I could but still accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish for the van. I'm sure if you have looked at van conversions, you can see that it can be done on the cheap all the way to quite spendy. Of course, if you have the resources, you can have someone convert your van for you, but I had almost no resources, and I was not going to let that get in my way!

As I mentioned before, the van I found was $800 and I put about the same amount of work into it with the new catalytic converter (a little more expensive due to regulations in CA) and radiator replacement.

Step 1) Mechanical Fixes

This go 'round, the radiator was first and foremost.  I mean...it's not really supposed to do this....

Can you see the spray of coolant?!
I replaced it all by myself, and I will say, ladies (and gents), you got this shit.  Get on the YouTubes and look up your make and model and get your hands dirty.  I was so freakin' proud of myself for just going for it myself.  And even with a few small hiccups, it only took me a couple hours or so.

Old radiator out and other pieces parts...
New one in and just in time for the rain!

Step 2) Cleaning out the Van...

Next was to clean out the van.  While I was on the road, I made a huge mistake...which, by God, I learned from.  I left a few food items out. My first few nights back in my van were riddled with cleaning mouse poop and even mice running across my foot. (There may have also been panicked texts to my mom asking what the likelihood of me dying from hantavirus was.  I was sure I was a goner.)  Needless to say, after I got everything out of the van and cleaned up and mice eradicated, I made damn sure I put every single food item in a plastic bin or glass jar.

With that taken care of, it was on to the actual build. I elected to leave my already installed bed/couch in place.  But generally you would remove everything that existed.  In a previous post I showed my dad and I cutting out the welded in shelving, so all I needed to do was remove the carpeting and rubber mat.

Tearing out the bed lining stuffs...
After I tore all that out, I got to discover an access hole that was cut into the floor above the gas tank...

Surprise! Wait....That's not supposed to be there....
For some reason they cut a piece of metal out I assume as a make shift cover, but didn't secure it.  So I took my liquid nails glue and applied a heavy coating to it to try and keep moisture out.

I then vacuumed out the van and cleaned the floor as well as I could.

Step 3) Insulating and installing the sub-floor...

The next part was buying all the goodies to start the actual build.  I decided to go with rigid styrofoam insulation for a couple reasons.  First, they are resistant to moisture, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I know condensation can be an issue.  Second, it seemed like it would be pretty user friendly...just cut to fit and use a little glue to keep in place.  And third, it's quite affordable. I actually only used 4 sheets of 4x8 1/2in thick insulation.  I think this trip to Home Depot cost me about $250 for almost all my initial supplies.

Insulation, plywood, white backer board, 2x2's, 1x4's, and 1x2's
First I needed to secure the boards to my subfloor.  Every couple feet I laid down a board cross ways and opted to secure them to the van with liquid nails.  I alternated 1x4's with 1x2's for reasons that I now realize I cannot really tell you.  It...just seemed right to me. I added 1x2's along the sides, too. Then I cut the insulation to fit the gaps.



Oh...and what about tools to cut the wood (and in the next step, screw in the wood)...?  I used this Porter Cable Circular Saw and Drill Set.  Not only are they affordable for a cordless circular saw and drill, they are also quite compact.  They had no problem doing literally everything I needed to do!

Step 4) Insulating walls and ceiling and installing the hardy backer board...

My next step was cutting insulation to fit between the metal supports on the walls and ceiling.  I just used the existing metal supports rather than adding wood.  So I glued insulation pieces into the spaces and then used spray foam insulation for the gaps. (I also learned that spray foam is super fun...like adult utilitarian silly string...)

I opted for white hardy backer board for the walls and ceiling, again for price and I like the white look and could shape it to the van.  Added bonus!  You can totally use dry or wet erase markers on it!

Backer board on the ceiling and a peek at the insulation on the walls.
I wasn't strong enough to hold an entire piece of the backer board up AND screw it in to the metal, so I cut pieces the size of each metal support.  I used 1/2in self tapping screws and have to admit I had to put in some serious muscle to get those to go in.  For those ladies doing this, my dad offered the advice to get all phillips screws, and a size 2 gold impact screwdriver bit which doesn't strip out as fast or easy. I got these Impact Gold Number 2 Phillips Insert Bits and it worked better than the alternative for me for sure!

As you can see in the pic, I will eventually need to put up some trim to cover my seams, but for now, ceiling is up!

Walls were next and a little easier to hold up, so I kept them in larger pieces.

Walls up.  Don't mind the mess on the bed. 
I knew I was building in some shelving and cabinets, so I just stopped the walls at that point.  It would likely add some extra heat regulation to go all the way down, but all my stuff helps insulate...right?

Step 5) Floor...

Well...the last pic sort of spoiled it. But while I was installing the ceiling and walls, I took a couple sheets of plywood and painted on some polyurethane (this is what I used but I'd assume any polyurethane finish would work).  I chose this cuz it is waterproof and seemed like it would be best for flooring.  I went back and forth on what type of flooring I wanted, but I actually really like the look of plywood grain (I got just the cheaper CDX plywood at 3/8in thickness) and it seemed like a more cost effective and easy to install flooring. Surprisingly (as if I actually knew WTF I was doing) it was the perfect width for the floor of the van.  As for length, I just had to add about 3 feet of an additional sheet of plywood to get the desired length.  I used 1in wood screws to attach the plywood floor to the 1in subfloor supports.

Floor in.  My trusty Porter Cable tools at my side. 
Next time in "Converting the Van"...

With the most important parts of the van done, its time to figure out what I needed for storage and counter space! Stay tuned for the next installment! ;)

Ash