Basic Van Build: First of Three

Cutting through the van roof to install the Fan-tastic exhaust fan.

Cutting through the van roof to install the Fan-tastic exhaust fan.

October 19 – November 17.

Remember when you and all your friends went off to college? There was the one guy who stayed with his parents, employable, but unemployed, tinkering with some dream vehicle in their driveway. Well, I waited until I was 57 years old to be that guy.

After spending the summer in Cabbagetown, Duwan and I went to stay with my parents near Charlotte, NC. They have lots of extra space and a big driveway. We thought we could make the van livable in a few weeks. It took a couple of months. Luckily, my folks were OK with us staying so long. We even found time for some fun activities.

Our first major project was attaching everything to the cargo van’s surface area. We made some videos. If you would rather watch than read, jump to the bottom.

First we cut a hole in the van roof and installed a Fan-tastic exhaust fan. Then we attached the solar panels from our boat. Next we put in flooring. After that we insulated using sheets of Thinsulate. We had a general idea where the batteries and lights would go, so I ran wires next.

Applying butyl tape to the underside of the fan. With a layer of butyl between the fan and van roof, no water can leak in.

Applying butyl tape to the underside of the fan. With a layer of butyl between the fan and van roof, no water can leak in.

Dad holds each nut in place from below as I screw in the bolts from above.

Dad holds each nut in place from below as I screw in the bolts from above.

Need to drill holes to mount the solar panels. First, punch the metal with an awl. Then the drill bit will stay in the indentation instead of wandering around when you start to drill.

Need to drill holes to mount the solar panels. First, punch the metal with an awl. Then the drill bit will stay in the indentation instead of wandering around when you start to drill.

Drilling the holes.

Drilling the holes.

Filing burrs off the edges of the drilled holes.

Filing burrs off the edges of the drilled holes.

Painting the hole edges to keep them from rusting.

Painting the hole edges to keep them from rusting.

We used well nuts to mount the panels. A nut is embedded in a rubber cylinder. Bolt is started into the nut from above (left). Tightening the bolt compresses the rubber (right) making a secure connection. The rubber seal keeps rain water from coming in.

We used well nuts to mount the panels. A nut is embedded in a rubber cylinder. Bolt is started into the nut from above (left). Tightening the bolt compresses the rubber (right) making a secure connection. The rubber seal keeps rain water from coming in.

Bolting down one of the panels.

Bolting down one of the panels.

The solar panel wiring is fed snugly through rubber bushings.

The solar panel wiring is fed snugly through rubber bushings.

We bought a used cargo van, so we needed a lot of touch up painting on the interior.

We bought a used cargo van, so we needed a lot of touch up painting on the interior.

Using paper to make a pattern to cut 1/3" plywood for flooring.

Using paper to make a pattern to cut 1/3″ plywood for flooring.

Use the paper pattern to draw the irregular shape onto plywood. Then use circular saw and jigsaw to cut the plywood. We used this approach for all of the irregular shapes. Often we had to "fine tune" the cuts several times to get them right.

Use the paper pattern to draw the irregular shape onto plywood. Then use circular saw and jigsaw to cut the plywood. We used this approach for all of the irregular shapes. Often we had to “fine tune” the cuts several times to get them right.

We cut some OSB to make sub-flooring in selected spots. Usually wide gaps or places that would be bearing weight. The roll of cushioned plastic is made for hardwood floors. We put a layer between the sub-flooring and plywood.

We cut some OSB to make sub-flooring in selected spots. Usually wide gaps or places that would be bearing weight. The roll of cushioned plastic is made for hardwood floors. We put a layer between the sub-flooring and plywood.

Flooring sections were stained and coated a dozen times with polyurethane.

Flooring sections were stained and coated a dozen times with polyurethane.

The finished floor.

The finished floor.

We wanted a vent to the outside so the exhaust fan could draw air in. There is a convenient hole in the undercarriage behind the driver's seat. I just needed to drill out a hole in the floor between the inner and outer walls.

We wanted a vent to the outside so the exhaust fan could draw air in. There is a convenient hole in the undercarriage behind the driver’s seat. I just needed to drill out a hole in the floor between the inner and outer walls.

Actually I drilled three holes, filed the edges and painted. Look, I can reach in from under the van.

Actually I drilled three holes, filed the edges and painted. Look, I can reach in from under the van.

I formed an air duct over the hole using flashing and tape. We will be filling the cavity around the air duct with insulation later.

I formed an air duct over the hole using flashing and tape. We will be filling the cavity around the air duct with insulation later.

Here's a home-made cover for the underside of the air duct. There is screen behind it to keep out intruders.

Here’s a home-made cover for the underside of the air duct. There is screen behind it to keep out intruders.

We plan to build a box to house our propane tank. It should be vented to the outside. I ran some 3/4" plastic tubing out for this.

We plan to build a box to house our propane tank. It should be vented to the outside. I ran some 3/4″ plastic tubing out for this.

Time to insulate. We ordered a roll of Thinsulate. It's a lot more expensive than the pink stuff, but we won't be breathing in any noxious fibers.

Time to insulate. We ordered a roll of Thinsulate. It’s a lot more expensive than the pink stuff, but we won’t be breathing in any noxious fibers.

Duwan draws a line on the black side of the Thinsulate to mark the next cut.

Duwan draws a line on the black side of the Thinsulate to mark the next cut.

After a few cuts we went and bought a good pair of shop scissors. This stuff is thick.

After a few cuts we went and bought a good pair of shop scissors. This stuff is thick.

For the large pieces we sprayed 3M adhesive on the van wall and white side of the Thinsulate. It held very well.

For the large pieces we sprayed 3M adhesive on the van wall and white side of the Thinsulate. It held very well.

We tucked insulation in everywhere, including the insides of the doors.

We tucked insulation in everywhere, including the insides of the doors.

Did I say everywhere?

Did I say everywhere?

Walls and ceiling are now insulated.

Walls and ceiling are now insulated.

Walls and ceiling are now insulated.

Ran wires after the insulation was completed.

We plan to put the house batteries in drawer here on the driver's side. All the labeled wires run from here into the wall, and under the ceiling to the other wall if necessary.

We plan to put the house batteries in drawer here on the driver’s side. All the labeled wires run from here into the wall, and under the ceiling to the other wall if necessary.

By now you can see that there are no right angles or even straight edges in the interior. One of our biggest challenges was dealing with all the uneven surfaces. The van does have places you can directly bolt into the frame. We tried to take advantage of those.

We bolted furring strips for the walls and ceiling and added wall studs (sculpting some of them). Then we glued and screwed quarter inch plywood for the walls and ceilings. We put in some overhead lights, and Boom! Our van had an interior skin.

Next project is the bed and power station.

I'm going to spare you by omitting lots of detail. Here we have the walls framed out.

I’m going to spare you by omitting lots of detail. Here we have the walls framed out.

We used Liquid Nails (and some screws) to attach the interior walls to the studs. Temporary braces held the walls in place overnight.

We used Liquid Nails (and some screws) to attach the interior walls to the studs. Temporary braces held the walls in place overnight.

We bolted furring strips to the roof for the ceiling.

We bolted furring strips to the roof for the ceiling.

Here is the ceiling with overhead lights and the trim for the exhaust fan installed.

Here is the ceiling with overhead lights and the trim for the exhaust fan installed.

Here is the floored, walled, ceiled interior. The upper walls will be completed later when we install cabinets.

Here is the floored, walled, ceiled interior. The upper walls will be completed later when we install cabinets.

12 thoughts on “Basic Van Build: First of Three

  1. Scott Munn said:

    That is absolutely awesome! We enjoy seeing your progress. Peace!

    Scott and Dana Munn

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! It is amazing to look back on it and see all we’ve done. So glad you are enjoying it.

  2. Capt Robert said:

    You should start a TV show: “This Old Van” Well done.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks Robert! Great idea for a TV show!

  3. It looks amazing! Can’t wait to see the next post.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! We are hunkered down in the middle of nowhere working on the next one right now.

  4. Dian Huff said:

    You guys so smart!!!!! Me want one too.

    • Duwan said:

      Get you a van and we’ll build one this summer!

  5. Hey there. Thanks for sharing! I know it is hard work! Hugs to you both…. Marty

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks for visiting the blog! Hugs to you too!

  6. Kathleen Chapman said:

    Wow, well done..🌞🌞🌞

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks!

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