Onto part two, DIY van conversion! Now that you read part one of this 3 part series, you are ready to start your design and material list. This is the FUN part and you are in for a treat. In addition to design, in this post you will learn about why we chose it and the materials + brands we used in our van build.
Van life Q & A from Instagram
DIY van conversion
Q: How did you decide on a design for the van? Did it take a lot of guts to finally just say yes?
A: Well, we knew from the beginning that we didn’t want a fold-up bed so, that limited our choices. I wanted an open kitchen since I am a food blogger and we wanted space to pull out our desk/table. Narrowing down what you WANT makes it easier to design.
Q: Why didn’t you go with a fold-up bed? Wouldn’t that have saved some room?
A: Yes and no. We have tons of fixed storage space under our bed now, like enough to fit 3 sleeping bags if we needed to! I have back issues from dance/cheer so, a comfortable bed was a non-negotiable for me and I wouldn’t change it. It’s literally so comfortable! Code HOLISTIC25 get’s you $250 off!
How we decided on our design
Like I mentioned above, we knew what we wanted and what we didn’t need. This made the decision process THAT much easier. I recommend you make that non-negotiable vs. negotiable list in the beginning (go back to part 1).
A comfortable bed, counter space and pantry space were non-negotiable for us. On the other hand, we didn’t need a shower, bathroom or TV. Since we have a queen mattress and Tommy is too tall for it to go horizontally in the van, our mattress is vertical. As a result, we have lots more storage.
Since I am a food blogger and recipe developer, I need a “big” kitchen. Let me just tell you, this kitchen is more spacious than the one in our Florida house! Another need as a food blogger is cabinet and pantry space to store the products I have to create recipes with! Luckily, we have lots of storage space and most of it is empty!
Questions to ask yourself for your DIY van conversion
- What do I need in my future home on wheels?
- What don’t I need in the van?
- Do I need a bed that’s permanent or can it fold up?
- Will a fixed table work or can I have a pull-out / pop-up table?
- Do I need space for my baby or pet?
- Do I want to have guests in the van?
- Is a bathroom 100% non-negotiable for me?
- Will I be able to live without a mirror?
- Do I want somewhere to sit other than the van seats?
Ready, get set, GO!
Now that you’ve answered all of those questions, it’s time to get designing. It really is simple and you can do it! It’s a small space and you need to get creative but you’ll be pleased with the limited choices you have.
Get a piece of paper and start sketching. Draw out where you want your bed, lay out the kitchen, pencil in the table and chairs. Really make it yours and show yourself the opportunities in your DIY van conversion. I recommend a notebook where you can keep all receipts, sketches, invoices, important notes, youtube links + more.
I had drawings for you but my husband threw them away, **sigh**.
Choose a spot, pick a store & get going
For our van, we started from ground zero. We purchased a mobile medical equipment repair unit and gutted the entire thing. We were left with bare metal and plywood flooring. So, we had to account for insulation all the way to the furniture at the end. You will need to:
- pick a place for your build (somewhere with tools)
- find a nearby store that has lumber, hardware and other building materials
- get an amazon prime account (here’s a free 30-day trial)
- find someone who is excited and wants to contribute to the build
- set aside time for the build and stick to it, or else it will drag on
Finding people to take part makes it enjoyable and allows them to share in the FUN of this unique experience. Tommy’s dad is a master carpenter and helped us a ton, we will write him a check one day 😉 You will order from Amazon like crazy so, I truly do recommend a prime account. Then, you need to find a local store like Ace, Home Depot, etc because it will be your second home. One thing about the van build is that nothing goes how you think it will.
Onto the materials
Here is list of everything we used in our van build. If you didn’t know, the build is as non-toxic and chemical free as was possible. We used products that are the cleanest you can get them. The stores we sourced from specialize in chemical-free and earth-friendly products for people with chemical sensitivities. I am going to be in this van a lot and I don’t want to be living in a chemical metal box.
First, Green Design Center – We got our flooring, paint, seals, stain and more from here. They specialize in chemical-free products and are the REAL deal. You will not find a store that dedicates more time or energy to your well being when working on your home. Andy – the owner – is brilliant and has been in this industry for decades. This is my affiliate link, thanks for supporting me!
- flooring (we ended up sealing our subfloor and calling it good, we only used the marmoleum sheet in the garage)
- paint (code 0011 – Sugar Dust is the main)
- paint (code 0434 – Lush Meadow for our accent)
- Safe Seal (gloss, primer, seal)
- Acrylacq Wood Sealer (seals in outgassing, low odor, low VOC)
- stain (walnut)
- caulking (for windows, cracks and maintenance work)
Next, Jolie Paint – I used their Palace White water-based paint for the toilet box and siding in the kitchen. Jolie Paint is water-based, non-toxic, and extremely low VOC. Best of all, I LOVE their paint brush. I never really knew the importance of a good paint brush until I used this next to another and saw the other’s hideous brush strokes haha.
The only insulation for your
DIY van conversion
Havelock Wool – Say hello to our insulation guys. This team knows their stuff and will sit and talk with you at any hour of the day. We chose wool over synthetic insulation because… synthetic insulation is TOXIC AS HELL. I do not want that in my home, to breath it in during application or to wreak havoc on the environment. Just no.
Wool is so cool in its chemistry. For instance, it binds to VOCs and neutralizes them. VOC stands for volatile organic compound and are linked to cancer and damage of the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Certainly, you don’t want this anywhere near you!
When I say their wool is soundproof, I am not kidding. It is nice and quiet in the van and when people knock and we yell “come in!”, they genuinely cannot hear us. I was shocked at how soundproof it ended up being. Really, there is no other option, this is the only wool I recommend for your DIY van conversion.
Wood & lots of it
Remember when I said Tommy’s dad was a master carpenter? That meant he had tons of extra wood laying in his garage that made for the perfect siding and roofing. We used rough-cut tongue and groove pine flooring from a family members cabin. Yep, we used flooring for the ceiling. There’s no need for arm days during this part of the build because after hours of holding up wood while Tommy screwed it in, my arms were jelly.
This wood was not treated and is actually seeping sap as I write this. When it gets hot, the sap comes out and man does our van smell good. Crazy enough, wood can be treated with many harmful ingredients so, look for untreated wood. If you cannot get ahold of any, you can put a coat of Acrylacq Wood Sealer. It will seal in any chemicals so they don’t off-gas.
The stain and paint we used for the wood was from here!
The floor and the bed + a discount code
The flooring was the least of our concerns in our DIY van conversion but it had to be non-toxic since floors off-gas like crazy. Therefore, we went with a Forbo marmoleum flooring (sheet) from Green Design Center. It is bio-based, non-toxic, anti-microbial and highly durable. 10/10 recommend and you can get any color or texture you want.
It is also here on amazon, click “van living”.
If you want a comfy bed, stop here. I have tried three organic mattresses and finally got the one I was looking for the whole time. Phew, it was a process. This is – hands down – the most comfortable, supportive and non-toxic one of them all. Plus, it is around the same price and even cheaper than many other “non-toxic” mattresses.
Happsy is the brand and we got the queen, mattress topper and pillows. Now, the reason we chose Happsy is because of this following:
- Made Safe certified
- GOTS certifed
- Greenguard Gold certified
- GOLS certified
- Formaldehyde free (yeah, your mattress has formaldehyde!!)
- they’re featured in the non-toxic product registry
- they are part of the Organic Trade Association
HOLISTIC25 gets you $250 off + free shipping!
Now, to amazon
Lastly, I mentioned before and will again, you need to at least try this free 30-day prime trial. Get 30 days and cancel it if you want… bet you won’t 😉
https://www.amazon.com/shop/simplholistic >> this is where you can find EVERY product we ordered from Amazon for the van. Just click on Van Build once you get there and you will have all the goods at your fingertip. Here is a little taste of what’s over there:
I just request that you buy through my link if it’s a product I recommend so I can get a small kickback from Amazon. Remember, try to order within 24 hours of going through my link! That helps me to provide you with this free content. Don’t worry, it’s no extra charge to you!
ABOVE ALL, have freaking fun during your DIY van conversion. Don’t get stressed over the details.