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  • Nate Murphy

Betsy and Justin’s Money-Saving Self Built 2005 Dodge Sprinter Van Conversion

What leads people to move out of their spacious, comfortable homes into tiny converted vans, you might well ask. For Betsy and Justin, the answer probably isn’t what you’d expect… their car was stolen!

About Betsy and Justin

Back in 2016, Betsy and Justin became the unfortunate victims of a mean-spirited crime. Their beloved car was stolen from the front of their house, which was truly devastating. But instead of feeling setback, the pair used it as an opportunity to grow. Justin had been thinking about vanlife for years, but was stuck in a state he likes to call ‘analysis paralysis’. That is, he was telling himself ‘I’ll do it when I’ve found the perfect van, I’ll do it when I’ve got the perfect job’ etc.

After some convincing, Betsy and Justin went out on a whim and decided to start looking for a van to convert. They hunted around for months, and eventually fell in love with a 2005 158” WB Dodge Sprinter. In the past, the van served as a FedEx delivery van, so it was a completely blank slate.

With the help of their family and friends, Betsy and Justin were able to convert the van in around 8 months. At the time, Justin was working 60 to 80 hours a week as a resident and Betsy was working and attending school full time. They moved into their van in early 2017, and have been living in it full time ever since. They can’t wait to be free and wandering the roads of various countries, but for now they’re both working full time as medical professionals, saving money on rent and putting it towards their student loans. Most of the time, you’ll find them parked in their hospital’s parking lot. At weekends, however, the pair like to explore everything that America has to offer.

Specifications

  • 2005 158” WB Dodge Sprinter – Purchased in 2016, their van is a retired FedEx delivery van. Before they painted it orange, you could faintly see where the FedEx decals had once been.

Kitchen and Appliances

  • Camp Chef Outdoor Oven– This consists of a two-ring burner and oven component. Betsy and Justin spent a long time looking for the perfect oven, but found that even second-hand appliances were really expensive. Eventually, after seeing another couple install a Camp Chef Outdoor Oven in their van, they did some research and decided to follow suit. This is an outdoor oven, so they’ve taken extra precautions to ensure that it’s safe. It has a couple of inches of airspace all around, their stovebox is lined with Hardie Backer cement board, the surrounding cupboards are lined with Thermo-tec 14130 flame barriers, plus they carry a fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide detector, and smoke detector. They’re extremely happy with their oven, and get a lot of use out of it. Their only criticism is that you can’t set it to an exact temperature, just low, medium, or high.

  • Maple butcher block countertop.

  • Houzer CS-1407 Undermount Prep Sink– They wanted a sink that didn’t consume the whole counter, but was still large enough to wash pots and pans. This sink works great on both accounts – it’s stainless steel with inside dimensions of 12.5” wide x 14.373” long x 6” deep.

  • KES Z501C Faucet.

  • Magnetic knife rack.

  • ARB 50 Quart Fridge Freezer– Unlike most other van conversions, Betsy and Justin’s fridge is located in the cavity of their bench seat. It is a chest-style fridge freezer with two compartments. Their one qualm is that it’s hard to compartmentalise, as it can only be set to one temperature. This means it only functions as a fridge OR a freezer, not both simultaneously.

Sleeping

  • Queen-sized fixed bed– Due to Justin’s height, the pair knew that a width-ways bed would not be suitable for them. Instead they have a length-ways fixed bed, which features a Linenspa 5-inch memory foam mattress.

Comfort

  • Slide-out table– This pulls out from underneath the bed. Betsy is an avid piano player, and didn’t want to sacrifice her hobby while living in the van. Therefore, the table is approximately 50 inches wide, big enough to fit her piano. The pair also use it for eating, working, and games.

  • Swivelling passenger seat– They decided to put a swivel on the passenger seat so that it can be turned around to face the back of the van.

  • Privacy curtain– Betsy and Justin wanted their van to be stealthy, so they fitted metal screws around the cabin frame, which connect to a black-out privacy curtain. This prevents people looking in while they’re in the back of the van, and it also helps with temperature management.

Power and Electrical

  • Flame King 20LB Steel Propane Cylinder– The Camp Chef oven comes with 1LB disposable propane bottles. However, they decided they wanted a larger, refillable tank. Instead, Betsy and Justin purchased a 20LB tank, which sits underneath the kitchen sink. One tank typically lasts them for 8 months and costs just $10 to refill.

  • Multi-way light switches.

  • VertaMax Pure Sine Wave 1500 WattInverter– This converts AC to DC so that they could put standard 120V outlets throughout the van.

  • Renogy Deep Cycle 200Ah AGMbattery– This is designed specifically for solar energy storage applications. They’ve noticed that it doesn’t hold charge as well during the colder months.

  • Blue Sea Systems Automatic Charging Relay– They installed this to enable them to charge their battery via the alternator when the van is running. So far it’s proven to be very useful when they’ve been in cloudy, rainy, snowy weather that leaves them with minimal or no charge from the solar panels.

  • Renogy 300 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Kit– This kit comes with 3 x 100 watt solar paneks, the Adventurer Li 30A PWM flush mount charge controller, MC4 Connectors, MC4 adapter kit, tray cable, and corner bracket mount. The panels are mounted to the roof using 3M Permanent Double Sided Extreme Mounting Tape.

Heating and Cooling

  • MaxxAir MaxxFan – Betsy and Justin’s van came with a pre-fitted fan over the kitchen area, but they quickly realised that it wasn’t powerful enough. Therefore, they decided to fit another fan over their bed space. It features a vent, fan, and rain shield, so they don’t have to worry about leaving it open when it rains. Together the Maxx fan and original fan create a nice flow of air throughout the van, perfect for warm summer days.

  • Planar 4kW 12V Diesel heater – According to Betsy, it get’s their van very toast very quickly, even during super cold weather. The two main downsides are that the manual is poorly translated (it is a Russian model) and the control module is confusing.

Water System

  • Seaflo 12V Water Pump– Betsy and Justin opted for an electric, rather than manual, water pump to make washing up after a long day at work less laborious.

  • 5-gallon greywater tank– This is located underneath the kitchen sink. Initially, their freshwater tank resided here too, but they soon decided that they wanted a bigger tank.

  • 25-gallon fresh water tank.

Cabinetry and Finishes

  • Overhead cupboards

  • Bespoke seat covers– These were custom-made by one of Betsy’s family members using regular upholstery fabric. To calculate the seats dimensions, she made an outline by placing wrapping paper over the seat and tracing around it.

  • ¼-inch Cedar tongue and groove panelling– The duo decided to finish the interior of their van with warm coloured wood from Home Depot. They opted for ¼-inch because it is nice and thin, allowing them to maintain as much inner space as possible.

  • TrafficMASTER Indoor/Outdoor Carpet – Betsy and Justin bought a small role of this carpet to trim a number of surfaces in the van, such as the around the side window, back doors, and seat bases. It’s similar to an automotive carpet but thinner so it can be easily cut to size with scissors or a razor blade.

Storage

  • Full-length closet– As medical professionals, it was important for Betsy and Justin to have a suitable place to store their work clothes. For this reason, they incorporated a full length closet into their van design, which is big enough for approximately 18 hangers of clothes.

  • Hanging organisers– These feature throughout the van. They have one inside their closet, one on their sliding door, and one in their garage.

  • Shoe box

  • Overhead cavity– Above the driver’s cabin, Betsy and Justin decided they’d prefer extra storage instead of extra height. So they built a storage cavity, which

Exterior

  • Ladder– On the back of the van, Betsy and Justin fitted a metal ladder, which allows them to easily go up onto the roof to clean their solar panels.

  • Motorcycle hitch

To see the full tour of Betsy and Justin’s van, check out my YouTube channel:


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© 2019 Nate Murphy

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