The main features and systems are essentially where a lot of your build costs go.
My fit-out choices..
Kitchen: SMEV sink, electric tap and extraction fan
Water: Simple 20ltr fresh/waste water system
Gas: 11kg refillable LPG tank
Solar: 300W solar panel, 40Amp Solar Charge Controller & remote monitor
Batteries: 2x 140AmpHr sealed leisure batteries
Heater: Heatsource with external inlet/exhaust LPG powered heater with Thermostat
Lighting: Two ceiling lighting rings (kitchen and bed areas), LED side lights and door light
There was quite a bit of thought behind each of the choices above – and there is more detail about component choice in the relevant sections.
Ceiling LED configuration during construction
Do you need a heater?
A family friend who converted a van assured me that adding a heater would be a waste of money. That said, I do not really see myself as being part of the ‘just put on another jumper’ generation. I like to be warm.
Also, on a more practical level, I have never really dated a girl who is warm all the time and I just imagined being somewhere a cold for a month or so with a cold grumpy girlfriend wearing every single layer she owned 24/7.. and then imagining that the world could just be a better place with the flick of a switch.
That image quickly added $1000 to the build cost!
What I didn’t install
What is almost as important as what I put in, is what I decided to leave out..
Do I really want to poop in the small enclosed space of a van and then have to dispose of it again later? Nope!
So the reality is, there are toilets pretty much everywhere where you can just go for a poop – even if you might have to think ahead in some circumstances. If you are in nature you can just go in the woods and bury it.. as a climber I do this fairly often in wild spots so it is just not an issue.
I keep a couple of pee bottles in the van (under the sink) for when you cannot be bothered to leave the van – one is an old naglene for those of us not equipped with a hose.
When I was building the van I always thought that if I had to, I could use one of those small portable toilets but actually I have found out that these things tend to have a hard-to-contain chemical whif about them anyway. Plus you have do empty them!
Really, so far, in over 3 months of living in the van full time it has been totally fine.
If you add in a shower you add a whole level of complexity and cost to your build. You will need a much bigger water tank (probably 70ltr), you will need to install a water heater, which means a more complicated gas system, and a water pump to power it.
Alternatively I just wash in lakes, rivers or when these are not available I have a solar shower which I heat up in the cab of the van during the day.
I made a shower curtain set-up which I fix to the back of the van doors using a few neodymium magnets. This gives a spacious private shower cubical and the flow is not so strong you spray the van interior (you are low in comparison anyway).
The paneling is treated so you can just wipe it down with your towel if you are worried about the damp.
Simple and effective shower system
No fridge.. sort of
Waeco style fridges are generally super expensive – and therefore I originally just planned to get a 12v powered cool box but actually now I probably will not bother.
The food storage area (below the bed) is pretty cool during the day and you only really need cold storage for meat, milk, cheese and beer!
I do not eat very much meat, milk is UHT/long-life so does not need to be kept cool – this just leaves beer and cheese. Buying harder cheese works, in Europe the wine is good and Red wine, obviously, shouldn’t be cold.
If I change my mind I can get a powered cool box for not too much money – and the solar system can handle it quite easily, but for now I will make do without.
Your needs might be different to mine – just make sure you spec out your electric and solar systems to match the energy usage.