Where We Are Starting From
Van conversions are unique in that they are highly customizable. Hardly any two van conversions have the exact same layout with the same key items and appliances. Conversions range based on time, budget, and the ultimate use of the van.
Karma and I converted our last van Glen mostly in 12 days in my Mom’s driveway. We thought we’d like the lifestyle, so the older Ford Econoline van acted as the perfect starter van. With only the basics of a bed platform, a storage “kitchen” area, and some overhead adjustments we set out and fell in love with the lifestyle.
Having used and lived in Glen the Van, we took note of what features we liked and what features we absolutely hated. The Ford Econoline had a conversion kit from one of those companies in the early 2000s that have since went out of business. (After pulling half of it apart…I see why.). It worked, kind of. But, not really. Thus, about half of our pre-planning occurred slowly over the last four years of living in Glen the Van on and off.
What We’ll Keep
The one thing we loved about our first van layout that will continue into Polysprout (our new Ford Transit) will be the fixed bed. Ultimately, we can be a little lazy and the extent of making our bed usually consists of pulling the covers up to the pillows. Converting a bed from bed to seats and back to a bed each night would add too much to our routine.
How can we know that if we have never had a bench/bed conversion? We rented a campervan in Iceland for 10 days with one. It worked fine for 10 days. Let me leave that there.
What We Already Changed
As we dove into designing the layout for Polysprout, we came to the table with knowledge of how we would change a van to better suit our needs. Some of these factors we changed instantly in simply purchasing the new van. First, we wanted less windows. Glen had wrap around windows which we loved at first, but ultimately realized that the temperature was very hard to regulate with that much glass and less insulation. Second, we wanted a more powerful engine and AWD. We remedied this in purchasing the Ford Transit AWD with an ecoboost engine. Let’s just say, we no longer have any issues with high altitude mountain passes.
What We Will Change
Other factors we plan to improve in our layout. These factors have to do with space and appliances. Like I said before, we went basic with Glen the Van and it worked ok, but not great.
For one, we plan to include an indoor shower despite the small square footage of the van. For us, this is worth the space in our van layout. Why? Because we purchased a solar shower from REI, which worked, but had some flaws. The biggest flaw, we found, was that people loved to creep as we took showers with bathing suits on in the BLM camping areas. Also, the water was most tolerable in the best part of the day to go hiking, so a shower day mostly meant a day away from activities.
To further improve the bathroom situation, we will replace our trusty shovel and cashew container chamber pot with an indoor composting toilet. While our previous system worked ok in most areas, we are ready to improve the bathroom for the long term. We ordered a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet for this purpose. We’ll report back on the smell factor after installation, although, we have heard great things about it!
For the kitchen, we are upgrading appliances to work for the longer term. I’ve been vegan for over 14 years and I cook a lot. I have grown to love meal prep. Preferably, I like to cook a lot twice a week and eat a lot of leftovers. And, let’s be honest, I drink a copious amount of tea since learning to love winter by going to my undergrad in Syracuse. This means, I want to heat up water quickly and frequently. Not even to mention Karma’s coffee consumption needs…
Previously, we used a basic Coleman two-burner propane cooktop. Does this work? Yes, of course it does. We even made three batches of jam on it in the van. However, every time we moved the van, we had to break it down since it sat on top of our kitchen counter. That meant that almost every time I wanted to heat up tea water or toast a bagel, we had to pull out the stove, hook up the propane, then reverse the process to drive again.
We have purchased an inset Furrion 3-burner propane cooktop with a lid to alleviate this hassle. This will function more like an RV or house cooktop: flip on the propane, turn a nob, light. It never has to be stored in an inconvenient location.
Furthermore, for the food prep, we have upgraded our fridge situation. For Glen, we had a cheap 12v Coleman fridge that sucked power like you cannot believe. Without solar, we could only plug it in while driving and we used it more like a cooler than a real refrigerator. This meant that neither vegetables nor leftovers lasted very long.
We bit the bullet and bought a NovaKool R4500 to solve this issue. However, due to covid, it is on backorder still. Navigating through the distribution networks, wait times, and shipping has added to the logistical mess of finding all the appliances.
What’s to Come?
Going forward, I’ll keep you updated as we sort through the conversion process, how we’re doing, and why we are choosing our key items. If you’d like to buy your own van, check out my posts on How to Buy a (New to You) Used Van and How to buy the Ultimate New Van. Stay tuned for more conversion log entries and drop a comment below if you have any questions!