The DIY Vanlife Adventure

Welcome to Mike and Holly’s Vanlife blog. Here we will share our renovation stories, things we have learnt, found useful and that have gone wrong… Follow our story on Instagram here.

Stage 1

We had been keeping an eye on the market for a long wheel base since Autumn 2019. We had a great time testing out living in a van in New Zealand for 6 weeks the previous year (read blog here). So we knew 2020 was the year to make the leap.

We started looking for a van properly in March – just a Covid-19 approached and lockdown happened. That was when everyone was looking for a van as staycations were going to become more popular and people started delivery driving jobs. Vans soon became a rarity. After three months and hours scrolling through the internet we eventually found one! (We did find one sooner, but I wont bore you with the details, it had various things wrong).

Stage one realisations:

All garages will say they have that van coming in next week – they do not.

They say they will call you back – they will not.

That advert you see online isn’t of the exact van you are enquiring about – they just can’t be bothered to update the ad.

Stage 2

HPI checks complete and the van was finally on our drive, hooray! Our dream is now a reality. We have a set budget in mind and fingers crossed we stick to it. The first job was to sound deaden using Dodo Matting (you can buy it here) and take out the safe. We haven’t managed to open it yet – I wonder what is in there?!?!

We took a while deciding where to buy our windows from, but eventually chose the website and brought the fitting kit with them. It was the simplest thing to do and also doesn’t work out that much more expensive. Josh, Holly’s brother was the first person to help us out! He, and his tools were amazing with getting the windows in.

Our roof fan was the next thing to go in. We just wanted to get all the holes in the outside of the van cut as soon as possible, as you can’t move on with anything else until it is done. The fan we chose was a MaxxAir MaxFan Deluxe. We chose this because of the thermostat, remote and automatic features.

Stage 2 errors:

Make sure you clean off every teeny tiny bit of metal from cutting straight away, they will rust and are a pain to sort. We can’t stress this enough.

Don’t put the black primer too thick and wide onto the panels as you will see it once the window is on, and again, is a pain to hide.

Allow for the edging thickness when marking up the window cut lines, this will add an extra 6mm on (roughly) and will save you cutting it again!

Stage 3

It took us ages to find the right Solar Panel. It was a large expense which we didn’t want to get wrong and have to send back. We finally found the one that was right for our set up. We needed it to power our usb sockets, fridge, laptop (via inverter) and that’s about it as the oven, hob and shower will be gas. We chose a Perlight 320 Watt Mono Panel. The white one was cheaper than the black so we went for that.

We decided we wanted our solar panel to be able to lift up, one because we could clean under it and second because if we were say, in north Norway then we could angle it to make the most of the sun! Just note that it didn’t come with cables long enough so that set us back a few days as we had to wait for new cables.

Here you will see that Holly is repainting all the specks of rust (after being painted with Hammerite Kurust, we mentioned earlier. It took ages and was a pain but hopefully it will work.

Battening was the next job at hand. We tried to use what the van had in terms of panels. We used self-drilling screws. Our friend Jen came to see us and help out. Thanks Jen! I am looking forward to getting family and friends involved in this build, as that is all part of it I guess.

Stage 3 realisations:

We didn’t make too many mistakes at this stage actually but we did learn that having nice weather makes this process so much easier! We have now ordered our insulation for the next stage. Oh, and we have just brought the fridge. Exciting!

Stage 4

So before the insulation could go up, we had to wire in the electrics. This is something that neither of us have experience in. We decided to crack on and buy the wiring and put it in place ourselves. This is where we made a big mistake, we brought the wrong two-core wiring, who knew there were so many different types. So once it was in, we found out it was wrong so had to start again, this time with the correct wires! The wire we ended up using was 30 meters of 2mm2 Thin Wall 2 Twin Core Cable Wire.

We scheduled in a day with our friend James who happens to be an Electrical Engineer who slaved away for over a day but by the end of it we had power! Such a great day, thank you Upton!!

This is probably one of the stages that took the longest ordering things, we brought a sine wave inverter, a 12v battery, battery charger, battery isolator, a 12 way blade fuse box, mppt controller and little things like terminal connectors.

For our insulation we chose 10mm Dodo Thermal Fleece which is made from recycled plastic bottles, and then we chose to do a thermo vapour layer too. Might be overkill, we’re not sure yet. Our main reason was that if we wanted to go away in winter or to cold countries then at least we have the option without freezing.

We found the fleece really easy to work with. We applied it with a little spray glue and noticed the difference in temperature straight away whilst working in the van. The vapour layer on the other hand was okay to work with, the backing is really tar like, which I guess it needs to be. But it is definitely a two person job.

Stage 4 errors:

Double check the wiring you need, there is more than one type of 2-core!

It turns out you can’t buy everything for your van conversion from Screwfix and Wickes!

Don’t even bother with the wire clips where you need a little screw driver thing, just get yourself some of these orange clips in the image above and save yourself so much time and hassle.

Stage 5 (coming soon) – more battening and the beginning of carpeting! We have now brought the oven!

This blog includes affiliate links (all genuine!)

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