Van Build #2: Initial Build Do’s and Dont's
Updated: Jan 27
The van build has been going a bit slower than I had anticipated, and at the moment, I’m on a plateau. The person who helped me previously is now busy with other jobs, and, most days, I’d rather put forks in my eyes than bear the elements (average 42°F) to work on my van. I must toughen up!
Right now, I have a mostly leak-proof van, sound proofing, Maxxair Roof Fan, a plan for the electrical system, electrical wiring, cross nuts, a subfloor, alternator connection, Shore power receptacle, some framing, insulation and a swivel seat on the passenger’s side. The biggest accomplishment, however, may be that 99% of the purchasing is out of the way!
What lessons have I learned and what valuable advice do I have for other van builders, if any? Let me begin.
1. Buy as much as you can in advance! It’s amazing how much time is spent researching, deciding on what to purchase and then organizing these purchases. I believe this is where most of the time is spent, at least in the beginning. In my opinion, buying in advance is the only way to go, because as it is, I’m having to delay while waiting for deliveries and some things are still on backorder.
2. Remove rings and jewelry while working on the van! I was stuffing
wool into small spaces the other day and low and behold, my finger got trapped with my hand at head level. I shined my headlamp out the back windows, waving for help with my left
hand every time a car went by. I tried to remain calm but a sense of panic brewed after 20 minutes passed. Luckily for me, my housemate came home! We tried wd40 to aide in removing the ring, and tackled the problem from a mechanical standpoint, trying to work the ringed finger out the way it went in, but it wasn’t budging. Finally, my friend took a hammer to the metal next to my finger which allowed me to wiggle free from the ring. Good thing he has a steady hand. So, no more jewelry during the build.
3. Finish your framing before you insulate… if using wool or hemp batting! You may ignore this advice and never have any issues or you may be in a situation like me, in which you are now yanking all the insulation out! I’m actually not sure about the hemp batting but the wool is extremely strong and will wrap around a turning screw! While removing two of the furring strips so I could prime them, the wool got all bunched up in the back and stripped two of my cross nuts. So, especially if you are planning to remove the framing to prime it, you’ll want to insulate when you are finished, rather than beforehand.
4. Hemp batting from Hempitecture is the bomb! Wanting to offset the carbon footprint of traveling around in a van, I decided to go as eco-friendly as possible with my build. Therefore, for insulation, I purchased a bit of Havelock organic wool, for the small cracks and spaces, and semi-rigid hemp batting from Hempitecture, for the bulk of the insulation. The customer service at Hempitecture is excellent! You can read more about the benefits of hemp here.
Some Americans are afraid of hemp batting, but mostly, it’s because they haven’t done the research. I have, and I learned that hemp is the future! It’s the most sustainable building material on the planet, contains no VOCs or harmful chemicals, is resistant to pests, inhibits mold, reduces sound transmission, has a high R value, absorbs moisture (helping to regulate the flow of vapor) and it’s fireproof. In many countries, hemp is being used to build entire houses, from hempcrete bricks to hemp batting for insulation!
I’m loving how easy it is to install. Using a hand saw, I score it on both sides and then easily pull it apart. It keeps its form and makes the process a breeze. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have purchased any wool. Now, I’m a fan of organic wool, too, but hemp batting is just easier to work with, spells fresh and is even more sustainable, with no animals disrupted in the process. The cost (including shipping) is about the same as Havelock organic wool or less. The product is definitely less expensive but the hefty shipping fee is most of the cost.
It should be noted that hemp needs to breathe, so I will be using a hole saw to create breathing holes in the sides of cabinets.
I purchased three boxes of the R7 Van Insulation Bundle Packs and so far it looks like two boxes is plenty for the walls and and ceiling of my 136" Pro Master. I ended up using 2 van pack boxes of Hempitecture hemp batting and about half a bag of Havelock wool for my 136" Pro Master cargo van.
5. Leave the plastic triangles alone! (ProMaster van) The plastic triangle pieces near the floor inside the cabin of the Pro Master van should be left alone. These help stop debris from getting into the drainage areas underneath. See #6, below.
6. Barricade the van moat! (ProMaster van) The ProMaster has an interior channel that runs the length of the van at the bottom on either side which I call the “van moat.” These are weeping areas and should be left alone. As I mentioned in a previous post, these channels also contain the manufacturer’s holes filled with rubber plugs that can be removed for drainage purposes. I’ve heard of someone who put insulation in there only to find it became a stinky, soggy mess. Another van owner filled these channels with spray foam and eventually had a flood. Now that you understand the importance of leaving them alone, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about creating a barricade. You see, it occurred to me that the vertical support beams of the ProMaster open up to these channels at the base in many places, too. So, if you plan to fill these vertical support beams with insulation, which you should, the insulation could eventually wiggle its way down into the moat area. Like everything else, I researched and asked other van builders what they did. A couple of suggestions included the use of insulation pins, 2 1/2", and/or pieces of foam board shoved into the base of these cavities to block them off from the moat. Being a perfectionist, I bought both the insulation pins and a piece of foam board. I also picked up some gutter mesh which looked promising. I tried all three and, by far, the best solution was the gutter mesh. It can easily be cut to whatever shape you need for your barricade and attached using lap sealant, which you most likely have lying around after installing your roof fan. The insulation pins came in handy for something else! I’ll explain below.
While on the subject of the van moat, it should be noted that these channels flow into two holes found in the back on the underside of the van, each covered with a removable plastic plate. These openings are great places for running Shore Power cables or vent hoses.
7. Run shore power out the back bumper! (ProMaster van): Firstly, a shore power inlet on the back bumper is much stealthier than on the side of your van. Plus, a bumper can be replaced but a hole in the side of your van, is a hole in the side of your van. On the ProMaster you can run the shore power cable through the bumper and up through the manufacturer’s holes on the underside of the van, as mentioned in #6 above.
If using shore power, you'll want to buy an RV power extension cord for charging. You'll also need an electrical adapter if you want to plug into at someone's house. Be sure you purchase the right number of amps for your electrical system.
8. Insulation pins come in handy! While insulating the sliding door and back doors, I didn’t want the insulation to become an obstacle for the sliding and locking mechanisms within the door frames. So, I attached insulation pins using lap sealant act as a barricade, preventing the insulation from disturbing these mechanisms. As I continue with the build, I may find other uses for these pins, but I definitely didn’t need to buy 100 pieces!