• rebasgr8

Van Build: Order of Operations

Updated: Jan 27

So, this is a question everyone asks, "Where do I start and in what order do I do things on my van build?" I think much of it is based on personal choice while a few things must be done in a specific order.

Here's the order of operations for my van build, along with details on how each step was completed - with some hired help.

Plan the layout - This is one that kept evolving, although I started with a solid plan. No matter how much you plan, most likely, you'll be making changes, too. For example, I scraped my dream bed idea after seeing how much more time the build was taking, and I was also worried about excess weight. However, it still helps to plan. Think about where you want your cabinets, bed, and main components and what size they need to be. One can go down a huge rabbit hole doing this planning. Have fun.

Install roof fan - The shock of cutting a hole in the roof of of your van, prepares you for just about anything to come! I used the MaxxAir Roof Van which seems to be a high quality product. When you install, just make sure to use a metal shear cutter to avoid getting metal shavings in your van which are next to impossible to remove & can cause rust. I bought the Swivel Head Metal Cutter Shear. If you don't use a metal shear, then tape a box underneath where you'll be cutting to collect the metal shavings and then clean up with magnets, a vacuum and/or alcohol afterwards.

Install van windows - My windows were done later in the build since they were backordered, so I cheated and put them where they should be, at the beginning. As a window becomes part of the outside wall, it makes no sense not to do this towards the beginning. Then, you can measure around it and build around it or build in front of it. If you're thinking of skipping the windows, think again! You will create a ton of condensation in your van just from breathing. It can also get really hot and stuffy without proper air flow. You'll want to make sure there's a flow from back to front. So, if you put your roof fan in the front, then put screened windows that open in the back.

Check for van leaks, fix leaks & prevent leaks - Definitely do this at the beginning and after roof fan and window installations. See my post for tips on how to check for leaks and prevent them.

Install floor insulation - Obviously this needs to come towards the beginning as you plan for the build on top of it.

I am tall and didn't want to lose head room. Also, I'm mostly chasing the heat so I went with less insulation on the floor to save headroom. I used Havelock organic wool in the lower ribs and then Camper Seal Foam Tape on the upper ribs. The camper tape was an afterthought that actually worked out great. It was easy to cut and apply. I believe I used 3 rolls for my Pro Master 136." It wasn't the most environmental choice, but I needed something.

Install the van subfloor - My subfloor is 3/4" birch and fastened directly into the floor with cross nuts. My birch is a great quality, too, as I chose the most environmental plywood I could find. I've read that birch is also better for moist environments. The three separate floor boards were fastened together with pocket screws. I was unsure of using 3/4" at first but it will provide a nice surface to drill into for support brackets. The person who did the work, insisted on drilling into the floor of my van, and although it does make for a strong floor, I'm not sure I would do that again. The existing holes from the manufacturer's tie downs installed on the floor could have been used and that with the weight of the build on top of it, may have been just fine. Holes, especially on the bottom, become vulnerable spots that could lead to rust further down the road. In retrospect, I wish I had made a template from the sub floor pieces to use when I cut out my floor covering. I didn't, and had to do the whole measuring process again!

Van build electrical plan - At this point, you'll need to know where power will be needed throughout the cabin. What electrical appliances and accessories (fans, frig, lights) will you be using? How much power will you need? In my opinion, it's best to buy all the items you want so you have the specs (energy needs) for each. This will help you calculate your energy needs. Also, purchasing can take a ton of time and waiting for items to ship can delay your build. Will you need a 12v or 120v system, or both? If you need both, when will you use each? What kind of batteries will you use and how will you charge them - with solar panels, alternator power and/or shore power? I think it's great to plan bigger on this one as you wouldn't to find out later that you have to rewire just to add a component. I'm using a 12v system, a 120v system when I'm plugged into shore power, and an inverter to run 120v for small needs when not plugged into shore power. I also have a 200 watt solar panel. My van also charges from the alternator whenever I'm driving, which helps on cloudy days.

By far, the best resource for planning your electric system is FarOutRide. I highly recommend using their electrical advice on this one.

After you've planned your electrical system, I would use blue tape inside the van to label the paths the wires will take.

Scroll down to the end to find a list of some of the products I used on my van build.

Install furring strips (framing) on walls and ceiling - I spent hours and hours researching this one. From what I learned, when choosing the size of wood to use, it's a balancing act of saving unnecessary weight vs adding more support. My main vertical furring strips are 3/4" beams. I definitely wouldn't use more than this unless it's for the horizontal support beams that attach along the wall to support the bed. The 3 ceiling support beams have 3/4" birch (The ceiling finishing panels are 1/8" Baltic birch.) In linear feet every bit saved can make a huge difference. It may not sound like a lot but to those living in these tiny spaces, it is. A square foot in a van is like closet in a house! So, it's important to keep that in mind. I primed most of my furring strips with Seal Once Nano Penetrating Wood Sealer. I would definitely recommend treating the ceiling boards and any wood that is directly on top of metal or touching the outer walls of the van. (Side note: You should avoid having wood touch the outer walls of the van as much as possible as this creates thermal bridges which equals areas susceptible to mold /mildew.) If not using Seal Once or similar products, use a decent paint primer. Of course, if you're using cedar, don't prime it. I read cedar has to breathe.

Insulate the van walls and van ceiling - I used Havelock organic wool in the smallest spaces and primarily hemp batting from Hempitecture. I love the hemp batting, and in retrospect, I'd use nothing but hemp in the future. By the way, I am not receiving any advertising payments from this company. See my post to read more about hemp insulation for my van.

When insulating, be sure you block off the van moat (weeping area around the bottom perimeter of the cabin) so insulation doesn't make its way into this area. Read my post to learn about why and how to do this.

Electrical wiring - This part is fairly easy after you've planned your system and calculated the wire sizes needed. We used rubber grommets and/or wire loom split tubing where ever the wires passed through holes in the van structure and/or where they directly touched sharp metal edges. Be sure to label all the wires with the names of the accessories they will be used for along with any other details.

Shore power inlet - This could have been done earlier. Rather than put a hole in the van wall, we went up through the vent under the van and into the back bumper. See my post about it. I did read that most of the shore power plug-ins at camp grounds are on the driver's side, so you might want to plan yours on that side. Mine is on the passenger's side.

You're on your own from here but this is a good start.

Electrical System:

1500W Pure Sine Wave Inverter Power Inverter - My friend, an electrical engineer, said you shouldn't use the full capacity of your inverter. In other words, in his opinion, for my 1500 watt inverter, I should only use up to 800 or 900 watts. That's enough to boil a pot of water using this hand tea kettle which works great.

Battle Born Lithium LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Battery - I have two. Now, I believe they sell these with a built in warmer for colder temperatures. Definitely look for those!

Battery trays with straps - You'll want to replace the straps for better tie downs.

Renogy DC On-Board Charger with MPPT

12v Lithium Ion Battery Converter / Charger

Blue Seas Battery On/Off Switch

Shore Guard Surge Protector - Surge protection when plugging into shore power

Aili Voltmeter Voltage Current Meter

12 Volt Adapter Outlet

Blue Sea 100 Amp Mini Bus Bar - We used two.

Light Switches

MRBF Terminal Fuse Block Kit

Van Appliances & Lighting:

Dometic CFX 28 12V Refrigerator - As it's just me, this one is just right. Dometic is the top of the industry standard in refrigerators.

Sorocco II wall fan - This 12v fan is awesome! Great quality, great reviews, and low energy usage.

Garage lights - These are a great size, have a cool look and easy on & off.

Reading light - I love this light. It has a bendable arm.

Overhead LED recessed lights by Acegoo - Many van builds use these lights and they are highly reviewed and recommended. Super lightweight and small with a high quality design.


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