It took a full two weeks for the US Postal Service to deliver the bill of sale and title we needed to register the van, and to make sure it was really genuinely legally ours before starting our build. I laid the groundwork for our future YouTube channel, and posted a van tour video of what we got before we started into it.
We didn’t wait long after that to get started, despite winter. The foundation of our build is what I call “the Erector set,” a network of L-channel structures that’s bolted to the walls, as well as into the floor using the same floor channels that used to secure wheelchairs in transit. This is well underway, with a bed that we could use right now plus copious under-bed storage. We still need to add three floor-to-roof cabinets, as well as a counter that will fill the 40% area of the 60/40 side doors. We’ve figured out where the fridge (which arrived broken — exchange in progress), batteries, propane tank, and water tank(s) will go, and are starting to build the cabinets in those areas, also out of L-channel. The idea is that the L-channel will support the structure, which means the walls can be lightweight wallboard, or maybe even pegboard. This may be a 3/4 ton van, but we don’t want to stress it by loading it down to capacity.
Meanwhile, I’ve done some really crappy bodywork to try to get the van through state inspection. It’s rusty, and the entire rocker panels need to come out and get replaced. That’s not in the time or budget right now, so I patched it and will get to it when we’re in good financial shape. The rest of the van is in great shape and very much worth salvaging despite the rusty rockers. A new friend took the wheelchair lift off our hands for us, and thinks he can at least use it for spare parts if not repair it himself. I’m glad it’s not just going to get scrapped.
The house electrical system will arrive over the next few days. That means a pair of Renogy 200 amp hour AGM batteries, a Renogy charger that will manage charging from both the alternator (through the wires that formerly powered the wheelchair lift) and the solar panels, once installed, plus a 12-fuse panel that all of the “house” wiring will come from. That means everything from lights, to 12v and USB outlets, to the fridge, to my ham radios, and anything else we can think of. I don’t think I’ll need all 12 circuits right now, which will leave us room for future expansion with more lighting, the Maxxair roof vent, and so on. (No, I did not mention a power inverter. I’m trying to stick with 12v as much as possible to conserve the energy lost when converting DC to AC. I already own a 350 watt inverter, which should be enough for any small devices or maybe a laptop, though I already have a 12v adapter for my Lenovo.)
There are so many other projects, too. I need to clean the roof to put the solar panels on, but it hasn’t been warm enough to do that. We may have to just charge off the alternator alone until we can get to a warmer climate to deep clean the roof and install solar. That goes for the roof vent as well, since the self leveling sealant has to be above 60F to work properly. That’s not happening here for many months here in New Hampshire. The composting toilet won’t arrive for another few weeks. So we’ll have plenty to keep us busy.
I’ve got several videos lined up to edit. The build is going faster than my editing, but that’s okay. Since the channel isn’t really started yet, I can pre-stage a bunch of build videos, then start releasing them once I’m sure I’ll have and maintain enough content for one build or how-to video per week. Once we hit the road and start traveling, we’ll supplement that with a second video of each week’s adventures, alternating between techie stuff and #vanlife adventures.
One big factor on when we actually hit the road is my lease at my current apartment. It’s up at the end of February, having given notice in December that I do not intend it to auto-renew for another year. The property manager indicated that we could probably go month-to-month for a little while, which would give us ample time to not only finish building the van (as much as we can in the winter), but also to work on selling or giving away everything we won’t be taking with us, which is the vast majority of what we currently own. I believe we’re on track to have the van ready by the end of February, but we’re woefully behind on dealing with our stuff. With any luck, we can stay through March or even April if needed, then hit the road when we’re ready. Otherwise, we might have to move lots of stuff to a storage unit for a few months, then deal with it when we’re back in New England this summer. I just set up the van for towing. Renting a Uhaul trailer is cheap and easy, and this van will have no issue hauling even a 6×12 trailer, the largest they rent.
There are a million other things I haven’t even mentioned yet. The logistics never end. At least we’re starting with a solid van, if a bit rusty.