Trials and Tribulations of Building an Off-Grid Sprinter Van
We first got hooked on vanlife after travelling throughout Europe in a converted Ford Transit van. Back in Canada we wanted to make the leap and convert our own van. We began looking for older sprinters for sale due to their fuel economy and high roof. We ended up picking up our first born, Sven, off a retired carpenter in Squamish, BC.
Going into the build we laid out our criteria. We knew after a long day on the road we wanted our bed to assemble quickly and not involve removing a table. Since space is so tight in the van, we also wanted to keep it as open concept as possible. Our two mountain bikes, a 6’ long surf board and two sets of golf clubs also needed to fit in the storage areas.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, here are a couple some finished photos:
Next up was the ceiling panels. We ended up using larch which resulted in the boat-like finish that we love. Luckily my dad had a lot of the wood in his shop which kept our costs down. There was a lot of sanding, staining and swearing involved to get the panels installed. The corners were especially challenging to get a nice miter but after a few tests with scrap wood we were able to get the angle right.
On to the electrical. We installed 300 watts of solar which powers 232ah of batteries. This runs our lights, speakers, water pump, fridge, fan and USB charging ports. It turned out to be ample amount of power since we don't have an inverter that runs any high loads. Our batteries have never dropped below 80% capacity. They are also connected to the van’s starter battery so they charge when the vehicle is on.
We used 3/4" finished ply to frame almost everything. I've seen a lot of builds using 1/2" ply but since our van is a 3500 and could handle more weight we went with a thicker board. It's much easier to install as well. Vinyl plank flooring is seen in the image below on the right.
Our 1” thick countertop is 18” wide and finished with black laminate. In retrospect we should have gone with a wider countertop to allow for a larger sink and more prep space.
Nothing is square in the van.. making the top cabinets is a lot of fun to install ;) I don't have a great photo of all the electrical/wiring but you can see the fuse box behind the sink. The batteries are on the ground not seen in this photo.
The rollout in the back took us a long time to design in order for two bikes, a 6’ surfboard and cooking/storage to fit. We were literally working with fractions of inches to make it all work. It turned out perfect in the end, making the usable space in the van feel much bigger.
One of our favourite things about the van is the back door speakers that swing out 270 degrees. We connected our deck to our back batteries (that are charged on solar) so we can play music while we're camping and not have to worry about draining a battery.
6 months later we were done! The build team is pictured below including Jack, who kept the morale high at all times.
Our first adventure took us from Penticton, BC down to San Francisco and back. Photos of the trip are below!
Since then, we’ve given Sven a nice face lift.