Plan of attack – 11 simple steps to achieving your diy campervan

Right. These are the 11 simple steps needed to transform our maxi-taxi into a campervan so our 4-wheel adventures can take off in relative comfort. And style, obviously.

    1. Buy and fit laminate flooring. Involves removing upright bolts in floor that were used to secure the seats (and which I keep treading on), fitting chipboard, laying the underfloor insulation and then fitting the laminate on top. Having spent only 20 minutes in sauna-like conditions measuring up the van yesterday, we’re going to skip the underfloor heating at this stage.
    2. Order and fit toilet. The size of the toilet will dictate where the three surrounding ‘modesty’ screens will sit, and how much space we’ll then have for the kitchen. [note: The bathroom will also be accessible from the rear door of the van, which means we can empty the waste water from the sink and remove the cassette from the toilet. This also means we can get a bit of a through draft into the van when the door’s open. There will be a screen next to the toilet so it’s not visible through the back door, but fitting a wall next to the basin would reduce the bathroom width by about 10cm so we’ll just have a blind on the glass instead. One that’s dust-repellent, anti-static and easy to wash, of course. If such a thing exists?? (sorry, in-jokes are probably considered very poor blogging etiquette).]
    3. Order and fit fridge, freshwater tank (which will go under the kitchen sink) and waste tank (which will sit under the bathroom sink – we can then open the back door of the van and empty water from the valve at the back of the wastewater tank, just as we can remove the cassette from the toilet on the opposite side of the bathroom). Also order and fit smaller (2.5kg) gas bottle and casing, which will sit underneath the seating next to the stove.  Fitting the big ticket items early on lets us see how much space we have for everything else.
    4. Joinery – build cupboards / drawers which will go underneath the seating and underneath the stove and sink in the kitchen. And the sink in the bathroom. Also need to fit extra panel to the side of the seating which will slide out to form the bed, fit laminate onto wall between kitchen and bathroom, and incorporate the door.
    5. Order and fit water heater and water pump. Ideally these would go on the left-hand side of the van underneath the sink but that side is already heavy with both water tanks, so to distribute the weight a bit, we’ll put the water heater on the right-hand side under the stove, and run a pipe underneath the flooring to the freshwater tank.
    6. Finish bathroom – install basin, do tiling around toilet and basin.
    7. Figure out wiring and locate batteries – not sure if we’ll need one or two at this stage – but they’ll sit alongside the battery charger underneath the seating behind the driver’s seat.
    8. Electrics – fit and connect lighting, connect water heater, move speakers (currently providing piped music to the bathroom) to the middle of the van and install 3 ceiling vents.
    9. Fit work surfaces in kitchen, install sink and stove and connect to gas (will need help with this bit).
    10. Upholstery – fit seating in living area.
    11. Interior design – fit blinds and/or gingham curtains, commission surfer-chic artwork, casually scatter cushions around seating.

 

We’ve chosen the hottest day of the year so far to start on the flooring…

Paul resorting to desperate measures to find some shade

 

The hardboard layer and insulation went down well, and we’re ready to lay the laminate flooring next weekend. Again, let’s make it clear when I say ‘we’ – Paul is doing all the physical stuff here. I have joined in the shopping excursions, but otherwise have been taking photos from the sidelines and occasionally offering helpful advice at critical moments. Which is also an important role; we should all play to our strengths.

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Buying the van – what happens next?


Tues 11 October 2010

So after a seemingly endless, global search that saw us trek out to car yards as far away as Strathpine and Acacia Ridge, we’ve finally found the perfect van, hurrah!!

Well, I say we…

Paul had very precise requirements, and was starting to lose hope that there were any Toyota commuter vans in Queensland that represented exactly what he wanted (i.e. diesel, automatic, low mileage, low cost, no signage emblazoned on the side, one careful lady owner etc). We had seen and discounted quite a few for various reasons, and unfortunately every salesman we encountered had the same reaction, exclaiming with a sharp intake of breath and a shake of the head that they were as ‘rare as hen’s teeth’.

Not to be defeated, I logged on to carsales.com last Friday morning with the now ingrained list of requirements, and at the top of the list was a lovely looking van. It was petrol, not diesel, but other than that, it seemed exactly right. A 2006 model with only 41,000 km on the clock and best of all, it was $32,000 – $3,000 less than we thought we’d have to pay. It had somehow slipped through the cracks on Paul’s search, but he agreed it looked promising. That evening, Paul rang the contact number listed, and the guy said he had theoretically already ‘sold’ it to two people who were scrambling to arrange their finance, but if we could promise cash the following day, it was ours. Well. That was a turn up for the books.

Keen not to be gazumped ourselves, on Saturday morning we drove in torrential rain to yet another interesting Brisbane suburb, Rocklea, where we met the owner in a printing & signage workshop where the van was being stored. It had recently come across from WA, where it was owned by ABC Childcare. It wasn’t too good to be true, it was a beautiful van – clean and shiny with no dents and hardly any wear inside. It also came with a free fire extinguisher!

We gave it a thorough test drive in the garage, and then dashed to the bank down the road for a cash deposit before he could sell it to anyone else.

The owner was great, and promised to arrange for all 12 rear seats to be taken out, get it certified as a 2-seater vehicle and also re-register it in Queensland – all without charging any extra!

Sat 16 October
Paul drove back to Rocklea yesterday to transfer the rest of the money and drive the van home – sans 12 rear seats. Luckily it fits perfectly down the side of the house. So here it is: ooooh, aaaaah.

Campervan

 

Plenty of room!

Sat 23 October
The first job was to get the windows tinted, which Paul arranged at Auto-Tint in Capalaba. They used the darkest legal tint and promised no bubbles. It looks pretty good:

 

In the afternoon we also joined 5,000 other people wearing this season’s pac-a-mac at the Brisbane Caravan and Camping Sale. It was good to check out the various fixtures and fittings, including lighting and sinks, that we can use in the van, although admittedly we spent most of our time swooning at the fantastic Winnebagos that slept about 16. Our van does not resemble a Winnebago. We found a conversion company who were helpful, and can do either the whole van or just the tricky bits. The look on Paul’s face suggested he would quite like someone to do the whole van, so we had to make a swift exit.

At least we can get a quote for just doing the cutting work to install the gas bottle and ventilation.

Fri 29 October
It’s all systems go. One of Paul’s colleagues has done a 3-D design of the van, which shows everything should fit in well, with our living / dining / sleeping area at the front, a kitchen in the middle with hob on one side and sink on the other, and a tiny bathroom at the back:

Sun 31 October
Paul spent all day yesterday building a mock frame inside the van, to show where each bit will sit. Here you go:

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

 

The only issue that keeps rearing its head is the height of the van inside. It’s 156m high, and because I’m 170cm and Paul is a bit taller, it means that spending any length of time standing or walking through induces a rather stiff back and neck. One option is to raise the roof an extra foot or so with either a hard or soft pop-top so we can freely move around, but Paul is not keen.

Cutting the roof off would obviously be a major job, fairly expensive and not particularly one for the driveway. It would decrease the rigidity inside and make it hard to have an internal wall separating the bathroom (particularly with a soft-top), reduce fuel efficiency and limit the number of multi-storey car parks we could frequent.

Of course, we won’t be spending long periods standing or walking inside however high the ceiling is. But it seems a shame to spend time building a lovely kitchen and bathroom if it’s then too uncomfortable to use them. Anyway, lots of people have tried to persuade Paul and he is having none of it – he says I can fry his breakfast kneeling down at the cooker. Hilarious.
Sun 7 November
We’ve had no luck with the conversion company, who as it turned out were not interested in just doing part of the job. So Paul’s going to tackle it all himself – any excuse for another trip to Bunnings to buy some shiny new tools.

He ordered a stainless steel box for the 9kg gas bottle, which arrived this week. The plan was for it to sit underneath the seating bench but it’s a bit tall, and means when we put the seat cushion on top, the seat will be at window height. To avoid passers by getting a perfect view of our derrieres through the (albeit beautifully tinted) windows as we sit and enjoy our cups of tea, we might have to get a smaller gas bottle, that fits under the seats as we planned. A 2.5kg bottle should be fine just for weekends away anyway.

Sun 20 November
There were a few sweaty palms today, as Paul had to cut a nice round hole in the side of the van for the electrical power point. I can’t imagine there’s much demand for minibuses with portholes, so there’s no going back now!

Still, it went beautifully: