Building A Van For $200

After putting together our awesome Sprinter and working hard on the Scamp, we were anxious to get on the road and didn’t want to spend tons of time working on the Chevy. After traveling off and on for the last few months we have a pretty good idea of what is really necessary in a van to be comfortable and live on the road. We were also attracted by the challenge of building out this van as affordably as possible (see yesterday’s post) as an exercise in what it really takes to hit the road.

We purchased 3/8″ sheeting for the floor and installed it directly on top of the sheet metal. The bed is 3/4″ A/C plywood (11 layers!) cut to fit the sides of the van (our van tapered about 1″ from front to rear); conveniently, the left over plywood was the right height to support the bed below our torsos (placement was determined by the width of our storage totes).

There are a few key items that you probably need inside your van. The items we chose to include in our budget breakdown are things that we’ve judged to be necessary to “make the jump” to living in your van comfortable. There are always ways pare down and make the entry costs cheaper and never ending ways to make things more complicated or expensive—these just represent our thoughts on the matter.

Budget Van Build:

  • 2 sheets 3/8″ sheeting for floor: $36 (Home Depot)
  • Box of self tapping screws for floor: $6 (Home Depot)
  • 1 sheet 3/4 A-C plywood for bed: $34 (Home Depot)
  • Two burner propane stove: $25 used (garage sales, Craigslist) or $40 new.

A single burner can also work but for minimal extra cost two burners can be quite nice. 1 pound propane cylinders will work just fine and you can upgrade to a 5 pound container when you can. We’re actually just cooking with my backpacking stove outside the van right now, so whatever you’ve got will get you on the road!

  • Cabinet: $15 (garage sales)
  • Futon mattress: $40 (thrift store, Craigslist)

Non-spring mattresses can be trimmed with a razor blade to fit around ribs in the van body. A full-size futon will hang over a plywood bed (48″ wide) but at 54″ this size works fine. Or just cut it down and resew the cover.

This is one of the vandwelling necessities we already had. Any clean container will work but having a good supply of water on hand is key! We keep 4 1L Nalgene containers full for drinking water and cooking and refill them from our large container.

Here’s something that you probably don’t need to get started but being able to charge a computer while going down the road is really important to us—and probably to lots of potential van dwellers

  • LED dome replacement lights: $6 (eBay)

Since you’ll be going in and out of your vehicle a fair amount, switching the dome lights to LEDs (or simply removing the fuse for them) will probably save you from killing your van battery repeatedly.

Total van build: $208

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