Just bought a van. Now what?

Hey y’all. Me and my '98 econoline e-150 are super excited to join this awesome community. I am excited and overwhelmed by the possibilities that building out a van can present.

I’ve been tinkering with a less is more approach (very low tech, drawing as little power as possible) and while the idea of solar is intoxicating, I’m warming up to the idea of propane. Pun intended.

Welcome to the forum. I think you’ll find out that solar and propane do two completely different things.

To keep things simple with your build, and you should in an E150 since a half ton isn’t as suitable for a full-on build due to the lower weight-carrying capacity, you could basically treat it as a tent with wheels.

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Greetings & Welcome!

I’ma huge fan of low tech, simple, cheap, reliable, and relatively fool proof. I don’t go cheap because I can’t afford it, I go cheap because more expensive isn’t necessary, and it usually means more complicated and less reliable.

I don’t use propane or solar myself. My fuel of choice is kerosene, diesel, or cooking oil, whichever is cheapest or handiest when I need it. My stove and heater will run on any of those. My next air conditioner (swamp cooler) will run on fuel instead of electrical power as well, using a stirling engine to power it.

For electrical, I want cheap but reliable too. My primary system is an isolator connected to my ~$20 used deep cycle battery from a junkyard. I usually get 5-7 years out of those batteries. The total cost of my primary system is under $100 all in, and that includes the battery box and 8 accessory outlets. I also run a similar deep cycle battery for my starter battery, and each battery will last about a week without driving. I have low battery cutoffs on each battery to prevent over discharging, but even after they cut out, I still have plenty of power to start my van. The end result is I can boondock without driving for about 2 weeks.

My backup plan is a $99 generator combined with a $29 battery charger, that will also work on shore power if available. All my normal equipment/accessories are 12v, but if I need shore power for anything, the generator can provide it, anytime, & anywhere.

I’ve been really happy with my choices, not because of the cheap price tag, but because of the comfort, convenience, and reliability, the things which are important to me. Good quality doesn’t require a high price, or the latest & greatest whatever. Nomads have been successfully living as nomads for thousands of years, long before electricity or automobiles. History can be a great teacher, maybe better than many of the more modern methods. While I certainly enjoy a few electrical luxuries, I try not to rely too heavily upon them.


"Always avoid complicated solutions to solve simple problems." ~ OffGrid


Hey Van,

Don’t let anybody give you crap about your E150. They used the E150 to build ambulances with at one time while the GM had to use the 3/4 ton. Don’t get too top heavy and have good tires. Good luck.

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Making an RV with your own hands is not too difficult for an experienced craftsman. But the time of implementation can be very delayed due to the constant improvement of the design. In order not to get into such a situation, you should think over the interior in advance, abandoning obviously unnecessary and complicated elements.

Here are some useful tips:

  • You should not do everything from scrap materials; you will have to live in a van for at least a week and it’s better to spend your vacation in comfort;
  • When remodeling a van, it is better to abandon the idea of a dry closet (instead use a portable one ht tps://www.parkedinparadise.com/best-portable-toilet). In such a small salon you still cannot make good insulation, so it is better to use the free space for storing things;
  • A serious revision of a heating and electrical system will be required; you have little to do without the skills of an auto mechanic;
  • You need to think about alternative sources of cooling as an air conditioner is very expensive and complex. ht tps://evapolar.com/blog/portable-ac-for-car-van-and-rv/
  • It is better to make cardboard layouts in advance and estimate the position of the furniture;
  • If you still managed to fit the shower and toilet, do not forget about a drain tank;
  • It is better not to forget to make a connector for connecting 220V at camping sites, well, and a converter for 12V from a car battery. ht tp://thecampervanproject.com/fitting-the-240v-hookup/

I hope you find this info useful!