How Much Did It Cost To Convert Our Van?
*Scroll to the bottom of this post to see an itemized chart of what we spent to convert our van.
Running into someone we know in a trailhead parking lot with the van usually is followed by “So you converted this yourself? How much did it cost?” The answer is something we’re actually pretty proud of. It didn’t come without months of planning and all the time and sweat equity we put into it, but we love our van. The grand total for our van and our DIY conversion is $36000. The cost of our conversion without including the purchase of the van is around $9000. This doesn’t mean much unless you break it down into how we spent it and the amenities our van has. We are well aware that this isn’t the cheapest van conversion ever, but we also know that we included a lot of really nice amenities, like a large solar system, a nice fridge, and a composting toilet.
We put in months of time planning and looking for our van before we spent a penny on anything, which we recommend doing when you are considering any big purchase. In January 2020 we found our van, a 2019 RAM Promaster 2500 cargo van with 16,000 miles through our local classifieds for $27,000. As college students that was just a little bit scary. We’d never spent that kind of money and were well aware that buying it was just the beginning of the money we were going to put into our brand new (to us) hunk of metal.
That next week we bought all the supplies for our first stage of building, namely our fan, windows, and solar panels. Basically all of our “body modifications” before we went in and started covering that up. We went big on all of these, buying a top of the line MaxxAir fan for $310, as it's our main source of climate control, 300 watts of solar for $440, and another $500 on our two custom windows.
After that, we started putting in all of the “infrastructure” that you don’t see now, our floor and insulation, electrical system, and furring strips. Our Havelock insulation cost about $450. We wouldn’t do anything else, as its nontoxic, has a high R-value, and is really easy to install. The electrical system was pricey, but worth every penny as we’ve lived full time, charging cameras, Go-Pros, drones, cell phones, laptops, iPads and powering a high-speed blender and Instant Pot, along with the continuous strain of keeping the fridge, lights, toilet, and fan on. The collective cost of our electrical system was $1500. It includes a 2000W inverter, two 200aH gel batteries, a battery isolator, a fuse box, and all the other assorted pieces and wires that went into putting everything together.
Once all of that was in place, we could start the real building. We put in LifeProof floors, a tongue, and groove cedar ceiling, and walls made from ¼ inch Baltic birch plywood that we painted white. The bed platform was put together out of 2x3 supports and ½ inch Baltic birch plywood. Our IKEA cabinets are covered by butcher block counters from Home Depot. We ordered LED marine puck lights for the ceiling, and some marine switches to turn them on and off. Our three outlets are all from Home Depot and have USB ports. There are a lot of miscellaneous costs in this category too, from paint to screws and brackets, that filled our Home Depot receipts amounting to a total of a little over $1500 between the Home Depot lumber and supplies and our IKEA cabinets.
The “bedroom” area was complete with a Zinus foam mattress ($115), sheets ($50), and a linen duvet ($120), which has been awesome for sleeping in the summer. We were gifted for our wedding the gorgeous Pendleton pillow shams that have zippers to store our clothes inside instead of a pillow insert as well, both for decoration and the extra storage. Next to our bed is a bench, also built out of Baltic birch that houses our Nature’s Head composting toilet which we purchased secondhand, but brand new in the box, for $750. On top of it sits a cushion from Target ($28).
Our kitchen area is where we spent the bulk of our budget. Greta loves to cook, and we knew that it was a space we wanted to be nice in order to make living in our van a reality. The single most expensive item was our Isotherm fridge, which we bought for $1326.99 with $195 shipping. Our sink is from IKEA, and we paid $100 for the faucet and another $120 for the basin. Our water system, including our 12V pump, accumulator, three 6 gallon water jugs, and piping came in to be about $250.
Our kitchen also consists of three appliances, a camping stove, high powered blender, and an Instant Pot, that we received as wedding presents from our awesome friends and family. The last important items are the latches, gas struts, knobs, and pulls that make sure everything stays put while we are on the road. These cost us around $135.
Our last expense relates to our “van accessories”, which is a pretty broad category, ranging from these cute knit baskets from IKEA to our Metolius wood grips hang board. We spent around $160 at IKEA for our rug, stool, hooks, hanging shoe organizer, mirror, shelves, bins, hanging baskets, and a dish drying mat. Our hang board costs $100. We have a $250 roof rack that we’ve installed on top and a swivel seat ($300) that opens up our inside space.
Wow, that was a lot of stuff and a lot of money. This wouldn’t have been possible if we weren’t now living in our new home full-time, and luckily that is exactly what we wanted to be doing. We feel really free without rent, utilities, and other bills looming over our heads. Most importantly, the life we want with each other. Van living is not always what you see on Instagram, but it has been a fun adventure and we are loving every day of it.