Warm Backside.

Insulated and lined backdoors

Here is a small update showing the rear doors after they were insulated and covered in plywood.   The door controls (handle and lock) are isolated from the insulation by boxing them off with wooden stringers before insulating.  This way we can use the controls without allowing interior air access to the insulation or the metal on the doors.

If you look closely you can see that there is a thin section between the edge of the walls and the back door which is still metal.  We cut custom plywood strips to cover this up which took a long time in comparison to the space we were covering.


Air vent hole in the side wall

After all that discussion about vapor barriers and sealing off the insulation, the next thing to mention may be that you will still want to have some ventilation in the living space while you sleep.  We considered a few methods, including leaving the driver and passenger windows cracked and leaving vents between the driving area and living area, but settled on this design.

We went to B&Q yet again and bought:

– an outdoor hooded vent for a dryer
– two 90 degree connectors that also downsize from the large round vent to the square tubing we wanted to use inside
– a meter of square tubing
– an inner vent face that was round and flat and more applicable to the indoors.

Air vent tube behind our side wall

The idea behind this vent is to (1) exchange small amounts of air with the outside (2) prevent light leakage and (3) muffle interior sounds to people that might be walking nearby. To do so, we install the hooded vent then run about a meter of tubing along the inside of the wall before it opens into the van. With the long interior tube run and the hood on the outside of the vent, there is no light getting out to indicate that there are two people reading at night just inches away.

The hole in the outside skin of the van was made with a type of junior hacksaw designed to cut holes and which comes with a blade for both wood and metal from B&Q.

Working Inwards

looking good

Here you can see what the walls look like just after we have finished insulating, put up the sealed vapor barrier and then screwed in the plywood walls.  You may be able to tell that we segmented the walls into three pieces due to the curvature in the van walls.  This seemed the best way to get a good smooth interior surface without sacrificing too much interior space (instead of going straight up and down).  The Boxer is wide, but we wanted as much room as possible preserved on the inside.

After the walls have been screwed in, the vapor barrier, which was cut intentionally large, can be trimmed back with a box-cutting knife quite easily.

Wall insulation.

Insulating the side wall with loft insulation

Here you see Christina adding loft insulation to the walls.  I’m not sure I’d recommend loft, as I’m not sure its really made for vehicles.  Note our use of gloves to handle the loft and a groundsheet to prevent fiberglass getting everywhere.  We basically set up the area to be done, got it finished, and then tidied it all up right away.  I’ve heard from some other people who do van conversions regularly that styrofoam is the preferred method of insulation.

That said, this van has some warm walls.

After insulating, the vapor barrier went up immediately with a silicon bead around the edges to seal it and then it was all hidden under plywood screwed into the wood and metal struts.

Moving on up.

Building the frame for the side wall

Here you can see us starting to build up the walls.  We add wooden stringers to the metal supports on the inside for two reasons.  The first is to slow down the conduction of heat from the wall to the cold metal exterior of the van with a layer of wood, and the second is to give us some good wooden supports to both seal the vapor barrier to as well as screw the wall plywood to.

At this point I highly recommend measuring and drawing the location of all of the metal and wooden supports so that you can find them again when you want to add beds, shelves etc to the inside of the van and want to screw them into something substantial.  Once they are covered up, it is a lot less fun to look for them.

We used some the cheapest wood we could find at B&Q for these stringers, as most of the time we were screwing long screws through them into the metal struts underneath.

Use a drill to make your guide holes, and if you choose your bit size carefully, use screws with a good sized thread profile, and use a power screwdriver the screws will be held very firmly by the metal struts.

Starting from the ground up.

Our floor insulation

Insulation helps to keep the van temperature steady.  It is particularly useful to help prevent condensation on the metal exterior when it is cold outside.  Condensation in your walls and particularly in your insulation spells mildew and mold.  In order to prevent runaway mildew, you NEED a vapor barrier to prevent the warm humid air from the living area penetrating to the insulation and the cold metal beyond.  Vapor barrier can be bought at a hardware store and basically consists of a large roll of plastic.  We found it to be pretty cheap at B&Q in England.

[Outside Air] [Outer Metal Skin] [Insulation] [Vapor Barrier] [Interior Air]

Here you see us using one large board of some slightly fancier thermo insulation with skirting of standard styrofoam.  We used 18mm thick insulation, which has worked well.  The styrofoam was cut with a simple box-cutting knife but carefully, sawing more than cutting to prevent crumbling.  After laying it all down, we covered it up with a single sheet of our vapor barrier and nailed some 6mm plywood over the top of it to make our floor.

Cleaning up!

The van interior stripped bare

This is what the inside looked like after we had removed pretty much everything from the cargo area and then washed and bleached the inside.  It still wet so everything looks a bit shiny.  The floor was bonded to the metal below, so we didn’t really consider trying to pull it all up.

The Raw Product

The van as we bought it.

Here you can see a bit of what the van looked looked like on the inside.  It had been kitted out with cladding and shelves for use by a carpenter.  The first thing we did was take all the woodwork out, saving the useful looking pieces for future use.  At this stage, if you are looking to save some money, start networking about your need for lumber and regularly visiting skips and construction sites to supplement your lumber supply.


Buying the van from Liam

Once we had a pretty good idea what we wanted, we started to take a look at what was on offer on two of the big sites in the UK. Gumtree is a site where people can advertise for free in different regions in the UK, a bit like Craigs List. We also looked on Autotrader, which is set up a bit more professionally and takes paid-for ads.

We found a Ford Transit in Bedford that looked promising and we went to meet Liam.  Chatting with Liam for a bit and looking over the Ford Transit, Liam mentioned that he had a Peugeot Boxer at his old location.  The Boxer was actually being used as a stationary shed in his old outdoor lot, so was pretty moldy etc.  We looked it over and decided that it looked OK for the 500 GBP we were offering, if he’d get us a nice yearlong MOT.  This picture is us collecting our Boxer from Liam after our test drive the following week.

Some advice I’d give to anyone looking to buy a van to convert into a stealth camping van:

  • Go for mechanical soundness – the last thing you want is to pour money and effort into a van that breaks down on you.
  • Don’t worry about appearance too much – commercial writing, a few dents and some dirt are exactly what will make the van nondescript when you are traveling.
  • Talk about your plans for the van – people have a surprising amount of useful information if you get them interested.
  • Make friends if you buy it from a garage – you will probably want something done to the van sooner rather than later, it helps to have a friendly garage to take your work to.
  • Think about windows before you buy – windows are very pleasant but leak light and heat.  Decide beforehand on your desired level of stealthiness as well as where and when you will be using the van so you are looking over the appropriate types of vehicles.  We decided on very stealthy and so got a panel van with no side windows in the cargo area, but later cut a large low-profile skylight from the roof.
  • As with any car purchase, make a nice long list of reminders and check everything.  Interior and exterior lights, windows, wipers, wiper sprayer, radio, heater, indicators, parking brake, door locks etc.
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