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Hello ProMaster Forum Community!

For the past couple months I have been researching van-living.
I'm in my late 20's, looking to move from a small town in south-eastern Pennsylvania to the San Francisco bay area.
I have a bachelor's degree from a state university, but in the liberal arts. That mistake combined with graduating while the economy was still recovering from the recession meant underemployment.
I've been in a miserable living situation, struggling with depression, and unable to save money since, although I have paid off my considerable student loans.
The retail chain I have been working for for the past several years has stores in the bay area, so I could transfer and keep my full-time position.
While my salary would not be enough to rent an apartment, if I can live out of a van and avoid paying rent and utilities I will be able to pay off the van and save money while living in the area I've always dreamed of AND having a more private accommodation than in a share-house. I plan to use a gym membership for bathroom access, and either eat most of my meals outside or cook simple meals in my van.

I decided to work with the Ram Promaster 159" wheel-base, high roof chassis because it has a gasoline engine rather than diesel, is easier to have repaired, and easier to drive than the Sprinter.
I plan to stealth camp in urban areas. The 159" standard should be able to squeeze under the "oversized vehicle" parking ordinances, while still giving me ample space.
Since I don't have any construction experience myself, I was planning to contract out the building to Vanlife Customs because I really like their designs and overall aesthetic.

Some must-haves:


  • I really don't want to rely on propane. I'd like to cover my roof with as many solar panels as possible (I've been looking at these) and hook them up to this Kodiak generator.
  • Two MAXXFAN Deluxes so I can have one pulling air in and one pushing air out (I handle cold better than heat, so the dual-fan set up is non-negotiable).
  • LED light tape with different colors and dimming options for under-cabinet or overhead recessed lighting.
  • Dometic refrigerator.
  • An efficient microwave.
  • Enough solar power left over to charge a smartphone and laptop.
  • An electric water pump, 2 5-7 gallon water tanks and a decent sized sink for washing face, hands, brushing teeth and possibly washing dishes.
  • A solid, insulated bulkhead separating the cab from the living space.
  • A door in the bulkhead that can only be opened from the living space (ideally it would be practically invisible from the cab) for security and an emergency exit.
  • Separate keys for the ignition/cab doors and the bulkhead door/rear doors for security.
  • A comfortable, reclining swivel chair, on tracks so it can be moved out of the way while staying secure when driving.
  • A custom set of shelves that can be pulled away from the wall without upsetting anything on them to double as a desk.
  • An adjustable bed platform that can fit a full-size, 6-8" thick futon as either a bed or a sofa.
  • Space in the back or under the bed to store a road/city bicycle without removing the wheels or needing a folding bicycle.

Some would-be-nice-to-haves:


  • Enough solar power to use a portable induction cooktop and/or instant pot.
  • Enough solar power for exterior flood lights and/or security cameras (while I would like the extra security, this would take a LOT of power and affect my stealthiness).
  • Enough room under the bed to store a 6' stepladder (for accessing the solar panels if I need to).
  • Modified rear doors (something like the bottom rear hatch on the Honda Element) for loading a bicycle sideways into a storage area under the bed without exposing the living space.

I tried downloading SketchUp, but the learning curve is frustrating. The Sportsmobile Studio is excellent, but I want a lot of custom options that are not available.
I ended up using the Sportsmobile template and Adobe Photoshop to crudely map out a potential layout that would include most of the features I want.
I was hoping experienced vandwellers/builders here would be willing to critique my build and offer advice. I'm aware that right now I'm still full of starry-eyed idealism, so you don't need to pull any punches!

My layout design is here.

Thanks in advance for reading my wall of text and any input you give!
 

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Welcome. I'm sure you will change your plans quite a bit before you start your build mainly due to cost constraints. You should be able to gain a lot of expertise here before you commit to any conversion shop and hopefully you will. I could tell you a lot of what you are expecting is fanciful thinking and your build will end up substantially different from what you feel you need and want now but that is something only you can realize as you begin on this adventure.

Try to listen to what others here are telling you with an open mind and we all wish you good luck.
 

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Issue with your electrical system is the use of 100w panels, a low amp hr battery inverter combo and the intended use of high amp draw appliances like an induction cooktop. You'll use a ton of power with very little energy storage.

A few things... look into Grape solar 180w panels. You could probably fit 3-4 of them for a max of 540-720w. Next would be your battery. It's nice to have an all in one system like that, but you'll have no fast way of charging it via the alternator should you have a cloudy day. You'll also only have 90ah which isn't a lot for induction (usually 1100w) or the instant pot (900w). The specs on the inverter says it can only do 1000w per outlet, so you probably won't even be able to use the induction. I'd suggest a separate battery and inverter. You'll probably need more battery than just 90ah, at least double.

Then there is the battery chemistry. Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide doesn't have the same cycle live of lifepo4 batteries.

Electrical systems aside, just a note about the bulkhead. I looked at a van with a bulkhead and it really closes off the space and makes it feel really small. Without the bulkhead, you could install swivel seats to make the cab part of the living space. Though to each their own.
 
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Discussion Starter #5
How much are you planning to have in your van including the van and the buildout? I didn't read through your entire list but when you mention a conversion company all I see is $$$
I'm expecting to have to take out a loan to finance this project. It'll cost somewhere between $40k-$90k for the van + buildout.
It's a lot of money, but compared to the downpayment and mortgage on a house that I'll never be able to afford, at least this I can pay off and own.
 

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vandreamSF please think real hard about van living in the bay area. There's probably about 100K folks living in all sorts of vehicles , tents , shacks , garbage piles all over the bay. Real third world . Cities are passing ordinances all the time to run the campers off.
I used to stealth camp the city all the time but now with all the "smash n' grabers" , I won't stay after dark .
Build your van , it will be a good "foot in the door" .
As far as your layout a few members have taken some furniture and boxes and stuff and put it in the van and saw how it felt , you know , feng shui and all. I'm copying my old Econoline because it worked great for me .
 

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If you spend $90k on a van (could you even get financing for it) it will still be a $50k van as soon as you start living in it.

You still have to think this project thru before you spend that kind of money. You should consider buying a cheap usedan conversion that you can try Irving in first and can quickly dump without losing anything THEN start considering this project.

I have the feeling you have no real idea about what you are considering doing or accomplishing and will end up being very disappointed and even poorer in the end.

Others have accomplished what you are considering but with much more knowledge than you have. I would suggest you contact a regular poster I know on the Sprinter site who goes under the name OrioN. He has been doing exactly what you are planning for many years in Vancouver BC and can give you a wealth of knowledge.
 

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I am concerned about your plan, your knowledge and safety as well as your finical commitment. I won’t say not to do this plan but will point out there are good older van conversions for less than $10K with lots of life in them and professionally built. Wait- I am going to say it- “don’t do this."
 

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First, I can't/won't give lifestyle advice (way above my pay grade) and I have next to zero experience in stealth camping in an urban area - not my thing. BUT, I do have a 159 HT for sale (CLICK HERE) that ticks some of the things on your wish list, might be worth a look - no partition, no reclining swivel chair, no full size bed.

Good luck.
 

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First, I can't/won't give lifestyle advice (way above my pay grade) and I have next to zero experience in stealth camping in an urban area - not my thing. BUT, I do have a 159 HT for sale (CLICK HERE) that ticks some of the things on your wish list, might be worth a look - no partition, no reclining swivel chair, no full size bed.

Good luck.
This might not be a bad idea. I was actually going to post this, but forgot. This is a GREAT build!
 

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Lots of good advice from experienced vanners . Don't be discouraged thou . Here's an idea . . . rent a van in a big city for a couple of days and a weekend (somewhere not too cold, no insulation in a rental) bring air mattress ,pump, sleepy bag , duct tape and rags for the windows. And flashlight/lantern . And don't forget pcan/pail and paper. AND A NOTEPAD ! Get out and have some fun stealthin' it .
You'll come back a lot wiser .
 

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Not being a city guy I’d want my portable siren, my cell phone with 911 preprogramed, and I’d kiss my wife goodby JIC!

Oh yea I want a big "Sewer Cleaning Contractor" magnetic sign on both sides of the van- now that's stealth!
 
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