Last spring, I finally found myself in a position to live on the road and travel for an indefinite length of time. I’d been dreaming of building out a Sprinter campervan for this purpose, and had a lot of ideas floating around for what I wanted to do. After countless hours of researching builds and perusing van porn, this is what I came up with.
Because of the type of travel I intend to do, I opted for the shorter 144” WB van. So far, I’ve been quite happy with this decision. True that it’s difficult to fit a lot into the shorter wheelbase van, but I managed to shoehorn in everything I wanted and don’t find it too crowded. It might be a different story if I were traveling with another person full time, however. I went with a bed platform in the back, with bike and gear storage underneath. I also incorporated a “guest bed” under the main bed platform, which is small but functional. While I typically just use the area for general gear storage, it can be cleared out and used as sleeping space as well.
Since I’m 6’ tall, the bed is laid out lengthwise in the van. To avoid taking up excess space, I constructed an articulating section at the end which folds down to provide more kitchen space when not in use. This section serves as a backrest for a folding seat as well. The bed is about 4 ft wide, with cabinets for clothes occupying the rest of the van’s width. I’ve found the clothing storage to be quite adequate, although again it might be tight with two people.
The kitchen includes a sink, portable propane stove, Isotherm CR130 fridge, and cabinetry for storing food and other kitchen necessities. I have storage baskets mounted on the walls, which are very handy for corralling drying dishes and fresh produce. Overhead cabinets provide additional storage for food, spices, coffee and tea, etc.
Opposite the kitchen is the “bathroom”, which consists of a Nature’s Head composting toilet that slides into a cabinet for storage, and a shower placed in the side entry space. I’m a big fan of having the shower in this location as it does not require dedicated space, instead utilizing an area that generally remains open anyway. The shower floor consists of click together waterproof vinyl flooring (the same as the rest of the floor) with some holes in it to let the water run into a custom made aluminum pan installed underneath it. The water then drains from the pan into a sump where it gets pumped over to the grey water tank via a Seaflow bilge pump. A curtain on a ceiling mounted track can be pulled around to keep the water contained, and is kept inside the pan by sliding some 6 inch high pieces of PVC into slots along the edge of the pan. So far I’ve been quite pleased with this setup, even if it take a few minutes of setup before and after use.
In back, the gear locker has a dedicated tray for my two main bikes, and can (theoretically) fit two more on the opposite side. To accommodate the extra bikes, one side of the guest bed folds up to create a U shaped cubby. There isn’t much organization back there at this point, but I’ve found that there’s ample room for pretty much anything I’ve needed to have with me. I even managed to find a place for my snowboard to live, albeit with about 1/8” of clearance for the rear doors to close (totally planned that).
As far as mechanicals, I put in about the biggest of everything I could fit. A 34 gallon fresh water tank lives in the center of the gear locker area, and a 20 gallon grey tank is housed under the sink. I’ve found the fresh tank lasts me easily a week if I’m being reasonably conservative with my water (and showering maybe once). I opted for the Flojet 5GPM variable speed pump, as it doesn’t require an expansion tank. I made sure to keep all my water lines contained within the heated space of the vehicle so that I could have functional plumbing in all seasons. An exception is the water heater, located under the vehicle, but it’s designed to work in freezing conditions.
Powering the campervan’s living quarters is a 180 Amp-Hour bank of Lithium Ion (LiFePO4) batteries with a BMS system. The house bank stays charged through a combination of the alternator (with a battery combiner / isolator) and two Renogy 100W solar panels run through a TriStar PWM charge controller with monitor. The bank is coupled to a 2000W inverter which powers a few 120V devices I carry – mainly my hot water kettle (yes, I like being spoiled and having hot water and coffee quickly in the mornings). The large capacity of the battery bank is primarily to support the fridge, which is the largest consistent electrical load in the vehicle. In cold temps, the heater is a significant power draw as well (and the warmer I keep it, the harder the fridge has to work). I sized the system so that I should be able to go 2-3 days without running the van or having sunlight. This seems to be about what I’ve experienced so far. I did add a 20A LiFePO4 battery charger later on, although I rarely plug in to shore power.
For heat, I opted to install a very fancy diesel powered combined air and water heater – the Webasto Dual Top EVO 6. See the full writeup for more details. This is located in the only spot it would fit – under the vehicle where the spare tire used to live. While I installed this unit myself, Webasto highly recommends / requires that these be put in professionally by one of their authorized installers. I had some issues with mine, but was able to get everything resolved and working properly and am pretty happy with it now. Unless you’re a hardcore DIY’er, I’d recommend having this professionally done.
A few other details really help make the campervan livable. An absolute necessity for me is blackout curtains, which I made myself (thanks high-school home-ec, and my friend Carrie). These use a radiant barrier fabric for thermal control, with decorative cloth on the other side. I sewed in high strength magnets to secure the curtain to the van body. I really like this system of attachment, and highly recommend it. The curtains are dark enough to keep most light out, and at night you really can’t tell the lights are on from the outside (great for stealth neighborhood camping). I also made a large curtain that can be pulled across the back of the cab. This allows for privacy / stealth mode without putting those telltale covers on the front windows.
Both front seats have Sportscraft swivels installed, which is critical for maximizing the living space. I keep a small portable cubby in the van as well, which stores shoes and doubles as a footrest or fourth seat. Last but certainly not least is music! I listen to music about 90% of the time I’m in the van, so I added some rear speakers (and wiring) for improved sound distribution. My Spotify playlists are piped into the factory Sound 5 head unit via a mini ISO aux input cable plugged into a stand-alone Bluetooth receiver (this setup is probably the best bang for the buck of anything I’ve put in the van).
I’ve been living in my campervan for a few months, and so far am very happy with the build. There are a few minor things I would change, but overall the build has matched my use very well. I estimate that I spent around 500 man-hours on the van, probably about half design / research and half actual build. It was a big project, but it’s certainly doable. If you’re at all handy, I would suggest doing your own build over buying something premade. You get to tailor the design to include exactly what you want, and you’ll know your new home on wheels inside and out. Plus there’s the satisfaction of having done the work yourself, which makes enjoying the result all the better!