​The Building Process
There we are, we decided to make our dreams come true. After we bought a one-way ticket to Canada we started searching for a suitable van that will drive us to Patagonia. It took us roundabout 2 months to find this beauty, she felt good instantly. We decided to buy her and with that day the new advantures started. With this article we will try to explain the steps we took in converting our van into an off-grid camper van. Maybe we will inspire you to do the same!

The van-hunt
Searching for a van that is suitable to convert is quite difficult, especially when it is the first actual car that you are going to buy in your life. What do we need? What are the traps in buying a van? What brand of van is driving on the other side of the world? How old can our van be and still be reliable? How much money can we spend on a van? And even more questions started popping up.
First of all we started to do some research on the Internet and figured out that we could best look for a Mercedes Sprinter, Fiat Ducato, VW Crafter or Ford Transit or Opel Movano. My dad started helping out a bit and wrote a whole checklist. Check the van from below; are there any leaking spots? Is there any rust on the chassis? Are the fluids the color they are supposed to be? Check the oil cap; is there any mayonnaise in the lid (sign of water mixing with the oil) no mayonnaise then it is all right. And so on…
The first month we visited some van owners in Germany and the Netherlands to check out the offer, sadly most of them where really rusty, old, badly maintained and still quite expensive. So we kind of lost our trust in these Internet sellers.
Finally after two months of searching every weekend we found a van that we liked. The previous owners were motorcycle racers; they used the van to drive from competition to competition mostly in the weekends. Knowing this we trusted them at little bit more. The van looks well maintained and drives really smooth, almost no rust and the chassis looks hard and strong. Even though the price was a little bit higher then we anticipated we had a good feeling by this van and we bought ourselves a Mercedes Sprinter 903.6311 CDI from 2001 for €5000, -!

Converting a Mercedes Sprinter
We own a Mercedes Sprinter! When we bought the van she was already insulated, there was a bed build in and there was some storage room in the back for the motorcycles. Soon enough we figured that de type of insulation, polyurethane foam and Rockwool was not ideal in combination with the steel walls of the van. This type of insulation doesn’t evaporate the moist gently and causes rusty spots inside.
So we took a big decision by taking out the entire interior of the van and start from scratch.
In the following text we are going to describe the steps we took in converting our van and what decisions we made. We don’t want to claim that this is the way to do it, but this is the way we did it and we are still very happy with the outcome!    
Insulation
Starting from scratch means that we had to isolate the van again. By doing research on the Internet we found out that there is a whole discussion going on about this. There are several types of insulation advised for a van conversion. Starting from polyurethane foam and Rockwool to Styrofoam, X-term and sheep’s wool. Each type of insulation has it’s pro’s and con’s.
We decided to go with the sheep’s wool of DOSCHA . This, because it is a natural product, which is self-cleaning, it breathes and still insulates when it is a bit damp. Sheep’s wool is really easy to use, it is soft, you can use it to fill up small spaces in between the walls and doesn’t leave any stingy dust like Rockwool does. Of course it is really important that you ventilate your van a lot to make sure that the damp can evaporate. This is why we build in some small holes in the inside walls so they can ventilate.
We are really happy to have made this decision the van is well insulated. We’ve slept in there while it was -4 degrees outside and didn’t feel cold at all.

Electricity
Once we were done insulating the van we started to place an electricity network. Our idea was to have one power resource, the household battery, which is fed by two power resources the battery of the van itself and solar panels. The power needed to be strong enough in order to run a compressor cool box, and to create some light during the night. We decided to use only 12 volt so we didn’t need a converter.
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​With this one roof window we have enough extra light so we decided not to place another window on the side. This will leave the opportunity to stay as inconspicuous as possible. We are going for an off-grid stealth van right now!
Placing the walls and ceiling was an easy job. We used the left over wood of the previous interior and left some small holes in there for the ventilation. We finished the walls with at least 4 layers of varnish. This makes it easy to clean and gives a nice and warm shine to it.

​The interior
Finally the part starts where I was the most exited for, building the interior! I spend months in searching the Internet for ideas, making different interior sketches and now I could realize them!
We decided to build in a rock and roll bed, a small kitchenette, a table and some storage room. We re-used a lot of the wood from the previous interior but we also needed to buy some new wood. We started building the bed, this because it occupies a lot of space in our van. The bed exists out of two parts, the fixed part in the back (1,40mx1m) and the foldable part in the front (140mx85m). I found a pair of old rock and roll hinges on the Internet and some building schemes. Since this type of hinge is normally used in VW T2 we had to adjust the building scheme to our measurements. In total it took us a whole weekend (Friday afternoon until Sunday night) and a lot of cursing to build in the bed. But we finished it, not only the bed is build but also our relationship got tested.
Considering that the bed is 75cm high we have a lot of storage room underneath it. In the back storage area, we call it our garage; we store our tools, solar panels, extra clothing and long boards. On the side of the bed we build a couple of top loader cases. When you open them you can pull out a closet organizer in which we store our clothes. In the front part of the bed we also build in some closets in which we can store cooking gear, food and even more stuff if needed. 
We bought the kitchenette of a German guy who also tried to build it in his van but it didn’t fit. In our van it fitted perfectly and I build some shelves next to it where I could store my spices, oils and other cooking essentials. We build in a removable table and an extra storage box just behind the drivers seat. This storage box can also be used as a seat.
We are really glad with our interior. Until now it gives us enough storage room, every piece of furniture has at least two functions which makes it really efficient for living in such a small space.
Since Lukas and I are complete newbies in this area and we actually didn’t have a clue in how to realize this idea we asked for help. Our dear friend Nils was glad to help us and he did an awesome job! Together with Nils we build the electricity network. The household battery, a Banner Power Bull 100Ah 12V/32 P100/C4, is placed underneath the passenger seat. We chose this type of battery since it is a gel battery, which means you can place it on its side if you want to, without the risk of leaking.
The household battery is connected to the battery of the van and we placed a switching relay in between to make sure that the battery won’t suck too much energy. We placed a STECA charge controller in between the household battery, the attachable solar panels and the electricity outputs. With this charge controller we can control the direction of the power current. We can decide if we only want to use power from the household battery, or power from the attachable solar panels or if we don’t want to use any power but just reload the household battery with solar power.
Now you can ask yourself why did they choose to use detachable solar panels? Why didn’t’ they just place the solar panels on the roof of the van? Well this is because we want the van to look as normal as possible from the outside. Nobody needs to know that we live, sleep and eat in there. Also by having solar panels that we can attach and detach, we are able to place them directly in the sun in an angle of 45 degrees without getting on the roof.
Considering that we are already living in the van for over two months we discovered that this network is working like a charm. We are able to use the household battery for around a week without driving or reloading it with the solar panels. It takes us about 1 day of ‘Dutch’ sunshine in order to reload the household battery. We are extremely happy and grateful that Nils helped us building this setup. It may sound melodramatic but we are not sure if we could’ve done this without his help, it would definitely take us a lot more time!


Walls and roof window
Now that we are done with the insulation and the electricity network it was time to close the walls. But before that we wanted to build in a window in order to get some extra light and ventilation possibilities. First of all we thought of placing two windows, on in on the left side just behind the driver and one in the roof. Due to money issues we chose to build in the roof window first. Again this turned out to be a good decision.
With the help of a friend we build in the roof window. We are really thankful that he did it because to saw a hole in your roof is kind of scary! Mark did a great job and within hours we had a nice roof window! Lukas is able to stand now! He has to be exact an area of 40cm2 where he can stand.