2016 Transit Van: Year 1

I bought a bare, 2016 Ford Transit 250 high top cargo van with a 3.7L V6 on June 23, 2017 from Jerry’s Auto on L street in Omaha, Nebraska. I had an excellent experience working with Jerry. 

The van had 17,000 miles on it. It did not come with cruise control, so I got the dealer to have a shop install after market cruise control for $360. I haven't had a problem with it. Very pleased.

 First of many Q'Doba meals in the van.

The first thing I did was cut a hole in the roof for the MaxxAir 12V fan. The fan can blow air in the vehicle or suck air out of the vehicle. It has a rain sensor that closes the top to keep us dry inside. After the fan was in, I screwed two 100-watt Renogy solar panels directly into the roof of the van. Lots of silicon up there! I'll check it periodically and apply more silicon or address any issues that occur over time.

Next was insulating the floor and laying a plywood sub floor. I found it was best to start by making a template out of construction paper, taping it together and then tracing it over three sheets of 4x8 rigid foam insulation. I traced around the construction paper template and cut along the lines on the foam with a utility knife. I used the same template to cut the 1" plywood subfloor. Once that was in, I installed tongue and groove flooring directly atop the sub floor.

Next was insulating the walls and ceiling, drilling 1x2 studs into the sheet metal (brutal) and then putting up paneling and 1/8th-inch plywood in the areas that would not be exposed in the completed build.

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of pics from the wood floor install. I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg for enough flooring to make it cover the entire van floor. I just wanted it to cover the space you'd occupy when coming into the sliding door. So it goes under the bed a bit, but not all the way back. Eventually, I'll add some additional covering (perhaps a rubber flooring) in the garage area of the van.

I spent much of a day changing my mind over and over again as to how I'd build the bed. I ended up going with this design to try to maximize storage space underneath. I wanted only enough headroom when sitting on the bed to be able to sit up completely straight without hitting my head on the ceiling. I did the math, factoring the thickness of the wood and the thickness of the mattress.

The bed is very simple. 2x4 legs with 2x4's spanning across the legs. And 1x4's hugging those 2x4 spans. Then 1x4's crossing all the legs long ways. I have since strengthened the bed a bit by making those long-ways boards 2x4's. 

Before you start throwing walls up, you need something to nail the paneling/plywood into. I drove sheet metal screws into 1x3's and into the sheet metal. Be sure you are screwing into areas of sheet metal that come out from the exterior wall of the van. You don't want to poke a hole in your van!

Once you start nailing your paneling on the walls and ceiling, start from the middle and work your way out to the sides of the van. I put about 8 boards on the ceiling and then began using a hole saw attachment to my drill to make room for these dimmable LED lights. I used cheap tongue and groove pine wood paneling from Lowe's, btw.

Electrical took me a while to understand. And as I type this, it is pretty messy. But it all works and I know what is plugged into what and why. Big picture, I have two solar panels sending energy to a solar controller, which charges two deep cycle marine batteries. Those batteries send power to a fuse block, which distributes that power to all the individual 12v appliances. I also have a master shut-off switch.

The closet cabinet atop the bed is the first piece of living space furniture I've ever tried to build. Much of this was brand new to me. And while the unit is not perfectly square and has a few imperfections, I'm proud of the final result. The major issue is that it took me three weeks of working on it most nights and weekends. If you know anything about me, you understand that I do not have that kind of time!

I'm still working on the kitchen cabinet. Figuring out the plumbing and the propane burner required many trips to various hardware stores only to learn how famously inept I can be. That said, everything works! I recently learned a bit more about handling propane safely indoors. I have removed the tank from the van until I build a proper storage locker and vent potential leaking propane out of the van through the floor.

At this point, I had completed all the above work by myself. I'm very proud of that, but I'm also anxious to tame this beast during amazing travel adventures with my wonderful wife. After weighing the value of my time versus the value of a dollar, I contracted professional woodworker Andrew Karrmann here in Omaha to build the cabinet under the bed and the cabinet over the kitchen counter.

I enjoyed working with Andrew and I think he had a good time with the unique challenges involved in building furniture for a van, which has numerous curves in weird places. Andrew designed the pieces, got my sign off and got to work. We were installing about two weeks after I signed off on the designs. I'm very pleased with his work!

That's how the van looks right now as my babe and I prepare for our honeymoon. I intend to add blog posts for each trip we take in the van and when we make more progress. Thanks for checking in!