haibike sduro trekking 1.0

Van Life: Layout and Selections

The next step in my van build was to complete the layout and selections for the custom build.  This process took several iterations between me and Wanderful Wheels.  Fortunately, I had seen pictures of two vans I liked and combined the best of both for my needs for my build which made the process a little easier for a novice.

Having said that, I have had a house built, so I am very aware to pay close attention to the details. By the end of the planning process, I probably drove Colleen crazy with all my questions, but if so, she didn’t let on. She was very patient with me and provided all the information I requested. Below are the some of the things I considered while determining the layout and selections.

Comfort

Comfort items that were important to me inside the van were an L shaped seat and closet.  This probably sounds odd to some people, but I want my jackets and button down shirts easily accessible and not crammed into a cube.  Additionally, I wanted the L shaped bench so I could stretch out with my laptop and have a place for Annie.

overhead view of layout and selections
View from above

Another creature comfort I added was A/C.  Most people (at least in Colorado) just have two fans and a heater.  But a lot of them use their vans for skiing and high-altitude excursions.  I, on the other hand, will be fleeing the cold every winter, so A/C might be useful.  I can think of a few times on my last trip around the USA where I suffered in the heat! 

I did not upgrade the battery and inverter in order to run the A/C off grid, but it will be usable when on shore power, and I will still have a fan and a heater for my off-grid summer mountain travels. 

Functionality

As it relates to functionality, I was very particular about the living space and kitchen.  First, I wanted a propane stove despite the trend of going electric. I suppose the propane tank is one more thing to have to deal with, but I do not like cooking on an electric stove.  And for the life of me, I cannot get those electric burners clean!

As it relates to placement, I wanted the stove at the end of the counter to give me more space for cooking.  In addition, I wanted it over the refrigerator so it would not cut into the depth of the top drawer.  I expected this would maximize space.  With seeing the renderings, however, this was not the case.

It was better to have the stove over the drawer bank.  While it cuts into the depth of the top drawer, the top drawer is 9 inches deep so any interference still allows the drawer to be deeper than a normal utensil drawer in a home kitchen.  Also, it leaves room for a wider and shallower drawer above the refrigerator that I would not have had otherwise. Finally, I was having difficulty with the placement of the kitchen outlet.  By moving the stove, I could put the outlet forward in the van on the side of the galley cabinet behind the driver’s seat. 

zoom of kitchen layout and selections

It was important to me to have an electrical outlet more forward in the van as the other three are located in the back half of the van.  Furthermore, I wanted it easily accessible to plug in my crock pot and toaster oven without having to wrap the cords around the stove on one side or the sink on the other.  I was thankful to be able to work that placement out.

The other three outlets offered in the Wanderful Wheels package are located on each side of the bed and under the control panel by my bench.  I see the outlet on my bedside and the one by the bench as musts for charging my phone at night and using my laptop.  The other one by the bed, however, wasn’t as important to me. While I doubt if I’ll need it for my bedside, it will likely be a useful location for charging my electric bike which will fit on a bike tray that slides under the bed.  It is also a nice placement for any outdoor electric needs. 

Another important decision for functionality was to get a movable table, so I ordered the Lagun Table with two mounts. As a result, I have an option to use the table on my L shaped bench or closer to the galley for extra counter space or for eating in the passenger seat which will swivel.  I am excited for this flexibility.

The Kitchen

Back to the kitchen, I stuck with the standard, deep stainless-steel sink.  It is the size of a bar sink, so washing pots and pans won’t be the easiest, but with only a small area for counter space, this was my best option.  Below the sink, will be a 15 gallon grey water tank that will empty with the turn of a lever!

As far as the refrigerator is concerned, I upgraded.  The one that comes in Wanderful Wheels basic package is a Dometic cooler style refrigerator.  Apparently, the cooler style doesn’t lose as much cold air since cold air travels down. That said, I do not like digging through coolers, so this style didn’t appeal to me. 

Consequently, I looked into Isotherm, a door style refrigerator made for boats. The smallest Isotherm had little shelving which would also require a lot of shoving and digging, so I upgraded to the Isotherm 85.  While I may have given up a little storage space for this option, worse case I can store some dry food on the refrigerator shelves.

Space

Of course, space is important, and I went with mostly standard options which included the bank of drawers and overhead cabinets in the kitchen and bedroom.  The bench also has storage including room for a dry flush cassette toilet!  I added an inch to the width of the bench, 17 vs 18, as I measured a few seats and it seemed like 18 would be much more comfortable. Given I expect to spend most my time there when I am indoors, I was willing to sacrifice the space elsewhere. 

I took the inch away from the bed, whose platform is still larger than a queen size.  Personally, I’d cut as much out of the bed as possible, as I don’t need much room for me and Annie, but there has to be enough room for bikes underneath (more on the bikes later).  Some people have a bed that can be put away each day for more living space, but I know myself well enough that I will never do that! I don’t even like making the bed at home.

Not only do I have the bench, cabinets, drawers and aforementioned closet which will also hold a safe, I have additional room under the platform bed as well as above in a headliner.  The headliner will be inserted above the front cab.  It will be great to store the window covers, screens, backpack pack and other quick access items.

Below the bed and on either side of the van are compartments for the battery, inverter and the 24 gallon over-the-wheel water tank.  My water tank is larger than the grey water tank, as I will have an outdoor shower hooked up to an on demand hot water heater.  What a luxury! Also beneath the bed are pullout trays. One will store bulky items such as hoses, extension cords, dog food and more, while the other will store my bike(s).

view of layout and selections from back
underneath the bed

While I don’t ride bikes much, on my last trip around the USA 10 years ago, I found myself wanting one to ride through the campgrounds at times, especially after long hikes. I’m hopeful that my recent electric bike purchase will be worth it.  I believe it will be a good mode of transportation during times when I don’t want to move the van.  When might that be?  Well with dispersed camping, I don’t want to lose my spot, so if I were to move the van, I’d have to set up a tent.  In the campgrounds, if I crank out my awning, put out my rug and set up my chairs, I might just want to enjoy my home sweet home.  But I digress.

haibike sdure trekking 1.0

The Exterior

Continuing with the layout and selections, believe it or not, the outside of the van also requires some thought.  The 4WD Sprinter is very high off the ground, and nerf bars or side steps are a big help for climbing into the van.  Additionally, I am adding a solar panel to the roof, so that I don’t have to be plugged into shore power all the time.  As a result, a roof rack is required. 

I wasn’t going to be too picky about a roof rack as I don’t expect to be strapping gear on top of VANgo, and fancy racks are expensive.  Having said that, I really wanted a ladder that mounts in the back, not the side of the vehicle. A side mounted ladder increases drag and reduces gas mileage.

Surprisingly, not many companies offer a back ladder with their roof rack.  I had to choose Roambuilt which is a little more expensive than the popular Aluminess.  That said, their products are excellent, and I will have a matching package of side steps, roof rack and ladder.  As a bonus, the roof rack will give me a place to photograph the sunsets!

In addition to all that, I also wanted an awning.  Awnings may be mounted on the side of the van or on the roof.  There is also an option for a manual crank or automatic.  I went with the Fiama F65s, at the recommendation of the Wanderful Wheels.  It is roof mounted and manual crank.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the windows.  To me, these were the most important option of all.  Before VANgo even left the Mercedes dealership, I had a rear view mirror added and windows put into the back doors.  I don’t know how people can drive without these.  I like to see behind me!

Additionally, I added several CR Laurence “camping” windows which are screened and vented.  Above the bed are two narrow sliders, nice for a cross breeze.  In the living space and kitchen are a door side and driver side T-vent window.  I first I just wanted the windows for light and ventilation, but after driving VANgo and finding out the blind spot is enormous, I’m thankful I have big windows on both sides!

The Nuts and Bolts

Sadly, I’m not terribly technical and had to rely heavily on Wanderful Wheels and my friend Brad for recommendations for the battery, inverter, heater, solar panels, etc.  Obviously these are the most important pieces, so I provided how I plan on using VANgo and am now banking on their good advice.

Below is a list of all the key components in my van layout and selections. I will add specific model links as I get them. This list is for you and me both! If I write it down, I will be able to handle any issues that come up later. If only I were an Amazon influencer!

Anyway, my excitement for my van build is increasing daily. I can only imagine all the goodies I will buy to put in it!

Insulation: Reflectix, Lucid foam board, and Havelock Wool

Solar:  275W Brand TBD based on fit on Roambuilt Roof Rack

Electric:

Lights: Pocketman LED lights with two lighting zones

Four outlets with USB plugs

Propane

Propane Tank: 5.9 Gallon Vanagon

Heater: Propex HS2800 Furnace

Hot Water Heater: Ecco Temp Tankless Water Heater for Outdoor Shower, may be used for sink as well, but it is turned on at the location and back door must be open for venting, so I will likely boil water for dishwashing.

Inlay Two Burner Propane Stovetop (see Kitchen below)

Custom Woodwork

Pine Beetle Tongue and Grove Walls

Floating Queen bed with 3” memory foam from Amazon

Custom L shaped bench

Cabinets and drawer bank with pistons and slam latches

Butcher block countertop

Bike Tray and Utility Tray

Headliner: RB Components Headliner Shelf with custom wood trim

Kitchen Appliances and Needs

Sink: 1815 Stainless Steel Bar Sink from MRDirect

Faucet: WEWE Single Hand High Arc Stainless Pull Down

Shurflo Electric Water Pump

Water Tank: Northwest Conversions 24 gallon tank over the wheel well

Grey Water Tank: Tank-Mart 15 Gallon Gray Water Reservoir stored under sink

Refrigerator: Isotherm Cruise 85 (Yes, it is made for a boat)

Stove: Ramblewood Two Burner Gas Cooktop

Living Area

Swivel Seats: Scopema

Air Conditioning: Dometic Penguin ii

Safe: AmazonBasics Steel Lock Box 0.7 CF

Cushions: Sunbrella 5461-0000 Canvas Taupe

Pergo Floor: Vintage Pewter Oak from Home Depot

Toilet: Laveo Dry Flush AC

Table: Lagun Table with extra bracket for two mounting locations

Colors:

Outside

Roof Rack: Roambuilt Cargo Rack

Ladder: Roambuilt Rear Door Ladder

Nerf Bars: Roambuilt Sidesteps

Awning: Fiama F65s (Hand crank, roof mounted, black metal, royal blue fabric)

Windows:

I’ve probably forgotten something, but I will update this post periodically as the build progresses. Overall, I’m pleased with the layout and selections and thankful that I had a base from which to start.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

10 thoughts on “Van Life: Layout and Selections

      1. Looked pretty thorough to me! There will be tweaks and some things that you may question your decision, but that’s part of the fun. Perfection is boring. I think that you made the right decision going with the gas stove top. Regardless of cooking styles it will give you some flexibility in terms of energy use. We use propane when boondocking so that we don’t deplete the batteries, and we use an induction plate when boondocking so that we don’t deplete the propane. this way we have options if we run out of one energy source.

      2. Oh wow. Good to know! Thanks for the tips. I just tried to design in for my needs which as a single person is a lot different than for a family. The only thing I’m not sold on is I have to turn the hot water heater on at it’s source and leave door open for venting. I got it for an outdoor shower so works for that but if I want hot water to wash dishes it will be a little bit of a pain. I’m sounding spoiled, I know! I will probably just boil some water for the dishes. What do you do?

      3. Our hot water heater is propane as well. It heats up in about 10 minutes and then we turn it off. If the weather is not too cold we wash our dishes in cold water. We also try try to wash dishes immediately so that there isn’t too much to do at the same time and it’s not a big deal to use cold water this way. With your system you could maybe fill up a dish pan with hot water through the outdoor shower and use it next to the sink. Wash with soap and hot water in the dishpan and rinse with cold water in the sink.

  1. WOW! Who knew there was so much to go into this build out! I am intrigued by your electric bike – that makes so much sense!!

  2. I love the detailed planning. It reminds me of when we were designing our bathroom. There are so many tradeoffs and so much to anticipate. But in the end it will be awesome.

    1. I think there is only one thing I won’t like which is no hot water to sink unless I climb in the back to switch on hot water heater. But will only need that for washing dishes so worse case I can just boil some. Seems like a silly design, but keeping things simple that’s the way it will be I guess.

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