How to Convert a Used Van into a Tiny Home

The tiny house craze may have started more than a decade ago, but it hasn’t slowed down. In fact, plenty of individuals and couples are taking the movement one step ahead. How? They’re trying tiny home van conversion projects.

Why Consider a Tiny Home Van Conversion, Anyway?

What makes the idea of a tiny home van conversion so appealing for the more than 220 million Americans who have driver’s licenses? For one thing, it’s fairly cost-effective, particularly if you’re going to live in the van. Put another way, residing in a small van saves tons on housing. No rent. Minimal utility bills. No property tax. That means more money in your pocket.

Secondly, a tiny home van conversion allows people to enjoy tremendous flexibility and freedom. When your house can move, you can travel domestically, and maybe to adjoining countries like Canada and Mexico, or even throughout Central America. There’s no need to worry about Airbnbs or hotels.

Finally, the movement is generally thought of as an interesting experience. Many social media influencers and bloggers have built followings around living a nomadic lifestyle. What better way to be a green nomad in the modern world than to tackle a tiny home van conversion?

To be sure, the tiny home van conversion lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Even a spacious van is still a van. Nevertheless, lots of folks find it a terrific option. And if you’re dying to know more, keep reading to find out how to undertake your own tiny home van conversion in five straightforward steps.

Step One: Buying a Used Van

Obviously, you’re not going to get very far with your tiny home van conversion experience if you don’t own a van. Consequently, you’ll want to be on the lookout for a van to purchase. Here’s the catch, though: you may not be able to find a suitable used van in your area. Therefore, be open to stretching your search beyond your region or even state. Be patient, too. The right used van will eventually come your way.

Be sure to ask around to see if anyone you know hears of a van for sale for your tiny home van conversion dreams. For instance, a mechanic involved in the truck repair service industry might know of a potential seller. Who knows? Your brother-in-law or coworker might have caught wind of a terrific used van for sale. But you’ll never know until you make it public that you’re on the hunt for a van to turn into a mini house.

When you start to find used vans, be sure to test them out. You don’t necessarily want to purchase the first one that catches your eye, as tempting as it can be. Test drive a few and see which ones you like. Vans come in many different styles, and they all feel different when they’re on the road. In addition to making sure your pick is road-worthy, consider where you plan to drive it. For instance, a van with very little room between the ground and the undercarriage might not be practical for mountainous trips over rough terrain.

Before putting down any offers or finalizing paperwork on the van that seems right for your needs, you’d be wise to call your car insurance service provider. That way, you can find out what the proper type of coverage should be for your tiny home van conversion. Though you might want to save money and choose the bare minimum in coverage, think twice. You’ll be on the road quite a bit, after all, and you’ll be saving tons of money in other areas.

Consequently, you might want to beef up your auto insurance coverage just in case you get into an accident when you’re moving your van from place to place. Again, it’s up to you, but it could make sense to add a bit more to your insurance premiums rather than be caught in a difficult situation.

Step Two: Fixing Up Your Van

You’ve put the money down on your van. It’s all yours, although it probably doesn’t look anything like a residence quite yet. But that’s okay. That’s all part of undergoing a tiny home van conversion.

You’ll probably end up ripping out items in your van and stripping it down so you can sanitize and prepare the interior for a roomier, homier environment. However, before you get into removing seats and other stuff, you should definitely head to your nearest mechanic. Find out if your van needs any type of auto repairs because the last thing you want is a broken-down house on the side of the highway!

Even if your van seems to be in tiptop shape, don’t skip this step. Far too many people dive headfirst into the makeover part of their tiny home van conversion projects without dealing with the practicalities initially. This often backfires, leaving them paying too much at auto brake repair shops in unfamiliar towns because their van’s brakes stopped performing without any warning.

After getting the green light from your auto mechanic, strip everything down in the back of the van. You may find that you need to do some major scrubbing, too. Depending upon how long your van sat before you bought it, you may find it laced with anything from a layer of dirt to a bit of mold. Usually, some old-fashioned elbow grease and your favorite cleaning solution will do the trick to make everything smell good.

When you’ve finished cleaning, grab a measuring tape or use the measuring app on your phone. Take out a piece of paper and write down all the interior measurements you can think of. These will no doubt include the length and width of the back of the van. Be sure to include the measurements for any door openings, how high the windows are from the floor, and how much floor-to-ceiling space you have to work with. You certainly can’t afford to buy decor or furnishings for your tiny home van conversion only to discover that your new purchases can’t get into the van at all!

While you have your pen and paper handy, start sketching what you want your tiny home van conversion to look like when you’re done. To be sure, you might have already started on this in earlier phases. If you didn’t, now is the ideal time to bring your imagination to life. If you’re doing your tiny home van conversion with a friend or loved one, ask them to join you in mapping out what belongs in your van.

Need a few pointers to figure out what furniture and decor you’ll probably want? First, you’ll need a place that will serve as a bed and couch. Many van house dwellers just put a single bed into the back of the van and use it as a sofa during the daytime. Nevertheless, you might prefer to buy some sort of futon or sofabed. If you’re truly handy, you could potentially build your own bedroom suite perfectly sized for your new van!

What else should you add to your van in terms of furniture? Be sure to include someplace to sit, such as a small desk or table with chairs. Plus, you’ll want somewhere that you can safely cook food. For example, you might want to add a hot plate or even mini microwave and refrigerator combination to the van. Just be sure that you can properly vent steam and heat out of windows or some other ventilation unit.

Finally, be sure to add some storage spots to your van. Terrific “hidden” storage places include under the bed or even in overhead compartments. You’ll have to think creatively, of course, but that’s what the whole project is about anyway!

Step Three: Picking Decor

Now comes what tiny home van conversion owners find the real fun, or at least the real fun before getting on the road: outfitting their new digs. A simple way to ensure that your final product seems pulled together and planned rather than hectic or thrown together is to operate via a theme. For instance, let’s say your van interior will have a beachy theme to go along with your visions of riding along the Atlantic, and then traveling across the country to head up and down the Pacific. In that case, coastal theme wallpaper, matching bed and pillow covers, and maybe a lighthouse throw rug would bring your design to life.

Don’t be afraid to spend a little on extra-nice details like high-end plates and tableware or custom window coverings. Remind yourself that you’re saving tons on owning a portable home that’s far less costly to run than a traditional RV. Sure, you might only be getting 15 miles per gallon, but your overhead is way lower than homeowners or even renters.

In other words, it’s okay to splurge on some elements of your tiny home van conversion. In fact, you’ll be happy that you did when you’re a few months on the road and the newness has worn off. It’s kind of comforting and cozy to be surrounded by a few very lovely objects or decorator-level sophisticated “eye candy” treats like a beautifully framed couples’ photograph.

As a side note, be aware that you’ll also want to add a special spot for any pets that might be traveling with you. People who engage in tiny home van conversion projects often have dogs, cats, or exotic animals. You’ll want to set aside a cozy place that your pet partner can call home.

Step Four: Installing the Interior

Interior design plans? Check. Furnishings? Check. Now, you need to get out your tools and install your interior alone or with the help of friends, family, and maybe a professional or two. When should you call in an expert to help with your tiny home van conversion? In general, pay for someone with lots of expertise when you’re installing something unique like custom hardwoods on the floor. You don’t want to leave that type of installation to chance, or to ruin the hardwood flooring you’ve bought.

Although you’ll probably be pretty eager to get your tiny home van conversion to the finish line, you may need to take your time with the installation. Think about what logically goes in first, such as any type of flooring and wall coverings. Build your interior slowly and thoughtfully, making changes if you realize that your original schematics just don’t make practical sense. It’s okay to alter your plan. Hey, if the kitchen cabinetry you paid for from an eBay seller just doesn’t work, after all, it’s not the end of the world. Just try to resell it yourself and recoup as much as you can.

Eventually, your interior will have just about everything you need to be comfortable while the van’s in motion and at rest. Before taking your first adventure, make sure you live it in while it’s parked safely in your current hometown. That way, you can work out any kinks before you show off your tiny home van conversion to the world.

Step Five: Add Extra Electronics Installation

Though you can probably get away without adding anything too special beyond a portable generator to your tiny home van conversion, you might eventually want to include some other electronics and special features. Let’s say that you decide you’re going to keep living in your van for longer than you anticipated. Would it make sense to talk with a solar contractor to discuss adding solar panels so you can reclaim electricity from the power of the sun instead of relying on your generator for electricity to fuel your laptop, lamps, or other items?

Another add-on that’s probably not a bad idea if you’re spending lots of time in different locations is a full-fledged security system. Sure, your van doors will lock tight. But are you truly protected? Maybe, or maybe not. It’s much wiser to take your safety seriously and think about ways you can lock yourself in for the night while locking out potential intruders.

Over time, your tiny home van conversion will no doubt evolve. You’ll switch up the decor or maybe trade up to a different van altogether. It’s all good! As long as you’re satisfied with the freedom of living in your traveling home-sweet-home, you’ll love every mile you put on your wheels.

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