(click images for larger view)
I’m documenting the build of our 2017 Promaster 2500 159″ wheelbase van into a self-contained camper to share my experiences and my approach to its design and configuration with the hope that others might find aspects of it informative.
Here’s the various pages if you want to skip to one directly:
Opening page & Page 1: Intro, Index of pages and History, Van Selection, Floor Plan and Configuration Design
Page 2&3: Tour
Page 4: Our experiences so far and links to some trip write-ups
Page 5: Windows
Page 6: Insulation and Ventilation
Page 7: Solar Panel
Page 8: Cabinets, Paneling & Plumbing Mock-up
Page 9: Electrical System
Page 10: Refrigerator, Furnace and Propane System
Page 11: Plumbing
Page 12: “Composting” Toilet and a Spreadsheet of Build Costs
History, Van Selection, Purchase and Floor Plan/Configuration Design
My build is a bit different than most van conversions, as it is a rear-entry floor plan with a center aisle and with twin beds/sofas/dinette in the front. This has certain advantages over using the large side sliding door for access, at least for how we use it, which includes a lot off cool weather trips and for use as a work van. It also has a hidden bathtub/shower.
This is actually my second van build, as I converted this used 1968 Dodge A100 van back in 1975. I cut in two sliding aluminum windows, bought some 1/4″ plywood and a sabre saw and paneled the inside walls, and built a rear platform bed. My then-girlfriend made the curtains. We moved to the San Diego Area with it in 1976, and it got lots of use in the deserts and mountains of California. I was hooked.
But then marriage and three kids intervened.
After the two oldest ones were out of the house, the urge to travel more freely again and camp in secluded places made itself felt. In 2002, I bought this ’77 Dodge Chinook for $1200, spruced up the interior some, and we racked up some 40,000 miles on trips all over the West and Baja (full story here). It finally just wore out, although we still were using it for shorter trips until 2017. I had mentally started toying with a replacement after the Mercedes Sprinter first appeared in the US some ten or so years ago.
We boondock on National Forest or BLM land or remote primitive campgrounds or even urban parking lots whenever possible, avoiding busy campgrounds except when necessary. Our experiences with it informed the decisions on the plans for a new van.
The most significant one was the Chinook’s rear entry door and its key floor plan features, such as twin beds in the front that double as couches and dinette, with a removable center-post table. But I also made some significant changes too, as will be described. Our third kid used to sleep in that little fold-down nook up there, where the bedding is. We called him “bookshelf boy”.
The Chinook had no house or cab air conditioning, and its furnace and hot water heater had both died and I never bothered to fix or replace them. So it was a fairly primitive camper, but that suited us fine.
In 2017 I was ready to buy a new van; the question was which one. I’d been thinking about this since late 2013 when the Ram Promaster and Ford Transit were announced, and I wrote on their various pros and cons here. Already then I favored the Promaster for a few key reasons. Most of all, its FWD allows for a lower cargo area floor, which also means that overall height is lower even with a high roof. And additionally, the Promaster’s body is 4″ wider than the Mercedes Sprinter and Transit. This simply makes the Promaster a better box, in terms of its proportions, height and space utilization.
Another downside of the Transit is that the extra-tall roof is needed to get stand-up interior height. So equipped, the Transit ends up almost a foot taller than the Promaster, and the Sprinter is almost that tall. The lower floor height of the FWD Promaster allows easier entry, and gives it a lower center of gravity. It also makes it easier to get under possible obstacles, such as tree branches in remote areas. The Promaster is also cheaper than the Sprinter. And I’ve been put off by many stories about expensive service and repair costs on the diesel Sprinter.
I also found that the Promaster’s 159″ EB wheelbase body (and cargo area) length was ideal for my plans. It’s a bit longer (and wider) than the Transit’s EB version and the Sprinter’s RB version, but significantly more compact then their longest versions.
If I was intending to tow a heavy trailer, I’d possibly consider something other the FWD Promaster, although it is rated to tow up to 7,000 lbs (if the van is not loaded to capacity, otherwise 5,000 lbs.) But for our purposes the gas 3.6 L V6 and 6 speed automatic appeared to be perfectly adequate. It has compiled a generally positive track record (of course there are issues to be found on the forums, as with all vehicles), and it’s worked very well for us so far, including several overlanding trips to very remote areas of Eastern Oregon or Saline Valley, CA, (above) on very rough roads normally used only by 4×4 vehicles, much rougher than this section shown here. I’ve only had to back down once, so far.
As it turns out, the Promaster and the Chinook have the exact same 12′ floor length behind the cab for living space. The Chinook has a wider body, but that turned out not to be an issue.
In May of 2017 I bought a new 2017 Promaster 2500 159″ van from Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg, Idaho. I went that far to buy it because their price was the best I could find. I paid $30,495, or 26% off its MSRP of $38,110. That’s the complete drive-away price with registration (no sales tax in Oregon), for a van with some options like trailer tow package, fog lights, cruise control, and U Connect 5.0 along with a few other minor items (full story here).
Once I had the van at home, I started fleshing out the floor plan. This was the initial plan, which is actually quite close to the final one. At that point I was contemplating a flip-up passenger side bed, as I wanted to be able to use the van to haul tools, appliances and other cargo for maintenance on my rental properties. I ended up doing that a bit differently, an easily removable bed, but with the same end result.
Because of other commitments, I didn’t get started on the van build until almost a year later, but I used the van as my work truck in the meantime. And I used blue tape to flesh out the details of the floor plan.
During this time, I researched to find good information as how to actually build this van. There are many blogs and forums and videos, but not many of them were along the general lines of what I wanted to do, meaning a practical, fairly well equipped van but not a showcase or too complicated or expensive. Pragmatic, in other words. But by far the most helpful one was buildagreenrv.com, which is based on the author’s (Gary) detailed design and build of a 138″ Promaster van.
Gary is a former Boeing engineer, and his very objective and rational approach resonated with me, and it gave me the confidence to tackle a project that I was not experienced with and was a bit intimidating. Gary responded to several questions, and I’m most appreciative of what he’s done and continues to do.
I also spent some time at promasterforum.com, and found many useful threads. There are many build threads there, as well as covering the wide range of Promaster issues, tips and insights.
There are many websites and forums and probably hundreds of Youtube videos on van builds, and I surfed some of them, but one can spend an infinite amount of time there, and that ultimately gets in the way of actual building. It can be a challenge sifting through the many competing approaches, theories on insulation, electric systems, etc..
I had a pretty good general idea of what I wanted, meaning a build focused on our travels in the West in generally remote areas and therefor as self sufficient as possible. Fortunately Gary’s van build had many of the same or similar objectives, so that was very helpful, although my build is also somewhat different than his too.
I prioritized functional simplicity, with a nod to the ambiance as well as some creature comforts. Budget obviously plays into the consideration, and although I was not really financially constrained, I didn’t want to spend more than necessary. The total cost of components and materials has been around $7,000, which seems to roughly be the sweet spot between the very low end basic conversions and the high end ones.
Continue on Page 2 (and 3) for The Tour
Return to page 1 for the index of pages
This is fascinating… thanks for the detailed build info. It came out really, really nicely!
My God, Paul, this is an impressive effort. Thanks for chronicling this. I have a friend with a side entry Promaster with a far more rudimentary setup inside, primarily just built in beds and storage. It still seems like an excellent way to get the family out. I should show him this build.
I’d have to content myself with minimal plumbing and electrical. Beyond my skill set.
My only qualm with yours is that both ends if the human food system are in too close proximity for my preference!
No worries. The stuff in the potty is well behaved and stays put. 🙂
That’s a great write up and quite the project. You put a lot of thought into it and it shows in how well it works for you.
More than a touch of brilliance here. Bravo! I have to agree with Petrichor on the close proximity of the human intake and exhaust though. Aside from that I have a few questions: Do you have a smoke/CO2 detector or does the propane detector cover those too and what type of fire suppression do you carry? it also seems that the Promasters I see on the road have a very low clearance rear suspension transverse beam. Has this been an issue?
The propane detector only detects unburned propane in case of a leak. I do have a CO detector, but no smoke alarm. I do need to add a small fire extinguisher; thanks for the reminder.
The likelihood of a fire is very low. We only turn on the furnace in the morning; the power to it is off at night. And the propane cook top is in a pretty safe area, and we actually don’t really cook all that much. But a portable extinguisher is certainly a good idea, and one that I just forgot about.
The Promaster’s ground clearance is 6.9″. That’s not great, but not so bad either. On some of the roughest “roads” I’ve driven on, I did hear a clunk or two when the rear beam axle hit the tip of a rock, but that’s pretty harmless as long as the rock isn’t too high.
I just tried to look for the Transit’s ground clearance and couldn’t find the specs. But there just happens to be one sitting out front just now, so I just took this picture and took a measurement: exactly 6″ to the very low shock mounts, and about the same to the center of the diff pumpkin. The Transit uses smaller (195) tires in an effort to get its high load floor down a bit, and that means its ground clearance is worse. I think the Sprinter is a bit better that way.
At least one poster at the Promaster forum has cut and re-welded his beam rear axle to make it straight across, drastically increasing the ground clearance.
Regarding the fire extinguisher you might want to consider something like these from Costco. https://www.costcobusinessdelivery.com/First-Alert-Tundra-Fire-Extinguisher%2C-2-ct.product.100342655.html I picked up a pack of them and they seem to have a similar useful capacity as to the typical “kitchen” units but a lot lighter and a lot easier to store. Can’t say I’ve used it on a fire which of course is a good thing, but definitely something better to have and not need than need and not have.
Amazing, Paul. The brilliance of your shower situation in such a small space is to be commended (and replicated!).
“I got a warning for staying overnight on a pull-off in the Coronado National Memorial in Arizona (I thought we were on National Forest land), and the ranger said he did that instead of giving us a ticket in part because we hadn’t drained our gray water tank, and explained that technicality.”
So, as someone who lived nearly all of 2017 and 2018 in Green Valley, AZ, which is a major gateway to the Coronado National Forrest, this confusion was constant. The actual memorial is nowhere near the park itself, something like 80 miles away, and also accessed via 90 from Bentson, not 19 via Tuscon. I lived 45 min. from the actual park, and faced the neighboring Madeira Canyon:
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The actual memorial is nowhere near the park itself,
I’m confused. There’s a memorial separate from the Coronado National Memorial Park?? We entered the park from the east, from Bisbee. It was night, and I didn’t know just how big it was, and it was during the shut down, so I just pulled over when I got tired. It was actually just a couple miles past the Visitor center, before the long climb up to Montezuma Pass Overlook.
I recounted that in our Arizona trip travelogue:
Yes, the Coronado National Forrest itself is not near the Memorial, at all. I only bring this up because you mentioned National Forrest Land, which the memorial site is not. Plenty of pissed and lost people trying to find the memorial from campground sites in Green Valley…
I see what you mean now. I was aware of the difference. I knew that beyond the memorial park there was National Forest, but it would have been some distance past the other side of the high ridge.
It’s such a strange situation, really. All the campsites I’m aware of are on the Tuscon side of the mountain, and thus one would think you could “cut across” Nope. Back thru Tuscon and down from Bentson you need to go… Bisbee is a very pretty and artistic reason to do so, however. Maderia Canyon, while not a Nationaly registered site, is stunning in and of itself. The mine lakebeds are visible not far up, and radiate blue back at you. Transitions from arid plants to conifers completely at about 6,500 feet. Amazingly worth a visit (cougars nonwithstanding, never hike it during dusk hours).
Holy wah! This is an epic article about an epic build. I knew utterly nothing about what goes into (…onto, under, over…) a vehicle like this; now I do.
Thank you for such an informative article. You have given me ideas for improving my Four Wheel pop-up pickup camper, that lacks hot water or a bathroom.
(Ugh the comment engine sucks. Let me try writing this again.)
Thanks for the incredible detailed article. The van looks great and I’m sure people will be making use of this as a guide to build their own for years to come.
As a marine electrician, I would like to offer some constructive criticism. Solid-core wiring such as “Romex” should not be used in a vehicle or anywhere subject to vibration. In the long term the wires can crack internally which could potentially lead to an electrical fire. There’s a reason stranded-core wire is exclusively used in automotive and marine applications. Romex is a little cheaper and people get away with it, but for me personally it would be an unacceptable risk. Imagine looking inside the main electrical box when the van is going down a gravel road; all those wires would be dancing.
That said, you’re clearly not going to rewire the van. At the least all of the Romex should be secured against vibration and motion to the maximum extend possible. Zip ties, staples, cable clamps, anything and everything to secure the cables as well as possible. The obviously place is inside your main electrical enclosure but don’t forget the other ends of the cables such as at the water pump.
While I’m preaching, wire nuts really shouldn’t be used in a vehicle either. This is one that lots of people get away with on ships, but only inside of a box where they are at least somewhat constrained. If you do use them, always tape the wires and nuts together securely and support things against vibration, either inside a box or enclosure or at the very least with zip ties or the like.
All that said, it’s a great build. Ramble on!
I was wondering when this issue would be brought up. 🙂
It was a conscious choice I deliberated on. I made an informed decision. The reality is that using Romex in RVs has been used commercially for decades; my ’77 Chinook has Romex, so I assume it’s an approved method by the industry, but I also know not everyone agrees.
I truly believe that the risk of solid 14 gauge copper breaking is very, very minimal. I simply don’t see that happening, realistically. And of course there are circuit breakers and fuses. And the current loads are all very low, except for the microwave.
Yes, i suppose taping the wire nuts is a good idea, and securing the loose cables better in the electrical box. But the rest of the cable runs are all very secure in their niches in the insulation and such.
If someone made reasonably-priced twisted copper cable, I’d have used it. But it’s a whole lot more expensive.
BTW, I specifically avoided giving recommendations about electrical cable sizing and connections for this reason, as folks should do their own research and make up their own minds on the subject. But I should probably add a disclaimer on that issue.
I guess I had to be “that guy.” I suspected that you put some thought in to it, and yes it’s likely that you will never have a problem. Not having any real exposure to RV’s I was unaware that the use of Romex is commonplace. I suspect it’s a matter of careful installation with no loose or free areas to vibrate back and forth.
Unfortunately, broken wires are not the type of fault that fuses or breakers can always protect against and that’s what makes the situation dangerous. If a wire cracks internally the flow of current will not necessarily increase, it can simply result in localized heating. This is one of the main causes of electrical fires.
There are new types of arc-fault circuit breakers (AFCI) now on the market to prevent such fires, but it’s a tough problem and they have been troublesome in the real world.
The good news is that all of the electrical stuff is under Paul’s bed, so if any problem starts he will know it right away! 🙂
Don’t feel bad, because I was about to be “that guy” myself. I would, at minimum, throw all the wire nuts away and replace them with crimp connectors. Part of my job involves doing industrial electrical wiring, and I have seen plenty of wire nuts fail without the vibration found in a vehicle; sometimes they fail from having been initially over-tightened.
This is a fantastic build, Paul. It’s pretty close to what I would want in an RV. I’m not sure I would have the balls to cut into a new vehicle like that though.
Bravo on an epic post!
Just wanted to reiterate, I had a 2007 T@B trailer for 13 years, it was all wired with Romex.
At one point, I also had a mind to do this, so I studied and studied, and studied. As you said, researching a build like this can be in infinite black hole. Based upon my research, you’ve done a 99.99% perfect job. Well done!
Rather than going whole hog, I wound up building a micro-camper on a PWC (Jet Ski) trailer. It was not much more than a sleeping box, but it did that job very well.
Turned out that I was just not an avid fan of camping. Figuring only for my materials, not labor, I had about $1200 into my camper, and I sold it for $600. An insignificant loss, compared to building a whole van-based camper and not liking it!
Bravo, Herr Neidermeyer. A superb discussion in a superb article.
Mind-blowing, I can only dream of having the skills to pull something like this off. You downscaled a house, a true motorhome indeed.
Wow, Paul, you’ve done so much since I saw it last summer. Incredible how everything fits together.
I’m amazed that there’s an adhesive tape which can secure the solar panel against all the wind and vibration, but not surprised that it comes from 3M. Sure beats drilling lots of holes in the roof.
You should be very proud!
3M VHB and UHB tapes are two of the most incredible adhesives with which I have ever worked. Not only does it do what it’s supposed to, but (as Paul noted) it’s removable with very deliberate actions.
VHB is used extensively in modern automobiles, things like trim strips and badges and many aftermarket accessories. It is very weather resistant but it will eventually fail but that will take many years.
Aren’t you depending on the adhesion of the van’s paint to the the metal though?
My gut tells me that’s not a good idea. But I don’t know anything about the load capabilities of the scenario, and expect Paul does.
Yes if the paint adhesion fails there will be a problem.
Folks have been doing this for quite a few years. There’s some detailed documentation and videos on using them, and the paint adhesion issues. It’s a well proven method. A number of commercial outfits use this as SOP.
I’m shocked by the tape. While I believe you, is just seems so easy to drill a couple of holes for bolts and use silicon caulk. Is there something I’m missing?
Yes. VHB tape is just as strong and the fewer roof penetrations, the better. Plus it can be removed with the right technique.
Even though I saw your van quite far along in the conversion process when I stopped by last summer, I’m still blown away by the finished product. And thanks for sharing all the tiny details that make the difference between a great concept, and functional and reliable reality. Replacing my Tacoma with a ProMaster and doing a simple conversion, eliminating the kitchen and appliances to make room for storage, two bikes, and sleeping would probably cost no more than adding a pop-up FWC to my pickup … and I still wouldn’t have room for bikes. Too bad I’m conditioned to want 4wd, but I’m sure I could get over that.
I’ve seen a number of van builds that have room for two bikes (or more) as well as kitchen and sleeping and eating facilities. Just start Googling, or go to the promasterforum.com.
They typically involve a higher transverse bed in the back, with a “garage” below. My build is not particularly space efficient in that regard, but wanted to avoid a higher transverse single bed. We both sometimes need to pee at night, and crawling over the other is not really a happy solution. Plus we tend not to bring a lot of gear along. But bikes could also be stowed on exterior racks. There’s many ways to configure a van; way too many, actually.
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of builds with the bike garage in back and bed above, with kitchen accessible through the slider. But your layout has got me thinking about rear entry to a longitudinal sleeping area, and stowing the bikes laterally inside the slider, front wheels off with fork mounts on top of a raised platform with storage underneath. In fact, the platform could be divided in two, a driver side for the rear wheels and a passenger side for the front fork mount, just like your bed setup, providing a walk-thru when the bikes are out. I’m really trying to avoid having the bikes outside exposed to weather and prying eyes, and hands. Anyway, the mental wheels are turning … give me a year or two (according to my friends, that’s how long it takes me to make a spontaneous automotive purchasing decision).
Dman: Ford Transit will finally be available in the US with AWD for 2020. While not as space-efficient as the Promaster, at least Ford promises that it sits no taller than the RWD version. It will probably be quite a bit less expensive than the Sprinter.
I experienced failure of a Sprinter 4×4 transfer case on a tour to the top of Mauna Kea. We literally ground to a halt.
Why didn’t you just buy a new Winnebago?
Because the closest comparable one, the Promaster-based Winnebago Travato, goes for about $95k? Or just about three times what I have in mine.
Not to mention the satisfaction of building your own, exactly the way you want, that you can maintain and revise because you know every inch of it. I imagine that’s about priceless.
Especially for a practical man who likes to build things, like Paul.
I understand, I was just playing devil’s advocate.
I can appreciate the work and planning that went into it. I’m in the process of camperizing my minvan. But my approach is opposite Paul’s. Just simple and basic, but tasteful.
I get a bit worked up when I see folks (Not you Paul) spending seemingly limitless amount of money on a van build. They have a small luxury house on wheels. I think they are missing the point.
On the scale of van conversions I’ve seen, mine is actually pretty low in terms of cost and simplicity. There’s something of a show-off thing going on, and there’s quite a few folks spending .3, 4 or 5 times as much on materials and components. Radiant underfloor heating, huge li-ion battery banks, etc.. and very detailed fine carpentry and slick materials. That’s all fine and good, but it does seem a bit over the top at times.
Except for a few details that didn’t cost that much, it’s actually pretty basic. $5-6k is a number that’s often thrown out for material cost of a conversion that has the basic amenities; electricity, heat, fridge, cooking, potty, and storage. I’m only slightly above that.
If I was young and starting out with a cheap used van, I’d keep it simpler. But why penny pinch if you’ve already decided to buy a new van to start with? And are planning on it being your last van? There were a few places i might have saved a few hundred or so, but in the big picture that’s peanuts.
I know with a small space like that you just have to put things where they fit sometimes, but I can’t help but think about the potential sanitation issues from having the toilet right next to the food prep area. I’m no expert but don’t building codes for regular houses forbid having the bathroom directly off the kitchen for similar reasons?
I’m sorry, but your comment and concern is totally off base. You think the shit is going to crawl out of the bottom of the bucket inside the air-tight box and lid, and walk up the side of the counter to the top? How do you think we live? Like wild beasts? 🙂
And no, there is absolutely no code prohibiting bathrooms from being directly off the kitchen. In fact, a great many houses have a bathroom right off or next to the kitchen. You could put a bathroom right inside the kitchen, actually.
Do you have cleaning or sanitation issues at your house?
Please, no more comments on this subject, or they’re going bye-bye.
And if you’d read the whole thing, you’d know we haven’t used the potty for #2 on most of our trips.
Yes building related codes, in some areas, do address bath rooms near food preparation areas. https://www.cob.org/documents/planning/housing/rentals/final-checklist.pdf violation section 8.3 Tight fitting door missing if bathroom is in a food preparation area. No it does not prohibit bathrooms located “in” or next to the kitchen but requires a “tight fitting” door on such bathrooms. Yes the definition of tight fitting is a judgement call.
A friend of mine, who has built her own tiny house that uses a bucket (composting toilet) for exhaust, she has told me that many people express concern that she doesn’t not have a separate “bathroom” sink because of the concern of the need to wash hands if nature happens to call when you are working with food.
This is simply magnificent, what a build! And thanks for detailing the costs, having seen what new “corporate” builds go for as well as what much smaller outfits are charging for semi-custom builds that have nowhere near the amenities and flexibility that yours does, it’s very enlightening to see what the actual profit margins must be like, especially once one factors in bulk discounts etc that you wouldn’t be able to get.
I can’t wait to see it in person next month!
Your engineering prowess astounds. Kudos, Paul, Kudos.
Thanks for chronicling this for us. This was an epic write-up.
May you and Stephanie enjoy many happy motoring miles in your Promaster Custom RV.
This is an amazing and fascinating thing to see. I had trouble visualizing some of your ideas, but can now see that you have packaged this thing in an incredibly efficient way. And it was all certainly more interesting than just doing a 350/350 swap into a Promaster. 🙂
The only question any of the pictures raised in my mind was the durability of the PVC elbows for the gray water drains right over the exhaust system. Would some kind of heat shield be advisable between them? Or will PVC handle the kinds of temps over the long term that an exhaust system might generate after 4 hours on the interstate on a 95 degree day?
I gave that issue some thought. I’m pretty convinced that they’re far enough away to not be a problem. I saw other factory underfloor clearances to plastic items as close or closer, but maybe that’s not saying much. 🙂
But it’s something worth keeping an eye on, like feeling the pipes after a hard run. Or just adding a bit of heat shielding. 🙂
Update: I just remembered now that it was going to be on my post-build To Do list to add a bit of shielding. So thanks for reminding me.
In a way, these DIY builds are never truly finished. Which is actually a good thing, because it’s a lot easier to tear into something you built in the first place than some factory job that was built with jigs or tools that make taking it apart very difficult.
I think the high efficiency furnace in my house uses PVC for the exhaust duct/pipe itself if I am not mistaken.
As a side note, a high-efficiency furnace of the “condensing flue” type has drastically lower exhaust temperatures than a regular gas furnace, which is why they typically use a PVC exhaust pipe. Those temps are around 100-130 F, while a regular furnace exhausts at 250+ degrees and needs a metal flue
Heat does indeed rise, but that exhaust pipe is a decent distance from the PVC pipe. While travelling down the highway, there should be sufficient air cooling under the van. Even when he stops, and the air cooling goes away, that still appears to be pretty clearance. It’s not like the PVC is sitting right on the exhaust pipe.
Consider this: Exhaust tips come out from underneath bumper covers all the time, yet the plastic bumper covers don’t melt.
This is just one engineer’s opinion, so YMMV, but I think you’ll be ok, Paul.
I submit my own Mustang’s exhaust tip and bumper cover clearance as exhibit A…. Your witness…
Exhaust temperatures drop fairly rapidly in their way to the back. The temperature at the outlet is not all that hot, from my experience. The closer to the engine, the hotter. But I agree that it’s probably not a major issue. This area is already half way or more from the engine, and it’s a long exhaust pipe.
A really outstanding project. To be very overkill on the exhaust/ greywater pipe proximity, there is a very inexpensive and available product called exhaust heat wrap, brands Thermotec or DEI, source Amazon or Summit Racing. It is used by the high performance crowd to contain radiant heat from exhaust components. Real techy hot rodders actually tune the exhaust systems, very nerdy physics. In this case, wrapping an adjacent stretch of that pipe near the PVC components would cost maybe $40 and not take long. in my experience, PVC does get weird around long term exposure to heat and UV, which surprisingly present on the undercarriage.Paul, thank you for this treasure trove of design.
I’ve given this pretty serious consideration, and on several occasions gone down and felt the pvc pipe, and it never feels hot. I’m pretty convinced it’s not a problem. And it looks just fine still.
Anyway, the worst that can happen is it…melts. And if that were to happen, it would be easy and cheap to replace.
The ignition temperature of PVC is 734 degrees F. So not exactly worried about that.
I salute you Paul!!! amazing job and you are living the life i would love to live!!!
Marvellous work, Paul. You put a lot of thought into this and the end result speaks for itself!
Kudos sir, kudos.
* An easy way to insulate those structural braces is to buy a partial roll of Thinsulate, cut it to width, and pull it through with a piece of wire.
* Back east, the concern with dumping grey water is that adding nutrients to ponds encourages algae blooms. They’re hell-bent against such dumping in Maine.
* There is at least one Class B motorhome with a folding shower just like yours.
* And finally, I took the plunge myself. I plan a similar, slightly simpler build. Who knows, I might go full-time in a few years.
Better than my Dad’s Post 42 sport fisherman.
Beautiful job Paul! Well researched and constructed. I’m very impressed… Happy trails!
A truly inspired final product! You and Stephanie have many years of bliss with your van.
Thank you for the write up and pictures! This was a lot of work on the van, and a lot of work to present here for us. I was fascinated! I read it all the way through twice. We have our Winnebago View with the flushing toilet, diesel generator, AC, etc. But I have also done my share of tent camping, sleeping in the back of an SUV (heck, my son and I slept in the Lexus ES for two nights on a rain soaked BSA camping trip) and “river camping” (living out of a canoe for several days). What you have done here is a very liveable and comfortable design, I love it.
Nice,nice job Paul! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Very cool Paul, you’re a clever bastard managing to fit all that in yourself, your van with a commercial type conversion body sells used here for +- 150k NZ pesos but I actually think yours is better well done.
There is a way to get substantially more traction with a front wheel drive vehicle. Turn around and back up the hill. You FWD has now effectively become RWD-RE and can climb even steep snow covered slopes. Just remember to steer properly. Great build!
The other trick is to lower your drive wheel tire pressure to a half flat condition, say 5-10 psi. You need an on-board compressor to re-air the tires after you get unstuck or up the hill.
In theory, yes. On a very narrow, curving section with large rocks protruding that have to be missed, it’s not usually realistic in a long van.
But, yes, lower tire pressure helps. As do better off-road oriented tires. And chains. And other traction devices.
I, too, remember the 1970s van era, but the possibilities today are staggering. Paul, thanks for your candor about brainstorming, missteps, compromises, and all the making-it-up-as-you-go stuff. Wow!
Did not go through the entire article or comments word for word. forgive it this has already been addressed. seems there should be a bumper/frame mounted/mountable winch in your kit. wandering far afield (and beyond fields) to areas with no comm. service, this seems to be an essential bit of kit, -That, or a 2m ham radio setup. perhaps it could be stored internally somewhere with predrilled mounting points front and rear along with the requisite wiring to make it run…
He does have a 2″ receiver and they do make winch mounts designed for movable mounting. Not expecting one to be available for a Promaster, but there are front reciever hitches that are mainly intended for parking your trailer in tight spaces but they will accept any 2″ receiver accessory. Put the large size Anderson connectors like you see for jumper cables on tow trucks and you can plug it in and go.
Along those lines I saw at wall mart a while back a hitchbrella which is a large umbrella designed to fit in a 2″ reciever. Looks like they would provide some good shade which can be welcome camping in the desert.
However the winch will be heavy and bulky to store inside and that umbrella thing would also probably take up too much space.
For you step in the back consider one of these or something similar. https://www.gorhino.com/RB10-Hitch-Step this is one of the more deluxe ones and there are cheaper ones as well as a variety of widths. You know it will be sturdily mounted and you can remove it when it could get in the way or be subject to damage.
I actually bought one like that and sent it back. The reason is that it’s too high, and only a few inches lower than the floor. This is because the Promaster’s floor is only 22″ off the ground unlike 28-30 for other RWD vans.
If I’m going to do a step, it will realistically have to be a little custom made unit that attaches to the hitch frame cross bar. I have a little aluminum step; I just need to find someone to fab the brackets. I want it at 11″, half way between the ground and floor.
Since the primary use is off to the side why not keep the idea of it sliding into the receiver followed by a 90 degree to drop down to the desired level and then just put the step portion on the side you need it. That way it is still easily removable if you go in the rough stuff.
The other thing i forgot to mention as far as your tire pressures go did you check a load and inflation index? That will give you a double check that you have enough air pressure for the load you are carrying.
Paul, you are a very can- do kind of guy! Awesome build! I am extremely impressed with how competent, confident, determined, and intelligent you are. This build speaks volumes about the kind of brilliance you possess. Very few guys could plan and actually implement a van build on this level. Wish l could share this with my Dad ( he passed away 7-16-18 )
He would’ve loved it! Thank you so much for sharing your build and for the wealth of details you provided! Enjoy and take care buddy!
This article is truly enjoyable, and I can see my late father wanting to do something like that if he had retired in the United States.
“coin button” vinyl garage floor material
This material covered the floors of passenger terminals at Frankfurt Airport for many years in the 1970s and 1980s before they were gradually replaced with shiny and slippery marble panes. The flooring material was very effective in lowering the ambient noise. Along with the famous split-flap display, it had became the ‘identity’ of Frankfurt Airport.
I remember that well. And it’s one of the reasons I was drawn to it. It was used in a number of other public buildings too. I suspect that this is not exactly quite as thick and tough as what was used in those airports, but it’s ok for our use.
Yeah that stuff is iconic, I recognized it right away as well! I’m actually about to make some Bratwurst now to accompany a couple of Lagers. Home…
That looks like a most impressive accomplishment, bravo!
I do think I would add a vent to that battery box. I agree that boiling a battery is not that likely, but having recently experienced it:
A) That is a really unpleasant odor.
B) It will permeate everything in the area
C) It is not easy to get rid of.
Good grief, man, I am in need of a sleep just from READING this. It is clear why you are 170lbs at 6’5″ and I am 200lbs at 6’1″. To do what you’ve got done here would take me the remaining energy I have earmarked to use for the rest of my life.
It is a remarkable effort, without doubt superior in a number of fundamentals to the professional jobs (such as the floor). I fantasise that I could attempt some of the tasks involved, but even in la la land I don’t pretend I could do all of it. (For example, what is electricity apart from something invented by Benjamin Franklin into which one plugs things? You’ll forgive my skippage of the electrical section. And plumbing: more comprehensible, but I have definitely worsened more leaks than I have repaired). And you not only squoze a house into a van, you made it look like home too, a pleasant one at that.
I dips me lid to yer, sir.*
And now, for me, a snooze.
*auld Aussie for removing one’s hat in respect
Aw shucks; thanks!
But I was never 6’5″. 6’4″ in my prime, and now reduced to 6’3″. I’m shrinking!
Remarkable build. Very impressive. You’re pretty good at building houses too !
Congratulations, Paul. Incredible build and monumental post. Thanks for sharing. The intelligent and straight forward design and construction will ensure many years of satisfaction and enjoyment. Is there any better way to spend time and resources than by traveling?
Your efforts are very impressive.
I have one question for you…. It seems you have done a lot to isolate squeaks and rattles with the tapes and insulation put down between the plywood, pine planking and the body of the vehicle. Has there been any annoying squeaks you’ve had to isolate and resolve, once you were actively travelling?
Also, regarding toilets and building codes….seems to be no problem, other than culturally, with toilets in the kitchens of built residences in the English speaking world…(examples attached from the US, UK, and Australia…) doesn’t seem to be any restriction for private residences in the IBC (International Building Code) and IRC (International Residential Code)
The only squeaks and rattles come from items in the drawers and cabinets, like pots and pans. I put a dish towel between the pot and the lid. The actual van build is very solid and does not rattle or squeak. of course going down a rough washboard rocky back road, yes, it’s noisy. But it’s hard to tell exactly from what. Mostly from the loose items. The cabinets and such are all very securely fastened.
The whole toilet/kitchen thing does not really interest me in the slightest, but thanks anyway. I already knew that.
Finally got a chunk of time to read all this through. There’s a lot going on in there, and obviously a lot of forethought to (mostly) plan it out. I hadn’t thought about the complexity of marrying the van’s electrical system with 120VAC and solar. Good thing someone had been there before. And the engine heated hot water! And the coir! The cool details just keep on coming.
Looks great, I wish you & Stephanie many happy trips in the Promaster.
I can clearly see why it took so long to complete this project, and the end result is truly amazing. Equipping the sliding door area with a removable bed in order to still use it for cargo loading/unloading as well as saving a mattress from the Chinook to use for the bed was PURE genius! The patchwork quilts made by your wife are impressive too! They seem like they would’ve been right at home in the Chinook. If there’s ANYTHING I would add to the ProMaster, it would be the Chinook’s pinstriping–THAT would REALLY make it stand out! Have you towed anything with the van yet? I realize it’s already pretty big; the backup camera would be absolutely necessary.
While we’re still on the subject of RVs, did anyone else here know the Chevrolet Astro could also be configured as a motorhome? I knew about Toyota pickups being converted this way but not Astros, although it makes obvious sense with the chassis construction. This 1986 model built by ALLEGRO was for sale in Lexington, SC 3 years ago & I haven’t seen it anywhere else since.
On a semi-related note, look what I was able to do this past Memorial Day weekend…
I took this picture at a local florist shop; they own the 2 white vans–a GMC Safari SLE & a Chevy Astro LS–and MY van is in the middle! A trio of Astrofaris! 🙂
Rear view: the white Astro has the standard barn doors while the Safari has the Dutch Doors like mine, and they ALL have hitch receivers!
UPDATE: I saw what looked like the ALLEGRO RV on the road a month or 2 ago when I was coming home from work–can’t recall the exact time. Looks like someone has finally put it to good use!
One of my neighbors growing up had a Chevy Astro based RV just like that, and as of about 2 years ago when I was last in the neighborhood they still had it. Certainly not a very common RV.
I’m not sure what the advantage of using the Astro over a full size van is. Any cost difference for the completed RV had to be small, and using the Astro doesn’t really reduce the footprint much. I wonder if the company that built the RV was even able to get an Astro chassis+cab from GM or did they have to buy a regular van and cut it up?
And one more
Unfortunately the rather long write up that I used prior to importing these photos didn’t get loaded and has disappeared into the ether.
No sense trying to recreate it.
Given my experience with four camper builds since 1981, it sang the virtues of simplicity that such experience has taught me, especially with regard to plumbing and electricity.
Now, I not only use non-plumbed sinks, showers and toilets, on the road, I use them in my homes as well. Great for eliminating maintenance, emergencies and for ensuring resilience during storms and other catastrophes.
Late as usual to the party, but after this long read just had to offer a tip of the hat to this well thought out build, and retaining the ability to be useful for landlord duties was a great idea. Which I had one tenth of Paul’s construction and planning skills. Not clear in the picture, but is the propane regulator you used a 2 stage unit designed for RV use, or is it a single stage unit like barbecues use? The extra safety of a 2 stage (prevents full pressure to appliances in case of diaphragm failure) is worthwhile.
Been looking forward to this build writeup for a long time, well done!
As a landlord I’d appreciate the rear entrance, something my ’85 Toyota motorhome didn’t have. I may have kept it if I could have slid a 4×8 sheet of whatever through the back into the aisle. I really liked it otherwise even though I did have to downshift into second gear several times going up Vail Pass.
Once I started reading this post I could not tear myself away, there are so many practical tips, design ideas and genuinely useful information. I calculate I would have to watch a bunch of RV conversion youtube channels for over a month (something like 75 hours at 2.5 hours/day) and still not get as much out of it as the couple hours I spent reading this. I’m going to go back and study it every step of the way when I get my own van and start working on it.
I believe this Promaster is the normal length one, which is the longest length model (“EB”) shown in the diagram comparing different makes of vans. That’s still 14 inches shorter than the “Extended” model (not listed) which has a cargo body (load floor) length of 160 inches, according to https://www.fcausfleet.com/content/dam/fca-fleet/na/fleet/en_us/shopping-tools/brochures-literature/docs/Ram_ProMaster.pdf.
I’m on the fence about whether I want the Extended or regular-length version of the 159″ wheelbase model. The shorter one seems to have a better look (very important lol), probably handles better in rough terrain and is maybe easier to find on the used market. Anyway, just curious if you considered the longer one.
If I understood the plumbing setup correctly, the vent line from gray water is connected to the vent line from potable water, providing a pathway between the two systems. While the likelihood of any crossfeed is extremely small (on a hilly / bumpy road, for example), I would recommend having separate exits, ideally some distance apart.
I really like your whole setup. It’s super practical. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for your comment.
I did consider the extended body 3500 briefly, but decided that there were too many trade-offs, and we didn’t really need the extra space. It appears that the EB version is not bought often for conversions, as it’s about $4k more, and most folks find the regular 159″ wb version plenty big enough. In fact on the Promaster forum, there’s a strong contingent of folks who feel the 136″ wb version is plenty big. Clearly it can be, if the space is used very efficiently.
As to the venting, well yes, theoretically it’s possible, but given how high up that is and how far down the tank is, it’s just not going to happen realistically. I cannot imagine a scenario where it would actually happen.