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DIY Van Build - Self Converted in 2 months

After 8 months travelling across South Africa in our little jimny and ground tent, we decided it was time for an upgrade. Two years on the search and we had finally found the right van to purchase. Choosing the right van is different for everyone, depending on your budget, brand loyalty, and different sizes. We purchased a 2016 Fiat Ducato, medium wheelbase and high roof (L2H2). This is the largest commercial vehicle South Africans can drive with the standard code 8 drivers license. One of the many reasons we went with this size. I will go into more details throughout the read. We searched everyday for 2 years looking for a van and we purchased the van in November 2021. Ps her name is Yeti, named after the large fuzzy creatures living in Everest.

November 2021 we had work down the Garden route, so with only 3 days to temporarily make the van liveable we installed a 12ml plywood floor, built a fixed double bed, grabbed an old desk and our 50L National Luna camping fridge, packed the van with all our belongings. Then set off for the Western Cape for the next 2 months. This is what we experienced. Click here to view campsites

On February 1st we drove up to Underberg, Kwazulu-Natal, where we would spend the month converting the van. Grateful for family that hosted us for the month as well as gave use of a great workshop! First things first we dismantled what we had as our plans were changing and we needed to start with a clean slate.

First up on our to do list was 2x window installation. However this felt ever too daunting to be the first task so we pushed it off for a few days, beginning with wiring the van. We sent 220v wiring throughout the van to all the places we wanted plug outlets. We really needed to have a good understanding of how we wanted our final electrical layout, as this cannot be altered once the walls go up. We also ran 12v wiring for our lights and 50L National Luna fridge.

Being on the road full time, means we embrace any weather that comes our way, through all 4 seasons. We knew we wanted the van to be a cosy place so we insulated it the same as a normal house. We used 2 rolls of Isotherm Thermal insulation, which is easy to install, its nontoxic and extremely effective. Easy as tear the insulation and self-adhesive glue to stick it to the walls of the van. Having lived in the van for 2 months prior to insulation, and now 3 months fully insulated, we can most definitely feel the change!

3 days into the van build it was time to cut the metal frame to install 2x windows. This has to be one of the scariest parts! We have zero experience but we had done a whole lot of research! We ordered 2x rectangular windows from Panoramic glass. The thing about these windows is you need to cut the hole about 3cm bigger all the way around in order to lay a rubber strip, you then wedge the window in. Sadly these came without a size template so after a few double checks on our maths it was time to cut. We used a jigsaw & metal blade, with the van covered to ensure no metal shavings create rust. After painting the exposed metal with a rust primer, we laid the rubber, then wedged the window in. This part was a real arm workout!

The roof was our next big task, especially as a 2 person team! We ordered a roof vent from Fiamma, it can open and close allowing fresh air into the van. This creates a nice cross breeze especially with the windows open. This required cutting a 3rd hole in the van to install the roof vent. Once the vent was in place we could start on the interior. We secured 4 furring strips into the metal ribs of the van, these are what we secured the rest of the roof materials onto. We wanted the roof to be thin & lightweight. We used 4ml plywood sheets painted white as the first layer which also held in the insulation. We then used Meranti wood strips running the length of the van, creating leading lines which makes a small space feel bigger. We left the meranti wood natural colour as we loved the slightly pink hues and rustic feel it gave.

Another reason we went with the Fiat Ducato is their width. They are wide enough for us to sleep the width of the van comfortably, with a normal double bed size. Meaning with our heads & feet at the windows. Now that the windows were installed we could frame the interior. We used 4ml plywood covered in brown hessian fabric around the windows, this way it won't get dirty from our feet & will tie in with upcoming aesthetics.

We knew we wanted a fixed bed, this allows for loads of storage underneath (3x surfboards, golf clubs, braai, potjie pot, 2x suitcases, 75L freshwater tank, 20L grey water tank, 3kg gas bottle etc). We didn't want the hassle of building the bed every evening & morning.

Interior walls of the van. We used 6ml plywood to close up the garage under the bed from the rest of the van, with a trapdoor to access things. 6ml plywood for the kitchen wall. For the upper cabinets we wanted a lightweight option so we framed them with square dials and closed up with 6ml plywood. The top cupboard faces are a frame with hessian fabric giving a beach feel. The top cupboards open up on gas struts which also holds them in place if you want it open and these keep them closed when we drive. Bedroom top cabinets are the same with all our clothes. We had a custom made kitchen counter top with a resin & epoxy design on a sheet of pine. The rest of the counter top was white washed & varnished to protect the wood. We have a 2 plate gas burner hooked up to a 9kg gas bottle. A small sink and tap hooked up to the 75L fresh water tank, which drains into a 20L grey water tank that we empty. This runs off a 12V water pump.

Sliding Pantry - this was something we both really wanted, a floor to roof pantry to hold all of our dry foods. We self built this using 16ml plywood & pine strips which ended up being heavy, a bit crooked and quite expensive. We would recommend buying a metal frame from Galmar! HOT TIP , don't use soft closing draw slides!

Work Station was an important part of the build. We built a large bench extruding the sliding door. With a table that slides out from under the bed this is a great work station. We have another swivel table that can be mounted giving 2 work stations.

Last but not least the finishing touches. We cladded the back doors with Tonge & groove panelling. Hung up some plants. Added hooks to all the cupboards. Hung the curtains. Finally we packed the van with all our belongings and hit the road. We are travelling South Africa full time, uncovering some hidden gems that this country has to offer!

A NB missing part of this build is for the front passenger seat to swivel facing into the living area creating another seating spot, this will also open up the space.


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