In 2019, we embarked on a three-month, 20,000-mile cross-country road trip to take our three under three to all 50 US States while on my maternity leave (we flew to Alaska and Hawaii). To accommodate our family on the road trip, we purchased a 2016 Mercedes Crew Sprinter Van (170″ high roof), and Brad set to work converting it to the perfect family van layout. We chose to do our own van conversion build because of the lack of converted family vans on the market. The result was light and airy build-out that accommodates a family of five. And our build-out only cost us $5,000! (Note: that the generator, A/C, and Max Air Fan were already installed by the previous van owner, so not included in our build-out cost.) Sharing all the details including links to products below!
Unique features of our build-out include factory seating for five (super important to us for safe installation of child car seats), two beds including a lower king-sized bed that converts to a dinette table and an upper full-sized bed that tucks away into the ceiling, and an on-board generator and A/C unit. Like other van builds, the van also featured a self-supporting, off-grid power system including a solar panel, kitchenette featuring a 12V powered fridge and sink with running water, Maxx Air fan, insulated and cedar-lined walls/ceiling, and an on-board toilet and shower.
Let me take you on a tour of our van! I have tried to be as detailed as possible on the build and link exact or similar items where possible. Can you believe that we got almost everything for our van build off Amazon?! Except the lumber and hardware, which we got from Home Depot. You can check out a complete parts list to tackle a build of your own on our Budget Sprinter Van Conversion Amazon List.
You may also be interested in following along with our 2nd van conversion, which is happening right now. I’m posting Reels on Instagram and Tik Toks showing the build process. We did up our budget on this one, so I promise to share a post like this once we are done with all the details. In the meantime, you may like to read this post Van Build Mistakes: 5 Things We’re Doing Different in Our Second Conversion.
Also, if you’re ready for a road trip already here’s my post with Top Places to Explore in All 50 US States.
Okay now to the details of our first build!
Here’s a video tour. And then all the details are shared below!
As I mentioned above, one thing that is unique about our van is that it is a crew version with the second row, factory bench seat left installed to accommodate our three littles in their car seats. Because we knew the bench row would be taking away from living space in the back, we opted for the 170″ wheelbase van. What’s nice about the three-wide bench seat is that still allows for room to maneuver around it from front seats to back of van with all the doors shut. Also, because of the crew row of seats, our van has large windows on the door and opposing side.
Behind the bench seat there is a kitchenette along the opposing wall. The bank of cabinets is 46.5″ long, 20″ deep, and 34.5″ high comprised of two cabinets that we ordered custom from Cabinet Now and a butcher block countertop cut to size. The cabinets were the most expensive part of our build at just over $1,000, but definitely worth it to have custom fitting cabinetry that we did not have to worry about building ourselves. The single door with drawer base cabinet was sized to house the Vitrifrigo 1.8 cubic foot 12-volt DC fridge with a drawer above (leaving enough space above for dropping in a cooktop in the future). The other cabinet was wide enough to be a two-door base and is where we dropped in a bar sink and running faucet, placing the water pump and grey water tank underneath (fresh water is run from a tank in the back of the van) as well as a space for a trash can, food bin and van cleaning supplies.
Inside the sliding door to the left is where we placed our portable toilet; a very important feature with newly potty-trained kids on board! This particular toilet is the Porta Potti Curve. This was a super convenient portable toilet with removable base for easy emptying in a rest area. We had plans to build it into a cabinet base with a hinged lifting and closing lid and some side of cabinet storage, but didn’t get around to it. The van also has a tankless propoane hot water heater / shower, but we hadn’t installed at the time of the pictures or video tour. It had a dedicated spot on the back door right next to the fresh water tank, which also meant it could run hot water to the kitchenette. A curtain rod on the door would give privacy for the outdoor shower experience.
There was a good amount of open space around the kitchenette, and then the entire back of the van was built out as a multi-purpose dinette and upper/lower beds to accommodate everyone.
First the lower level was a large, king-sized lower bed that converts into a dinette table (technically 6″ inches slimmer than a king because wall to wall on the van after insulation and cedar walling was 70″). This was accomplished by building two 80″ long benches along either side of the van. The benches were 13.5″ high and 20″ wide leaving a 30″ aisle where we placed a table along the whole length that raised and lowered on a Springfield 3-Stage Air-Powered Table Pedestal. At its’ lowest setting the pedestal sits at 12 3/4″ and the 3/4″ thick table top puts it even with the 13.5″ bench seats when in the lowered position forming the base for the bed. We ran slats along the length of the bench to support the table when lowered into the bed position. The bench seats have hinged lids for accessing storage on the side of the door and the electrical setup and a 20-gallon fresh water tank in the back along the opposing side.
For the mattress we purchased this 5″ thick, king-sized memory foam mattress putting the king bed at a height of 18.5″. We took the coverings off exposing the foam and used an electric bread knife to cut the mattress into four 80″-long pieces; two that were 20″ wide and two that were 15″ wide. My mother-in-law then sewed zippered (for easy removal for washing; important with kids!) coverings using a durable denim fabric. The two wider lengths became seat cushions that were laid across the benches and the two skinnier lengths became seat backs propped up along the wall the length of the bench when in the raised / table position. When the table was lowered into the bed position, the seat backs fit securely together in the middle on top of the tabletop forming one mattress along the entire width of the van. Notice we did not account for any width that the fabric would add when cutting the foam. The tiny bit of additional width from the cushion covers was great for creating a really snug fit as a mattress eliminating the feel of the creases when sleeping.
As a further cushion and to help with making and unmaking the bed, we purchased this mattress topper, which we layed over the top of the foam mattress at night. We fitted the fitted sheet to the mattress topper instead of the cushions. When not in use we simply folded the mattress topper over itself to fold up the entire bed already made and placed in part of the bench storage compartment and could unfold entirely made over the cushions at night.
Another unique feature of our van build came in the custom design and engineering of the upper bunk bed, which manually tucks away when not in use. To maximize headroom, we went with the high roof van. The upper bed was designed by my brother who is an engineer. It’s a metal frame with wooden slats for holding a full-sized 5″ foam mattress that has one side pinned into fixed upper or lower brackets and the other side is an extending metal arm that is mounted to the ceiling. In the upper position the metal arm is folded up and clipped into the ceiling mount, while the other side is pinned into the upper brackets. To get to the lower position, one simply unhooks the arms on the one side allowing them to unfold and extend. Then unpin the other side from upper brackets and repin into the lower brackets. In the lower position the bed hangs down to approximately 46 1/2″ above the floor leaving approximately 28″ of headroom for the lower bed and approximately 24″ headroom for the upper bed. To make sure the girls didn’t roll off at night, I tucked pool noodles under the fitted sheet along the exposed sides of the bed.
As I mentioned above, the entire electrical system was housed in the long bench on the opposing wall. The van was completely self-supporting with two 100ah AGM Deep Cycle Batteries that charged off the alternator and a solar panel mounted on the roof. Electrical gauges are visible above the kitchen counter as well as the regular outlet we installed which runs off of an inverter. There are also usb plug ins along both sides of the bench, which charge off of 12V power. A complete parts lists for the electric system can be found on my Sprinter Van Conversion Amazon list.
Our van also has a shore power hookup and gas-powered generator mounted underneath the van. The generator could be used to charge the batteries or power the van, but was mainly only used for nights we wanted to run the A/C unit (another unique featured in a van build, which requires more power than a battery setup can provide). Marine seal hatches were placed in the floor for easy access to the generator from inside the van. In addition to the A/C unit (which we only needed to use when the temperature got above 90 degrees at night), we have a Max Air Fan for keeping things comfortable inside during temperate weather conditions.
The entire van is insulated with foam board and reflectix (for the wheels) and lined with cedar interlocking boards from Home Depot, which we painted (along with the benches and cabinetry) a bright white (Maui Mist by Behr) to brighten up the space. We installed recessed lighting throughout the van including underneath of the top bed to maintain the bright and airy feel after dark. The flooring is a light-colored Traffic Master Grey Ash Peel and Stick Vinyl Planks from Home Depot. For privacy, we mounted long curtain rods behind the driver’s seat and at the back for hanging floor-length navy room-darkening and thermal-insulating privacy curtains. We also made magnetic window coverings for the passenger windows out of reflectix, navy fabric, magnets and some sewing skills.
The entire build took Brad 6 tireless weeks to complete. The van turned out amazing! Here are a few pictures from it’s many adventures.
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