Our van build includes ample amounts of planning, design, construction, paint and some professional help

If you have been keeping up with us through our jkandkiminthecamper YouTube channel, you know we have been homebodies now for a few months.

We decided during late winter to bite the bullet and completely (almost) gut our 2019 Ford Transit campervan and do a complete rebuild of the interior. That extensive rebuild included adding some big-ticket items to the van such as a rooftop air conditioner! As they always say, one thing leads to another. And so, it is with any remodel project, whether it’s “redoing the upstairs bathroom,” or renovating the insides of a van, one thing is going to lead to another.

To operate the van’s new air conditioner on hot summer days without having to be plugged-in at a campground, we needed to add upgraded batteries and electrical system to the van.  This meant pulling out all our old, less powerful equipment and replacing it with a more adequate system. The upgrade also meant we were going to add solar panels to the van’s roof to keep the new battery bank charged and ready to provide power.

Finding a van conversion company base to do the work anywhere remotely near our Southern Minnesota home was nearly impossible. Either they were booked solid with other van builds through 2024, were ghastly expensive, or they were located hundreds and hundreds of miles away out in the west. Area RV dealers either didn’t understand what we wanted done or flat out told us no.

By chance we came across a small solar installation company in Ham Lake, MN who was willing to do the work needed and was able to get us scheduled within a few weeks. Shawn of Sota Solar runs a true cottage business out of the driveway of his home. He’s one of those under-stated guys who might come across as an unorganized dude but is actually an electrical genius.

He took on the installation of our new air conditioner and rooftop rack to hold the new solar panels, plus Shawn designed a new battery system capable of running all our van’s electric needs and giving us the ability to stay off grid for days or weeks.

He integrated our existing lithium batteries and added one of his custom designed battery racks to put us at over 700-amp hours of battery power. And he was able to stuff it all into one of our new twin-size bed boxes.

We drove up north past the Twin Cities to drop off our van at his shop on a Sunday afternoon, and by the next Sunday morning, everything was done, and we drove the van back home with all the additional gear.

Then it was time to get back to work on our end and continue the renovation.

JK had quickly cobbled together the kitchen cabinet as a placeholder so Sota Solar would know where electric lines would need to be run. The refrigerator stand/drawers/toilet cabinet was also placed in the van for the same reasons.

When we got our van back home, those cabinets were pulled out and final construction plans were set in place for the interior. JK had never, to his recollection, built cabinet drawers before. So, he needed to overcome that fear of failure before actually doing a good job with them in the end. Thanks to those YouTube “How-To” videos!

Since then, it’s been mainly filling nail holes with spackle, sanding, priming, and painting. Lots of painting!

We didn’t realize how slow the painting process really is. A piece of the interior that was primed today has to wait, ideally, until the next day for the next step in the finishing process.

The finish color, no matter what they claim, always takes at least two, sometimes three coats of paint to achieve a solid color finish on the cabinets, interior walls, and ceiling. So that adds more time.

Patience little Grasshopper…patience.

At this writing, the interior walls and ceiling have been freshened with a brighter tone of paint. The bed boxes are painted, and the refrigerator cabinet is all colorful and ready to be installed (finally) in its place.

Once that large cabinet is out of the garage/shop, it’s on to building the kitchen cabinet, with its sink, faucet, running water, water tanks, water pump and accumulation tank. Let’s not forget that the cabinet will include lots more drawers to build!

The end is starting to come into view for this crazy DIY van interior renovation. Maybe a week or two, depending on when the last order of hardware and parts arrives, and how long it takes the paint to dry!

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