Off-Grid Van Conversion

A self-built campervan inspired by the farm

00 Intro

Over two years, my partner and I took an empty Ford Transit cargo van and converted it from bare metal to an off-grid camper van.


I couldn’t have done this without the support of friends and family. Special thanks goes to my partner Midori, my parents, Andy, Jaymi, Takako, Dennis, and Steph (pictures in thanks-gratitude)

Build Highlights

Reclaimed Hardwood Floors

The build started at my grandfather’s farm in North Carolina, so it was fitting that the floors would come from there too. This led to the Japanese farmhouse aesthetic, inspired by My Neighbor Totoro, and realized via tatami mats, a traditional Japanese futon and natural wood trim - unfortunately I didn’t have time for the Shoji Screens


A personal goal of mine was to design an off-grid electrical system, and even more so to have no propane in the van. With the extended length Ford Transit version it allowed us to put two 300W solar panels on the roof which was enough to keep the batteries charged even when using an 1800W power-hungry induction cooktop. As any good engineer I also added backup resources such as an alternator-charger and shore power hookup.

The hot water was realized by taking a page from the boat-designers and rerouting the van’s coolant system through a hot water heat exchanger - the heat exchanger was insulated enough so that even after 30 minutes of driving you’d have hot water for a full day.

Air heating was provided by tapping into the existing gasoline tank. An improvement would be to combine this with the hydronic heat exchanger, but when looking into those systems the cost quickly goes to the moon.

A Full Indoor Shower

The design of the indoor shower turned the camper more into an RV, but I designed it so that it wouldn’t take up too much space. I modeled a custom shower pan and had it fabricated from stainless steel, then lined the walls with fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP). With a shower bar mounted on the rear door, converting to an outdoor shower is a breeze (pun-intended).

What I Learned

This project shaped me more than I could’ve imagined. As Churchill rightly put,

We shape our buildings van; thereafter it shapes us.

Some things I learned along the way

  • welding
  • battery chemistry and testing
  • solar design, selection, and charging
  • electrical codes for boats (e.g. ABYC) - useful for RVs too
  • plumbing - fitting selection, filtration systems
  • hydronic heat exchangers
  • 3D modeling in AutoCad
  • woodworking - cabinets and drawers
  • design process

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