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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ideas for Van Renovations

Over the winter, I've been pondering different ideas for renovation of my van interior. I have an extended '89 Ford Aerostar, which is very compact when compared to other vans, even a Chevy Astro. I've been just using a platform bed, foam mattress over a plywood base. But, although there is lots of storage underneath, the layout doesn't allow for sitting in that area as well. Also, the storage area gets jumbled as well, and I'd like to organize it. I'd like to have everything in it's place and maximize the usage of the limited space.

The sketch to the left shows the basic design I'm thinking about. It's the basic plan, where the table will lower and become a nice size bed. The cushions are the brown areas and the yellow areas are the cabinets, table/bed shelf and the extensions off the back cabinet (top view only). The first side profile shows the table up in place, and one of the hinged seat cushions raised to allow access to the storage box base. The middle side profile shows the bed made up with the table shelf lowered and a cushion on top. The three cushions, used for seating/bed, will be 4" thick foam covered with some kind of material. In both the top two profiles, you can see a floating smaller cushion. This actually a side view of a bench back, which will be cushioned with maybe a 2" foam slab. It will go right across the back and be fixed in place. The lower profile is a top view. It shows the bed made up with cushions in place, the bench back (solid brown) in place between the two side extensions. The outer grey area is the floor space, with the back of the van to the left. I'm going to put some shelves between the extensions at the back, so there will be more storage and the kitchen pantry. Underneath, the seating boxes will be storage for clothing and bedding.

I thought about the design you see in VW camper vans, with the couch seat that folds flat into a bed. But, I think I'll get more options for storage with this layout and the spacing wasn't quite there for the VW design. Too bad. I liked that idea a lot.

With this plan, I can put tall stuff like the cooler and the propane bottle at the back, and the extension shelving (not shown) will clear them. I'll have a sliver of open floor to get in and out the side door, and the raised table won't be the full width of the seating for easy access. There will be a gap around the bed, so bedding will drape over the sides. I think this will be the way to go, we'll see.

I have a fully furbished interior in my Eddie Bower version, with carpeting, side and ceiling liners. I thought about putting in a plywood floor, but I don't really need one. The carpeting, while nice, gets dirty and damp, so I want something different. I'm thinking about a rubber mat over some underlay, which will fit nice with the side liners and cleanup easily with some insulating aspects. Behind the side liners, I want to insulate somewhat, but I've gotta take them off and decide for sure. I'm designing some new covers for the back area windows, to replace the painted reflectix old ones. I'm going to check out the ceiling liner; I believe it has a foam insulating layer there already, but I'm thinking about putting a reflective foil layer to combat summer heat. Along the same lines, I thinking of a layer of reflectix behind the side liners, for some insulation and to reflect summer heat. Also, a new curtain behind the rear seats, and ones fashioned for the side door and the back doors are desirable.

I've wanted a ventilation system for the back for a while. When I operate the van, the ventilation system in place is great. But, when parked, unless I open the side windows, the back gets stuffy. Opening the side windows is fine if you are parked legally, but when stealth parking or for security is not a good option. So, I'm thinking about a low amperage, axial fan mounted in the back, which will be very quiet. It will change the air volume in the van in about 5 minutes, and draw very little current. I'm also thinking about maybe some interior van lighting, and reserve power capacity for a laptop. So, a house battery system is probably going to be necessity.

These are a few of the ideas I'm bouncing around for the van. The beauty of these renos is that I can do 99% of them myself. Which is a great savings! I want to maximize the utility of the back area, for storage, sleeping and seating. I want to insulate a little more, for both heat retention and summer heat reflection. I want to have the window covers easily removable, but still cover for stealth at night. And finally, it looks like I'm leaning toward a house battery system, for some creature features.

Oh, well, let's see what I come up with!!! Later ;-)


Anonymous said...

Very cool drawings :)

Keep us updated on your progress!

Anonymous said...

I posted earlier and thought I'd share some of my stealth aerostar camper ideas here:

1. A rubberized floor is optimal. I'm going to remove the existing carpet and lay down rubber matting with foam cushion underneath. Like you said it'll clean up much better. Plus it'll make installing the shower described below a lot easier.

2. A small shower will be installed. It will probably be configured so as the user will be seated or partially reclined during the shower. I'm pretty sure it will be placed at the rear of the van. And yes there is enough space, I can easily sit in the rear seat and see that I could wash myself with a handheld showerhead while remaining seated (convalescents do this all the time, it's no big deal). All I would need to do is install a water tank underneath (a 5-10 gallon capacity would be enough for several showers), a compact on demand water heater (that could be electrically powered or by small disposable camping propane bottles), and a drain system that either involves a tank or simply drains out directly to the ground. The rubber flooring would be contoured to flow into a small drain that would be positioned in the middle rear with a removeable plug and removable/stowable rubber curbing which would prevent the water from migrating outside of that area. A stowable shower curtain could also be installed. The user would sit on a small folding aluminum stool with a nylon seat. When the shower is complete, the user would have to perform a brief "squeegeeing" of the drain area and perhaps the curtain and generally wipe things down to keep them dry. This seated shower arrangement would not be super comfortable and convenient, but it's absolutely doable. Sit in the bench seat in the back (with the front bench removed) and try and tell yourself you don't have enough room to wash yourself. I'm over 6 feet tall and I do, I suspect most others would too. Also showering inside is not mandatory, plumbing could easily be installed so that an outside showerhead could be deployed very quickly and simply on the side/rear of the van. A brief stopover at some private locale (especially at night) would be all that's needed to take a nice hot 5 minute shower, dry off quickly and be on your way. (REI sells nice compact, synthetic camping towels that dry very quickly on their own too).

3. Installation of a "high top" roof cap or a pop-top camping top (they're available online or out of junk aerostars). These would give you much more space, which would especially be helpful for the aforementioned shower. Bulky lightweight things can be stowed up top out of the way, freeing up more space below. And in the case of a pop top a standing shower is now completely feasible.

4. Toilet and sink. A small sink with a basin of flexible rubber could be used and then folded up and collapsed out of the way not in use. A simple toilet, possibly made from a compact, light, folding aluminum chair could be equipped with a collapsible rubber bowl that drained into a small 5-10 gallon septic tank under the van. Flushing water would be provided by the same watertank used for the sink and shower (or a graywater tank could also be used for flushing). The rubber bowl would have to be kept very clean obviously but once it's collapsed and stowed away (off to the sides) it can be sealed in a plastic container as well. The septic drain is sealed after every use so no odors will be present. Obviously the septic tank would have to be drained periodically and in practical use would only be used when other means for "privation" were not readily available. A septic system like this should be able to be used for about 5-7 days without emptying or recharging with more water.

5. Removable/insulated metal screens placed over all windows (which are already tinted) when in stealth mode (cargo vans are already to go). A steel insulated barrier between the front driver/passenger compartment and the rear will be installed with a hinged lockable door accessing the two compartments. When in stealth mode no light (or view) will be present in the rear to an outside observer (like park rangers or cops etc).

6. A primordial kitchen - a simple 2 burner propane stove that's hinged to fold down along with a simple hinged counterspace along with a small streamlined camper fridge is all that's really needed. Coffee, tea, soup and dehydrated foods could easily be prepared in this simple kitchen. When cooking is complete, everything hinges up and stows flush on the sides of the van out of the way.

Ok that's enough for now. There's more, but these ideas are a start. Basically the objective is to have a van that's capable of pulling off the side of the road nearly anywhere and have full self-sustaining capabilities, lasting for days if need be. You pull over, crash in utter privacy, awake make some coffee, eat some breakfast, have your morning constitution, shower in your shower, dry off, shave at your sink, get dressed, move to the front turn the key and it's a new day free of hotel bills and above all - THE MAN. LOL

TBC... van-man

urban vandweller said...

Wow, that's a lot of functionality for the compact interior of an Aerostar! I'm not trying to get anywhere as much into my van. Up here in Canada, there aren't a lot of "high top" roofs available for my van; I thought about getting one but for the cost was prohibitive (only new ones available). I'm very interested in how you will install all these items in your Aerostar. Keep me posted as you work out your designs. I think a lot of people could benefit regardless of what van they use. Thank for sharing, Urban Vandweller

urban vandweller said...

Hello, again - I'm at a similar crossroad, working towards a design for buildout like you are. I am interested in your design proposals, though my design would be less functional than yours. Would you like to discuss these ideas online? I have lived in my 'Aero' for almost two years, with a very simple setup. Please email me - Http:// or at

Anonymous said...

Great to hear from you, glad you seemed to enjoy my thoughts on the matter. Let me go into a little more detail about some of the interior features:

Shower - Back to the shower again. I've thought about this some more and I think I have a more refined solution now. I'm going to get some thin, lightweight waterproof nylon exactly like what is used in lightweight backpacking tents. It will basically be a nylon box that comes up almost to the roof, with very thin lightweight nylon on all four sides (total weight will be less than 1 lb). The box will only be open on the top (to allow the user to step inside and for the shower to come through the top as well). The bottom “floor” will be made of a slightly heavier grade nylon (just like real tents) and have a hole in it with a stubby plastic male coupler tube attached to it that will penetrate the small hole/drain on the rubber covered floor. Overhead will be 4 to 6 very unobtrusive hooks that will connect to short elastic straps that are sewn to the top of the box. What will happen is that the user will bring the collapsed tent/shower curtain over to the shower area (in the rear of the van). The curtain will lay on the floor collapsed and the drain tube will be inserted and plugged into the hole sealing the drain area. Then the user will step inside the nylon box and pull its sides up to the roof where the straps are hooked so as to suspend the box vertically around the user. The shower-head is either held fixed in place overhead or a hand held model will be used. A small collapsible aluminum chair/stool with a nylon seat is then used for the user to seat him/herself inside the box. Then the user simply uses the shower while in the seated position. All water will be trapped inside the waterproof nylon box and immediately drained out the hole in the bottom. When the user is done he unhooks the overhead straps, lowers the nylon to his feet and steps out of the box. The nylon can be sponged off or squeegeed off at that point and perhaps sprayed with a dilute anti-fungal solution. It's then rolled up to near nothingness and stowed out of the way. If there's a cap on the roof there will be a large extra stowage area that would be perfect for a lightweight item like that (along with a whole bunch of other things). But either way, it'll take up nearly no space whatsoever once it's put away. It can also be put out to dry (will only take 15 minutes or so on a sunny day) at another time when it's convenient. It can also be washed and dried periodically when clothes are done. It's cheap, functional, practical, low tech, and takes up nearly no space. The shower area is only temporarily used for showering. The entire space is fully available for other activities as soon as the nylon box is stowed. It's doable, very doable. I also think that the showering ritual could be practiced and become a very quick routine. It needn’t be an arduous or time consuming chore once the routine is practiced and refined down pat. Also, I was looking at my aerostar today, which has a flip up lid on the back. The cargo aerostars have barn doors. If you had barn doors you could remove the spare tire underneath and mount it on one of the barn doors (like small and full size vans and broncos have been equipped with for decades). You could have a simple steel bracket fabricated/welded up to accommodate this. The tire would not add to aerodynamic drag in this position either, so there will be no mpg penalty. And the whole reason for doing this is to make room for various tanks underneath, including tanks for the sink/shower drain, septic and gray water. The shower drain being where it is could drain right into it, no problem. (there’s still room for tanks even without moving the stock rear tire position though)

General interior notes – I don’t yet have the entire interior thought out in every detail, but generally I’m visualizing a very open, modular and highly configurable design. Like the shower for example. That space in the rear of the van is temporarily configured for that particular task and then reconfigured for something else when it is done. The “stuff” associated with the showering is minimal and fully stowed out of the way when not in use. Most campers/RV’s I’ve seen have these very space consuming appliances, cabinets and fixtures mounted in a permanent fashion. They’re even modeled after ordinary furniture/cabinets you’d see in a house kitchen or bathroom. This is a bad idea and a terrible waste of space. I’m thinking that nearly everything can be stowed, collapsed and folded down when needed from the sides of the van. And made out of lightweight tubular aluminum and nylon. For instance there could be a long bench seat on one side that is made of lightweight aluminum tubing (similar to that found in aluminum deck chairs) and with a sewn nylon seat that runs the length of the van’s cargo area. The bench is hinged on the side of the van and folds down when needed. There are legs on it that deploy when it is folded down which supports the weight of the occupant(s) as they sit on the bench. Since it runs lengthwise and spans most of the cargo area’s interior, the occupants can slide forward and rearward (on the slippery nylon seating) with relative ease without having to stand up and stoop uncomfortably. This would allow the user to access nearly anything within the van comfortably and easily. It would also be a perfect platform for interacting with the other features that would fold out from the other side – like the 2 burner stove, the kitchen counter (which can be used for things other than cooking too), storage areas (which will be explained in more detail later), the sink etc. And like the bench all of the items you’re facing (and using) while sitting on the bench are also on lightweight hinged/folding platforms. When the cooking is done, the stove is flipped up and locked into its stowed position (like the tray in front of you on an airliner). Same goes for the sink, the countertop etc. Some things might not lend themselves to being flipped up, in which case they can be detached and stowed somewhere else out of the way (again especially in the overhead area if a cap/pop-top is used).

As far as storage areas they would consist of a series of draped net-like pockets on the sides of the van and elsewhere. There will be no awkward, permanently mounted shellacked wooden fixtures getting in the way all the time. Everything is collapsed, folded away, tucked in netting out of the way. Clothes, food, supplies, whatever can and will be stowed this way. Plus it has the benefit of everything being visible so you know where it is at a glance. And everything is always safely secured for transport at a moment’s notice. As far as bedding, I have a “thermarest” compact mattress that I backpack with. It’s comfortable and very durable. It also doubles as a chair. It rolls up into a compact roll and attaches to my backpack when we break camp and leave. It could be used in the back of the van for sleeping, along with a modern backpacking sleeping bag. Modern sleeping bags can be crushed into very small spaces and are very warm. It’s also possible to make the nylon bench large enough to be a sort of hammock/cot sleeping surface, similar to an army stretcher. Lots of things can be worked out for sleeping arrangements, especially for only one or two people, and they needn’t take up any real space at all.

Ok, that’s about it for now. Let me know what you think and how you plan on doing your van too. Good chatting with you… Van-man

urban vandweller said...

Wow, Van-man - So many great ideas and design concepts. I've seen something partially similar in multi-purpose vans for surfers or motocross bikers. They need the interior space to be mega-functional, depending on the moment. Take the bikes/surfboards inside the van somewhere, then convert the cargo hold to functional living space when they get there. Uber Vandwelling!!!

For myself, I kinda old school. I can work with wood, and I don't want to shower, cook or go to the washroom (emergency only!) inside my van. I agree totally with you about clunky, poor design wood interiors; but that's what I can create and afford, so I'm working on a streamlined but pleasant design.

I can envision your modular modern design, with a very clean, almost industrial look. It's going to be great! I think that this design will probably require custom metal and cloth fabrication, but it will be ultra functional. I have a couple of comments which may work for you, maybe not.

1/ Shower - Where I live, for six months of the year, you wouldn't want to introduce any extra moisture inside your van. The relative humidity is already 70%-100%, and condensation/mildew would be an interior nightmare. If you could have some kind of ventilation for the shower, it would be great. Maybe not necessary for where you live. You could keep the inside walls of your nylon cubicle drier, if you used a hand-held shower head. Instead of splashing water all over, just direct it on you and down towards the drain.

2/ Fold down stove and shelf table - Somethings just lend themselves to being attached and stow able out of sight but ready to be used. I envision a very shallow wall unit, which could incorporate not only fold down cooking/washing facilities, but maybe also some computer/entertainment stuff and toilet. When not in use, they are all hidden and out of the way, very clean.

I'm curious about what you mean by removable/insulated metal screens for windows. Could you elaborate? I have a passenger model, so I know what you mean about the spare tire and tanks below, etc. I utilize netting for simple light wall storage, above the windows.

Although my personal space will be quite different that yours, I would like to help you if I can; maybe we should get some simple drafting program to share ideas visually, if you like. A lot of people would benefit from your ideas, depending on what you want to do with your designs. Cheers.

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