My younger sister came to me with an exciting proposition, Turn her newly acquired Chevy Astro into her new home! She was an easy client, all she requested was a bed, a place to sit with her computer, storage, and lastly she wanted to help. Oh and she had a budget of $200, ok great, lets get started.

This is not a new concept, So before starting the build I did a little research to see how others converted their vans into campers. In fact, there are some other vans right here on instructables, In particular, I found great inspiration in the multiple posts by Audrey Desjardins, I recommend checking out her work.

Step 1: A Blank Vanvas!

The foundation for this build was an Empty Chevy Astro Van. As you can see all the seats were removed, and subsequently sold on Craigslist. My sister happened to arrive with a new area rug on the floor and black out shades already applied to the windows, so this was our starting point.

Step 2: Schematic Design - Dimensions and Layout

We made sure to document the critical dimensions, including the van, the storage bins my sister already owned and even her height, head to toe. We came up with a basic layout that accommodated a bed, a full desk, a place for seating and ample storage. Fortunately for her she was short enough to fit in a bed oriented perpendicular to the main axis of the van, this allowed us to situate the bed across the back of the van, maximizing the "living space."

our short material list consisted of :

- (2) sheets of Sande plywood

- (1) box of screws

- (2) piano hinges

- wood glue

- (1) roll drawer liner

- (2) memory foam pads

The total cost came in just over $200 (more than half of which was the Foam pads).

Step 3: Design Continued - Rough Fit, Full Scale Layout

We cut the ends off one sheet of plywood so we could place it in the back of the van for a rough fitting. This gave us an opportunity to make sure my sister would fit in the bed comfortably. In addition, it also allowed us to layout everything in full scale, drawing the plans directly on the plywood.

Step 4: Rip

Once you are confident with your layout (measure twice) then it is time to rip the boards and supports to the proper dimensions. The table saw is of course the perfect tool for long square rips, however because you are working in a van, many of your cuts may not be truly square. In this event you can make do with any straight edge, such as a long level, clamp it to the plywood at the desired angle and use it as a guide for your circular saw.

Step 5: Scribe and Shape

Once again, this is a van and unfortunately nothing on the interior is square or plumb, so in order to fit all the pieces snugly in place there will be a lot of required scribing and jigsawing, and scribing and sanding and more scribing and sanding. You can purchase a scribing tool (they are fairly cheap, I have no excuse for not having one), but I find can do just fine with an adjustable square and eyeballing it.

Once you have all the pieces cut to their desired shapes I recommend rounding over all of the corners with a router, this gives it a cleaner look and minimizes any chance of splinters.

Step 6: Assemble

This was an exciting step for my sister because she could see things finally coming together and could really start to envision the finished product. Our chosen method of assembly was wood glue and pocket screws. The Kreg pocket hole kit makes this a cinch, this small jig only cost $40 and included all the necessary drill bits and driver bits.

The desk platform was connected to and partially supported by the bed platform via two flat Simpson metal plates screwed to the underside of both pieces and bridging the seam.

Step 7: Details - the Storage

We wanted the rear storage at the back of the van to be accessible from inside the van when the doors are closed. To accomplish this we incorporated two hinged hatches in the bed platform. When laying them out it is important to note that you must make sure that there is ample clearance to clear the wall the van on the up swinging of the hatch door. As an added measure we recessed the hinges into the panel so as not to be felt through the mattress (probably not necessary, but hey, looks cooler).

The other important detail to note here is the bungee cords that were stretched across the storage bins. This seemed the most economical way to keep the bins from sliding while the van is in motion. The cords attach at each end through a 3/4" hole drilled through the Plywood supports.

Step 8: Details - the Bed

The final completed mattress consisted of two foam pads, the pictures above show only one, however it was later decided to add a second for increased comfort. We snapped our lines on the foam with a chalk line, and cut it cleanly with multiple passes of a utility knife.

Step 9: Details - the Desk

The desk took a bit more scribing and shaping to make the parts fit. I made sure that the shelves and compartments had stops on all sides, nailed in place with a finish nail gun. These stops, in conjunction with grip liner (the kind meant for lining drawers) on all the surfaces would help keep objects from sliding around while the van is on the road.

Step 10: Completion

All that is left is for you to personalize it however you like. Please share your build, and Happy Travels!

<p>Some steps that I feel were left out.</p><p>1. Hygeine: Gym membership, $20-50/month, gym access, shower access.</p><p>2. Power: Strong alternator + shoddy wring + spare car battery + inverter = Firehazard/electrical outlet.</p><p>3. Water, Bottled water, creeks (if clean), water fountains.</p><p>4. cooking, Go electric mate. Or do one of those propane stoves; It'll be fine. Store your propane next to your malfunctioning electrical outlet.</p><p>5. Never park in the same place twice.</p>
<p>Thank you, My sister has now been living it the van for two years, with all that she has learned from the experience, I am sure we could make another instructable about just how to live in the van. </p>
<p>I love it! I want to build a mini version. I have a 2000 Rav4 which I took out the seats. Plenty of room back there for me to nap. I have a long commute each day to work and park in a multistory parking garage. Each day during lunch I go to my Rav4 to nap and chill. Having something like your sister's van but in a smaller form will fit my needs just fine.</p>
<p>Thank you! I would love to see pictures of your completed conversion when done. </p>
<p>Bad-ass, thanks for the inspiration.</p>
<p>I am Happy to have shared, I'm glad you liked it!</p>
<p>This is a great instructable! I'm currently looking into the idea of doing this in the future and this helps a lot ^.^</p>
<p>Awesome, I hope it works out for you as well as it did for my sister, she has had no regrets.</p>
<p>Thank you for sharing this awesome instructable!</p>
<p>You are welcome, and thank you for taking interest!</p>
<p>I find it interesting that most people are fixating on the heater options. While you may need to save a few pennies for it, a catalytic propane heater is likely the best option. I bought one from Bi-Mart (a northwest sports and outdoor store) for about $40-$50 several years ago, to use in my tent while hunting in the winter. It did fantastic for a tent, and with a van that has considerably more insulate properties than a tent, I'm sure it would work great. I could run it for about four nights in a row on a one liter tank of propane (these run about $3.00 each where I live).</p><p>My main question would be about facilities. Water wouldn't be that difficult as you could keep a lot of bottled water on hand (one gallon bottles are cheap). A hot plate for cooking would be fairly simple, as long as you had a good secondary battery that could be charged from the engine. A porta-potty could be used for other basic needs. That leaves the issue of hygiene, which could be dealt with utilizing the hot plate for heating water (or possible an electric water kettle) and good sponge bath techniques.<br><br>None of this seems to have been addressed in the article, though. It would have been nice to see how she planned to deal with these concerns.</p>
<p>I think that using a catalytic heater in a confined space is dangerous due to Carbon Monoxide build up and/or oxygen depletion which creates a danger of asphyxiation. You may go to sleep and never wake up.</p><p>It might be a better idea to re-purpose a propane heater from an actual camper which vents and intakes air from outside. Another solution may be to use an electric heater and look for outside sources for power.</p>
<p>A observation about all the Walmart comments below: I think most people are confusing two issues. I believe it is Walmart corporate policy to allow overnight parking in any of their lots. However may jurisdictions have laws prohibiting overnight parking so when you see an &quot;no overnight parking&quot; sing in a Walmart lot its the city/town you're indisallowing it, not Walmart.</p>
<p>Thank You!</p>
<p>very nice instructable. When i read this i was thinking at me... First was the money 200$ . I have allso this handyman work an i spent more money on tools than the actual job cost to buy ready made. So if you live in a flat with no tools and just 200 $ you will find out that just the tools presented in this tutorial costs 2000$ but the original ideea matters low quality can be reproduced only with a handsaw a screwdriver a knife an sandpaper</p>
<p>gana_anaq2, you and me both. I have a low-end drill/driver, a few yard-sale tools, a loaner jig saw, and like that. I can round corners with a rasp ($0.50 to $2.00, common at yard sales), cut plywood with a $1 hand saw, and generally substitute things to get the same result. I suspect I could learn to &quot;scribe,&quot; but making a cardboard template is easier. I would/will use some old couch cushions rather than spend $100 on foam and I'll get the added advantage of a cushion to sit on. If I use hinges, they'll be cheap and I'll use them to make a lid for the difficult-to-reach space under where the bed and the desk join.</p>
I liked your instructable. It looks great like a room.very nice job. You are a very talented worker.
Thank you!
You make some great points in regard to money. In my case I was fortunate to have a job that provided me access to tools I didnt have myself. A great alternative for those without their own tools may be to check out tech shops or maker spaces, which are popping up all around the country.
<p>When I was a teen we called these &quot;shaggin' wagons&quot;. In those days though the most popular conversion was a panel van.</p>
<p>Some Walmarts allow overnight parking. Some have signs saying no overnight parking. How about a truck stop? Many of them have restrooms, showers, food.</p>
<p>* As a former long-haul truck-driver I can <br>assure you that as long as you follow the signs in the <br>truck-stop/rest-area, you will be left alone (as noted below, go dark <br>quickly). The rigs in WalMart, etc. actually haul stock for those <br>locations and have special permission from the stores. </p><p>* As a <br>homeless advocate here in Mass. I've found that one has to feel-out the <br>proper locations. In my experience, it is right in front of the homeless<br> shelter. Stay away from places where tent-communities are. Staying on <br>the street almost always works, staying on private property (malls, etc)<br> almost never works. Case your location; you'll figure it out--but often<br> the knock-knock on the window comes right about dawn. </p><p>* Should <br>you be questioned by the po-po just be honest (and respectful). &quot;I'm <br>homeless, but getting back on my feet&quot; has worked for me 99%. Key here <br>is be respectful. Once when I had camped by an establishment serving <br>booze I told the cop I had too much the night before and was doing the <br>responsible thing not driving--but I didn't go back.</p><p>* Most of all, Variety is the Spice of Life! Move around (almost) daily. Be smart; be safe!</p>
Thank you for sharing your experience.
Unfortunately because I was not the one living in the van, it is hard for me to answer questions regarding livability. However I do know that my sister stayed bear a beach where there were public showers and she kept a gym membership that always provided her restrooms.
<p>I love it</p>
Thank you pachytrance.
<p>Best to start with a windowless Van ,for more security. I also built a larger bed which gave me indoor and backdoor storage. Be careful about where you park, thieves are always looking for vehicles to break into. My dog chased a few away, just by growling. This adventure will give you lots of fond memories .Best of luck !</p>
<p>Great job. Question--where does one park a van overnight without problems?</p>
<p>parking... yeah. tricky. don't want to park near other &quot;homeless&quot; dwellers - attracts to much attention. and since some of those folks are a little desperate, there is actually a greater chance of break-ins etc. you need to look for places where the parking signs allow you to be there- don't want overtime tickets etc. best places are where there is a long wall of a building, or a long hedge along a property, so that you aren't parking in front of somebodies house. many areas have vacant lots you can park next to. do not park next to public parks. they are patrolled, and the powers will question your presence. do not park in the same place every night. do your night duties - eating, brushing teeth in some public place, drive to the sleeping place, dive into the back and go dark. most people won't even know there is a van-dweller there. be stealthy, move around, don't put yourself where the house dwellers will get their dander up. strangely enough, parking in neighboorhoods where there are no sidewalks - lower middle class houses - have given me the most grief. they've called the cops or come out and honk their horns right next to me.</p><p>i should write my own instructable on &quot;how to live in a van&quot;</p>
<p>Its legal to park over night in any walmart parking lot. Over the road truck drivers do it often when there is no truckstop or rest area. Any one can legally do it and there are likely security cameras, inside there is bathrooms and most any supply you may need. Plus they are most everywhere so it can be used to eaily tour the country. Don't forget camp grounds to sleep in. It may not be free but no one should bother you.</p>
<p>just a note about walmart overnighting. they will notice if you consistently park in their lots and eventually will bar you. some walmarts do NOT allow overnight parking - depends on the location. city of tacoma washington does not allow sleeping in vehicles, so the tacoma walmart has conspicuious &quot;no overnight parking&quot; signs every where. the walmart in federal way wa has a huge lot, but last summer also posted no overnight parking. i've stayed there anyway a couple of times and havn't had them knock on the window.</p>
<p>I would read it. :)</p>
<p>I am glad you and a few others were able to help answer the questions regarding life in the van. Unfortunately I only helped build my sisters van and did not have the experience of using it. So Thank you, you have bean a great source of knowledge.</p>
<p>I am glad you and a few others have been able to help answer questions about how live in the van. Unfortunately because only helped build my sisters van and have not had the experience of using it, I would have been at a loss in this regard. So thanks.</p>
<p>I am glad you and a few others have been able to help answer questions about how live in the van. Unfortunately because only helped build my sisters van and have not had the experience of using it, I would have been at a loss in this regard. So thanks.</p>
<p>Some 24 hours stores used to let RVs park overnight with an implied &quot;You buy your stuff here tonight&quot; clause. You'd go in, buy your TP, toothpaste, and any other overnight things you might &quot;need&quot; and they'd allow you to park overnight. I think Walgreens still allows it, but I don't know about the others. How familiar are you with the practice?</p>
At many walmarts, the policy is usually intended for passerby. If workers notice you staying overnight regularly, then you'll eventually get cops called on you. I would alternate between a few places but my luck eventually ran out. Parking lots of business and even behind such, are private property and it can be considered trespassing when after hours. The police told me that you can park on public streets overnight, but you have to change location every night.
<p>Walmart is known for allowing RVs to park overnight. I've seen the same van 5-6 nights per month in the local Home Depot lot (only one night at a time). There is a chain of gyms that has a bottom rate of $2 per visit - no, I don't know which one - that an acquaintance uses for workouts and showers. You have to sit through their 45-60 minute presentation that starts with a high price and drops to $2 per visit and waived &quot;initiation fee&quot;.</p>
It would be a good instructable. You clearly have an understanding of the topic.
<p>yes. please write that</p>
Thanks! You definitely should write an intractable. Great info and very helpful. I'm not surprised that neighborhood folks get their dander up. They seem to think they own the streets in front of their homes. But I get the point--avoid confrontation.
Now you can live in a van down by the river...
<p>That's funny cause as I was viewing this, all I could think of was &quot;Living in a van, DOWN BY THE RIVERRR.&quot;</p><p>Still a relativily neat project. Could be useful for road trips, or an over nighter. </p>
<p>Two years living in a van down by the river!</p>
<p>haha, I was waiting for someone to quote this.</p>
<p>Awesome build this kind of this would be epic in a VW camper, might have to sort this for my aussie trip ;)</p>
<p>This is a great project!</p><p>I have some questions, why didn't you remove the rear seat-belts? (since you had already sold the rear seats there is no point in keeping them)</p><p>Did you install a second battery to help with power consumption?</p><p>How did you block off the front of the van? It looks like she installed a curtain rod but that only can go so high before the curve of the roof. (I would suggest Velcro strips along the ceiling/walls and then just stick the curtains to that.)</p><p>Thank you for sharing!</p>
<p>the curtain rod, as you noticed only goes so high. above that she did use velcro to attach a small piece of fabric that created a valance of sorts to block the remaining light. </p><p>the seat belts were not really in the way so she decided better to keep them intact, just in case she ever wanted to convert the van back. </p><p>Sorry it took me so long to get around to answering your questions, thanks for commenting! </p>
<p>Great job, only question is where do you go to the bathroom? or shower? Really nice job for the money! </p>

About This Instructable




Bio: I consider myself a designer and a builder, I am currently working for an architecture firm in San Francisco and on my free time putzing ... More »
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