Welcome, and thanks for being here! I’m stoked to tell you about the van and help you get on track with yours.

The “Canavan” is a 2016 Mercedes Benz Sprinter 144″ WB Cargo van in Blue grey, with a 2.1L 4-cylinder engine and two-wheel drive. It was custom ordered from the dealer in September, and arrived later in December. The build mission was as follows:

  • Create a fully functional kitchen that encourages cooking delicious meals in remote locations.
  • Have designated and easily accessible storage for a bunch, I mean a ton, of recreational gear.
  • Find a good balance between project cost, time committed, and quality of build. Create something of value, but don’t go overboard.

Our needs are probably different, and there seems to be endless information out there on van builds, but don’t get lost in the noise. This build was just a sampling of other builds’ ideas/layouts/functions, and would encourage you to approach it in a similar manner – choose the best options that suits you and your lifestyle. If you feel the need to understand all the options available, I’d recommend checking out this comprehensive build guide. I opted to NOT buy the guide and regret that decision – it would have saved so much time flip-flopping between the varied opinions that you will find online.

Time & Cost Commitment

About 6 months of planning went into the rig, but I think you need quite a bit less. A foundational amount of research is necessary, but I would encourage that you spend less time making up your mind, and more getting to it!

The actual build consisted of 3 months of half-assing it, and 2 months of full-assing it. Then about four weeks of tinkering/making things fit. 99% of the build was performed by one, while working a full-time job. More help, or less work = less build time!

$20k is the rough total, which I was able to finance through salary cash flow during the build phase (no time to spend it anywhere else). Living on a budget helps, too!

Empty to full

A shop and tools are necessary, experience is optional. I rented a room in a (pretty dang nice) house, with half of the garage to be outfitted as a workshop, for $850 a month. My roommate/landlord was cool, and ended up being very supportive of the build process throughout. Be upfront, honest, reasonable in your timing and expectations, respectful of the property, and you won’t have any issues here. Don’t get caught up on this part and discourage yourself from starting!

Check and see if you have a local tool library. We have one in Calgary with annual dues of $60. Not a typo. $60 to borrow pretty much any tool for two weeks at a time. There were a few things that are needed for an extended period of time, a drill, bit set, tablesaw, clamps etc. I borrowed most of these items from friends who weren’t doing winter projects (cause it’s cold as heck), but probably spent $200 on tools (metal hole saws are expensive), and then donated them to the tool library! Feel good points here.

On the experience front – you don’t need much. I made a skateboard jump when I was 12, which is the extent of my woodworking career. Mechanically a bit more inclined, rebuilding an audi engine, eventually… only after bending valves on the first two attempts.

There are unlimited resources out there for each constituent part of the van build (Electrical, woodworking, fastening etc). What you really need is a humble approach, a desire to learn, and a bit of mental fortitude. Some moments will be hard, but you can totally do this.

Also – you’ll need an Amazon Prime membership. No joke. I bought most of my supplies from Amazon, two day shipping to my office, then just took it home with me. Saved many trips to the hardware store but don’t worry… you’ll get plenty of those too.

Heating is essential for four seasons use. A Webasto diesel-fired heater was installed underneath the passenger seat, which was an ease to install and does not impede on the living space. The exhaust channels behind the passenger wheel fender, and air intake goes towards the rear of the van. Electrical and fuel line for the pump runs through a conduit between the seats, and out a conveniently located, pre-existing hole above the fuel tank. The 10′ controller harness is the perfect length to route through the same conduit, behind the galley, and end up on a panel surface next to the sink!

The first technical install – Webasto heater. I’m not organized, but you could be!

Insulation to capture that warmth is also important. A lot of time can be invested in trying to fill up every nook and gap… but ultimately there will be exposed steel that conducts heat/cold from the outside. The 80/20 rule applies here! I filled major voids with varying sizes of XPS Rigid foam insulation, minor ones with spray foam, and some EcoBatt insulation in tough-to-fill areas. There is a 1/2″ of XPS underneath the Luxury Vinyl Tile floor, too. After a weekend test run, I put a layer of Reflectix behind the finished wall panels which made a huge difference in keeping heat out.

Roof fan options are available, but the Fantastic Fan seems to be the gold standard. The 7350 model is rain sensing, temperature controlled, and comes with a REMOTE (so cool), thus was the obvious choice. The thought of rilling and cutting holes in the roof to install this guy was overwhelming, so I spent a few days dreading getting started. In hindsight, it’s really not a hard job. To up the van game a bit, I installed $20 of hand-planed black walnut as trim around the fan, which gives the fixture screws something to bite into on the inside.

Solar panels are the best way to keep you topped up when parked for longer periods. This 200W kit from Amazon comes with a charge controller and weatherproof connectors, which ingress through this {combiner box} located just in front of the roof ran. I made ultra-secure roof crossbars with aluminum unistrut, which can be found at any industrial fastener store for about $15 per ten foot length. The entire setup cost under $600 – more info on the solar install here

Batteries make storing the juice is easy, too! Two golf cart batteries located underneath each seat and connected in series by battery cable, hold 200 amp hours of the tingly sparky stuff. A battery separator assists with charging in the winter months, It opens when the van’s alternator is on, flowing juice to the house system. A 1500W remote-switch inverter fits under the drivers side, as well! Ventilation doesn’t seem do be an issue as the seat podiums don’t have tops. After splicing in about 8′ cable to the inverter body, both the outlet and the remote switch reach the other controls next to the galley. Easy access!

The balance of copper can be found heading to a marine-grade fuse panel located behind the controls. The fridge and fan feed directly into it, where the other accessories route through a switch panel, which also has some handy USB and DC outlets. The labels on this thing are rediculous, but once blacked-out with a sharpie, this is probably the cleanest looking, most affordable switch panel you can get delivered to your door.

Fridges can be (and should be) cool. Especially this Isotherm CR130 which has tons of space for fresh food, and even a little freezer for gelato and frozen berries. There are more affordable Novacool options, which are probably totally fine. Things just got stainless steel crazy on this end.

Oven. This is where things can get a bit pricey. A cheaper route is to go with a cooktop/camp stove, or a diesel stove-top. But the option to roast/bake was tempting, and so here we are with a Atwood RA-2135 21″ connected to a sub-frame mounted 5.5 gallon Manchester RV propane tank. The hose routes through the island cabinet and the left side of the sliding door stepwell. Read more on the oven & propane install here.

Other kitchen related items to consider are: A modern stainless sink, simple faucet, automatic pump, and a 12 litre holding jug, all conveniently available on amazon, and came with the fittings to trim-then-plug-and-play the drain system together. I’ve used a rubber strap and some eye screws to secure it to the interior of the cabinet wall, making it easy to empty every few days with moderate use. The freshwater component is a 80L Tank that rests on a plywood bench over the rear passenger wheel. Large enough to go a week without filling up, yet short and narrow to allow the mountain bike handlebars to clear the top and the sides!

Water tank, pump, and hose routing shown. Lots of room back here!

Cabinets are constructed out of primarily 3/4″ Baltic Birch, joined with brad nails dowel pins using a handy jig, it all managed to go together like lego. The stain is a gel based dark walnut, finished with a protective polyurethane coat. The counter tops are a laminate, which is applied with contact cement and trimmed with a router. The vision here was to have something refined, yet rustic by leaving the plywood edges exposed, which also happened to be the easier than capping the edges w/ laminate! Looking good with less effort.

Laminate on doubled-up plywood to make the folding accessory table. Clean!

The cabinet carcasses are secured to the floor via a 1-5/8″ unistrut frame, which also allows for toe kick room. This unistrut is secured to the vehicle subframe via the existing cargo floor mounts. Rivet nuts are also used to secure the back of the cabinet/wardrobe to the steel frame of the van walls – but be careful. over tightening these can cause the exterior sheet metal to bow inward.

Early build days. Galley in place and island cabinet about to go in.

Drawer Slides are something that you don’t want to cheap out on. Who wants to star in Final Destination 17 with a basket of sharp knives flying towards the dash? There are two options in the market: Accuride makes a heavy-duty touch release slider (dubbed HDTR) where you push to release, and Knape & Vogt with their 8400 RV Model which requires significant pulling force to overcome the latch spring. The KV slides were easier to obtain in Canada. 21 sliding drawers later and a few thousand kilometres – nothing has opened during transit yet!

Gear. It’s all in the back. 

There are three sliding units: Bikes, utility, and the Ski/Climb rack. The original idea was stolen from this dude. The sliders, purchased from Lee Valley Tools, are key for maximizing utility of the space and ultra accessibility. They lock automatically in the open/close position, where pulling the levers releases the latch. The trays themselves are a plywood base, covered with luxury vinyl tile (flooring leftovers), and trimmed with aluminum extrusion. The first one I actually tried to weld together… which was interesting. Totally not necessary.

The bike tray measures 17″ x 60″ and happily secures via fork mounts two enduro style bikes, or one MTB and a touring/road bike. This little guy extends 48″

Storage in the centre is a 14″ x 36″ plywood box, with two front and two side accessible drawers, along with 6″ of top-load storage area for misc stuff that you want to keep handy. This heavier guy extends 36″.

Lastly, the Ski/Climb rack was custom made with aluminum C channel, very rigid, light, and inexpensive in materials. Everything is fastened with nuts and bolts. Have you ever played with Kinex? This was a lot like that. There is room for 5/6 pairs of skis on the left (or other long things, like a SUP paddle), and a ton of space on the right for climbing gear. You can rack it however you’d like! This one extends 30″ to gain access to the climbing gear.

But wait, there’s more! Adjustable brackets with aluminum C channel, wrapped in pipe insulation, mounted to low profile unistrut over the wall covering makes an angled rack for whatever you desire. I put surfboards here! You could fit 3 or 4 in a pinch, but I have two, each on a separate rack, with ample room for fins to be left on.

For shoe storage on the doors, you can cut up one of these organizers and screw in place on the plastic door cover. I used some extra wall fabric to create a laundry chute, as well! This led light bar illuminates the space nicely, and a generic 12v plug was added last minute to operate a portable air compressor.

Roof Racks can be costly accessory for your build. I was quoted $4,500 for a custom, aluminum rack. I’m not poor… but I certainly would be after eating that bill.

I used a combo of elevator bolts and unistrut aluminum to create cross bars that support a 4×6′ cedar deck, a Thule, and a DIY solar shower. A prime design rear door ladder gets you access to the goods… and let me tell you, it’s nice up here! Having the added vantage point, and place to relax and enjoy the sunset, is really fantastic. Bonus – the Thule covered with a blanked acts as a kickass backrest. More on the roof rack & patio build here

Insulated Window covers keep the peepers out in the city, and the heat in during the winter.

First off, you might be better off buying these from RB Components. I took one look at the price and said “what a rip, buildin’ em myself!” only to get slapped with a fabrics bill of roughly the same amount – plus a massive amount of cutting and sewing still to complete.

From outside to inside they are layered reflectix, thinsulate, patio fabric, joined with 3m spray adhesive. The side windows are large and have sag potential, so we included a vertical dowel to give it some rigidity but still allow it to be rolled up.

Storage is made possible by a cubby above the portable toilet, eyelet screws and shock cord, which makes elastic storage cubbies for each individual cover.

More

I’ve detailed a few components of the van build which were not already well documented online. You can find these links under the orange “Van Build” button in the header.

One more plug for the “official” Sprinter Van Build Guide which serves as a fantastic information baseline – save countless hours of forum dwelling and indecision!

Have questions? Feel free to comment down unda!

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