To the right eye, Frieda can be quite the head turner. And to anyone interested in the vanlife she is definitely a conversation starter! Sadly, I never documented the build out of my van to share with everyone. It seemed like a lot of work, and I didn’t realize at the time how much it could benefit some people. But worry not! I can still answer most of the frequently asked questions (like my top essential items) and will of course answer any questions in my email.
The Basic Build of my Sprinter Van
Frieda is a 144” wheelbase 2016 Mercedes Sprinter Van. I bought her brand new (not recommended for everyone) for 38k and spent roughly 10k in her build. Not only is my van kinda fancy but I had no idea what I was doing and ended up spending a bit more than required for my build. It can be done for WAY cheaper. She’s currently sporting solar-powered AC/DC electric, propane stove/heater, a pressurized water system, a Maxxair fan, and Polystyrene foam board insulation.
It’s important to note that this is what Frieda currently has, not necessarily what I think is the best.
I am doing much more in-depth posts about everything, but this is just going to hit on the basics for right now.
I went with convenience over cost for this. Well, around this time in my life I had more money than I did spare time and made this decision for most. I purchased a 300w 3-panel kit from Renogy and had it conveniently shipped to my front door… back when I had such luxuries as a front door. I purchased 2 12v/150ah batteries from a local vendor (didn’t want to pay shipping) and wired them in parallel to give me 12v/300ah. The panels are simply double-sided taped to the top of my van. I know, sounds crazy, but trust me… it’s legit. Read more on the solar setup (and the double sided tape).
I didn’t start Frieda out with a propane stove. We actually started our journey together with a Webasto Diesel powered stove. Oh boy, was that a mistake. After almost a year of struggles, I switched over to a simple propane two-burner and couldn’t be happier. I thought the luxury of a single fuel would ease the mind, but apparently, a large propane tank pretty much lasts forever with a stove. Heat, on the other hand, can suck up some fuel. I personally use a Mr. Buddy portable heater mounted on my back wall.
What can go wrong? Exactly as you think. I blew a water line while out climbing in The Valley and came back home to a flooded van. Luckily it was only a small leak and didn’t do much damage. I simply drained my mostly empty 20-gallon tank (into a friends tank) and changed out the hoses when I got the chance. Even with the minor flooding issue, I would still highly recommend a pressurized system. I use a Sureflo pump and a normal sink from home depot. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Of course, there is more to it, but again, a post for another time.
Frieda is lined with 1.5-2” of rigid Polystyrene foam board. This has done an outstanding job but does not take my recommendation. I recently helped a good friend build his van and we used 3M Thinsulate. It’s expensive. But wow, do you see where that money is going! His van is cooler, quieter, and all around better because of it. As I said earlier, insulation is extremely important. Especially if you are sharing the van space with a dog! I would 100% use 3m Thinsulate given the chance.
I would love to get into the gritty details of how I did what and why I did it, but that is a post for another time. However, I do have my 5 biggest mistakes for you to check out if you want. I hope I was able to scratch the surface and maybe drive up some questions! If so, comment below and I’ll get back to you super fast!