“Do you have any idea how loud you’re being?”
I turned around to find a super friendly neighbor. He was trying to be mean and scary, but for some reason it wasn’t working. “Ummm, yes. I’m cutting wood. It’s loud,” I replied honestly. In fact, I probably knew better than anybody else how loud it was since the saw was cutting right in front of my face.
“I’m trying to read,” he steamed.
I didn’t know exactly how to respond to this. Of course his goal was to get me to be quiet, which could have been easily accomplished by asking me how long I would be making noise. But instead he vomited his feelings at me. So I simply replied, “Have you tried headphones?” Then there was a long, awkward silence.
“You can’t do that here… it’s rude to everybody who lives here. Do you even care?” I strongly disagreed with him on all these fronts, but it was clear that there’d be no compromising with this guy.
“Oh yes, of course, I understand. It’s loud. Like I said, ‘I apologize.’ I get annoyed by loud noises all the time…. I just choose to not let it bother me, or put on headphones or earplugs. So what can I do for you?” Instead of being rude back to him, I just tried to acknowledge his feelings because there was no way I was going to stop building the van just for him.
“Well… this is a neighborhood, not a construction zone. You need to do this someplace else.”
I’m pretty sure I am a reasonable person, and I like to help people. But it was clear that this guy was not interested in coming to a solution or understanding, he just wanted to hate me and make me understand how much he hates me for messing up his day. Truthfully, I wasn’t actually a resident. But my buddy Matt was letting me use his garage and tools to build the van. I wasn’t breaking any of the apartment complex’s rules nor was I breaking any laws. I was doing my construction within the allotted timeframe that they gave us (9am-5pm), during the day when all residents were gone at work. Technically, he could call the cops on me if he wanted, but all that would do is piss off a cop who has much better things to do.
“I’d like to help, but I’m not going to move my whole production just for you. Sorry, again.”
“So you’re just an asshole, then.”
“I guess so,” I replied kindly. No need to argue there.
I guess he ran out of insults because he slithered away, steaming. I continued to build for another couple months. He never bothered me again. This was just one of the many obstacles I ran into when deciding to build the van myself. But I had bigger fish to fry, so this was not worth getting upset. “DIY” is constant problem solving, and I love to solve problems.
I know that I’m a very hands-on kinda guy, so I wouldn’t have enjoyed waiting to save up money for a $90K Sprinter or $70K Sportsmobile that was already built out. I didn’t have a ton of money, but I had the time and determination to do it myself. I wanted to learn. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to put my own sweat and blood and tears into the project to ensure that I was completely enrolled and serious about the major life change I was about to make. To me, the van was more than just a fun project; it was my opportunity to take my life into my own hands. The van itself was a symbol of my freedom. These are the perfect conditions for “doing it yourself.” In reality, you can do a project like this only two of three ways: cheap, fast, or easy. Not all three. That means you can do it cheap and fast but super complicated. OR You can do it fast and easy, but very expensively. OR You can do it easy and cheap, but take a long time. Only two of those three ways, but not all three. I chose to do it fast and cheap, but do it myself (which is not really easy).
It took me about ten weeks to build, which is pretty fast considering I had limited construction experience. It cost me about $12,500 (including the van) which is pretty cheap. But my life became consumed by this project for those three months. I became a construction worker, building 7 days/week, 3-12 hrs/day. I took maybe two days off during that whole time because of weather or because of construction problems that I simply had to wait to do. It was physically painful and exhausting, but so rewarding.
Because I had so little experience in construction, a lot of my time went towards education. I had to learn how to do pretty much everything myself. I’d like to thank the internet without which this project would probably not be possible. I’d also like to thank companies like Home Depot which was the only reason I could build so quickly. Sometime I was at Home Depot three times a day! I’d like to thank Amazon which provided every single custom part and appliance I needed for the van. Thanks to Chipotle, which fed me constantly. To Starbucks, which got me up in the morning. And I’d like to thank my buddy Matt who let me take over his garage and all his tools for the time being. I don’t know if the skills will ever be useful to me again, but I learned a ton and it was so much fun.
Step by step, here’s how I built the van…
1.) Research – learn how van homes are built
tools: Google & internet
2.) Design – make blueprints for the build
tools: my brain, paper and pencil, hand drawing, spreadsheets, etc.
3.) Repairs – make repairs to the engine, brakes, electrical, & air vents
*hired local mechanics, costing big $$$
4.) Demolition – gut what is already in the van
tools: hammer, rubber mallet, pick, screwdriver, angle grinder, screw gun
5.) Cleaning/Prep – prepare the body of the van for construction, which includes cleaning, removing rust, and more cleaning
tools: angle grinder, vacuum, hose, cleaning supplies
6.) Painting – paint and seal the interior before construction begins
supplies: White Glossy Rustoleum spray for Auto
7.) Insulation – four different types of insulation for walls, ceiling, floor, & nooks/crannies
supplies: foam insulation, pink panther fiberglass, reflectix, & spray foam tools: knife, epoxy, spray adhesive, gloves, mask
8.) Paneling – Panel the walls & ceiling for look & protection
supplies: lauan, reflectix, spray adhesive
tools: screw gun & screws
9.) Paneling the doors – I decided to also panel the doors for fun
supplies: maps from Thomas guide, lauan, wheat paste & polyurethane
tools used: paint brushes, screw gun, & screws
10.) Flooring – every home needs a floor
supplies: I chose plywood with 1”x3” supports and foam insulation + vinyl pasted on top with special vinyl adhesive + caulk
tools: screw gun & screws, spray adhesive, rollers
11.) The Build – construction & carpentry
supplies: lots of wood, 1″x3″, 2″x4″, plywood of all kinds, carpet, spray adhesive
tools: skilsaw, router saw, miter saw, electric sander, tape measurer, gloves, eye protection, hammer, screw gun, screws, hand drill & bits, wrenches, ratchets, pretty much every tool you can think of
12.) Electronics – battery system, stereo, speakers, backup camera, lighting, vent & fan, solar panels. My buddy Matt did all this for me.
supplies: wiring, speaker wire, switches
tools: ohmmeter, wire cutter 7 strippers, knife, needle nose pliers, screw gun & screws
13.) HVAC – Heating, A/C, Ventilation
supplies: regular ducting & special duct tape, “RV vent fan 2000,” wiring
tools: screw gun & screws, angle grinder to cut a hole in the roof, wiring tools
14.) Cabinetry – store stuff securely
supplies: prefab from Home Depot (or else it would have taken forever), masonite
tools: tape measurer, screw gun & screws, epoxy
15.) Water System – I chose a hand pump with 2 tank system = fresh water tank + grey water tank
supplies: waterproof caulk, hand pump, mix bowl for sink, rubber tubing, 6 gallon tank, 3 gallon tank
tools: screw gun & screws, miter saw
16.) Refrigeration System – depending on your power supply, this can be tricky. I don’t have enough power to run something like a refrigerator, so I chose a cooler system.
supplies: insulated water cooler, ice
tools: none (kept it simple)
17.) Painting/Finishing – I had to decide whether I wanted a white pedophile van or not.
supplies: “Rhino Paint” for truck bed, spray gun
tools: rented air compressor from Home Depot + air hose, gasoline
18.) Bells & Whistles – finishing touches
supplies: swivel seat, camper top storage, steering wheel cover, butt cushion, decor, magnets, etc.
19.) Curtains & Cushions – for privacy, comfort, & insulating windows. My Mom sewed all these for me.
supplies: fabrics, mylar, neodymium high-powered magnets, thread, polyester fiber
tools: sewing machine, needles, thimble, pins
20.) Bed – I kept my old Ikea foam mattress (very nice and comfortable), which are made in square grids that are very easy to cut with a knife, so I cut it to the exact size for the back of the van
supplies: mattress, sheets, pillows, blankets
21.) Kitchen – I kept it simple, camping style and mobile.
supplies: propane stove, propane canister, hoses, pots, pans, knives, cutting board, plates, utensils, spices, cups, etc.
tools: none (kept it simple)
22.) TEST! – my maiden voyage was camping in Moab(UT) for Jeep Week in order to test the entire system, then I came back to ATX for adjustments
It never goes perfectly. There was still a lot I wasn’t able to do within my allotted timeframe and budget like the locks, alarm system, bug shield, exterior painting, ladder, bike rack, bull bar and grill guard, fender flares, muffler, 4×4 conversion & lift kit, etc. Also, a bunch of stuff broke: a door panel, the instrument panel, we drilled through an A/C line, broke the stereo and had to get a new one, broke the lights and had to get new ones, lost a hub cap somewhere on the road, etc. But these speedbumps are what make the journey fun.
Once finished, I named the van “Janüs,” after the ancient Roman God of new beginnings & endings, transitions, doorways, pathways, travel, and commerce. The perfect name. Janüs was to be the vehicle for my transition into a new life and a new me.