1st Build: Mini van with IT workspace & Bed

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For reasons I'll avoid getting into here, I need to setup a van to live in my backyard for 6-12 months in Northeast, where it might get 7 below for a short while, but I really just need to handle down to 40oF. I'll find places to stay if it gets colder.

-I will be plugged into an extension cord for AC power supply, but would like power storage available, to run a fridge for 12 hours if needed
-I need to be able to work in van for 8-10 hours a day doing IT work (would love a 25" screen on a swivel maybe; but can just use laptop screen if I have to)
-Want bed for 6 foot tall me, who sometimes has back trouble, but rarely
-I only care about reliability; may want to do 120 mile round trips, twice a week for work

Looks like Sienna is a good choice? I dont care about looks, so I'd LOVE to save cash on a banged up looking van that is mechanically sound. I actually prefer if it looks pretty crappy outside. I see stuff for just under $3k for 150 mile+ Siienna

How should I setup my workstation? Upgrade driver seat to 360 swivel one, that I can rotate to the rear, where I could have a table setup for laptop and a bigger screen on a swivel? Then do I make a custom bed frame/box and get some kind of smaller mattress on Amazon or get some kind of raw material that I can make mattress out of?

Then what will store enough power to run a fridge for 12 hours, if I have to park away from the house for a bit? Can I install insulation temporarily with Velcro or something, then sell the materials when done?

What would be a good heater to use?
I might be able to setup some things in my unfinished basement, like maybe I just plan to keep food in there? Maybe even do something with heating where I have outdoor heater and connect duct from basement into van somehow? I can take on the aircraft parked model of external supply of power and HVAC?

Also, how hard to do a custom bed that I can fold up like a futon? Maybe get an actual futon? Ikea stuff maybe?
Finally for what I need is Sienna a good choice for this hybrid #VanLife objective?

Thanks so much!

I used this site for reference: https://trailandsummit.com/what-is-the-best-minivan-for-camping/
 
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BTW, for heating, do you really need heating for night time? Real camping (tents) dont use heaters. They sleep in sleeping bags designed for cold no? Would it be safe to just use sleeping bags? Heater would only be needed for cold days when out of bed right?
 

bullfrog

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Yes a really good sleeping bag and a fan to keep condensation from making things wet will work. If you have access to a heavy duty extension cord, you pretty much have it made as far as heat goes. A couple of cheap ceramic heaters will do just fine and also help prevent condensation. You bed is the main concern and should be your first consideration. Make sure what ever vehicle you get you are comfortable enough to get a good nights sleep. A house battery or two with a good plug-in charger should run a 12 volt compressor refrigerator easily over night. When it comes to electrical determine your needs first then get what you need to meet them. Again having access to grid power on a regular basis solves a lot of problems. There are several threads here to help just search or post the number of watts your devices use as well as what ventilation/ fan you might want. There are lots of options but in the end you must research them and decide what will work for you. As an example only, I used a bunch of Ryobi 18 volt tool batteries for most everything as my electrical needs were small such as lights, fans and tools which I already had. Now Ryobi also makes a power station that uses them to power 120 volt AC and 12 volt DC devices as well. Start looking and ask lots of questions!
 

afblangley

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If you're going to be awake inside a vehicle for 8-10 hours every day, don't underestimate the comfort of being able to stand upright or to walk, if only a few steps. In a minivan there is no room to move about, you're stuck in a sitting or lying down position. I think a minivan is ill suited for your application. I suggest that you forget about anything that's drivable. I know it's not Instagram sexy, but sexy is expensive. You need as much space as possible given your limited budget. Consider converting a utility trailer or beaten-to-death box truck. Not only are they cheaper, they're also easier to build out. Or maybe an old travel trailer if zoning allows it and you can find one cheap.

Since you have an electrical hookup, the build out can be super simple and cheap. Using an extension cord to power lights, a dorm fridge $100, electric space heater $75, microwave $150 and induction cooktop $100. The mattress you're currently using plus $50 for hardware and you've got a comfortable bed. Ditto with a desk. Kitchenette from HD or Ikea $200 plus $50 for plumbing. Closet pole and hanging storage $100. Bucket toilet or Portapotty $25-75. Throw in a couple of chairs and couch for $300-500. The setup won't land you on the cover of Van Life magazine, but it'll be fast, cheap, and fairly comfortable.

When I'm going to be somewhere for a few months, I've done this minimalist setup many times over the years. A couple of hours on Amazon and a day of shopping locally is all that's needed to setup an empty apt for less than $3k that is comfortable to stay in for an indeterminate amount of time. I like my van, it makes traveling fun and convenient. I keep it prepped such that I can hit the road any moment the inspiration or need arises and be gone for as long as I want or need to be. But when stationary, the van is nowhere near as comfortable as the most minimally equipped smallest apt.
 

Happy Camper

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You can set up a minivan for what you need, but understand that with the parameters you've set, you'll be playing Tetris with your space. I have had many dodge caravans, and I think they would work for your needs.

But I've also had a 1991 GMC G20. The space in there was much much more compatibly with what you're wanting to do. You don't need to spend a ton of money to get the latest and greatest high top. Just get a full size beater van that's half decent mechanically and has a popular drivetrain like a 350. Easy for parts and easy to work on.

In a full sized van you'll have enough space for your larger monitor, and now importantly, an office chair. Sitting 8-10 hours a day without proper support will wear on your body. It's a trade-off in gas, but your body will thank you. You can fit a bed, desk, and all the other amenities you want in it much easier. There are so many good threads on builds here. You can go as cheap or expensive as you want.

My personal thought on it is this. Knowing your situation, I would try to look at this as a fun adventure and make the most of it. You'll have more comfort and ease of use and building it up in a full sized van. It'll be more conductive to having a good frame of mind.

If everything is a space challenge and even mildly frustrating in a minivan, you'll end up resenting it even more over time. Box truck like mentioned before would give you tons of space and would be very comfortable. Minivan is workable but I think spending that kind of time inside it would be a burden, since that's just work hours and you'll spend even more time in there doing other things such as sleeping and hobbies. Full sized van is a compromise, but can be better for your body and mind in your situation. And in a year you can sell it and get your money back. Older full sized vans don't really depreciate at some point lol.

You'll even have space for an inexpensive diesel heater when away from power.
 
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Thanks guys for your suggestions. As far as technology goes. I want to commute a couple days a week. I'd stealth camp near work. So although I can plugin at home, I'll need to leave home and drive 60 miles to city near office. Then I'll need 12 hours overnight power for:

-Heat for one person down to 50oF exterior temperature
-2 cubic foot fridge
-Charge laptop, S21 Galaxy cellphone and Bluetooth headphones overnight

Then I need 12 hours of power for:

2 cubic foot fridge

So in theory that is 24 hours of power for 2 cubic foot fridge where half of those hours will have heat and charging, mentioned above.

Some considerations. I don't really need that much time on fridge I think. I can augment my cooling time using ice/cooler no? Also, need to consider this temporary storage, not long term. For example, thinking this out:

I need evening snacks for my night arrival in city, but no reason this needs cooling. I can freeze drinks ahead of time and other things don't need cooling.

Then I need breakfast next morning, however I can do things like use powdered milk or freeze the milk before I leave for city and defrost overnight. To be honest, there is really nothing that NEEDS cooling for breakfast. I'd like to make oatmeal in AM or cold cereal. Also like fruit.
Now that I've thought about it, I think I should start with no cooling at all and let me EXPERIENCE a "need" for cooling, THEN go from there. TRY to go without and see if I can. IF I can't, then I explore cooling.

So I think I just need to focus on heat, which I can mostly cover with sleeping bag? https://www.amazon.com/Tennier-Indu...mzn1.fos.18630bbb-fcbb-42f8-9767-857e17e03685

Only issue is, if all the heat is in the bag, it will be miserable getting out of bag in the AM. I would not mind a scheduled heating of the van, last hour of sleep, so I wake up to warm van. So some kind of heater on a timer. OR maybe this crazy idea...a van with remote start installed with scheduling. You leave heater on high setting, then schedule van to turn on maybe 20 minutes before wake up time?
Keep in mind I don't know what my future holds, so would like flexibility to adjust, like 2 months from now I realize this will take longer than I thought, I might flip the van and get something nicer. So I don't want to look at this van as a long time time.
 

bullfrog

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If you are depending on the bag for warmth then you will need good ventilation to keep it dry with all the condensation you create. If you have good ventilation you can use almost any type of heat once you wake up to quickly warm the van. Wearing booties and having some warm clothing in the sleeping bag to put on first thing helps. If you have access to grid power 120volt ceramic heaters work great and actually help dry up the condensation if there is any. I would check for parking places that have plugins for diesel block heaters or possibly your employer’s parking lot/building to see if you could simply use an extension cord. If no grid power then a vented heater also helps keep things dry. There are propane, diesel and wood heaters that are vented but most require modifications to the vehicle and are costly. Bob Wells has many videos on alternative methods. A small cheap unvented Buddy heater will work as well as a small propane cook stove if you are making breakfast to take the chill off in the morning but will create condensation instead of drying out the van so you wouldn’t want to use it for very long. If you do use the vehicle or unvented heat be sure to have a working carbon monoxide detector.
 
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BlueMarkOhio

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The Sienna Hybrid has your electric storage built in - some of the later models also have a 1500w inverter built in. I understand it works like the Prius. If the battery runs too low the engine kicks on to recharge.
 
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Well, I bought a VAN!! Deal was too good to pass up on. $1500 for a 1999 Siena. Hoping, since it's so old, I can easily rotate passenger seat to really open up the space. So far I've:

Disinfected EVERYTHING
Bombed interior for odor
Baking soda all night in carpet and vacuumed up today.
Dish soap on engine parts with LOW pressure from electric chemical spray bottle I use for car cleaning
Light inspection under car; I think struts might need replacing. There is a metal rattle sound when you hit bumps and the components look bad

Smells nice in here now! :)

I'm not done with this nasty carpet though. I will have to get down and scrub with carpet cleaner and vaccum more. Do this 3-4 times maybe. Trying to get it looking, smelling and being clean as possible.

Next step I need to get on blackouts ASAP. I got medium tint for 2nd row, nothing for front. I say get the highest tint legal for driver and passenger window, then I want to black them out so if you try to look in, it looks like SERIOUSLY dark tint, almost like it's paint, as you are only getting a mirror effect. What is the trick to that?

I'm actually working in van now, but I don't have a power setup yet. Running on laptop batteries, then I will use my 2000W NOCO jump box for charging. I also will need low power lighting.
 

bullfrog

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Let us know of your progress! What worked for me was pieces of reflex with black Gorilla tape on one side cut to fit and stuffed into the interior window frame black tape side out. It makes even light tint look like super dark tint and keeps light from the inside showing at night. Easy to install and remove and if in sunny hot weather you can reverse them.
 

WanderingRose

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Ahh, you’ve bought a van!

Congratulations!

Our first RV was owned by a heavy smoker, and what I found was that dissolving a scoop of OxyClean in hot water and adding it to the carpet cleaning solution got all the stains out and completely deodorized.

OxyClean is my favorite stain remover and deodorizer, still.

And yes to this:

“I think I should start with no cooling at all and let me EXPERIENCE a "need" for cooling, THEN go from there. TRY to go without and see if I can. IF I can't, then I explore cooling.”

You can do a lot with boiling water, and may look for a water kettle you can use for hot beverages, instant oatmeal, ramen, etc., which require no refrigeration but meet basic needs.

Good luck.
 
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DougH71

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Thanks! I'll look into it. On my way to fabric store. Going to look for something like maybe felt. Something that will stick to velcro and does not reflect.
Do NOT attempt to velcro to the windows. The sun will heat the glass and melt the glue; even if the velcro itself holds. Attach velcro to the plastic interior trim, or try a press fit. Black felt over reflectix is cheap and easy. Staples work for the edges.
 

DougH71

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Also, I’m in agreement with no refrigeration to start. Instant oatmeal w/ dried cranberries is a favorite camping breakfast if mine. Fresh fruit doesn’t need to be refrigerated; just buy small quantities every couple days.
With your basement available, you could invest in a small freezer and just use a cooler and ice packs for your work trips. I freeze water in large juice containers. That way, the melted ice stays contained and your cooler isn’t water logged
 
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Ahh, you’ve bought a van!

Congratulations!

Our first RV was owned by a heavy smoker, and what I found was that dissolving a scoop of OxyClean in hot water and adding it to the carpet cleaning solution got all the stains out and completely deodorized.

OxyClean is my favorite stain remover and deodorizer, still.

And yes to this:

“I think I should start with no cooling at all and let me EXPERIENCE a "need" for cooling, THEN go from there. TRY to go without and see if I can. IF I can't, then I explore cooling.”

You can do a lot with boiling water, and may look for a water kettle you can use for hot beverages, instant oatmeal, ramen, etc., which require no refrigeration but meet basic needs.

Good luck.
Thanks for the tip. What I have done so far seems VERY effective smell wise, BUT there is still a "dead rat" hidden in hear. Every once in a while I'm sniffing and looking around. Today I started to suspect my feet! LOL
I think I need to target all those DARK areas of this light carpet. Whatever made it dark, cant be good. It's a lot of work. I'm thinking do section by section. Driver footwell. Passenger and center. LEft 2nd row. Right second row... pick a spot and push it to the max of clean.

I also wondered it replacing carpet made sense, but if I get 100% odor out and disinffected, I'd be putting insulation/flooring over it, so new carpet would be a waste? I just dont want to layer stuff un top of filth, for fear the filth will escape. One night I'll be falling asleep and smell something...

Other idea was to remove the carpet for easier cleaning??
 
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OKAY, this passenger seat flip is AWESOME! I'm right now working in passenger seat with my chair leaned WAY back like a recliner you might sleep in. My feet are up on the 2nd row seat. I dont even have a cozy setup like this at home where I can work and be so reclined like this with feet up.
It's 66oF today, so with driver window down and passenger window 1/4 down(noticed its hotter with window down; must have some UV protection or something), I'm a bit too hot. I can see where my battery operated, clip on fan will help. I would not mind putting it on driver window and letting the breeze cool me. I would feel AWESOME on highway, so airflow is big and clearly the air is not very hot right now.

I'm starting to wonder why I would want a desk in here. I'm not even sure how that would work. The desk would need to float right above my knees, so hard to get under it.

What I would like is maybe a mount for a 26" super efficient screen. I could mount in center area and swivel it to the position I want. Need to see if I need to build this or buy it. Then I'd love a simular laptop mount for center area. Sometimes I will "multi-task travel" or "creep travel" and I need to be ready to use laptop at any moment. What I mean is, if work is slow I will make 5-10 minute hops. So 6 hops if I'm going an hour away. I would want laptop setup right next to me. If I hear an email come in, I can pull over someplace safe and instantly go into work mode. All I have to do is turn to my right and start working.
 

WanderingRose

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If you have dark areas in corners, there is no telling what that is but it is nothing good, and you do want to get rid of that.

I would try to clean it thoroughly before replacing, and might rent a little carpet steamer for day to be sure you are getting out of the carpet all the crap you are scrubbing up.

Again, I highly recommend the OxyClean.
 

Happy Camper

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I'll stick with the technical side of things. Getting yourself set up like you want isn't that difficult or super expensive. So let's get into it!

First thing you'll want to get is a USB hub. If you have a USB C connection on your laptop that would be the preferred connection. This will allow you to have your monitor and other computer items hooked up constantly for backseat use. When I used to take my laptop home from work I had a hub connected to keyboard and mouse, monitor, printers, and whatever else I needed in the office. When I went home I unplugged the hub and went home. Move to the back and plug in the hub. Easy peasy.

USB C Hub, QGeeM USB C to HDMI Multiport Adapter 4k, 7 in 1 USB C Dongle with 100W Power Delivery,3 USB 3.0 Ports, SD/TF Card Reader, Compatible with MacBook Ipad HP Dell XPS and More Type C Device https://a.co/d/c7vdgV0

You'll need a way to mount your monitor so it's out of the way, but accessible when you need it. This isn't a bad mounting option. Has good reviews and it's simple and removable later. There are other options, but most will involve more work and possible expense.

All Sturdy Aluminum Alloy Metal Short Length Type TV/Monitor headrest Mount Bracket with a Steel Plate That has 75 & 100mm VESA Standard Holes https://a.co/d/cqpXbpq

When you're up front and need to use the laptop, you need an easy way to use it. This mount requires loosening one bolt to attach it.

Mobotron MS-526 Heavy-duty Car VAN SUV iPad Laptop Mount Stand Holder https://a.co/d/gQFZFn2

Having a wireless keyboard and mouse will be essential to moving around in the van. If you have one already then that's great. If not, here's a cheap but solid unit. You can also set up your laptop to work with the lid closed. So you can have it closed somewhere just plugged into power and the hub. Takes up less space.

Logitech MK345 Wireless Combo Full-Sized Keyboard with Palm Rest and Comfortable Right-Handed Mouse, 2.4 GHz Wireless USB Receiver, Compatible with PC, Laptop https://a.co/d/fmykCmQ

When working in back you'll need a good workspace. This lap desk can hold your keyboard and mouse, as well as some papers if need be. It can also be used as a utility board of sorts. Meal prep, cutting board, whatever you might need a convenient flat surface for. Definitely multi use that can be stored out of the way.

32" Portable Curved Shape Light Wood Lap Desk by Trademark Innovations https://a.co/d/g6LWi4D

You'll want to use a 12v laptop charger when you're on the road. Using a 120v ac adapter is just wasting energy.

LVSUN Universal Laptop Charger 90W 12-24V One for All - Slim AC Adapter Power Supply Cord with Dual USB Ports for Mobile/Tablet - Compatible with Lenovo HP Toshiba Samsung Acer Asus and Most Notebooks https://a.co/d/j0iXEEN

If you have specific questions let me know. This is kinda my wheelhouse. Also see about getting a 12v adapter for the monitor as well. Again, it'll save energy and these things already work on DC.
 
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