“One of the cleanest, most beautiful and off-the-grid ready vans I’ve seen in all of YouTube. Well done guys.” This is the first comment you’ll find below their latest YouTube video, in which Tim and Katie take a tour of the campervan of their dreams. Both physiotherapists (British Columbia, Canada) found their newborn passion – van converting – two years ago when the world was closing down. They bought a brand new Ford Transit and in 9 months transformed this empty cargo van into a functional and cozy tiny home.
Tim and Katie wrote to us a few months ago when they were looking for a monitoring system for their van. We were thrilled when we heard they wanted to incorporate our PICO and shunts into their build. And the rest is history you might say… But the story doesn’t end here. We wanted to get to know them and their van conversion process better, so we invited them to do a short interview with us. See how our conversation with Tim unfolded below.
First of all, congrats on your latest build. The van looks amazing and has a ton of cool features, like custom roof racks, LED light strips in the bed bump outs, and the recirculating shower, which really stands out. But let’s go back to 2020 when the actual build started, or even further back. What, or perhaps who, was your inspiration? What triggered you to start building the campervan of your dreams?
Thank you so much. It was really Katie’s idea – we were off work during the covid shutdowns for about 8 weeks and during that time she came across a couple on social media traveling the Pan American highway. She asked if I would be interested in building a van to do a similar trip and that began our journey of learning about every possible type of van, layout, and design that we could find.
You are both physiotherapists. You had no experience in building things, but you managed to learn everything you needed to build your van. Where did you find all the information about van conversion and what resources do you find most useful?
We spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours scouring the web for any information we could find on how to build out our van. Many different YouTube channels and videos, blogs like Far Out Ride and Explorist, as well as DIY/home reno-type websites. We were fortunate to also be able to speak to friends and family members who are in various specialized trades (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) for their expertise and opinions on various challenges. Ultimately we tried to draw from a wide variety of resources rather than follow one specific source for everything.
What was the feeling when you came home with your just bought Ford Transit, stepped into the back part, and realized that it was finally time to make your dreams come true?
Haha, this is a great question. The feeling was definitely a mix of excitement and “what have we gotten ourselves into…?”. It’s always nerve-wracking to consider cutting into a brand-new van, but never more than the first time.
You started by insulating the floor, continued with the subfloor, and then came the time to cut: for the fan, the windows, and then the electrical wiring. What were the construction phases and what will you do differently in your third van conversion (from the process point of view)?
We know that different van builders like to approach things in different phases or times, but we have found this process to work well for us, and after sticking to roughly this same system for our first two vans, we are planning to do the same for our third build: Subfloor install, fan/windows cut and install, roof rack install, furring strips/insulation/wiring/framing, bed platform, cabinetry, then electrical, plumbing, and finishing. In reality there are always multiple phases happening at the same time.
In one Instagram post you wrote you wanted to ensure the inside of the van felt bright and inviting – no matter what time of day or night! What were the other “must haves”?
Other must haves for us were having fixed components, e.g. dinette, bed, shower, and lots of storage space. We like that everything has its place to keep things organized and clean. Because we traveled with our dog, Indy, it was important to have the open garage entryway and a designated spot for his bed.
The biggest challenge when converting a van is to get plenty of storage space. What rules of thumb did you follow when planning this part?
Perhaps the coolest thing about building your own van is that you can design it however you want, however will best suit your lifestyle and/or travel style. But, with every decision comes a tradeoff. We tried to keep the space as open and inviting as possible, while creating as many storage cubbies as we could. We wanted convenient access to items without the van looking or feeling cluttered.
Have you at any point in your build questioned yourself and found yourself thinking, “Oh, we should have left that to someone else.” Why and when should you convert a van yourself and when should you leave it to professionals?
Many times Katie thought that, but I was undeterred haha. Thankfully there are many resources online where one can learn about all these different skills – but there certainly some that feel more risky or challenging than others. The big ones that come to mind were the undermount AC install, the electrical components, and building/installing cabinets. One thing we ended up recruiting a professional for was to test and pressurize the AC unit.
Your van is equipped with a 3000W inverter, a 600AH 12V lithium phosphate battery bank, a Webasto Airtop 2000 STC, 5×100 watt solar panels, 12V underfloor heating, a 12V undermount AC unit, an induction cooktop, a 35 gallon freshwater tank, a 12 gallon gray water tank, etc. To monitor power consumption, battery charge, voltage, tank levels and temperatures you installed our SC503 shunt, ST107 tank module, and PICO monitor. What contributed to this decision and what are your experiences with the system?
After doing a ton of research, we found the PICO system to not only be the most aesthetically appealing but also the most functional. We love that all of these components (e.g. battery SOC, power draw, inclinometer, water tank levels, temperatures inside/outside the van, etc.) can be monitored on one screen that is easy to navigate. It’s incredible. We also appreciate the ability to check systems from our mobile phone via the WiFi router, and hope to be able to monitor it remotely in the future. The installation was relatively straightforward and we found it easy to customize to our needs when selecting components. We definitely plan to use the PICO system again on our new van.
Is it the building part that excites you most, or the traveling part? What do both mean to you? What is your WHY?
For me, it’s the building part. For Katie, it’s the traveling part. Together, we get to learn and challenge ourselves during the build process to bring our vision to life, and then explore and adventure new spots together once it’s complete. It’s the best of both worlds!
If you want to see more behind the scenes from their van conversion, follow them on Instagram. Look for @thetriointransit.