Updated: May 9, 2021
We build a lot of weekenders for families, most are high roofs and we find ways to get these to work. The challenge is fitting people AND gear in a modular flexible set up, this is what we specialize in. A pop top is idea, but sometimes that just isn't going to happen due to budget and/or time involved. You can sleep four a seat 5 in a van...just have to make compromises in the layout and the kids have to able ideally to sleep sideways in the van. We start with a "crew" or "passenger" trim and the Sprinter platform is preferred. Why? It is easier and faster to convert. (ie that means less expensive). It can fit a family much easier than a Ford Transit. It has factory crash tested seating that is removable. It has more flexibility in layout than a Transit (with factory seats). Don't like the diesel option? Opt for a Gas model. You might be limited to not have a heater, but its a lot less expensive, no DEF issues, and the Sprinter in regards to resale value is WAY higher. We can get a Transit crew to work, see our other blog for details on that build.
Here below we show examples of a passenger van (no roof ac) and a Crew Van. We prefer no roof AC as that greatly interferes with an optimal roof and interior layout, however we can work with it just fine. More on that later in this thread.
Multiple bench seats windows all around
Crew Van (one bench seat)
On this build going to start with some fun stuff. These picture are 4WD's so need help to climb into these especially with larger tires. To fit larger tires 265+ on aftermarket wheels you need to open up the front wheel well, we do this by cutting material out of the fender and adding an inch more of space. To help getting in the van you need a step, we like the Aluminess Nerf/Tread Step. You need to do this on a 2WD if you want to fit 265's on the 2019+ model years.
Next we opened up the wheel wells with a Van Compass Kit, this is our preference, it keeps the look totally stock, has a better fit than aftermarket fenders, and also has an option to open up the back wheel well as well. You have to do some cutting however.
Its always nice having some eye candy...doesn't do a lot for the camping, but sure looks a lot better. 275's, Fender Mod, and Aluminess Step
Now we get to the real work. You don't want to put a rack on top of your van at this point. Your fan needs to go on as well as you need to plan out for your solar panels if you will be running a fridge or heater this is highly recommended. I see this mistake all the time...trying to look cool before you do stuff that really needs to be done. As we say its always what you don't see that is the real build work. Don't order your roof rack yet. :) You need roof rack rails anyways to put those on and your headliner has to come down. So the next step we typically do is take the van totally apart. Just like a house you start inside out.
You can see in this example everything is out, if we are doing the floor that as well comes out. All walls, door panels, headliner, and front floor has to be removed to begin work.
The next stage we then run ALL of the electrical, cut in the hole for the fan, and then lay down dynamat extreme sound deadener. Our vans are super quiet, one of the reasons why is how we insulate and sound deaden...we do this meticulously for a top end result. You can see here an example. Lots of wiring is run as well at this point. In the photo the wiring is in loom all neat in tidy, but we had 20+ wires ran in this photo at this point. Really time consuming to do this work, we are in this about 40 hours at this point and it looks like not much has been done.
This point as well we are adding aux power, we don't want to kill the starter battery. To run a fan, fridge, heater, lights, ...you need an aux battery. Solar is needed if you run a fridge more than a couple of days. Fridge is a huge game changer as well as a fan and heater...it make sense to do this now as we will also be adding solar as this has to be done while the van is apart as well to run lines. If you don't have roof rack rails they go in now as well when the headliner is down.
You also have to run all this stuff to a panel. We put this under the passenger seat. This is all DC power, this will not run a microwave, hair dryer, coffee maker...if you need to do this battery has to be in a different location and you need a large inverter. We find this is not needed for most of our customers...this is a "light weekender" build. Inverters take up space, are expensive to wire up, and complicate the build greatly. 90% of the time there is no need. We can run a laptop and charge phones and PDA's just fine with DC power. (12v)
Panel with amplifier (see how we keep everything hidden)
Example of heater, amplifier, and panel (no space in van was taken up) Neat, clean, and tidy...just how we like our builds. Nothing showing. This is what we are known for...clean practical builds.
At the same time all of this is going on its time to do the windows, we are using AMA Vented/Screened. We like these windows as they tend to be a bit easier to install, (regular window shop can do this) dogs like them as they open up all the way, and most importantly we have a work around for a bed (more on this later) so you can have ventilation properly done in a passenger van as the fan has to be in the front of the van (when you have AC) so you need vented windows in rear so air flow moves THROUGH the van. CRL are a good choice as well if you need awning style, none of the windows are perfect, you gain a bit of wind noise and you can hear some of the screens rattling on bumpy roads. Fit is a little different that stock OEM so don't think they will be perfect.
Crew van set up (AMA in front) and CRL Pill Style Window in back (this is a larger pill window, there is also a smaller one as well that is popular. We prefer CRL Pill windows. This window is moved forward to work with a MOAB bed wall kit.
Small Pill Window, position may vary depending on interior layout, it moves forward if MOAB bed V1 Wall kit is being installed. This is a CRL awning style window in this photo.
We also install the fan as well while the van is apart so we can run power lines. We carefully mask off the van, then use a trim ring to install the fan so we get a tight seal, then use lap sealant. This insures 100% there are not leaks. In addition we wash the van after install to get any metal dust that still might exist as blowing the roof we find is not enough.
Depending on roof layout (AC, Fan location...) solar panels as well go on at this point. Solar is really important if you want to run a fridge or fan all day...and should be a priority if you are at this stage of the build with van apart, the headliner needs to be down so you can properly run wiring through the roof to the controller and then to your aux battery bank. Stuff does not run off solar but rather it is the gas pump that fills your aux battery bank along with the alternator that charges that as well when your van is running. We use special mounting bars if possible to minimize any holes as well as they are designed to work with awnings and not cause interference which most load bars do.
Solar set up typically on Crew
Solar set up on VS30 with ac in back
Solar Set up with AC towards front
On roof Rack
Now that most of the electrical is done we start working to the inside a bit more. Insulation comes next. Our standard insulation package includes doors, walls, and headliner. All of these are important to maximize results. We can as well do the floor as well. Two layer system with sound deadener (Dynamat Extreme) and insulation. (3M Thinsulate). We don't use a vapor barrier as to allow the moisture to evaporate rather than trap it in the walls due to condensation. If you have the factory insulation...its a total joke...useless, so this is really needed not only to make the van quiet but also greatly improve keeping warm or cold depending on the conditions. Its a huge difference.
example of floor insulation and sound deadening
Now we can start moving into the more exciting stuff that most think of when doing a van build. Storage, Bed, interior electrical, lights, seating, ....but a bit more on storage. The biggest challenge with a high roof that would sleep 4 is storage. Where do you put things when you go to sleep and avoid moving 70% of the stuff around in your van just so you can lay down. We accomplish this by using semi rigid REMOVABLE storage options such as Mule Bags and Campo bags that allow a flexible modular set up. In passenger vans we recommend a MOAB bed as this is height adjustable, easy to remove, and has very light weight panels. For additional storage a Decked drawer system that people can sleep on further improves the situation. With even more storage on the back doors and even roof...all modular really makes a huge difference.
We start by putting L track in so things can bolt in. You need to reinforce behind walls so that that the L track can support storage cabinets/bags
Example of storage in 2020 Sprinter with AC
Storage in Crew with no AC
2020 Passenger van with max upper storage. Campo bags in rear and Mule bag in front. You can see roof AC gets in the way of cabinets...we find this solution works super well. Everything is removable.
The Decked Drawer system provides an ideal "lower" sleeping platform with water proof drawers perfect for wet gear. Also allows you to move less stuff around to go to sleep. You can as well add more L track to hang Campo bags below an upper bed for more removable storage.
Bed- in a passenger or crew van we recommend a MOAB bed or an fixed elevated bed. This allows the bed to change heights depending on need. (MOAB Bed). In this build example we used a MOAB for flexibility and we customize the wall mounts by notching them to clear the vented rear windows. Since we have a fan in front, we need vented windows in back and we figured out a custom solution for this. If you have a passenger van or a crew with two bench rows two of the panels can fit behind the seats so you can seat 8 and still have a small bed in back.
In a crew van with smaller windows we can do a fixed bed like this as well
Now we have storage handled, bed for two or four, we still need seating and a place to eat and hang out...but where is the room. We can put a sofa bed in back...but then you have to remove the upper bed and there is very little storage using these sofa beds and they are not ideal for camping, but ok for just hanging out at the beach if you have no gear.
Example of Sofa BED with a MOAB bed.
This is a 170" so it has a LOT more room in the back and he does not have factory AC.
Seating - we focus on safety and the safest system is factory OEM Dot approved. Also its VERY expensive to add seating, so working with factory seating we can upgrade the seating, add a 2nd row (in a crew van) or a passenger van is all set up for. That. We put swivels and a dinette table up front to allow everyone to sit down and hang out w/o moving all the gear around using our Lagun adapter we sell.
Lagun seating area with swivel seats
Example of double row seating in crew van (already set up in passenger van) with optional front captains chairs that are DOT approved and bolt in/out into factory cups. We sell these to go into any Transit or Sprinter as a drop in replacement for factory seats.
On this build we also added some additional eye candy...interwoven vinyl; this is really nice flooring, adds insulation, sound deadening properties, and is very durable. Looks really nice as well and is padded. This stuff is used in really high end party boats and yachts.
Rear Storage off doors
example of other options
Our flexible modular systems allow you to change up the interior depending on needs
Additional Photo Links of some builds used for this blog:
Need More room...high roof with a pop top