Sprinter Van Systems: Van Living 5

This post is about the elements and systems in my Sprinter van, which was built out by Mobius Concepts, and I hope it will give you some ideas for your own buildout….it would also be great to hear and see what others are doing!

And, the other posts in the series, in case you missed them:
To Van or Not To Van: Van Living 1
To Sprinter or Not to Sprinter: Van Living 2
The Buildout Priority List: Van Living 3
Sprinter Van Buildout: Van Living 4

First of all, figuring out what components you want in your van takes some real soul searching. Since I’ve been working with Mobius Concepts, several of my friends have decided to get buildouts done with them as well, and this is one area where Mobius really shines. Chris puts hours of thought into these systems, so if you go to Mobius for your buildout, be prepared for some real education and a lot of pondering about what and where. This is a really important part of your van!

Top priorities for me were lights, stove, fan for the cooking area, fridge, charging station for electronics, and batteries to run all these things. Also blackout shades for full stealth camping when necessary.

Things that seemed cool, but I wasn’t sure I “needed,” were a water pump for running water in the sink and a heater (there was some disagreement about “option status” for the heater from my boyfriend and almost everyone else I talked to–the majority rules that a heater is a major need in a van. Ok!).
cajun batteries
The lights, fan, fridge, ignition for the stove (more on the actual stove later) and water pump for the sink all run off 3 deep cell batteries which are accessible from the storage area in the back of the van.
These batteries are wired into the alternator so they charge when the van is running, but don’t compromise the battery in the engine compartment for starting the van. Now, I know what you’re thinking: charge the batteries off solar! More on that right now 🙂
panel and fan
We have a Goalzero Boulder 90 panel on the roof which is charging a Yeti 400 battery, which we use for charging all the devices one uses nowadays: phones, laptops, speakers, cameras, etc.
This is a phenomenally great little setup! Ian is going to wire in the Boulder 90 panel so it also charges the deep cell batteries, in order to keep them fully charged when the van isn’t driving. That’s on the to-do list. You know, Ian’s to-do list.

The lights have separate switches around the van, and this is a great feature. My favorite is the switch next to the slider door, so you can open the door and immediately turn some lights on before getting into the van. There are also lights for reading at the head of the bed, with separate switches, and these are also really nice (it’s the little things, but amazing how much you appreciate them in daily use).
One thing I didn’t think I’d care about in the fridge is a tiny little shelf ice-maker section. It’s actually pretty sweet having ice. Fancy 🙂
view of front
A fan is key for any vehicle you’ll be cooking in, and really good too if you will ever have to keep the kitty or pup inside the “house” for a couple hours here and there. Ours can run with an inflow or an outflow, so you can make that decision based on temperature, but always with outflow when cooking. The only change I’d make on our setup would be to have a second fan above the bed for when it’s really warm at night–it would really help keep it more cool for sleeping. With that being said, the fan does allow in some road noise when driving on the highway, so keep that in mind.
As I said, I wasn’t sure I needed running water in the sink–for me it was going to be an enormous luxury just HAVING a sink and being able to do dishes without tossing water out. However, it has been really nice. Under the sink, we have a 5 gallon tank for grey water and a 5 gallon tank of fresh water. We also have 2 extra 5 gallon tanks of backup water that we can keep filled. We did learn the hard way that you need to winterize by unscrewing a small section of the pump to allow for expansion if the van will be parked in freezing temps and there’s still wetness in the pipes–Moab was exceptionally cold this winter and we had to replace a small part that froze and cracked in the pump. So although I was on the fence about the sink pump, I really like it and think it’s an excellent feature.
Now for the stove/heater. Mobius Designs uses a really cool German stove/heater system that’s combined, and runs off the diesel from the van’s diesel tank.
This is great because you never have to deal with propane (and this is why the fridge also runs off power rather than propane) ever again. It’s also space efficient: the stove is also the heater, so you don’t have to dedicate any space in your layout for the heater. It’s a pretty amazing piece of German engineering, and the heater definitely cranks!
The downside for me, since I like cooking so much, is that the stovetop functions very similar to an electric stovetop–those of you who are cooking junkies know that cooking on gas is a lot more responsive than cooking on electric, so that’s been a little change for me to get used to. For now, the pluses of no propane and space savings outweigh the minus of electric stovetop-style cooking.
fridge counter
Blackout shades is something that might be easy to overlook when thinking of all these power systems, but it is hugely important for stealth camping, and also for heat control. Mobius hand constructs their blackout shades, and they are sturdy, easy to use and very functional–this is one of the single most important elements for van living. The side shades for the front doors have small magnets along the edges, so they just snap into the window frames when you hold them up. The windshield shade is reflective on the outside, for heat control, and you put that in place like a regular windshield shade. The shades for the side windows and back “horse trailer” windows stay fixed, and roll up and clip up when not in use. We added some snaps to the shade on the slider door so we could remove it completely when not using it. All the removable shades stay in the attic area above the cab when not in use (this attic was also a Mobius add-on, and great for all sorts of other storage as well as the shades). Thanks to the shades, we can sleep in unplanned, stealth-requiring places such as, for example, El Cap Meadow 😉

To all of you who have been sending me pictures of your van buildouts and your buildouts in progress, thanks!!

16 responses to “Sprinter Van Systems: Van Living 5”

  1. Sebastian Jordan says:

    Hey Steph, congrats on the van! It is a great looking build! I’m building a van out too and I’m considering options for my fridge. What brand of fridge did you go with and do you know how many amps it draws?


  2. steph davis says:

    thanks! My fridge is a Nova Kool, and here’s a link with the spec list: http://www.novakool.com/documents/SpecSheetImperialMetricLT2015.pdf
    I’m not a fridge expert, but it has been a great fridge so far

  3. Squeak says:

    For a fridge, if you have space go for a chest type with a lid on top. the probelm with door types is every time you open them all the cold air “falls out”, which leads to more power needed to recool the fridge. This happens less with top openers.

  4. Good post Steph, Its not that easy to live in a van

  5. Javier says:

    Hi Steph! I read your van build blogs and loved it! Thanks for all the info. I’m seriously thinking about building out my own Sprinter.

    I’ve looked at bare bones vans and have a good idea of what they cost, but was wondering if you had a ball park figure for the buildout?

    Javier Ortiz

  6. steph davis says:

    No one seems to have a solid figure for buildouts, because they vary so much, but most people seem to end in the neighborhood of 20-30K.

  7. Eric Andrew says:

    According to the laws of thermodynamics, the trick to keeping your fridge cold, in spite of matter such as cold air potentially “falling out,” is to keep your fridge fully stocked with matter that is denser than air (and which maintains its temperature better than air), such as beer which is about 800x denser than air. Just 1 ice-cold beer in your fridge will offset the entire mass of ice-cold air that may potentially “fall out” when you open the fridge. This is true regardless of the direction the fridge is opened with respect to gravity. You should always keep water bottles or ice packs on hand to shove in your fridge, if it is not full, because the less air that exists in your fridge, the less power will be wasted trying to keep it cold.

    Therefore, I believe the previous comment is actually mistaken advice that would only hold true if you intended to stock your fridge with nothing but air. Any amount of cold air that may “fall out” during a brief opening of a door (in any direction) is irrelevantly minuscule, as long as you follow good fridge practices of always stocking it with at least a six pack of beer 🙂

    In addition, it would most likely take longer to find what you are looking for in a top-opening fridge, as opposed to a side-opening fridge. Thus, you would have to keep the door of a top-opening fridge open for longer periods of time, anyway.


  8. Eric Andrew says:

    Sweet setup, Steph! VanLife is <3 ! Sometimes I wish I had a Sprinter, but I've got a 2001 Ford E-350 pushing 260,000 miles and the engine is as strong and smooth as ever. I'm interested in how your electric stove+heater works (seems like the heater would suck a lot of power at night, with no solar to replenish it). I'm all about multifunctional transformers in my van. However, I do appreciate your desire to have a bed that does not have to be transformed; wish I had that some times.

    I'm currently putting the finishing touches on a transforming auxiliary water tank with multiple lids for multiple purposes. One lid makes it a 12V Winter running water system (still perfecting this, worked for half this past Winter in Moab/CO). The other lid transforms it into a 12V Summer swamp cooler, which has been a game-changer for someone without a generator (and thus no AC) who at times works out of the van with heat producing electronics. The swamp cooler can also run off ice (current system can fit 4 blocks of ice) and uses 15-40 watts (less than a laptop), depending on fan speed. It works so well that I'm comfortable leaving my cat in the van for an entire day in the middle of summer in Moab.

    If you're interested, I am thinking of making more of these… but, not until I have some free time later this year. I'd be glad to give anyone a tour, if they catch me at the right time. Just look for the only van with Utah plates that say VANLIFE 🙂


  9. […] fellow vaner, I just saw your post about installing the goal zero panel and yeti. I bought the same setup, curious if you used a fitting to run the two wires off the solar panel […]

  10. PePe Amengual says:

    the stove+heater looks like is one of this :

    3k is super pricey for those two functions, a diesel Furnace is about $700 and a propane stove is like $120 but If I had the money I will like to have one of those.

  11. Kevin Diaz says:

    I’m definitely getting some good ideas thanks to your build! I’m curious about the stove. I’ve yet to pull the trigger on a stove or a heater and combining them both using something that runs on diesel would be amazing! Do you know what model or brand stove you are using?

  12. steph davis says:

    The stove is a “wallas” and it is both a stove and a heater, and runs off the diesel of the van’s gas tank. That is a really cool feature. The stove does require some patience to use, as it takes 10 minutes to fully power/heat up and 10 minutes to power off (so if you change your mind after you’ve powered it off and want to turn it on, you have to wait for the full power-down time to finish before you can turn it on). It’s a trade off–it’s awesome never having to refill the propane tank and find a place to store the tank in the van, and also not having to sacrifice any space for a heater in the van. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of gas ranges, because I love the speed and responsiveness (as opposed to electric, which this one behaves more like), and I don’t do a ton of cold weather camping, so I’ve never been really set on having a heater in the van (though my boyfriend felt strongly we should have one). Anyway, check it out, and it might be right for you! So far we are liking it 🙂

  13. Kevin Diaz says:

    Awesome! Thank you for the info. I suppose I could also get a simple/single burner and install it next to that stove as well for specific things. I also use a electric kettle, so heating water for tea/coffee I would just use that and avoid the whole cycle thing with the stove.

  14. […] last step was to cover up the plywood surface with rubber coin mat. I first noticed this stuff in Steph Davis’s van. I’ve seen a lot of build-outs that use some kind of hardwood flooring or laminate, but […]

  15. […] Tera, Congrats on the van! I have a Wallas heater/stove combo in my van, something that’s pretty unique to Mobius Concepts. We also considered a more typical set up, […]

  16. Taylor Journey says:

    Hey Steph, I’m curious if y’all put any thought into an induction cooktop when you were considering stoves? I’ve never cooked using induction heating, but the cost and energy consumption are attractive. And I know I’d still need a standalone heater for the van interior, I’m just wondering if induction was ever in the running and, if so, why it was eventually nixxed. Thanks!


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