I am considering the purchase of a retrofitted Ford Transit with a Diesel motor to have a more flexible option for travel and accomodation.

Since I aspire to reduce my footprint (and increase my handprint) whilst aiming for this lifestyle change, i was wondering what strategies, both technical and behavioural, I could apply in this endeavour.

My background is not technical at all, so I have trouble understanding or imaging in what ways I could go about this goal with the van.

Ideas are a solar heater, LED lighting, solar panel or getting the car to be electric. Please comment on these (or own) ideas in terms of feasibility, impact and cost.

  • 2
    One option to investigate is converting the engine to run on recycled vegetable oil instead of diesel. I know from friends who have done this that this is relatively simple with many diesel engines. You will reduce efficiency, but total environmental impact is less since you'll be using biofuel. Many restaurants pay to have used cooking oil removed from the premises.
    – LShaver
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


Three routes:

A: Your van has all your worldly possessions.

B: In addition you have a place you can store stuff.

C: Use a car towable R.V.

A: Everything is in your van.

  1. Consider removing the back doors and buiding a box that fits into this space. The back panel folds down to make a table. A propane tank and a gas stove is how you cook. Or you have a rocket stove you can feet twigs. The rest of this compartment is a few pots, a few dishes, a jerry of water, and food. We did this in an explorer (venturer) post I was in. This was the kitchen.
  2. Hot water. If you are going to be parked a lot, then solar is the way to go. Build it on the roof, and build it so that it can be tilted to match the sun. If you are going to be driving consistently every day, then extend the van's cooling system and run a heat exchanger through a small water tank. Warning: The hot water in the tank can be VERY hot. Pressure test the tank to 300 psi. An off the shelf tank will not do. You will need a pressure release valve that vents outside the van. You should also set it up with a temperature mixing valve to bring the water temperature down to something that isn't instant 3rd degree burn. Some form of thermostat regulation is in order, but since this is also engine cooling, it requires two remote valves. This starts getting tricky to do in a high reliable system way. You need to add warning lights, guages... Overheated water can occur with solar systems, but not as easily. The more I think about this, the better I like PV to charge a battery and hot water on demand.
  3. Cold water. Jerry in the kitchen box. Or a bladder on the roof, under the solar array.
  4. Extra electricity. PV on the roof. This may be a better way to heat your water. Electricity is more multipurpose than hot water, and is easier to store on this sort of scale. You will need to add batteries along with a system that keeps one battery isolated to start the vehicle. (You want the engine to charge all the batteries, but you want your non-engine battery use to leave the engine battery alone.
  5. Storage. Go pretend to buy a yacht or sail boat. Naval architects have the storage problem down to a science.
  6. Toilet. There are various types of camping toilets out there. I know that many white water rafting companies have to provide them at their lunch sites. They are reasonably leak tight.
  7. Clothes washing. I have washed clothing in a bucket on canoe trips. Less than satisfactory. Periodic visits to laundromat. Choose your wardrobe to be able to do everything together so that you don't need to run multiple loads. You won't have space to store large quantities of clothing, so washing will have to happen fairly frequently.
  8. Parking: Canadian Walmarts allow an RV to park on their lots with no charge. RV parks are expensive, but often include ammenities like showers and bathrooms. You may be able to arrange to park an like minded owners of rural places and trade a small rental fee, or a few hours of chores a month for bathroom and fridge access.
  9. Refrigeration. Look into a 12v bar fridge (RV accessory places, camping and outdoor stores.
  10. Sleeping: Setting up some kind of platform bed is fairly easy. Set it at a height that can be used as a desk if you flip the mattress up. Space other than the knee hole can be drawers. You may have an overhead shelf in this space too. Again look to ship design to get dimensions.
  11. Washing. There is a lack of good ways to put a shower in a van. Options:

    • YMCA/Gym membership
    • Some work locations provide shower facilities.
    • Some truckstops have pay-for showers.
    • All pool facilities have showers, although often with cool water.

B: You have a place somewhere.

  1. You can store extras. This allow you to buy in bulk, take advantage of freebies. It gives you a place to brew cider from windfall apples, make biodiesel from used fryer oil. A place to keep tools, and bits of stuff that might be useful sometime.
  2. Showers. Cleaning with a wash cloth gets old fast. There is no good way for a shower in a van, and getting sufficient hot water for an outdoor shower would be difficult. In a place to park, you can set up a black oildrum solar collector on a platform for decent showers.
  3. It gives you a place to park.

The downside of this approach: It's hard to find a place that is both close to the city where the jobs are, and is permissive enough to allow such use. If you have active permaculture groups in your area, you may be able to rent a corner of land from them. Downscale rural acreages are another possible area. If you have money you may be able to buy an empty acreage, but this will decrease your ability to pull up stakes and move on.

Depending on your life style, and how far you have to commute, it's not clear if this is a sustainbility win.

C: Car towable RV

  • Instead use a car towable RV trailer. This reduces the amount of fuel used to drag your turtle will all you own everywhere you go. 2nd hand RV trailers are much cheaper than tiny homes, and often are a better starting point for DIY efforts. But you have to have a place to park it. A place to park means you can have a cooking tarp outside -- a bit of sprawling room.

  • An RV allows you a place where you can stand upright inside, cook without standing in the rain, put on your pants without hitting your head, etc.

  • Set up in a RV camp. Daily rates around here run about 25 bucks a night, but long term rates are much less -- as low as $200/month. This gives you water and sewer hookup, and usually access to washing machines, and showers.

  • Get a canvas wall tent and live bush. They can accept a wood stove. When I was a kid, my parents had friends that lived in one for 2 years (with 2 babies) while they built their house.

While this sort of life is short term beneficial, you aren't building any capital. Capital isn't always money. Capital is also land and the knowledge of how to make it feed you. Capital is being in one place long enough to know the experts around you. Capital is learning one thing well enough to be an expert for those same neighbours.

When you are young, single, and seeing the world, I applaud your venture. But a time will come when you will need to set down roots.


Emissions per passenger kilometre will be high in your van, unless you carry more people! Consider picking up hitchhikers or doing ride sharing :)

  • No offense, but that is more of a "comment"-Level remark than a full answer. ;)
    – T-Saurus
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 13:44
  • Oops! Sorry - I'm new to this place. Will keep in mind! Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 20:52
  • No need to apologise. Thanks for your understanding and considering to answer! :) Also, welcome to SE-Sustainable Living!
    – T-Saurus
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 8:07

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