by Katie Probert
As a solution to the expensive accommodation in the Alps, my boyfriend Toby and I bought a knackered old Ford Transit on ebay for £900, to convert into a home on wheels. Our plans were to quickly convert it into a cosy shelter, with a bed, basic kitchen facilities and lots of insulation. We estimated two weeks’ work. In our excitement we didn’t realise that the engine was shot…until we got the thing home and it was too late. We checked her into the garage for a brand new engine. We didn’t get her back until seven weeks later.
Whilst we waited for our van to come back from the garage, we started sketching out possible layouts and trying to find out as much information about van conversions as possible. This was before we knew about the tiny house movement, or any of the DIY blogs that I read now. I had zero building experience, and neither of us had ever attempted such a project before. Armed with our new bible, the Haynes Motorcaravan Manual, we embarked on an adventure of trial and error, that would end up taking us 18 months to complete.
Our Little Trash Home
Most of the wood we used for our worktops was found discarded in skips. We bought a second hand caravan and gutted it for parts – windows, doors, lights, heater, sink. Not only was this free, but it gave a second life to other people’s rubbish. We bought and sold at car boot sales and on ebay, to upgrade parts.
Design and Function
We got ambitious with our design and building skills. We steam bent wood to make curvy cupboards. We tore out pages from a London A-Z to create a worktop with a map of where we had been living. We even pasted pin up girls all over the bathroom, for a cheeky surprise! The walls, floors and ceiling were triple insulated with bubble wrap insulation and rock wool. We plumbed the kitchen and bathroom to have water from the 300 litre tank, in case we couldn’t connect to a water supply. We connected up an army of seven leisure batteries, for if there was no electric hook-up. We figured out electrics so that the living space was lit with LED lighting, and we threw in a water heater for good measure! Our aim was to ensure self-sufficiency for Alpine conditions.
Everybody thought we were mad, both to embark on such a project and to live in our van in the mountains throughout the winter, but I’ll tell you what – it is my absolute dream home! We built it ourselves, and what’s more, there are other like-minded people out there. We are the lucky few who get to live in an amazing community of van-dwelling friends in DIY homes, on the top of an Alp!
And yes – we are toasty warm!
For our full van-building story, go here: http://www.jesuisunemonstre.
And you can read about our adventures living atop a mountain in the Alps here: http://www.