Our Van Build
When you look in Vanlife Instagram, most of the conversions you see are Sprinters, Promasters, and Transits. We’ve never been ones to follow the crowd so when we were deciding on a vehicle to turn into our dream campervan, we landed on a Chevy Express campervan. We have so many reasons why we chose a low roof van. This post will focus on the details of our van and all the elements contained in our build out. If you’re planning on Chevy Express van conversion, be sure to keep reading for a PDF of our van build layout.
2012 Chevy Express 2500 Extended Wheel Base. We weighed the pros and cons of every potential rig for a while before we settled on the Chevy Express. We decided on low roof for a few reasons, it provides us with clearance to be able to get down forest roads, and we are able to park in garages. The price point was more accessible than a high roof. Finally, it forces us to live OUTSIDE the van, which is the entire point.
We test drove the Ford Econoline and the Chevy Express and honestly, there is no comparison. Our Chevy Express campervan is a BEAST with its 6.0 LS motor. We’re pretty sure that if Chevy made a high roof van, that would be our ultimate rig (come on Chevy!). We got extremely lucky to buy our van from a small business owner rather than a fleet vehicle. It came complete with an alarm system, power windows and locks, cruise control, and an Eaton locking differential.
Chevy Express Campervan Layout
We spent hours sitting in our empty cargo van shell planning our layout. We made drawings, taped out layouts on the floor, and mocked up cardboard furniture to ensure we were maximizing space, comfort, and ergonomic function. After living in our van for some time now, we are confident that we designed the best layout for a low roof campervan. Below are the blueprints to our Chevy Express campervan layout. Feel free to download the PDF for future van planning.
Our Chevy Express campervan is insulated with 1.5 inch rigid foam insulation on the walls, 1 inch rigid foam on the ceiling, and spray foam everywhere else in between. While spray foam is effective, it is also a pain in the butt and we will be happy to never see another can of it in our lives. Our insulation has paid off massively, our van stays much cooler in warm weather, and stays warm longer in cold weather.
Our Chevy Express campervan has 3x 100 watt solar panels + 2x 100 amp hour Renogy lithium ion batteries. Renogy 20A DC-DC charger. 1000 watt Go Wise inverter. Victron MPPT Solar Controller. Victron Battery Monitor. We love how much power our system gives us. We are able to cook with our Instant Pot, use our electric kettle and hotplate, charge laptops, run our lights etc. The flexibility of having a DC-DC charger to be able to charge off the alternator while we’re driving on a cloudy day is awesome. We have had days in the Pacific Northwest where our solar has not been able to keep up and our DC-DC charger has saved the day!
We have tons of options for lighting in our Chevy Express campervan. There are four overhead puck lights that span the van. We also have LED light strips above our counter-tops as well as a reading light in the back. The overhead lights and LED strips are on a dimmer switch. We love the dimmer switch for changing the brightness and mood of our van. The puck lights are on a 3 way switch that allows us to turn them on and off at the entrance of our van and while we’re in bed. And of course, we couldn’t be without fairy lights which run on a separate battery pack.
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MaxxAir MaxxFan Deluxe 5100K These fans are crucial for living in a van. Having two fans allows you to push and pull air to develop a cross breeze through the van which helps so much to keep the van from getting too stuffy. Our model allows you to keep the fans open during the rain. One downside of having 2 fans is that they can be a big source of lost heat in cold. We made insulated covers out of rigid foam and batting that attach by magnet to help solve this problem.
20 Gallon water tank/5 gallon gray tank. Our entire water system is in board. We decided not to externally mount our tanks so we didn’t have to worry about our tanks freezing. One of our big dreams is to travel to Alaska so this was huge for us. We did a ton of research to find a tank that fit all out needs and ended up purchasing a custom made tank from plastic-mart.com. Our gray tank is not large which allows us to carry it by hand and empty it in a toilet rather than have to be pumped out. Having a small gray tank also forces us to conserve water when doing the dishes (Ashley is still learning how to wash dishes conservatively). We’ve installed an alarm on our gray tank with a small float switch that buzzes when its full, we learned the hard way!
Camp Chef Everest Propane stove. We opted to have a movable cooktop as opposed to a fixed cooktop. This gives us the ability to cook outside or inside. We are so glad we made this decision because we find ourselves cooking outside all the time as long as weather allows. For our propane tank, we chose a 5 lbs refillable tank instead of a BBQ tank. While you cannot exchange them, they are simple to have refilled. We generally get them refilled at U-haul. Our propane tank is small which allows us to store it in our external storage box. Having our propane stored outside of the van makes us feel safer. In addition to our camp stove, we also carry an Instant Pot, Electric Kettle, and an electric hotplate. We have ALL the options for cooking, which may seem a little extra but we enjoy the flexibility.
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Convertible. In a low roof van, space is at a premium, for this reason, having a convertible bed was a no brainer for us. We absolutely love the design. We can easily convert between couch and bed mode with just one person. There are two sets of sliding slats that lock into a french cleat on the closet side of the van. The bed is divided into two cushions. We opted for 3 inches of high density foam and 2 inches of memory foam. Honestly, it is more comfortable than our bed was at home, we sleep like babies! Ashley sewed covers that are able to be unzipped and easily thrown in the wash. The entire bed is on a piano hinge which allows us to lift up the slats and access an ample amount of storage under the bed, our battery system is also housed here.
Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer Dometic has many different size options, ours is the CFX50. As a top loading fridge, the Dometic CFX is super efficient. It is also the perfect size for about a week worth of food, plus a 6 pack of beer. We have a sliding platform that locks closed so that our fridge tucks away under our kitchen counter. We have been super happy with it so far.
We ended up installing an inexpensive Chinese Diesel heater. While we debated getting a more expensive heater like the Webasto, we decided we could have multiple heaters fail and still end up spending less money. While it has proved to be finicky, it is still keeping us warm!
We chose a Moonshade Awning for our van. We love how simple, compact, and lightweight this awning is. It requires minimal to no install depending on the anchors you choose, ours integrates perfectly into our roof rack. We are able to set it up in less than five minutes providing shade in the outdoor space and keeping our van cooler. Use our code ROADSHOW for $30 off your purchase.
Overall we couldn’t be happier with our Chevy Express campervan build. It is incredibly cozy and has just the right amount of space to store everything we need on the road. Have you built out a van or are you planning to? Any questions or anything you would do differently? Drop it in the comments below. Be sure to subscribe for more vanlife and travel content. As always, get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!
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