We’re trying our best to use sustainable non-toxic products whenever possible in our DIY camper van conversion.  This is, admittedly, not an easy task and “trying” is definitely the key word here.  We’ve made some mistakes along the way and we’re sharing our experiences so you can learn from our successes and missteps.  Here’s a list of the products and materials we’ve used in our sustainable camper van conversion, including what we loved, liked, and what we likely wouldn’t use again.

NOTE: This is a “working list” so let us know in the comments below if there’s anything you’re curious about that wasn’t included and we’ll be sure to update the post!

SUSTAINABLE NON-TOXIC DIY CAMPER VAN PRODUCTS & MATERIALS 

camper van vargo van conversion products van life

Insulation:

We went with Black Mountain sheep wool for our insulation.  Read our how-to guide on insulation and learn why you shouldn’t install a radiant barrier in your camper van!

Framing & Cabinetry:

Plywood: CARB 2 FSC-certified birch and maple plywood from Fine Lumber in Austin.  We also used no-formaldehyde added maple plywood from Home Depot.

Tongue & Groove Cedar Planks from Home Depot

Reclaimed barn wood: We sourced local 100-year-old barn wood for our cabinet doors.  The wood had old paint on it that was likely lead-based.  We used Safecoat wood sealer to cover the paint to protect us from the finishes on the old wood.

Kreg hinge jig to install concealed hinges

These gas struts keeps the cabinet doors open, which is essential!

Soft-close hinges are a nice touch for our custom-built cabinetry.

Cabinet pulls: We’re still on the look-out for quality cabinet pulls that lock our drawers into place.  We bought these from Amazon but they were such bad quality, we returned them.

Flexible trim: This flexible trim is great for covering the cabinetry edges in the van and works well with all the curves and corners in the van.

Heating/Cooling/Systems:

Inverter: AIMS Power 4000 Watt Inverter.  So far, it’s being weird…it randomly shuts off and doesn’t seem to be connected properly.  We’ll update you when we get to the bottom of this, but for now, we can’t recommend this inverter.

AC: Dometic 11BTU low profile roof-top AC.  So far, it works great.  We like that it vents directly downwards– some RV AC’s only vent on the sides, so you can’t really feel the cold air very well.

Fantastic Vent fan: This is the standard go-to vent fan for vanlifers and for good reason– it works really well keeping the van cool when we don’t want to run the AC.  We leave the fan on during the day when it’s a little warm outside and it keeps the interior and our dogs nice and cool– even a little cold!

Hot Water Heater:  This hot water heater was recommended by the guy who ran our electrical wiring.  We don’t like it.  Every time it turns on, it trips the whole system and nothing works.  Apparently it’s too strong for our inverter…so I’m not sure why we purchased this.  This is still a work in progress, and we’d love to hear what hot water heaters you like in the comments below!

Windows: We added two small 15″x15″ sliding windows at the back of the van, one 15″x30″ slider in the kitchen, and one fixed factory-sized windows on the top portion of the sliding door.  We were hesitant to add windows because it takes away valuable storage space, but we’re happy with them and if we could do it again, we’d add larger windows at the back of the van instead of the small square ones we have.

Hook-ups: 30-AMP cord for RV hook-ups and dog bone electrical adaptor.

Outlets: These outlets with USB hook-ups are super cool.  You can plug USB cables directly into the outlet, which is super convenient.  When USBs are used anymore, these will be archaic, but for now they’re great.

Flooring:

Cork: We used a layer of 1/4″ underlayment sheets for insulation and sound deadening

Linoleum: We installed Forbo Marmoleum Real in lava for our camper van flooring.  We’re happy with this– it’s water-resistant, easy to clean, and feels soft on your feet.  The issue is that it scratches more easily than we’d like, but we haven’t added the top protective coat yet, so this is as much our fault as the product’s fault.

Paint: 

Wall paneling and cabinetry: Valspar Low-VOC interior eggshell paint in Benjamin Moore’s Simply White:  Ugh, we totally got green washed here.  (Fun Fact: “green washing” is the term for when companies pretend to be non-toxic and environmentally-friendly, but it’s actually just a sneaky marketing scheme.)  The paint says “Zero VOC technology” with an asterisk…and the asterisk states that if you add any color tinting to the paint, the tint will add VOCs.  So, the base product is non-VOC but the color has VOCs.  If we could go back, we’d check out non-toxic paint from TreeHouse, our local green construction store.

Interior of cabinets: Valspar Low-VOC interior eggshell paint in Benjamin Moore’s Pale Avocado

Bathroom:

Toilet: We’re digging this waterless, chemical-free toilet.  This has been working really well for us!  A cartridge lasts 1 week for 2 people, if used conservatively.  It cost a pretty penny and the refills aren’t cheap either, but you don’t have to deal with any crap (literally) and it’s perfect when you gotta go on the go!

Shower: We went with a showerhead that has an on/off switch on it to conserve water.  Admittedly, we haven’t used this yet…lol.  Showering becomes a luxury in vanlife, but we’ll update once we use this.

Kitchen:

Trash/Recycling:  When we traveled around Europe in a van over the summer, not having a dedicated place for trash was a big issue.  We ended up leaving our trash all over the van.  So, we knew that we needed to allocate the right amount of space for trash and recycling.  We have two IKEA pull-outs with one 8-gallon bin for trash and one 8-gallon bin for recycling.  This is a lot of space for trash, but it’s worth it and helps keep the rest of the van trash-free.

Fridge: We have a Dometic Portable Fridge between the two front seats, which works out perfectly!  There’s enough space for plenty of food, including a gallon container of coconut milk (Lisa’s top priority) and several Topochicos (Justin’s must-have).  The height works perfectly as a arm rest (we removed the existing armrests to fit the fridge in this space.

Sink: This is a good compact sink with faucet that works well and is super narrow, which conserves essential countertop space.  I wish it was a little larger for ease when washing pots, but our solution is to get smaller pots, haha.

Water System: We have a very rudimentary water system.  We have one 5-gallon stainless steel tank for fresh water and one 5-gallon gray water plastic jerry can.  We recommend stainless steel for your drinking water because plastic will seep into your water.  The 5-gallons does not last long AT ALL.  We can barely do dishes with that amount of water, and a shower won’t last more than a minute or two.  If we could do it again, we’d allocate space for 10-gallon tanks.  The good thing about the 5-gallon is that it’s very easy to fill up and take out whenever we stop.  We just need to learn to do dishes more efficiently.

Cooking: Atwood 3-burner propane drop-in stove.  We posted an impulsive vlog review of the Atwood 3-burner propane stove on our youtube page.

We had to completely dismantle this product to make it work properly, but now that we tore it apart and re-built it, we actually really like it!  Having three burners is key because we cook a lot and it allows us to cook different things at the same time.

Countertop: IKEA’s birch butcher block countertop is a great, affordable find.  Make sure you spend the extra time prepping it with wood conditioner and several go’s of sanding before adding a coat of coconut oil on top.  We’re so happy we went through these extra steps to make our countertops extra smooth!

Bed/Benches:

Cushions: We purchased a 100% Latex foam firm queen mattress topper that we adapted for our convertible bench cushions and bed.  This was the most affordable option we could find for a 100% latex mattress.  All other mattresses, even ones that state they are “green” or “natural” are likely green washing you.  To make this extra soft, we added a layer of cotton batting purchased from Joann’s on top of the latex.

Cushion covers: We upcycled IKEA cotton velvet curtains.  We purchased 2 packages of the longest curtains available in gray.  The amount of material you get for the price is more affordable than the other velvet fabric options we saw, so this made the most economical sense to us.

Curtains: We LOVE these black-out thermal curtains!  They make a huge difference in the thermal comfort inside the van and they block out light completely, so we can stealthily park without bringing any unwanted attention to the van.

Work Table: This table base and leg from Amazon work great.  We wish the base didn’t stick out of the floor so much, but it’s not a huge inconvenience.

Lighting:

LED puck lights– These small, warm LED 12v lights are great.  We have 3 overhead lights and one task light right above the kitchen sink.  The warmer the light, the better– warm light mimics nature and it best for your eyes.

LED under cabinet strip lighting from IKEA above each bench seat for accent and work lighting.

What are your favorite van life products?  What did we miss that you’d like to know more about?  Comment below!

- Vacay Vans
Vacay Vans author Vacay Vans
Vacay Vans is the brainchild of Lisa Miriam Jacobs, a lawyer, LEED sustainable interior designer, alternative lifestyle enthusiast, and storyteller. Lisa lives and travels solo full-time in her 2012 Nissan NV2500 converted camper van named Freebird.

Follow along on Instagram: instagram.com/vacayvans/

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