This Eco-Conscious Aussie is Living the Van Life. . . and Loving It!
Imagine choosing to build your own home. . . with zero experience. That’s exactly what this Australian man decided to do. Jordan Osmond is a documentary filmmaker who had barely held a hammer when he embarked on this homebuilding challenge.
And there was a catch too: he had to figure out how to build a comfortable, functional home for himself. . . out of an old van.
Even attempting such an undertaking requires an independent and determined spirit, which Jordan has in spades. But what he also has is a deep environmental appreciation, which was a big part of what motivated this project.
Click on to get an up-close view of Jordan’s impressive endeavor. Wait until you see the awesome results!
First, a little more about Jordan. He grew up in near Melbourne, Australia in a town called Ballarat. As a teenager, he became passionate about photography. When he discovered documentary films, he was hooked.
Today, Jordan is a documentary filmmaker himself.
Whoa. Amazing to find giants like these still standing!
In addition to his interests in photography and documentaries, Jordan is an avid environmentalist. Through his production company, Happen Films, he makes inspiring documentaries that explore environmental sustainability -particularly the ways in which individuals can effect positive change.
A self-described nomad, Jordan is an explorer at heart. He has a profound appreciation of the beauty to be found in the natural world.
Of course, to get to far-flung idylls like this one, you need wheels. And shelter once you get there. So that gave him an idea. . .
I just bought a van!
Jordan craved traveling adventures. He realized that a home on wheels was just what he needed to make that dream a reality. But more than that, he knew the van conversion itself would be an adventure!
When contemplating which van to purchase, there was one thing Jordan knew for sure: young documentarians are not rolling in dough. So, he looked back a decade or two (or three) until he found the one.
The one was this sweet 1986 Toyota Hiace. It even had a pop-top roof!
He paid around $6,000 Australian dollars (just under $4,000 in U.S. dollars).
Now that he had the van, Jordan’s first job was to scope out any interior parts that he could re-use. Recycling was obviously a huge priority.
Here’s a view of the van’s interior just after he purchased it, prior to beginning the renovation. As you can see, the van was in pretty good shape for a 44 year old!
Just wait until you see the transformation.
The van had clearly been someone’s well-loved and comfy space. . . occasionally. But Jordan’s vision for the vehicle went far beyond a weekend camper. This van would be his full-time home.
This tapestry-covered foam mattress really gives a sense of the van’s vintage charm, doesn’t it?
Job 2? GUT IT!
Here, Jordan is taking apart the frame for the huge platform bed that took up the entire back of the van’s interior. Another DIYer might have taken a sledgehammer to the thing, but Jordan is more responsible than that. He is using a drill to carefully disassemble the frame so that someone else can use the wood for another project.
It often takes longer to do something carefully. But it must have felt good to pull that piece out in such good shape. The job is not over yet though. . . Everything must go!
Phew! That was a major job – and he hasn’t even started building yet!
But now he has a nice (nearly) clean slate to start with. Onward!
Clearly he spent some time scraping off the old bits and pieces left over from the demo stage. Look at that shiny surface – almost like new!
At last, construction begins. Jordan starts at the very foundation: the flooring.
The first step is building this timber frame for the flooring.
As he started to build, Jordan had to stay mindful of the amount of wood weight he was adding to the van. It helps that he mostly uses pine, a relatively light wood. But he’ll be adding other heavy items as well, such as batteries and water storage.
Step two of building the floor is laying down insulation to help regulate the temperature inside the van.
Jordan chose Earthwool, a very popular glasswool insulation that is softer and more comfortable to handle than other types. Earthwool is also an eco-friendly choice. It’s made with a binder that has no added formaldehyde and is based on renewable, bio-based materials instead of traditional petrol-based chemicals.
Once all the insulation squares are snugly in place, Jordan covers it all in reflective foil insulation as a vapor barrier. It’s crucial that the barrier be as airtight as possible. Otherwise moisture can collect in the insulation and lead to mold.
Look who showed up to help out! Jordan’s dad lends a hand sealing the edges of the vapor barrier with a strong tape.
That looks like one tightly sealed vapor barrier!
Dad sticks around for the next step: installing the top layer of the flooring. Here, they’re screwing the wood floor down into the timber frame.
For the flooring, Jordan chose Ecoply, an ultra low formaldehyde emission Plywood. Ecoply is also manufactured from sustainably grown New Zealand plantation pine. In short, it meets all of Jordan’s green criteria.
This was going to be my home so insulating as best as I could was really important.
As you can see here, Jordan stuffs every cranny with insulation. Insulation will slow the rate of heat transfer into and out of the van, making it easier to maintain the right temperature. It will stay warmer in the winter by preventing heat loss and won’t turn into a sauna under the hot Australian sun in the summer.
Just like he’d done for the floor, Jordan needed to build a timber frame for the van wall. Here it is installed. Next up is another tightly sealed vapor barrier.
As Jordan explains in his video, the vapor barrier protects the body of the van against moisture. This can be a real problem when it’s warmer inside than out. In that situation, moisture from the humid interior will condense on the body of the van, potentially causing rust as well as mold in the insulation.
Once the vapor barrier is installed over the insulation, Jordan screws pine line boards onto the timber frame. Having walls made of wood really gives a sense of coziness to the space. . . it’s starting to feel more home-like than van-like now!
Here’s a shot of a completed wall.
You didn’t think that was it for the wall, did you? Don’t forget, Jordan needs to get a bed and a kitchen – not to mention all of his belongings – into a few hundred square feet!
In such as small space, storage is key. So up goes the shelving unit!
This shot shows the completed shelving frame. Think he’ll be able to fit everything he owns in there?
Time to build himself a bed. Jordan is a big guy so the bed needs to be strong and supportive. Here, Jordan is screwing down the final horizontal slat.
From this angle, you can see how nicely the platform bed integrates into the shelving frame. He’ll have everything he needs right within reach.
Looking pretty good for an amateur builder, don’t you think? Jordan insists that he did it with YouTube videos and Google. He must be a quick study!
The bed doesn’t just look nice; it has a very cool feature: it doubles as a storage unit. Jordan designed the bed to sit 30 centimeters off of the ground. This way, he can fit a lot of stuff underneath.
He can access this storage space from outside, by opening up the back of the van.
What’s even cooler is that both sides of the platform lift up to access storage areas. To make this work, Jordan installed hinges on the two middle slats of the platform, one opening in each direction. He can lift up the platform from either end.
Dad’s back again to help! This time, they’re tackling the kitchen cabinets. Some jobs go exponentially faster with two sets of hands.
Home builders often hire cabinet shops, who construct the cabinets off site. But DIYers will typically build the cabinet in place (called a “site-built cabinet”), which is what he and his Dad are doing here.
With the cabinet boxes now in place, Jordan gets to the satisfying final stage: installing the cabinet doors.
Cabinet door hinges can trip up novice carpenters. To provide adequate support, experts recommend placing one hinge two inches from the bottom corner and another two inches from the top corner.
Even when you’ve properly measured and placed the hinges, you may find that the door rubs or just doesn’t fit squarely into the frame. The culprit is usually the screws holding the hinges in place: if the screw is driven in at just a slight angle, the door will hang wrong.
Fortunately, Jordan and Dad got it right the first time. Just look at those level countertops, square corners and plumb cabinet sides!
Style-wise, Jordan’s handsome kitchenette is an example of exposed hinge construction with flush inset cabinetry (meaning the doors and drawers sit coplanar with the frame).
From this angle, you can get a better sense of the kitchen’s placement in the van. Making use of every square inch!
Once he reached this gratifying point in the build process, Jordan became so focused on finishing the project that he stopped filming. And. . . after eleven weeks of six hour days, finish he did!
All together Jordan spent about $4,000 Australian dollars ($2,500 U.S. dollars) on renovating the van. With the $6,000 Australian dollars he’d spent on the purchase itself, his total cost was under $7,500 American dollars. Not bad, or, as Jordan says: I think that’s pretty good for a home.
Ready for the tour??!
Before the grand tour, here are a few overview shots to orient you in the space.
This is the side view looking in from the open sliding door. His bed is to the right and the kitchen area is straight ahead. This arrangement, with the kitchen in the middle and the bed at the rear, is the most common layout in van conversions.
Now imagine you’re sitting up in the passenger seat, turning around to look behind you. You would have this view toward his cozy bed area, with the kitchen on the left.
And here is the opposite view, from his bed looking forward toward the kitchen and driver’s area.
This shot also gives a good view of the pop top, which really adds to the space. Jordan notes his good luck in finding a van with a pop top already installed. He could have done it himself, but they cost a few thousand bucks at least!
And on to the details. . .
First up: the kitchen. Recognize those cabinets? Let’s get a close-up view of all the careful work and thought that went into building his kitchen area.
I like to cook so I prioritized having a decent size kitchen in the van.
It really is amazing how much useful working space Jordan created in such a tiny area. And he put it to use right away. This looks like a feast in the making!
This beautiful new sink is actually the old one from the van (pre-conversion). Recycling materials is one of Jordan’s key priorities, so this was a great opportunity for re-use.
He just had to make one adjustment: changing the position of the tap. You can see where he put a piece of rubber to cover up the old tap cut out.
And now, on to plumbing. As you’ll soon find out, this is one of Jordan’s favorite topics!
Like all serious vanlifers, he installed a manual pump system. This type of plumbing is comprised of these components: a manual water pump, a faucet or spout, a freshwater tank, a gray water (waste water) tank, a sink and drain, and plumbing (tubing).
Jordan stores his fresh water in this 23-liter glass demijohn. Demihuh??
Demijohn [ dem-i-jon ], noun: a large capacity bottle with a small neck traditionally used to transport or store wine.
Fill ‘er up!
Jordan doesn’t like drinking out of plastic for both health and environmental reasons. He says this water jug contraption is the best solution (that’s also a cheap solution) that he could think of.
Jordan thinks his system is satisfactory for now, but in the future he’d probably like to get a tank custom-fitted for under the van so he doesn’t have to refill so often. His demijohn holds 23 liters, which is about six gallons. People need around one and a half gallons per day just for drinking, cooking, and cleaning – which translates to a lot of refills.
No one wants a gigantic glass container containing gallons of water rolling around loose in their car (or their home, for that matter). To prevent this, Jordan secures the jug with this ratchet strap, which is screwed into the wall. So far, so good: he reports that the jug doesn’t budge even when he’s driving.
Here Jordan is demonstrating the hand-pump tap. Pumping pulls water up through the drinking water hose that sits in the water inside the demijohn.
Several snarky viewers of Jordan’s YouTube video have pointed out that the drinking water hose is actually made of plastic, which Jordan is averse to using.
Jordan laughs at their impressive observation skills and acknowledges that he did stress his dislike of drinking out of plastic. But. . . they don’t make stainless or glass ones, so it was his only choice. Plus, he checked with the manufacturer to make sure it was a safe, food-grade material.
The wastewater from the sink drains into this 20-liter jerry can, which sits adjacent to the demijohn. It’s easy to pull it out and empty it as needed. This is a good thing as it can start to smell.
Jordan plumbed the water system himself, including constructing this drain trap out of some hose fittings and. . . the old hose from the original van!
One trick he learned when teaching himself basic plumbing was to assemble the drainage hose in this configuration. This particular shape stops the smell from the wastewater in the jerrycan from wafting back up into sink.
Back to those cabinets. . . Jordan just has to demonstrate one thing: I also got these fancy magnetic springy cupboard openers that I was pretty pleased with. You can tell by his grin how proud he is of this particular detail!
For a stove, he chose this simple two-burner gas cooker designed for camping.
You can see where he’s screwed the cooktop into the bench so it’s secure. The gas line comes in through the bench as well. The gas bottle sits in in its own fiberglass housing that’s vented to the outside.
Jordan installed this 12-volt fan in the roof for ventilation. This is obviously a really important feature when you’re cooking in such a small space. Keeping it running while you’re cooking sucks out any fumes.
The fan also helps keep the free of condensation and cool. In hot weather, the airflow provides significant relief.
The ventilation fan even has this handy remote. Jordan is tall but it would be tough even for him to reach all the way the way up there every time!
Here, Jordan stops to mention that you can get fancier, stainless steel cooktops that sink slickly into the bench. . . but they’re like eight times the price! He looks downright incredulous, doesn’t he?
And on to kitchen storage – another essential, given Jordan’s passion for cooking. Here, he pops open the cutlery drawer, which slides out smoothly. You want to make sure that something that’s going to get a lot of use like a cutlery drawer is installed as well as possible.
Jordan’s smiling as he admits that he was originally planning on building three drawers. He ended up aborting that plan because making the first one was such a “pain in the ass.”
So, he decided to just have another cupboard under the drawer instead. Enough room for his pots and pans on top and down below he manages to squeeze in a compost bucket, recycling bin, and rubbish basket (“plus a few other items”). You can tell how organized Jordan is – this is a crucial quality for a person living in a tiny space.
Jordan explains how he made the kitchen bench tops out of an old bed headboard that he found on the side of the road in Melbourne. Another recycling score!
After cutting the pieces to size, he just sanded and stained them. Here’s a close up of the kitchen countertop. He’s super happy with the way they turned out.
In fact, virtually all of the wood surfaces in Jordan’s converted van are recycled. This is a close up of the van wall.
The walls are pine lining boards that I got from the tip [aka the dumpster] for $20. It was probably like $300 worth of timber that was just being thrown away. So I picked it up and used it everywhere I could.
After lining all of the van walls, he even had enough left over for the cupboard doors. That was quite a dumpster find!
Moving on to the electrical system, which is housed in the cabinet under the cooktop. This is one of the most complex (and potentially dangerous) parts of a van conversion, but absolutely necessary. If the van is to be your home, you need lights to see when it’s dark out, power for your electronics so you can work and communicate, and the ability to refrigerate food so you can eat something other than trail mix and powdered milk!
All electrical power is generated from these three 160-watt solar panels on the van’s roof. Solar panels absorb the sun’s light and convert it into electricity, which they send on to the charge controller.
The solar panels feed down into the van, first into the breaker box (the white unit that Jordan is pointing to here). Also known as a fuse box or electrical panel, a breaker box distributes the incoming electrical current and is an absolute safety must. If too much current flows in, the circuit will “break” to stop the flow.
From the breaker box, the electricity travels into this 60-amp solar charge controller (the red box), which regulates the flow of power from the solar panels and uses it to charge Jordan’s battery (see following photo).
From the battery, the electrical current travels to this 375-watt inverter (blue). An inverter converts 12-Volt DC to 110-Volt AC – which is necessary to power a laptop or any complex electronics that require a 3-pronged wall outlet.
The battery is a 130 amp deep cycle AGM. Jordan originally had two 130-amp power batteries to run in parallel, but when he was rushing through the wiring set up he accidentally fried the other battery. It was pretty devastating, but he plans to buy another one in a couple of months and just pop it back in there and join them back up in parallel.
Simpler 12-volt gadgets don’t required AC conversion by an inverter. For these devices, the connection goes straight from the charge controller up into these fuses.
Jordan can control the power to his 12-volt devices via this panel on the cabinet front. There’s a switch for the lights, the fridge and the pump under van that powers his gas shower (more on that later). Plus, a USB port for charging his electronics.
Of all these three switches, Jordan’s clear favorite is the one for his fairy lights. Gazing up at them here, he murmurs, I love how they look. . .
He likes them so much he strung them around the entire interior of the van, using these relatively low profile, nail-in hooks.
Fairy lights are a hugely popular lighting solution for vanlifers. They’re cheap and energy-efficient (as long as you stick with the 12V DC power form). Battery-powered fairy lights are also available, but more suited to occasional lighting needs.
I’m with Jordan on this one. The fairy lights really are lovely! They give such a nice, rustic look, don’t they?
OK, back to more practical items. Jordan is gesturing here to his fridge, which is a Waeco CF-40. He reports that it’s been great so far: it doesn’t use much power and it’s big enough for his needs.
The fridge is surprisingly spacious, especially when you see all the food that he’s got packed in there. Looks like he’s a healthy eater!
On to the sleeping area. Jordan is explaining that his mattress is actually a futon, which can roll up unlike a mattress (you’ll see why that’s important in a moment). He says it’s quite comfortable, too.
Jordan chose a futon instead of a traditional mattress. Some people feel that mattresses are a little more comfortable, but futons have one key feature that Jordan wanted: he can roll it back easily to access the storage spaces that he built under the bed frame. Remember those?
If you recall, he’d decided to build the bed 30 centimeters off the ground to create lots of extra storage space.
As you can see, he uses the interior compartment for food storage.
Now he’s popped around back to show the exterior compartment, where he keeps extra bedding, cords and other miscellaneous items. Pretty ingenious design!
Jordan came up with another clever idea to solve a (not so) little dilemma: The bed is not actually long enough to accommodate his very long body. Jordan is just under 2 meters (around 6’4″)!
In order to have a bed that fits him, Jordan built an extension for the bed platform. During the day, it sits under the futon. When it’s time to tuck in, he just pops it out, puts it in place and voila!
He cut slots into the extension piece so that it connects seamlessly to the larger bed frame. The extension also has little legs that can lie flat or pop down to provide support.Screenshot/Jordan Osmond/YouTube
And that’s not all this little extension can do. . . it also serves as Jordan’s desk! Here, he’s inserting the extension into a long groove he created with two narrow lengths of timber.
Once the desk is in place, Jordan just pivots to grab his laptop, mouse and other electronic accessories, and presto! He’s got a mobile office!
I’m a digital nomad working as a documentary filmmaker so it was important for me to have a decent desk space in the van.
Jordan loves being able to work anywhere. It helps that he has a super fast mobile broadband wifi hotspot, which gives him 4G internet. It’s not as cheap as a home connection, but plenty speedy. His plan allows 60 gigs per month, so he just has to watch that Netflix habit!
Extra nice is that the solar panels charge his computer, camera batteries, and all the other gear that he needs to do his work.
Remember way back when Jordan was building the grid frame for all of those storage compartments? Here they are! He uses this first nook and the one below it for essential, everyday cooking items.
In these bigger middle compartments, he keeps his camera gear and other electronics in the top and his clothes in the bottom. Lots of people ask Jordan where he does his laundry. The answer is: at a laundromat!
And who is that little fella peeking out??
It’s “Whaley”, Jordan’s hot water bottle! Whaley keeps him warm and Jordan is quite fond of him. Can you blame him? It gets lonely (and chilly) on the road sometimes!
Finally, down at the end is his open air library. Jordan built these little bookshelves out of plywood and some brackets that are screwed into the shelving. He loves reading but had to be very selective when choosing which books would make it in to his little library.
Another thing people ask Jordan a lot is: how do you shower? And here, he’s showing us the answer! (Well, the set-up at least. . . )
When it comes to bathing, vanlifers have a variety of options. There are solar showers (essentially a bag of water that you heat up in the sun, then hang up high and attach a nozzle), road showers (a pvc tube filled with water and mounted on your roof rack), and good old truck stops or campgrounds.
And then there’s the ultimate vanlifer showering solution: a portable tankless water heater. This is what Jordan chose. The first step is hooking this gas camping shower into some brackets that he mounted onto the side of the van.
Mostly he does his bathing en plein air, but he’s also got a tent that he can set up in front of the shower when he needs privacy.
The tube coming down from the shower connects to a gas bottle, which lives in the compartment he’s gesturing to. Water comes from a container that is plumbed into a pump underneath the van, then up into the unit and out the shower head.
Speaking of personal hygiene, the question Jordan gets the absolute most is: “Where is your toilet??” The answer: he just uses campground restrooms and other public bathrooms.
Jordan is understandably pleased with the results of his van conversion project. Still, there are some things that remain unfinished, like the edge of this door where are you can see the insulation.
He anticipates continuing to work on the van, refining and tweaking it as he goes.
Just bought this for the van! A wood stove/heater was something I really wanted in the van but I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to find one small enough. I feel lucky to have found this one secondhand, it’s the perfect size.
Jordan tweeted about this stove purchase, but there’s no mention of it in the video. Perhaps it’s another item on the to-do list?
When the project was finally complete, Jordan shared his excitement on twitter. He was heading out for the first time the next morning!
After three months of work, I’m so happy to say that I’ve finally finished building my new home. Tomorrow I’m hitting the road! I can’t wait for all the adventures ahead and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you all.
My first night in the van was a success! Bed was warm and comfy, solar panels are charging the battery, fridge is keeping the food cool, sink is pumping and draining properly, and coffee and toast were made for breakfast on the stove.
What amazing satisfaction Jordan must have felt upon successfully completing such a challenging project. Here we see him taking a well-earned moment of relaxation, his morning coffee in hand, dreaming of the adventures ahead.
After much contemplation, he decided to call his van Wanda (“because it sounds like wander”).
Update: After living and traveling in the van for a few happy months, Jordan came upon one of life’s big passages: the decision to move in with a partner. In this case, it meant moving to New Zealand’s South Island.
So, Jordan had to sell his beloved van. Thankfully, he found a buyer who was really into the van. Jordan knows he’ll make the most of it.
We bought a box truck! Super excited to convert this into a beautiful home on wheels! At the moment it’s a very basic setup inside, just enough for us to travel to the North Island of New Zealand next month.
Looks like Jordan’s game for another vehicle conversion project!