From RUST to ROLLING – total cost of a custom van build

When we began obsessing over van life there were a few things we had to keep in mind:

  1. It would be expensive (for us) because this was going to be our home and it was worth it for us to spend a little more money to make it the most comfortable.
  2. We had to be ready for anything to go wrong during the van build process which would only help us when experiencing hurdles once we hit the road.
  3. We will have to downsize A LOT and learn to be okay with that.
  4. Everything we put in the van needed to have more than one purpose.
  5. Ask for help! We made a point to include our friends and family in helping us build the van. Trust me, we are not carpenters, welders, or electricians but many of our friends and family members are and were eager to help us with whatever we need. Plus, it gave us an opportunity to spend time with friends and family before our journey.

With all of these things in mind and after months of staying up late doing research and watching YouTube videos, we decided we were ready to make a purchase.

Laputa, our 2006 Dodge Sprinter (with a Mercedes engine) lived in St. Louis, Missouri, about 5 hours from where we lived. Laputa wasn’t perfect but with only 120,000 miles and for the price, it felt right. Once we got home, a mechanic looked it over and we inspected the rust damage. It was lengthy. In fact, the landscape company had put a thick steel plate over the decaying floor without treating it. This meant that we had a lot of extra expenses to take care of before we began the building process. It was frustrating and we were upset that we had bought a van that was in such bad shape but we knew to stay calm. We accessed the entirety of the frame and the damage from the rust and decided we could get thru it!

Listed below is just about everything we spent money on to build the van:

Sprinter $5000

Foam board, Aluminum Floor, and Glue $150

Spray Foam $400

Solar Panel $Free

Charge Controller $153

Inverter $100

Battery $100

Wire $80

Solar Misc. $50

LED Lights $35

Speakers and Wiring Harness $40

2 USB Charging Ports $24

DC Plug-In $10

Ceiling Lumber $89

Lumber for bed $37

Luan Walls $103

Cabinet Lumber $118

Flooring $3

Paint $60

Paint Misc. $10

Ceiling Fan $201

Window Tinting $350

Fabric $29

Sink $Free

Hand Pump $20

Aluminum Backsplash $12

Water Tanks $34

Passport Potty Circa ’80 $Free

Total: $9,188


The below items will not be relevant to everyone but is important to remember to prepare for the unexpected!


Spare Tire $240

Wiper Blades $40

Rod Bearing, Gasket, Oil and Oil Change, Tools, and Labor $350

Air Filter, Coolant, Windshield Fluid $100

Side Door Roller $50

Welding Frame $200

Rust Resistance $66


Plus, with buying a new vehicle there are always more expenses….

Inspection $20

Registration $92

For us, our total was $10,346


Check out our van video to get a better idea of how we put it all together!

The Punishment of Residential Solar

From our 2006 Sprinter Van we search with our eyes for solar systems as we pass big and small homes along the roadside. This is what we do. We point out big systems, small systems, crooked systems, ground mounts, and solar farms. It never gets old.

While on our journey thru the Southwest we have spoken with a few local residents about solar and the difficulties of owning or getting a system. We know that it is common for people to think that “the technology just isn’t there yet,” or they would invest in a system. Although, this might be true with some types of batteries, we know that if people reduced their energy usage, they could sustain themselves with a solar system. 

What many people don’t know is that in many cities and states, the utility companies have it out for home owners with solar systems. Utility companies are fighting to tax home owners with solar systems and even a mandatory system turn off if the rest of the grid is out, making it impossible for the home owner to have control over their system.


  • In September of 2017, Kansas Corporation Commission ruled that utility companies (Westar and other big utilities) can tax customers who have a solar system and/or wind turbine.
  • Utility companies must offer net-metering with solar systems.
  • In some counties and municipalities, home owners cannot go off-grid but must be tied into the electrical grid. Check your counties building permits.
  • In 2015, Kansas changed Renewable Portfolio Standards from requiring utility companies to source 20% of their power from renewable energies by 2020 to utility companies can (voluntarily) decide to source 25% of their power from renewable energies.

New Mexico

  • New Mexico’s solar capacity of 400 MW ranks 13th in the country as of July 2016
  • The state energy program or SEP has been critical to the states growth and success donating more than 2 million to the states energy and management division between 2008 and 2014
  • However, due to pressure from utility companies lobbying for the removal of net metering, New Mexico could soon follow suit and remove the incentives for homeowners to install solar.


  • Since 2013, phasing out net-metering has been the focus for most utility companies, this requires utility companies to pay back solar customers for the energy they provided to the grid. Before the December 2013 ruling, utility company Arizona Public Service contributed money to anti-solar smear campaigns that produce TV advertisements in the Arizona Public Service service area. Currently, net-metering is still required by utility companies just at a much lower rate than before. Arizona Public Service is now being investigated by the FBI for this smear campaign and their hand in the decision made by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
  • In some counties and municipalities, home owners cannot go off-grid but must be tied into the electrical grid. Check your counties building permits.

To summarize, electrical utility companies want to stop net-metering and tax home owners with solar systems because they believe those home owners are not paying for their share of the grid. Although, in many cities and counties, home owners must be tied into the grid and therefore, they have no choice but to pay the electric companies tax or not get solar at all, a catch-22. Despite New Mexico’s success and many studies showing that electrical companies would only benefit from buying solar and producing solar energy, utility companies are making a green statement across the country that home owners will not have autonomy over their electricity production.

Dwelling Lessons

While Liz and I have been traveling the US we’ve found ourselves naturally gravitating towards cliff dwellings. It started when we stumbled upon the cliff dwellings of the ancient Mogollon in the Gila National Forest. Liz and I marveled at the fact that the mortar they used in their construction of the 700 year old buildings looked as though it had been applied yesterday. While the nearby walls that had been “restored” by the parks service showed signs of fatigue, cracking and failing in front of our eyes. The ancient rock walls that had been undisturbed by modern man stood strong and proud still performing the simple but crucial task of protecting its inhabitants from the harsh elements.


As we moved northwest we discovered site after site of previous ancient inhabitants. We noticed a few differences but mostly the similarities in each location we explored. Each location of people utilized the natural elements in the surrounding landscape. Locating a south facing cliff allowed for the sun to penetrate deep into the cave in the cool winter months while casting a shadow on the inhabitants during the hot summer months. Several of the dwellings we visited made use of the fact that water would pour over the shelves of rock directly over head. The people of that time created rain collection systems using bowls and pots to catch the precious resource.

We visited an old Sinagua site located in Walnut Canyon just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Here, the truly impressive aspect was the focus around community. The island trail took us around a huge natural rock formation that housed dozens of homes and community spaces. As we made our way around the trail we looked out across the canyon and spotted literally dozens of more remains built with stone walls nestled in the pockets of the cliffs. The Hopi people tell stories of their ancestors voices still being heard thru the canyon and how they built their homes close to each other so they could remember to work and care for one another.

The natural wonder of the area was with each winding turn of the canyon new vegetation flourished. Rather it be a dry, sunny side of the canyon where cactus and desert plants grew or a dark shady portion of the canyon where tall pines and bushes were able to grow. Each turn brought a new category of natural beauty that was impressive even today.

Overall Liz and I were left with the feeling that the people that had once inhabited the cliff dwellings had it figured out. They had everything they needed; water, food, community, protection, recreation you name it. Liz and I couldn’t help but notice that in todays society we still seem to lust for such basic needs. Sure we’ve accomplished amazing feats of engineering and science but a large population of us still struggle for basic human needs. It goes without saying that its completely necessary to pay attention to these lessons passed down from our ancient ancestors. In a time where the earth is undergoing major change, we believe that some of these skills and needs will be pushed to the forefront of our daily lives and the sooner we pay attention and apply them the healthier we all will be.

In short. Turn the lights out when you leave a room, ride a bike and hug your damn neighbor.

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