Written by Katie Larsen, in collaboration with Vanessa and Adam Hickey, Mary Ashley Krogh, Owen Chikazawa, and Brittany and Drew Neumann. Sponsored by 76®. Don’t forget to check out their First 30 Day series, all about diving into vanlife and life on the road!
When we think about vanlife climate, many of us imagine being outside, enjoying nature all the time.
We chase seasons that we enjoy the most and weather that we feel the most comfortable in. However, weather can be unpredictable at times and you will likely spend more time inside your van than expected. For this reason, it is important for your van to have options for climate control, catered especially for your liking.
Similar to any living situation, people have their opinions about lighting. Some prefer darker living quarters, while others prefer as much light as possible. One particular kind of lighting we frequently see are circular LED “puck” lights installed flush against the ceiling. They have a low power draw and last a very long time. Many install dimmers for their lights as well, while others have simple switches. If you’re looking for simplicity, a great alternative is using LED strip lights for efficiency (and fun with more color options too!)
“We’re very particular about the temperature of the light in our home. We decided to use warm LED lights that are flush mounted into our ceiling to give them a low profile look. We also have them on dimmers so we can turn on the perfect amount of light no matter what time of day it is! In the evenings before bed, we like to have them barely on just to set the sleepy time mood.” – MAK and Owen
If you plan on installing hanging upper cabinets, consider installing lights underneath the cabinets.
Moreover, when installing more than one form of lighting in your van, consider separating the wiring from the lighting to their switches. Have various options for lighting, such as ceiling lights only or under the cabinet lights only, also lighting in the front of the van versus the back of the van. All of this can make a huge difference in the climate or atmosphere of your van. While good lighting is important, there will surely be times of “stealthing” where softer or dimmer light is preferred. Be sure to brainstorm where you want to install your lights at the beginning of your build planning, so you can properly wire each lighting source. Don’t forget to consider nighttime reading lights, under bed storage, under cabinet lights, bathroom lights, etc.
“We wanted the bed area to be on a 3-way switch so we can turn it off from bed, another bank of 4 lights in the main area for working or having friends over and another 4 under the cabinets (usually one person is up early making coffee and its best not to disturb the one in bed!)” – Vanessa and Adam
Beyond actual lights, don’t be afraid to use natural light to fill your van!
Windows can make a huge difference in allowing natural light to be your van’s source of brightness. The more lights installed in your van, the more light will come into your home. One particular place that is nice to have a window is in the kitchen area. Being able to look out towards the beautiful places of the world while preparing food and cooking is very special.
Having some form of heating source is important in a van, especially if you are considering full-time travel. Although we can chase the seasons all we want, inevitably we will get stuck in a storm, be passing through somewhere cold, or get sick of layering up to stay warm. There are a few options here to control climate: install a heater, use something hand-held, or utilize your stove.
Installing a gas or diesel heater (Espar or Webasto) that pulls from your fuel tank is a great option.
With a temperature reader, you will basically have a thermostat like any house. The other benefit of these heating sources is that they are using fuel that you already have from your fuel tank, eliminating yet another chore or thing you have to think about replenishing. Because they exhaust outside of the van, you are able to run the heater as frequently as you want, including when you are sleeping or away from your van.
“To help keep cozy even in the coldest of climates, we installed an Espar D2 S2 heater with an Easy Start Pro controller under our passenger seat. It’s connected via a fuel line to the vehicle’s diesel tank so we never have to think about it draining another source of power. So far this unit has been worth every penny! It heats the van within minutes and can be set to control the temperature throughout the entire night allowing us to awake warm and well rested, as opposed to needing to wear layers of PJ’s, sleeping with hot water bottles and waking up in what once felt like a freezer!” – Brittany and Drew
While this is the more expensive option, it is definitely something to consider if you are planning to be in your van for years at a time.
The second option, which is also very common, is a handheld heater, such as a Mr. Heater propane buddy heater that uses green Coleman canisters of propane. These heat up vans fast but cannot be left on overnight and do run through propane fairly quickly. The last option is to heat up some tea, cook dinner, and use your stove for just about anything! It’s pretty incredible how much just this can heat up your van.
Keeping the van warm isn’t the only thing to consider. You also have to consider how to keep the van cool in warmer weather. Besides the obvious tip of parking in the shade when possible, there are a few things you can do to keep your van cool. One of the most common options is installing some sort of ceiling fan that allows you to suck air in and pull air out. It is amazing how much of a breeze this creates when you crack a window in the back, pulling fresh air throughout the entire van.
There are quite a few options regarding ceiling fans.
The most common forms of ceiling fans for ventilation systems are a MaxxAir MaxxFan, a Dometic Fan-tastic Vent or a Dometic Roof Hatch. The benefit of having a fan instead of simply a hatch is that most fans have the ability to pull air into the van, but also pull air out. These fans can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like, varying with different speeds, rain sensors, remote controls, etc.
For exceptional ventilation, consider installing two fans on separate sides of your van. When one fan pulls air in and the other pulls air out, that air is circulated throughout the entire van, similar to having a single fan and window open. This allows for even more airflow. These fans are also efficient with power and are fairly quiet. You may even find that you like the hum of the fan while sleeping in new places each night!
Another notable, simple solution is not keeping your van shut tight throughout a hot day.
Having your slider door open cools the van off substantially and helps to make hanging out in the van, even in the sun, much more bearable. Lastly, if you’re driving somewhere to park for the night, blast your AC on the drive there! With proper insulation, your van should stay fairly cooled for most of the night, especially after the sun sets.
“Living in a van is much like living the life of a migrating bird. To live the best life, it’s important to move with the seasons. It’s so nice to be comfortable in the van and to get the most out of the great outdoors when you’re in a climate that allows you to keep the doors and windows of the van wide open. Ideally this would be anywhere from 65-80 F during the day, and 50 to 65 at night, with a nice gentle breeze.” – Brittany and Drew