In this How To we will look at some of the things you need to know before you jump into living in a converted van. This has become a popular option for many people and it is more likely that people in your area are doing this if the rents are high but there is also a good availability of jobs.
This is really the trade off many people choose van dwelling as a conscious decision and others do it out of necessity. I have seen people in the Bay Area of San Francisco that pretty much have to resort to living in a converted van because even the cheapest apartments can cost as much as a Manhattan apartment but these apartments are basically garbage. Others like it because it gives them the ability to travel for long periods of time and then you have people that are employed in Sales or Specialty Jobs where travel and short stays consume their life and renting is an impossibility so it is either Van Dwelling or expensive nights at hotels if there are even any close to where their job site is.
Whatever your situation it is important that you understand the laws in the area that you will be living in. In California the laws have opened up pretty much to allow people to live in vehicles where ever there is public parking. You can drive through parts of silicon valley and find small mobile homes, converted vans and even people living in standard cars as their primary homes. These people are not jobless and many make into the $50,000 a year range and some more but the cost of rent and availability is beyond what they are making.
Other options especially if you are on the move a lot are campsites which can be private or parkland. If you choose this option you may have difficulty finding a spot when you need it but if you do you will often have access to basic amenities such as showers, electric hookups and water.
Amenities are very important because if you are living in your vehicle it is often against the law to use it for going to the bathroom or changing clothes. If you can be seen in your vehicle then you are likely risking arrest.
The next thing is how will you be eating? Many people who build van conversions use a propane stove and a water can with a small pump that feeds a sink. This can be dangerous and you should consider mounting the gas canister outside the vehicle so that a leak will not poison you or cause death. Cooking inside the vehicle is also a bad idea. Any fuel based burner will consume air in the vehicle as it is operated. At the minimum you can have a burner on a slide out shelf but a better option would probably be having a portable stove that you can use completely outside of the vehicle. Again local laws may restrict this especially if you are parking on a public road.
The next consideration is how much time and money you will invest in your conversion. The easiest conversion is to buy a commercial van and throw a foam mattress in the back that is cut to fit the area and then flip it to the van sidewall during the day. However many people invest in their living area and it can get pretty elaborate.
It is possible to outfit your van with solar panels on the roof that can supply lighting and electric for charging your devices independently from the system that is used for your engine. I would strongly suggest that you do not load down your vans primary engine’s battery for anything including charging your cellphone. It is just not worth it because you will reduce its life and could find yourself stuck someplace with a dead battery. Normal life of those batteries is only 1 to 3 years at best anyway and loading them with living needs will shorten their life significantly.
Your other option if you are able is to use a USB battery bank that has the ability to charge your phone but this won’t power other devices. You might want to rely on rechargeable batteries, solar chargers, a lantern with a solar panel and other items that can increase your livability but doing so may cause problems with your employer if you are charging devices at work.
Cost of maintaining your vehicle will be another consideration. If you are not living in a primary residence then registering your vehicle and it’s inspection also come into play. There are a few states that may allow you a work around but it would often mean a long trip. Some people for this reason will establish a residence for a short period of time.
Mail and Bills will be another consideration. Without a primary mailing address that means that you will have problems establishing a residence for necessary things that are required by life. Most Mailbox companies will no longer allow a rental without a residence connected to the account.
It is important to understand everything you are getting into before you establish your new mobile home. It might seem like an attractive way to get away from society or a way to make your money work for you rather then spending it on high cost rent. Unfortunately nothing is ever as easy as it seems and it is important that you research all your needs and all the regulations before you jump in.