Oops! Making Mistakes: The Vanlife Way.

Since returning to Maine, we realized there were a few mistakes we made in the van.

To start off, there have been multiple changes to the interior and exterior of the van for the past three years, which makes answering the question, “How long did it take you to build out your van?”, more challenging to answer.

Throughout the past three years, we have lived full time in our converted Sprinter Van while simultaneously renovating.

Sometimes, things would work out well. But most times, we would either have to redo the project, exchange supplies, or fix minor mistakes on the spot. For example, when our manual water pump broke from the usual wear and tear, we needed to order supplies for the fix. But we were in the middle of the desert, where it is difficult to receive packages. Thankfully we knew someone with a real address and sent our supplies there. Waiting meant washing dishes with water bottles. Not hard, but a nuisance.

Other mistakes we have had involved incidents where we had either overlooked or not even noticed the issue. One worth mentioning is two years ago when our toilet leaked. We had a boat toilet that was basically a glorified bucket. It had a screw cap on the side for emptying. Well, it ended up leaking for a few hours unnoticed and ended up staining and rotting the wood bench that the toilet was in. We had to rip everything out (while it was covered in pee) and replace the whole bench.

Some major mistakes have involved the solar system batteries and the fridge.

Let’s start with the batteries. When we were in Squamish, British Columbia, we ended up killing our first set of batteries.

Now, the type of batteries that we have are expensive. They are usually priced between $600 – $1000, depending on type and capacity. Making this mistake one of the most expensive to date. To understand what happened, I will set the stage for you. Squamish, BC sees a lot of smoke during the fire season. Because of the that, we weren’t able to get any solar power. We thought we were, thus we ended up leaving our system on and running for weeks. This ended up draining our batteries to the point where they would not hold a charge when the smoke left and the sun came back. We learned that when we aren’t fully charging the batteries at least every three days (a full charge every day is best)  to just shut the system off.

The fridge was another costly mistake. Alex wanted to try to make our freezer more efficient. To do this he thought he would install insulation underneath the freezer. He ended up puncturing a hole into the coolant plate. This meant that he broke the freezer and the fridge. We looked up the Nova Kool troubleshoot manual and saw a number to call. The operator told us that its common for people to put holes in their coolant plates, especially when chipping ice away. (Of course, that is not exactly what we did..oops.) We ended up having trouble finding someone to install the new freezer, even after calling multiple refrigerator repairers.

In the end, we tracked down the retailer that we originally bought the fridge from and found a local Nova Kool repair man. This ended up costing us $400 to fix the mistake we made.

So mistakes will happen, either it will be your fault or not. Regardless, here are a few tips and helpful thoughts to get you through your next mistake:

  • First, remember that anything that CAN break, WILL break.
  • Next, you can’t plan for everything, but you should try to keep spare parts to fix mistakes quickly.
  • Living in a tiny home or van will be similar to living in a home. There will be mistakes, things will just break, and not everything will work the first time.
  • Stay calm, because things can always be fixed. If you get angry, try walking away from the situation and returning when your mind is clearer.
  • Ask for advice. We get a lot of questions about our van, as well as questions on how to fix mistakes. Check online resources, ask a fellow vanlifer, or talk to someone with specific knowledge on the equipment.




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