Van Build Week 6: Painting


This week was all about painting! We didn’t realize at first how many coats we’d need or how long it’d take, but 4 coats of primer later, we are ready for painting the actual color on the walls. This was also the second week of having my little brother Pascal around, so we decided to not do too much on the van and opted instead to spend a bit more time with him.

We started the week knowing that we wanted to do the ceiling and paint but didn’t really know what order we wanted to do things in and were still debating painting the ceiling or leaving it natural. Not knowing all the details has become the norm for this process and so we decided to move forward with the walls and ceiling together. Monday, we split up our tasks and I filled the holes in the walls while Ben worked on the strapping for the ceiling. To make the strapping Ben cut 1” x 2” cedar boards to the width of the van’s roof supports and then drilled through-holes in preparation for mounting them to the supports. There are a lot of holes already manufactured into the supports, so we had to be careful to place our mounting holes away from those. In this process, he also marked the center of each board which allowed us to keep consistent placement and was valuable later on as well when we began adding cedar planks.  Once all the boards were prepped, I held each board while Ben got the first two screws in; he was able to get the rest in while I worked on other projects. We used the same self-drilling metal screws we used for the walls and floor. Easy peasy!


When we put the plywood for the walls up, we used a nail gun and went a little crazy with it, so we ended up with lines of little holes where the plywood was attached to the strapping. I really didn’t like having the little holes and worried that they would look even worse once they were painted. To fill the holes I found a wood filler that was paintable and with a small flexible putty knife I pushed it into the holes and smoothed the edges. After the wood filler dried, I gently sanded it down so it was all smooth again and the walls were ready to paint! Of course, we ended the evening with a trip to Home Depot; I’ve honestly lost count of how many times we’ve been to Home Depot thus far. Ben jokes that I know the store better than any employee, I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I do know it better than most people.

Ben and I both donated blood on Tuesday afternoon right before building and while we thought we could push through and make progress on the van we found that we were extremely tired and it just wasn’t going to happen. I hadn’t finished all of the wood filling on Monday, so I finished that off and then we called it a night after the second trip to Home Depot of the week.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were all very uneventful days. We weren’t sure if we would want to paint the cedar ceiling planks or not but were leaning away from painting them, so we wanted to get the walls finished before the ceiling went in. So we spent (mostly Ben because I was with Pascal a lot of the time) the three days painting on primer and sanding the texture away. We wanted a really smooth surface for the final paint so after every layer of primer we sanded away the brush and roller texture with a 220 grit sandpaper to create a smooth surface. We probably went a bit too far with primer because, on the last layer, Ben was struggling to sand it without gunking up the sander with paint dust. It was hard to know the proper point to stop and was another learning experience for us. (Side note: paint dust from sanding is messy and sticks to everything. It comes off but we had to make sure to wipe it off the floors every time so we didn't grind it in at all.)


Pascal was super sweet throughout the two weeks he was with us and really wanted to help with the van. He helped Ben a bit with painting the final layer of primer, but we had run out of kid-friendly tasks, so we offered to let Pascal drill and screw some wood if he wanted. Ben turned this into building a little box with Pascal which took up more time than expected but was a lot of fun. Amateur-tip, the Kreg pocket hole jig makes teaching kids how to drill really easy! Ben prepped the jig, got it all clamped down and then stabilized it while Pascal drilled all by himself. Since the drill is stuck in the jig and can’t go anywhere except straight in and out, it was an easy opportunity to give him some controlled freedom.

While Pascal was visiting, we needed a vehicle to drive him around in since there’s no way we are getting a car seat into the van. We used our Prius but knew that after he left, we’d have no good reason to keep it around anymore, plus we were getting tired of playing musical cars every night before and after working on the van. Since Ben spent more time than expected the night before working on Pascal’s box, he finished off sanding first thing on Saturday morning. And after handing Pascal off to his aunt, we ran a few errands and then it was time to sell Stella, our Prius. Because we had a little left to pay on our financing through Toyota, we decided to sell it back to the dealer (we knew we wouldn’t get as much but we didn’t want to deal with the financing issue and it was so much easier than trying to find a buyer on our own). We ended up speaking with two dealerships and sold it at the second, the process took about an hour and then we took a Lyft home, after driving around, dealing with paperwork and it just being hot out, we decided to take the rest of the day off. We feel like we got a reasonable price for the Prius and it is so nice to have one fewer car in the driveway.


Sunday was our most productive day by far this week. We worked a bit on the trim for the windows (did everything but install them), finished insulating the ceiling, and cut insulation for the window holes in the back doors. For the ceiling, we used the same polyiso foam that we used for the walls but without any wool. We cut pieces to fit between the studs and layered two pieces in each section, one with the reflective side up and the other with the reflective side down. As we were putting the foam up, we started from the back and worked forward and could feel a significant difference in the temperature between the front and back of the van. It was great to have a concrete example of how much of a difference the foam can make!

Since we are not putting windows in the back doors, there are two large sections that need to be filled with insulation. We didn’t want to use wool here for two reasons, one being we are running out so are only using it where necessary, and two is that even if we had enough it just doesn’t stay very well in the larger cavities. Therefore, we decided to use some scraps of polyiso foam. First, I made a template of the window sections by laying paper flat into the cavity and making a crease around the edges, tracing it, and cutting the shape out. The window holes on each side are mirror images of each other so I only needed one template. Then I cut the template out of foam four times (two for each side) and taped two pieces of foam shiny sides out into each template just like with the ceiling.


In the afternoon, we started installing the ceiling. We got the first couple of cedar planks up but then realized that we hadn’t looked closely at the planks, and hadn’t realized that only one side was fully finished and the other side was fairly rough on some. We hadn’t been consistent and saw that we had some boards with slightly rough sides showing (some rough sides are smoother than others), while others were fully finished. We realized that we had been rushing and were just fairly tired and worn out at that point, so decided to call it a night. We ended up tearing the planks down on Monday and starting fresh.

This week has been a lesson in patience for us. We had to be patient and let the paint dry properly as well as being patient with not getting as much done as we felt we should have. It’s difficult because we want to get everything done immediately and we always underestimate how long a project will take, but being patient is extremely important to getting everything done properly so it will last and look great. Throughout the build, we have continued to have these learning moments and hope to continue to learn and grow with each one.