Nomad Brad cover

I’m excited to share this conversion with Nomad Brad because I think that we all have a lot to learn from vanlifers in the tiny house space. Brad converted an old U-Haul, which is something that not a lot of vanlifers are doing, and we’ll get into why it makes a lot of sense and some of the unique things that Brad has done. There is a lot to learn in this inspiring conversation, no matter what type of tiny house dwelling you’re interested in.

In This Episode:

  • Lessons learned from Brad’s first van and what he did differently with the U-Haul
  • Ethan’s vanlife experience
  • Where to buy used U-Hauls and why they’re easy to convert
  • The appeal of the diesel heater
  • Making money on the road
  • Approximate cost of the DIY conversion

Links and Resources:


Guest Bio:

Brad Thomas

Brad Thomas

Nomad Brad has spent the last 4 years living the Vanlife. He has photographed the lush landscape of Washington’s Olympic National Rainforest and camped under Arizona’s breathtaking pastel sunsets. His plans were to get lost in nature, be of service to others, and drink green juice.

He started out with nothing but a dream of reducing his possessions and finding more freedom. After self-converting his first van and hitting the road, Nomad Brad learned that experience was his best teacher.

Many of the items he brought along in his first van were seldom used and some of his most thought-out design features turned out to be completely unnecessary.

After 4 years of living on the road, Brad is now helping others avoid the same (sometimes costly) mistakes that he did.

His mission is to help other free-thinking, nature-loving, adventurous souls navigate the Vanlife experience.

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This Week's Sponsor:

Precision Temp Logo


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More Photos:

Solar is the way to go for stealth camping and boondocking

Brad learned quite a bit from his first van

Photography helps him earn money on the road, among other jobs


The logo on the side means Brad's home has been mistaken for a commercial vehicle before

He helped build an accessible bathroom…

… and a beautiful kitchen

His first build had an outdoor kitchen, which inspired him to put an indoor kitchen in his U-Haul


Brad Thomas 0:00

I actually got pulled over for the first time by a police officer, actually a state trooper, and he was doing commercial vehicle inspections. He was doing inspections on commercial vehicles. And I was like, "Oh no, this is an RV conversion, I live in here."

Ethan Waldman 0:16

Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 200 with Nomad Brad. I'm really excited to share this conversation with Nomad Brad, because I think that we all have a lot to learn from vanlifers in the tiny house space. Brad has actually taken a old U-Haul truck, which again, is something that not a lot of vanlifers are doing. But I think it makes a lot of sense. And we'll get into why I think it makes a lot of sense. And I think that Brad is doing some really unique things here. So there's a lot to learn. And I think it's an inspiring conversation that you will enjoy whether you're interested in a tiny house on wheels, a van, a skoolie, etc. Well, I hope you stick around.

I'd like to tell you about the sponsor of today's episode, PrecisionTemp. PrecisionTemp is making one product to solve two issues that I know everyone deals with in a tiny house, rnning out of hot water and heating your tiny house or skoolie. PrecisionTemp has made the amazing TwinTemp Junior propane tankless water heater, which provides unlimited hot water for your tiny house and hydronic heating. This means you get warm heated floors so there are no cold spots. It's designed specifically for tiny houses and features whisper quiet operation as well as high efficiency. If you want more information on how PrecisionTemp can help make tiny living easier and more comfortable. Visit While you're there, use the coupon code THLP for $100 off any PrecisionTemp unit plus free shipping. That website again is precision coupon code T H LP for $100 off any PrecisionTemp unit plus free shipping. Thank you so much to PrecisionTemp for sponsoring our show

Alright, I am here with Brad Thomas, aka Nomad Brad. Nomad Brad has spent the last four years living the van life, he has photographed the lush landscape of Washington's Olympic National rainforest, and camped under Arizona's breathtaking pastel sunsets. His plans were to get lost in nature, be of service to others, and drink green juice. He started out with nothing but a dream of reducing his possessions and finding more freedom. After self converting his first van and hitting the road, Nomad Brad learned that experience was his best teacher. Many of the items he brought along in his first van were seldom used and some of his most thought out design features turned out to be completely unnecessary. After four years of living on the road, Brad is now helping others avoid the same sometimes costly mistakes that he did. His mission is to help other free thinking nature loving adventurous souls navigate the van life experience. Nomad Brad, welcome to the show.

Brad Thomas 3:25

Hey, thanks for having me, man. I appreciate it. I always like talking to new new faces.

Ethan Waldman 3:31

Yeah, yeah, you're very welcome. And likewise, I've been totally just nerding out watching the tour that you did have your van and it's a nice long video. I think it's over 30 minutes long. And you really go into a lot of details and kind of behind the scenes. So congrats on that one.

Brad Thomas 3:49

Yeah, thank you, you know, the video tour I did as the person that built I tend to go a little more in depth. And I feel like the people that watch my channel in my videos, they want to know all the nuts and bolts like what materials I used and how I accomplish certain things. Versus like I did a tour for tiny home tours. And they they got some cool video, but they're also more interested in my story. And so you know, when I'm just touring in my own van, I'm not like telling my story. So it's, you know, it's the difference,

Ethan Waldman 4:19

Right. Yeah, totally. So, I mean, there are so many cool features here. But I guess just starting out. Your van that you're currently in is a former former U-Haul, correct?

Brad Thomas 4:33

Yes, it is. It's a former U-Haul. This is a 12 foot box.

Ethan Waldman 4:38

Okay, so that's real. That's the small one.

Brad Thomas 4:41

It's there's a 10 a 12 a 16 and 32. Okay, so it is on the small side. It's not the smallest.

Ethan Waldman 4:50

Wow, you wouldn't know that. It's 12. When you look at the tour, it looks a lot more spacious than that.

Brad Thomas 4:58

It does. Yeah. So when I built This one, you know, I've been in a lot of friends vehicles, and they have a lot of storage and cabinets, which allows you to bring a lot of things with you. But then it feels also more enclosed. And I really just wanted to have a feeling of a large space. Yeah. So that's what I went for. I think I nailed it.

Ethan Waldman 5:17

Yeah, it's like, open open floor plan.

Brad Thomas 5:22

Open concept.

Ethan Waldman 5:24

So could you talk a little bit about I love in your bio that you talked about, like your first, your first build some of your like, you know, your darlings, your your things that you sweated the most over ended up being totally superfluous? Or didn't work the way they you expected? Can you tell us about some of those things that that you kind of built out? And then kind of next in the second? Second rig?

Brad Thomas 5:52

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so you know, for me, the hardest part is knowing what you're going to want or need before you've actually lived the lifestyle right? So initially, I'm just trying to think of my current home in a sticks and bricks, and how do I transform that into a vehicle?

Ethan Waldman 6:10


Brad Thomas 6:11

And so one thing I ended up with a bit a lot of other people, or that I saw in other videos is an outdoor kitchen. So my first van I actually read, rebuilt, redesigned it three different times. In the year and a half, I was living in it, but one of the initial concepts was I had a big kitchen in the back. So you'd open the back doors, and you had your sink and your cooktop and your fridge and you had all your stuff there and a lot of space and, and you could be outside in nature. But I realized pretty quick that when you're living van life there's a lot of times when you don't want to be outside cooking. Right? And so like if it's rainy, or if you're in the city, you know, you don't want to be outside with the doors open, especially at night. If it's cold, that type of thing.

Ethan Waldman 6:58

Yeah. Yeah.

Brad Thomas 6:59

Also, I could only access the fridge with the back doors open. So I realized pretty quickly, that was a poor choice. At least for my lifestyle. I think if you're gonna do part time stuff, or like weekend getaways, or campgrounds, it's totally fine. But for like full time living, I think you want to be able to do everything from inside the vehicle.

Ethan Waldman 7:20

Got it. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So what are some So was your first van a U-Haul as well? Or was it a more? I guess? I'm gonna say I'm gonna say traditional van, but I'm kind of laughing as that comes out of my mouth.

Brad Thomas 7:35

Yeah, it was a more traditional van. It was just a standard Econoline Cargo Van. So pretty standard, a lot smaller than this box truck.

Ethan Waldman 7:45


Brad Thomas 7:45

So like, for example, it was like a Mid Roof. So I couldn't quite stand up all the way. So like, you know, when I was cooking or doing whatever, I had to tilt my head to the side. Or I had to spread my legs out super wide. And then I could like slouched down, and and do some cooking so but I made that year and a half. And I mean, I had some great memories. So I can't even really say that it was, you know, a negative?

Ethan Waldman 8:10

That's awesome. Yeah, I think that I've done some kind of short term van experiments. My wife and I did a two week road trip. Just we just flew out to the West Coast rented a minivan from you know, like the rental car company and just kind of stuck a foam mattress in there had a pretty rudimentary little wardrobe and kitchen set up. Not being able to stand up is really a major quality of life bummer. I would say.

Brad Thomas 8:41

You should have rented a U-Haul when you flew to the West Coast.

Ethan Waldman 8:45

Yeah, seriously. That's pretty funny. I should have rented a U-Haul though. You know, having, I guess, in somewhat insulated and heatable cabin was was nice, but your point is well taken.

Brad Thomas 9:01

Can I ask you what inspired you to make that journey because that's what I recommend to people is if they're thinking about van life, just try it out, you know, go rent a van and, and go camping for a week.

Ethan Waldman 9:13

It was partially because of COVID Really, this was this was in November. So kind of at the peak of while one of the peaks of of COVID and my wife had just graduated from grad school and, you know, had been dreaming of doing some traveling. And so it was really out of, of partially out of necessity of of needing to or wanting to have our own place to sleep so that we could you know, go places see people outside but but have our own way to sleep and just to keep the cost of the trip down as we didn't want to, you know book Airbnbs and hotels for for two weeks.

But also, I think that we recognized a little bit beforehand, but then during that it was actually quite it enabled certain things that we wouldn't have been able to do. Like, for example, we, we found some like stealth camping right outside of Yosemite National Park.

Brad Thomas 10:15


Ethan Waldman 10:16

And so we were able to wake up, you know, we were waking up with the sun, which was pretty early. And so we were able to pop right into the park and see the sunrise over. Over half dome, I think it was, for everyone else. And if we had booked like a hotel, we would have been many, many miles outside of the entrance. But because we were in the van, we were able to really see it up close. Yeah, that's that's kind of why we got into it did you have a similar experience kind of trying it out before you jumped in.

Brad Thomas 10:50

Um, I did, you know, for me, the whole reason I got into van life is I was I owned a business. And I was very busy working six, sometimes seven days a week for almost three years. And, you know, near the end, I was really getting burnt out. And so what I would do any time off that I could get, you know, I would like go for walks in the park, I lived in Oregon. So there's a lot of a lot of nature in Oregon. And so I would go for walks in the park and just kind of relaxed. And I would always do a little bit more and a little bit more. And I worked myself up to the point where I took a couple of days off. And similar to you at the time, I had an SUV. And so I just went to Target. And I bought like a mattress pad, and a cooler and just some snacks. And then I drove out to the mountain for the weekend and just like, drove up into the hills found a parking spot off the forest road, and just camped out for a couple days. And I just felt so good and so relaxed. And I was just like, "Man, I want I want my life to be like this, you know, not like it was back in the city."

Ethan Waldman 12:01


Brad Thomas 12:02

And so that was kind of my welcome. And then from there on out, I was just like, "How do I make this my reality? And you know, get away from the thing that's causing me the most discomfort?"

Ethan Waldman 12:12

Yeah. And so how long did it take between that that trip in your first van build?

Brad Thomas 12:20

It was, let me think here, it would have been probably about six months. Yeah, about six months of, you know, winding everything down. I actually just sold my half of my business to my partner, my business partner, and sold on my stuff, just kept a few possessions bought a van and converted it into a camper. And it's pretty crazy, because I did all this, you know, while like my parents, and everybody else was telling me I was crazy. And, you know, I didn't even really think about it. I was just doing it. You know, I felt like I was being called. And it just felt right. And so yeah, I just, I just moved forward.

Ethan Waldman 13:02

I think that the U-Haul concept is really appealing, you know, for a couple reasons that we already kind of talked about, which is just being able to stand up. Another one to me is just the stealth nature of it. Because it a box truck like that. I guess they're less, they're certainly less popular than like the Sprinter style van. Where I feel like now if you see a tall white work van that doesn't, you know, that has any little feature on it. Yeah, you can assume that somebody's doing van life and living in there. Yeah, whereas I think the the box truck, like what you've got is still a bit more less used

Brad Thomas 13:45

for that. I agree. And it's interesting, because I had this debate with people all the time. I bought it as a white box truck. U-Haul removes all their logos. And then I went ahead and added my own logo to it just so it wasn't a plain box truck. But the logo is kind of ambiguous. So I think it kind of looks like it could be a business design or something. Yeah. And I did cut a couple windows in the side. However, I actually got pulled over for the first time, about a week ago by a police officer actually a state trooper, and he was doing commercial vehicle inspections. So he pulled me over and he's like, "We need to check your, you know, check what's in the back and all this stuff." And I was like, "What?" and then he explained that they're doing inspections on commercial vehicles. And I was like, "Oh, no, this is a RV conversion. I live in here." And he was like, "What?" and he didn't believe me. He kind of stood back and looked at it. And he was like, "Well, what's the logo on the side that looks like a business." And he made me open up the back and show him you know, Oh, wow. So I feel like if I had the state trooper fooled, then it's pretty damn stealth.

Ethan Waldman 14:56

Yeah, that's that's pretty incredible. Can you talk us through the process of building out a van, like a U-Haul? Like, for example, what I'm thinking about is like, how do you build walls inside you literally just like frame up some walls and insulate there? Or what did what did you do on the inside to kind of turn it into this home?

Brad Thomas 15:23

Yeah, so the U-Haul platform is definitely the easiest. And the reason for this is it's, it's a complete square inside. Yeah, so mostly other vans, they have a lot of contours at the top and the bottom. And so it takes a lot of custom, you know, precision and cuts to, to build it out. But this one, it's all square, so you can frame it like a regular house. The additional advantage of the U-Haul, is they have wood strips running lengthwise along the walls. And so those come in the U-Haul for like tying downs, tying down stuff, and you can you know, run straps to them. But what I did is I you know, the those wooden rails that run down the length of the van, they stick out about an inch. And so I found that one inch rigid foam, like from Home Depot fits right inside those and it comes out flush. So I just got a bunch of foam panels from Home Depot, cut it into strips, and then lined the walls in the ceiling between these rails. And then I put plywood over it. And then my wall finishes.

Ethan Waldman 16:29

Got it.

Brad Thomas 16:29

So it was very simple. And all the cuts were just, you know, quick straight cuts. And you could even like you could put if you wanted, you know, regular like house cabinets in here, you could hang them just like you would in a house. So for somebody that doesn't want to get to custom. That's definitely simple. And it's a lot faster.

Ethan Waldman 16:48

Yeah. Yeah, it seems like it and, you know, where do you buy a used U-Haul? And how much do they go for?

Brad Thomas 16:57

Yes, that's a good question. So you can buy them on their website directly They actually have a tab for buying vehicles, if you buy it directly from them. You know, they're between $10,000 and $15,000. Which is still a bargain compared to like any kind of sprinter or transit or ProMaster that started you know, $35,000.

Ethan Waldman 17:20


Brad Thomas 17:21

But this one I actually bought on Craigslist, from a guy that had it that didn't use it. And so I bought it for like $5,500 bucks.

Ethan Waldman 17:31


Brad Thomas 17:32

Now, this was about two years ago. And you know, the, for some reason, the market was soft, and I got a really good deal on it. But I've been watching right now the prices are pretty, they're a lot higher, but definitely watch Craigslist and also Facebook marketplace.

Ethan Waldman 17:47

Nice. Okay. Yeah. And as, as is the case for most things. They're more expensive right now. But I would imagine that the price of U-Haul has not gone up in the same way that the price of vans has. They've gone crazy,

Brad Thomas 18:06

right? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the nice thing about the U-Haul is I think it's it's less desirable people are, like caught into it onto it yet. Yeah, the next biggest platform besides like, the sprinters and stuff seems to be like the shuttle buses. You see, I see the prices on those go up quite a bit. But the the U-Haul is kind of the final frontier of like, vehicles you can convert. I think they're a great choice. Right? Yeah, yeah,

Ethan Waldman 18:32

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So one feature that I really love there, there are a whole bunch of features that I want to ask you about. But actually sticking on the topic of the U-Haul. I would imagine that U-Haul doesn't like sell these trucks until they're they're pretty well well worn. I'm curious you know have you how has how has it been mechanically um, if you had any any mechanical issues and also you know what kind of maintenance type things have you had to do?

Brad Thomas 20:00

Yeah, so the actually, the great thing about U-Haul is, you know, they have to maintain these things to an impeccable standard. Because, you know, you can't have, you know, John and Jill Smith moving across the country and the thing breaks down on them. You know, that's terrible customer service and client experience. So they actually maintain them very well. And they usually sell them around 100,000 miles, because, okay, once you get up above 100, you have to start doing some work to them. But okay, so yeah, like, if you go to the website, you'll find them around 100,000 miles, but on these vehicles, I mean, they're designed to go a lot more without any issues. And if you look at like marketplace and some of the online listings, you'll see these things with 300,000 miles on them.

Ethan Waldman 20:45


Brad Thomas 20:46

So you, so like mine, I've had it two years. I bought it with 121,000 miles, and now has 142,000 miles. Okay, and I haven't had any breakdowns. And I've spent about about $2,000 in just general maintenance. And that's going to a mechanic, you know, I don't really do the work myself. So just general like belts and pulleys and hoses. And I had to shocks replaced some of their suspension work the alignment, but other than that, nothing major. Knock on wood.

Ethan Waldman 21:21

Nice. That's fantastic. Yeah, they're it's, it's an appealing platform for sure. How about what kind of gas mileage Are you getting?

Brad Thomas 21:31

So that's probably the least attractive part I get, I only get nine and a half miles per gallon. So you know, you can get probably double that on any of the other vans, like the Sprinter ProMaster, transits they probably get close to. Yeah, but for me, I mean, with the initial purchase price being so much less, you know, I mean, I could drive this thing for, you know, six or seven years before I get to, you know, $30,000 in gas. So,

Ethan Waldman 22:03

I was gonna say, you know, a new ProMaster, you know, 30 grand? Yes, it's gonna take a while to get

Brad Thomas 22:11

to talk to be cared, you know, look at how you, you know, how you view it the the cost, because a lot of people like, oh, nine and a half miles a gallon, I'm like, Yeah, but I bought it for 5500 bucks, you know, so it's like, I can drive a pretty long ways before I get to that point. And I didn't have to finance it. You know, I don't have monthly payments. My insurance is really, really cheap. I only pay $65 a month for insurance. Wow. So you know, there's benefits?

Ethan Waldman 22:38

Yeah, certainly, certainly benefits. I love that you decided to kind of a keep the the cabin area kind of clean, because I think that that really helps with the stealthiness. And that's like a major tell, I think when you see a work van, and you see like a curtain behind the seats, or like a tapestry, or somebody or clothes drying, you're like, Okay, this is a van by fan. Whereas you've kind of got your cabin is totally clean. But you made it so that you don't have to exit your house to drive it away. Can you talk about that?

Brad Thomas 23:19

Yeah, that's really important for me, especially when you're traveling a lot, and you're camping in unknown places. I mean, usually what I like to do is I drive at night, because that's kind of wasted time anyway, you know, you're not outside, you're not doing anything. So instead of just laying in bed reading or on Netflix, I'd usually drive to my next destination. And then half the time I just drive until I'm tired, and then I just pull over somewhere in sleep. So being able to just park and then crawl in the back and not have to get out of the vehicle is nice. And then also if I need to leave, you know, get up early and leave in a hurry, I can do that, you know off from inside pretty quick. Right? And so for me I that's a non compromise I got to be able to get from my bed to the driver's seat without going outside. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 24:08

And so you found you found like a short little door to go to go through?

Brad Thomas 24:15

Yeah, it was just a beautiful gift from the universe. You know, when I was building this thing out there was a local like an RV supply place and they have a bunch of used parts that they pull off the old vehicles. Yeah, and this was a used door and I have no I wouldn't even know where to buy one of these from I have no idea where it came from or what it's for. But it was the literally the perfect dimensions. And, and so I love it.

Ethan Waldman 24:42

That's awesome. Yes, that's so great. And then you also you know, you've done a lot of space saving things here. So for example, the the, your refrigerator, your cooler you know your your refrigerator cooler, lives underneath the counter. But then when you want to get at it, it slides out on drawer slides and kind of blocks that access into the cabin. But, you know, you would obviously never need to be accessing the fridge, while you are also trying to walk into the driver's seat, correct, yeah.

Brad Thomas 25:19

And the biggest benefit to is you get an additional works workspace prep space. So that gives me almost eight feet of countertop. And most of the builds, I see what the slideout fridges they slide forward, but then, you know, you can't leave it out and use the countertop at the same time. So that's why I did the side slide because you can leave the fridge in the open position, and then you can do your whole meal, whatever you want, without having to put the fridge back. So it's, it's pretty nice. Yeah, totally.

Ethan Waldman 25:52

What did you do about the main entry? You know, there's that question of, am I gonna leave the U-Haul? Kind of roll up door? Or am I gonna pull that out? And like, build something else? How did you handle that?

Brad Thomas 26:07

Yeah, so I did quite a bit. You know, when I built this, I'd already been doing van life for a long time. So I did a ton of camping trips. As soon as I bought this thing, before, we you know, with the old roll up door in place. And the problem is that it it leaks air there, it's not a good seal at all. And so whatever the outside conditions are, they're coming inside. So it's very, very cold with that rear door. And like when the wind blows it, like pushes the door back and forth, and it makes a racket. So what most people have done is they remove the roll up door completely. And then they frame in a completely new rear wall with a door.

Ethan Waldman 26:49


Brad Thomas 26:50

But I was. I'm always just trying to think about what's the least I can do and the quickest and the cheapest. And so I just left the roll up door. And what I did is I just kind of sealed it. So I seal all around the edges. And then I put plywood, a sheet of plywood over the door to kind of connect all the individual panels. Okay, because the roll up door, it's like a garage door right where it's like a bunch of different sections that all move independently. So basically, it created a rigid wall. And then I just cut out the opening for my regular entry door. So that allows me to save money on materials. I didn't have to build out a whole new door and the rear roll up door is really solid, it's good quality. So I didn't see any reason to like cut it all out and throw it away and then spend a bunch of money on new lumber.

Ethan Waldman 27:38

Yeah, yeah, that that totally makes sense. I would imagine that if you were in a colder climate, you might, you know, you would be feeling the loss of that insulation on that back wall. But it seems like it hasn't been a problem for you.

Brad Thomas 27:55

Yeah, you know, because of the lifestyle I live. I'm always kind of following the good weather. So yeah, you know, it gets cold at night sometimes like even I'm in Arizona right now and it gets down to the 30s sometimes at night, but I have a diesel heater that keeps me warm. So you know if I was somewhere where it gets into the negatives and it's you know, freezing for a week that might be a different situation. But I'm never really in too harsh of climate. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 28:25

Tell me about that diesel heater.

Brad Thomas 28:28

Yeah, I love it. It's it's the five kilowatt diesel heater. And you know, they make the the name brand ones that are about 1000 bucks. And this is the the cheap one on eBay. I got it. I got it for like 150 bucks.

Ethan Waldman 28:41


Brad Thomas 28:42

And I was just concerned honestly, because I'm like, There's no way that $150 unit is going to compare to $1,000 unit. And it's like, you know, from China and I'm like, How long is it going to last? But I've been using it for two years now. And I haven't had any problems with it. It's just been working great. And so my mind has been kind of blown that it's worked so well.

Ethan Waldman 29:06

And so this is a little forced air unit like it it burns diesel it creates hot air and it kind of blows it out into your cabin.

Brad Thomas 29:15

Yes correct. And the benefit about this style is that it the intake and exhaust is out goes outside the vehicle versus like a lot of propane like you can get get the buddy heaters or like a wave heaters that are ventless propane heaters but they create condensation because the burnt propane gas is inside your vehicle. And so this is a completely Yeah, this is a completely dry heat. So

Ethan Waldman 29:44

when how big of a tank of fuel do you carry and where is it in the van?

Brad Thomas 29:50

So the diesel heater and the tank is behind the passenger seat. Okay, so, you know my thought on that was when I'm in the living space is when I'm ready running the heater, I'm not up front in the cab. And so that way I don't have to, because it does make a little bit of noise when it's operating. So I don't have to hear it. And then if I'm filling it up with diesel, I don't have to smell it, that type of stuff. So it is in a separate space. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 30:17

Yeah, I've always been. I've been fascinated by these the cabin heaters, these diesel heaters, just because the technology has been around for a long time. Because, you know, trucking has been around for a long time. Right. It's always a bummer. That are like, Wouldn't it be cool if if your van was diesel? And you could just be pulling fuel out of your fuel tank?

Brad Thomas 30:39


Ethan Waldman 30:39

But I guess for for a number of reasons that I don't fully understand. Gasoline doesn't make as good of a heating fuel that as diesel.

Brad Thomas 30:51

Yes. And that's, you know, this is a gasoline vehicle. And I have friends with diesel vehicles. And they've done that they tap into their gas tank, and then they have like an endless heat source.

Ethan Waldman 31:00


Brad Thomas 31:01

But they do not make a gasoline heater. And I just I don't know why I kind of some people were saying that gasoline burns. It's a lot more flammable than diesel. And so there might be some safety issues with having a gasoline heater? I'm not. I'm not entirely sure. But there must be a good reason. Because nobody makes one. Yeah, yeah.

Ethan Waldman 31:23

Now would it be possible to have essentially, put in a fill for your tank from the outside so that you could just like roll up to a diesel gas station and just fill your your fuel tank?

Brad Thomas 31:39

Yes. So you have two options. Like on my vehicle, there's actually a space in the back for a second gas tank. So if you wanted, you could actually install like a full size 30 gallon tank. And just use that for diesel. And then I actually just saw a video on YouTube of a guy that did what you're talking about. He used the the two and a half gallon tank that comes with the heater. But he cut a filled door in the side so he can pull up to a gas station and just fill it manually. Yeah, the only trick is that it doesn't have an auto shut off like a traditional car gas tank does. So you you have to be really careful, because you can easily overfill it.

Ethan Waldman 32:20

overfill it. Yeah, right? It doesn't do that, like, tank just clicks off. Yeah, when it's full kind of thing

Brad Thomas 32:27

want to do that. So you just have to keep an eye on it. You know, it's not. But it's definitely definitely a nice option.

Ethan Waldman 32:33

That's awesome. The, you know, these, these diesel heaters are cool. And as somebody who you know, I have a propane heater, a direct vent propane thing in my tiny house, and it's just nonstop problems for me. Yeah. And you know, something like this is pretty pretty darn appealing. I will say how small it is, how easy it is to get the fuel. And just, you know, the fact that you know, and I didn't even know about these ones on eBay. But like, if it breaks, and you have to fully full stop replace the unit, you're out another 100 bucks, which, you know, that's usually what it costs just to get someone from a furnace company to show up at your house.

Brad Thomas 33:16

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And like what I would do if I lived in a tiny house, I would just buy two of them. And then that way you would always have spare parts, right? Yep. Yep.

Ethan Waldman 33:29

Well, very cool. Thanks. That's, that's a major tip for me. I'm gonna I'm gonna kind of marinate on that a bit and see think about maybe retrofitting my tiny house with a with a diesel heater. So you, you work you obviously you live full time in your in your u haul van, how often are you moving?

Brad Thomas 33:49

You know, usually? That's a good question. It depends, you know, usually I'll go through phases where I'll be in a place for a while, like, you know, I've been in the state of Arizona for a couple months. But I'm, you know, traveling short distances to different meetups and to visit friends. So it's like short term traveling, so I usually stay somewhere for a few days and then relocate. And then like when the summer comes, if I go back to the northwest, you know, then I'll be traveling for a couple of weeks to get there and you know, take my time spend a few days in a spot so the nice thing is just kind of go at your own pace. Yeah. And you know, take your time and when you're when you're done at a place and you're ready to move on then you just kind of hit the road so it's really hard as a nomad to make plans. You know, because you just never quite know you know, what you're gonna want to do or what's going to come up and something you might want to go do you know, so it's it's definitely a journey. Yeah,

Ethan Waldman 34:52

that's, that's really cool. You can just kind of follow, follow your passions, follow your interests, wherever they may take you

Brad Thomas 34:59

Yeah, absolutely. And it's cool. Like, for example, I just went to down here in Arizona, they had Skooliepalooza about a week and a half ago, which is a huge gathering in the desert not so I was there for like a week. And then after it was done a bunch of friends, were gonna go to this hot spring. That's about an hour and a half away in California.

Ethan Waldman 35:20


Brad Thomas 35:20

And so we caravaned down to this hot spring and spent a couple days there just soaking and getting all the all the dust off of us. And then I was like, man, we're only two hours from San Diego, you know, beautiful ocean. And so we're like, Hey, let's go to the beach. So then we just drove and spent a few days in San Diego. So it's just this? Yeah, it's just like, What do you want to do today, you know, and you can just change your location pretty effortlessly. And, you know, if you would have asked me a week ago, before the event, I had no plans of going to San Diego. But you know, the universe just kind of, you know, leads you leads us to some new options.

Ethan Waldman 35:58

That's fantastic. Fantastic. In terms of of your work, now, you mentioned that you sold your business. So you know, what do you do from the road to make money.

Brad Thomas 36:12

So I've done a lot of different things. The one thing that's consistent is I haven't had a consistent income, you know, in four years. So I've just done odd jobs here. And there, I did some photography, work, some videography work, I actually landed a gig, doing videography for a pretty popular van lifer on YouTube. And so I was able to travel with him for about a year and help film and edit. And that was a perfect job because I was paid to travel and just, you know, be a nomad. So that was pretty sweet. And, yeah, so for me, it's, it hasn't been anything consistent. It's just kind of been it always, the money, just always Penza shows up when I need it. But then the flip side of that is that I don't have, you know, a huge cushion, you know, a big savings account or anything.

Ethan Waldman 37:05

Yeah, that's, that's cool. And that's, you know, that's one of the big appeals of this lifestyle, where you can afford to have a lot more free time, and not have to work all the time in order to afford this year, your baseline life.

Brad Thomas 37:23

Yeah, you know, especially now, you know, when you look at trying to rent an apartment, and setting up your internet, and your gas, and your water and your trash, and your Netflix, and your subscription services, and your car insurance all of a sudden, you know, you're 25, three grand a month out of pocket. Yeah. And you haven't even bought groceries yet. So it's like a lot, a lot of people, I feel like a lot of just working to pay the bills.

Ethan Waldman 37:52

Yeah, exactly. And it's, I kind of remember doing this exercise when I was like, thinking about a tiny house. And, you know, I built my tiny house very much, because I wanted that same kind of freedom, like less, less monthly expenses, so that I could, you know, quit my job and try to do my own thing. And like, I looked at, you know, five days a week for one month, and I kind of on a calendar, I kind of filled in how many days of my work month, we're going towards different expenses. So like, you know, half of my month was like, just rent.

Brad Thomas 38:29


Ethan Waldman 38:29

And then like another four days of work, I don't remember these numbers, I'm making them up, like four days was food. And like, two days was utilities, and on and on. And I remember realizing that like, of, let's say, a five day a week job, so that's 20 days a month of work. Like one and a half of them was just money that I could use for travel or for for recreation, or for whatever or for savings or for whatever I wanted. And I was just like, that is not when you put it out there that starkly? Like I'm working for all these things. And only like, one day, a month of my work actually goes towards me.

Brad Thomas 39:10


Ethan Waldman 39:12

So speaking of money, you You did share in your video, how much you know, the van cost you to build total? Would you be willing to share that here?

Brad Thomas 39:22

Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah, the van was $5,500. And then I estimated, you know, I didn't like keep an Excel spreadsheet of expenses. But I estimate about $5000, you know, into materials and parts and all that and that includes like the solar and the batteries and everything.

Ethan Waldman 39:42

Yeah. And then how long did the build. Go ahead?

Brad Thomas 39:45

Oh, I was gonna say and that's, you know, just coming from experience and, you know, being able to do it myself, right. So, the biggest expense of buying any kind of tiny home is the labor of the people that build And then if you're buying it from a company, you're paying the labor of the people that built it. Plus you're paying the overhead of the company. Yeah. So that's why, you know, they have sprinter conversions for $200,000. There's not $200,000 worth of wood inside that sprinter. You know, you're paying and everybody else is paying for everybody else. So if you can do it yourself, you can get away with it pretty cheap.

Ethan Waldman 40:26

Yeah, for sure. So did you have a much, you know, construction experience before your first van?

Brad Thomas 40:34

So I did, I worked as a heating and air conditioning technician for 10 years. So I knew plumbing, electrical and some construction. So I, I mean, I did have a pretty good skill set. And I did nice, the house I was living in before I sold it, I remodeled that house. Like you know, I laid down 1500 square feet of flooring and you know, tore out a wall. So it's like, I was like, if I can remodel a house, I can convert a van. Yeah, so I was pretty handy. But I gotta say I've met people. And even some ladies that like that are like I didn't even know how to use tools. And you know, they watch some YouTube videos, and they DIY did and it turned out badass. So you don't have to have all the skills right up front. If you don't have the skills, you just have to spend more time on on research and on kind of learning those skills, right? Yep, yep.

Ethan Waldman 41:28

One thing that I like to ask all my guests is, you know, what are two or three resources that that kind of helped you or inspired you? While you were, you know, planning or building out your vans that you'd like to share with with our listeners?

Brad Thomas 41:44

For sure. The first thing I did was I just watched thousands of YouTube videos. And I wasn't watching build videos, but I was watching other van lifers to try to get a sense of you know, what, of the actual experience of living on the road?

Ethan Waldman 42:02


Brad Thomas 42:03

And not the glamorous like, I woke up under the sunset, but like, you know, how are you getting water? How much water do you need? Like what, you know, what's your setup? Like? You know, how big of a fridge Do you have? So I feel like, the internet is so amazing. And so the first thing I would do is I would just watch a bunch of videos and try to figure out, you know, are you going to be part time or full time? You know, do you figure out what systems you need, what style vehicle you need. And, and then kind of go down that path. So that was a really good resource for me was just YouTube. And, and then I got to say, I already talked about it, but buying vehicles, so you can go to And that's a great place to get ideas of what vehicle what's possible, right, you can see a lot of possibilities, different layouts, a lot of finished products. In then I mean, if you have the money to buy something, you can buy something there. And if you are going to build something, you can just get great ideas of what's possible. So I love I love van life trader. And then if you're going to try to buy a vehicle yourself for cheap and build it out, then I would go to Craigslist or a Facebook marketplace.

Ethan Waldman 43:20

Right, the stuff you find on vanlife trader is going to be those 100 to $200,000 Sprinter vans, you've got to then go build it yourself and save a ton of money.

Brad Thomas 43:32

So, you know, one thing I wanted to do, as part of my mission was to kind of be of service to others. And I wanted to help other people get into van life. And so one thing I'm doing is I'm offering some free courses online to help people that want to transition into this lifestyle.

Ethan Waldman 43:50


Brad Thomas 43:51

And so I have one coming up February 23 is called Discovering Your Dream Home on Wheels, okay? And it's actually going to walk people through the process to try to help them determine, you know, what they would want their experience to look like, you know, do they plan to be boondocking or staying in national parks or city stealth camping or maybe all of the above? And then figuring out, like, you know what, they're what systems that a man needs? Do they need a shower? Do they need a full bath? How much electricity do they need? How much water storage do they need? So I'm going to be answering a lot of those questions and help people kind of, you know, figure out exactly what they need. So then they can go out and and and live their best van life and so if people are interested in that course, they can go to my website, Van life are and it's free so they can sign up and and hopefully help figure out what's right for that's awesome.

Ethan Waldman 44:49

And this I will put a link to that on the show notes page for this episode. And that's that's awesome. That's really generous. And, you know, just from this interview I've done I've learned a couple of things from you. And so I'm sure that the the class has a lot to offer.

Brad Thomas 45:05

Yeah, it's pretty cool. You know, I don't realize kind of how much I know that other people don't just because after four years, it just kind of becomes habit, you know, and you just assume other people know. But I put out a tip on my Instagram last week about how I take it, how I deal with my trash. And I had a friend that's been doing van life for about two and a half years. And she was like, I had no idea about this. I'm so glad you shared it. And I was just like, really? I figured that this is what you were doing the whole time. Yeah. And so, you know, there's always something to learn. Right?

Ethan Waldman 45:41

Totally. Well, Nomad, Brad, thank you so much for being a guest on the show. This was such a fun conversation and I think that there's a lot to learn here.

Brad Thomas 45:50

Yeah, absolutely. Man, I appreciate you reaching out and I appreciate the time and getting to talk to you and you know, chat a little bit about about van life. I love it. You know, I'm gonna keep going as long as as long as I'm able.

Ethan Waldman 46:05

Thank you so much to Nomad Brad for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes including links to Nomad, Brad's website, YouTube channel and more at Again, that's Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, proudly sharing the 200th episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast with you. I'll be back next week with another episode. See you then.

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