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Our DIY Cargo Trailer Plan

JUN 20


An overview of the plan we developed before diving into a DIY Cargo Trailer build.

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Plan, Revise, Repeat

The Planning process is hugely important for a project like this. If you skip important details, you will absolutely run into a considerable snag later on.

Cait and I spent an entire month going back and forth about the layout and design decisions while on my pediatrics rotation in Johnson City.

In between taking care of sick kiddos, I worked hard at Google Sketchup, working on getting our layout put together.

Take a look at our final designs with details about some of the cool features we are planning on adding.

Interested in getting more details or maybe getting your hands on my Google Sketchup file? Let us know in the comments, or shoot us an email!

Main Layout

Here you can see that we have elected for an open floorplan with a continuous central walkway from the main door to the large barn doors in the back.

We wanted to retain the ability to open the large barn doors in the back to let air and light flow freely.


We have really enjoyed the flexibility of using a cassette toilet in our tent camping experience. Not having to walk to the bathhouse to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is AMAZING, and we knew that a toilet would be a priority.

In addition, we want to future-proof our trailer if we ever decided to stay in it for a more extended period or take a long road trip by putting in a shower. After a lot of reading, I decided to go with a premade shower pan rather than building one from scratch. This is the shower pan I elected to use.

A shower is somewhat controversial among the van life folks, but we knew it was something we wanted to include even if we don’t use it all the time.

Wet Bath

This design choice is the perfect example of why building your own camper, or tiny home allows total freedom over the design. In all our searching, we never came across a trailer with a wet bath from the factory.

We can’t take credit for this idea as we picked it up from popular van lifers Sara and Alex James, who implement the wet bath concept in all of their builds.

A wet bath is simply a bathroom that combines the shower and toilet in the same space. By combing them into essentially the same area as a home shower, you end up saving a lot of room as opposed to the manufactured campers, which have a separate shower and toilet in their own room with a door.

And don’t worry, the liquids drain to separate gray tanks.

No Number Two’s

We spent a lot of time discussing this because it really changes your design decisions a great deal.

We aren’t going to poop in our trailer. At least not routinely.

Why have this rule? Well, simply put, no poop equals no black water tank equals no need to utilize dump stations.

What about urine? Doesn’t urine have to be disposed of properly? Funny enough, not really. From a medical standpoint, urine isn’t inherently hazardous.

From a medical standpoint, urine isn’t sterile - that’s a myth. But there is virtually no communicable disease transferable by coming into contact with urine other than a few particular and unrealistic medical examples.

It’s the mixture of urine and feces that is a substantial environmental and biohazard concern. Hence, by never mixing poop and pee, you create a cleaner, easier to deal with, and more straightforward solution.

The solution to keeping pee and poop separate is using a privy toilet or a “urine-diverting” toilet. Meaning, the pee goes one place, and the poop goes another.

In our design, urine will go to its own tank, and we will use a biodegradable bag made explicitly for human feces that will attach to the toilet in case of emergency.

Oof. I never expected to put so much thought into pooping. Yet here we are. Here’s a decent write-up if you are interested in learning a little more about poop and pee.

Long and Short Benches

There’s a trade-off between counter space and seating space in our design.

Caitlin specifically wanted a place to stretch out and read a book or take a nap without lowering the bed, so we decided to make one bench side longer than the other.

Electrical and Fresh Water

Our electrical and freshwater is stored under the benches with water on one side and electrical. Both are easily accessible with a hinged seat on the bench.

Future-proofing our electrical system was something else we spent a lot of time discussing. Sure, we’d love to go entirely off-grid with solar panels and lithium-ion batteries, but we knew that would be too big of an expense to hit right from the start.

Thus, we’ve designed an electrical system that is easily added on to later. Here’s a sneak peek at the electrical system, but that’s all you get for now. Be on the lookout for a future post about electrical.

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Mini Split AC

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Yet another reason to consider doing your own build - complete control over your AC system. I’m sure we will go into this later, but we plan to use a small residential mini-split system as our AC unit.

There are many options, such as the roof-mounted 12v AC systems, which are loud, ugly, unreliable, and expensive.

No, we won’t run our AC off batteries unless we install a pretty substantial battery bank. Yes, we are ok with that.

We haven’t installed it yet, but the system we have selected is a Pioneer 9000 BTU 120v unit.

Propane Water Heater

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Hot water is essential to us, and nowadays, there are many fantastic solutions for this that just work in a trailer or tiny home.

I’ve done a lot of research and reading and am planning on installing an Eccotemp L5 Water Heater under the cabinet near the sink with hot water lines running to both the sink and the shower.

It’s a propane heater, which means it will need to be vented out the wall to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. With the proper safety protocols in place, a heater like this is perfectly safe in this use case.

Bed Lift

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Ok. So this is awesome, and I am really proud of this design.

We really wanted to maximize our space, and one thing that always takes up way too much room is a camper in the bed.

There are lots of solutions to utilizing the bed space when you aren’t sleeping. Fold-outs, dinettes that double as a bed, and murphy beds are all popular options.

But here’s the thing: we are lazy.

I’ve used campers where you have to put away all the bedding every single morning, and quite frankly, I’ve always found it to be a pain to deal with. You not only have to physically move all of your bedding out of the way and then fold up the bed solution, but you have to have somewhere to store all your bedding. In a space this small, there just isn’t a place to put a comforter and pillows while not in use.

Enter my bed-lift design.

Ok, so I definitely didn’t invent this. My design was heavily inspired by the HappiJack lift system that I’ve seen in some vans. The colossal disadvantage there is the pricing as the system costs around $2000.

After watching a bunch of videos, and specifically this one below, I decided to use linear actuators to do the lifting.

I still need to solve things, such as how to attach the actuators to the trailer and to the bed and how to place them in a way that allows them to travel through the benches and counters. If you have ideas, let me know.

The Design is in the Details

When designing your own camper, try to imagine using it. What activities do you anticipate doing in it? What kind of bathroom situation do you want? Do you want to shower? How are you going to sleep?

Thinking through all of these details will lead you to a design that will keep you happy for years to come.

Thanks for reading, friends. See you in the next one.

Comments (1)

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Grant Bybee A month ago · 0 Likes


I very much enjoyed reading your DIY Cargo Trailer website. I have been following your build on DocNMental Youtube and I am one of your subscribers. I am very much interested in your Sketchup files for your build. I am an 80 year old retiree and spend a lot of time planning projects. Most of which I never build. I too have used Sketchup to design a cargo trailer camper and many of my ideas are the same or similar to yours. I am surely not as proficient as you using Sketchup, but I am learning. I would appreciate it if you could send me a copy of your build files. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Grant Bybee


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