“One of the best things about running our business out of the van is that we can be as mobile and flexible as we need to be,” says Wes Watts about his start-up company Tiny Watts Solar. The 27-year-old renewable energy engineer from Santa Cruz, California, and his fiancé Savana, 25, have been living and working in their van for the last three years. With their 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo van, equipped with solar cells on the roof, they travel the American West Coast: “We go from project to project and work for customers who are looking for adventure and sustainable energy solutions.” The idea of specializing in smaller units with solar technology came to Wes during his first job in an energy consulting firm. “Customers who wanted their vans, trucks or motorhomes equipped with solar modules kept calling, but the company was simply not interested in the smaller more custom projects.”
A visit to the “Tiny House Conference” in Portland in April 2017, an event around the topic “Mobile Life”, gave the decisive impulse for the step into self-employment. “We went to the Tiny House Conference in Portland last April and we saw that all these tiny houses were all running generators and we thought: This is so wrong! Tiny homes should be especially environmentally friendly and sustainable. That’s how Tiny Watts started,” Savana explains the beginnings of her mobile start-up. Ever since they discovered the market niche, they have specialized not only in vans, trucks and motor homes, but also in tiny houses, boats and trailers. Savana manages their social media accounts in addition to wiring batteries and uses her 3D modeling background to design new projects. She also manages customers and orders – “It’s a full time job, but it allows us to live and work remotely which is a lot of fun.”
We always want to wake up in a nice place.
In mobile outdoor life, the couple likes variety above all. One day they wake up in the forest, other times on-site working a new project. “Parking is one of the hardest parts about living in a van. You try to find a nice and comfortable place. But you have to check parking regulations and that you’re not bothering anyone. That you feel comfortable and safe.” Once a gang of burglars was arrested right behind their van, but fortunately, this remained the exception. They feel very safe in their Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: “Our van is not only very reliable, we can also take it anywhere – to the beach, into the woods or into the snow. There is no limitation on where we live and that is an amazing feeling.”
They converted their Sprinter together with friends. Together they installed windows, insulated the van, wired it, installed cupboards and covered the ceiling and walls with cedar wood paneling. In addition, their Sprinter van has a recirculating shower and a specially developed, underfloor heating that uses diesel as a heat source and also supplies hot water. The efficient system consumes less than 100 watts of electricity. But the most important extra is on the roof: It’s a custom-made solar system, the linchpin of their start-up. It serves as an energy source for all kitchen appliances such as refrigerators or induction cookers. Wes is enthusiastic about the result: “The van is now the most luxurious place we’ve ever lived – we’ve never had underfloor heating, let alone solar power. We now want to make this comfort available to others as well.”
Savana remembers the unconventional lifestyle from her own childhood. Her parents took their two children on a 13-year exploration of the world in a sailing boat. An extraordinary and beautiful time that she recalls fondly: “We were constantly experiencing other countries and cultures and never had a typical everyday life.” When her parents decided to send the two girls to a public school after all, family life in absolute freedom came to an end for the time being. “All the better that Wes and I are now continuing the non-tradition adventure filled lifestyle,” Savana says happily. In the future, the two van entrepreneurs would also like to see a life far away from the classic nine-to-five: “We still want to travel a lot and perhaps buy a sailing boat as well. Discovering the world and never standing still is our goal – this is the only way life feels real to us.”
The shown conversions were carried out by independent third parties. The suppliers and conversions were not checked by Mercedes-Benz. In this respect, these illustrations do not represent an assessment of the supplier and/or conversions by Mercedes-Benz.