It’s no DIY emergency for these campers! Ryan Brodowicz and Brittany Williams converted an ambulance into a great RV. They graciously gave me a tour and went through the details of this exceptional conversion.
Ryan and Brittany researched and explored many build options: old bus, step truck, U-Haul, or box truck, but finally settled on an ambulance conversion for several reasons. First, safety. Did you know that ambulances are designed to survive a rollover? Second, a plus side to needing parts for an ambulance is that they’re built so sturdily that many of the components are reusable in a remodel. Another thing they wanted in a vehicle was enough room for an open queen bed. And last, they wanted enough room inside for them and their two dogs, Zeke and Freya.
A year to buy…
It took a year of searching on Craigslist, ambulances for sale sites, and scouring the internet to find this one, built in 2000. It originally belonged to the St. Paul Minnesota Fire Department, then was an office for a concrete construction company. When they bought it, it was still pretty much in its original condition (minus medical equipment) but filled top to bottom and in every crevice with concrete dust!
Four years to build…
Ryan and Brittany did an amazing job on the remodel. They started in 2017 gutting it down to the outside walls and built up from there. Their attention to detail, finishing and use of a very small space is impeccable. They are in their fourth year of working on it and the end is in sight. Ryan works full-time remotely as a control network engineer and connectivity is important. They are currently testing out Starlink.
Ryan pulled every wire and upgraded the ambulance from 20 amp to 30 amp. They have solar panels that they use when they’re off-grid. The walls are well-insulated with 2” foam board.
Walk up the steps and straight ahead is the kitchen area. They have installed a 30-gallon fresh water tank and a 25-gallon gray water tank. Because they are using a compost toilet they did not need a black tank.
Ryan did not want to waste the room that drawers take up, so he built the under-counter area to have storage that would drop into a recessed top. The silverware tray fits snugly and nothing falls out.
At the side of the entrance door are their Dometic refrigerator, microwave and toaster.
The cabinet doors slide rather than open out, so there are no unexpected spills when going over bumps and potholes down the road. (Don’t you wish you had that?)
Heating and AC
They installed a marine heater that runs off propane. The advantage is that fresh air is pulled in through a tube in the vent pipe and fumes go out another tube in the vent pipe. It heats about 20 degrees over the outside air so when very cold it is not as efficient for heating. They are looking for more options when winter camping and when at high altitudes. They also have a rooftop AC/heat pump unit when hooked into shore power that really cools the RV down.
Living, dining and bedroom
This is a really clever use of space in their ambulance RV! The sitting area converts to dining for six and a very comfy queen bed. Ryan made the table with special-order birch, made durable with many coats of Spar Varnish, and even detailed the edge. He custom-built the storage bin above the bed to hold a comfortable IKEA mattress topper. Good sleep was a must-have on their list.
Add a bench and top and it becomes a table for six!
They have utilized every nook and cranny for storage.
The side benches fold up and down for more seating and to add width for a queen mattress. They added children’s edge bumpers to protect their shins—nice!
All they have to do is remove the table, arrange the cushions, pull out the mattress topper and the bedroom is ready.
Ryan and Brittany did not want to deal with a black water tank so they decided on a compost toilet. So far, so good. But they do find that the 2-gallon “yellow” liquid tank fills up fast and still needs to be pulled out and dumped in a restroom.
For maintenance of the “solid” bin, the back of the toilet can be reached by an exterior door. The solid bin is vented and has a 12V fan that circulates air in the bin. No odor! Their friendly dogs like to see what is going on.
They needed to redo the ceiling when condensation was literally dripping inside on humid days. They ended up using aluminum-sided panels of signboard and the air pockets inside the signboard solved the problem.
Water heater and outside shower
There are several outside doors for storage and equipment. They installed a tankless water heater, an outside shower and water tanks in one.
What would they do differently and what do they like?
Ryan said that in retrospect they would have sacrificed more interior space for an interior shower. While they have an outside shower and shower tent, it can get pretty chilly in the spring and fall.
Brittany particularly likes the full-size sink, and both like the counter space that makes cooking together easy.
Ambulance RV specs
- Name: Amber Lamps. (The name comes from both ‘ambulance’ and the RV amber lamps that replaced the red/blue lamps.)
- Engine: Diesel, 7.3 Power Stroke
- Year: 2000, purchased in 2017
- Mileage: 212,000 miles
- Interior measurements: 99.53 sq. ft. (13’15” by 7’7”)
- Purchase price: $3,000
- Mechanical: $11,000
- Chassis upgrades: $500
- Conversion: $9,000
- Total: $23,500
To paint or not to paint?
Brittany and Ryan have thought about painting the outside of the ambulance, but maybe not. People seem to give an ambulance a wide berth even without lights and a siren.
Ryan and Brittany are a couple of happy campers! Check out their adventures and their conversion on Instagram.
All photos by Nanci Dixon, 2022.