A Step-By-Step Guide To Creating Your Dream Campervan
Maybe you’ve hired heaps of awesome campervans that have finally convinced you to create your own. Or maybe you’re ready to become a vantrepreneur, wanting to build the perfect van rental for your future hirers. Whatever the reason, this van will be the heart and soul of your #vanlife adventures.
Living on the road is all about the freedom and flexibility to discover the great outdoors like never before! But to do this comfortably, you need a base that fits the bill - and there’s no better way to ensure your van is equipped with everything you need than to build it yourself!
But transforming a blank canvas into a real home is a big undertaking if you haven’t tried it before. Where should you start? What tools do you use? Do you even have the budget for it?
Overcome the overwhelming with our handy van conversion guide. With detailed product comparisons, step-by-step instructions, links to helpful resources and much more, you can be confident in your DIY build from the very beginning.
From choosing the right van and designing its layout to installing the water system and panelling the walls, we’re here to help you build your dream camper properly. Let’s hit the gas!
Safety Disclaimer: We are not certified builders, carpenters, electricians or plumbers. This is only an introductory guide to van conversions so make sure to do your own in-depth research and consult appropriate professionals before beginning the build.
Buying Your Van
Of course, the very first thing you have to do is find a van to convert. The foundation of your build, this vehicle needs to be able to accommodate your plans and be in good condition - it’d be remiss to build a campervan that can’t drive to your destination!
This is a major junction on the road to van life. Your van needs to fit your budget, serve your camping style, sleep your whole family and match your vehicle maintenance abilities. Once you’ve confirmed your needs and wants, you can start your search - be it for a vintage Volkswagen, mid-sized van, 4WD or bus.
And if you can’t make up your mind between a few different types, hire a campervan
to get a better feel for each of your favourites!
Designing Your Layout
Customising your living space is probably the most exciting stage of your DIY build! But it also requires a lot of careful planning. You’ll need to work out the best way to arrange all of your features within one compact space, at the same time ensuring it’s stylish, comfy and functional.
To work out the best interior design for your van, follow these steps:
- Decide which features your floor plan should include.
- Source design inspo online or with a Camplify rental to get your creative juices flowing.
- Decide which popular layout you like the most - do you want a cab-side kitchen or a convertible dinette? A lengthwise bed or a fixed crosswise bed?
- Consult the van layout checklist in our blog to make sure your design ticks all the boxes.
- Sketch your floor plan to scale to see how everything will fit together.
- Test it out in the actual van using painter’s tape or cardboard cutouts.
And that’s only an overview!
Building Your Bathroom
Hate the thought of leaving round-the-clock bathroom access behind? Willing to compromise on living space? Then consider including a loo in your conversion. If you’re going full DIY, a portable camping toilet is the perfect choice for your campervans - affordable and easy to install, you’ll avoid the complexity and cost of a built-in RV toilet and blackwater tank.
And if you’re going off-grid for an extended time or just want to avoid holiday park fees, then camping showers are the way forward. Multi-purpose, they’re also great for washing dishes, gear and even the vehicle itself! Choose from a variety of types, such as:
- Portable hot water systems
- Glind heat exchangers
- Solar showers
- Pressure showers
- Compact camping showers
To make sure that a WC on wheels is worth the money and energy to install, hire a self-contained van with a shower and toilet
before you build.
Adding Your Insulation
Australia’s stunning wilderness often goes hand in hand with pretty extreme weather. That’s why insulation is key to creating a comfortable living space inside your van throughout the year.
Conduction will transfer heat through your van’s metal body and inside your living area on a hot day, but then do the opposite when that evening chill sets in. Insulating your walls, ceiling and flooring will hinder this heat transfer, making it easier to control the cabin’s temperature.
There is debate over which insulation material is best for a van conversion, but popular options include:
- Sheeps wool
- Foam board
- Spray foam
- Reflective Foil
They’ve all got their pros and cons, so do your research to discover which one suits your budget, installation skills and space.
Installing Your Lighting
When it comes to installing lights, 12V LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are your best bet. While you could use a higher voltage and an inverter, doing so would be less energy efficient - and you’ll want to conserve as much power as possible when exploring the wilderness!
As well as adding an atmospheric touch, LED lighting is super practical for van life:
- It’s affordable
- It doesn’t drain your battery
- It doesn’t radiate heat
- It lasts for around 50,000 hours
- It comes in every colour
From dome lights and downlights to strip lights and light panels, LEDs come in all sorts of styles so you’re guaranteed to find the perfect match. And hey, why not add some fairy lights or reading lights while you’re at it?
Sorting Out Your Ventilation
Ventilation is essential for any van life adventure in a hot climate or with a pet in tow. A roof vent fan assists airflow throughout your living space so that you can enjoy safe, fresh air while inside.
When choosing a ventilation setup for your van, consider the fan’s:
- Energy consumption - the lower the amperage draw, the less energy it consumes.
- Air circulation - the higher the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM), the more efficient it is.
- Added features - fans come in different designs and with various extras.
And when it’s time for installation, we understand that slicing a chunk out of your van’s roof is a terrifying image. But once you come to terms with the inevitable, mounting your vent fan is easier (and more fun) than you’d think!
Planning Your Electrical System
Without electricity, you wouldn’t have lighting, ventilation, refrigeration, charging abilities or pretty much anything that makes your van a proper home on wheels. And solar panels can power endless off-grid adventures, soaking up the sun’s energy while you wander.
But setting up your electrical system is the most complex and dangerous task you’ll face during your conversion. Among other things, you’ll need to know how to:
- Calculate your energy needs, battery size and number of solar panels
- Choose the correct wire gauge
- Find the right fuse size
- Crimp your wires
- Mount your solar panels
- Wire up your batteries, solar regulator and inverter
- Wire your lighting and vent fan
Our advice? Hire a professional sparky to take care of this one. It will give you peace of mind knowing that the electrics have been installed correctly and safely. That said, you should still understand the fundamentals of your van’s electrical system - just in case.
Fitting Your Fridge
Installing a 12V fridge in your van is always a good idea, as it will keep food and drinks fresh without the cost or effort of filling a cooler with ice several times a day.
However, it’s also one of the greatest expenses for your van so you need to find one that will meet your daily demands. To narrow your search, consider the following factors:
- Budget - fridges are available at all sorts of price points, but be aware that a lower price usually means less reliability and efficiency.
- Design - does an upright, drawer or chest fridge suit your layout most?
- Capacity - how much food will your fridge need to store?
- Energy efficiency - the more efficient your refrigeration, the lower your energy demands and the longer you can camp off-grid.
- Extra features - what added touches and functions would you appreciate?
And that’s not all. You’ll also have to choose between a thermoelectric fridge, 3-way fridge or compressor fridge. What’s the difference? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Choosing Your Camping Stove
For home-style cooking at any campsite, your van needs a solid stove setup. But with so many to choose from, it’s tough to pick the best one for your meals with Mother Nature.
First, decide whether you want a built-in or portable camping stove, or better yet a fully-equipped slide out kitchen. If you’re happy to dedicate extra time and effort to your build, install an inset stove so that you can release your inner chef no matter the weather. Otherwise, save on space and money with a portable gas stove for use beyond your van.
Then you’ve got to consider camp stove fuel types. From lightweight gas canister fuel and eco-friendly liquid fuel to affordable alcohol fuel and efficient induction cooktops, each one comes with its own pros, cons and setup instructions.
Basically, whether you’re a total foodie or an eat-for-energy kind, there’s a cooker with your name on it. And we’ll help you find it with our beginner’s guide to campervan stoves!
Setting Up Your Water System
From drinking up to wiping down, the reality is that van life demands a lot of water. So it’s important to build a plumbing system that delivers enough water for your daily needs - without blowing your budget. While it can be as basic or elaborate as you want, note that sophisticated setups are often difficult and expensive to install.
What’s more, every built-in water system has the same main components:
- Sink bowl and tap - allows you to fill up a glass, wash the dishes and freshen up inside.
- Water pump - supplies water flow with either manual or electric stimulation.
- Fresh water tank - holds clean water to be used for drinking and washing up.
- Grey water tank - stores any sullage that has passed through your sink.
- Tubing - connects the components of your water system.
To avoid getting out of your depth, make sure to understand all of these fundamental bits and pieces! From there, you can plan and install a proper plumbing setup in your campervan.
Laying Your Floors
If we could only give you one piece of advice for the flooring, it would be to take your time so that you lay it correctly from the get-go. Otherwise, you run the risk of having to tear it up after all of your hard work! And no one deserves that fate.
After you’ve installed the plywood subfloor, it’s time to think about design. With countless flooring types available for your van build, you can literally lay the groundwork for whatever style you have in mind, from eco-friendly cork floors to retro vinyl tiles. Don’t ignore practicalities, though - van life takes you on all sorts of adventures, and your floor needs to withstand the aftermath.
Once chosen, you can either install your floor and mount your fixtures on top or build your furniture directly onto the subfloor, laying the floor around them. It’s really up to you.
Lining Your Walls And Ceiling
Timber is a timeless classic that just can’t be beat when it comes to filling your campervan with character. So for this stage of your van conversion, we recommend using two materials: plywood sheets and tongue and groove panels.
For a cheap, quick and easy build, look no further than thin plywood sheets - these bend to your van’s contours for ultimate convenience. Alternatively, transform your van into a relaxing retreat with tongue and groove panels, which create a cosy, charming atmosphere inside your cabin.
It’s up to you to decide where you want to install them, be it your ceiling, walls, or both! You line your ceiling almost the exact same way you do the walls - think lots of cardboard templates, cutting and screwing. That said, there are a few roof-specific tips to follow, so do your homework before you hang your ceiling.
For a finishing touch that will take your campervan to the next level, apply a timber stain to your walls and ceiling. Then sit back and admire the enhanced grain patterns and contrasts of each panel!
After weeks of hard work completing the above steps, it’s time to take your van for a trial run. Go for a weekend camping trip or two, testing out all of its features and how they stack up when put into practice. You’ll probably want to tweak a few things here and there to make day-to-day living as easy and comfortable as possible!
Once you’ve made these final updates, give yourself a massive pat on the back - you’ve officially completed your conversion! Welcome to the van life.
To find out how Camplify can work with you and your RV,
register today here.