Converting a van without considering the build order is like trying to cook lobster thermidor
without a recipe; you might get there, but it'll be a messy and stressful process. In this article we will look at the step by step process for how to convert your van into a campervan - from the very start to the very end. This build order guide will be your roadmap so you know exactly where you sit in the overall process. By the end you will have a really good idea of everything that is involved in a van conversion and how long you can expect it to take. I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for many years, I'm the author of The Van Conversion Newsletter, van conversion instructor at Udemy, and the proud owner of a beautiful self-build campervan called Beans. So let's jump in and have a look at your van conversion build order!
Build order overview (9 step process)
Note: Before we hop in, you might want to grab yourself a wiring diagram which you can get for free by signing up to The Van Conversion Newsletter (the wiring diagram gets sent to you straight away!).
Step 1: Planning
Take precise measurements of your van
Do many design iterations; on paper or using a software like Vanspace3D
Tape the floor of your van with masking tape so you know where everything will go!
I wrote an in-depth article on how to design your van conversion here.
b. Plan the project
A goal without a plan is merely a dream. Use a gantt chart, kanban board, todo list, or any other productivity tools to ensure you stay on top of your build and do the work!.
I wrote an in-depth article on project management for van conversions here. I've been a software developer, project manager, and CEO in the past - so take my word on this one: PLAN!
Step 2: Preparation
Get your van to a garage for a routine checkup before you begin - doubtless there will be things that need attention!
b. Clean out the van
Remove anything that was in the van when you bought it (builder's shelves, etc.)
Remove the bulkhead
c. De-rust the van
De-rust the van before doing anything (rust remover, wire brush, and metal paint)
I wrote an article on removing rust from your campervan here.
d. Install a swivel seat / captain's chair (optional)
e. Install a window
Cut a hole in the side of your van and slap a window on there!
I wrote an article on how to install a window in your campervan, which you can find here.
f. Install a fan
Cut a hole in the roof of the van and pop a fan in (I used a Propex HS2000 heater)
I wrote an article on how to install a fan in your campervan, which you can find here.
g. Install the plethora of inlets required
Install a gas inlet (if you are using a refillable gas bottle) - read the guide
Install a fresh water inlet (optional) - read the guide
Install a solar panel inlet (for the cables coming from the solar panels on the roof) - read the guide
Install the heater inlets (two needed for the Propex HS2000: exhaust and fresh air inlet)
Install the mains electrical inlet (shore power) - read the guide
Install a toilet cassette inlet (optional)
h. Install an awning (optional)
You need to do this before cladding your van as the awning must be bolted on!
i. Soundproof your van
Stop the rattles - Dodo deadmat is the most popular option for sound-deadening a campervan.
I wrote an article about how to sound deaden your van here.
j. Install a ladder and/or spare wheel (optional)
The ladder is highly optional - I probably didn't need one, though it's useful for clearing snow off the solar panels. Read the guide here.
The spare wheel is pretty important if you don't already have one installed. Read the guide here.
k. Remove the bulkhead from inside the van
The bulkhead separates the front and the back of the van. If you are doing a van conversion you will want to remove this to free up some space.
You can read the guide on how to remove the bulkhead here.
Step 3: Electrical system
a. Lay electrical cables
Lay the 110/230v AC and 12v DC wiring throughout the van (secure with cable ties)
Optionally use conduit to keep the wires neat
b. Create a motherboard
All wires and appliances run to this location
Mount all the electrical bits and bobs - Including but not limited to: fuse box, circuit breakers, switchboard, battery charger, bus bars, battery monitor, solar charge controller, etc.
c. Install your leisure batteries
These are the batteries that power all your electrics! (different from the batteries in the front that start your van)
At least 100aH batteries required for a campervan - ideally more. Most people will use sealed lead acid batteries, though if you have the cash go for lithium!!
You can find out all about leisure batteries here.
d. Install solar panels
Install flexible or stiff panels (ideally polycrystalline) on the roof
Run the wiring through the solar panel inlet and to the solar charge controller (Ideally an MPPT) - I have a 40a epever MPPT solar charge controller
e. Install a split charger
Charge your van while driving.
Hook your leisure batteries to the alternator of your van by running it through a split charge relay. That all sounds complicated - but it's actually really easy!
You can find out all about split charging here.
f. Install shore power
Plug in your van and charge it up at home or at a campsite.
Requires an inlet in the side of your van, consumer unit, and battery charger (I have a Victron battery charger) - A battery charger converts 230v from the campsite to 12v for your leisure batteries! Learn about shore power here.
g. Install an inverter
If you want plug sockets in your van (think laptop charger, nutribullet, or just about anything else), you will need an inverter. An inverter converts the 12v power from your leisure batteries to 230v that you can use with normal household appliances.
You can learn all about inverters here.
h. Ground the electrical system
Grounding an electrical system protects your appliances (and potentially stops a fire) in case of an electrical fault. In the case of a van conversion, we ground to the chassis of the van.
We ground a few things, but most importantly the leisure batteries!
You can learn all about grounding your van conversion electrics here.
Van conversion electrics can be pretty daunting - but they are by far the funnest part of the build, everyone says so! To help you get started, I put together a full wiring diagram (wire & fuse sizes included). You can get the wiring diagram for free by signing up to The Van Conversion newsletter here ✌️.
Step 4: Insulation
a. Build wooden frames for the floor, walls, and roof
This is the skeleton between which we insulate, and onto which we screw our cladding
Install plenty of beams - don't sell yourself short. I have a friend whos van walls caved in because he hadn't installed enough side beams in the van!
The Beams on the walls and roof screw into the van, the beams on the floor can be secured with multi-purpose glue
b. Insulate the floors, walls, and roof
Probably my least favourite part of the whole van build... wear a mask! 😷
There is a variety of insulations you can use - here's what I did: Polyiso board for most of the insulation, mineral wool in the cracks, all covered in a reflectix vapour barrier.
Some people will use spray foam - there are pros and cons to this. If you do choose to use it, ensure you keep it bone dry! I've heard horror stories.
Step 5: Wood panelling
a. Clad the roof and walls
After the insulation is done, you're over the hump of the work; it's all fun from here.
Some people will ply-line their van - I chose to clad it, for more of a homely, log cabin feel.
b. Install laminate flooring
Laminate flooring looks nice and is completely waterproof - it slots together like a really easy jigsaw.
Step 6: Furniture
a. Build the kitchen unit
The kitchen unit houses your sink, stove, and fridge.
Ensure you leave space for a cutting board!
b. Build the benches, table, and bed
There are heaps of design possibilities for this, see my blog on design for some ideas.
c. Install a shower unit (optional)
Containing an outlet for grey water, showerhead, curtain, and heating unit
I wrote an in-depth article on all the ways you can shower with a campervan here.
d. Build storage compartments
Bulkhead storage (above the driver's area)
e. Finish the wood
Protect and color the wood using wood finisher, varnish, stain, and/or paint
f. Build a gas locker
Keep all the nasty gas contained in case of a leak! I built my gas locker into the kitchen unit.
Step 7: Electrical appliances
a. Install and hook up lights (roof, strip, and sidelights)
Most people use 12v lighting.
Use puck lights in the roof, strip lights for the side (and under cabinets), and maybe sidelights around the place.
Read about 12v lighting here.
b. Hook up the water tap
(The switch is electric)
If you are super tight on cash, you can use a manual foot pump, but trust me - an electric tap is WAY better!
c. Hook up the shower (optional)
d. Hook up the heater
I have the Propex HS2000 LPG heater
e. Hook up any and all other 12v appliances
I personally wouldn't be without my Pioneer sound system
Step 8: Gas plumbing
a. Install Gas bottle (refillable or swappable depending on your needs)
You can use a refillable or swappable bottle depending on your needs - I have a Gaslow refillable 11kg cylinder
Install a regulator on top of the gas bottle and hook it up to the gas manifold.
Ideally you should use copper piping for the connections, but you can alternatively use rubber tubing.
b. Connect your gas appliances
Connect your heater
Connect your stove
Connect your shower (optional)
Don't forget to check for leaks after the installation! Use soapy water on the joints - if bubbles appear, you've got a leak.
Step 9: Decoration and everything else
There are many things you can do to make your van feel like home - many extra bits of furnishing to liven up the living space. Here are a few:
Add trim around the van (furniture and hard edges)
Install auto carpet to any exposed metal
Install a terrarium (check out mine 🤣)
Install a toilet
Install a home cinema (Check out mine) 🎥
Security - Install extra locks, blocks, and a GPS tracker!
So that's it folks - the A-Z build order for your van conversion. Think of this step by step process as your roadmap to success! I find by breaking things down into teeny tiny pieces, the whole process suddenly becomes very manageable!
Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion.
If you're converting a van but unsure of how to do it, you could also check out the Van Conversion Course on Udemy. In the course, you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,