So, you’ve selected the optimal van to transform into your dream campervan, but where do you go from here? Well there are many steps in a long list of tasks to complete when converting your van; this of course means there are many places where mistakes can be made when converting your van. But how are you supposed to know what to do and what not to do? Well in this article, I’ll show go through some of the most vital “do’s and don’t’s” when building your dream campervan. I’ll list some of the key aspects of van conversion and some common blunders that are made in these areas, letting you know how not to do it, before explaining the correct way of going about that task.
The first thing to think about when converting your van is making sure it’s safe and legal for use on the roads, even before you start doing any sort of construction. There are two ways of going about this; Many go down the first route, by creating what’s called a “stealth camper” conversion. This is where you can’t tell that it’s a camper from the outside. Usually only the back of the van has a window and it’s blacked out. Most also have roof mounted ventilation windows which allow for a natural light source for the van. Since you’re not permitted to sleep in a camper on regular parking spaces, this loophole means that you are allowed to do so. The second option is to try and get your van recognised as a campervan by the DVLA on the log-book which assists with evaluations, insurance, etc. Although this may be seen as the “safer” option, it is renowned for being a nightmare to get done. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. While the stealth camper may seem like a bit of a dodgy path to go down, many people recommend this over the latter option.
Now unless you’re planning on setting up in the middle of Death Valley in the Mojave Desert, you’re going to need to make sure your campervan is insulated. The sides of a van are hollow and need to be filled with insulation foam. Quite a lot of people tend to stop there, as they think that it is all they need, but floor and roof insulation is key as well, especially in the roof. If you can remember back to Secondary School science, heat rises; if the roof is not insulated then the heat in the van will be lost through the roof by conduction. While this may be a bit more costly, it will be worth it in the long run, as you won’t have to pay for extra heaters inside the van. The floor can be very tricky to insulate depending on the flooring that already exists I your van. Although I would recommend stripping your floor away, placing insulation underneath, and covering it with wood flooring. Not only does it look homely, but wood is also an excellent insulator on its own.
Although it may not seem like it at first, the decision to include a bathroom is one of the most important decisions to make when converting your van. Bathrooms take up a lot of space, as well as being difficult to maintain as they require additional plumbing and require constant upkeep, e.g. disposing of the waste, combating the smell, etc. Many decide to just use public toilets when on the road or at a campsite, which is the method I’d recommend. Although it’s not as comfortable and private as having a toilet in your own mobile home, it’s a lot more cost effective and requires much less effort. This includes showers as well. However, if you think you desperately need it, small portable toilets can always be purchased at a cheap price. In terms of general plumbing and water systems for sinks and taps, there are many options such as: water tanks, tubing, pumps, etc. This is another option which is down to personal preference, although most go for water tanks as they are easy to fill, easy to clean, and can hold a large volume of water. They are also easy to install into your water system. But a big downside is that they are very expensive. One thing to always look out for is a tank that is made out of FDA-approved materials, so that no nasty chemicals get into your water source.
Stoves and ovens can be extremely dangerous if not installed correctly. Propane gas tanks are the most common solutions to the problem of cooking on the go. However, extremely flammable liquids in a moving vehicle is a disaster waiting to happen. Most that don’t want to be driving around is mobile death trap tend to go with alcohol-based stovetops. This is the more expensive option but the peace of mind you gain is well worth the few extra pounds. One downside is the heat released from the denatured alcohol isn’t as great as the heat released from the propane tanks. But this is a very small disadvantage that, for the most part, can be overlooked. Alcohol also produces very little waste in the form of gases, so as long as you have decent ventilation in your campervan, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Finally, we have one of the finishing touches of your campervan, the lighting. During the day, lighting won’t be an issue, due to natural light coming in through either side windows or a skylight, but during the evening and in the night, lighting in the van is key. Lighting can be achieved in many ways but by far the most popular option is having LEDs across the interior of the van. There are so many benefits to LEDs: they don’t give off any heat, they last a very long time, they’re extremely energy efficient, and they’re incredibly cheap. I’d recommend getting strip lighting as they’re very easy to fit and don’t require and wiring. They can also be set to a variety of hues and colours. Packs of multiple strips can be bought in bulk which is very handy when fitting all lengths of your van; not just along the roof and walls, but along the sides of worktops, along the side of a bed, etc. Most strips are around 4-6m, which is perfect for the dimensions of most vans.
Now you have everything you need to start your DIY project. You have the van itself, and now you know exactly what to do, and what not to do, in your conversion process. We’ve covered all the major bases for your campervan transformation, the only thing left for you to do is get to it!