Are you planning on living the van life? Nothing is more exciting for a campervan enthusiast than converting their van into a home. Effective preparation is essential when designing and building your own camper van from scratch. The last thing you’d want is a leaky, cold, and uncomfortable van for your road trips.
The cost of the conversion may range from a few hundred dollars to even thousands. But with thoughtful budgeting, it is possible to cut costs by a significant margin. It is important to know the difference between what you want vs what you need when planning a DIY camper van.
How to turn a van into a home?
If you’re planning to convert a van into a wonderful camper’s home before you hit the road, then this article is your ultimate go-to guide. It includes in-depth advice and suggestions on budgeting, procurement, planning, vehicles, and much more.
You can follow this step-by-step guide to better understand the requirements for turning your dream on-the-road life into a reality.
Plan a budget
There are various factors that determine the cost of van conversion. Your budget will define how your home on wheels will turn out to be. You may want to keep costs low by building your van with the bare necessities, or you may want to build a luxurious home on wheels with all the comforts of a regular home.
Whatever your choices are, it is essential to keep a realistic budget and divide it into segments for a better understanding of the finances. You can save a good amount of money by converting a van into a home as compared to buying a ready-made campervan.
It is okay to go over budget when planning a DIY campervan, as there are plenty of ways to cut down on overall cost. If you have a tight budget, you should consider scaling down your ambitions and diving the conversion process into several phases.
The wise thing to do is prioritize basic necessities such as bed, table, storage and buy luxuries later on over the following months or years. This method of helps you evaluate the actual utility of things, and with time, you realize that some of the materials you thought you needed in your campervan are not really that essential.
Buying a Van
If you do not own a van already, the cost of a new or used Van will constitute the majority of your budget. There are normal vans, there are 4WDs and then there are vans with a pop-up roof. You need to decide what amount you’re willing to spend on a van and what type of van you’re looking for as there are plenty of options out there.
The best place to look for a van are online marketplaces including Facebook Marketplace. These marketplaces have filters to help you sort out a van that fits your budget and requirements. You can buy from a dealer or a private seller. A good idea is to write down all potential van options and compare them side by side.
There are a few questions you should ask yourself before buying a van and transforming it. Are you planning to travel in cold climates, warm climates, or both? Will you be commuting on paved, well-maintained roads, or will you be traveling on off-road areas? Will this van be your full-time home, or will you be using it only when you hit the road?
A workspace for van building work
A workspace, dedicated specifically to van building work can save a lot of time by eliminating set up and pack up processes. You can also use the space for storing materials and tools.
A garage will be perfect as a workspace. A driveway will work too, but not as great as a garage. You can consider renting out a shop or space if you have the means to do it.
Van layout designing
Designing a Van layout is a crucial step in the Van building process as the right design will save you a lot of time, work, and money. Keep all the things we discussed in mind while designing the layout (Necessities, luxuries, budget, type of travel).
You can check out Pinterest and Instagram to take inspiration from hundreds and thousands of dreamy van conversions. If you like a Van transformation idea, check if the creator has prepared a guide for the same.
It would be best if you consider the following questions before designing your Van layout:
- Will you cook in the van?
- Do you require a workspace in the van?
- What is the number of people the van can accommodate?
- Do you require walking space in the van?
- Do you require storage for keeping large items?
- Can you set up a bed every time you have to sleep?
- Do you want a toilet or shower?
- Do you want windows in your van to allow light and fresh air?
- How to maximize utility with the limited area?
Procurement of tools and prepping the van
Now that you have a layout ready, you can move on to gathering the tools and resources required to transform the van. Doesn’t matter if your cargo van is new or used, you’ll have to gut the current interior of the van down to an empty chassis.
You can use this cleaning opportunity to repair rust spots, damps, molds, and other damages. Nevertheless, you can reuse any of the interior material you removed if it suits your layout design ideas. You have complete artistic freedom while building your DIY campervan.
Measure out the floor plan when you’ve completely cleaned out your cargo van. Now that your van is completely empty, it’s time to measure out your floor plan. It’s a good idea to tape and draw the layout on the floor to get a good idea of how the interior is going to be.
You should insulate the van if you’ll be chasing colder climates during your road trips. It is not easy to maintain the right balance between airflow and the van temperature. However, once you achieve the right balance, your campervan experience will become pleasurable multi-folds. Cut the material of insulation and put it underneath the floor, the wall, and the ceiling.
Solar panels, electrical systems, and batteries
Setting up the electrical system and solar panels (optional) can be hectic, and you’ll have to do significant research before the setup. We recommend you get a professional to do the setup as electricity and gas installation is a serious part of the fun process of building a campervan.
Consider installing solar panels if you’ll be staying at places with no electricity. But keep in mind that solar panels demand regular maintenance to give their best output.
You should also calculate your daily power consumption. Calculate the power consumed by lights, computers, camera, mobile, fridge, and cooktop as these are the things you’ll be using regularly in your campervan.
Campervans look different from panel vans as they have windows installed. You’ll have to cut a hole in your walls and fit a window. Your layout design will determine the location of the windows. Measurements should be highly accurate as any measurement mistake while cutting the whole will make things complicated for you.
A ventilation system is necessary to maintain the temperature and humidity in your camper van. Roof vents and window air vents are ideal for circulating fresh air inside the van.
Source of heat
If you have plans to travel in colder climates with your camper van, then consider installing a decent heat source as nights will be really chilly and even unbearable without a heater.
Water & Plumbing
Access to freshwater is necessary when you’re transforming your van into a living space. Some people require running water while others choose to use exterior sources to shower, clean dishes, and wash hands. You should also consider how you will store the wastewater until you reach a disposal point.
You can either opt for fixed internal tanks or portable external containers for storing water. You’ll have to install a water geyser if you’re installing a shower and toilet in your cargo van.
The kitchen inside a campervan is similar to what you find at regular homes. It constitutes a fridge, a sink, a paper towel rack, and a cooktop.
A comfy bed and decent seating give the campervan a homely feeling. Although a fixed bed is preferable, there may not be enough space for it. You can either set your bed every day before sleeping or try some of the innovative DIY bedding options out there.
Good interior lighting is essential for van esthetics as they set the right vibe for the camper van. LED strips have a long lifespan and are energy-efficient making them perfect for your home on wheels.
Converting your van into a road-trip-ready campervan is similar to building your own tiny home. The details that go into making it depend on your personality and lifestyle. With this guide, you can easily build a DIY campervan from scratch to start your van life. You can travel across the country, go camping or just chill by the lake sipping on a summer drink.