One thing you’ll start to realise when planning your camper build is that the options are endless – and often quite daunting. When we’re assisting self builders in our show room one of the first questions we try to nail down is what the client wants to get out of the completed build. The answers are often vague and so pushing for clarity on this will often focuses the clients priorities. Once we understand what’s important to them we can concentrate on designs and products that will best fulfil these priorities.
With end function in mind create a list of what you want to do once the van is finished, by this I mean, where do you want to visit/explore? how long will each trip be and how many people will be with you? What will you be taking with you. ie. surf/body boards, bikes, walking boots or out door equipment. How often will you be moving from site to site?
Secondly, what else do you require of the van? This question is often over looked, will it regularly be used for transporting your family, grocery runs, work related use or transiting large or work items that need a safe method of securing in place. (Lashing points are often over looked or taken out of the van floor when the vehicle is converted.
Once you have a clear picture of what your campervan design needs to achieve keep this in mind through out your planning and build. Incidentally, the same rule goes for your budget! Focus on those priorities and continually revert back to them. Don’t become distracted by the vast quantity of social media content highlighting features and facilities that are not on your priority list. It’s easy to loose focus on what the van layout needs to be for you, subsequently over loading the van with unnecessary and expensive features that you won’t end up using. A good example of this is heating. – If you generally only use the van for camping in the spring and summer and always visit sites with electric hook-up then consider not fitting that Diesel or Gas heater that you’ve just seen every one raving about on-line. – You just won’t use it enough to justify the expense, buy a small £40 oil filled electic radiator instead.
Your van conversion can generally be broken down into 4 stages once you have settled on your layout and are ready to start the build.
- Stripping and repairing the van, fitting windows and elevating roof
- 1st fix electrics
- Panelling, insulating. lining and flooring
- Installing facilities, furniture and seating
Stripping and preparing the van, fitting window, roof vents and elevating roof.
Make sure you have a sound base vehicle to start work on, approach your build as you would a house DIY project. Success is in the groundwork and preparation after all, so ensure all areas of the van are clean, rust free and holes filled. Same goes for the outside of the van, the body work should be in good order, all door seals should be sound and your engine and gear box running smoothly. In short, don’t spend thousands converting a shed of a van that isn’t going to get you home of your first trip out! If you’ve picked up a cheap van that needs work on the engine and body then consider converting it over a longe
r time period while you address the more important points of vehicle maintenance.
Windows and elevating roofs create light and space and will instantly change your dingy van into an airy living space. If you are regularly travelling with rear passengers consider window placement in regard to seating – it isn’t much fun travelling in the back without a window view and certainly a good way to end up with green looking passengers – especially youngsters.
Window and roof vent fitting is certainly a job achievable for an average DIYer. Bonded van windows are vehicle specific, this means care is required on ordering the window that is an exact match to your van. https://camperglass.co.uk/ have an excellent range of windows for all the major van brands. You will also require window glass adhesive (2 tubes will usually be enough for fit 3 windows). https://clearcutconversions.co.uk/product/glue-primerless-window-sealant-cartridge-bostik-300ml/
This article isn’t a detailed how to guide, there are plenty of excellent U-tube videos that will help with detailed practical guides to fitment. However, you’ll hopefully find the article useful in highlighting certain pit falls and considerations while undertaking your build.
Fitting roof sky lights can help with ventilation and light into your van. They come in different shapes and sizes and are especially useful on la
rger vans. Care is needed however when fitting to ensure a good seal. In particular when you are fitting the vent over roof undulations and ribs, the best solution to roof ribs is to fit PVC foamboard as spacer/packer strips to create a flat surface for the vent to be mounted onto. A good quality adhesive like Sikaflex is
vital it’s also highly recommended that you create a double seal of adhesive when you install the vent.
In regard to elevating roofs I would recommend visiting one of the established roof manufacturers in the UK or the excellent German
Reimo and SCA.
Which ever roof you choose I would avoid trying to fit it yourself unless you have a good size workshop and several people to assist to lift the roof in place. The roofs will come with little if any fitting instructions as they are primarily designed to be installed by trained fitters. If you have it professionally fitted you will also be covered by the fitters insurance and warranties if you have any problems.
well priced elevating roof companies that also offer a fitment service are show below;
1st Fix Electrics
Once the messy jobs of fitting the roof, windows or skylight are completed then the focus can be on planning the electic 1st fix. Before the electics are started you should have a clear plan on where you will require 12v and 240v power to service your various lights and appliances. It will be important at this point to have a finalised plan of your campervan layout to ensure you don’t miss out any key cables that will be difficult to fit later. Don’t forget speaker cable and solar inputs as well as the more obvious leisure battery and 240v wiring looms. If in doubt then run additional cables as these can always be easily removed later. We’ll cover electrics in more detail in further articles but as a overview the electics can be broken down into 4 more manageable wiring looms.
- 12v Split Charging.
- Solar charging
- 240v Hook-up inlet
- 12v/240v Power management (sockets, lights and appliances)
Although there is some overlap between the above sections you’ll find it far easier to plan the electrics if you break it down into manageable sections. Plan the cabling route for each section and lay the appropriate rating cable it’s some times easier to colour code the various looms (With small amounts of coloured electrical tape) for easy identification.
Here are some how to guides to assist;
Panelling, Insulation and Flooring.
Insulating the van will make a huge difference to your comfort when you’re away camping, keeping you cooler in the summer and warmer on those cold nights.
The ply panels are usually made from 4-6mm ply. It will be worth changing any hard board panels for plywood because the hard board will warp and bucket over time. The panels can be made removable, or can be screwed in place and carperted over (in areas that you don’t require on going access). There are often discussions on-line regarding the best insulation materials to use. There are loads of comparisons and pro’s and con’s, our best advice is to go with the materials your budget allows. Certain materials such as sheep’s wall will benefit from a vapour barrier to avoid moisture retention. The Dodo range of insulation and sound deadening products are specifically made for van conversions and come in useful quantities. One key point, make sure you allow vents in your panels at the back of the van to ensure your slam vents are well ventilated. Slam vents are built into your vehicle design to allow the pressure air flow inside the van to be stabalised when you slam the rear or side doors. If there are blocked then it will make shutting the doors more difficult and your ears will op in your inside the van.
Lining the van interior can be done with a flexible material such as a stretch carpet, or with PVC rigid panels or slat material like tongue and groove wooden. Here’s a link to our insulation and panelling how to guide;
Installing campervan furniture, facilities and seating
So, after a considerable amount of work and planning you should now be at the stage of a “blank canvas”, this is where the van design will really start to take shape and where the pre-planning of your layout and facilities really pays off. Generally, the seating should be the last item that you permanently fit as it tends to get in the way of furniture and electrical fitments. We highly recommend you use a light weight furniture board for your furniture, this is far more durable than MDF or MFC. MDF in particular can’t deal with the heat and moisture variations in the average van conversion and will quickly deteriorate.
Here’s a link to a how to guide that will show you how to build your own furniture;