A simple 3 step diy campervan conversion guide:
Step 1. What’s your budget?
It’s easy to get carried away thinking of all the things you’re going to cram into your new diy campervan conversion: fridge, cooker, shower, toilet, seating, bed, water tanks, heating, electrics etc. But all that stuff is going to cost money. If you have a large budget and you can afford to buy all the parts you need new, or pay someone to do some of the conversion work, then good for you, that’s going to save time and make the conversion much easier for you.
However, if your budget is a modest one (or in my case a very small one) and you intend to do all the work yourself, then you’re going to need to think a little more creatively and allow yourself more time to do it. My conversion took me about 12 months to complete, working as and when I could find the time and the parts I needed.
Using secondhand and recycled material is going to save you a lot of money:
It may take longer to repurpose an old wardrobe door into a dining table (like I did) as opposed to buying a new one, but it will cost you a lot less money (it didn’t cost me anything!) and you’ll have the satisfaction of creating something unique, giving your diy campervan a personality of its own.
A small budget doesn’t necessarily mean a poor quality campervan:
The amount of time I invested in my build (and not the cost of materials) was the reason my conversion worked out as well as it did. I used mostly cheap, used, or free/recycled, materials. Yes it may have taken me five times longer to complete the conversion but what I ended up with was a campervan that was individual, had all the conveniences of home, and best of all cost less than £500 to build.
It’s not what you’ve got – it’s what you do with it that counts:
I spent a lot of time on the detail and final finishing. For instance, the doors in my campervan were all built from MDF, hardboard, and pine (not very expensive). The doors only cost me around £2 to £3 each to make – however, each door was undercoated before 3 coats of top coat, and 3 coats of clear varnish were applied (with sanding between each coat). This gave the doors a high-quality look and feel.
Finding parts for your conversion:
Ebay is an excellent source for used parts, as are caravan breakers. Probably one of the easiest ways to get all you need for a conversion (in one go) is to buy a used caravan that’s tatty on the outside but good on the inside. Then you could transfer the cooker, fridge, toilet, lighting, seating etc. over to your base vehicle.
Step 2. Choosing a suitable vehicle.
This is obviously the most important decision you need to make when it comes to any diy campervan conversion, so choose your base vehicle carefully. Here are a few points to remember.
You need to be building on solid foundations:
Make sure that the base vehicle is in sound mechanical condition, low mileage and a long service history are good. Also, check the vehicle’s chassis and floorpan for corrosion. Any work in these areas is much easier to do before you start building the interior. Generally speaking, a diesel vehicle is going to give better fuel economy than a petrol.
Is the height of the vehicle important?
Do you want to be able to stand up when inside the campervan? You may say yes, but remember most of the time you’ll be sitting down, so is the extra height going to be worth it? I couldn’t stand up fully in my campervan, but this wasn’t that much of an issue because I designed the interior in such a way that I could use the cooker, the fridge, and most of the cupboards, whilst sitting down. Remember the extra height will increase drag, so will decrease fuel efficiency. Also, you may find parking a higher vehicle more difficult due to height restrictions in some car parks and supermarkets.
Unless you’re going to be building a stealth campervan, you’re going to need windows. Do you buy a vehicle with windows already fitted, such as a minibus? or are you going to convert a windowless panel van? Fitting windows yourself is not going to be a job for the faint-hearted, cutting holes in the side of your pride and joy can be a daunting prospect, you really do need to measure twice and cut once! If like me, you buy a vehicle with more windows than you need (which gives very little privacy) then you’re probably going to need to block some of them out. I did exactly that using window tinting film, which is inexpensive and pretty straightforward to fit.
Step 3. Plan your layout carefully:
It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit into a small space with some careful planning. I used Sketchup (an easy to use, free, 3D modelling software from Google) to design the interior of my campervan. After removing all the seats, I accurately measured the interior space. Then, to make sure that I got all the proportions correct, I stuck masking tape on the floor to mark out areas for the toilet, kitchen, and seating, etc. Using this information I then created a 3D scale model in Sketchup. This made it much easier to try out different configurations and ideas, before building anything. If 3D software isn’t for you, then you could just go old school with a pencil and piece of paper, just make sure that the scale is correct, eg. one centimetre to one metre.
When designing your diy campervan conversion, think about how you will be using the living space. As I said earlier, I couldn’t stand up in my camper so I made sure that most functions like making a cup of tea could be done sitting down. It’s also easy to get carried away thinking about all the big stuff like the cooker, fridge, and toilet, but don’t forget to plan for the small stuff too, like where are you going to put all your rubbish for instance!
For safety reasons I wanted to make sure that I could turn the gas tap on and off from inside the camper, so I cut a small access hole behind the cutlery draw. I could have easily overlooked this if I hadn’t thought it through first. I also positioned the water, gas, and toilet, at the back of the vehicle so they could be accessed from outside without having to bring everything through the living area.
Some final pointers: where possible make sure that important stuff like water pipes, gas pipes, and fuses/RDC units, are easily accessible. You may also need to consider insulation if you will be using the camper in cold weather. And think about installing ventilation for air flow, as well as vents fitted in the floor near gas bottles and gas appliances in case of any gas leaks.
Well, I hope the points that I have highlighted in this diy campervan conversion guide have been useful, and given you a taste of what’s involved in converting a van into a campervan. There’s obviously going to be a lot more areas to consider when embarking on a conversion than I’ve covered in this simple guide, but I personally found building my own campervan very rewarding and I am sure you will too.