Van Life

Completing a DIY van build is a challenging task. Van conversions require hours of research and planning and a basic understanding of various aspects of construction, including woodworking, electrical, and plumbing. On this page, you’ll find an overview of each area of expertise you will likely encounter on your journey.

Vehicles

The first consideration of any build is the choice of vehicle. Whether you opt for a full-size van, compact, or even a school bus, selecting the right starter vehicle is crucial. Factors such as cost, reliability, fuel efficiency, drive-ability, cargo space, interior height, and looks should be considered.

Orange Volkswagen Campervan driving in mountains

Layouts

The layout of your campervan shapes much of your day-to-day experience. There is no shortage of layouts to choose from, but the classics are the fixed rear bed, the convertible dinette, the Murphy bed, and the fixed wall layout.

Murphy bed with lots of countertop space

Insulation

Insulating your van is crucial for maintaining comfortable interior living temperatures year round. Proper insulation will not only keep you warm in cold weather but cool in hot weather. Consider using High R-value materials like Rock wool, Thinsulate, and Reflectix on your van’s floor, walls, and ceiling to create a strong barrier for protection against the elements.

Woman Placing Insulation Material on Van

Ventilation

Proper ventilation is essential for ensuring a comfortable and safe living space in your campervan. Adequate airflow helps regulate temperatures, prevents condensation and odors, and can safeguard against dangerous fumes caused by burning fuel. Options for ventilation include windows, roof vents, fans, and even 12-volt air conditioners.

Man Installing Window on a Van

Heating

Installing a heating system in your van is necessary if you travel in cold climates. While there is no shortage of heating options, diesel, and gas heaters are the most popular option because of their ease of use and outstanding efficiency. When choosing, consider the size of your van, fuel availability, and safety.

Small Van Diesel Heater Before Installment

Power

Every van build needs a reliable electrical system to power phones, lights, appliances, and other essential electronics. Campervan power systems vary widely in cost and complexity, but most in-built systems include lithium-ion batteries, power inverters, solar panels, and a charging system. Plan your electrical setup carefully to ensure sufficient power for all your appliances.

Battery Power Station for Van

Water

Water access is essential for cooking and cleaning. Campervan water systems utilize a freshwater tank, whether fixed or portable, as well as a sink, water pump, faucet, and plumbing. Additionally, your build may include a gray water tank for capturing used water before disposal.

Plumbing Your Van Show

Interior

The interior of your campervan can set your build apart. From stained wood floors to shiplap ceilings, custom seating arrangements, and unique furniture, the interior of a van reflects your style, preferences, and priorities. Consider incorporating multi-use furniture, hidden storage, and separate levels to maximize space.

Under bed easily accessible storage

Bathroom

While not all campervans have a dedicated bathroom, many ways exist to incorporate toilets and showers without taking up space. Consider adding a hidden shower or toilet to make your daily van experience more convenient.

Light Grey Colored Flushable Toilet for Van

Kitchen

A functional kitchen is essential for preparing meals and staying clean on the road. Most campervan kitchens incorporate a stove, refrigerator, sink, and storage for cookware, utensils, and food. Consider space-saving solutions, like fold-out countertops and compact appliances, to maximize space.

Zenvanz DIY Van Kit with Kitchen Pod

Storage

Having a dedicated space for all of your items is super important in a small area. Consider where you will store clothing, gear, kitchen supplies, and other essentials like tools and equipment for hobbies. Incorporating overhead cabinets, under-bed storage, and modular storage systems are a great way to maximize the storage space available in your van.

Under bench seat storage in van

Internet & TV

Having internet access on the road is vital for staying in contact with friends and family, working remotely, and watching tv shows. Nowadays, internet service providers like Verizon and Starlink make connecting in remote areas more manageable than ever, thanks to satellites and mobile hot spots.

Mobile Hotspot Device for Outdoors Wi-Fi

Accessories

Aftermarket accessories like roof racks, off-road lighting, and spare-tire carriers can dramatically transform the look of your van (and improve its functionality). Popular vans like the Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Transit have dozens of aftermarket manufacturers that sell parts to make your vehicle stand out.

Freedom Van Go Adjustable Roof Rack

Van Conversion Tips

The first step in converting a van is to research and plan. Consider what vehicle you will use, what layout you would like, and what core components you will include (such as an electrical system, water system, insulation, flooring, and furniture). Take measurements of your vehicle’s interior and use the chosen components to create a blueprint or sketch to guide your conversion. The more detailed, the better. When you have this blueprint completed, it’s time to build.

Converting a van yourself can be more cost-effective than paying a professional for the conversion simple because you are removing the cost of labor. Additionally, by completing the build yourself, you will have greater control over the materials chosen, which will allow you to save more money on. However, it is important to note that the cost savings also depends on your DIY skills, the complexity of the conversion, and your ability to source materials at a reasonable price.

The order in which van conversions are completed depends on the builder, but in general, people follow this rough sequence:

Insulation first, followed by electrical and plumbing, then framing of cabinetry & furniture, flooring, then the completion of the cabinetry and furniture, and lastly, the finishing touches.

The cost of converting a campervan varies depending on several factors, including the size of the van, the cost of the electrical system and other core components, the level of customization, and the quality of materials. On average, DIY campervan conversions cost between $5,000 and $30,000.