Camper Van Conversion: 3 ways to help you turn a van into a cosy home on wheels

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If you haven’t yet found your perfect ready-made motorhome, maybe it’s time to consider camper van conversion?

There are loads of folks worldwide who are turning everyday panel vans and buses into gorgeous homes on wheels.

But how do you begin? What skills will you need? How much time will it take to convert a campervan?

On this page we’ll look at the pros and cons of camper van conversion and highlight what we think are 3 of the best van conversion resources on the internet.

It’s time to turn that dream into reality…

campervan conversion: interior of a converted old American school bus
Image: Lauren Gardenbelle Fritts

Is campervan conversion right for you?

When you get started in van life, you either hunt around like we did for about a year waiting for the right campervan to show up, or you grab the bull by the horns and decide to convert a van yourself.

The idea of buying an empty shell and converting it didn’t even occur to us when we started back in 2017. We were so naive we didn’t know you could do such a thing. (We thought the only choices were to buy a ready-made vehicle. Talk about newbies!)

Whatever the excuses, if we started all over again we’d definitely consider camper van conversion because there are so many advantages to doing it yourself (or having a skilled friend or professional conversion company help you).

So, what are the advantages of van conversion?

Let’s weigh up the pros and cons…

The pros and cons of camper van conversion

The Pros of Campervan Conversion…

  • Buying an empty shell (a standard work-type van or bus) is usually a lot cheaper than a campervan or motorhome that’s already made
  • If you’re lucky you can buy a van for as little as £1000 (This Mercedes Sprinter was bought for just £350!)
  • You can design your van’s interior lay-out to your exact requirements with amazing 3-D software
  • You’ll develop DIY skills you never thought you had
  • When the conversion is finished you’ll have the immense satisfaction of having done the job yourself, a bit like building your own home
  • Converting an ordinary-looking van or bus means that your end product could be more suitable for ‘stealth’ camping, making off-grid wild camping easier. (It’s far easier to hunker down and remain inconspicuous in a converted van than it is in a motorhome)

That all sounds amazing, but what about the cons?…

The Cons of Campervan Conversion…

  • Converting a van will take time. You will need patience and discipline. We suggest that if you want to hit the road asap, buy a campervan or motorhome that’s ready to go (See our ebook How to Find Your Perfect Motorhome)
  • Converting a van means you’ll need the right tools and equipment (or know somebody that does) and the space in which to do it
  • You’ll have to get comfortable with taking some risks and trying new things (such as cutting the metal side panels to fit windows)
  • If you’re paying a professional conversion company to do the work, it can cost big money
  • There’ll probably be some paperwork involved such as telling your insurance company and the DVLA that your van has been converted into a camper. (We’ve only put this in the ‘cons’ category because we hate paper work!)

7 steps to turn a van into a camper

Now that you’ve considered the pros and cons, let’s look at the steps involved in converting a campervan…

Step #1: Planning

If you want to make a real success of your conversion, it starts with careful and proper planning. Consider your needs and wants: what do you want the van for? How many people will travel with you? Do you want a WC?

Draft a layout accordingly. Make sure to measure the internal dimensions of your van accurately, and create a sketch to visualize your ideas better (or use the 3D software below).

You need to maximize the available space without sacrificing comfort and functionality.

Step #2: Stripping back and cleaning

Unlike buying a ready made van that’s good to go, with conversion you’re most likely going to strip the van back to its bare shell and give it a thorough clean. This step gives you a blank canvas to work with. And it also gives you the chance to spot any issues like rust or leaks early on.

It’s a real pain in the butt to finish your build then have to dismantle it if you find a water leak from a hard to access rusty pipe.

Step #3: Insulation and ventilation

Properly insulating your van is vital otherwise you’ll freeze to death in winter! Ok, we’re exaggerating there but the reality is that poor insulation means you’ll spend a lot more on heating fuel in the colder months.

Good quality insulation will maintain a comfortable temperature inside, regardless of the weather outside. The tutorials below will tell you about the best materials to use. Also consider the importance of proper ventilation to prevent condensation and mould in your van.

RELATED CONTENT: How to winterize your RV

Step #4: Electrics and plumbing

What power needs do you have? Decide what components are vital to include in your electrical set-up. A more than adequate – and reliable – power supply is essential to run your lights, charge your devices, and power your appliances.

For plumbing, you’ll need to include a freshwater tank, a greywater tank (waste water from the sinks and shower), and a black water tank (the toilet waste).

In the resources below, you’ll find all you need to know about electrics and plumbing for your campervan conversion.

Step #5: Flooring and walls

A solid floor and well-built walls provide the basic structure for your interior build.

Use durable materials that can withstand the wear and tear of van life, especially if you’re planning to live full time in the van once it’s converted.

Bear in mind that additional weight impacts your fuel economy, so keep it as light as possible but without compromising on quality.

See our blog post about motorhome payload

Step #6: The interior design

With the basics done, you now get to the exciting part – creating your floor plan.

Spend some considerable time designing your ideal interior layout. Remember, you’ve got to live with this layout once it’s done (unless you want the hassle of changing it again).

Start with the largest items, like the bed and kitchen units and WC, and work your way down to the smaller items. These days you can buy ‘multifunctional’ furniture and there are many innovative space-saving storage solutions. (See resource 2 below to help you design your ideal interior layout).

Step #7: Finishing touches

Finally, when the units are secured – and to make your van interior truly unique – add your personal touches. Choose a colour scheme and start painting. Then add curtains or blinds for privacy. Then, to make your van feel cosy, choose your décor.

See our campervan interior décor ideas

So, what’s the best way to carry out all of these steps? Let’s look at 3 of the best online resources to help turn your van life dreams into reality…

THE BEST CAMPERVAN CONVERSION TUTORIALS AND RESOURCES

Van conversion resource #1 – ‘From Van to Home’ Ebook

There are loads of videos on YouTube showing off people’s amazing van conversions. But if you’re going to do this yourself, we think there’s nothing better than to have the best resources to hand.

Mike Hudson’s ebook is the ‘bible of van conversion’ and will help you every step of the way.

We downloaded the first edition of ‘From Van To Home‘ a couple of years ago. Hobo Gav bought it for his stepson who – at the time – was converting a small Ford Transit Connect van, following the instructions in the book.

The second edition is out now and contains…

  • Additions and modifications that Mike has made to his van since the first edition
  • Afterthoughts and comments from having had more experience on the road
  • Corrections – small mistakes in the first edition have been put right
  • Higher resolution photos and illustrations – many redone for more clarity – and some brand new ones
  • Chapter summaries for easier navigation
  • Any ambiguities cleared up making the instructions even easier to follow

Find out more and grab your copy now…

From Van to Home - camper van conversion ebook

Van conversion resource #2 – Design your van interior with Vanspace 3D

If you’re more of a visual type – rather than a reader – using 3D software might be the option to go for.

Van conversion experts ‘Vanspace3D‘ have the most amazing software you can use which puts your ideas onto the screen in front of you in 3D.

If you’ve seen any of the episodes of Dream Builds On Wheels you’ll know what we’re getting at; unlimited creative freedom to see what your vision looks like before you actually start working on your van.

And you can keep changing it on the screen until your van conversion looks exactly how you want it to be. You then have a 3D template from which to build your perfect van.

Vanspace3D software: camper van conversion: how to design the interior of your converted campervan
Image: Vanspace 3D

Van conversion resource #3: Van Life Academy online course

We were blown away when we attended Project Vanlife’s Online Summit, so much so that we signed up to their Van Life Academy there and then. And what a resource it is!

If you’re serious about getting into van life (especially if you want to build your own van) but don’t know where to begin the Van Life Academy Online Course covers everything.

On the course you’ll learn how to…

  • Source the right vehicle for your needs
  • Plan your van build with expert tuition
  • Carry out the practical steps to turn your vision into reality
  • Tips for living a stress-free van life once you’re van is done
  • Free lifetime upgrades and lots more

We hope you’ve found these tips useful and that it inspires you to start converting your own campervan.

We’d love to hear how you get on with your van conversion, especially so if you work with any of the resources we’ve recommended on this page. Let us know via email.

And remember, if your converted van is 20 years old or more it’ll qualify for our Vintage Vans and Motorhomes gallery. We’d love to show it off for you! Just send us a picture or two when you’re done.

Still not sure if van life is for you? Dip your toes in the water by renting a campervan or motorhome for a few days. But read our tips first…

motorhome rental: what you need to know before you hire an RV
Image: Spaceships Rentals

* Please note that we’re affiliated to all of the resources we’ve highlighted on this page. This means that if you make a purchase via the links we’ll earn a small commission – at no extra cost to yourself. Our full affiliate disclosure document can be read here. We thank you in advance for any purchase you make.

No copyright infringement is intended by the use of any media content on this page. If you see an issue please contact us and we will put it right asap.

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