How To Build A Camper Van
An Actionable, Step-By-Step Guide For DIY Beginners
About This 100% free Camper Conversion Guide
No Build Experience Required
We barely knew how to use power tools before building our camper van. ZERO prior knowledge is required to follow our guide.
From choosing your van to plumbing, this guide starts from the beginning and details how to build a camper van from scratch.
Still have questions? We’d love to hear from you and answer any specific questions you might have. Send us an email on our contact page.
Watch our Van Tour!
Choosing A Van For Your Conversion Build
If you’re in the very early stages of planning a camper van conversion, but you don’t even have a van yet, you might be asking yourself…
“What type of vehicle should I get?”
“How much do van’s cost?”
“How do you effectively negotiate with a van dealership?”
If you have not yet selected your van, this section is for you.
Planning Your Van Build
Great! You got your van and now it’s time to start planning your conversion build. Now is a great time to start asking yourself the following questions:
“Do I want a stealth camper van?”
“What type of bed do I want? Fixed or convertible?”
“What kind of tools do I need?”
“Should I install a toilet and/or shower room?”
Below we cover the following topics in our layout planning section.
Camper Van Interior Design Guide
Converting a campervan isn’t simply about woodworking and electric wiring. Because of the very limited space inside a van, thinking about campervan interior design is a lot more important than most average homes.
“What is the process of campervan interior design?”
“Which color I should paint for the wall?”
“Where I place the LED lights?”
“Tips for campervan interior decoration?”
Below we cover the following topics in our camper van interior design section.
Building The Foundation Of Your Camper Van
Here is where we really start to get our hands dirty and start building our camper van interior. We call this section the “foundation” because it deals with everything before building interior furniture.
Here we discuss:
How to properly insulate a camper van
Putting in windows and a vent fan
Installing a floor, walls, and a beautiful ceiling
Check out each of our chapters below for more information on each state of this part of the van conversion process.
Electrical System Installation
Assembling your own DIY electric system in your camper van can feel like a daunting task. With so many things to consider, a multitude of wires and components to buy, it can be confusing to know where to start. That’s why we created this step-by-step electric guide to get you from start to finish as quickly and effectively as possible.
In this section of our van build guide, we cover:
- What electric wire sizes you need
- How to properly size your house battery system
- Everything you need to know about solar panels for camper vans
- Step-by-step installation guide to get everything connected and working
If you’re ready, let’s get started!
Before building any part of your camper van, it’s a good idea to create a list of exactly which electrical devices you want to have. With this list, you can then begin to lay out all the electrical wires necessary to power those devices. Ideally, you’ll want to lay out your wires BEFORE installing your floor, walls, & ceiling.
Some of the most common and important electrical devices that are commonly installed in a camper van are:
- Ventilation Fan
- 12v Fridge
- 12v and 120v Electric Sockets
- Electric Water Pump
- Diesel Heater
- Solar Panels
- 120v Inverter
After creating your own list of electrical devices, it’s a good idea to create a mock-up design of your camper van layout. This will help you when it comes time to laying out your electrical wires.
Laying Out Your Camper's Electrical Wires
With this list, you can then begin to lay out all the electrical wires necessary to power those devices. Ideally, you’ll want to lay out your wires BEFORE installing your floor, walls, & ceiling.
There are 3 things to know before laying out your electrical wires in the van.
1. Select The Correct Wire Size (Wire Gauge)
The wire thickness (wire gauge) you use is dependent on the device that will be drawing power through that particular wire. But simply speaking, we’ve found that the following rules have served us well.
Lastly, when selecting your electrical wires, it’s important to chose stranded copper wires instead of the solid copper wires commonly used inside homes. With all the movement inside a van when driving, the wires need to move and flex easily. Solid copper wires are at risk of snapping after repeat exposure to vibration and movement.
2. Choose Wires With Durable Wire Housing
Because a camper van will always be in motion, there will naturally be a fair amount of friction between each electrical wire and various parts of the van. With too much friction and chaffing, the protective housing that encases the copper wire strands are at risk of being damaged, which eventually becomes a dangerous fire hazard if the electrical wires become exposed.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to select electrical wires with strong & durable wire housing. If you can find a wire with MULTIPLE layers of wire housing, that is a plus.
One of our van regrets is that much of our van’s 14-gauge wires used vert flexible, but delicate silicone housing. Not very great to withstand vibration and friction while driving on the road.
When selecting wires appropriate for camper vans, it’s a good idea to find wires that have 2 layers of protective housing around the copper wire strands. For example, we like these 14/2-gauge “speaker wire” because not only are the positive and negative wires encased in their own protective jackets, but there is also a second jacket that covers both individual wires for added durability.
3. Use A Split Wire Loom For More Protection
We didn’t put our electric wires through a wire loom, but we wished we had for even more protection against vibration and friction while driving. Plastic conduits make laying out your electric wires a tad more complicated, but it’s worth the extra effort considering that your wires will be permanently behind you walls and ceiling boards. Keeping your wires safe from damage should be a top priority.
Calculate Your Battery Bank Size
One of the biggest problems we see with other DIY camper van build is improperly sized batteries. More often than not, the battery system in most van conversions do not adequately support the traveler’s daily energy usage. As a result, these batteries tend to die prematurely and the travelers are left without a reliable source of power.
In this part, we will go over what you need to know to build a proper battery system that can support your electrical demands day in and day out.
Step 1 - Select Your Battery Type: AGM vs Lithium
When it comes to sizing your battery system, the first decision to make is which type of battery you want to use; traditional AGM or Lithium batteries.
Traditional AGM: Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries are the most common type of batteries in camper vans these days. Affordable & ubiquitour, AGMs have been providing a reliable source of power for years. But depth of discharge issues (i.e. discharging past 50% too frequently) mean these batteries are at risk of dying prematurely.
LiFePO4 (Lithium) Batteries: The new kid of the block, Lithium batteries have a longer life span and can be safely discharged much deeper than an AGM battery. However, a considerably higher initial cost makes Lithium batteries prohibitively expensive for many. If it is within your budget, we recommend going with Lithium.
Step 2 - Calculate Your Daily Energy Usage
In order to know ‘how many’ batteries you need (how many amp-hours, more specifically), it’s important to make an estimation on your daily energy usage. This is the average amount of power you require per day.
To do this, make a list of all the electrical devices you plan to use in your van and figure out each device’s daily ‘amp-hour’ requirement. When you add up every device’s amp-hour draw, you’ll know how many total amp-hours you’ll need per day to run your devices.
Step 3 - Figure Out How Many Batteries (Amp-Hours) You Need
Once you know which battery type you want to go with and what your estimated daily energy usage is, you can then figure out how many batteries (total amp-hours) you need.
If you are choosing AGM batteries, simply double you daily amp-hour needs and this is your recommended AGM battery bank size.
If going with Lithium, your daily amp-hour need is equates to the minimum amp-hour battery bank size.
For more detail and explanation, check out our article “How to Calculate Your Battery Bank Size”
Adding solar panels to your camper van’s electrical system is a great way to become energy independent and to live off-grid for extended periods of time. And plus, it’s simply an awesome feeling to see, with a battery monitor, that you’re actually charging your batteries from the sun.
For an in-depth look at everything you need to know, check out our post on solar systems for camper vans
What You Need
To set up your own solar system in your van conversion, you’ll need, at the minimum, the following components:
- Solar panels: These panels convert energy from the sun into usable watts. We love our 180w Newpowa panels, but Renogy’s 100w panels are also popular.
- 10-gauge wire: This is the standard wire thickness when setting up a solar system. Your solar panels will come with ~3ft of 10-gauge wire, but you will need more to connect the panels to your batteries.
- Solar charge controller: This device controls the amount of power flowing into your batteries and prevents them from being overcharged. A solar charge controller is a must.
For those without the time nor the inclination to put together a solar system from scratch, Renogy provides an easy and convenient 200-watt solar kit that comes with everything you need to put together a basic solar system for your camper van.
Comprehensive Solar Guide For Camper Vans
There is so much to know and learn about solar panels for camper vans that we created a separate, detailed post just on this topic. On our post we discuss:
- Are solar panels necessary for a camper van?
- Which solar panels we recommend for camper vans
- How many solar panels you need
- Series vs. Parallel: Which connection type is best?
- How to properly fuse a solar array system
- Attaching solar panels to your camper van’s roof
- How to incorporate solar panels to your camper van’s electrical system
- And recommended solar accessories
To learn more, check out our photovoltaic systems for camper vans article.
DIY Electrical System Installation
Now that you know what electrical devices you want to install in your camper van and whether or not you want to put up solar panels, you’re now ready to begin putting together the entire electrical system for your van conversion.
For most camper vans, there are 5 steps to putting together a complete electrical system:
- Step 1: Connecting the batteries together
- Step 2: Connecting the batteries to the positive & negative bus bars
- Step 3: Setting up the 12v system
- Step 4: Setting up the 120v system
- Step 5: Installing the solar system
We discuss in greater detail how to set up each step of your van’s electrical system in our DIY Camper Van Electrical System Installation Guide
Comprehensive Installation E-Book (FREE!)
For those that want nothing but images, we put together a 100% Free Electrical Installation Guide E-Book.
For greater detail, including a breakdown of all the different components and tools needed, check out our electrical system installation post.
Got electrical system questions for your campervan build? This section is for you.
Building Interior Furniture In A Van
With the foundation of your van’s build and the electrical system complete, you can now move onto building your camper van’s interior furniture. Fair bit of warning, there will probably be lot of sticky wood glue involved!
Check out our chapters below for detailed instructions on how to build each furniture piece inside your van conversion.
How you design and construct the bed in your van dictates the look and feel for the rest of your van interior. The amount of storage space and counter top real estate largely depend on how you decide to build your bed. In this section, we will go over the different bed layout options and their pros and cons. Later, we discuss different mattress options and which types of cushion fabric we recommend.
Fixed vs. Convertible Beds
Not to be over dramatic, but the choice to build either a fixed or a convertible bed is a huge decision and has repercussions on the rest of your van build and your lifestyle when you eventually hit the road.
Whether you choose a fixed/permanent bed or a convertible one, both styles have their pros and cons. We review each below.
These beds are permanent fixtures in your van. Whether you are using the bed or not, the bed will always be there. This is the most common type of camper van bed.
Convertible beds, which is what we opted for, can be converted into a dinette, working, or social area during the day when not needed.
Unless the dimensions of your bed frame actually match that of a standard mattress, you’ll likely have to cut a mattress down to size. And since traditional mattresses often have metal springs and other fillers that make cutting them impractical, a foam mattress is likely your best bet.
Our Recommendation: LINENSPA 5″ Memory Foam – Our foam mattress of choice and has lasted us well for 2+ years already. The top 1″ is a gel-infused foam layer to help the mattress cool during warmer temperatures.
To cut your foam mattress down to size, we really recommend using an electric bread/turkey knife. We tried to save money by using a regular bread knife, but the foam cutting process went horribly. An electric knife helped get us much smoother and straighter cuts.
Still need convincing? Check out our post: Best Mattress For Camper Vans
If you choose to go with a convertible bed, you’ll want to select a fabric to upholster your cushions, which will also be your mattress when in ‘bed mode’.
The types and colors of fabrics you can choose from to upholster your cushions are limitless. But not all fabrics are appropriate for van life. You’ll want to choose fabrics that are durable (have a high ‘double rub’ count) and are resistant to stains.
We recommend going to a fabric store and head towards the “Heavy Upholstery” section. These fabrics are thicker and more resistant to wear and tear.
How To Build A Convertible Bed
Building kitchen counters might be the most technically complex part of a camper van build. Measurements need to be exact and installing drawer slides can be tricky if it’s your first time. In this chapter, we’ll go over some of the things you should be aware of when constructing your own counters.
Get Your Measurements
When designing your kitchen counters, it’s a good idea to plan what big items you plan to store inside them. Then you can begin designing the dimensions of each drawer to fit those larger items. Bulkier items to plan around include:
- Propane tank
- Fresh & grey water tanks
- Silverware tray
- Large pots & pans
- Instant Pot
- Trash bin
Take the measurements of these items and begin building your drawers. In the drawing below, you can see how we divided our kitchen counter (shaded in orange) based on several of our big items we wanted to place inside.
Counter Frame & Drawers: We used 1/2″ plywood and we found this thickness to be the best compromise between sturdiness and being weight conscious. Although you could go thicker than this to 3/4″, we definitely would not recommend anything thinner.
Counter Top: Butcher block is a common counter top material. Ikea sells a variety of affordable wood counter tops. If you are in the USA and want a bit more of a high end feel, check out the butcher blocks from LL Flooring. This is where we picked up our Walnut counter top and highly recommend it.
Drawer Slides: Drawer slides come in all different sizes and types. But we recommend picking up a pair of ‘soft close’ slides. They’re worth the extra few dollars.
Table Saw: A table saw has a steep learning curve, but once we got used to operating one we were churning out boards with highly accurate, straight cuts. Perfect for when constructing a kitchen counter.
Framing Square: This simple device is not only a ruler, but also helps to ensure that you have perfect 90-degree angles when constructing your kitchen counter frame.
Pocket Hole Jig: The Kreg Tools Pocket Hole Jig is an awesome little device that helps you create strong, 90-degree bonds between two pieces of wood.
Drawer Slide Jig: Fitting your drawer slides into your counters can be tricky, but the Kreg Tools drawer slide jig takes a lot of guesswork out of the installation process. We purchased this jig and were happy we did.
Cabinet Hardware Jig: We used this cabinet hardware jig to drill correctly located holes on our drawer fronts to attach our handles. While not a necessity, the jig made attaching the drawer handles effortless and error-free.
How To Build A Kitchen Counter
Upper cabinets are a great addition to a camper van build to maximize storage. In our van, we build upper cabinets that run the full length of both the van’ driver and passenger side, which allow us to store all our clothes, dry food, books, hygiene products, and more.
Benefits of Upper Cabinets
While upper cabinets are not as necessary to build as, say, a bed or kitchen, they do provide a number of benefits:
Upper Cabinet Frame: We used 1/2″ plywood for the cabinet frame and felt that this thickness was the best compromise between strength and weight. If you can find it, baltic birch plywood is a great, sturdy material for upper cabinets.
Door Hinges: These cabinet hinges are popular in many van builds. But for a higher quality feel, we went with these Blum Soft-Close Concealed Hinges. However, these concealed hinges are more complicated to install and require the concealed hinge jig and 3/4″ of plywood thickness where you drill your hinge holes.
Gas Struts: To help prop open your upper cabinet doors, we recommend these gas struts.
Magnet Door Catches: To help keep your cabinet doors closed while driving, these magnetic door catches were very well.
Table Saw: A table saw has a steep learning curve, but once we got used to operating one we were churning out boards with highly accurate, straight cuts.
Framing Square: This simple device is not only a ruler, but also helps to ensure that you have perfect 90-degree angles when constructing your upper cabinet frame.
Pocket Hole Jig: The Kreg Tools Pocket Hole Jig is an awesome little device that helps you create strong, 90-degree bonds between two pieces of wood.
Cabinet Hardware Jig: We used this cabinet hardware jig to drill correctly located holes on our cabinet fronts to attach our handles. While not a necessity, the jig made attaching the drawer handles effortless and error-free.
Concealed Hinge Jig: If you plan to use the Blum soft-close hinges, the concealed hinge jig is practically a necessity to help install the hinge.
How To Build Upper Cabinets (Step-By-Step)
In our Upper Cabinet construction article, we go over how we constructed the frame of our upper cabinets and how we mounted them to our walls.
Plumbing is nobody’s idea of a good time.
There are so many different products and tiny fittings to think about that building a plumbing system in your van can become a real ache.
But we hope this section of our van build guide will help smooth your plumbing journey
Welcome to the interesting world of camper van plumbing!
In our camper water system introduction post, we give you an idea of what it takes to build you own plumbing system from scratch. You’ll learn about:
- How to build a plumbing system with PEX pipes
- Best water system products and fittings
- Toilet solutions
- And more…
ALSO INCLUDED: Detailed diagrams and installation explanations.
Check it out!
Water Storage Tanks
Storing water is a critical part of any camper van water & plumbing system. In any given van, there can be as many as THREE different types of water storage tanks:
- Fresh Water Tanks – Holds clean, fresh water
- Grey Water Tanks – Holds sink & shower waste water
- Black Water Tanks – Holds waste water from toilets
Fresh Water Tanks
Of all the three different types of water tanks, fresh water tanks are perhaps the most important.
These tanks store the water you’ll need to drink, prepare your meals, wash your dishes, and even shower. Check out our blog post specifically discussing fresh water tanks for camper vans. In this post we go into greater details regarding:
- Different types of fresh water containers
- How to install a fixed fresh water tank
- How to clean & sanitize a fresh water tank
Grey & Black Waste Water Tanks
Coming Soon – Sept 2021
Sinks & Faucets
Picking out the right sink and faucet for your van is an important decision that, initially, doesn’t seem so critical.
But because camper vans provide such a small living space, it’s a good idea to pick out products that make living in cramped quarters easier, not more stressful. Sinks & faucets are a perfect example.
With the right pairing, cooking and dish washing become a breeze. But get it wrong, and chores become an inconvenience and a headache.
“How to choose?”
Shop Our Camper Van Sink & Faucet
We scoured the internet and hardware stores for the best sink and faucet for our camper van. Read our sink & faucet reviews below.
Ruvati RV Sink Review
The right sink makes all the difference. That’s why we went with sink specifically designed for camper vans and RVs.
Deep and spacious and with plenty of included accessories; it’s no wonder we love our Ruvati RV sink.
Click to learn more about the best sink for camper vans.
Gooseneck Sink Review
Don’t make dish duty any more of a chore than it should be.
We looked at dozens of different faucet sizes and shapes and ended up selecting a beautiful, gooseneck faucet with a pull-down head.
2+ years later, we still love our choice. Click to learn more about the best faucet for camper vans.
Once you got your sink and faucet picked out, it’s time to install everything together so you can finally get running water in your van.
We provide a 100% FREE plumbing guide eBook to help you with the installation process.
Included in this eBook are detailed diagrams and clickable images (taking you to Amazon product pages) that help you piece together your own sink and faucet water system for your van.
Admittedly, living in a van means not being able to take as many showers as you would like. Our record is 6 days without a shower, but we’ve known people that regularly go much, much longer than that. For some, being able to take a shower is a vital part of van life. Below are a few common shower solutions while on the road.
- Built-In Showers: The most luxurious option without having to step out of your van. But this method is the most complicated and involves the most work. This video does a great job at explaining how to DIY your own bathroom with shower.
- Out-Door Solar Showers: These cylindrical water tubes attach to your van’s roof and heat up the water inside while sitting in the sun. Super convenient and nice, but you’ll have to shower outside.
- Solar Shower Bags: Our shower solution of choice. A solar shower bag is easy to fill at any sink or spigot and simply sit the bag outside in the sun or on your dashboard and you’ll have a piping hot shower by the afternoon.
- Truck Stops: In the USA many truck stop branches (Flying J and Pilot brands) offer showers in their stores. They cost ~$12 per shower, but they come in handy when desperate.
- Campsites & RV Parks: Unfortunately most National Parks in the US don’t offer shower facilities, but private campsites and many State Parks offer showers.
- Gyms: Having a monthly gym membership to national gym chains like Fitness 24 & Planet Fitness is a convenient solution to those who travel around the US and Canada.
Miscellaneous & After Market Upgrades
How To Build A Camper Van FAQ
Our van build cost us ~US$20,000. Admittedly, we put in several premium products in our van, such as our 3x100Ah lithium batteries, Victron-branded electronics, and butcher block countertop.
A more budget-oriented build can absolutely be built with the same stunning interior design and functionality.
None whatsoever! We learned everything by watching countless hours of Youtube and reading campervan build blogs, just like this one.
Our van build took us 8 months. Our lack of building experience and an unusually rainy wet season really slowed us down. If we could build a second van, we’re confident we could build the same quality van in half the time.
100% Plumbing! We were so close to finishing our van we could smell the finish line.
But then our plumbing had leaks everywhere and finding the right connections was a nightmare.
Building our campervan’s electrical system turned out to be not as daunting as we previously thought. We believe that if you just take it slow and steady and you’ll be fine.
Visit our Campervan Electrical System Installation Homepage for step-by-step instructions.
Yes! Here are our top 3 pieces of advice for anyone interested in building their own campervan.
- Plan, Plan, Plan: Whether you are sketching out your campervan floor plan, or thinking about your campervan’s interior design, really fleshing out how you want your van to look and function is important to getting the most out of your van life experience.
- Proper Battery Bank Size: To avoid electricity supply nightmares, understanding your daily energy usage needs is important to properly sizing a battery bank that is appropriate for your travels. We’ve met too many travelers with undersized battery banks and constantly run out of power.
- Feeling Overwhelmed? Just look straight ahead: There were days where we simply didn’t want to work on the van. Too many projects, too hard, and didn’t know how to proceed. But developing ‘tunnel vision’ goes a long way here and simply learning to improve one thing and ignore the rest can really help get you across the finish line.
Final Thoughts: Build Your Perfect DIY Campervan
Building our campervan was a huge process that literally took blood, sweat, and tears. Every day felt like we were taking two steps forward and one step back. But in the end, on May 2019, we finished our van conversion and jetted off on our own van life adventure.
And If We Can Build A Campervan...
Converting our own DIY campervan with our own hands and ingenuity was one of the most rewarding accomplishments of our lives. And we genuinely believe that if we can build our own beautiful DIY campervan, so can you! Just make a plan, take it slow, and do the best work that you can. And when in doubt, learn from other’s build experiences.
We hope our “Build A Campervan” guide provides you with a solid foundation to convert your own van. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, please send us an email in the contacts page.