Building a DIY camper van is no easy feat. With so many tasks to finish, like electrical, insulation, and furniture building, it can be confusing to know which steps need to be completed first before you can move on to the next.
And getting the conversion order wrong can sometimes lead to disastrous results.
You don’t want to mount your solar panels only to later realize you no longer have access to the inside of your vans’ roof.
That’s why in this post we list the most logical camper van conversion build order, from start to finish.
And throughout this article, we link to useful posts to give you more specific information on each step of the conversion process.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Choose A Van
Selecting the type of van you want to live in is the critical first step in the van conversion build order and this decision can either make or break your van life experience.
You may be surprised by the sheer variety of ‘vans’ that are out there on the market today.
Some important questions to ask yourself when choosing a vehicle for van life are:
- What kind of vans are available?
- Purchase new or old?
- Do you want a high-roof van?
- How much length space do you need?
- Is a 4×4 van important?
- Is a stealth van important?
Initial Cleanup & Rust Elimination
If you purchased a used vehicle, you should inspect the van and clean the interior of any dust, grime, and rust.
It is important to clean the van’s interior now because once you install your floors, walls, and ceiling, you won’t have any more access to the van’s metal frame.
And if you don’t take care of any rust issues now, it may become a larger problem further down the road.
- Sweep the van to get rid of any dust and loose particles.
- Wipe the van down with warm, soapy water to clear out grime.
- Use steel wool to scrub off any visible rust.
- Spray Rust-O-Leum over bare metal to prevent future rust.
With a clean van interior, you are ready to start the van conversion process.
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
Furniture & Electrical Layout Planning
Before building anything, you should design an accurate floor plan of your camper van’s interior.
In this step, you’ll decide where to install each of the following items (and their dimensions):
- Bathroom & shower
- Electrical center
- Sink & plumbing
- 12V & 120V sockets
- Roof layout (fan & solar panels)
To learn how to create your own ‘to-scale’ layout, check out our camper van floor plan guide.
If you’re not sure what is the best floor plan for you, you can start by researching other van builds and reading what others love and hate about their own conversion layouts.
Interior Design Planning
Your camper van doesn’t have to have a cold, utilitarian feel. You can design a unique, gorgeous interior and you don’t need to be a professional designer OR invest a lot of money to do so.
You just need to spend the time and plan appropriately. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
In this step, start to think about style, color schemes, and interior lighting.
These are important concepts to learn and can have a large impact on the overall outlook of your van’s interior.
If you are not sure where to start, check out our 7 Tips To Designing A Stunning Campervan Interior.
Top 3 design tips:
- Learn how to use Pinterest to your advantage
- Decide on a color scheme you love
- Design purposeful interior lighting
Installing windows in your camper marks the first step of physically starting the van conversion process. But if you’re not adding any windows, you can skip this step.
Adding windows to your campervan is a great way to bring in natural light and fresh air. You will need to decide the following:
- Do you want windows?
- How many windows?
- What size windows?
Motion Windows is a popular manufacturer for camper & RV windows and have a wide selection of shapes and sizes. We purchased our windows from them.
If you’ve decided to install the windows yourself, read our window installation guide for helpful information and product suggestions.
Install Ventilation Fan
A vent fan is one of the most important products you can install in your van conversion. If you believe only one thing in this post, it should be this:
DO NOT skimp out on getting a vent fan.
Not only do these fans circulate air into your camper and maintain a cool environment inside the van, but they also help keep your van interior smelling clean and fresh.
Living in a musty-smelling camper van is no fun…and a health hazard!
The two most popular vent fans on the market today are the FAN-tastic Fan and Maxxfan.
But in our opinion, there is no contest. We strongly believe the Maxxfan is the best fan for camper vans.
And once you’re ready to put one in your camper, check out our vent fan installation guide for step-by-step instructions.
Mount Solar Panels
The next step in the van conversion build order is to mount solar panels onto your camper van’s roof. It is easiest to do this BEFORE you’ve installed insulation and the ceiling since you will need access under the roof to thread the solar wires into your van.
If you are not sure how much solar you need or where on the roof to install your panels, read the following posts to learn more:
Once you are ready, you’ll need to decide whether to mount the panels on a roof rack or directly onto your camper’s roof.
We opted to mount the panels directly on our camper’s roof for a lower, more discreet profile. To learn how we did this, check out our post: How To Mount Solar Panels On A Campervan
Install Furring Strips
The next step is to install furring strips all throughout the inside of your camper.
Adding furring strips will help ensure your future walls, ceiling, and furniture are firmly attached. These strips provide a significantly better solution than simply screwing your wood walls and ceiling directly to your van’s metal frame.
You want to add furring strips now because once you put in your insulation, you won’t have access to your van’s metal frame, which is what you want to install your furring strips to.
And if you attach the furring strips correctly, as we discuss in our furring strips installation post, you won’t have to drill ANY new holes into your van.
Lay Electrical Wires Throughout Van
Now is the time to start laying out all your electrical wires. Afterwards, you can install your insulation, walls, and ceiling to cover these wires.
Lay your wires to the approximate locations to each of the below electrical devices. (Refer to your layout diagram from step #3)
- Water pump
- Solar panels
- USB & 120V sockets
Top 3 tips:
- Don’t be stingy with your wires. Leave at least a couple extra feet at each end point of the wire.
- Select stranded wire, instead of solid wire
- Protect your wires by using plastic conduit
Once you’ve laid your wire, installing insulation is next in the camper van build order.
Adding insulation is an important step as it is critical for interior climate control.
Not only does insulation help keep your camper van warm in cold climates, but it also helps keep your interior cool while under the sun’s direct rays.
The four main areas in your van to insulate are:
We recommend selecting insulation materials that deter mold growth. Some of these materials include:
- Sheep’s wool
- Polyiso & XPS foam boards
- Closed-cell spray foam
Put Down Sub-Floor & Floor
The next step when converting a camper van is to install the sub-floor and then lay the floor boards on top.
For most campers, the sub-floor consists of the following layers (from bottom to top):
Be sure to treat the plywood with Concrobium spray and Zinsser primer to prevent mold growth in the future.
When adding the top floor layer, you have multiple materials to choose from:
- Hardwood boards
- Vinyl planks
We love our luxury vinyl planks since this material makes our camper van feel more like a real home.
To learn more, read our floor installation post.
Next in the van conversion build order is to install the walls.
If you have already installed furring strips (step #8) inside your van, then you will be attaching your walls to these furring strips.
The two most common wall materials used for camper conversions are:
- Plywood (1/4″-1/2″ thickness)
We chose to use plywood in our van conversion because we preferred to have a smoother and more streamlined look.
But before putting up your walls, you want to make sure your wiring (step #9) and insulation (step #10) is completed. Because once your walls go up, it will be difficult to go back and fix any mistakes from previous steps.
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
Just like with the walls, you will be attaching your ceiling to the furring strips that you installed in step #8.
The two most common ceiling materials used for camper conversions are:
- Plywood (1/4″ thickness)
- Tongue & groove boards
We chose to go with cedar plank tongue & groove boards since we liked the contrast they brought against our plywood walls.
You will also want to ensure all your ceiling wiring and insulation is completed before putting up your ceiling boards since it will be difficult to go back and fix any mistakes.
Build Interior Furniture
Once the foundation (insulation, floor, wall, & ceiling) is completed, the next step in the van conversion build order is to start constructing the interior furniture and installing them into your camper.
This is where it becomes critically important to refer to your ‘to-scale’ floorplan diagram from step #3.
To learn how to build each piece of furniture, check out each of our posts below.
To complete the bed, read our other posts to learn how to DIY campervan cushions and which mattress material we recommend.
Assemble Electrical System
Now you are ready to focus on piecing together all the different components for your campervan’s electrical system. For many, building the electrical & solar systems are the most complicated part of the van conversion process.
At the most basic level, you will want to do these three things for your campervan electrics:
- Calculate how much batteries you’ll need
- Assemble the 12-Volt system
- Connect the solar array to your batteries
If you want to take your electrical build to the next level you can focus on the next two steps:
- Charge while driving with a DC-to-DC charger
- Install a 120-Volt system with a power inverter
If you’re starting from the very beginning, we’ve put together a step-by-step electrical guide for beginners that includes useful wiring diagrams, easy explanations, and recommended product lists.
In addition, to help you through specific parts of an electrics build, we have the following posts:
Make sure to check out our free ebooks that include lots of informative solar and electrical wiring diagrams to help get you going.
Install Water System And Plumbing
One of the last steps in the van conversion build order is to install the fresh water and plumbing systems. For most campers, this only includes the fresh and grey water plumbing for the sink.
But if you plan to have an inside shower, you will also need to build the plumbing for this too.
One of the most important decisions is to choose which type of fresh water tank you want to have. If you’re not yet sure, check out our camper van water tank post.
Getting the right sink and faucet can really make van life easier for yourself.
That’s why we think you should read our camper sink and faucet recommendation posts.
Finally, if you need help in assembling your own water system, check our free plumbing eBook.
With intuitive diagrams, our PDF booklet will help guide you to install your own sink and shower system, including hot water!
Decorate Your Camper However You Like!
With the construction almost complete, the last step in the campervan conversion build order is to decorate your van.
After all, you should put in your own unique touches to make your camper your own!
Although we can’t (and shouldn’t) tell you exactly how to decorate your new campervan, check out the 7 must have items we think really help to highlight any campervan interior!
We hope this post inspired you to build your own camper van conversion. Getting the correct build order when constructing your camper isn’t rocket science but it isn’t obvious if it’s your first time converting a van.
If you have any questions regarding the best order to install certain items in your camper van, please let us know in the comments section below or send us an email through the contact form.
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