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Camper Van Conversion Build Order | From Start To Finish!

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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.

Camper van interior

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

Campervan Build Order
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Not what you need? Check out our “DIY Van Conversion Guide” for more similar content.

    Step 1:

    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:

    Mexico Road Trips Tips #1
    Our commercial van conversion

    Step 2:

    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.

    car, vintage, automotive-7392967.jpg
    Get ready to scrub those rusty campers

    Recommended steps:

    1. Sweep the van to get rid of any dust and loose particles.
    2. Wipe the van down with warm, soapy water to clear out grime.
    3. Use steel wool to scrub off any visible rust.
    4. 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.

    Step 3:

    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):

    • Bed
    • Cabinets
    • Bathroom & shower
    • Electrical center
    • Sink & plumbing
    • Lights
    • 12V & 120V sockets
    • Roof layout (fan & solar panels)
    Complete camper van floor plan diagram (Birds eye view)
    Complete camper van floor plan diagram (birds eye view)

    DIY Tip: Make accurate measurements of each item in your floorplan to make the future build process easier. This includes furniture dimensions AND even products, like your inverter. You also need to measure the precise dimensions of your van’s interior (length, width, & height).

    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.

    Step 4:

    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.

    Woman in Van Interior
    Design your own stunning camper van interior

    Top 3 design tips:

    1. Learn how to use Pinterest to your advantage
    2. Decide on a color scheme you love
    3. Design purposeful interior lighting

    Step 5:

    Install Windows

    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.

    Installing windows in a camper van conversion
    Installing the rear windows in our camper van

    If you’ve decided to install the windows yourself, read our window installation guide for helpful information and product suggestions.

    Step 6:

    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.

    Vent Fan Installation - Start Cutting
    Installing our Maxxfan

    Step 7:

    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.

    Two solar panels on a camper van
    Two 180W solar panels mounted on our van'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

    Step 8:

    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.

    Furring strip with cross nuts in a van conversion
    Attaching a furring strip, with cross nut, in our van conversion

    Step 9:

    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)

    • Batteries
    • Inverter
    • Fridge
    • Water pump
    • Lights
    • Solar panels
    • USB & 120V sockets
    Wrong Electrical Wires - Most regretful camper van conversion mistake
    Laying wires throughout our van

    Learn From Our Mistakes: In the above picture, we did our wiring after insulation and did not use any conduits. We would do things much differently for a second van build.

    Top 3 tips:

    1. Don’t be stingy with your wires. Leave at least a couple extra feet at each end point of the wire.
    2. Select stranded wire, instead of solid wire
    3. Protect your wires by using plastic conduit

    If you’re not sure what size wires you’ll need, check out our wire size guide.

    Step 10:

    Install Insulation

    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:

    1. Walls
    2. Floor
    3. Ceiling
    4. Windows
    Van Build Guide - Wool Insulation
    Adding sheep's wool to insulate our van

    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
    • Reflectix

    To learn more, check out our camper van insulation guide to help you get going.

    Step 11:

    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):

    1. XPS foam board (insulation)
    2. Plywood (support)
    3. Underlayment (waterproof)

    Be sure to treat the plywood with Concrobium spray and Zinsser primer to prevent mold growth in the future.

    Third-Step-Insulation---Plywood-Subfloor
    Completed sub-floor installation

    When adding the top floor layer, you have multiple materials to choose from:

    1. Hardwood boards
    2. Laminate
    3. 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.

    Step 12:

    Install Walls

    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:

    1. Plywood (1/4″-1/2″ thickness)
    2. Shiplap

    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.

    Thumbnail of How-To-Build-Strong-Camper-Van-Walls
    Finished installing the walls in our camper van

    Read our post to learn more about how to install plywood walls in a camper van.

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Step 13:

    Install Ceiling

    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.

    Installing Cedar Plank Camper Van Ceiling
    Cedar plank ceiling

    To learn more, read how to install your own tongue & groove ceiling in your van.

    Step 14:

    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.

    DIY Van Build Guide - Interior Furniture
    Installing cabinets, bed, and overhead cabinets

    To complete the bed, read our other posts to learn how to DIY campervan cushions and which mattress material we recommend.

    Step 15:

    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:

    1. Calculate how much batteries you’ll need
    2. Assemble the 12-Volt system
    3. 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:

    1. Charge while driving with a DC-to-DC charger
    2. Install a 120-Volt system with a power inverter
    Solar charge controller next to a circuit breaker
    Solar charge controller connected to circuit breaker

    To help you through your electrics build, we’ve put together the following helpful posts:

    Make sure to check out our free ebooks that include lots of informative solar and electrical wiring diagrams to help get you going.

    Camper van electrical wiring diagram
    Download our free electrical wiring diagrams

    Step 16:

    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.

    Under sink cabinet in a campervan
    Fresh and grey water plumbing under the sink

    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!

    Camper Van Sink Plumbing System

    Step 17:

    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!

    Throw cushions in a camper van
    Add your own personal touches to you campervan

    In Conclusion

    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.

    Happy building!

    Go Back: DIY Camper Van Conversion Guide

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