No matter how much research we put into our campervan builds, we’ll always have a list of van conversion mistakes. Our van build mistakes include:
In this article we will discuss several van conversion mistakes and what we wished we could have done differently during our van build. The purpose of this post is to help educate our readers so they can make their own choices on how to proceed with their own camper van conversions.
1. Not Creating A Detailed Van Build Layout
One of the biggest van build mistakes comes before any construction even takes place, which is not having a detailed, to-scale floor plan already sketched out. Planning the layout is essential to ensure that every inch of available space is used optimally. It also ensures that all the products you intend to place in your van, such as a fridge, water tanks, batteries, and inverter, fit snugly.
You don’t want to finish constructing your kitchen counters only to find out afterwards that your propane tank won’t fit!
That’s why we recommend using any free drawing software that you might have on your computer to sketch your van’s future floor plan. Just remember to make everything to scale, that way you won’t have any surprises when it comes time to install the furniture. In the above sketch, you can see how we partitioned our furniture with detailed dimensions and were able to fit each of our large items.
You do not need any fancy 3D modeling software. All you need is any drawing software that you already have installed on your computer. To learn how to do this, read our van conversion layout creator post.
2. Not Taking Advantage Of Free Online Resources
When we were researching how to build our camper van, we were stunned by just how much resources were available online, many of which were for free. If you know how to ask the right questions, you can find all the information you need to help you convert your van. Don’t make the mistake of trying to figure everything out yourself.
For example, we make available PDFs that you can download (for free) that show you how to build your van’s electric system, solar system, and plumbing. We show you which components you need and how to connect everything together.
You can copy these diagrams verbatim or mix and match based on your unique needs. Check them out below.
Converting a camper van? Download our free electrical, solar, & plumbing guides to help you. Filled with intuitive diagrams and product recommendations based on experience and endless research, our PDFs are designed by van lifers for van lifers!
3. Not Mold Proofing Your Wood Material
Mold can be a serious issue for camper vans, so not taking the proper steps to prevent mold growth is one of the biggest van build mistakes you can make. This is especially true if you plan to travel to areas of high humidity, such as Florida or along the Caribbean.
That’s why for all plywood boards we recommend a two-step strategy for mold prevention.
- Anti-Mold Spray: Apply two coats to all wood pieces and allow to dry.
- Mold Killing Primer: Apply one coat all all wood pieces before painting with final color.
$20.99 ($0.66 / Fl Oz)
$19.95 ($0.62 / Fl Oz)
Used to eliminate mold and mildew and prevents their regrowth. We sprayed this solution on all our wood before installing in our van. This includes our wood walls, sub-floor, kitchen counters, and bed frame.
Kills existing mold and prevents their regrowth on the paint surface. Best used in conjunction with mold control spray.
In the below photo, we just finished adding the Zinsser Mold Killing Primer to our sub-floor plywood boards. Once dried, we brought them into our van.
For more information, read our camper van mold prevention tips.
4. Not Installing A Vent Fan With A Rain Cover
Installing a vent fan that doesn’t include a rain cover is a huge mistake. Just ask any van lifer who has ever traveled during the rainy season.
If you didn’t know already, a vent fan isn’t only useful during the hot summer months, but also to expel moist, sticky air during periods of high humidity. And this is especially true when it’s raining outside.
We spent 5 months camped in Mexico during the torrential rainy season and being stuck inside the van when it’s wet outside is no fun. Everything is moist and gross, and you have to keep all your doors and windows closed to keep the rain out. And if your vent fan doesn’t have a rain cover, you’ll need to keep the lid closed and fan turned off.
That’s why we only over recommend the Maxxair Vent Fan to van converters. Though they’re slightly more expensive than competitor brands, like the Fan-Tastic Fan, the build-in rain cover is worth its weight in gold.
A high-quality vent fan is a top van life essential. It exhausts stale, greasy, & musty air and promotes fresh air flow into the van. The Maxxfan's unique rain cover allows you to continue operating the fan even when it's raining hard outside.
5. Not Installing Enough Leisure Batteries
We can’t tell you how many van lifers we’ve met that did not have a large enough battery bank installed in their camper vans. We don’t have enough fingers (or toes!) to count them all. Too many times van builders are buying a single 100Ah-12V AGM battery and thinking that it’s enough.
Spoiler alert, it’s not enough. And not even close.
What ultimately happens for campers with too small of a battery bank is that the battery is consistently depleted every day. Running out of battery juice not only prevents you from powering your electrics but also significantly reduces the lifespan of the batteries leading to their premature death.
To help you, we put together a useful battery size calculator that factors in your power requirements and puts together a robust battery recommendation that will last for the duration of your van travels.
6. Using AGM Instead Of Lithium Batteries
The year is 2023 and lithium (LiFePO4) battery prices have come down substantially over the last decade. In fact, if you factor in depth-of-discharge (DoD) and usable power differences between the two battery chemistries, lithium batteries are cheaper per Watt-hour than their AGM counterparts.
This has led us to confidently state that buying AGM batteries is one of the BIGGEST van build mistakes you can make today. Lithium batteries are better in almost every single way.
- Cheaper per Watt-hour of usable power
- 3x longer lifespan
- Greater depth-of-discharge
- Higher voltage output
We use BattleBorn Batteries in our camper van, which are fantastic but admittedly expensive. There are plenty of budget-friendly models available online that provide the same lithium benefits at a much better value point.
Lithium batteries outperform standard AGM batteries in virtually every category. The 12V Redodo battery is a great option (at a fantastic price) to 'go lithium' without breaking the bank. Pro Tip: Use our battery calculator to size your energy system.
If we could do our van build over again, we would have used these cheaper lithium batteries. At roughly 1/3 the price of a BattleBorn, even if they only last half as long, it still would be beneficial.
7. Screwing Plywood Directly Into Sheet Metal Walls
When building our van, we watched numerous van build videos where the person fixes their plywood walls to their van by screwing directly into the vehicle’s sheet metal wall. Setting aside the fact that they are needlessly creating new holes in their van and opening themselves up to additional rust opportunities, screwing into sheet metal does not provide a strong anchor point for the plywood walls to rest on.
This is because a screw has an incredibly small amount of contact with the thin sheet metal. The result is a low pull-out force.
Our top recommendation for fixing plywood walls, ceiling boards, and furniture to your van's sheet metal frame. Different vans use different size cross nuts, refer to the links below to locate the specific size you need.
Instead, you should take advantage of the fabricated holes that already exist in your van’s sheet metal walls by installing cross nuts or rivet nuts.
These threaded inserts are a fantastic solution that firmly hold your plywood boards (and ceiling and other furniture) to your van’s frame without having to drill new holes in the van’s sheet metal.
To learn more, read our furring strip installation post.
8. Installing Electrical Wires That Are Too Small
Electrical safety is a critical concept to understand to keep you and your camper van safe. One of the biggest electrical mistakes you can make is to install wires that are too thin for the amount of current (Amps) that you plan to deliver through the wires.
But we understand that it can feel cumbersome to calculate power ratings and current flow for every electric device just so that you can figure out the ‘ideal’ wire size for each piece. Secondly to buy so many different sized wires is expensive and leads to a waste of excess wires.
That’s why we simplify the process and recommend the following wire sizes for each section of your van’s electrical build:
- Battery to 12v panel: 2/0 AWG
- Fuse panel to 12v devices: 14AWG
- DC-DC charger wiring: 6 AWG
- Inverter to outlets: 12 AWG
What About Solar Wires?
Solar wire gauge depends on the size of your solar array. Read our solar wire size guide for all the details.
For complete wire size details, download our free Electrical Ebook.
9. Not Water Proofing The Area Under The Sink
Van life and plumbing leaks go hand-in-hand. It’s just so frustratingly hard to keep water where it’s supposed to be. And this is especially true for water systems that experience drastic shocks and constant vibrations when driving.
As a result for our van, we would some times experience water leaks under our sink and our plywood cabinets would be soaked in water.
That’s why we recommend water-proofing, with a polyurethane coating, any wood areas that are at risk of being wet. In most cases, this would include the region under the sink, which holds the fresh & grey water tanks. After we applied the coating, our plywood no longer soaked up water when we had leaks, which is perfect for preserving the wood and preventing mold growth.
10. Installing A Sink That Is Too Small
We understand that interior space is limited in a camper van. But if cooking your own meals is important for you, don’t make the mistake of choosing a small sink and thinking that they’re a space efficient van life solution.
We’ve seen van conversions that utilize tiny “bar style” sinks and wonder how anyone could possible meal prep and wash up afterwards. And to use these type of sinks day-after-day must be a real headache.
That’s why, even when considering limited interior space restrictions, we recommend getting a robust & spacious sink, which makes dish duty a breeze. Specifically, we’re a fan of these 15″x15″ stainless steel sinks that are big and deep enough to fit most large plates and pans. We use the Ruvati RV sink, but you can find lots of different and similar models online.
We love our Ruvati sink. Spacious design and solid stainless steel construction will meet your demands for a high-quality & robust sink solution. Includes cutting board & drying rack, which nestles inside the sink during driving days. Makes dish-washing duty a breeze.
Avoid Camper Van Conversion Mistakes With Proper Layout Planning
We are huge advocates of planning your camper van’s layout in advance, because once the conversion process is done, it’s hard to make physical changes after. And even though we planned well, we still had a number of build regrets. It’s difficult to build a 100% perfect camper interior on your first try, but you can learn from the van conversion mistakes of others.
So we hope this article was useful for you.
If you have any questions, please post a comment at the bottom of this post, or send us an email through our contact form. Thank you!
Learn more about how you can plan your own campervan floor plan and interior layout to avoid any major regrets in the future!
Read More: How To Build A DIY Camper Van