Learning from someone else’s experience is one of the best things you can do before converting your own camper van. Talk to anyone who has already completed a conversion and they’ll likely smother you with van build tips and advice.
We’ve learned SO MUCH after building our camper that we want to share our top 6 van build tips before you start converting your own camper. Hopefully some of the things you learn from this post help you in your van build journey.
“So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
1. Don’t Neglect Layout & Design Planning
Building a camper van that is thoughtful, space efficient, aesthetic, and viable for long-term van life requires smart planning. And while some people love to study and prepare, others just want to get out the wood and nails and start hammering away ASAP.
But our #1 piece of advice when building a camper van is to thoroughly plan your van’s layout. Future you will thank you for it, especially on those rainy days when you’re stuck inside your vehicle.
This means thinking about:
It also helps to create your own van layout using any free software. Making sure your drawing is to scale really helps later when it comes time to build.
But don’t forget your van’s interior design. Creating a color scheme and thinking about how to decorate the inside goes a long way to making your van feel like a real home.
2. Create Strong Wood Joints
When you drive your van, everything inside is constantly swaying back-and-forth and vibrating. There’s so much stress on all your screws to hold everything you’ve built together. So this van build tip is about creating strong wood joints that hold up against the stresses of van life.
Three tips for creating strong holds when converting a camper van:
Use Wood Glue
Wood glue is a great way to fortify wood joints. We use them in conjunction with screws to create strong, vibration resistant bonds between wood pieces.
Install Furring Strips
When properly attached to the van’s frame, furring strips provide screws a much stronger anchor point to grip onto. Check out the following post to learn how to install furring strips in your van, which are useful when you’re ready to install your walls, ceiling, and interior furniture.
Create Pocket Holes Wherever Possible
Pocket holes allow you to insert screws at an angle through two pieces of wood. This gives the wood joint substantially more strength. We’ve created pocket holes when building our bed frame, counters, and cabinets.
You can create pocket holes using the Kreg Tools Pocket Hole Jig. Just remember to also use wood glue!
3. Build A Robust Electrical System
This isn’t the 1980s anymore. It’s 2022 and many of the things we own require electricity to run. These include:
For the vast majority of us, trying to get through van life with an undersized electrical system just doesn’t cut it.
The #1 electrical van build tip that you can do to ensure your electricity needs are adequately met is to make sure you’ve properly sized your battery bank.
To learn everything you need, check out our DIY electrical system guide.
4. You Likely Need More Solar Than You Think
Many of us dream of traveling off-grid and being energy independent. It’s a great feeling knowing you’re not reliant on expensive RV parks for shore power.
But being consistently off-grid means building a robust solar PV system that adequately meets your energy demands. This means:
- Having the right solar wattage size.
- Ensuring wires are properly sized.
- Ensuring system is fused (if needed).
- And more…
5. Plumbing Is (Super) Frustrating. Refer To A Guide.
Of all the parts of our van conversion, plumbing was the most frustrating. This was because there were so many small, niche components that were near impossible to find, even at major hardware stores.
Our biggest plumbing-related van build tip is to find a water system diagram online that allows you to ‘click and buy’ the exact parts that you need online. You’ll save so much time and frustration by not having to drive back and forth in search of that tiny, obscure plumbing connection that you need.
Few things are more agitating than having to drive to the hardware store for the 3rd time in a single day. We know…
To help van lifers, we created sink and shower plumbing tutorials to make it easy for everyone to build their own systems. We also provide a plumbing eBook with helpful diagrams. Everything is 100% free.
Refer to our water system & plumbing guide for more info.
6. Tips To Save Money When Building A Camper Van
Building a van doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. There are plenty of ways you can save money during the conversion process. This includes:
- Borrowing tools – Your friends and neighbors likely have most of the tools that you’ll need. (i.e. a jigsaw, circular saw, & drill)
- Buy affordable lithium batteries – Lithium batteries used to be expensive. But recently, competition has increased and prices have come down. Read our post about why lithium batteries are worth it for van life.
- Buy plywood in bulk – Buying small sheets of plywood is the most expensive. Instead, purchase large plywood boards and have the shop cut it down to size for you. You can easily save 20-40% in wood prices.
Final Thought: Methodical Planning Is Worth The Effort
We love the above quote because it brings home the point that taking the time to learn and plan ahead pays off when building a camper van. You’ll end up with a more functional, comfortable, and aesthetic van all while reducing your van build mistakes.
You’ll also enjoy the process more since you’ll have a solid plan to follow.
If you have any questions or comments, please send us an email through the contact page.