How To Build A DIY Camper Van
A Clear, Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners
Want to build your own DIY camper van? Looking for an extensive, step-by-step van build guide with 100% free resources to get you going towards your own campervan conversion?
Here you will find all our documentation for how we converted our van into the campervan we live in today.
About This 100% free Camper Conversion Guide
No Build Experience Required
We barely knew how to use power tools before our van build. 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.
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. Below we will cover:
The Best Vans For Van Life
Choosing which type of van you want to live and travel is an important (and potentially stressful) first step when deciding to get into this lifestyle. There are so many different types of vans to choose from and each type of vehicle has their pros and cons. With all these choices, it’s easy and understandable to feel overwhelmed.
The Most Common 'Van Life' Vans
Understand Your Van Life Priorities
However, to really begin isolating which type of vehicle is best for you, it’s important to understand what your priorities are for a camper van.
When we were choosing which type of van we wanted to live in, we identified 6 categories and decided how important each category was to our van life experience. Depending on how you prioritize each of these categories can help you decide which type of van is right for you. These categories are:
- Off-Road Capabilities
- Gas Efficiency
- The “Cool” Factor
Learn More About Which Type Of Van Is Best For You
Our article, “The Best Vans for Van Life”, covers all the different types of vans you might be thinking about for your own van life journey. We discuss pros and cons for each type of van and which vans might suit you based on your priorities.
Understandably, if you are reading this van build page, you might be veering towards getting a commercial van. Therefore, do an in-depth comparison between Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits, and Dodge Promasters.
Why We Love Our Ford Transit Van
If you’re reading this van build guide, chances are you want to purchase an empty commercial van for your own camper conversion. When starting a camper van build from scratch, we think going with an empty commercial van is the right choice.
Common Commercial Van Types
Answering some basic questions about your van life requirements is important to helping you select the right commercial van for your camper van build. Questions such as:
- What is my budget?
- How much internal height do I need?
- Is off-roading important to me?
- Is stealth camping important to me?
In our case, we purchased a Ford Transit for our camper conversion and loved our decision. We loved the Transit’s combination of a strong engine, large internal height, and great price point.
Read more: Why we love our Ford Transit camper van
How Much Does A Ford Transit Cost?
Admittedly, it’s really hard to find a lightly used Ford Transit for a great 2nd-hand price. Therefore, we opted to purchase a brand new Transit directly from the Ford dealership.
In total, we spent just under US$37,000 for our 2018 Transit. For a detailed cost analysis, check out our Ford Transit Purchase Price Breakdown post.
In this post, we reveal:
- Base Price
- Additional Options
- Taxes & Fees
How To Negotiate With A Van Dealership
Whether you are buying a brand new van or even a lightly used one, chances are you might end up at a dealership and have to negotiate the price with a seasoned auto sales representative.
But if you’re like us, buying an expensive vehicle with a fluid sales price is nerve wrecking! Depending on how well you can negotiate can literally be the difference of thousands of dollars. We did a lot of homework and research before walking into physical dealership and because of our pre-planning, we felt calm and comfortable during the entire negotiation process.\
5-Step Process To Buying A Van From A Dealership
1. Learn Terminology
2. Study Market
3. Email Dealerships
4. Set Price Target
5. Visit Dealership
Want To Learn More?
We wrote up a separate article on how to effectively negotiate the purchase of your van from the dealership. The article expands on the above points and provides great insights on what to know before stepping foot at an auto store.
Read More: How To Buy A Van From A Dealership
Plan Your Van Build
Camper Van Floor Plan & Layout
Planning your van’s layout is fun! At this point you can let your imagination run wild and you can design the absolute perfect camper van that fits your unique needs. And there are so many facets to consider.
In this section, we touch on many of these issues so you can learn from our experience and begin building your perfect campervan.
Learn the basics: Camper Van Floor Plan Guide
Should You Build A Stealth Camper Van?
We admit, the idea of designing a “secret” campervan was enticing at first. But we decided against it in favor of RV windows, solar panels, and a fan. We have no regrets, 100% Stealth Campervans Are Terrible.
Building A Fixed vs. Convertible Bed In A Van
Having a fixed or convertible bed in your camper van is one of the first decisions to make when planning your interior layout.
Fixed beds are the norm these days, but we aren’t shy about our bias towards having a convertible bed! Read our unabashed post as to Why Fixed Campervan Beds Suck!
Toilets In Camper Vans
We had a toilet in our van once. Then we threw it out and never looked back! In our Do You Need A Campervan Toilet? post, we discuss several toilet options and why we never EVER needed one.
How To Heat Your Camper Van During Winter
Planning to travel in cold climates? Having a heating solution can significantly improve your outlook on winter van life! In our How To Heat Your Campervan post, we discuss the different heating options available to the campervan community.
Camper Van Build Regrets
We did a ton of planning before building our campervan but we still have build regrets and would have done a few things differently.
Read our Van Build Regrets for more information.
Essential Tools For A Camper Van Build
After 8 months building our van, there are some tools that are essential and some tools, admittedly, we rarely used. Read our Useful Tools For A Van Build post to learn more.
Build The Foundation
For long term campervan living, installing a vent fan in a camper van is a must. A vent fan actively brings in fresh air while simultaneously helping to expel stale, moist, and greasy air from inside.
But which vent fan is best for your van conversion?
We did hours of research and ended up purchasing a MaxxFan. Long story short, we LOVE the MaxxFan and are hardcore believers that the MaxxFan is the best fan for camper vans.
In our MaxxFan post, we talk about why having a vent fan is important for van life, why we love our MaxxFan, and how we installed our vent fan. To learn more, read our article below!
We love our two small RV windows. They bring in lots of natural light to brighten our tiny space and, working with our vent fan, bring in lots of fresh air. We couldn’t imagine living van life without having some sort of rear windows in our tiny home.
In this RV window installation article, we discuss everything you need to know about installing camper van windows during your own van build. This includes why we think having windows is important in your camper van and our step-by-step installation process for how we installed our RV windows.
We hope you enjoy!
How To Insulate A Conversion Van
We used SIX different types of insulation all throughout our van to keep us warm during the cold days…and vise versa. And after 2+ years on the road, we’re extremely happy that we spent so much time and effort insulating our campervan.
Van life isn’t nearly as appealing when you’re freezing in your camper van.
In this article, we talk about why insulating a camper van is so important, which insulation materials we recommend for camper vans, and exactly how we insulated each of the 5 regions in our van.
How To Build Camper Van Walls
From installing our mounting studs, to cutting and attaching our plywood walls, we detail our Campervan Wall Installation Process from beginning to end.
This page is still a work in progress, and so much more needs to be written. But in our camper van floor installation post, we outline the steps we took to get install a beautiful luxury vinyl plank floor in our van.
We are most proud about how our cedar plank ceiling turned out. There was a lot of trial and error to get the color right, but we love our camper ceiling installation.
Electrical System Installation
Laying Out Your Wires
Calculate Your Battery Bank Size
Interested in getting solar panels for your campervan but don’t know where to start? Learn the basics of solar panels for campervans here.
DIY Electrical System Installation
This is the largest section in our entire van build guide. Head over to our Camper Van Electrical System Installation page to get detailed breakdowns and step-by-step instructions for every stage of the campervan electrical system process.
Got electrical system questions for your campervan build? This section is for you.
Building Interior Furniture In A Van
Instead of a fixed bed, we built a U-shaped bench that would convert into a bed at night.
In our article, How To Build A Campervan Bed, we talk about how we built our bed frame AND our mattress.
Building our own DIY kitchen counters was technically complex. All our measurements had to be exact down to the millimeter. We document our Kitchen Counter construction process here.
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 certainly isn’t the sexiest part of any campervan build, but a necessary one for long term van life.
We’ve learned a lot through our plumbing hardships. Check our our articles below to learn more!
We scoured the internet and hardware stores for the best sink and faucet for our campervan. Click to read more about what makes a great campervan sink & faucet combo and why we love ours so much.
Plumbing was one of the most frustrating sections of our van build. In this article, we document the process of installing our sink & faucet hardware, and all the plumbing underneath.
Want to know everything in our kitchen? Follow us as we take a tour of our entire campervan kitchen.
Build A Campervan FAQ
Our van build cost us ~US$20,000. Admittedly, we put in several premium products in our van, such a 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.