Building out a campervan yourself can be extremely rewarding, knowing that you took the time to build out the exact camper van of your dreams through your own hard work and time. It can also extremely taxing mentally and physically. Pushing yourself to learn new things and build inside of a vehicle that is not necessarily meant to be built inside of. These DIY van conversion tips for building out a campervan will help you be prepared for when you decide to begin your van life journey.
After building out 3 vans and spending three years on the road, we have come up with a few van build tips to keep you sane and help you prepare yourself for the journey that is building out a camper van. If we could talk to past Shawn and Brie, this is what we would tell them. Read on for our best advice whether you are building out your first, second, or third van build.
Blog post updated 4/6/22 and originally written 3/31/2021
1. Invest in Tools
Let’s start out with our favorite of these van conversion tips- invest in the proper tools. When you are working with weird curves and angles, it’s important to have the best tools for the job. Items such as a table saw, circular saw, power drills, and sawhorses. It can be tempting to try and get by with the minimum to save money but you will end up sacrificing time and possibly supplies when you have to redo your project.
I recommend taking inventory of the products that you already have and the ones you need to purchase and making a budget for them. These are the top products we recommend making sure you have before beginning your build. You can absolutely do this with less but these are the tools that would have made our life much easier to have from the very beginning.
- Table Saw
- Circular Saw
- Cordless Drill
- Saw Horses
- Buy An Ebook
I am a fan of supporting the community and always have a ton of resources available when starting a new project. This is why I recommend purchasing a van build Ebook before you begin. There are quite a few Ebooks out there that have plans for different builds. We personally purchased Vanessa and Adams’s Ebook and highly recommend it. They cover everything you need to know about building out your van from insulation, an electrical system, to cabinetry.
2. Do Hours of Research
Unless you are already a carpenter, prepare yourself for hours and hours of research. Check out Youtube videos, read blog posts, and get ready to plan for quite a while. Although it can be tempting to just dive right in, make sure you take the time to figure out how to do the build before beginning.
I am the kind of person who wants to jump in and hope for the best. In a camper van build that can get you into a lot of trouble, resulting in wasting time and supplies. If you know you are working on a project, for example, your insulation, take an hour before and watch a video or read a post so that you 100% understand what you are about to get into. It will also prepare you so that you can purchase everything that you need in advance so you don’t have to make multiple trips for one project.
Need somewhere to start? Check out our step-by-step free van build guide!
3. Create a Van Build Budget
We can’t talk about van builds without talking about money. This is why one of the most important van conversion tips is to create a van build budget. Building out a campervan takes money and time. It can be easy to assume you know how much a build will cost and get in the middle of the project only to find out that you have run out of money. Don’t forget about budgeting in your van. Look at the cost of new vans vs used vans and decided which is right for you.
We highly suggest you create a spreadsheet and layout every single thing you think you will need to buy. Then you have a goal for savings and when you are building out your van, you can easily keep tabs on how much you have spent. If you need a place to start, I created a basic van life cost list.
4. Give Yourself A Long Deadline
This van build tip might keep you the sanest. It’s time to be realistic with yourself. If you are planning on building your van and being out of your current home within a certain timeline, then you need to give yourself plenty of time. Building out a DIY camper van TAKES TIME, probably much longer than you will imagine. When we built out our Transit we thought it would take two months maybe three. Instead, it took over six months and when we began our road trip, there were still many projects to be completed.
If you do have a deadline that you cannot control, try to dedicate as much time as you can to your build. But realize that you might have to hit the road before it’s completely finished.
5. Ask for Help
To piggyback off the previous van conversion tips, it’s so so important to ASK FOR HELP. Asking friends and family to help you will likely save you tons of time and frustration. It can also be a lot of fun and a bonding experience to have help on your build. You would be surprised by the various projects that your friends may have expertise in and are more than willing to help.
6. Order Products Early
Van life is getting more and more popular as time goes on. Key products such as your vent fan, oven, and campervan toilet will take longer to get to you. When we built out our Ford Transit van, we ordered our airhead toilet, and it took over 6 weeks for it to get to us. Not to mention the Max air fan was constantly out of stock even on with our first build, the Sprinter van!
This is why once you know for sure that you are going to begin your build, I recommend beginning to purchase the bigger items. That way you don’t have to wait a few weeks because you are waiting on solar panels or a fan and can’t get anything else done until it arrives.
7. Plan your Layout Ahead of Time
Planning is key when it comes to building out a campervan (if we haven’t gotten that across yet). If you can, really sit down and plan out your entire layout. Think about what is important to you in a tiny home. Do you really love to cook? How many water tanks will you need? Do you need a space to work? Do you mind having a campervan bed that you have to convert to every day? Or do you need a dedicated space for sleeping?
Scour the internet, go to vanlife gatherings, and tour other vans. This way you can get an idea of what you want out of your build. I also recommend, if you have the extra budget, to rent a campervan so you can experience what it is like to live in a tiny space. Even a short weekend will give you a better idea of what you want of a campervan. Plus the experience will give you ideas for your van life packing list.
8. Measure four times, Cut once
Vans require specific cuts and weird measurements. When you go to take a measurement, be meticulous. Then measure again. When you go to measure the item you will be cutting, measure it a few times as well. Wood is expensive and it can be frustrating to ruin an entire piece of wood. Not to mention an entire afternoon because you measured incorrectly.
9. Be Kind To Yourself
In case you do mess up a piece of wood because of a faulty measurement, remember It’s time to be extremely kind to yourself. You are building a tiny home in a space with weird angles, curves, and space where nothing is straight.
You are going to make mistakes and might get very frustrated with yourself. That is 100% normal and happens to everyone. These builds can be exceptionally challenging and it’s important to take a step back sometimes and give yourself some grace. You are doing a great job and will figure it all out with time and patience.
10. Prepare for Changes
Speaking of having patience, when building out a campervan, prepare for constant change. You may have an idea of how you will be building a certain section and what it will look like and mid-way through you discover that it simply cannot work. Be willing to be flexible and change course, even if you can’t have exactly the build you wanted.
11. Expect Errors
Being perfect is not the key when building out a campervan conversion, instead, you should absolutely expect errors. It can be easy to look at campervans on Instagram and assume their builds are impeccable with zero mistakes or errors. Until we hit the road and toured other people’s vans and realized that no one has a perfect van. Most vans have a ton of mistakes that no one else will notice. In the end, you will still end up loving it because you built it and put so much into it.
12. Keep Receipts or Only use one Card
The last of this blog post’s van conversion tips is possibly the handiest. If at all possible try to keep receipts and a log of every single thing that you buy. If you are shopping at Home Depot, try using only one card. They are able to print out everything you have purchased on that card at any Home Depot store (I believe they save for a year).
Have you built out a campervan? What other van conversion tips do you have?