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How to Plan Your Van Conversion: A Step-by-Step Guide

A van conversion can be an exciting and rewarding project, but it can also be overwhelming without proper planning. With so many options and ideas available, it’s important to start with a clear purpose and list of must-haves. In this blog, we’ll break down the process into easy-to-follow steps.

Step: 1 What is the Purpose of your van?

Before starting your van conversion, it’s important to ask yourself what your main purpose is. Do you want to travel full-time, downsize your living space, or simply have a mobile weekend getaway? Once you have a clear understanding of your purpose, you can move onto the next step of planning.

It’s also important to remember that a van is not a house. You don’t need to replicate all the amenities of a house, such as a shower or oven. For example, it’s very convenient to find showers at Planet Fitness and the membership is only $20 a month for the Black Card. Most of the time, an oven becomes a place for storage rather than using it – we’ve gone a whole year without our stove in our regular house and we even made it through Thanksgiving! Think about what you truly need to live comfortably in a van, and what you can sacrifice. Consider the activities you’ll primarily be doing, whether you’ll be living in it full-time or just as a weekend getaway-mobile, and how many people and pets will be living in it.

Step 2: Write down (3) major must-haves

Now that we’ve established the main purpose of our van, it’s time to identify the three key must-haves that will help bring our vision to life. Here are some examples that you may consider for your van:

  • A deep sink or double bay sink: For avid cooks, a deep sink with plenty of counter space is an essential must-have. While a smaller sink may seem like a practical choice, larger pots and pans can make it challenging to keep water contained.
  • Spacious kitchen countertops: Ample counter space is another important consideration, allowing for easy meal prep and cooking without feeling cramped.
  • Storage: Storage is critical for storing adventure gear, and a raised bed can be an excellent option. However, it’s essential to consider the height of the bed for accommodating bikes and headspace when sitting upright.
  • Standing shower: A standing shower is an excellent addition for those who plan to use their van year-round. In the winter, public spigots can be closed, making access to water more challenging. Conversely, during the summer months, outdoor showers can be refreshing, and gym memberships can be a viable alternative.
  • Dinette: A dedicated workspace is essential for those who need to work on the road or host visitors in their van.
  • Pets: If you plan to travel with pets, safety is paramount. Consider a designated seating or lying down area to keep your furry friend secure while driving.

Remember to weigh the pros and cons of each must-have and make choices based on the overall purpose and vision for your van.

Step 3: What is your overall budget?

Although a camper van build is possible on just about any budget, it’s important to keep in mind that your budget will shape your design. We’ve seen people do a van build for under $10,000, but if you’re working with a limited budget, you may not be able to have all of the bells and whistles in your van layout. That’s why we recommend identifying your main goal and your three must-haves first, and then taking a look at your budget.

While money is an important factor, it’s not the most important one. We believe in dreaming big and planning out the perfect layout, and then adjusting it to fit your budget. This process not only helps you design your van, but also helps you take a closer look at your life and what’s truly important to you. You may find that some things are not as important as you initially thought, and you can pare down your materials and emotions accordingly.

At the end of the day, all we need is right here within us – it’s not about what we have, but who we are. This process can be empowering and lead to personal growth as you let go of things that don’t truly matter. If you really want something, you’ll find a way to get the money to make it happen. And if you don’t, you realize that you didn’t really need it after all.

Step 4: Create a Vision Board and Start Drawing!

It’s time to bring your ideas to life by creating a vision board. You can find inspiration on popular platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. However, it’s important to stay focused and not get too overwhelmed by the endless options available.

  • As a tip from architecture school, drawing inspiration from other designs can be helpful and there’s no need to start from scratch.
  • You can start sketching out a few options on paper, or if you want to take it to the next level, you can use easy-to-use computer design software like SketchUp.
  • It’s important to keep in mind that the weight of your van needs to be evenly distributed around the center of gravity, so consider this when designing your layout.
  • If you already have your van, it’s a good idea to tape out the layout, especially your bed, to get a sense of the space and make any necessary adjustments.

Step 5: Map out Conversion Process with your Build-out Details

Once you have your design, materials, and budget in place, it’s time to start building. It’s important to have basic carpentry and electrical skills, but don’t be afraid to ask for help or hire a professional for specific tasks. Take your time and make sure everything is done safely and securely.

Our conversion process consists of five phases to help you build the perfect van.

Phase 1 | Body Work: This phase, involves deciding which exterior features you want to add to your van, such as additional windows, MaxxFan, AC, heater, solar panels, ladder, roof rack, awning, etc. If you’re considering more of a stealth look, you may consider buying a telescoping ladder that you can store inside your van.

Phase 2 | Electrical System: This phase includes deciding where to place lighting fixtures, outlets, and other electrical components. We strongly recommend having a professional review your electrical diagram to ensure that the fuses are appropriately sized for your system.

Phase 3 | Insulation: This phase ****involves choosing the right insulation for your budget and needs. There are a variety of insulation types, such as poly-iso, Havelock, Thinsulate, and Spray Foam, each with different R-values to keep your van insulated and your temperature controlled.

Phase 4 | Framing : This phase, involves framing the interior for the walls, floors, ceiling. There are a variety of material to choose from ~~~~such as tongue and groove, plywood, or shiplap.

Phase 5 | Interior Structure and Finish: This phase will include the skeleton frame of your kitchen, cabinets, and bed. In between run the plumbing, propane systems and finish wiring your electrical system. Complete the all the details, finishes and all your adventures await you!

If you need any support with this process, we offer both full and partial builds, and consultation services – to help you with your build-out your own dream. If the DIY route is for you, but you would like a professional to help you design and plan out your build, we can help! We provide a full-set of eleven drawings so you’re prepared from day one to take on your build with confidence.

If this is your first time considering a van conversion, we highly recommend renting a van first to see what you like and don’t like. Our rent-to-build program allows you to try out a van and apply that experience to your build to ensure that you get the exact van you want. Let’s get you on the road and living out your dreams of travel!