Van living offers an alternative lifestyle for those looking for freedom on the open road. Buying the right van is a key part of this lifestyle, but you’ll also need to build a personalized interior that fits your situation.
Learn how to convert a van to live in, what you should avoid, how much it costs and the advantages of building your own livable van.
10 Steps to Build a Livable Van
Think of building a camper van as these individual steps to make it easier:
1. Identify Your Priorities
Consider your overall layout — it’s important to understand where your priorities lie. You only have a limited space to work with, so it’s crucial to create a van that caters to your needs. Think about where you’d rank some of the main characteristics of van life, such as:
- Hygiene: Living out on the road is going to be dirty — that’s just part of the lifestyle. If you’re someone who likes to stay clean, consider including a shower in your van so you can easily clean up when you want to.
- Cooking: Crafting a five-star meal on the road may be difficult, but you can include a kitchen in your van with some simple appliances.
- Sleep: Some people might be fine sleeping wherever — others may need a certain amount of space and comfort to get some much-needed rest. Be sure you’re creating a sleeping space that’s suited for you.
- Storage: Think about where you’ll store clothes, gear and other necessities. If you’ll be on the road for long stretches of time, prioritize extra storage.
2. Plan Your Layout
Once you’ve figured out what you want to prioritize in your DIY camper van, get down to specifics and plan your layout. Think about how you’re going to integrate those important parts of your van in regards to size and design:
- Kitchen: What type of appliances are you going to include in your van? Think about a stove, faucet, counter space and anything else you might need if you can’t find a place to eat on the road.
- Shower: To save space, showers in livable vans are narrow and can also include the toilet for an efficient layout. You might opt for an exterior shower to save more space.
- Bed: If you’re someone who likes to sprawl out, find a way to create enough room so you’re comfortable. Raising your bed maintains storage space while giving you room for a larger mattress.
Browsing van build ideas and drawing up some designs will help you figure out how to convert a van for living in.
3. Determine Your Budget
Get a sense of how much you’re willing to spend on your DIY conversion van so you’ll have some guidelines going in.
Costs can easily start to escalate with additional features, so it’s good to know where your budget stands and suit it to your van design. Factor in:
- The van itself, if you haven’t bought it yet, which can range from $20,000-$40,000 or more
- Electrical, which can cost $1,500-$4,000
- Plumbing, which can cost a few thousand dollars
- The bed, which can cost a few hundred dollars
- Storage, which can cost a few hundred dollars
- Appliances, which can cost about a thousand dollars each
4. Find the Right Van
If you’re still looking for the right van to live in, do your research and make sure you’re finding one that will satisfy your needs. Some may be larger or have better drivability than others, so it’s important to pick your vehicle based on your situation.
5. Figure out Electrical and Wiring
One of the most important parts of living in a van is figuring out how you’re going to get power to your devices. Think about:
- Power options: Most people will start off with a battery in their van to power appliances. Down the road, you could switch to solar panels.
- Cooling: If you’re looking to save money, you can get rechargeable fans to circulate air in hot weather.
- Wi-Fi: If you’re working remotely from your van, make sure you have a reliable internet connection. Hotspots are a good option, and additional adapters give you the best signal possible.
A lot of your electrical and wiring will depend on how much you’re willing to invest in your van. Top-of-the-line appliances offer a lot of added comfort and convenience but will also come at a price.
6. Remember the Plumbing
Your livable van will have a freshwater tank and a waste water tank. To figure out the capacity that works for you, think about how much water you’d use in a day to wash up, cook and drink. Determine how long you’d like to go without having to refill your freshwater tank and empty the waste water. A 100-liter tank will last about five days if you use 20 liters a day. For added comfort, consider a water heater, which is ideal for vans with showers.
7. Add Kitchen Appliances
For those just starting out with DIY van conversions, you may find you don’t need that much equipment to cook. A portable camp stove, table and a collapsible bucket for dirty dishes are essentially all you’ll need to eat dinner. For a more comfortable livable van, create a kitchen space with a minifridge, a hotplate or single-burner stovetop and a small sink.
8. Consider Flooring, the Ceiling and Walls
Insulated floors and walls make heating and cooling your camper van more efficient. It also keeps out sounds if you have to park near a main road or another noisy area to rest.
Find flooring that is durable to withstand your lifestyle, whether you’re traveling with a pet or hiking in muddy areas. Vinyl or linoleum options are lightweight and durable, and they come in different styles if you want a wood or tile look.
Plywood or tongue-and-groove planks work well on van ceilings and walls. They’re lightweight, and you can paint them to customize the look of your livable camper van.
9. Decide on Your Sleeping Situation
To live in a van, prioritize your sleeping situation. Many people have given up van living because of the sleeping conditions — whether it’s too cramped or too uncomfortable. Figure out how to make your sleeping place as comfortable as possible, which can include:
- Getting the right mattress: Choose the right size and firmness to be as comfortable as possible. If you’re traveling with someone else, get a big enough bed and consider their needs, too.
- Making it comfortable: You shouldn’t take up too much room with pillows and blankets, but you should add the bedding you need to be comfortable. Choose a lightweight or heavy blanket depending on your preferences to make the ideal sleeping space.
- Placing it at the right height: While a raised bed saves van space, you don’t want to be face to face with the ceiling. Thirty-six inches of space between the mattress and the ceiling is ideal.
10. Find a Reliable Parts Dealer
You want to make sure that the parts you’re getting for your van are reliable and made with quality materials. Getting parts from the original dealer can be a great option, but sometimes that might not be possible.
As an alternative, find a parts dealer that offers a one-stop shop for tools and car parts. This way, you’ll be able to trust where all the parts are coming from and benefit from the convenience of an online store that has everything you need. Look for durable yet lightweight parts to keep the overall weight of your converted van as low as possible.
What to Avoid When Building a Livable Van
Understanding common mistakes when converting a van helps you avoid pitfalls that set your project back.
Rushing the Planning Process
Many people are so excited to start their new lifestyle that they rush the process. It’s better to have patience as you create your van so you focus on each step and avoid costly mistakes. You don’t want to purchase too many furnishings and end up running out of space, wasting supplies.
Making Inaccurate Measurements
Measuring is a critical part of building your livable van. The space is already small, so you’ll need to make sure each measurement is accurate. Think about the order of installation as you measure. Choose whether you’ll install the floor and subfloor first or if you’ll install appliances and cabinetry then add the floor, for example.
Adding Shelves After Wall Installation
Often, people will put their walls up and then try to install shelving, which significantly reduces the amount of space you can work with. Instead, try to attach your shelves before the walls.
Purchase insulation like foam boards and filler to cover up any exposed parts of your van before installing the walls and ceiling. A subfloor is also essential, as it gives you a place to mount furniture. Quality weatherstripping is a part of your van’s insulation, as well, so replace it as needed.
Not Securing Everything
Bolting cabinetry and other furnishings is essential for holding everything in place as you drive your livable van. You can choose whether you mount items to the walls or floors. Pick cabinet doors that securely close to keep everything inside once you’re driving.
Building a van camper comes with a lot of challenges and moving parts — somewhere along the way, you’re probably going to encounter some issues. Make sure you go in expecting some problems. Prepare for obstacles that come your way as you’re figuring out how to build a camper van and avoid getting overcome by frustration.
How Much Does It Cost to Convert a Van?
Most van conversions with basic amenities will usually hover around $5,000-$15,000 if you don’t need to purchase the van. To figure out how much a van conversion costs, consider:
- Premium appliances: Features you buy new can start to add up, whether that be a coffee maker or a cooling unit.
- Added fixtures: Showers and bathrooms run up prices quickly. Add-on fixtures like these may be necessary for your lifestyle — just make sure you’re finding a fair price.
- Quality of materials: Prices and material quality vary widely. Even different types of wood, for example, will vary in pricing based on their characteristics.
Advantages of Building a Livable Van
Converting a van to live in yourself offers many benefits. From customization to acquiring new and valuable skills, here are some reasons why you might want to build your own camper van.
Since you’re the one building it, you can make your van exactly how you want it. You can essentially build your dream van, with all of the parts tailored to your lifestyle and liking. When you’re out on the road, you can take pride in what you accomplished and it will really feel like something you crafted with your own labor.
Building your own livable van also offers a cost-effective option. Most vans that are already converted are often very expensive. You can build your own for much cheaper while also making it personal to your needs.
Figuring out how to build a van conversion on your own gives you new skills you might otherwise not have gained. From electrical knowledge to figuring out how to build certain parts of your van, there is a lot to learn.
Since you’re the one who is building the van, you’ll also have an easier time figuring out how to repair something if there’s an issue in the future. You won’t have to rely on a repair service — with the right tools and knowledge, you’ll be able to take care of those issues yourself, whether it’s replacing part of the floor or repairing a cabinet.
Shop Auto Body Tools and Parts for Your Van Conversion
It’s essential to find ways to make the van conversion process go as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. One of the best ways to do this is find one convenient place where you can shop quality tools and parts you need to complete your project.
Raybuck Auto Body Parts is the perfect place to find everything you need for your conversion project. We offer a vast selection of quality van parts and tools. We’ll make sure to ship your order as soon as possible and you can get to work on your conversion project. Contact us today with any questions!