Building a DIY camper van is no easy feat. With so many tasks to finish, like electrical, insulation, and furniture building, it can be confusing to know what is the most efficient van conversion build order. Which steps must be completed before you can move on to the next?
And getting the build order wrong can sometimes lead to disastrous results. You don’t want to mount your solar panels only to later realize you can no longer access the underside of your van’s roof.
This post lists the most logical camper van conversion build order from start to finish. Throughout this article, we link to helpful posts for more specific information on each step of the conversion process.
- Step 1: Choose a Van
- Step 2: Initial Cleanup & Rust Elimination
- Step 3: Furniture & Electrical Layout Planning
- Step 4: Interior Design Planning
- Step 5: Install Windows
- Step 6: Install Ventilation Fan
- Step 7: Mount Solar Panels
- Step 8: Install Furring Strips
- Step 9: Lay Electrical Wires Throughout Van
- Step 10: Install Insulation
- Step 11: Put Down Sub-Floor & Floor
- Step 12: Install Walls
- Step 13: Install Ceiling
- Step 14: Build Interior Furniture
- Step 15: Assemble Electrical System
- Step 16: Install The Water System and Plumbing
- Step 17: Decorate Your Camper However You Like!
- In Conclusion
Step 1: Choose a Van
Selecting the type of van you want to live in is the critical first step in the van conversion build order, and this decision can either make or break your van life experience.
You may be surprised by the sheer variety of ‘vans’ that are out there on the market today. Some critical questions to ask yourself when choosing a vehicle for van life are:
- What kind of vans are available?
- Purchase new or old?
- Do you want a high-roof van?
- How much length space do you need?
- Is a 4×4 van important?
- Is a stealth van important?
Step 2: Initial Cleanup & Rust Elimination
If you purchased a used vehicle, you should inspect the van and clean the interior of any dust, grime, and rust.
It is essential to clean the van’s interior now because once you install your floors, walls, and ceiling, you won’t have any more access to the van’s metal frame.
And if you don’t take care of any rust issues now, it may become a more significant problem further down the road.
- Sweep the van to get rid of any dust and loose particles.
- Wipe the van with warm, soapy water to clear the grime.
- Use steel wool to scrub off any visible rust.
- Spray Rust-O-Leum over bare metal to prevent future rust.
With a clean van interior, you are ready to start the van conversion process.
Step 3: Furniture & Electrical Layout Planning
Before building anything, you should design an accurate floor plan for the interior of your camper van.
In this step, you’ll decide where to install each of the following items (and their dimensions):
- Bathroom & shower
- Electrical center
- Sink & plumbing
- 12V & 120V sockets
- Roof layout (fan & solar panels)
DIY Tip: Make accurate measurements of each item in your floor plan to make the future build process easier. This includes furniture dimensions AND even products, like your inverter. You also need to measure the precise dimensions of your van’s interior (length, width, & height).
Want to create your own ‘to-scale’ floorplan? Check out our camper van floor plan creator.
If you’re unsure what the best floor plan for you is, you can start by researching other van builds and reading what others love and hate about their conversion layouts.
Read More: Why We Prefer A Convertible vs Fixed Bed
Step 4: Interior Design Planning
Your camper van doesn’t have to have a cold, utilitarian feel. You can design a unique, gorgeous interior without needing to be a professional designer or invest a lot of money.
But you need to spend the time and plan appropriately. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
In this step, think about style, color schemes, and interior lighting.
These are essential concepts to learn and can greatly impact the overall outlook of your van’s interior.
Top 3 design tips:
- Learn how to use Pinterest to your advantage
- Decide on a color scheme you love
- Design purposeful interior lighting
Step 5: Install Windows
Installing windows in your camper marks the first step of physically starting the van conversion process. But you can skip this step if you’re not adding any windows.
Adding windows to your campervan is a great way to bring in natural light and fresh air. You will need to decide the following:
- Do you want windows?
- How many windows?
- What size windows?
Motion Windows is a popular manufacturer of camper & RV windows and has a wide selection of shapes and sizes. We purchased our windows from them.
If you’ve decided to install the windows yourself, read our window installation guide for helpful information and product suggestions.
Step 6: Install Ventilation Fan
A vent fan is one of the most important products you can install in your van conversion. If you believe only one thing in this post, it should be this:
DO NOT skimp out on getting a vent fan.
Not only do these fans circulate air into your camper and maintain a cool environment inside the van, but they also help keep your van interior smelling clean and fresh.
Living in a musty-smelling camper van is no fun…and a health hazard!
But in our opinion, there is no contest. We strongly believe the Maxxfan is the best fan for camper vans.
A high-quality vent fan is a top van life essential. It exhausts stale, greasy, & musty air and promotes fresh air flow into the van. The Maxxfan's unique rain cover allows you to continue operating the fan even when it's raining hard outside.
And once you’re ready to put one in your camper, check out our vent fan installation guide for step-by-step instructions.
Step 7: Mount Solar Panels
The next step in the van conversion build order is to mount solar panels onto the roof of your camper van. It is easiest to do this BEFORE you’ve installed insulation and the ceiling since you will need access under the roof to thread the solar wires into your van.
If you are not sure how much solar you need or where on the roof to install your panels, read the following posts to learn more:
Once ready, you’ll need to decide whether to mount the panels on a roof rack or directly onto your camper’s roof.
We opted to mount the panels directly on our camper’s roof for a lower, more discreet profile. To learn how we did this, check out our post: How To Mount Solar Panels On A Campervan.
Step 8: Install Furring Strips
The next step is to install furring strips throughout your camper’s inside.
Adding furring strips will help keep your future walls, ceiling, and furniture firmly attached. These strips provide a significantly better solution than simply screwing your wood walls and ceiling directly to your van’s metal frame.
You want to add furring strips now because once you put in your insulation, you won’t have access to your van’s metal frame, which is what you want to install your furring strips to.
And if you attach the furring strips correctly, as we discuss in our furring strips installation post, you won’t have to drill ANY new holes into your van.
Step 9: Lay Electrical Wires Throughout Van
Now is the time to start laying out all your electrical wires. Afterwards, you can install your insulation, walls, and ceiling to cover these wires.
Lay your wires to the approximate locations of each electrical device below. (Refer to your layout diagram from step #3)
- Water pump
- Solar panels
- USB & 120V sockets
Learn From Our Mistakes: In the above picture, we did our wiring after insulation and did not use any conduits. We would do things much differently for a second van build.
Top 3 tips:
- Don’t be stingy with your wires. Leave at least a couple extra feet at each end point of the wire.
- Select stranded wire instead of solid wire
- Protect your wires by using plastic conduit
If you’re unsure what size wires you’ll need, check out our wire size guide.
Step 10: Install Insulation
Once you’ve laid your wire, installing insulation is next in the camper van build order.
Adding insulation is an essential step as it is critical for interior climate control.
Not only does insulation help keep your camper van warm in cold climates, but it also helps keep your interior cool under the sun’s direct rays.
The four main areas in your van to insulate are:
We recommend selecting insulation materials that deter mold growth. Some of these materials include:
- Sheep’s wool
- Polyiso & XPS foam boards
- Closed-cell spray foam
To learn more, check out our camper van insulation guide to help you get going.
Step 11: Put Down Sub-Floor & Floor
When converting a camper van, the next step is to install the subfloor and lay the floorboards on top.
For most campers, the sub-floor consists of the following layers (from bottom to top):
- XPS foam board (insulation)
- Plywood (support)
- Underlayment (waterproof)
Be sure to treat the plywood with Concrobium spray and Zinsser primer to prevent mold growth in the future.
When adding the top floor layer, you have multiple materials to choose from:
- Hardwood boards
- Vinyl planks
We love our luxury vinyl planks since this material makes our camper van feel like a natural home.
Read More: Floor installation post.
Step 12: Install Walls
Next in the van conversion build order is to install the walls.
If you have already installed furring strips (step #8) inside your van, you will attach your walls to these furring strips.
The two most common wall materials used for camper conversions are:
- Plywood (1/4″-1/2″ thickness)
We used plywood in our van conversion because we preferred a smoother, more streamlined look.
But before putting up your walls, you want to make sure your wiring (step #9) and insulation (step #10) are completed. Because once your walls go up, it will be challenging to go back and fix any mistakes from previous steps.
Learn more: How to install plywood walls in a camper van.
Step 13: Install Ceiling
Just like with the walls, you will attach your ceiling to the furring strips you installed in step #8.
The two most common ceiling materials used for camper conversions are:
- Plywood (1/4″ thickness)
- Tongue & groove boards
We chose cedar plank tongue & groove boards since we liked the contrast they brought against our plywood walls.
You will also want to ensure all your ceiling wiring and insulation are completed before putting up your ceiling boards since it will be challenging to go back and fix any mistakes.
Read More: Learn to install tongue & groove ceiling in a van.
Step 14: Build Interior Furniture
Once the foundation (insulation, floor, wall, & ceiling) is completed, the next step in the van conversion build order is to start constructing the interior furniture and installing it into your camper.
This is where it becomes critically important to refer to your ‘to-scale’ floorplan diagram from step #3.
To learn how to build each piece of furniture, check out our posts below.
Step 15: Assemble Electrical System
Now you are ready to focus on piecing together all the components of your campervan’s electrical system. For many, building the electrical & solar systems is the most complicated van conversion step.
At the most basic level, you will want to do these three things for your campervan electrics:
- Calculate how much batteries you’ll need
- Assemble the 12-volt system
- Connect the solar array to your batteries
If you want to take your electrical build to the next level, you can focus on the following two steps:
- Charge while driving with a DC-to-DC charger
- Install a 120-volt system with a power inverter
If you’re starting from the very beginning, we’ve put together a step-by-step electrical guide for beginners that includes functional wiring diagrams, straightforward explanations, and recommended product lists.
In addition, to help you through specific parts of an electric build, we have the following posts:
- Calculate how many batteries you need
- Solar build & installation guide
- Assembling the 12V system
- Building the 120V system
Free Download: Get our electrical wiring diagrams PDF to help with your assembly.
Step 16: Install The Water System and Plumbing
Instilling fresh water and plumbing systems is one of the last steps in the van conversion build order. For most campers, this only includes the fresh and grey water plumbing for the sink.
But if you plan to have an inside shower, you will also need to build the plumbing for this, too.
Choosing which type of freshwater tank you want is one of the most critical decisions. If you’re unsure, check out our camper van water tank post.
With intuitive camper van plumbing diagrams, our PDF booklet will help you install your sink and shower system, including hot water!
Step 17: Decorate Your Camper However You Like!
With the construction almost complete, the last step in the campervan conversion build order is to decorate your van.
After all, you should put in your own unique touches to make your camper your own!
Although we can’t (and shouldn’t) tell you exactly how to decorate your new campervan, check out the 7 must-have items we think help to highlight any campervan interior!
We hope this post inspired you to build your own camper van conversion. Getting the correct build order when constructing your camper isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t apparent if it’s your first time converting a van.
If you have any questions regarding the best order to install certain items in your camper van, please let us know in the comments section below.
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