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Van Conversion Tips: 6 Things To Know When Building a Camper

Learning from someone else’s experience is one of the best things you can do before converting your camper van. Talk to anyone who has already completed a conversion, and they’ll likely smother you with van build tips and advice.

After building our camper, we’ve learned SO MUCH that we want to share our top 6 van build tips before you start converting your camper. Hopefully, some of the things you learn from this post help you in your van build journey.

1. Don’t Neglect Layout & Design Planning

Complete camper van floor plan diagram (Birds eye view)
Complete camper van floor plan diagram (birds eye view)

Building a camper van that is thoughtful, space efficient, aesthetic, and viable for long-term van life requires thoughtful planning. And while some people love to study and prepare, others want to get out the wood and nails and start hammering away ASAP.

But our #1 advice when building a camper van is to plan your van’s layout thoroughly. Your future self will thank you for it, especially on those rainy days when you’re stuck inside your vehicle.

This means thinking about the following:

  • How much counter space do you want?
  • Building a fixed or convertible bed
  • Do you need a toilet?
  • How much storage you’ll need

It also helps to create your van layout using any free software. Making sure your drawing is to scale helps later when it comes time to build. 

But don’t forget your van’s interior design. Creating a color scheme and thinking about how to decorate the inside go a long way to making your van feel like a natural home.

2. Create Strong Wood Joints

How To Construct Upper Cabinets In A Campervan - strong joint van build tips

When you drive your van, everything inside is constantly swaying back and forth and vibrating. There’s so much stress on all your screws to hold everything you’ve built together. So, this van build tip is about creating strong wood joints that hold up against the stresses of van life.

Three tips for creating strong wood joints when converting a camper van:

Use Wood Glue

Wood glue is a great way to fortify wood joints. We use them in conjunction with screws to create solid and vibration-resistant bonds between wood pieces.

Install Furring Strips

When properly attached to the van’s frame, furring strips provide screws with a much stronger anchor point to grip onto. Check out the following post to learn how to install furring strips in your van, which are helpful when installing your walls, ceiling, and interior furniture.

Create Pocket Holes Wherever Possible

Pocket holes allow you to insert screws at an angle through two pieces of wood. This gives the wood joint substantially more strength. We’ve created pocket holes when building our bed frame, counters, and cabinets.

You can create pocket holes using the Kreg Tools Pocket Hole Jig. Just remember also to use wood glue!

Kreg | Pocket Hole Jig

A woodworking must-have for making strong, resilient wood joints. Especially useful for use in camper vans as the vibration caused when driving places additional stress on wood joints. Easy and quick to use for beginners.

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3. Build a Robust Electrical System

Complete camper van electrical wiring diagram connecting leisure batteries to 12V devices, solar panels, inverter, and DC charger
Complete camper van electrical wiring diagram

This isn’t the 1980s anymore. It’s 2024, and many of the things we own require electricity to run. These include:

  • Laptops, phones, drones, & projectors
  • Fridges, blenders, & Instant Pots
  • Heaters, vent fans, & water pumps

For most of us, trying to get through van life with an undersized electrical system just doesn’t cut it.

The #1 electrical van build tip that you can do to ensure your electricity needs are adequately met is to make sure you’ve correctly sized your battery bank.

How To Build An Electrical System: Read our van conversion electrical system guide.

4. You Likely Need More Solar Than You Think

Two solar panels on a Ford Transit camper van, on a boat in Nicaragua
Two 180W solar panels mounted on our van’s roof

Many of us dream of traveling off-grid and being energy-independent. Knowing you’re not relying on expensive RV parks for shore power is excellent.

But being consistently off-grid means building a robust solar PV system that adequately meets your energy demands. This means:

  • Having the right solar wattage size.
  • Ensuring wires are correctly sized.
  • Ensuring the system is fused (if needed).
  • And more…

How To Build A Solar System? Check out our camper van solar system guide.

5. Plumbing Is (Super) Frustrating. Refer to a Guide.

Two water tanks under a camper van kitchen counter
Fresh and grey water tank in our kitchen counter

Plumbing was the most frustrating of all the parts of our van conversion. This was because many small, niche components were nearly impossible to find, even at major hardware stores.

Our biggest plumbing-related van build tip is to find a water system diagram online that allows you to ‘click and buy’ the exact parts that you need online. You’ll save so much time and frustration by not having to drive back and forth in search of that tiny, obscure plumbing connection that you need.

Few things are more agitating than driving to the hardware store for the 3rd time in a single day. We know…

To help van lifers, we created sink and shower plumbing tutorials to make it easy for everyone to build their own systems. We also provide a plumbing eBook with helpful diagrams. Everything is 100% free.

Refer to our water system & plumbing guide for more info.

6. Tips To Save Money When Building a Camper Van

Building a van doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. There are plenty of ways you can save money during the conversion process. This includes:

  • Borrowing tools – Your friends and neighbors likely have most of the tools you’ll need. (i.e., a jigsaw, circular saw, & drill)
  • Buy affordable lithium batteries – Lithium batteries used to be expensive. But recently, competition has increased, and prices have come down. Read our post about why lithium batteries are worth it for van life.
  • Buy plywood in bulk – Buying small sheets of plywood is the most expensive. Instead, purchase large plywood boards and have the shop cut them down to size for you. You can easily save 20-40% in wood prices.

Final Thought: Methodical Planning Is Worth the Effort

We cannot overemphasize the importance of planning your van conversion in advance; you’ll end up with a more functional, comfortable, and aesthetic van, all while reducing your van build mistakes.

You’ll also enjoy the process more since you’ll have a solid plan to follow.

Please let us know in the comments section below if you have any questions or comments.

Happy Building!

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