You’re enthusiastic about starting your campervan conversion, but what needs doing first? What’s the best order to build everything?
I’m afraid there’s no set order we can recommend because everything kind of dovetails and overlaps.
“So, what am I doing here?!” I hear your cry.
But stick with us! Despite there not being a perfect order, we can still help!
Based on our experience converting a builders van into our beloved camper, we can support you through your campervan conversion with our 5 Stage build guide.
Although the Stages are systematic, the steps within each stage aren’t in a fixed order. These can be shuffled around to suit your build. There are some overlaps too but don’t worry, young grasshopper; we’ll point them out.
If you’re about to build, you need to have a detailed knowledge of your layout design. If you’re still figuring out your layout, read these helpful articles before you start building.
We spent a long time converting Vandercamp with some lengthy gaps between each of the Stages to save money. You can tell it was done over a long period from the evolution of Nemi’s hair colour and Jolly’s facial hair.
Are you ready to rise to the challenge of completing a campervan conversion? Yeah, you are! Let’s go!
Campervan Conversion Stage 1: Essentials
Here we are! The first stage of your campervan conversion! First things first, you’ve got to do all the essential work to the actual van itself; get it clean, get it insulated and get it ventilated!
Clean And Prep
Strip, baby! Oh, sorry, not you… your van. Rip out everything to create a bare shell. Seeing this blank canvas will help you see how much space you’re working with.
Stripping everything out will also expose your van’s dirty secrets. You’ll expose any rust and other damage to the bodywork that needs sorting.
Any rust or damage needs to be dealt with pronto before you begin your build. If left to its own devices, it will spread and weaken the structure of your van. So, treat it early to keep your van healthy!
At this stage, get snap happy with photos of interior walls, flooring, and ceiling. Then, if you decide you need another window later, you can look back to see where all the support beams are.
Insulation creates a barrier to the world outside, keeping you cool when it’s hot and warm(er) when it’s cold. It also deadens sound from inside and outside and minimises condensation.
For best results, cover as much of the single skin metal as possible. It’s best to use double-sided foil insulation to cover every panel you can and add extra insulation to the panels between the support beams.
After you’ve installed your two layers of insulation, fill all the tiny gaps with expanding foam. Make sure to use ‘fire rated’ foam, as it’s flame retardant.
Some people install a separate moisture barrier here, but installing the foil insulation does a similar thing. It provides a barrier between the van’s metal and the air’s moisture, preventing condensation build-up.
Windows And Ventilation
Having windows and ventilation will keep air circulating to combat condensation and damp. Also, moving air around will help keep your camper cool and the air inside lovely and fresh.
Installing windows and ventilation is a pretty scary part of the build because you’ll have to cut holes in your precious van. Although the first cut is nerve-wracking, you’ll rise to the challenge no problem.
Now, you don’t have to install the windows and vents in Stage 1, but it makes the whole process a lot easier if you do it now, when you can see the support beams.
If you don’t know for sure yet which windows or ventilation you’re putting in, stop your build process and have a read of these posts:
In Vandercamp, we initially installed a sliding glass window from Camper Glass and then much later in our campervan conversion, added a polyvision window to the sliding door.
Campervan Conversion Stage 2: First Fixings
These are the essential fittings to get in before you start building furniture. Remember, the exact order in each stage doesn’t matter. Your campervan conversion will determine the order.
Before you install the floor, make sure that you’ve installed some insulation to keep the cold from rising. You can use thicker stuff like Celotex in a high roof van but we only used foil insulation because of limited headroom.
Your campervan flooring can either be plywood, upcycled pallet wood, OSB board, laminate, lino, or even carpet or carpet tiles.
Whatever material you choose, make sure it’s waterproof, easy to clean, lightweight and hardwearing. For example, if you’re using laminate, use bathroom laminate which will be waterproof.
If you’re installing your floor first, make sure it’s protected as you carry out other work. You don’t want to ruin your floor this early on in your campervan conversion!
Wood is the most used material; it’s inexpensive, or you can use reclaimed wood from a skip or pallet wood. We installed thin wooden batons to create a frame, providing a fixing point for the cladding.
We then put strips of thin foam (e.g. floor soundproofing foam) between the support beams and the cladding. This is to reduce creaking when the wood naturally expands and contracts in different weather conditions.
There are two methods of installing the wall material, which will determine when and how much electrical wiring you need to install at this stage:
1. Completely cover the van with cladding/sheet/whatever you’re using. If you’re doing it this way, then the electrics need to be done first, as you won’t have access behind the panels once you’ve completed the walls.
2. Leave any sections that will be obscured by furniture or have a removable access panel. This way, you can add additional electrics afterwards, as you’ll be able to thread wiring behind the walls.
You don’t need to cover every section of wall. Wherever there will be furniture, you can leave blank as you won’t see the walls. This will give you more space, allow air circulation and save time, money and weight.
You should have a good idea of your electrical design if you’re at the building stage. So you need to cut any holes ready for your electrical fittings (sockets, light switches etc.).
Generally speaking, your ceiling will be made from the same materials as your walls. Alternatively, you can just hang some nice fabric or decoupage an image (like a map) onto some plywood.
You need to have already insulated before putting the ceiling in and put in any wiring you need for your lights.
Fix thin wooden batons onto the support beams to give you something to drill into. Put adhesive sealant onto the batons, then use self-drilling screws to fix them securely.
Electrical design is probably the most technical part of the build, so don’t worry if you feel totally in the dark about it (hurhur).
Basically, campervan electricity comes from an onboard leisure battery. A leisure battery common charges when powered by any (or all) of these three methods:
- Electric hook up: Plug in at home or hook up, which is available at most campsites but come at a premium.
- Alternator: Generates power from the engine as you drive along.
- Solar panels: Get their power from the sun. Environmentally friendly, free power. Wahoo!
Related post: How To Charge A Leisure Battery In 5 Ways
Any wiring that needs hiding needs to be put in before the walls. We installed wiring for the lights and sockets and some flexible wiring tubes (Copex) in case we need to add anything later.
We also have access panels (that can easily be removed) in our cladding if we need to add to or alter the wiring. This was useful later in our build when we added some reading lights and a heater.
Gas is used for the cookers, heaters, water heaters, and some fridges. You can either have a fixed tank (inside or underneath your van) or opt for portable bottles and canisters.
Fixed tanks are filled using LPG gas; gas bottles are bought, used and then replaced, while canisters are a single use jobby. In the long run, a fixed gas tank is the most cost-effective option.
If you install an underslung gas tank, spray it with Stone Chip Shield to protect it from the elements and stone chips as you’re driving along.
If you’re installing an underslung gas tank, you need to install an easily accessible fill point. In Vandercamp, our gas tank is between the back wheels, while the fill point is in the back bumper.
Wait… do you smell gas? If you’re installing a fixed tank, have it safety checked by a professional before you hit the road. You need a carbon monoxide detector and gas drop-out vents if you’ve got any gas onboard. Safety first, kids.
To install gas in your campervan, you need to follow the current gas regulations. Luckily, we have a detailed, DIY friendly and FREE safety guide to campervan gas regulations.
If you want integrated heating in your camper, you may want LPG heating to run off your gas tank. Or, instead of installing a separate gas tank, you could buy a diesel heater which runs off the diesel in your van.
Alternatively, there are countless types of electric heaters, which plug into the mains, which don’t need any installation. Still, these need to be powered by hook up, as they’re too powerful to run off your 12V battery.
Originally, we weren’t going to have a heater but decided later that a Propex LPG heater was a worthy investment. It’s installed underneath the van, and the hot air duct comes out by the kitchen.
If you decide to install a diesel or LPG heater, the inlet and outlet duct placement is crucial. We have an article to help with heater duct positioning to provide an efficiently heated space; reducing condensation and mould build up.
Related Video: Propex HS2211 Heater UNBOXING Video
Wood Burning Stove
If you’re having a wood burning stove instead of a campervan heater, then you’ll need to cut a circular hole in the roof for the flue and build a fire-proof, sturdy base for it to sit on.
Cutting a hole in the roof will be easiest before installing any cladding (or other material) on the ceiling. The sturdy base will need installing after the floor has been installed.
Alternatively, if you think your layout may change, you could cut the hole later in the build, although it won’t be as straight forward with cladding to cut through and other furniture to fit it around.
Water can either be stored in water containers inside or underneath your camper. Obviously, if your tank is inside your van, you’ll have less storage space.
Installing a pump will mean you can have running water at the kitchen sink or for a shower (if you’re having one) or even an external shower hose.
Use proper water containers that are BPA free (to avoid any nasties leaking into your water) and that are right for the job. Improper materials could cause a leak which can potentially wreck your van!
Grey And Black Water
Grey – Any wastewater from a sink and/or shower. Needs to be stored and emptied responsibly. Use eco-friendly products.
Black – Toilet waste. In most cases, it’s collected in a cassette that is part of the toilet. This must be emptied at a designated place to be disposed of properly.
Campervan Conversion Stage 3: Big Stuff
Some items of furniture need putting in before others. However meticulously you planned your layout, your camper isn’t a perfect box shape. So, be aware that you may need to adapt your measurements to fit your van.
Your bed needs to be big enough, so get it in early, if not first. Convertible seating and seating that’s part of the bed frame will also be done now.
If you don’t know what kind of bed or seating you’re installing in your campervan, don’t worry, our campervan bed and seating post will help you decide.
Use your own measurements for the length of the bed and use them for the seat height. If you’ve got a van with a low roof, make sure you’ll have enough headroom when you’re sitting at your seats.
Don’t forget to include the thickness of the seating foam/cushions in your measurements. Otherwise, you’ll be higher up once the soft furnishings go in.
Creating storage space is in Section 4, but obviously, as you build the bed, you’ll naturally create storage areas, especially if you have a raised platform with a garage underneath.
If you’re planning on having separate seats, they can be put in whenever. However, if you need a big seating area, get it in early so you don’t have to (potentially) compromise on size later.
As with the bed, if you’re going to have storage underneath the seats, then there’s going to be an overlap with Section 4.
There’s also a potential overlap with the toilet, as you might want to use the space underneath the seats to store the loo. If so, the toilet measurements will impact the seating size.
If you’re going to have a fixed shower cubicle (check you out, fancy pants) in your camper conversion, get that sucker in next!
Shower trays are big and only come in fixed sizes. You can adapt other things in your build to be bigger or smaller, but you can’t change the size of a shower tray.
You’ll have to think about the shower along with the water in Stage 1. Your water tank needs to be big enough to hold enough water for showering, and the wastewater needs to link up with your grey water tank.
If you’re incorporating a toilet within your shower cubicle, or you won’t have a fixed loo, then feel free ahead to skip ahead!
Compost and cassette toilets need to have enough space for the loo itself and access when it’s time to perform some waste disposal tasks.
If you want an eco-friendly and sustainable van conversion, a compost toilet is the best option. Discover the 7 best composting toilets for your camper and how to make your “business” more sustainable.
You need to make sure your ventilation from Stage 1 matches up, as you’re going to need some external ventilation wherever you have a toilet.
Campervan Conversion Stage 4: Other Furniture
Now that all your big stuff is in, everything else can go around it. Of course, your design plan may need tweaking, but that’s ok because the size of all this stuff is adaptable.
We recommend taking your camper for various test runs throughout your build to double-check that your layout works the way you want it to!
Your kitchen is where your layout design will probably go out the window. Because a van isn’t a perfect box, it’s hard to design a layout on paper using all the space available. But that’s ok, adapt your design as you go.
Test out the kitchen through the build; practise cooking meals in it and test it out on trips away.
Your kitchen build needs to be accurate. The whole thing needs to be level, and the drawers should fit squarely into the holes and slide in and out easily. So, take your time and measure everything twice!
If you’re making the worktops yourself, make sure they’re durable and easy to clean. More importantly, make sure you seal it properly with a food safe material. We used 100% tung oil for our reclaimed pallet wood worktops.
You can have a small portable stove for a cooker, a campervan hob integrated into the worktop, or you can adapt a camping stove to fit into your kitchen.
An integrated stove will be more expensive, and the gas rings are pretty small and close together. But, on the other hand, an adapted camping stove is much cheaper and bigger than the ones specifically made for a camper.
If you’re having a cooker built into the kitchen, then when installing your gas in Stage 2, you need to know where you’re going to put it so you can route the gas pipes.
As with a cooker, you can either have something integrated into your kitchen or something portable. Something portable may seem like a cheaper option, as a collapsible bowl is cheaper than an integrated sink.
However, rather than buy a campervan sink, you can make your own. Using upcycled materials like a dog bowl (clean, obviously!), a copper pot or a jam-making pot make an affordable (and unique) alternative.
If you’re having a fixed sink, you need water supply pipework, a pump, a tap, a waste pipe and a grey water tank. If you’re having a portable/collapsible bowl, then this needs storage space somewhere.
When you’re installing your water in Stage 2, you need to know where your sink will go, so you can route water pipes to the tap and drainage to a grey water tank.
Fridges that need electrical power are the 2 and 3 way fridges and electric cool boxes. If you want to keep things cool without a fridge, you’ll need a cooler bag or box, but bear in mind these need cooler blocks in them to stay cool.
Potential double overlap! If you’re installing a 3-way fridge, you need to know where it will go, so you can route the gas pipes. Also, for safety, you need to install a gas drop out vent underneath.
3-way fridges need to be completely flat to work properly. The newer models have more of a tolerance for sloping, but it’s super important to build your kitchen level.
We didn’t think Vandercamp would be big enough to have a fridge, so we hadn’t planned one into our build. But later, we figured out a way to sneak one in!
Wood Burning Stove
If you’re opting to have a wood burning stove, then you’ll have already planned where to put it in your layout, as well as installing the flue and creating a fire-proof, sturdy base.
So, it doesn’t matter which build stage you install the stove itself. In fact, installing it can be done as late as Stage 5 if you want.
If you don’t know what kind of table to include in your campervan conversion, here are 15 Fabulous Camper Table Ideas To Fire Up Your Imagination.
When building a table, use your own measurements to get the perfect height and positioning. Don’t forget to put foam or cushions on the seats before testing the height and table position.
Make sure your tabletop material will be strong enough to take some weight but not so heavy that it puts strain on the table leg or supports. We designed our table to withstand a giant pot of curry and us leaning on it when we’re full.
As with the kitchen worktops, the tabletop needs to be coated with a food safe finish. It also needs to be durable and easy to clean/mop up spills. We highly recommend using epoxy resin.
Related Post: 15 Campervan Table Ideas To Fire Up Your Imagination
Your storage space will be made up of cupboards, drawers, cubbies, shelves and little unused gaps. But you’ll already have made a start creating storage when you installed your bed and seats.
In Stage 1, you began putting walls in. If you’re using cladding, you don’t need to bother putting anything behind your storage. Instead, you’ll give yourself more storage space; allow airflow behind the walls; and save time, money and weight.
Suppose any of your other furniture is part of the storage (like Vandercamp’s table) there will be an overlap with another part of the build.
Campervan Conversion Stage 5: Finishing Touches
Check you out! You’re nearly there! You’ve got all your essentials and your furniture done, and your camper is pretty much complete! But it won’t feel like home until you’ve completed Stage 5.
You may have already completed this section when you originally put in your electrics. If you have, that’s no problem!
Your electrical fittings are the bits that make your electrics work and look finished: nice light switches, decent plug sockets and housing for your lighting.
In Vandercamp, Jolly made some nice-looking light switches using wood and copper sheeting, and for the light fixtures, we used copper spray paint, so they matched our build.
You may have already added your foam cushioning or cushions when you installed your bed and seating. If you have, that’s no problem!
Whether you’re using a full-on mattress for your bed, cushions for your seating or using foam, now is an excellent time to sort it out. Try and reuse or upcycle where you can!
Initially, we upcycled the foam from an old futon, but it turned out to be too soft and wasn’t practical for long trips. Later, we managed to rescue some firmer foam from a furniture factory destined to go to landfill.
Whether you’re buying things pre-made or making things yourself, this is the stage where fabrics can go in without being threatened by dirt from other areas of your build.
Although it may seem like a daunting task, making your own furnishings isn’t too difficult, even without any experience. It just needs a lesson on how a sewing machine works and a bit of patience!
In Vandercamp, Nemi cobbled together some seat covers and the black out curtains. Now, they wouldn’t win the Great British Sewing Bee, but they were made with love and saved us a load of money!
For a fixed awning, you may need an awning rail C channel, which you drill through and then use the roof rack bolts to fix in place. Alternatively, you could have something separate which you can set up at a campsite.
Awnings provide shelter from the elements, not just the rain, but sunshine too! Just to note, you can’t use an awning while stealth camping and need to be cautious using one when wild camping.
If you’re going to buy a branded proper jobby, wind-out awning, it’s going to set you back a few hundred quid. We avoided this by buying a large camping shelter and designed it to pull out easily to protect us from the elements.
Although an awning fits in the finishing touches stage, it can be done much earlier in the build. Installing it early will offer protection from the elements while you’re converting your campervan.
These are all the things that will transform your camper conversion into a cosy place that you call your rolling home.
These include cushions, rugs, pictures in frames, plants, mirrors, macramé, cross-stitch, hooks, fairy lights, bunting, doormats, and any other decoration that comes to mind!
Once you’ve added all these personal touches to your campervan conversion, the feeling is just magical! Then, finally, you can sit back and admire all your handy work and give yourself a massive pat on the back!
So, you have your layout design plans fixed firmly in your mind and know where everything will go and how it’s all going to fit together.
Although you can shuffle the individual steps around, stick to the Stages above, and you’re on to a winner! They’re all tried and tested from our VW T5 conversion.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to build a camper, and you can take as long or as little time as you like over it. So don’t feel any pressure to do things a certain way; just do whatever works best for you and your camper.
Now go forth and build! Adventure awaits.