Van Conversion Build Journal: How To Build a Campervan for Vanlife

Van Conversion Build Journal: How To Build a Campervan for Vanlife

Tempted by Vanlife? Looking for how to convert a van to a campervan? We obsessively documented EVERYTHING from our DIY campervan conversion process: how to's, products and material, tools, lessons learned, etc. Whether you are converting a Ford Transit, a Mercedes Sprinter or a Ram ProMaster, it's all good: our step-by-step directions should point you in the right path whatever the van you choose to convert. Happy campervan conversion!

In each GUIDE of this Build Journal, you'll find:

How To's

We fully detailed and illustrated our van conversion process.

Products and Material

Why we chose them. How we installed them.

Tools

Nothing fancy. Just common handyman tools.

Second Thoughts

If we had to start over, what would we do differently?

Heads-Up:

Scopema swivels back in stock!

The Scopema swivels normally sell out in a few days and it takes months before they're available again... So if you're in the market for swivel seats, ACT NOW!

Get yours on eBay:

What's the big deal with the Scopema swivels? Read the full story here:

There are 3 options to find your way around here:

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Sequential

1- LARGER TIRES UPGRADE

First things first. We’re not off road enthusiasts, but we’re not roadies either. We need tires that can handle highway, off-road and snow as well. And we don’t mind the badass look too, because we’re such badass people. Whether you are converting a campervan or own a work van, this is something to consider.

RELATED:

WEATHERTECH FRONT AND REAR MUD FLAPS

MAXTRAX RECOVERY BOARDS

TIRE PRESSURE MONITORING SYSTEM (TPMS)

2- Maxxfan ROOF FAN INSTALLATION

Do you have what it takes to convert a brand new van? This is the test right here. You just brought home a new shiny van and the first thing you do is make a big hole through the roof! There is no turning back now…

RELATED:

PREVENT A LEAKING ROOF

SIROCCO 3-AXIS 12V FAN

Door Prop For Transit and Sprinter Vans

3- Window Installation

We did NOT add a window above our bed and, well, maybe we should have… We’re considering adding one to our van during summer 2019. If we had to start over we would most likely do it here, right after the Maxxfan installation.

4- SOLAR PANELS INSTALLATION

Harvesting power from the sun feels a bit like cheating to us! Our autonomy and freedom depend a lot on it. If you say freedom, we say solar!

5- PASSENGER SWIVEL SEAT INSTALLATION

Space is a very precious & rare thing in a van. A swivel seat is a great way to create some space!

6. DRIVER SWIVEL SEAT INSTALLATION

The driver swivel seat installation requires to lower the e-brake, but it is still totally worth doing it!

RELATED:

SWIVEL SEATS BATTLE!

HUSKY FLOOR MAT

7. Fiamma AWNING INSTALLATION

If space is a rare & precious thing in a van, why not create some space outside? An awning is not cheap, but we rather be outside. Rain or shine.

8- WEBASTO AIR HEATER INSTALLATION

Snow is awesome. Winter is awesome. We want to get some, but we don’t want to freeze to death. The Webasto Gasoline air heater provides a very nice source of heat. The heat is dry and will help keep moisture low in the van.

RELATED:

WEBASTO NOISE REDUCTION

WEBASTO/ESPAR HIGH ALTITUDES USAGE

HOW TO INSTALL A NEW BURNER FOLLOWING CARBON BUILDUP

9- PROPEX AIR HEATER INSTALLATION

Here is the situation: we’ve been 3 months on the road chasing the sun and in exactly 2 weeks, we take a major 180 degrees turn and drive north to chase the snow. We had issues with our Webasto that we think we fixed, but who knows if the issues will come back or not? The call of snow is way, way too strong. There is only one solution…

RELATED:

WEBASTO VS PROPEX

are-we-finished-yet
thing-started

CROSSNUT

We don’t like drilling holes in our van as it could:

– attract rust on bare edges
– spread metal chips all over (almost impossible to remove and will attract rust)
– interfere with your van electronics (!)

Cross Nut is the solution! We prepared a fully detailed article about Cross Nut (choosing the right size, installation tips, etc). Check it out!

10- FLOOR INSTALLATION

A floor is a floor, there is not much to say here. Except, maybe, that we want the floor to be waterproof, insulated, low maintenance and nice.

11- THINSULATE Insulation

Welcome to the most controversial topic on van conversion! Thermal Insulation. There is no consensus here; choose your side!
(Hint: we’re on the Thinsulate side)

RELATED:

Vanlife Insulation Guide

CONDENSATION AND MOISTURE CONTROL

MONITOR YOUR VAN (OR RV) TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY REMOTELY

12- PLATFORM BED INSTALLATION

There are a lot of creative way to make a bed layout. We just went functional and installed a raised, permanent, platform bed; this creates a lot of “garage” room and we need that a lot!

13- SLIDE-OUT BIKE RACK

We won’t lie, this whole FarOutThing revolves, a lot, around the mountain bikes. They deserve a proper storage with a wow factor.

14- FRIDGE & ELECTRICAL CABINET

This was the first cabinet we built and the first opportunity to add some blue color in the van.

RELATED:

OFF-GRID FRIDGE GUIDE

FRIDGE FLOOR VENT

15- ELECTRICAL SYSTEM

Designing a 12V electrical system from scratch is not a simple task, we learnt that the hard way. In this post, we share everything we know and we explain how we went from nothing to a fully functional electrical system.

RELATED:

VICTRON MPPT CHARGE CONTROLLER AND Battery MONITOR

Simarine Pico Battery Monitor

(Monitoring of battery banks, tanks, temperatures, inclinometer)

STERLING B2B ALTERNATOR CHARGER

BATTLE BORN LITHIUM BATTERIES REVIEW

16- OVERHEAD STORAGE CABINET

Neat storage is essential for sanity when living in a van. This cabinet should keeps us sane!

17- BEDROOM STORAGE

Again, we wanted to make sure we have plenty of mini-storage compartments. This is what we came up with.

18- SINK & STOVE CABINET

This van is getting some love. It’s just been upgraded with a propane range and a sink! Yay!

RELATED:

PROPANE RANGE

MAKING ESPRESSO AND LATTE IN OUR VAN

19- WATER SYSTEM

We hesitated to install a draft beer system in our DIY campervan conversion, but we finally installed a pressurized water system instead. This is the Water System Installation of our DIY campervan conversion. Materials, tools, cost and installation. Fully illustrated for your viewing pleasure!

20- EZ-COOL Van Insulation

We chose Thinsulate as our “main” thermal and noise insulation. To be effective, Thinsulate requires to be fully expanded: that’s almost 2 inches thick for SM600L Thinsulate. There are locations where we just don’t have that space (we rather keep that space as living area), so we installed EZ Cool…

21- WOOD PANELING INSTALLATION

Right from the start, we knew we wanted a rustic finish. It is fairly easy to obtain a nice & clean finish with the tongue and groove paneling: each plank will sit flush the the adjacent planks, creating a uniform & continuous surface. The planks are relatively thin at 5/16” thickness, making them flexible enough to conform to the van funky surfaces. We did not sand the planks, but we finished them with varnish to protect them against a spaghetti incident.

22- FOAM BLOBS MAKEOVER

This is how we transformed the foam blobs of our Transit van.

23- LED CEILING LIGHTS INSTALLATION / REVIEW

After a few trial-and-error we finally found what (we think) are the perfect recessed ceiling LED lights! The first LED we ordered were WAY too bright as the glass was clear instead of frosted. Even with a dimmer, the light was shocking for the eye. Then we stumbled on the Acegoo LED lights…

24- Nature's Head COMPOSTING TOILET

We plan on living full time for a year or two in the van. For a minimum of comfort (and convenience), we really wanted a toilet and after reading about composting toilets, it seamed like the perfect solution for us!

It’s honestly really easy to install and manage; there is no odor (that’s right!) and no black water to deal with. Sweeeeet!

RELATED:

NATURE'S HEAD COMPOSTING TOILET

25- PROPANE SYSTEM

At Faroutride we play hard, but we play safe: we enclosed our propane tank in a sealed & vented propane locker. Read how we built the locker here and how we installed our complete propane system!

RELATED:

PROPANE TANK LEVEL WIRELESS MONITOR

26- UPFITTER AUXILIARY SWITCHES

The Ford Transit can be ordered with the optional Upfitter Auxiliary Switches, but getting access to their output is a bit tricky. Fortunately, we made our homework and we’re guiding you through the process!

27- AIR LIFT SPRINGS KIT INSTALLATION

The Air Lift Springs Kit allows our Ford Transit Campervan to gain approximately 3 inches overhang ground clearance, for light off-road expeditions! And with the on-board compressor and the wireless remote, we can adjust the air pressure in the springs on the fly! Neat!

28- MOSQUITO SCREENS

And here’s the only non-DIY part of our Transit van conversion: the mosquito screens. They’re almost too good to be true, so we did not bother making them!

29- RADIO UPGRADE

We upgraded the Ford Transit basic factory radio for a fancy Touchscreen/Bluetooth/WiFi/Bling-Bling 7″ Display Android Radio. Here is the install write-up!

30- SPEAKERS UPGRADE

After upgrading to an Android Radio Unit, the next smart move was to upgrade to JBL GT7-6C speakers system. Here is the full installation write-up!

31- EXTERIOR SHOWER

We LOVE riding our mountain bikes. It can only means two things:
1-We drink a lot of craft beer
2-We take a lot of showers.
Let’s focus on item #2 in here. This is our van conversion exterior shower setup.

RELATED:

ECCOTEMP L5 PROPANE HOT SHOWER

32- INSULATED WINDOW COVERS

While curtains work for houses, we think insulated window covers are better for campervans. They are lightproof (for shade & privacy) and insulated (to keep us cool in summer, warm in winter). We’re obsessed with functionality and with the rare earth magnets all around the edges, they just “snap” to the van metal window contour. Easy breazy! Similar design should work for Transit, Sprinter or ProMaster.

33- FLOOR VENT

We are adding a second floor vent to cool down our bedroom (and the whole van too)! It’s similar to the fridge vent except that we added a gate, an inline fan and a duct to route the air above the bed.

34- ON BOARD MOUNTAIN BIKE TIRE INFLATOR

Seriously, who wants to inflate mountain bike tire with a floor pump? It’s OLD-SKOOL (do we really need to mention we’re being sarcastic?). Let’s make things right and install an on board tire inflator. We’ll be using the air compressor from our Air-Lift suspension system. Check it out!

35- GARAGE

There is no such thing as unused space in a campervan conversion! Organisation & functionality is the key here! In this article, we go through every details of our garage layout.

36- Bike Repair Stand (Park Tool)

We’re pretty obsessed with our bikes and riding (almost) everyday means a LOT of maintenance and repairs. For the last two years we improvised repair stands with picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, bike racks, and other unrelated objects that are definitely not suited for the job. A repair stand is not absolutely necessary, but it makes mechanical sessions much more efficient and enjoyable! After holding back on this upgrade for the last two years, the time has come 🙂

37- CAMPERVAN MUST-HAVE GEAR

An empty van is not a home! Here is a collection of campervan gear we researched and tested on the road full-time since August 2017. Check it out!

WE'RE DONE, YAY!!

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about us

Nice To Meet You.

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

28 thoughts on “Van Conversion Build Journal: How To Build a Campervan for Vanlife”

  1. Hey Antoine
    Did you guys have to custom order your Transit? I’m having trouble finding new transits in my area that are equipped with the heavy duty alternator and dual batteries. Do you think this would be more trouble than it’s worth to install after market or should I just be patient and order my van? If you did order how long did it take before you were able to drive it away? I was told 10-18 weeks! Thanks guys.

    Reply
    • It seems Transit sold of the lots don’t have no options at all, so we did a custom order. It took about 4 months to arrive…

      Don’t know about aftermarket installation. What about cruise control?

      Reply
  2. Hey Guys, been spending some time studying your electrical (we have the 2018 largest Transit). So far, learned a ton but still have more things to study up on. A question for you: Any particular reason you went with a separate inverter and charger as opposed to one unit that combines both? Per your recommend, we’ll be going with Battle Born (2 batteries) and a 2000W inverter/charger – to be able to use a 4 gallon electric water heater that needs 1400W. Should there be any concern putting the batteries in the “garage” area and running wires from under-the-seat van battery to a B2B charger and then to the batteries in the back? Any comments/help will be appreciated. And we’re definitely going to buy your diagram once things make more sense! Thanks!
    Slav & Heather

    Reply
  3. Hey, building my van and been following you guys for a bit now. What type of wood did you use for your vertical beams on walls and ceiling? Would you recomend using the same? Also are these weight supporting anything or did you only crossnut to frame?

    Reply
  4. Hello! I’m interested in how/why you made the decision for the 250 over the 350 besides cost of course? Do you know how much margin you have on weight capacity? Have you weighed the final build fully loaded?

    Reply
  5. This is the most thorough build description I’ve seen! Great job! We get quite a few inquiries from our customers and I’ll make sure to send them here.

    Reply
  6. Hey far out ride, great info, I purchased the wiring diagram and have been going through it, 1 question, with the shunt which side connects to the negative bus bar the 50mv or 500a side, and then the other side connect to the neg terminal of house battery, is this correct, thanks

    Reply
  7. Thanks for your van build journal! It has helped us immensely and we’ve used your links whenever applicable.
    One more question, could you tell us which curtain rod you used?

    Reply
  8. Thanks for sharing so much detail on your build. It has been great inspiration for our upcoming build. We are looking to purchase a 2018 Transit 250 High Roof with 3.31 limited slip differential and we aren’t sure which length we should get. Do you ever feel like the extended transit is too long? I understand that parking will be tougher and that is one downside, but are there any other downsides you can think of for having the longer version? Do you ever feel like it is hard to maneuver? We will end up driving ours through cities at times and will also be in a lot of National Parks Camping. Did you even take the shorter high roof version into consideration or were you always set on the extended version?

    Reply
    • For full time living, we think the extended length is the way to go. But then we have our bikes inside, an oven, toilet, sink, fridge and a lot of gear…

      It’s not too hard to maneuver; you quickly get used to it. One downside is the long overhand behind the rear wheels: on off roads where there are steep departure angles, it can touch the ground.

      If you spend a lot of time in the cities, of course the shorter one would make it easier to park… we normally avoid cities so it’s not an issue for us.

      Sorry, we’re not really helping here, but it’s a very personal decision! It depends a lot what you plan on doing with the van!

      Good luck!

      Reply
  9. Wonderful, informative site you have here! Which makes me wonder, how did you come up with all tje info you needed to put all of this together? What were your main information resources? Certain blogs, websites, or books? I want together supplement all the great stuff I’m learning from you, thanks!

    Reply
  10. Hello,

    Thank you for your website… it has been very helpful during our van conversion. I noticed you guys are up in WA… looks like you are close to us. If you need a place to park you van for a few days we are located in East Wenatchee. We have a great ski resort (Mission Ridge) less than 30 mins from our house.
    I am interested in your lift hit you put on the van… I am assuming you ran into problems when trying to go off road? Does it really give you 3 extra inches of clearance?

    Thx

    Reply
    • Hi and thanks for the invitation 🙂

      The long overhang behind the rear wheels of the Extended-length Transit are a limiting factor. The lift kit raise the BACK OF THE VAN 3 inches (not the entire van), so that helps with steep departure angle. It also helps handling.

      Have a good one!

      Reply
  11. amazing as far as I can see, swivel seats are genius. one thing stuck out though, about the bike tyre inflation..i get your jokes all through the site but inflating with a track pump is dangerous? hmm..should I trust you guys ‘coz that’s one thing that is cray cray

    Reply
  12. I would first like to say awesome website! The layout and how helpful everything is makes this a go to site. With that being said I was wondering what everyone thinks about tire choices. The stock tire on a Ford Transit is the Dynapro HT 235/65r16 LR C its max load is about 3200lbs, while the BFG KO2 (amazing tire by the way) 225/75r16 LR E has a max load of only 2700lbs even with it being a 10ply tire. So that ends up being a difference of 500lbs a tire. I’m not saying the KO2 can’t handle the GVWR of 9000lbs, but if you start throwing in pulling a trailer you can quickly go over the max of the tire.

    Reply
    • Good point: if you plan on max out the payload on your Transit AND pull a trailer as well, choosing tires with higher load is probably a good idea. In our case, we don’t have a trailer so we’re good 🙂
      Thanks for your input!

      Good day!

      Reply
    • Hi Robert,
      just went through your website.

      I must say that i really like your design! It’s clean and the colors give a nice touch!

      How does it feel to know that your almost done??

      Reply
  13. Hi guys – steve from UK here, when I used to fit eberspacher(and we auto and bit if mikuni) professionally there are certain points I would note – thought perhaps I share them with you. The designs pecs – wiring etc were slightly different over here – we dealt with eberspacher direct and not espar which if h re all looked after the franchise hire over there. It seems to me couple of things ga you may have missed-so here goes – no offence intended. When you drop down the fuel rank – I found minimal is best don’t drop down more than you gave to. I sent your hole in the top where you propose to mount it – try and work out where the existing tank float is so as not to interfere with it. A point you missed-it with a hacksaw the standpipe you are inserting so it clears the bottom of the rank. The standard is to cut it at an angle (truncate) so it is easier for future to siphon out – of course clear off burs before you mount it. Make sure the inlet of the gas pipe clears they underside of the vehicle – all fuel runs gradual curves – nothing too tight. Another thing thar would be good would be to put in an emergency cut off in series to the fuel pump feed-this is a requirement in all UK psvs – good for private to in my opinion. See I g your pics I didn’t see evidence of small fuel clips that are prerequisite on the fuel Connections to make sure the unit is air tight. I could go in forever but just thought these few pointers. Espar o er there used to have download able I stalk manuals for us and Canadian regs. I used them couple of times as same over here we get charged for. Good luck and keep safe. STEVE Valentine Msaet. Airte, Amsterdam, Jib.

    Reply

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