Van Conversion Build Journal: How We Built Our Campervan

Van Conversion Build Journal: How We Built Our Campervan

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
Step-by-step, illustrated, and explained.
Products and Material
Why we chose them. How we installed them.
Tools
Nothing fancy. Just common handyman tools.
Second Toughts
If we had to start over, what would we do differently?

There are 3 options to find your way around here:

Visual

Search

Sequential

Visual
Search
Sequential

Our Build Journal below is presented chronologically. That being said, the order of some steps can be interchanged; for example, you could decide to upgrade the tires, the radio, or to install the Air Lift system at any moment. But some steps should be performed in the right order... To clarify the timeline below indicate, what we think, is the critical path:

Timeline-Van-Conversion-Build-Journal-(Vertical-Framed)

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

2- Maxxfan Installation

Do you have what it takes to convert a brand new van? This is the test right here. We just brought home a new shiny van and we're about to cut a big hole through the roof to install a fan... 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 (edit: we didn't! 2020 maybe?). If we had to start over we would most likely do it at this point of the conversion, right after the Maxxfan installation.

4- Solar Panels Install

Off-the-grid or not, we still have to run the fridge, the fans, the water pump, the lights, etc; our autonomy and freedom depend A LOT on electrical power at all time. Harvesting power from the sun feels a bit like cheating to us: we LOVE IT! If you say freedom, we say solar!

5- Passenger Swivel

We chose to convert the largest Ford Transit available, thinking we would have plenty of extra space... Note by us from the future: "nope, no extra space"! Indeed, every precaution should be taker to maximize the space available. Adding swivel seats is one of these precaution, we HIGHLY recommend it! We use it constantly. So let's get to work!

6- Driver Swivel

The driver swivel seat installation requires to lower the e-brake, so it's a bit more complicated than the passenger seat. But in retrospective, it's essential for our layout: we use it everyday. So we're glad we went for it!

RELATED:

SWIVEL SEATS BATTLE!

HUSKY FLOOR MAT

7- Fiamma Awning

If space is a rare & precious thing in a van, why not create some space outside? An awning is not cheap, but we'd rather be outside. Rain or shine. Do we actually use it? Please take the time to read our "Second Thoughts" in this article...

8- Webasto Heater

If you have enough budget to invest in a van, ski gear and ski passes, then you have enough budget to invest in a dry heat source; we can’t recommend that enough. We LOVE our Webasto as it has "unlimited" heat source (it uses fuel from the van's tank, so no need to refill a propane tank), it keeps the humidity level below 40% (even when drying ski gear!) and it's powerful enough to keep the van warm (68F) at all time. This thing is awesome.

RELATED:

WEBASTO NOISE REDUCTION

WEBASTO/ESPAR HIGH ALTITUDES USAGE

HOW TO INSTALL A NEW BURNER FOLLOWING CARBON BUILDUP

8- Propex Heater

Webasto AND Propex, do we really need both? Here's the situation: right before our first winter (2017) we had some issues with the Webasto. So we decided to add the Propex as a backup heat source, because being parked at -22F (-30C) is not a joke; having heat is safety matter! Turns out our Webasto is working fine, so we didn't really needed the Propex after all, but it's nice to know we can have heat when we forget to add enough gas in the tank AND a second heater is not a bad thing when temperatures drop below -20F (-30C)...

RELATED:

WEBASTO VS PROPEX

are-we-finished-yet
thing-started

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

10- Floor Installation

And now is the time to install a floor in our van because, you know, we need something to walk on! That’s being said, a floor has many other primordial functions than just supporting our feet. Indeed, a proper floor installation prevents water infiltration (= rust), provides thermal and noise insulation, and serves as anchor for the cabinets. In addition it should be resistant to wear, be able to withstand enough weight, not produce any squeak, and … look good (yep, that counts!).

11- Thinsulate Insulation

Welcome to the most controversial topic on van conversion: Thermal Insulation! One could spend days reading about it online, only to find out there is no consensus on that topic... Our researches on insulation and condensation led us to choose Thinsulate and we're glad we did! After two winters chasing snow full time, Thinsulate kept us warm even down below -22F! And it still looks great after all this time (no molds, no bugs). Awesome!

RELATED:

Vanlife Insulation Guide

CONDENSATION AND MOISTURE CONTROL

MONITOR YOUR VAN (OR RV) TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY REMOTELY

12- Platform Bed

There are a lot of creative way to make a bed: Murphy bed, pull-out slats, futon, etc. We personally wanted a permanent bed (so we don't have to do/undo the setup everyday) and to leave plenty of room for the "garage". A raised platform bed seemed ideal and we don't look back!

13- Slide-Out Bike Rack

We won’t lie, this whole FarOutThing revolves a lot around the mountain bikes. They deserve a neat and functional storage. And we can't emphasis on that enough: repetitive tasks should be make easy (we ride almost everyday in summer, so that's definitely a repetitive task)!

14- Fridge & Electrical Cabinet

It's the first cabinet we're building, so it's quite the learning curve... but we made it! In retrospect, we're VERY happy with the large countertop (we cook a lot in the van) and we like that the electrical system doesn't use much room (but it's challenging to work in it because it's so small).

RELATED:

OFF-GRID FRIDGE GUIDE

FRIDGE FLOOR VENT

15- Electrical System Guide

Designing a 12V electrical system from scratch is not a simple task, we learnt that the hard way. It is where most people get discouraged, so it's BY FAR our most detailed guide on this website. You'll learn how to size your components, decide between different technologies, make the connections, where to install fuses and breakers, etc. We're also sharing our Wiring Diagram, which is flexible and can be implemented on pretty much anything (Transit, Sprinter, ProMaster, Tiny House, Boat, Trailer, etc!). Hope that helps!

RELATED:

Victron Solar Charger and Battery Monitor

Simarine Pico Battery Monitor

STERLING B2B ALTERNATOR CHARGER

BATTLE BORN BATTERIES REVIEW

16- Overhead Storage

There's not much use to make of the space above the countertop... except, of course, adding storage! The overhead storage will be used to put away our kitchen stuff (dishes, pots & pans, food containers, espresso machine, etc).

17- Bedroom Storage

In small space, organization is the key to sanity! Looking back, we LOVE our bedroom storage because we both have our own "storage cubes" to put away our stuff, organized by categories. No random packing, it's all neat!

18- Sink & Stove Cabinet

Adding a propane range and pressurized water was a GREAT decision, considering we live full time in the van. The sink & stove cabinet is home to the Atwood range, the Dometic sink and has some storage for household products & food as well.

RELATED:

Atwood Propane Range Review

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 to make it easy to understand!

20- EZ-COOL Insulation

We chose Thinsulate (and we're glad we did) 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'd rather keep that space as living area), so we installed EZ Cool to act as thermal break.

21- Wood Paneling

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

The foam blobs... we don't really like them, but we can't really get rid of them either (because of the adjacent air bags). So we did our best to make them look good. Check it out!

23- LED Ceiling Lights

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 in the van (update from the future: we're currently in our third year!). 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. It's one of these thing we couldn't live without. Sweeeeet!

RELATED:

NATURE'S HEAD COMPOSTING TOILET REVIEW

25- Propane System

Propane stores a LOT of energy in a compact and cheap way. To get an equivalent amount of energy via solar & batteries would cost thousands and thousands of dollars. To make it perfectly safe, we enclosed our propane tank in a sealed & vented locker. This Propane System Guide has everything you need to build your knowledge and execute your build. We even share our Propane Diagram in there, hope that helps!

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 Spring Kit

As we progressed in our conversion, the van got heavier and we could see the back starting to sag... We decided to add an Air Lift Spring Kit to bring the van back to it's original level and to improve the ride. And with the on-board compressor and the wireless remote, we can adjust the air pressure in the springs on the fly to level the van for the night! 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, there is NO WAY we could have match the functionality or quality of those. So we did not bother making them!

29- Radio Upgrade

The Ford Transit can be upgraded with an aftermarket radio and we’ll show you how in the following article. We went from the basic Ford factory AM/FM radio to the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX 6.94″ TouchScreen Multimedia Receiver: it has Android Auto & Apple CarPlay (wireless or USB), backup camera ready, DVD receiver, Bluetooth, SiriuxXM, etc. Sweet upgrade. Let’s get to work and get done with the installation!

30- Speakers Upgrade

After upgrading our radio unit, the next smart move was to upgrade our speakers. We ordered our Transit with the basic factory radio which includes 1 speaker in each front door; and they’re not that great… we’re not audiophile or something; in fact we’ve been using the same small portable stereo in our house for the last 10 years, but we quickly got bored of the flat sound of the Transit’s factory speakers.

31- Adding Speakers To The Headliner

Let’s recap: in our quest for the perfect sound, we upgraded the Ford Transit factory radio to a Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX AND we upgraded the factory front speakers. It definitely improved the sound and we were pleased with the results. We enjoyed that setup for two years, but then we couldn’t help but push our quest even further: how can we make the audio even better? Indeed, because the front speakers are located in the doors close to floor-level, the sound quality was not as good under loud ambiant noise (driving under heavy rain or wind, or when cooking in the van). So here we are today, adding Rockford Fosgate speakers to the headliner; and this, my friends, complete our quest for the perfect audio experience. It’s exactly what we were looking for!

32- 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

33- 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.

34- Rear 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.

35- On-Board Tire Inflator

We previously installed an Air Lift Kit and we're about to tap into it to solve a third-world problem: adding air to our mountain bike tires without a floor pump. It's not by any mean an essential upgrade, but we do actually like it a lot!

36- The Garage

La Pièce de Résistance. All this van conversion must serves our end goal: RIDE MORE. That means we're packing a lot of gear and we want to be able to load / unload it easily. If we have to play Tetris each time we need to access something, it isn't gonna work in the long term; we can do better than this. So here it is: The Garage!

37- Bike Repair Stand

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 🙂

38- Dash Cam

People elect to install dash cams for several reasons: evidence in case of accident, prevent fraud, capture footage of a road trip, etc. In the article below, we documented how we installed the Garmin Dash Cam Mini in our Ford Transit and why we chose it. Hope that helps!

39- Add & Program New Keypad

The Ford Keyless Entry Keypad allows to unlock your vehicle, you guessed it, without using your keys. Turns out we use it a lot when going for a bike ride or skiing, because we like to pack light and getting stabbed by your keys when crashing is no fun. We’re no beach bums, but we heard surfers love it as well! It’s possible to order the Keyless Entry Keypad with a new vehicle, or to add one (or up to 8) later. After using the keypad on our Ford Transit for two years, we’re adding a second one on the passenger-side for more convenience. Here is how to install and program it!

40- Campervan Must-Have

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!!

BE OUR GUEST:

Van-Tour-Heading

STAY IN TOUCH!

Join 25,000+ followers via Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, e-mail or Patreon:

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!

41 thoughts on “Van Conversion Build Journal: How We Built Our Campervan”

  1. I have learned so much from this site (so thank you!) ESPECIALLY about thermal bridging! It seems like from what I am reading, you want the metal covered with insulation (thinsulate and EZ cool) to counteract this. So my question is: What did you do with your slider and rear door frames? In your build journal it looks like they are not covered?

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.