If you’ve been hearing the #VanLife calling, then maybe it’s time to take the plunge and get started on your own van conversion project! Transforming a van into a safe and comfortable living space can have its challenges, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. You’ll have the best chance for success if you go into the project fully prepared for what a van conversion entails, and with realistic expectations about the cost, timeline and possible hiccups along the way. Let’s take a look at what our Get Away RV experts say are some of the most important steps involved in converting a van into an RV.
Pinterest will have you excited about hanging faerie lights from the ceiling and strumming a ukulele at the beach (and those things WILL happen!), but before the decorating and adventures begin, you’ll need to make sure you can actually live comfortably in your converted van - that means cooking, staying warm and dry, having access to water and electricity, using the washroom and safety concerns. Our team of van conversion experts suggests starting your DIY van conversion with a plan for these “bare bones” components:
1. Insulation and Temperature Control. Many experts will agree that a roof vent is one of the most important components of a van conversion. It helps with temperature regulation and moisture control by pulling fresh air from an opening in the van and pushing it out through the vent. Nearly every roof vent comes in a standard 14” x 14” size, making it easy to swap out vents once you’ve cut a hole in your roof - yes, you heard that right, you will need to cut a large hole in the roof of your van! This step can’t easily be undone and requires tools like a drill, jigsaw, metal file, sealants and tape, so be sure to plan out the project thoroughly before you start. You’ll also need to consider insulating the walls, floor and ceiling with a non-water retaining insulation. Your van will most likely need to be completely gutted before you start this step, so we recommend starting this project in a large space where you can store seats and other pieces of your van during the installation process. Proper insulation is vital for soundproofing, temperature regulation and moisture control.
2. Plumbing. Ensuring that you have access to clean water is essential, and also a surprisingly easy step in the DIY conversion process. You’ll need a sink, water pump, freshwater tank, grey water tank (for waste-water) and plumbing hardware. Many #VanLife enthusiasts opt for a composting toilet, which is comfortable, easy to set up and use, and can be purchased online; but if you are not using a composting toilet, you’ll need a black tank for toilet waste as well. Your water pump will manage water pressure automatically so that you have access to water every time you turn on the faucet. Connecting, filling and emptying these systems is typically as simple as following the instructions that come with each piece of equipment, but you’ll want to decide whether you want your tanks inside or outside of the van ahead of time, and whether you consider hot water as a necessity (in which case you’ll also need a hot water tank).
3. Electricity. Electrical systems are a massive undertaking and could have a few dedicated blogs all on their own! The most simplified explanation is that you want to create this general flow of energy within your campervan:
You’ll need to secure things like solar panels and/or an alternator, battery, wires, cables, fuses and other hardware, an inverter and a lot more! A battery bank is crucial, since it stores the collected energy from your charge sources (solar panels are an incredibly popular option) and releases it to your refrigerator, lights, charging cables (hello smartphone!) and other necessities when needed. Installing electrical systems may seem complicated, but if you keep the basics of charge sources, storing energy and drawing upon the energy in mind, setting up your own electrical systems is very possible!
4. Fuel Lines. For necessary items like your propane tank and heater, you’ll need to consider how you’ll run fuel lines through your van. This involves understanding things like how your fuel pump, fuel hose, combustion exhaust and combustion air intake hose connect. Typically, these can be found under your van (note that you may need a lift so that you can fully get underneath your van to get to work). It’s important that all hoses are properly connected and sealed to avoid fuel leaks and other unsafe conditions (like a heater that doesn’t work in cold weather!) while you’re on the road.
The items we’ve listed above are necessary components of a van conversion, but you don’t need to do all of the work yourself in order to call it a DIY project! Think of it like baking bread: you took care of the proofing, added all of the necessary ingredients, kneaded and shaped the dough and baked it until it was ready to be enjoyed - you baked the bread! - but you relied on collecting the flour, eggs and sugar from your local expert farmers. In much the same way with a van conversion, you can take the lead on planning layout, selecting materials, finding and implementing storage solutions, painting and adequately stocking your campervan during the conversion process, while leaving the more complicated aspects listed above to our highly-trained experts at Get Away RV. It’s still your project, but we are here to support you every step of the way!
Ready to start converting your van into a mobile home this spring? Feel free to browse some of our how-to videos, or give us a call to chat with one of our van conversion experts about everything your project will entail and how we can help throughout the process!