Converting a Panel Van Into a Campervan / Motorcaravan
How I Converted My Van Into a Campervan / Motorcaravan
You might say I was lucky in the fact that I already had a van to convert, having worked as a parcel courier, so I didn't have to make a choice of vehicle.
I have a 2005 LDV Maxus which had at the point of conversion done 68,000 miles, so only just run in.
I see by the forums on the web that not very many people like the Maxus, Well I do, I find it a nice van to drive quite economical for its size returning 28- 35 mpg and a reasonable amount of power at 95psi although if I had the chance I would have bought the 120psi.
The following pages follow my process of the build, unfortunately I lost a lot of pictures last year when my computer crashed, but I hope the ones I have salvaged will be able to show quite well the process.
I decided that I wanted a vehicle that looked like it was a factory conversion and I think that I have achieved that.
Making a Plan
We had always liked the U-shaped rear lounge in our old Swift Kontiki, but we realised that if we wanted to access the rear doors that this would not be an option. The beauty of having a van for me is being able to get long lengths of wood pipes etc into the vehicle and I still wanted to retain that usefulness, as I am always up to something or other.
I wanted this van to be as multi purpose as possible, like being able to drive it to work when I want, as well as go shopping in it, or for a cup of tea on an afternoon out, or go away for a couple of weeks on holiday and still be able to nip in the builders merchants and fetch an 8x 4 sheet if I want.
The missus and I set out to make a scale plan, so we tried to scale everything down on graph paper, and then cut out our toilet /shower unit our kitchen unit etc and then place them on the plan of the interior of the vehicle, this way you can try your layouts, and get an idea how things will be.
We decided to go with the bed across the vehicle at the rear, which is only possible in our van because I am only 5ft 8in which I think is the biggest you can comfortably be in a 6ft gap, any bigger and you will have to fit your bed a different way.
This turned out well, as the first summer I ended working away from home and lived in the van for 3 months, and this year, the third year since the conversion I lived in it for 5 months working around the uk, and as I was alone I was able to leave the bed made up, which saved a whole lot of bother of having to fold everything up each morning. The passenger seat swivels and I have a small fold down table that sits in the side door, for eating at.
Questions to Ask Before You Convert Your Van to a Camper:
- Where are you going to want your lights?
- If you are going to fit trunking, where will it go?
- Are you going to use 12-volt, 240-volt or both? If you have 240v will need to fit a consumer unit with the trip switches.
- If you use 12v you will need a leisure battery. Where will you fit it?
- What size battery will you need for your purpose?
- Can this battery be charged from the vehicle when on the move?
- How many plug sockets to fit and where?
- Where will you fit your accessories? This relates to where your cables should run.
- Where are you going to run your water pipes
- Where is your onboard watertank going to reside if you are fitting one
- Where is the toilet /shower going to be placed?
- Where will the waste water pipes run
- Do you fit a waste tank or carry a portable one? What size?
The more of the questions you can answer the easier and quicker your conversion will be.
I know that some of you will not be fitting toilets showers and water tanks, and you will only need to take the information that is relative to your own conversion, but I will list everything that I did on my conversion for those that want the Full Monty!
The Steps of Insulating, Wiring, and Putting Walls In My Campervan Conversion
Adding Plywood Boarding
This all sounds so easy now in hindsight, and I do remember how hard it was to try to decide what I should do first, I hope to be able to make things easier for you from the mistakes I made.
The van I had was already ply lined on the doors and sides, but the plywood was poor quality and thin so I elected to replace the lot with 6mm board, I was going to use 3mm but was advised by a man who used to do conversions that 6mm was much better as you can screw into to fix things, and this proved to be very good advice.
I knew I was going to carpet over the walls and ceiling but even so the best finish of wood helped with the quality of the end product.
I decided to insulate everything and I ended up using different sorts of insulation for different purposes.
Under the floor I used the stiff board which was about an inch 25mm thick and covered in silver backing that builders use in cavity walls, this is easy to work with and you can carve different shapes and I left a 2 inch gap for my water pipes to travel from one side of the van to the other and also a slot for the gas pipe to the water heater.
In the side walls I used thick rock wool slabs about 100mm which I found at the local builders merchants and in the roof voids I used the fibreglass wool which was covered in silver foil one side and an orange breathable material on the other this was far nicer to use than bare fibreglass wool and I obtained this from Focus DIY store.
Building the Floor
The floor already had a good thick ply sheet and I just laid this back on top of the insulation boarding screwinng it right through into the steel floor, I did have to put a small drill through first.
I found the best screws for this sort of application were in fact decking screws and they came in really handy all through the fit out, even being used to hold in the side windows when the ones that came with the kit were too short.
To make the sheets run smoothly and not sag or bend where they shouldn’t, I ran batons the length of the van on the side walls and roof, you can fix these with self tapping screws by drilling a small hole through the wood and the steel you are fixing to,and then inserting your screw. If you have to join 2 sheets you will need a baton where they can both lap onto, and this will give a good butt join.
The method of fixing, can be screwing to the wood batons or like most people seem to do, sticking the ply on with mastic, I used all sorts, pink gripfix is probably the cheapest and Sikaflex 512 is probably one of the dearest and also a good product, the O'leary one is a good fixer
At this point you might also want to think about electric cables and where you are going to run them and draw yourself a wiring diagram.
You can fit trunking and then take spurs off or you hope to get most of it behind the walls. If you are fitting a ceiling light you will certainly want some wire inserted for connecting later on.
I decided to run my cabling at the top of the sides where the roof meets, as there was a nice space and the vehicle loom also ran through there, as I was putting my 240v box and the 12v distribution box in the side of the wardrobe, which is mid way along the right hand-side viewed from the rear, I could go all the way around the back of the van and up the other side, dropping wires off for the 4 reading lights and the light above the sink along the way to the farthest light over the side loading door. I kept the 240v cable separate and went over the roof inside one of the trusses and down the opposite side in trunking to a junction box where 1 feed went to a single socket for the3 way fridge and another feed went on to the side door where a double socket is situated (ideal for plugging in the oil radiator and also useful if power is needed outside)
The other thing that must be considered as well, is putting in your windows and roof vents before you start your boarding out. It is a lot easier when you are cutting out the panels to be able to work from both sides.
You will notice in the above shot that I had fitted this side window and to hold it in temporarily I had put a couple of bits of batten at each end to pack it out. When the ply sheeting was fitted I had to make a frame that sat inside of the window, to stop the plywood bending in when the window screws were tightened.
In this shot you can see how the slabs of insulation can be cut and fitted quite nicely and also the orange covered insulation that went into the roof. You can see the roof vent is now in place and the wires have been labeled and fed through roughly to where they end up.
Wiring for Electricity
You'll need 12v Wire for the 12v Light Circuit.
Getting hold of wire to do this job was one of the things that I struggled with and in the end I went to the local electrical wholesaler and bought a roll of 2 core light flex, much like you would use on a bedside lamp. I understand how to do wiring, what I don't understand and struggle with is watts and amps, etc., so my answer to this is overkill, and I actually used both wires as one, i.e. brown and blue together, this was only for the 12 volt lights I must stress, all the other items like the fridge, water pump, water heater, and battery charging system was wired with cable from the auto accessories shop.
As they always say, If in doubt, ask an expert... or get one to do the job.
I have listed some books that I used during my build they give good advice and tell you how to work out the capacity of cables by counting the strands, and how power is lost over long runs and how to overcome these problems.
Some good books which explain the 12v systems are:
- Haynes The Motorcaravan Manual (for maintenance information)
- Haynes Build Your Own MotorCaravan ( probably the best of the bunch)
- Haynes Practical Electrical Systems for cars and light commercials
For 240v electrical systems, have a look at Wiring and Lighting by Albert Jackson and David Day pulished by Collins very good for household wiring!
Putting Up Wallboard
I looked at what sort of wallboard was available and to be honest locally very little, I looked at websites of conversion specialists and they all seemed to use this Vohringer board, a double sided faced light weight board, then when I found out it was Â£100 per sheet, and they didn't deliver, and most stockists seemed to be 300 miles from us here in Cornwall, I knew I would have to find an alternative.
At around Â£20.00 a sheet of 8 x 4 the faced ply seemed a better option, one of the local builders merchants said he could order it when he had enough orders to fill a lorry, but that seemed to be taking forever and after 3 weeks I told him to stick it and then I found o'Leary's and they sent it by courier. So what I did was get a load of battons and made frames for doors etc and stuck this board on both sides, a bit labourious but I did have time on my side, as work was non exsistent at that time, and the result was quite good, it looks ok and is light in weight. In fact my whole conversion when finished with a full tank of water and fuel and me, the weighbridge clerk said I am only carrying 15cwt or 750kilos which is just half of the load capacity of the vehicle.
Putting in Carpeting
The first camper van we ever owned was a VW LT31 the model shaped like a brick, and apparently it was owned by somebody who worked at Pinewood Studios, well it had been converted very well and I always remember how warm and cosy it felt with carpet on the walls and ceiling, and I decided that I would do the same in this van.
Now buying the carpet from conversion specialists I thought seemed rather expensive and I managed to get a light weight carpet from CarpetRight enough to do the whole vehicle for Â£60.00. The only catch was that it was foam backed and before you stick it to the ceiling and walls you need to remove the foam which is only very light,if you don't do this the foam will separate from the carpet at a later date. It is a bit of boring job that makes your arms ache, I found that a stiff scrubbing brush and wire brush did the job.
I used spray on glue from Focus which seemed good at the time but later let me down in a few places, so I would go for the dearer glue if I ever did it again.
Insulation, Roof Vents and Side Window PHOTO GALLERYClick thumbnail to view full-size
Fitting the Roof Vents
When I was deciding on what vents to fit I was taking into consideration
- How much light I needed
- What size could I fit without changing the structural strength of the vehicle
- What was best value for money
These things led me to a clear light in the toilet/shower as there is no window this was the only way to go.
In the main space I fitted a blank covered one as I didn't want the light waking me earlier than I wanted in the morning.
Tools You'll Need
Most people have an electric jigsaw, and this is what I used for cutting out the roof holes. I only used this because the compressed air nibbler that I have wouldn't work, my compressor wasn't man enough to keep up with it.
You need to mask the area where the foot of the Jigsaw sits otherwise the paintwork on the panel that is left will end up scratched.
The other problem I found with the jigsaw is that it leaves lots of minute pieces of metal fileings which you can't see until they are going rusty, so as soon as you have your hole you need to get the roof cleaned of as quick as possible and don't forget the windscreen as I had one or two little bits attched themselves to the glass and destroyed my wiperblades in a flash.
The problem I had was that I was working outside in October and the weather was showery and as soon as I had made the hole I needed to fit the vent and seal it to make it watertight, so I couldn't wash it off, the only thing I could do was wipe and blow with compressed air, then after it rained I had to go over the roof with Tcut several times. If the nibbler had worked I don't think I would have had as much trouble, as it removes larger pieces of metal, in hindsight I should have hired a more powerful compressor.
Cutting the Holes
When I came to fitting these vents I found I had a problem on the roof, which I wasn't prepared for, not actually having been up a ladder until that point. The roof is in fact corrugated and to able to get a flat surface I had to fill in the dips with body filler which was not as easy as it sounds and difficult to make look nice.
I started on the inside by marking out exactly where the section I was going to remove would be. I then drilled a hole at each corner, which gives you a start with the jigsaw once you are working from the top. It is just a case of joining the dot's with a marker and away you go .
Fitting the Side Windows in My Campervan Conversion
When you get your side windows in, you feel you are actually starting to get somewhere with the conversion. The most worrying thing I found was measuring and hoping that you had got it all in the right place, so the old theory of measure twice cut once was employed a lot.
You can see in the above picture what I was on about in the beginning when I said the flatter the sides the better, the shape and style of this van are very restricting and I would have preferred larger windows.
These windows are double glazed and have a fly net and screen fitted on the inside and I felt were good value for money, they open outwards and lock in 2 positions
Adding a Toilet and Shower Room Fitting
If you are fitting a toilet and shower as I did, there is one thing that you ought to take on board; this is probably the largest single piece of equipment that you are going to fit that you can't adapt or change the size of. You also have your sink cooker and fridge but these things are smaller and you can adapt where they fit in.
So with this all in mind I decided to start with the shower and toilet and build the rest of the van around this point. Once I had this size established I could then determine what room was left for wardrobe space and the bed etc.
when I was choosing the toilet unit I went for the Thetford Cassette C200 cw model with the manual flush.
I chose the manual flush model over the other model which uses the water from the onboard tank, because I thought that the clean water tank would be emptying in no time at all, we know from previous experience that we use about 20-25 litres a day of clean water and with only a 75 litre tank this would soon be gone if we were flushing as well.
My original idea was a good one, but I hadn't any idea of the problems I would have actually fitting this toilet, the problems were caused by the outside shape of my van and the length of the filler for the flush water resevoir of the toilet. This manual flush loo is ideal if you are fitting against a wall which is only 1" -2" thick, and dead straight, my problem was that my side wall was nearly 6" thick and the connecting filler tube which joins the outside filler fitting and the inside tank was much to short, therefore I emailed Thetford to ask if they made an extension, but received no reply and in the end I had to adapt a length of rainwater down pipe, and the other problem was that the shape of my van mean't that I had to make a flat base with body filler for the outside fitting to sit flush. ( see Pic) If I ever door another conversion I think the toilet will go in the back of the van and the cassette would be accessed through the back doors, that would save a whole lot of work
The Toilet and Shower Tray we bought are 2 separate units that are made to be used together and you can get left and right handed versions of the shower tray. The toilet svivels which makes things a lot easier. We normally have a piece of carpet covering the shower tray to protect it in normal use.
When I came to fit the shower tray I had to make a plinth out of 4 x 2 timber to support it all around the edges and then to support under the tray part I used some off cut of the solid insulation sheet that was used under the main floor.
Once everything was lined up and in position I drilled the drain hole from the shower tray and fitted the pipe etc.
At this point it might be worth mentioning the walling board, which I hadn't bought because none of the suppliers seemed to want to send it by post, and I had decided to get it from the local builders merchant who would order it but only when he had enough orders for a lorry load. Well I couldn't wait that long and decided to use plastic fascia boards for this compartment which I got locally, later on I found O'Leary's motorhome supplies and they were happy to send the boarding by courier, so I could have saved myself a lot of work and about Â£60.00 if I had known.
The next part of this fit was to make the stud walls ( planed 2x2 )for the other three sides, the wall to the left of the picture also carries the sink unit so having the wall hollow was handy because I was able to hide the water pipes inside. The drivers seat is just behind the left wall, to give you an idea of where everything is situated.
Kitchen Toilet and Wardrobe PHOTO GALLERYClick thumbnail to view full-size
Adding a Wardrobe, Water Tank, Leisure Battery, and Garage Unit to a Camper
After having got the toilet sorted out I could now measure and have a rough idea of how much space I could allocate to each item, this will be different to every van conversion, anyway I had bought this 75 lt water tank blue with red cap which could be fitted several ways, standing up or laid down flat, I decided on the laid down flat version and to then build my wardrobe above it. This gave me a wardrobe of 21" wide and 27" deep, which when compared with the wardrobe in our swift kon tiki was within the useful range.
You can see that I decided to fit drawers in the wardrobe and this has proved to be very successful, I wanted to be able to have easy access to the battery which is 85ah and the trip unit, If I want to clean the water tank I can remove the battery easy with the quick release terminals and take out 2 screws which lets the floor slide out to reveal the large cover to the water tank
This then allowed me to make the bed width 53" which is 4ft 5" only an inch less than a standard domestic bed, the space that was left could then be the place where our tv would sit and I could just manage to squeeze the Propex water heater in the gap.
I chose the Propex over other popular makes because it holds a little more water at 13 litres as opposed to 10 litres which doesn't sound much but makes a difference when you are having a shower.
You can see once again that I had to build up the hollow with body filler for a flat surface.
I found the best way to sort out what was going where in the kitchen department, was by buying all the parts I needed and then playing around with them to see which configuration worked best.
I was very fortunate that the Conti Board from Focus DIY matched exactly the "apple" effect wall board that I already had. Most people would warn you about using the Conti Board and it is true that if it gets wet it will blow. To lessen the chance of this occurring I treated every cut with PVA sealer, painted onto the cut area neat. Hopefully this will last well and it shouldn't even get wet if every thing goes well.
The sink was supplied by Rainbow conversions ( you will find them on E bay under " Sales By Sarah " or just google them.
I can't remember the model but it seemed nice and slim and had a handy little rack that you could leave the dishes to drain on.
The Stove or Cooker
The cooker came from a marine suppliers in Southampton.
We decided that we wanted to have an oven, grill and burners, we also knew from our old Kontiki which had 4 burners, that we very rarely ever used more than 2, so we were happy to go with 2.
The fridge is called a Spot On and was reasonable and to be honest it just about does the job, and if I had to change anything, this would be it. When it was delivered I found the top had been damaged but I decided to keep it as I wanted to get on with the fitting. It works fine on 240, 12v just about keeps it cool and gas is no better, so no worries about the butter going hard.
I decided to also fit the gas bottle in the back of the kitchen unit which is accessed from the side loading door. They recommend that you make this compartment from steel, so I used the tin that I cut out of the rear doors when I fitted the windows.
I did the gas plumbing myself, but if you are in any doubts about your ability, get a proffessional to do it. I used the 8mm copper pipe and mostly compression fittings only soldering where space was minimal.
I checked all the joints for leaks by squirting soapy water on the joint: you will soon see if there are bubbles blowing, that means you have a problem.
Seating Bed Overhead Lockers PHOTO GALLERYClick thumbnail to view full-size
When It came to making the seats / bed it worked out quite well, with each seat measuring 24" wide and that also left the walk through gap at 23". The Bed dimensions eneded up at 6feet across the van and 53" wide. This width allowed me enough space to make the small cupboard to match both sides up.
The small cupboard is very handy as I wanted to retain access to the water heater, and water pump for drain down in the winter and to service the water filter on the pump, I can also drain the hot water heater, ( this is essential in the winter, if it freezes your'e buggered)
I was able to fit a couple of drawers which are handy for books and small items and in the top I made a tray which is good for the mobile phone chargers and stuff like that
The cushions were cut to fit and were enclosed in a net bag and we found the material in a local Remnant shop, there was just enough on the roll to do the job and it cost Â£60.00 , we then found a local upholsterer who made the 4 zip up covers for Â£150.00 which we thought was very reasonable as we had been quoted more than twice that amount elsewhere.
We would have liked the buttons in the seats as it looks better but decided against this as we thought it more practical to be able to remove the covers easily and I didn't fancy the buttons sticking in my back when I was sleeping .
The slats that make up the bed are all stapled to 2 pieces of webbing and just roll up into a bundle when not in use
The overhead lockers were not as easy to make as I had thought because of the odd shape made by the angle between walls and ceiling.
I decided to make a framework and then cover it with the faced ply board, I was glad I had used the 6mm ply for the walls and ceiling as I was able to get a good strong fix by screwing direct to this.
I used those little blocks that you use on kitchen units for the fixing.
When it came to the locker doors I decided to use 10mm ply and then covered both sides in the face ply and then covered the edges with the iron on strip.
The hardest thing was cutting them all the same size, and the small circular saw bench I had bought was a great help.
Finished Camper PHOTO GALLERYClick thumbnail to view full-size
Three YouTube Videos of the Inside of the Van
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.