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How to Convert a Van into a Camper

I converted my van into a camper and I love it, it's a cheap and easy way to go traveling without the need for a fancy RV.

My new Dodge ProMaster Van

My new Dodge ProMaster Van

Building my own conversion van has been the answer to replacing my aging Roadtrek, Class B Motorhome. I had eleven years of terrific enjoyment with the RV but felt it was time to replace it. When I looked into purchasing a new one, I was astounded by the price which had doubled over the eleven years.

It was then that I decided to build my own conversion van.

I did a lot of research on available vans, visited many car dealers to check the fit of the different brands to my personal needs, compared prices and finally settled on the Dodge ProMaster Van

Wide-Open Interior

It was a little intimidating at first looking at the wide-open interior and wondering how I was going to accomplish everything I want to do with it. Fortunately, I have a talent for looking at things and seeing how they can come together to create what I want. I also have a lot of woodworking and mechanical experience.

Interior of Promaster van

Interior of Promaster van

Planning

The first thing I had to do was analyze what I wanted in my new conversion van. I had the advantage of eleven years with the Roadtrek to know specifics I was looking for in the new one. I did a comparison of the two vehicles and made some decisions.

Roadtrek

Roadtrek 190

Roadtrek 190

In making my decisions, I wanted something I could stand up in, was economical and was under the 8-foot-high restriction that my homeowner's association decided to impose after 10 years of having my Roadtrek.

You need to understand that I am only 5'4" tall and usually travel alone, so that was influential in my decision process.

Comparison

Comparison of Roadtrek 190 RV and Dodge ProMaster Standard Roof, Medium Length Van

SpecificsRoadtrekProMaster

Height

8'6"

7'6"

Length

19'6"

17'6"

Model

1 ton

1/2 ton

Engine

8 Cylinder

6 Cylinder

Fuel Economy

12 to 15 mpg

15 to 25 mpg

Interior Width

6 feet

6 feet

Interior Height

6 feet

5'6"

Interior Length (behind driver's seat)

12 feet

10 feet

Seating

2 swivel, one fixed

2 fixed

Bed Size

1 king-size or 2 narrow singles

1 twin-size proposed

Blueprints

While waiting for delivery of my knew van, I drew up tentative blueprints with the items I felt I wanted. Once I had the van, I made a more specific blueprint to give to the electrician who was going to handle all those details. As you see in the opening photo, I put blue painter's tape on the floor and walls so he could visually see where things were going to be.

Driver's side Blueprint

Driver's side Blueprint

There was some modification to the blueprint as we went along.

The biggest thing was, no side windows. I was not able to get any windows that fit the ProMaster, and custom-made ones were just too expensive. Hopefully, the in-out ceiling fan will be enough for good air circulation.

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Electronics

After discussing my electrical needs and wants with the electronics technician, we decided to install a charger/inverter and a maintenance-free house battery. Since the battery was going to be within the confines of the interior van under the foot of the bed, it was essential to have one that would not be giving off vapors.

The charger/inverter was chosen so that the battery would charge both while driving and while plugged into a A/C land line. The inverter was a full sine wave model so computerized electronics would function, such as my induction stove top unit which plugs into an outlet.

I chose a marine refrigerator which runs on A/C or D/C but not propane. It has a built-in inverter to automatically switch currents and was wired directly to the battery through a 12 volt-only plug-in outlet.

Inverter/charger, Battery, Fuses and Circuit Breaker

Inverter/charger, Battery, Fuses and Circuit Breaker

Insulation

Now that all the electrical was done, it was time to insulate the interior. I didn't have to worry about the floor, because I had a factory-installed, hard-composite wooden floor put in when I order the van.

Ceiling

I started with the ceiling adhering Reflectix Insulation as a moisture barrier for the outer walls. I found it at Loews, as well as, the R-tech rigid insulation I used over it. Unfortunately, it was 95 degrees for the first four days I worked on it, and I had used a spray adhesive that just wouldn't hold. I even tried Gorilla Tape, and the glue from that just kept melting with the heat.

I covered the Reflectix with R-Tech rigid foam board with the reflective side facing into the interior. The way it fit between the ribs and edges of the ceiling, it helped hold things sort of in place. I also propped it up with the frame I had made for the bathroom. That really helped as a temporary fix.

Ceiling Insulation and In-Out Fan

Ceiling Insulation and In-Out Fan

Eventually, this would be enclosed with Polywall, a non-absorbent, easy to clean, recycled-plastic wall covering which would act as the final moisture barrier. I decided to wait to put this up until after I had cabinets in place.

The Polywall, which I also found at Loews, is very flexible and cuts easily with a blade or scissors. It is great for the walls and curves, but pretty tricky to put up on the ceiling. I'll talk about this more later.

As I look back at it now, I should have done the Polywall before putting anything else in. That way the ceiling would have been complete. The problem was, it takes two people to put it up. It is so flexible that it is impossible for one person to handle a 4 x 8 sheet alone, and at the time, I didn't have the extra help available.

As a result, I am still dealing with finishing the insides of cabinets which would have been all done if I had covered the whole ceiling at once. Oh well, it has been quite a learning experience.

Reflectix on Outer Walls

Reflectix on Outer Walls

Walls

I also put a layer of Reflectix against the outer walls. It was still very hot, so I had the same problem with the adhesive.

I covered it with denim 100% recycled cotton insulation which I found at Loews. It is a great sound-proofing material, good insulator, has no fiberglass to irritate your skin, and no harmful chemicals in it.

I especially liked it because you could tear it to size and stuff it in small spaces where needed.

Of course my spray adhesive still only held part of the time. It was interesting. Anything I did before 9 AM stuck. Anything after that was found on the floor by evening

Denim Cotton Insulation

Denim Cotton Insulation

The next step was to cover the denim with another layer of Reflectix to act as a moisture barrier from the interior environment. Fortunately, the unseasonably hot weather had cooled down so that I was able to completely seal in the three layers of insulation using Gorilla Tape.

I also applied a wooden board over the top edge of the insulation. This helped hold it, but it will also be part of the framing that I screw my overhead cabinets into.

I also had to put a 1 x 3 board on the ceiling to give the cabinet a second point of support. This was set back about 1 inch from the front of the cabinet. (not shown here)

how-to-build-a-conversion-van

I also had to put a 1 x 3 board on the ceiling to give the cabinet a second point of support. This was set back about 1 inch from the front of the cabinet.

Ceiling Board for Cabinets

Ceiling Board for Cabinets

Van Doors

I followed the same procedure for the three doors, except I only did the first two layers. I figure that the cover panel that comes with the van acts as the interior moisture barrier.

I was careful to not place any denim insulation where it would interfere with the mechanical workings of the door.

Insulating the Doors