About converting a van… or a life between the DIY store and the garage

Converting a van is something many people dream of but are equally afraid of the time it requires and the money it costs. I made my dream true and yes, I paid a lot of time and spend a lot of money… but in the end I am totally happy that I took that step. If you are also thrilled about the idea of buying a van and building a tiny home within it’s metal walls – it’s worth it. I want to share some of my experiences of the van conversion with this post and maybe help those ones, who are facing a van conversion right now or in future and entertain other ones, who are just interested in the topic.

All in all I spent about 350 hours for the conversion itself and probably the same time preparing it and visiting the DIY store. Many people underestimate the time of planning, designing, studying details and of forming an own view of the truth. There are many details to think about I’ve never expected before and that didn’t appeal me at all. Different kind of toilets or fridges? Regulations for gas installations? Suitable tires for a van? Topics that didn’t turn me on and still don’t do. But each of them is equally important. Especially in the beginning I had to read loads and loads of recommendations and product details to find out that there are so many differences and opinions which are key for your planning. The toilet, fridge, hob, shower etc. have a main impact on your weight and space as well as on your demand for water, electricity and gas. That means that you have to make many decisions in the very beginning of the van conversion although you haven’t put a hand on the van itself so far. Whilst keeping in mind that there is only limited space you have to decide what you really need within your tiny home. Is a shower necessary? Do you really need an oven or is a gas stove sufficient? Do you prefer a fridge powered by gas or electricity? How many electrical devices do you need which means how many electricity do you consume at all? All those questions lead to the type of van and the amount of money you need. It also might be the other way around. You have a certain amount of money and need to plan backwards. You need to make your own decisions and to plan by yourself in every case because each your camper van has to meet your individual requirements and of course your budget. There is no single truth.

That’s the reason why I really recommend to spend as much time as needed for research upfront to have an idea about the allocation of the room and about your demand of water / electricity / gas (To be fair, I also spend loads of time to plan the decoration and little gadgets like spice racks or curtains for the windows, too). All those individual components lead to the basic plan, which might change within the conversion. Don’t stick to your plan! There are many things you will only realize during the project so you have to change main areas. For example in the first place I didn’t want to remove the wall between drivers cabin and living area but in the end I decided not to do so as I wanted to move quickly between both areas. It’s always worth to take your time to make decisions even if it means to change your whole plan.

After that the preparation of the van itself is starting.  Therefore you have to check whether repairs of the main body are necessary (rust, bumps, scratches etc.). It also makes sense to remove seats, old covers of the inside and the wall behind the drivers cabin right now. After that I recommend to install the windows (size and position based on the main plan) to continue with the isolation. I didn’t just isolate the main areas but covered every metal area of my van. By that I avoided coldness conducting from the out- to the inside and water condensation on its surface. It’s much more effort but definitely worth it. After that the covering of the walls is following. It starts to become more tricky as it’s necessary to lay cables behind. To do so it’s necessary to know every electrical device and it’s position as well as it’s requirements of the cable strength etc. After that I installed the heating, the solar panels as well as the batteries with its accessory (protection device, converter etc.). Those topics are very individual as you need to decide on your own which items need to be electrified and how much energy you need on a daily basis.

It’s also important to decide whether you like to park somewhere in nature and to stay independent or whether you rather park on camping sites with available electricity. As I am not into technical stuff I decided to get some help with the installation of the solar panels, batteries and heating. I would like to blame someone else if something doesn’t work and I have to sit in the cold 🙂 

After that I started building the furniture like the bed, storage areas and the kitchen, which are very individual topics as well. It’s dependent on the number of passengers and the space within the van. Especially the kitchen differs a lot between various camper vans. Some might prefer a simple cooking place and a cool box, others need to have an oven and a proper fridge (like me). Following the kind of kitchen you prefer it’s key to allocate the demand of gas. I recommend to have a chat with a plumber before to clarify security issues and to meet legal requirements. I also paid a visit to the local TÜV inspector (German institution for the acceptance of cars regarding safety etc.) who gave me advice for the van conversion as I wanted to register my van as a caravan after the conversion. This is for tax reasons and insurance. So it’s important to check legal requirements before which differ from country to country.  

Now it’s time for decoration. Cushions, curtains, pictures and shelves make a huge different and create your individual tiny home. In this phase I also recommend to think about safety, first aid, tools you need if something doesn’t work. I also purchased new tires which are more suitable for camper vans. 

Everything I mentioned above is only a fraction of what it means to convert a van. But it gives you an idea about the complexity of the project. 

Finally I want to encourage everyone who wants to convert a van. Don’t loose faith in your idea and stay patient, if something doesn’t work (and something won’t work, be sure :)). After many hours in the DIY store, your garage and in front of your laptop you will be happy to start the journey. Maybe the best part of your vanlife. The best of all is driving around with a van you converted by yourself. And don’t forget – have fun and enjoy it!

And finally I proudly present the results of the van conversion:

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