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How To Start A Camper Van Conversion – 6 Easy Steps

How to start to start a campervan conversion. Living like a dirtbag and moving into a van.

Van life is quickly gaining popularity as people of all ages are ditching their jobs and hitting the road. The dream of van life is sweet, but getting started is more like a nightmare. Where do you even begin?

To start a camper van conversion, first, develop a general layout. Next, move on to the sound dampener, floor frame, insulation, and plywood. We don’t recommend starting with the walls or ceiling. The floor is an excellent place to start on a van conversion.

We won’t cover every step of a van conversion here. Instead, we’ll review where to start with a camper van conversion, so you can at least get the ball rolling on your grand adventure!

Not sure if van life is for you? Check out 6 Things To Know Before You Start Vanlife

This post includes affiliate links but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

Should You Commit To Van Life?

Sprinter vans commonly used to convert for a life syle on the open road. tart A Camper Van Conversion

If you’re reading this article, you’re most likely either interested in starting van life, or you already have a van and are wondering where to start. Either way, the big question to ask is whether or not you should commit to van life.

Van life is a huge decision with a laundry list of worries and questions. Before you bog down with everything that can go wrong, think about all the things that could go right!

The freedom of living in a van on the road is alluring to many people, but only a tiny percentage of those people are willing to put the work in and actually do it. So, if you’ve decided to do van life, congratulations! 

Traveling has tons of benefits for the mind and body. According to Yale University, traveling can benefit your emotional, mental, and physical health. It can boost your immune system, lower stress, improve mood, and reduce your chances of developing a chronic illness. Um, yes please!

By the way, if you’re not sure that van life is right for you, you can always rent a campervan and try it out with Escape Campervans!

How Much Work Goes Into A Van Conversion?

Extra work gets put into a converstion van. A start A Camper Van Conversion

A lot!

If you plan to do a DIY campervan conversion, it will take some time, at least a few months, and up to a year. The reason it takes so long is not only the physical labor but also the ingenuity that must go into your van layout.

There is limited space in the van, so everything has to fit perfectly with no wasted areas. 

Have the right mindset going into the conversion, and don’t expect too much of yourself. Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time to complete the conversion – try not to set deadlines if you can help it.

Mistakes are inevitable when it comes to building your dream van. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! We’ve made our fair share of blunders, and we’re here to share our mistake we made during our van build, to help you navigate your own van conversion journey.

6 Steps To Start A Camper Van Conversion

So, where to start on your van build? At this point, we will assume you’ve already decided on a van and are ready to renovate it! 

We recommend starting with the floor. We suggest the floor because you don’t have to figure anything out before you start. In other words, you don’t have to know your layout in detail, where all the electrical wires will go, or figure out your solar panels and power.

The van’s floor is where you will place all the other stuff on. And yes, stuff is a highly scientific term…

If you start with the ceiling, you’ll have to figure out your entire electrical system and the vent fan placement. If you start with the walls, you won’t be able to place any cabinets or counters because your floor will not be complete yet.

Ergo, we suggest starting with the floor!

Step 1: Figure Out A General Layout

Most camper van layouts include a bed, a kitchen, cabinets, counters, and storage space. You don’t have to know every little detail to start your floor, just a general layout.

Knowing your general layout will give you vital information about your floor, such as if you need to reinforce certain areas due to heavier weight or if you need to adjust the floor height in certain areas.

Step 2: Buy Your Supplies

It’s time for a trip to your local lumber store! If you are military personnel, we suggest hitting up your local Lowe’s, which offers military discounts.

To start your floor, you’ll need to build a frame. You can purchase whatever kind of wood you would like for the floor. For our van, we went with the following items:

  • 1 x 3 x 8 pine board (x12)
  • 1 x 4 x 8 pine board (x3)
  • 1 x 6 x 8 whitewood board (x1)
  • ½-inch plywood sheet (x3)
  • 6 x 1” exterior screws rated for multi-material
  • 1-¼” self-drilling lath screws
  • Gorilla glue rated for metal and foamboard
  • KILMAT 50 mil 50 square feet car sound deadening mat (Amazon)
  • Small wooden roller for KILMAT (Amazon)
  • Rubberized Undercoat Spray (Auto store)

Step 3: Install Sound Dampener

Sound dampener help reduce noise in the van while moving or camping in a noiser environment.

Not every van conversion utilizes a sound dampener, but we found it extremely helpful. Not only does it drown out the sounds of the highway while driving, but it helps keep the noise down when you’re trying to sleep near a busy road.

You only need to cover 30% of your van in sound dampener to be effective. For our Ram Promaster 2500, we found that 50 square feet were adequate, with about two sheets to spare.

We suggest covering the wheel wells in their entirety and then spacing out the rest of the sheets along the floor and walls of your van. Be sure to use a small wooden roller to help properly install the Kilmat.

A final keynote about the sound dampener is that you want to install it when it’s warm! The sheets stick to your van using glue, so the glue will not set correctly if it’s cold.

Discover the ultimate guide to Sound Deadener Mats for Van Conversion, a must-read for anyone looking to enhance their vehicle’s acoustic insulation.

Step 4: Build The Floor Frame

The floor frame is what your plywood will sit on. It helps evenly distribute and support the weight of the things on top of it, like your bed, cabinets, fresh water tank, grey water tank, batteries, and fridge.

YouTube has a plethora of videos. There are lots of different ways to construct the frame. For ours, we laid down our 1x4x8 and 1x6x8 boards horizontally, then used our 1x3x8 as vertical slats.

We glued the horizontal boards first, then screwed them in. Next, we cut the slats to fit between the horizontal panels, glued them down, and put a few finishing nails to hold them in place.

Step 5: Install Insulation

Floor insulation helps keep the tempature in the van in check.
Start of the insulation in the van

Just like the layout of your van, there are a ton of options for insulation. You can do foam board, spray foam insulation, wool, Thinsulate. You get the point…

You’ll want to install insulation in every little crack and crevice between your floor frame. We used ¾-inch x 4ft x 8ft insulation foam board and cut it to fit between the slats of our frame.

Again, there are plenty of options. Check out your insulation’s R-value and ensure it will be acceptable.

Step 6: Cut The Plywood

The final step in starting your own campervan conversion is cutting the plywood to fit over your floor frame. This will involve trimming around the wheel wells and dealing with inconvenient angles.

We were initially going to go with ¾-inch plywood, but upon further research, we decided that ½-inch plywood would be plenty strong. Once you cut the plywood, you will want to wait to lay down the finished flooring until your walls are complete.

That’s All For Now!

Van life is an exciting way to live. Once you finally get your hands on a van, the next step is to start the renovations. But where to start?

We recommend starting your renovations by completing the floor of your van. This is a great place to begin, as you don’t need a detailed layout of your van to complete the floor. 

To recap, the six steps to starting your campervan conversion include the following:

  1. Get a general layout
  2. Buy your supplies
  3. Lay down sound dampener
  4. Complete the frame
  5. Install insulation
  6. Cut the plywood

Once you’ve completed the floor, you can move on to the electrical system, the water system, and some of the finer details of your van build. Remember, give yourself plenty of time and try not to set deadlines – this is supposed to be fun!

For more information on van builds, climbing, and hiking, check out the dirtbagswithfurbags blog!

Two dirtbags and three furbags living in a Van

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