Now the vision is clear and the design objectives are ready from of your van conversion dream – you are now the proud creator of a conceptual plan for your campervan-to-be, from part one.  The next step is to integrate and refine the work so far into the form of actual building plans.  In other words, what is now between you and a good working plan are 5 reality checks.

Reality check 1: Measurements

This entails comparing the rough sketches and ideas to actual vehicle dimensions and shuffling the plan to fit realistically.  At this step I realised my first rough design with two levels would require a mobile library bus to have enough space!  Even if you are still in the van hunting phase, most vans have approximate interior and exterior dimensions available online.  These are plenty to reign in your design towards the working plan, but they usually don’t include the flooring or lining thickness (or any other variables related to your unique build), so they are a approximate guide only.  

One of the most important things to consider here is where are all the holes in the van are or will be: the doors and any windows or skylights you are putting in. The design needs to evolve around them to keep access to them clear.  They are also far easier to install early in the build.

Whilst you are there, put a tape measure against the ceiling/wall/floor/anywhere else your are going to cover up with furniture or lining.  Taking photos featuring the tape and an easy to locate reference point will preserve your mental health later when having to install components over the same area ‘blind’.

Reality check 2: Keep your ideas tidy

The pile of sketches, back of envelope ideas and scribbles on a napkin whilst your wife nipped off to the loo needs to be dealt sternly and early.  Otherwise they will metamorphose into a ruinous creature who hides your plans just when you are ready to build, or will split into unruly escapees to be shat upon when the cat feels like a protest.  That actually happened.

If there is ever a time that a few bob are well spent on a large binder with plastic wallets and a thick squared paper notebook (‘quad ruled’ to friends in North America) – this is it.  The wallets can keep your moments of inspiration on random writing surfaces under strict control.  The squared paper notebook is useful for making scaled representations to represent items in the van.  1 sq = 10cm (or 100mm) for overviews and a larger scale when drawing out individual components worked well for me.

Reality Check 3: DVLA Requirements

In the UK vans are re-classified as ‘Motor Caravans’ once the conversion is done and they have certain features.  Technically this is a legal requirement and some insurers also want to see the paperwork that the vehicle has been reclassified.   See the DVLA’s own website for full details. Even if you are outside Britain, it’s a practical list of elements to consider integrating into your campervan design. The UK requirements are:

  1. Seats and table
  2. Sleeping accommodation which may be converted from the seats, at least 6 feet in length 
  3. Cooking facilities
  4. Fresh water container
  5. Storage facilities
  6. A door with access to the living area
  7. A window

Photo with permission from @Rainbowsontheroad – check out their build on Instagram!

Reality check 4: Power to you

A follow on to the features above, but this is the time to consider where you are going to have anything requiring electricity or plumbing of gas or water.  You don’t have to do an entire detailed wiring diagram but you need to think about how to arrange things so power/water/gas can get where it needs to go.  Each of these are notable topics on their own, but for now consider

  • Balancing the weight of heavy leisure batteries/water tanks/fridge
  • Locating power hungry items and the solar panels near to the batteries
  • Space for electrical cable wire runs
  • If you need to make a channel under the floor to run anything from one side of the van to the other, now or in the future.
 Final reality check: Make it 3-D

After your van has come home, some type of 3-D modelling of the major components will save big mistakes later as reward you for all your hard work.A classic technique is to mark the van with masking tape and gaffa tape large boxes in place to map out the features in ‘Carboard Aided Design’.   This low budget ‘CAD’ design is the first chance to experience your own design in real life, and tweak the depth of the kitchen unit so a full sized adult has a hope of getting past it, or any other major component.

Design for van to campervan conversion with cardboard boxes

Cardboard Aided Design for bed sizing, a wardrobe and kitchen unit depth

The other option I personally recommend is using Google’s ‘Sketchup’ software.  I’m not affiliated with them or paid to say that in any way, it is just the best option I found for an accurate 3-D model, for free, as of time of writing.  There are tools to create your layout to scale, surprisingly realistically.   It takes about a morning of working through online quick start guides and to become sufficiently competent at using it …well worth it for the time it saved me to highlight the initial wardrobe door design would have clobbered the skylight.

Other options of lego, clay, cardboard or whatever else you have to hand could also work in a scaled mock up.

Once you have the measurements, conceptual plan and a mock up to confirm it will all fit, you are ready to start!   Some people prefer a more detailed plan at this stage but it isn’t strictly necessary and I found the flexibility of an open ended plan allowed me to respond creatively as things progressed.

Thanks for reading, and you are a legend for making your dream happen.  Always lovely hear from you in the comments – what are you doing to keep things organised or have you tried some mock ups of your design?

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Feta from Vansformation

Chief Rabble Rouser at Vansformation