Having established design objectives, you’ve already put a great deal of thought and work into your converted van-to-be from part one. Nice 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 tweaks or ‘refinements’ to filter the wide open objectives into what you will actually build.
Refinement 1: Vehicle size and wheel location
Measuring never really stops in a self-built vehicle conversion, it just becomes more specific. In drawing out your conceptual plan, the most important consideration is the overall length, width and height as well as the location of the wheels and any other immovable features.
The final internal space will change once it is lined a little, so leave some margin for insulation and plywood (or whatever material will make your walls). Also keep in mind that most vans, other than Lutons and horse boxes, have curved walls and the measurements vary accordingly.
The goal here is to get a reasonable estimate so you can plan where things will go and what they should be.
Refinement 2: Holes
It’s no secret the location of big things (bed, toilet, fridge, sports gear) determines a design, but even more important is where space is missing. That is, even before thinking about where to put the biggest items it is important to consider where the current holes are in the van (usually doors) and where any windows will be.
You need to be able to get in and out of the van easily. Some builders choose to block off a little of a doorway (the kitchen unit is particularly popular for this) as long as reasonable space remains
Windows add light and visual space. But, generally where a window is, it means something else isn’t.
Refinement 3: storage and access
Clever storage in a small space like a campervan makes it interesting and useful. Much of the storage for small items can be added later, so don’t worry about finding a specific place for everything you might use in the van just yet. The important issue here is large integral storage spaces and a bit of general storage anything could go into.
Storage is more important the longer you plan to be in your vehicle at a time.
Also think about how easily you need to access items in regards to the bending, lifting and crawling around which might be needed to get to them.
Closely related on the theme of access is how all the runs will get to all the things. Do you need to locate items so they are on the same side of the van as others? Is a channel under the floor needed, for example to run wires to the other side?
Refinement 4: 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:
- The UK requirements are:1. Door to the living area
2. Bed at least 1800 mm long: This can include the seats if they form part of the bed.
3. Fresh water container, a good prompt to consider what sort of plumbing you need generally.
4. Seating and ‘dining’ area with table that attaches to the vehicle. It can be detachable but cannot just be a loose table.
5. Permanently fixed storage
6. Cooking facilities which are ‘permanently fixed’. This leads on to what sort of gas system (if any) you want. Gas bottles need to be stored in a sealed locker, or in a tank fixed under the van.
7. A side window
Photo with permission from @Rainbowsontheroad – check out their build on Instagram!
Refinement 5: Power Systems
You don’t have to do an entire detailed wiring diagram yet but you need to think about your power needs.
Electrics are a huge topic, one that always starts a ‘heated discussion’ on forums.
Here’s the truth of it: as long as it’s installed to a safe standard, radically different power systems and batteries can work really well depending on your needs.
If you are only using the vehicle as a campervan for short trips on weekends, have a rechargeable power bank for your phone and a few-battery powered fairy lights you many not need a leisure power system at all.
If you are going to travel, work or live in your vehicle for extended periods, then something more robust is needed.
This is a big topic, spend some time, do some research and consider everything you see in regards to what you will really need.
Refinement 6: weight
Most vehicles used in conversion are tough, but they all have a gross vehicle weight limit. Staying under the limit is a legal requirement, and will make the vehicle perform better.
Weigh bridges are located throughout the UK so you can check on the weight as you go along and plan ahead. Remember it will be much heavier once the tanks are filled, and your travelling kit and companions are on board!
Also consider the weight distribution. It doesn’t have to be exactly balanced, but most vans drive better if the weight is spread out rather than just on one side.
Refinement 7: Modelling
The last step to a conceptual plan, modelling, critically gives a concrete representation of how things will work. Even experienced professional van converters use masking tape and large pieces of cardboard inside the vehicle to mock up options, and you should too. Smaller models of bits of wood, wire, lego and boxes can are also useful to specific ideas.
Another option I personally recommend is using Google’s ‘Sketchup’ software. I’m not affiliated with them, it is just the best option I found for an accurate 3-D computer model, for free. There is a bit of a learning curve, but then again, it’s for free.
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.
Go after you van building dream and thanks for reading.