Van conversions are part excitement and part nervous energy. We can’t wait to get stuck in and get to work but we also know we have to plan. Even the largest vans are finite in size and need careful configuration to get the best out of them.
That’s what this article is all about.
We will list all the questions we frequently come up against here in the workshop and when converting our own vans at home. We hope they provide the grounding you need to properly plan your project so you get the very best conversion.
What is the donor van going to be?
The first question is fairly logical. What donor van will you be using for your van conversion. Will it be a standard size? Long wheelbase? Luton? Something larger? Something smaller?
Knowing exactly what space you’ll be dealing with underpins everything else you’ll do. If you’re in the very early stages of planning, it makes sense to settle on a donor van now. We have some recommendations for donor vans here.
Day trips or overnights?
Will you be converting your van for days out with the family or overnight stays? This will guide many elements of the build such as kitchen, bathroom and sleeping arrangements.
A day tripper can get away with a basic kitchen and bathroom and forgo sleeping. A full camper will require more of everything. Check out our post with some interesting campervan bed ideas here.
How many people will be using the van?
Are you single, a couple or a family? Will friends be using it? How many people and animals will regularly use the van?
The more people and pets will be using it, the more facilities they will need. That’s the same for sleeping, cooking and lounging.
How tall are you?
Or how tall is the tallest person to use the converted van? If you’re over 6’, you won’t fit in a bed that goes across the van. That means being a little clever with your sleeping arrangements. Anyone shorter than 6’ should be able to sleep crossways with no issue.
The same feeds into the legroom for any lounge area inside the van. You’re going to need adequate seating with enough space to sit comfortably on those days you can’t sit outside.
Bathroom or no bathroom?
Day trippers can get away with not having a bathroom at all. As long as you’re going to be stopping at spots with amenities, you can save space, water and grey water plumbing by not having a bathroom.
That does limit your options though, so this is one of those questions you should spend a lot of time thinking about. There aren’t that many public conveniences left in the UK so depending on external facilities may limit where you can go.
Eat in or eat out?
We would recommend every van conversion has a kitchen of some kind even if it’s a single burner, kettle and tiny sink. However, if you’re planning to cook for the family or go away for longer periods of time, a full kitchen may be in order.
That should include a sink, grey water, hot water, water tank, stove, refrigerator and the electrics to run everything. Some kitchen storage will also be required.
Adequate light and air?
Adding natural light to a camper requires cutting windows, which allows people to see in and limits the furniture or fitting out of the van. Skylights can work but nothing beats a window.
The same for ventilation. If you’re cooking in your van, ventilation of some kind is mandatory. If it’s raining outside and everything is closed, you’re going to need some kind of vent or window to keep the air fresh.
Will you need large item storage?
Are you planning to take mountain bikes, windsurfers, surf boards or other large items with you? If so, you’ll need secure storage for them inside the van. You can use external storage but you’ll have to shop carefully to ensure they stay secure overnight or when the van is unattended.
There are some smart storage solutions for bikes and boards so they may warrant exploration if you’re planning on moving stuff around.
Know your weight?
Another key element of a van conversion is weight. Do you know how much your donor van weighs? Know how much everything you want to add weighs? Everything you’re planning should have weight as a consideration.
Balancing weight is as difficult as designing the layout but no less important. You need to keep weight to a minimum and ensure it is evenly distributed as much as possible.
It’s a balancing act but something every van conversion has to contend with!