This post is an ode to the all the campervan conversion stories we read online before embarking on this project. For anyone not converting a van it might be a little dry, for that I apologise and redirect you to the posts about the fun things we have been up to since the van conversion was finished!
The van in numbers
Hours committed: ~100 hours
Total cost: £4800 (van), plus £1900 conversion costs = total cost £6700
New power tools purchased: 2 (included in costs above)
Cups of tea drunk: 37
“Spirited debates”: internal – many, external – 2
Technical steps and details
- Choice of vehicle
- When thinking of van conversions our thoughts immediately turned to VW vans. A very short google showed them to well out of our price range and so the hunt for an alternative began. We were keen that the van drove like a large car as we planned some pretty big trips in it. We also felt that we didn’t need a lot of facilities – no need for loos, showers or inbuilt kitchen facilities. It needed to sleep two but no more. The NV200 has turned out to be more perfect than we imagined, it comfortably sleeps two (one of whom is 6ft) in a nearly full size double and best of all fits in carparks and our garage.
- Removing paneling and bulk head
- The van in its previous life had been used as a tiler’s van so was already fitted with wooden plywood panels. As it had been carrying goods it had an ugly but practical black metal bulkhead which needed the use of Dremmel multitool to saw off the security bolts before removing it. The wood paneling was easily removed with a screwdriver.
- New windows
- We took the decision to keep the van fairly inconspicuous. As it is such a small van we didn’t go overboard on the windows but did get some put in the back doors, for light and visibility when maneuvering. We also fitted a roof-light for ventilation and extra light in the front of the ‘bedroom’. These were professionally fitted by Autoglaze Services in Gloucester.
- Insulation and getting to know the space
- We wanted the van to be like an extra comfortable tent so went as much insulation as we could fit in without compromising the internal space. This approach will enable us to use the van from spring through to autumn, accepting that at the tail ends of the seasons we might need some pretty serious sleeping bags. Any cavities behind the wood panels in the walls and the ceiling were filled with insulation appropriate to the size of the cavity to fill. Areas such as the floor and side walls were filled with foil backed foam insulation that could easily be cut to shape and moulded around more curved areas. Rigid PIR insulation was used for the roof and larger flatter areas in the side walls, this should be the best performing but is rigid. To fill in the gaps loose recycled plastic wool was used.
- Doing the insulation over a few weekends and evenings after work enabled us to get a better feel for the space to help plan where the battery, bed and storage would go.
- Mulling things over we realised that we wanted electrics to be able to have light in the evenings and phone charging facilities. We wanted to be able to camp independently without the need for an electric hook-up so decided to install a split charge relay and leisure battery which will charge from the alternator as we drive. This was fitted by Bristol Autoelectrics. Once the battery was installed this fed into a fuse box and then into a control panel from which individual wires linked to LED spotlights, a 12V socket and a USB charger. This was done by Tom with the aid of a handy diagram included with the off the shelf control panel bought online from switchpanel.co.uk. Four LED lights sit in the ceiling and can be operated independently.
- The larger side panels with large recesses behind them were cut out so that small storage shelves could be created. The larger carpentry projects included making a fold down table and storage unit on one side of the rear of the van and making a bed frame. The bed frame operates as storage and a single sofa bed while fully stowed. When a double bed is required interlocking slats pull out and rest on supports on the far side of the van. The timber for the slats was repurposed from an old IKEA shelving unit and the main base was made from 2×2 and 2×3 wood.
- Soft furnishings
- The cushions which would be also used as the mattress for the bed were made from an IKEA mattress cut into pieces (after much experimentation a bread knife proved the best implement to cut a memory foam mattress). We were adamant that there would be no grey carpet in the van, a horrible design feature of many caravans and professional conversions. Instead we injected a touch of maharajahs palace with some beautiful fabric we bought on a trip to India. It felt like a bold choice at the time but it is now one of my favourite features of the van. The visible floor was covered in cork tiles cut to size and glued down with tile adhesive.
- Decorative and design features
- Again IKEA came through with a curtain rail and some cheap black out curtains. The curtain rail was cut down to size to allow privacy curtains to be drawn between the ‘bedroom’ and the front seats. The other curtain was cut down to size and re-hemmed to create two small curtains that hang over the back windows from hooks at night. Two of the small panels have been painted with blackboard paint for games/shopping lists or adventure planning.
- Bungee cords have been cut down and have been rear fixed into the panels on the door enabling us to secure ice axes and walking poles out the way. Bungee cords have also been used to secure the gas cyclinder and cooker to the wall fixed storage unit.
- Some of the plywood has been left untreated while other areas have been painted and varnished to complement the fabric.
- The ceiling panels and some of the door panels were upholstered with beautiful Indian fabric. The upholstered look was achieved by attaching wadding to the panel using double sided sticky tape and then using a staple gun to affix the fabric on top. Holes were drilled and jigsawed out to allow the LED lights to sit flush with the panels.
- Legal technicalities
- Our van is still a commercial van because it does not meet the requirements to officially convert it to a campervan, this means the road tax is slightly higher. But with the space available we couldn’t have fitted in enough equipment to meet the regulations for reclassification.
The start of the project was slow and it felt like a long time before we got on to the bits we had immediately pictured when our thoughts first turned to converting a van. The later stages such as building the bed frame and installing the ceiling panels were much quicker than expected.
One thing neither of us had considered was where a bike rack might go once the van was finished. Taking the bikes away with us on longer trips is really important to us. Having seen hundreds of VW transporters with bikes on we thought that we could do the same. However, due to the small size of the NV200 and the fact that we had put glass windows in the back doors none of the read door mounted racks would fit. It was too difficult to lift bikes up onto the roof and gravity/friction based systems wouldn’t work on a flat backed van. Ultimately the best solution for us was to get a tow bar fitted so that we could use a towbar mounted rack. This was the only major unforeseen cost.
I’ve written this with a lot of use of the word we for ease of reading. While I offered a lot of moral support and, I believe, acted as a good sounding board, 85% of the practical work was done by Tom. He has created a beautiful and practical van and should be very proud of his work. Big thanks too to his mum who did a wonderful job making the cushion covers for us. I put this post together as a way to add to the very helpful and detailed van conversion stories on the internet that helped us plan and complete our project. I hope you’ve found it interesting and useful. Do get in touch if you would like any more details.