The DIY Campervan

Lisa Morgan
Tuesday, 1st January 2019

Lisa Morgan explains how she built a campervan on a budget to suit her needs.

This is my journey in the creation of my campervan, made to suit me. I will be highlighting some alter­na­tive ideas that can save you money and look good on a budget.

I started with a Renault Trafic long wheel base high top for its height and its ability to stay relatively rust free. I did the usual MoT history check with the DVLA and highly recommend an independent vehicle 120 point check for peace of mind.

I planned my space to incorporate a bed/seat that could be pulled out, a three-way fridge, kitchen unit and overhead storage, 12V, 240V and solar power. I have had campers in the past already made, but this time I wanted to make one to suit my needs.

Wiring

First was my battery/charger/electrics space, which I ran along the bulkhead width ways with a lift up lid so it was easily accessible for checks and fuse changes. I ran my wires according to my drawing around the floor ready to wire up both 12V and 240V.

I managed to run exterior wire to an inlet socket through the convenient bunged holes that are already in the floors of most vans. The leisure battery slotted in nicely width ways with a little room around it to breathe. I took the charging lead through bunged holes in the bulkhead for van engine charging. All my fuses, battery chargers and spare electrical parts fit in this storage space.

Kitchen

My kitchen unit was made from cutting a square table in half and standing it against a ply lined, insu­lated side and then fixed it by drilling through and using joining blocks. The sliding fronts were made from hard board with finger holes, running on aquarium 3mm sliding rails, all pretty cheap. I filled the sides with glued and screwed old flooring laminate.

The splashback is acrylic from an online art shop, cheaper than DIY shops, with a surround of celplas shower/bathroom sheets left over from doing my own shower. Most UPVC and acrylic were glued with celplas glue.

My sink was made from a £5.99 large flat bottomed dog bowl. I cut a plug hole and fitted and sealed it – remember to check for leaks! The bowl sits proud on my work unit and I fitted a tall hand pump tap as I prefer these to 12V, which means I will always get water if the battery goes flat.

The storage above the kitchen took a lot of thinking as complex carpentry is not my strength, so I found double bread bins in rubber wood from eBay which had very handy roller doors that stayed shut. These can be found in charity shops if you scour around. You can fit them upright or sideways, whichever look you want. I added a letter rack with a drawer for my little items.

The Bed

The bed I re-figured from an old ply-wood shelf that was in the van. Cleaned up and laid horizontally it made a great single bed with boxed storage ready to use. When I laid my floor (xtratherm with self adhesive wood-style planking), it acted as a stopper for items stored underneath. I hid the side of the bed with vinyl material stapled to the plywood bed top so I only have to move the flap up to get access to my storage. The mattress is a simple 2.54cm (1in) reflex foam with 2.54cm memory foam 1.82 x 1.22m (6 x 4ft), doubled over for single use when on my own, I don’t often share my space.

I moved a couple of uprights to accommodate my porta loo, the rest houses my gas cans, shoes, tools and awning. I put a piece of similar size plywood on top with a front frame to slide out in case of guests.

The overhead storage the other side was a bit more expensive, as they were corner bathroom shelves from Argos, but they were just what I needed and came finished in white. The fronts I made from polystyrene coving I had spare with vinyl material to jazz them up.

Storage

The ceiling and over cab storage has xtratherm insulation, which is easy to cut, light and very strong and, most impor­tantly, easier than wood to work with. The rest of the ceiling was 3mm hardboard measured and cut so when offered up it ‘sprang’ into a curved shape which rested on the side rails in the van. I then simply screwed it down along the centre to a length of (2 x 1in) wood I had previously glued. I fitted car LED lights inside a 50mm d line cable cover down the centre, wired from the courtesy light. I drilled holes where I saw LEDs and ended up with a posh looking strip light that comes on when you open the side door.

My food storage was made from xtratherm by cutting can size holes to fit my food cans, drinks and cups, so there is no rolling about and it sits nicely on the wheel arch shelf.

I found a mini music player (mini amp) for around £20 which plays USB, ipod and radio, but has a lot less wiring than a car stereo. All my remotes have velcro so I can slap them anywhere handy on my camper lining, I wish I could do this at home!

My windows have blinds and curtains for a nice look but I also cut window shapes out of my left over metallic bubble wrap and they fit snugly and hold them­selves up in the frames. I find these cut more light out and keep the space warm in winter and cool in summer.

As I have homemade awning sides made from voile panels (good wind blockers) and extending net poles and umbrellas, I needed storage for these. I found an old gutter pipe and fixed it upright at the end of the van by the back door so all my taller items sit in this out of the way.

All my cooking, cooling and heating appliances use 99p gas cans available everywhere. They last 18 hours in my fridge, 4 hours in my heater and quite long with the hob. I have a CO2 alarm fitted and a fire extinguisher.

I recommend that you buy the van size to suit your needs and get it checked before buying. Plan your interior to your needs (a bit like kitchen planning), measure and measure again, and with electrics and plumbing, test and test again. Don’t fix down anything until you are sure of position and use.

Most importantly use your van as much as you can: it is your space.

Useful links

Video: Creating a travelling home

Tiny homes for the homeless

Build your own home for less than $3,500 (£2,300)

Living in an off-grid 6m shipping container

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