5 Lessons From a 5-Time Van Converter

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With the coronavirus in full swing, we’re doing our best to stay isolated at our shop in Penticton and work on our fifth van conversion. Here are our top 5 tips for the DIY converters out there.

1. Double Your Time Estimate

If you think you can finish your van in 3 months, it will take 6. Although the square footage of a van is small, there are some incredibly time consuming processes. You’ll spend hours staring at blank walls figuring out your layout. You’ll be running laps around your van, jigsaw and belt sander when scribing in wall panelling. Remember you’re not building a room, you’re building a small house. Our past conversions have taken in the range of 600-800 hours to complete.

2. The right tool is worth the investment.

New and used quality tools are relatively affordable online these days. Early on we lacked quality electrical tools needed for a conversion. We were using Bic lighters to do our shrink wraps and shearing scissors to cut large wire. Spending $40 on a heat gun and proper wire cutters has saved us hours of time and countless F-bombs.

3. Scribe or die.

One area you will spend a lot of time is at your scribing station. Since nothing is square in a van, you’ll be scribing virtually every piece of material that you install. Do yourself a favour and set up a scribe station close to your van with a quality jigsaw, belt sander and clamps. Also run two extension cords so you’re not constantly switching it from one tool to the other.

Make designs, but the van tells the truth.

We always start our van conversions with 3d designs. This makes it easy to play around with layout options and figuring out where your batteries and other components will fit. However, your measurements won’t be 100% accurate with all the curves and corners of a cargo van. Before making any cut lists, remember the van does not lie.

5. Camping in the van during the process is a great idea.

We wanted our first conversion ready for a music festival. Sure enough, we only had it 70% complete by then. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we learned some valuable lessons on that trip. Our couch cushions did not have enough padding, and our outdoor shower design was impractical with our meagre 5 gallon fresh water tank. We also found a few annoying squeaks that are much easier to fix before your final coat of paint is on.  A half finished van still beats tent camping any day.

Any other time saving tips for the DIY’er? Let us know in the comments.