12 Things we wish we knew before building a van

Here we share the van build insights (and sarcastic remarks) that would have been handy to know what we were in for!

  • Don’t spray foam the doors! This was a mistake we made in our 2nd van build despite thinking we had protected all the mechanisms from spray foam. Instead we temporarily glued our sliding door shut and angle grinded pieces out until a mate dug it free. Just use a flexible insulation that is soft and malleable in these spaces instead!
Our sliding door looked like a bomb zone after we massacred it, trying to reopen it. Fortunately some wood work and art work over the top, fixed her right up!
If measuring isn’t your strong suit and it works in your van – Ikea has your back to cheat a bit.
  • Invest in a few good tools! When we began converting our first van, we had an array of poor quality budget tools. It was slow going, hard and a constant recharging of batteries. Just get yourself a decent drill, jigsaw, sander and table saw, they are worth their weight!
  • Measure twice, cut once. Any good chippy (carpenter) out there will back us up but it’s true. We wasted many materials just by not double checking measurements. So measure right the first time and you will save a lot of time and money!
  • Drawers are worth building. Chris was on the edge of throwing the towel in with most of the drawer build and installation but once on the road – the perseverance was all worth it! Don’t discount them from your storage design.
  • Expect delays. You will likely need order some items for a van through the internet. Vans require specialist items not widely available in stores because they utilise 12 volt appliances, light weight materials and multifunctional furniture. There is always some items that take considerable time to ship or you don’t realise you need something, until you do!
  • Your budget will run over. One of the biggest expenses for the van builds was all the small items you don’t consider when planning. Wires, fuses, screws, ear muffs, hinges, rust protectant, thread tape, magnets and more are what saw our budget beyond what we hoped. These items are small but vitally important.
  • Don’t rush to the end! We know it’s exciting to see the light at the end of the tunnel but don’t rush building for the sake of progress. Take a break from building if you’re feeling down about building for so long and progress seems slow. We had limited time to build our second van conversion and now need to replace the flooring already.
When you need that boost, don’t be ashamed.
  • It’s ok to have fast food! You will 100% get caught up concentrating on varnishing, sanding or building a cupboard and forget to eat. Spaghetti on toast is ok and Maccas is too because your brain needs fuel to measure right.
  • You will have to engineer things that don’t exist. Even if you are a carpenter or have a trade under your belt – throw out the manual. There will be parts of a van build that it’s either get creative or go home. For us one of the biggest engineering challenges was the shower. The tank went right under it and the was almost no room to plumb it with a one way valve. Chris engineered one by slicing a HepVo Valve in half and stealing the rubber bit.
  • Van is life or will become life. Building a van takes over your life much like a toddler who has learned how to utilise the word “why”. Eat, breath and build van. It just happens, trust us. We mean that literally, you consume a lot of saw dust sandwiches.
  • You’ll probably make 5 trips to the local hardware store on average, daily. No matter how organised you think you are with your paper list and pen to tick it all off as you go, there will be at least 3 items over the course of the day you realise you forgot.
Of course in all seriousness though, have fun while you build the van too 🙂
  • The second most useful tool to your drill is a broom. The mess that accumulates from leftover packaging, saw dust and offcuts is no joke. You will spend half your time looking for tools if you don’t tidy up as you go.

To learn where to start, check out our article The plan that dictates all of the van conversion – the layout!

Published by Kiri Borgas

Curiosity has guided me, travel has grown my dreams and the natural world has inspired and excited me. This is how I've become a tiny home lover and van dweller - learning all I can with my fiancé to share a passion for the world around us.

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