So, you’re considering building your own campervan. There are plenty of advantages to working on your own van conversion — you can save money, develop construction skills and customize every inch of your van to your liking. With these benefits, it’s no surprise that so many people decide to turn vans into campers on their own.
If you’re considering van life and your own van conversion, you might be wondering: how long does it take to convert a van? The van build timeline varies depending on the following factors:
- Your skill level
- How complex the van build-out is
- How much time you spend working
So, How Long Does It Take to Convert a Van?
The simplest vans can be completed in just a few weeks, while more complex models may take up to 2-3 years. Factors such as van build expertise, build material availability, and whether you are working full or part-time on the build will determine how long it will take to renovate a van.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the most common steps of converting a camper van, along with an estimated timeline of each process. The more knowledgeable you are, the faster you can complete the project.
The Van Conversion Process in 6 Steps
Building your own camper van is no easy project; however, the outcome is definitely worth it. If you dedicate time and effort to every step, you’ll wind up with a high-quality, comfortable van that’s customized to your needs.
While most van builds will take between three and 12 months, this is just an estimate; for some owners, it can take up to two or even three years. For instance, buying a pre-built van, using battery-powered appliances, and purchasing furniture will be much faster than buying a custom van, installing an electrical system, and building your own furnishings.
Whether it takes you a few months or a couple of years, the end result is always a well-stocked, cozy vehicle that you can call home. Once your van is complete, get behind the wheel, hit the open road, and get ready for an adventure!
The big question is, where do you even start when renovating a van or building your own camper van? We’ve broken down the process into six steps, with an average time to help you plan your van conversion and determine how long it takes to build a camper van.
1. Select Your Van (~1-3 months)
Before you can turn your van into a camper, you need to find a vehicle to work with. While you may be able to locate a van at a local automobile dealership, it’s much more convenient to look online. This way, you can tailor your search to meet your precise preferences.
There are two main types to choose from: pre-built and custom vans.
Pre-built vans are ready-made and can be quickly purchased and delivered. Since they’re already constructed, you may have to compromise on a few elements (such as dimensions or the model).
Custom vans are created specifically for your needs. You can customize every element, from the size and internal layout to the model and external appearance. If you’re wondering how long custom vans take, there’s no really no clear answer — it depends entirely on the seller. However, you can expect most custom vehicles to take over a month.
Which Van Should I Choose?
Before picking a van, consider the following factors:
- Size: If you plan to live in the vehicle full-time or share it with others, you’ll need a medium or large van. Conversely, a small model should suit your needs if you’re living alone or using your van part-time.
- Make and model: The make and model of your van will influence its appearance and functionality. If you need help determining what you’re looking for, try researching popular brands and studying their features.
- Budget: How much money can you spend on your van? Remember that there will be other costs while you complete the conversion.
- Van build timeline: Think about how much time you’re willing to spend on this step. Can you wait for your ideal van to go on sale, or would you rather buy something quickly and get started immediately?
In general, pre-built vans arrive quicker and are less expensive than custom vans. However, a custom vehicle will be more geared toward your preferences. Depending on the type you choose (and how much research you do), this step can take anywhere from one to three months.
2. Planning Your Van Build (~1-3 weeks)
Before converting a van into a camper, you must plan your van build. The more you strategize now, the easier it will be to complete the conversion. As you develop your camper van plans, consider the following:
- Budgetary needs
- Your desired layout
- Amenities (heating, air conditioning, electrical system, plumbing)
Draw a diagram of your van, then plan out the desired layout. To do this, consider where every amenity is going to go. Where will you connect your power system? How will you spread the wiring throughout your van? Where can you put the water tanks? Then, when you’re done, ask yourself: does this layout align with your budget?
While this step sounds simple, it may take longer than expected. Turning a van into a camper requires optimizing a small space; you may have to draw up multiple van layouts until you find one that works.
3. Heater and Fan Installation (~1 week)
Now that you’ve got your vehicle and have established some plans, it’s time to begin the conversion. The first step is installing your van’s fan and heating system. While not every van owner needs heating and cooling, it’s definitely helpful if you travel in different weather conditions. Let’s take a closer look at both of these systems.
A van fan will keep you cool during the hot summer months. It’s attached directly to your van roof and needs to be installed as easily as possible. Otherwise, you’ll need to remove the ceiling to incorporate it. Thus, if you decide not to include a van fan, ensure you’re 100% sure of your decision.
A heating system is essential if you’re driving in cold weather. Unlike van fans, heating is not time-sensitive; you can install it now or wait until you’ve finished the floors and ceilings. While there are different heating options, the most common one is a diesel heater; it’s affordable, efficient, and easily accessible.
4. Electrical Wiring and Plumbing (~1 week-2 months)
Most vans turned into homes feature plumbing and electrical systems, enabling owners to enjoy everything from functional toilets and showers to lighting and appliances. The strongest, highest-quality option is a 12v power inverter with an electric pump sink, full lighting system, and outlets — however, this will also take the longest. If you want to accelerate your van build timeline, consider using the following amenities instead:
- Solar generator
- Strip lights or fairy lights
- Manual pump sinks or gravity-powered sinks
Relying on solar energy, battery-powered appliances, and manual-powered sinks will save you time and money. However, these devices are less convenient than a fully installed electrical system. If you plan to live in your van full-time (or if comfort is a major priority), spending the extra time and money on electrical systems may be worth it.
5. Insulation, Flooring, and Ceiling (~1 week-1 month)
One of the most critical steps in converting a van to a camper is installing the floor and ceiling. You’ll want to start by insulating your van — this involves covering cracks to prevent hot or cold air from infiltrating your van (which helps control temperatures and reduce energy costs). Insulation should cover the following:
- Van walls
- Van flooring
- Van Ceiling
Once your insulation is finished, you can conceal it with wooden planks, plywood, or whatever materials you intend to use for the floors and ceilings. The most difficult step is installing the base floor — once this is done, the rest is relatively easy. Depending on your speed and expertise, this step can take anywhere from a week to over a month.
6. Furnishings (~1-4 months)
Once your HVAC systems, insulation, and electricity are in place, you can move on to the last step of converting a van into a camper: installing the furniture. Here are a few things you’ll want to include in your van:
- Kitchen countertops
The length of time this takes depends on whether you’re buying or building your furniture. You can probably find everything you need in as little as a month if you buy furniture. However, it can take a while if you’d rather custom-make furniture.
Whether you’re constructing a bed or cabinetry, you should always start by making a frame. For example, if you’re building your van kitchen, you should create frames for your cabinets and storage space. Then, after you’ve installed these frames, you can add in any other elements (such as countertops and backsplash). Making your own furniture will extend your van build timeline, but it can help save costs in the long term.
How Long Does a Van Build Company Take? Pros and Cons
After reading all about how long it takes to convert a van, maybe you’re curious how long it would take if you paid for a van conversion company to do the work. This also depends on many factors, such as the intricacy of your build, amenities, and the experience level of your van builder.
Some van builders can convert a van in just a few weeks because they are very experienced and don’t do custom work. Typically these van builders will have a few layouts you can select from, and they build it for you without any modifications. They will make your van livable but it may not have all of the amenities you ultimately would like.
Custom van builders will convert your van into the camper van of your dreams. They work with you to help select every detail of your van conversion, from the type of wood you use to your cabinet handles. Depending on how detailed your van conversion is, these builds can take up to a year or more.
All van conversion timelines from a builder depend on how backlogged they are. Some specialty shops have over a year waitlist, and other van builders that do more modular work may be able to complete your van conversion in a few months.
Pros of Using a Van Build Company
- Guarantee of work completed, usually a year from the delivery date
- Delivery dates are usually on time, even if lengthy
- High-quality craftsmanship
- Experienced and able to give recommendations
Cons of Using a Van Build Company
- May have to be on a waitlist for a while
- More expensive than a DIY
- May be limited on amenities and customization
- Warranty means the van has to come back to the builder if something breaks (not helpful if you’re in CA and your builder is in CO)
Your Timeline for Converting a Camper Van
Honestly, how long it takes to convert a van into a camper has so many variables we don’t have a hard number for you. But we hope that the resources, breakdown of the van conversion process, and how to make a van livable provided in this article will help you plan your own van conversion.
The reality is that the van conversion process is always a “time versus money” scenario. If you have the time, you can save some money. If you have the money, you can save time by having someone more experienced with all the right tools help out.
We can guarantee that if you plan on converting your camper van yourself, always plan for the unexpected and give yourself some flexibility with your van conversion process. And if you start out and decide that building your own camper van just isn’t for you, many van builders specialize in taking over a van conversion process to ensure your van life dreams come true!