Part II: Options for walls and floors. And what are you going to do about utilities, anyway?
This is the second in a series about our own campervan conversion. We’ll talk about the reasons we made the choices we did, pros and cons of decisions, and hopefully provide some advice for your own adventure!
After we picked out a campervan, our trusty Nissan NV2500 (high top, mind you), we were ready to get to work! Unfortunately all the really fun stuff and decorations had to wait until we had a base down. That meant deciding what to do about walls, floors, the ceiling, and our general “utilities”. You know, how would we get power, how would we wash things, did we need heat or A/C?
I don’t think campervans are every truly “finished”. It is an ongoing process as you travel about and make changes and learn new things. But here I want to break down what we started with and why we made those decisions. And also if there are any future improvements in mind.
We knew we needed some basic wooden studs along the walls to enable us to hang shelves or cabinets. Having never built anything like this in our life, it was an imposing task. We watched some other “van lifers” online and read some tutorials about what we would need to do.
This wasn’t necessarily a cheap endeavor and we ended up dropping a few hundred dollars on the walls. But let’s be honest here, $200 of that was for a powerful enough impact drill. Which we cherish very dearly now.
We went to Lowe’s and bought six wood planks after measuring for van wall height and how many we would need. We then bought long enough screws that would fit the screw holes already in place in the van. It didn’t come with as many as we would have preferred, but we made it work.
After measuring and marking with pencil, we successfully secured each wood plank along the walls. At this point, some people may want to do insulation. But we had no intention of traveling to any intense climates and skipped over that step. After testing this full-time on the road, we didn’t have any issues with extreme temperature that couldn’t be solved by rolling the windows up or down.
After the wood went in, we wanted to cover the walls to ensure they looked pretty. Nothing fancy here! We simply went to a crafts store and bought large square pieces of heavy duty poster board. We liked the combination of a turquoise and a deep yellow. We used smaller screws to secure these into the wood planks.
The hardest part about all of this was working around the wheel wells. Especially with our poster board as it required a lot of cutting and some guesswork. But in the end, we had smooth, colorful walls.
The Floors & Ceiling
We did not do anything fancy for the floors or ceiling. I know you see a lot of these campervan photos with pristine wooden planks on the floor and ceiling, but that didn’t match what we envisioned. First off, I (Ashley) hate wood floors and find them uncomfortable. Second, we didn’t really intend to hang anything from the ceiling so having all that support didn’t seem necessary. And third, that is a lot of effort and money for something we weren’t 100% invested in.
So what did we do? For the floors, we bought very thick foam padding and taped it all down with rug tape. After that, we bought beautiful accent rugs and laid them on top. The results was a floor so soft you could sleep on it! Moving forward, we will secure the rugs with some type of heavy duty tape as there were issues with them shifting.
We left the ceiling blank and instead hung up a fishing net. We bought it from Academy and cut off the weighted sides. We then hung it up with zip ties through holes that already existed along the ceiling. That served as a flexible storage area.
Electricity & Water
We were faced with our next big question. What would we do about utilities? How would we wash things and ourselves? How would we power our computers for remote work?
Let’s start with water first. Off Amazon we ended up buying a $70 portable camping sink. It has a five gallon bucket it draws water from, as well as its own liquid soap dispenser and towel rung. We absolutely loved it and it was super convenient. However, we still struggle with a good place to let the waste water flow. The sink comes with a disposal hose but nothing to attach to it. We used a bucket, but in the future we will likely design it in a more convenient fashion. Still workshopping ideas!
We opted for the bucket method to wash dishes and clothes. We had four buckets total for this endeavor as well as your standard cleaning products. A clothes drying rack was chosen to dry them out.
And what about the big question? You know, the toilet? Well, we made use of shops and gas stations around us. We also bought a fold out portable toilet from Amazon. It is not glamorous, but with some sanitizing products and good cleanliness practices, it works in a pinch!
A shower was our next concern. How would we keep ourselves clean? A simple solution presented itself at Academy with a portable outdoor shower that is heated by the sun. We hung it outside, put on bathing suits, and got clean! We had to help each other out as gravity is what pulls the water down and we didn’t have a really high place to hang it. To be honest, we never quite got the hang of timing our water warming. Either we showered too soon (because traveling is a busy life!) or we waited too long and the sun was setting. So our showers were cold. But we laughed and shivered and washed each other and let the wind dry us.
That brings us to our final topic. Electricity. Driving to our destinations was a great source of charging for our phones and inverters (more on those in a moment). But how would we power things when we were just parked?
We looked into various options of installing a second battery. In fact, a second battery was Plan A. But this van wasn’t designed the best to install a second one. We got several professional opinions and all involved rewelding parts of the van, running long cables, weeks of build time, and of course plenty of $$$.
In the end, we decided to rough it a bit more and rely on two inverters we bought off Amazon. They could charge all of our things. Does it work? Technically, yes. We never were out of power. But the inverters themselves have to be recharged by driving (or hooking up to an electrical outlet). In the future, we will probably will allow the time and money to install a second battery. But for now, these work as well as we can expect!
Alright! Speed round time to recap and hit up common questions I know we had when looking to do our camper build.
Do you have a refrigerator? We use a Magellan cooler with ice.
How do you cook food? We’ve got a small charcoal grill.
How do you get water? We store multiple gallons at the back and refill our sink as needed, as well as our washing buckets, shower bag, and water bottles.
How do you take showers? A handy outdoor portable shower we bought from an adventure/outdoors store.
How do you go to the bathroom? A portable toilet, or local shops and gas stations.
How do you charge your devices? We have two inverters. The inverters charge themselves while driving.
How do you have light? Two battery-operated magnetic light switches inside the van. And sunlight!
How do you stay cool? Roll the windows down or turn on our rechargeable fancy fan (we call it fancy because it cools off better than a normal fan).
How do you stay warm? It was only an issue at night. If we got too cold we would roll up the windows and toss an extra blanket over ourselves.
What did you do for floors? Thick foam cushions and rugs.
How did you build the walls? Six wood planks screwed in with an impact drill. Thick poster board atop those for looks.
How do you wash your clothes or the dishes? Buckets we fill with water and cleaning products. And some elbow grease!