The question we get asked the most is "How much did it cost to convert your van?" For those of you that don't know us, we are both spreadsheet nerds. We love keeping track of things in detail, so we know to the penny how much we spent on our build because we itemised and categorised every single item we bought within a spreadsheet. It was really important to us to keep track of exactly what we were spending, 1) so that we could make sure we were spending a sensible amount on the build and 2) because Charlie is a data analyst, and we just love data!
It's worth noting that we have heard of people converting vans from anywhere in the region of £500 to over £20k for a self build, and an eye watering £40k for a professional fit out! It will all depend on the spec and finish you are trying to achieve, and ultimately how much of the build you're willing to do yourselves vs paying a professional to do. You will always need to find a balance between your time, the cost, and the quality of the build.
We did everything in our van conversion ourselves, from fitting windows to electrics to the gas system, learning from Youtube videos and blog posts. We did this because we wanted to save money, and this is one of the biggest ways you can save on costs in your build.
We have broken this post down into 3 sections:
• High level costs of our build
• Breakdown within each area of our build
• Top tips on how to save money on your own van conversion
High level costs of our build
Below is a breakdown of our high level costs for each area of the build. There are certain areas we decided to spend a bit more money, so we wouldn't have to worry - we did not try to cheap out on any of the electrics, as we knew everything would last a lot longer if we paid for good quality batteries, charge controllers etc, and this is why this is the most expensive part of our build.
To counter that, there were a lot of areas where we actively tried to save as much money as possible, and we go into a bit more detail below on the methods we used to save a lot of money on our build while maintaining high quality and spec.
Breakdown of our costs
Below we'll go into a bit more detail of the costs in each area of our build - how much individual items were, and where we saved money.
We haven't factored in the cost of any tools we bought, as most of them we already had, but any we didn't we will use a lot in the future for other projects, so we viewed these as an investment rather than part of the cost of the build.
Buying a van to convert
Before we bought our van, we spent a long time deciding which make, model and size of van would be right for the base vehicle for our camper van conversion. Once we had decided this, we looked on quite a few websites for used vans, before going to speak to an ex-fleet dealer. These are dealers who deal specifically in vans which used to be part of a fleet, usually old delivery vehicles such as ex Royal Mail vans. The big benefit to an ex-fleet vehicle is that they are serviced regularly and are typically retired after 5 years. The cost impact to a courier if a van breaks down is massive, so they are well maintained and looked after.
The main thing is to look in lots of different places, and make sure you go to test drive anything and inspect it thoroughly before you commit to buying it.
We ended up paying £8,800 for our 2013 LWB Mercedes Sprinter which was on 110K miles back in January 2019.
Windows and vents
We decided to fit our windows and skylight ourselves to save on the cost of having a professional fit them. This was actually very easy to do with only a drill and a Jigsaw (read our blog posts on how to fit windows to your van and how to fit a skylight to your van for more info). The cost of having the windows fitted by a professional would have cost us roughly double compared to just buying the kit and doing it ourselves.
We also chose to make our own fans for air circulation with two computer fans, as this saved us money vs buying a skylight with an inbuilt fan.
If you want to insulate your van well, the cost is essentially linear to how big your van is. If you look on Gumtree or eBay, you might be able to find people selling leftover insulation cheap, but ultimately insulation has a pretty fixed cost. Our costs in this area were split into the 4 main components needed to insulate your van (read our blog post on how to insulate your van for more info).
Cladding and flooring
This is definitely an area of your build where you can save a lot of money. We know of a few people who have managed to clad their van from entirely reclaimed materials, which saves a lot on the cost of cladding or carpet, but it does add quite a lot of weight. We were keen to cut weight where possible (to justify our sink!) so we bought our cladding from a local timber merchant.
We also bought all of our wood locally rather than at a big hardware chain like B&Q or Wickes, as not only is it about half the price, but we've also found the quality is much, much better too.
You can also save money in this area of your build if you line your whole van in carpet or thin ply rather than cladding it, and if you are able to buy cheap flooring. As the area you need to cover on a van floor is so small, it's easy to find leftovers that people may have from doing up their house on Gumtree or eBay.
We managed to find quite a lot of oak flooring that someone was selling on Gumtree which saved us a lot of money. We ended up using some of the floorboards to make the slide out table in our van too. Although it was heavier than we would have liked, we only used it on the visible bits of floor to save weight.
Kitchen and seating area
The kitchen is an area of the build where it's easy to spend a very small amount or a very large amount. We made a couple of our silliest purchases in the kitchen - our Belfast sink, and also a pretty expensive tap! As the kitchen is a really visual part of the build that we will spend a lot of time in, we were keen to make sure it looked really good.
We balanced this out by making sure to save money where we could - instead of buying big, bulky units from IKEA, which would be more expensive and also a lot more weight (which we couldn't afford with our big sink!), we opted to make our kitchen out of single thickness 12mm ply, and just use drawers from IKEA.
We also set up eBay and Gumtree alerts before we'd even bought our van for the most expensive items, which included the fridge. There is not a huge amount of choice for camper van fridges - the cheap option is to get a 12V cool box, but as we plan to spend a lot of time in the van, we didn't want the faff of a cool box and were keen to get a 'proper' fridge. However, these come with a very steep price tag - the Dometic Waeco CRX50, which is the fridge you will see in most van builds, comes with a whopping price tag on the Dometic website of £738!!! We managed to get ours for less than half of this, basically brand new.
We would also recommend looking around for your worktop - similarly to flooring, you may be able to find an offcut from someone doing up their house that will be the right size, as it's such a small area you're trying to cover. As we have quite a large kitchen in the van we couldn't find anything of the right size second hand, so we bought ours from Worktop Express which is a great website for cheap but great quality worktops.
We also decided to fit a domestic hob in our van rather than a standard caravan/boat hob. The caravan hobs are quite expensive, and they generally aren't as visually appealing as domestic hobs. The only difference between a domestic hob and a caravan hob is the nozzles and the fitting to attach to a gas outlet. Domestic hobs come with LPG nozzles which are very easy to swap over, and we just needed to buy an adapter to connect the hob to our gas pipe - it was super easy, and now we have a beautiful 4 ring hob in our van!
In our seating area, we cut up an old IKEA daybed mattress we had at home for the main cushions. Our friend who had finished converting a van recently gave us some leftover foam which we used for the backs of the seats, so this was a great little area to save some money! It's worth keeping an eye out for people giving away foam, as it can be quite expensive to buy new. Climbing walls which are upgrading their matting often give away foam or sell it off very cheap!
For our seat materials, we spent some time perusing John Lewis to decide what material we'd like, but then looked for it on eBay instead of buying it direct. We managed to get 6m x 1.6m for just over £30 rather than £150!
We made our pull out table from leftover floorboards. It's good to get creative with things like this - another way to do this would be to make sure you have enough kitchen worktop left over for your table.
There were only a few items we needed to buy for the bedroom area. We decided to use IKEA bed slats with the frame we built, as they are pretty good value for money, it saves a lot of time, and also means you don't need as expensive a mattress as they have a bit of spring in them vs using battens of wood or ply with holes drilled in. Bed slats are also much lighter than using thick battens or ply, so it's another good area to save a bit of weight.
As our bed size was a standard double bed, we were able to buy a memory foam mattress from IKEA. If your bed is going across your van, you could either modify a mattress or try and find some foam of the right size. We used bed sheets and blankets we already owned to save some money.
This was the most expensive part of our build, because we felt it was important to invest in this area. Equally, we could have easily spent a lot more money. We went for flooded lead acid batteries which are a middle of the road option - they don't require maintenance or topping up like liquid batteries, but don't last quite as long as AGM or lithium ion batteries. As we wanted a significant amount of power, we chose FLA so we could afford the required Amp hours.
We also invested in a good quality charge controller and battery monitor, to prolong the life of our batteries. It's possible to get much cheaper versions than what we went for, but we read a lot of good reviews about Victron products online before purchasing, and felt like this was an area of the build we shouldn't try and scrimp on.
Saying that, we still did our standard Gumtree and eBay searches and managed to find a good quality Sterling power inverter that was in very good condition, so managed to save some money that way.
It's amazing how quickly the cost of wire, connectors, and other miscellaneous items add up. If you know anyone who's recently converted a van it would definitely be worth asking around as most connectors come in packs of 100s and wires at set lengths, so they could have a lot of spare bits left over which could save you money.
We opted to do all of the electrics ourselves, which is a good way to save some money, and there are so many videos and posts online about camper van electrics that it's very easy to learn yourself (read our blog post on how to wire a camper van electrical system for more info).
The cost of your water system will depend on whether or not you are having a toilet and shower. We opted for a fairly basic water system - we have a water tank which is connected to our sink and an outdoor shower via a pump and an accumulator. We decided on an outdoor shower to save on the space of taking up a large portion of the van with a toilet and shower room, and because we plan on spending a lot of time in southern Europe in the van which will be warm and not very rainy, so fine for showering outside.
We have a good little setup where we hook an IKEA shower rail and curtain between our back doors, to give us some privacy. We then have a tankless instant water heater shower which is connected to our water tank and our LPG tank, and this means that we didn't have to drill another hole in the van for a flue, because we only use it when the back doors of the van are open.
If you decide you want an indoor shower, or hot water coming from your tap, you will need to install a boiler inside the van which has a flue to vent, and this will add a decent chunk to the cost of your water system.
Gas and heating system
This is one of the areas of your van build that can end up costing a lot of money. It's probably the part of the build that people are most reluctant to do themselves - I definitely found it very scary, and was absolutely petrified of having a gas leak the first time we filled up (we had 2 🙈 luckily they were quickly solved and haven't had any issues since!). Saying that, it is extremely expensive to pay someone else to do this for you - we were quoted £800 to have the system installed, excluding any parts. Because of this, we opted to do it ourselves.
We also decided to make a mounting bracket for the tank out of some left over flex link we had, which saved us some money, but the main reason we decided to do this was because the mounting frames sold by GAS IT require you to drill through the floor, and we had already installed our kitchen by this point.
A heater can also be an expensive part of the build. This was another one of our lucky Gumtree finds, and we managed to pay £220 for the Propex LPG heater, which usually costs around £500 new. Before we found this, we were considering buying one of the Chinese diesel heaters, as they get quite good reviews and there is a Facebook group you can join for help installing them. We were pleased we managed to find the Propex heater heavily discounted, as we didn't fancy drilling into our fuel tank! It was very easy to install and in really good condition despite being second hand.
This is an area where it would be really easy to end up spending quite a lot of money. We made sure to use lots of things we already owned, such as blankets, cushions and little wall decorations like our dream catcher, as well as old curtain material to make some of the curtains for our van.
It's worth having a look in places like IKEA for curtains which you can cut up and use to make your van curtains, as we found this was a lot cheaper than buying material from a haberdashery, and they had a nicer choice of materials too!
One of the great things about a van is that your kitchen is small, which means you don't need to buy many tiles to cover the area. This meant we could buy some quite fancy tiles, but it didn't cost much as we didn't need very many of them. Tiles are also the kind of thing it might be quite easy to find on Gumtree or eBay.
Our biggest expense in this area was the curtain tracks, as we bought tracks made especially for vans. You could definitely make your own using doweling or copper pipe, which is what we did at the back of the van, but in the main body of the van where the walls taper, it's useful to have curtain tracks which hold the curtains in place and stop them from flapping around.
We were lucky enough to already have deadlocks and an immobiliser in our van because it was an ex delivery vehicle. This meant we didn't need to spend too much on security, however this is definitely not an area to try and scrimp on! If you have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds converting your van, you definitely want it protected. In addition to the security we already had, we bought a GPS tracker, a motion sensor that works much like a burglar alarm in a house, and visual deterrents too. We are also planning on purchasing a steering wheel lock as an additional deterrent.
How to save money on your own van conversion
There are a couple of key ways we saved money on our build, and a couple more that we didn't personally do, but are definitely good ways to save cash on your conversion.
Buy from Gumtree & eBay
We badger on about this a lot, but that's because we definitely saved well over £1,500 in buying things second hand from eBay and Gumtree! These will typically fall into two categories. The first is leftovers from people renovating houses, such as surplus flooring, tiles or worktop. Because you are trying to cover such a small area within your van, leftovers can usually cover the area you need. The second is second hand appliances, such as a fridge or heater, and this is definitely where we saved high hundreds.
We would suggest setting up Gumtree and eBay alerts for any appliances you know you will need to buy. This is what we did, and ended up buying some items before we'd even bought our van! It means that you can catch the items as and when they're available.
Do everything yourself
This is a bit of a no brainer, but if you do everything yourself, you will save on expensive fees of paying professionals to do certain jobs for you. Of course there may be some jobs that you would rather pay someone else to do, such as the gas system, but you will need to just weigh up the benefits vs the cost.
Use reclaimed materials / use a local timber merchant
We know a few people who have saved quite a bit of money in their build by using reclaimed materials such as pallet wood, copper bowls as sinks etc, which can be a great way to cut costs on materials.
If you are using reclaimed materials like this, you will need to be careful of the extra weight that may be associated with them. Cladding your van with pallet wood rather than tongue and groove cladding would add quite a bit of extra weight, so you will need to account for this in other areas of your build.
The other option, which we did do, was to use a local timber merchant rather than buying materials from a big hardware chain such as B&Q or Wickes, as we found for a similar product the timber merchant was usually around half the price, and the quality is also far better. You will get much better value and a much better product going to a local timber merchant!
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