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  • Writer's pictureJohn Hayward

What do I do first?

That’s the most common question I get asked when someone is getting ready to build their own van. It can be daunting for sure. There are hundreds of components and parts to buy, each has multiple options and prices, and there are various ways things could be done. If you look on the internet you’ll find assistance for almost everything; some is great and some is poor and it’s up to you to determine which is which. At WhiteWater vans we follow four phases in all of our builds: The shell, Components and Cabinets, Electrical and Plumbing, and Accoutrements.

The shell is what you’d expect, the exterior of the van; and the interior of that exterior (huh?). We start with installation of windows, fans, and wires. Generally this includes two bunk windows toward the back, one or two large side windows just behind the driver or passenger seats, rear windows if desired, and a roof opening or two for fans and/or air conditioners (AC). We add a couple small holes in the ceiling for Solar cables, antennas (Starlink or cell phone boosters), light bars, etc. We add external plugs to accept 30amp shore power input and 120v external power outlet. If we know we’re adding solar we’ll go ahead and install the panels and a roof rack if desired. This pretty much seals up the outside; but the inside is all just raw metal framing. Before we cover that up we’ll add noise vibration damping and wiring.

Run all the wires for all possible components that we might want to add later on; now is the time to insure those wires are in the walls. Maybe later you’ll want task lights, chargers by the bed, speakers in the rear doors, or an AC outlet for a microwave.

If you might want it later; wire it now.

Now you can button it all up inside and put the finished interior in place. First though; fill up those cavities with insulation. We recommend havelock wool and/or thinsulate for walls and ceiling. They’re safe for humans and pets, cost effective, thermally efficient, and they won’t deform your van’s exterior like an expansion foam could do. Beneath the plywood floor you’ll want either 1/2” or 1” foam board. Pay attention to how much height is left inside your van though; it’s not comfortable to constantly stoop because you added a 3 inch thick floor. In most of our vans we use a rubberized coin-dot flooring that’s waterproof and highly durable. The walls are upholstered with a quality tweed fabric, and the ceiling is either faux leather or stained wood planks (pine or cedar). The last part of the interior (done concurrently with the walls and ceiling) is to add L-Track along the walls and ceiling; bolted into the structural components of the van. This is how we’ll mount the components in phase 2.

With the interior and exterior complete it’s time for components and cabinets. In our ‘Jump Start’ build we add a 48” cabinet just behind the driver and we install a raised bed in the rear. We also add an Espar heater under the passenger seat and a small wiring harness in the rear. We offer an EcoFlow Delta portable power station that can be strapped into the back. The wiring harness plugs into that to power the lights and the heater. We’ve found this to be the most functional ‘minimalist’ setup for a van allowing for light, heat, and a great night sleep. With a couple totes and some camping gear you can really start to enjoy some away time with your van.

There are a variety of add-on components, cabinets, and electrical that come next. In our complete builds we add a deluxe galley, rear water system with hot and cold water, an expandable bed to sleep tall people (up to 6’ 6”), and a bench seat with toilet, storage, and lagun table mount. We also add a full victron electrical system complete with cerbo gx, touch display, and wifi access along with a 400 to 600 amp LifePO4 battery bank.

Lastly comes an array of accoutrements including task lighting, a centralized control panel, WeBoost cell phone range booster, under cabinet lighting, garage bike rack mounts, swivel seats, sound system, bug nets on the big doors, … really anything the client might want added into their van.

What are you most nervous about with your DIY build?

  • Cutting holes in my van

  • Doing the electrical

  • Is it all just too complicated?

  • How much will this wind up costing me?

You can vote for more than one answer.



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