Presenting… our diy campervan

Well the deadline was Christmas, and apart from a few final tweaks, our campervan is finished. YAY!

The festive corner

Fridge nicely stocked

We still need to finish some edging, paint the inside of the back door and make some tiebacks (ribbon will do for now, in keeping with the season) but this can all wait until the Christmas break.

Of course I’m biased, but I think Paul has done a stunning job – the van is unrecognisable from its days as a minibus and I can’t wait for lots of campervanning mini-breaks.

And the maiden voyage is not far off; we’ve booked one night on North Stradbroke Island at a beachside campsite called Adder Rock. We’re hoping the name is not prophetic, but just in case we’ll be requesting a pitch far from any rocks.

We’ll let you know how it goes. Merry Christmas everyone!

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Our campervan bathroom

With a new deadline of Christmas, we’ve spent the last few weekends adding the final touches to the campervan.

The bathroom is now finished:Campervan bathroom

Campervan bathroom

The glass mosaic tiles were left over from our own bathroom so we thought we’d continue the red theme through from the living area.

We have boxed in the wheel arch behind the toilet, which also provides a handy shelf or magazine rack:

The doors separating the bathroom from the kitchen are made from the same gloss panels Paul’s used for all the woodwork (sold as pantry doors in Bunnings – if the link is saying ‘sold out’, err.. we have bought quite a few.)

He added new hinges, handles and a lock at the top of each door, so they can be secured in both the open and closed positions.

Campervan bathroom

So the interior is very nearly complete.

In other news, the curtains are finished – hurrah! My new nemesis is the tiebacks; they are being decidedly tricky.

The great outdoors

Having spent the best part of a year building our campervan in preparation for lots of mini-breaks in the great outdoors, a thought suddenly occurred to me: I hope we do actually like the great outdoors. In 13 years together, our experience of campsites has extended to one short holiday travelling around New Zealand a few years ago – a campervan trip we enjoyed so much it encouraged us to build our own.

Limited experience of ‘the outdoors’ (in NZ)

The main reason we’ve never truly embraced this quintessentially Australian lifestyle is probably due to a complete LOVE of hotels. Whether it’s a city centre spa nestled in a quirky cultural quarter, a boutique B&B perched on a clifftop, or, quite frankly, a Holiday Inn on the M1, if there’s ever a chance for a weekend away, you can put our names down.

It’s such a treat staying in a hotel; a real feeling of escapism. I love the sense of anticipation when you first pull back the curtains and peak at the view. The excitement when you prise open the mini-bar and involuntarily gasp at the price of the Pringles. The thrill when they replace all your toiletries the next morning (when actually you’ve just stashed the first lot in your washbag). The indulgence of hanging the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, just because you can. (Much to my sister’s embarrassment when I was sharing a room with her.)

While room service and complimentary smellies might be harder to come by at a campsite, it’s the sense of freedom we’re hoping to capture in the campervan. The chance to escape after work on Friday, put a pin in the map and then just rock on up to somewhere new – particularly somewhere with a beautiful view. (Of course the fact we’ll be able to open the fridge when we get there and not have to pay for Pringles is an added bonus.)

And having devoured every episode of Bear Grylls in recent years, I feel we’re fairly well equipped to deal with anything nature might throw at us. I will be quite content to sit under our awning and twirl a twig for three hours to produce a spark for our stove. And if ever a cold front moves in and we get caught in a storm, I will be instructing Paul to immediately strip off all his clothes and perform 20 star jumps naked to get his (and everyone else’s) heart pumping.

<I won’t be inserting an appropriate picture here.>

Anyway despite these useful skills, for all intents and purposes, we are definitely camping novices. So we thought we should conduct a trial run before our van is finished, just to brush up on our camping etiquette and basically check that after 12 months’ work, our enthusiasm for an outdoors mini-break is still intact.

The opportunity arose a few weeks ago when we visited some friends in Mackay, 1000km north of Brisbane. We decided to break with tradition and, after spending one night in ‘a nice hotel’, we checked into the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort for the next night. I’ll do a quick review of the campsite and our experience in the next blog post – not that it particularly warrants the added suspense, but from a ‘technical perspective’ I can separate it out from blog posts about the campervan conversion.

Thankfully though, we had a great time. And suffice it to say, star jumps are so last year.

Preparing for a hot summer – campervan ventilation

Summer is officially here, and the temperature has soared over the last few weeks (sorry to anyone shivering in the Northern Hemisphere). All through winter I was wondering if we’d have enough cupboard space to store a 25 tog arctic duvet during the day (answer: not a chance), and suddenly it’s a question of how we’ll be able to cool the van down, particularly at night.

The front of the van has air conditioning, but it only works when the engine’s running. So as extra ventilation, we have the ceiling fan which provides a good breeze, and even when it’s not switched on, the open vent lets some fresh air in. We also have an air vent in the door next to where we’ll sleep:

To fit a vent:

  • Draw an outline of your vent panel on the inside and outside of the van.
  • On the outside of the van, cut three 10cm diameter holes through the body work with a hole saw, and seal them with a rust proofer. Note – if you’re fitting a vent to a door like we were, you’ll find it has extra bracing and reinforcements than the rest of the van – be careful to avoid these when you’re drilling.
  • Drill 6 bolt holes around your outline on the outside and rust proof each one.
  • Squeeze a line of silicon around the inside edge of the vent panel intended for the outside of the van (to prevent water seepage).
  • Attach this vent panel to the outside and bolt through.
  • On the inside of the van (ours is hard board) cut a square hole a few centimetres smaller than the outline you’ve drawn, and tighten the bolts you’ve just screwed through with nuts. Take care not to screw them too tightly, as the outside body work will start to bend inwards.
  • Fit the inside panel over the template you drew and simply screw 6 bolts into the hard board.

We have two other vents in the van: in the battery compartment and next to the fridge. The fridge didn’t strictly need one, but it’s an added safety feature in case it ever overheats. These two vents were much more straightforward to fit; they’re not visible from the inside so the open hole can be exposed, meaning you only need to bolt a vent cover to the outside. Here’s the battery vent from the inside:

We also have an extractor fan above the gas stove:

Paul boxed in the top using the same gloss wood he’s used all the way through.

So that’s the campervan’s ventilation, but hopefully for most of the time we’ll be sitting outside under our lovely new awning!

For some reason awnings are incredibly expensive. This one is a Fiamma ‘bag awning’ from Caravans Plus and a really basic version, but it was still one of our most expensive campervan purchases. You have to roll it down manually, but it seems to work okay.

The frame is fixed to the van and you roll the awning in and out of its bag. You can then remove the cover and store the whole thing inside when you’re not using it.

So there’s not much left to do now: refit the ceiling, build a bathroom door, fit the door handles and then we’re almost there! Oh, and make 11 curtains.

White light district

Timing is everything. As I stumbled in late from work the other day, Paul called out, ‘Great timing, I’m just ordering the lights for the campervan. For the entrance, I was thinking red would look good, to match the cabinets?’

Thank Crunchie I sneaked through that last set of traffic lights on amber.

‘Or blue, to match the curtains?’ he asked hopefully.

And breathe.

‘Red to match the cabinets or blue to match the curtains?!’, I may have shrieked, while having visions of pulling up at our first campsite under the disapproving gaze of seasoned caravanners curiously trying to work out whether we’re a fifth emergency service or mobile brothel.

Now usually of course, the key in all successful partnerships – be they in life or in campervans – is to compromise. On other occasions, one exasperated shriek is all it takes. Without further ado (and in the rather fortunate absence of a purple lighting option) we ordered white lights. The surfer-chic dream is still alive.

The ceiling lights are very cool. You operate each one individually just by tapping it – once to switch it on, another to dim it and a third to turn it off. It’ll come in very handy when we want to create our own mood zones in different areas of the van, although until I finish the curtains, romantic and atmospheric will have to be the default as the full beam is visible for miles around.

On the subject of curtains, well some familiar obstacles have surfaced – namely my uncooperative sewing machine and complete lack of sewing ability. Oh to have some more cushions to tackle – they were a DODDLE in comparison.

Post edited to add: if any of my fellow campervan diy-ers are still persisting with this blog in the hope of finding some useful tips (firstly, well done), we bought the lights from www.qled.com.au. They do a huge range of styles and colours. Each ceiling light is wired into the 12v battery via the main control panel, and the entrance lights are operated by their own retro switch – just to the left in the photo.

A breath of fresh air

When we first started building the campervan, a popular discussion was whether to install a pop-up roof to give us some extra head height inside. Actually, I’m not sure it ever really evolved into a discussion as such, it was more a case of:

Me: Please can we have a pop-up roof?

Paul: I’m afraid not.

It would have been a huge and expensive job to raise the roof, and seeing as we’re never going to spend a lot of time meandering from one end to the other, it’s been the right decision.

Yesterday though, we did enjoy a brief taste of vertical freedom, and were momentarily permitted to uncurl ourselves out of a nicely perfected stoop and stretch out to full height.

Admittedly it was a bit restrictive, and we couldn’t move our head for fear of being garotted but it was exciting nonetheless.

The hole is for our ceiling ventilation fan, which will provide a welcome through-draft during the summer months. Our fan is a Fiamma Turbo Vent P3.

So, how to install it:

  • Measure out a cardboard template to make absolutely sure the hole you’re about to cut in the roof of your van is the right size.
  • Draw around the template on the inside ceiling, and cut a 50mm diameter hole in each corner with a hole saw:

  • Using tin snips, cut out the rest of the hole according to the template.

  • Position the fan in place on top of the roof.
  • Drill 20 holes, 5 down each side, through the frame of the fan into the roof. Remove the fan.
  • Rust proof all the cut edges and exposed metal around the hole with a heavy duty primer.
  • Squeeze plenty of silicon around the edge of the frame and around the hole itself – we hopefully used enough to withstand a Queensland summer storm.

  • Place the fan in position on the roof with the hinge at the front (to stop it flying off when you’re whizzing along) and use stainless steel bolts to fix it in place.

At this stage Paul was on top of the roof screwing the bolts down while I was inside holding them from underneath, and trying to dodge the long drips of silicon that squirted through every time he put a screw in. (I can attest to its waterproof qualities though, it is still adorning my hair three showers later).

  • Wire the fan into the 12v circuit via the master switch.

You turn the handle to open up the roof, then switch it on. Ours provides an amazing breeze and should cool the campervan down pretty quickly. It does sound like we’re about to take off if we turn it up very high, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can use it at night.

As the pictures above show, Paul has now also insulated the ceiling using the remainder of the flooring insulation, so thankfully our hair no longer starts to sizzle when we bump into the metal ceiling. Next stage is the lighting!

Plumbed in and ready to go

After the overindulgence last week of filling both sinks to the brim to test the campervan’s plumbing system, came the inevitable morning-after headache when we tried to empty them. The main problem has been finding fittings to connect the various flexible pipes to their respective tanks. But, with a bit of wrestling and a lot of silicon, everything seems to be secure and the cabinets have stayed dry! The only unexpected outcome is when we empty out the bathroom sink, the kitchen sink fills up:

Apparently it’s because our driveway slopes downwards, although I may keep it up my sleeve as a last-ditch party trick if we ever end up at a particularly sociable campsite.

This is the waste water tank, secured into place with some luggage straps.

The main grey hose leads into the tank from the two sinks, and we can empty it out via the blue tap at the bottom, which leads to an outlet with a normal hose connection:

We fill the cold fresh water tank up from the inlet pipe:

The pipe was a bit too wide to fit through the standard inlet connection, so Paul heated the end in boiling water until it was soft and pliable enough to fit. When the pipe cooled, it expanded back to its previous size and filled the hole nicely.

From there, it runs around the back of the waste water tank and into the fresh water tank:

The vertical pipe is a ventilation hose, which exits just to the left of the inlet hole (see above), and the metal bracket at the front holds the tank in place.

The real test for the whole plumbing system will come when we’re bumping along one of Queensland’s finest outback roads with a full water tank; it may be prudent to fill our limited storage space with more emergency mops than emergency cardigans for our first few trips.