Now we focused on home comforts and everything that was necessary to really make the camper a liveable space. This was our plan:
We thought of it like a shell working from the outermost points in to the centre. The first step was insulation. After all, we didn’t want to be cold.
The main idea behind the insulation is that it stops the warm air from inside the van escaping to the outside, which it naturally does until there is no temperature difference between the inside and outside anymore.
There are a few different kinds of materials that can be used to achieve this. Insulation is a tricky matter however and keeping warmth in while allowing the van to ‘breath’, (so mould doesn’t build up), can become quite complicated. After much research and with our budget in mind, we decided to go for a mixture of materials or layers. Firstly, we closed all the big cavities along the bottom of the van with expanding foam. We tried to not use too much of this as it doesn't go far and you'd have to use tonnes of the stuff if you wanted it to be your main insulator. Then we began with the real 'layers' of insulation. The first layer was a self-adhesive reflective foil that we bought on eBay. This material is basically just meant to reflect heat back in to the van. We cleaned all the inner-walls so they were free of grease and dirt and stuck the foil everywhere, even applying it to the floor. Easy and quick!
For the second layer there are a variety of different options. This layer acts as a kind of bulk insulation which is meant to restrict airflow, locking warmth in. The material you use for this layer of insulation can vary depending basically on how much you want to spend. The most expensive kind, normally seen in high-class, pro-build conversions is a very dense foam. This can be bought on a roll or as separate panels and is easy to use and probably very effective but like I say, it's the most expensive of all the options. Other materials available include, polystyrene, fibre wool, sheep wool and cork matts. We decided to go for an 'eco' fibre wool as we believed it to be quite efficient in terms of insulation but also not too expensive. A nice benefit about it as well is it's soaked in oil so it doesn’t itch and there aren’t any particles flying around for us to breath in. We were really pleased with this stuff. One roll was enough for the whole van, it was easy to use and the work was finished quickly.
As a final step some people recommend a kind of moisture barrier, a plastic sheet on top of the insulation but underneath your walls. This is meant to stop moisture from the living area (cooking, sleeping, showering etc), getting in to the insulation and getting trapped causing mould or rust. After a lot of thinking though, we decided not to use it because it’s only effective if it’s done properly. You have to really be able to guarantee that there are no gaps or holes anywhere at all, otherwise moisture can still get in and most likely the problem is made even worse as it’s trapped by the ‘moisture barrier’.
As we couldn’t guarantee this, (especially with all the little nooks and crannies we had to insulate), we decided to leave it open. This left the fibre wool as our last ‘layer’ and we could only hope that it would naturally breath through proper, regular airing ( i.e. opening back doors and side door a couple of times a day, even in winter and always cooking with the window open).
With the insulation finished we could now have a good think about how to approach the cladding and walls.
Cladding & Walls
As already mentioned before, when we started looking for a van we seriously considered buying a finished camper, which would only need a bit of repair/correction work but otherwise ready for the road. After a long, hard search though, with many hours driving all over Germany we were left disappointed. Most of the camper vans in our budget didn’t look anywhere near as good as they did online and most troubling of all was the sterile, impersonal and impractical use of interior space. We wanted something that will cater to our needs and has storage and usable space exactly where WE need it. A bespoke camper however, was obviously completely out of our budget, so the only option left was to do it all ourselves. Our living area had to be cosy, warm and comfortable but still practical and most of all easy to build. For us, a cosy look already starts at the shell, meaning the walls, ceiling and flooring. Wood always has a cosy, rustic and natural look but can, especially in the camper/caravan world, be expensive and add a lot of weight to the vehicle. For this reason we decided again to go for a mixture of materials. On the ceiling, the front panel of the bed and the wall of the wardrobe/electrics cupboard, we used tongue and groove cladding. On the side walls, we made good use of lightweight, 3mm MDF panels and covered them in different fabrics.
The cladding was very easy and quick to put up. As the roof of the van is made of metal and we didn’t want to have to screw each panel directly in to the metal struts, we fixed battens of wood to each of them and then screwed the cladding at regular intervals to these.
As for the cladding on the bed and wardrobe however, it couldn’t have been easier. The tongue and groove system makes the process largely foolproof and again we just needed to screw at regular intervals so that the cladding is fixed to the frame of the bed/wardrobe and won’t move or fall. After fixing everything we oiled it all twice so that the wood was protected and waterproof and that was that. A quite painless part of the whole project and a big step in the process of making the camper ‘home’ completed.
A bit more skill was needed for the side walls. As I say, we decided to go for sheets of 3mm MDF which is cheap and light but of course doesn’t look very nice. Therefore, we chose to pretty-it-up with nice fabric. For the bed area we reused some old sofa throws.
First, we measured and cut the MDF to fit perfectly along the ever changing shape of the vans sidewall. It’s difficult as we couldn't really hold the MDF up against the wall and measure because the at this point it's simply too big in some places. In other words the wall won’t fit for example between the floor and ceiling which means we basically had to do it in parts or blocks and start cutting at first before you really know for definite if your measurement is 100% correct.
With the walls measured and cut in to the correct shape and size, we cut an appropriate piece of material out of the sofa throw (leaving around 5cm of overhang) and fixed it with spray-on glue. The overhang was then pulled around and stapled to the back of the MDF giving a nice, clean finish. Finally, the walls were screwed with self tapping screws directly in to the shell and metal struts running along the side of the van.
In a similar process we continued with the rest of the walls. These were slightly trickier but overall the process was pretty much the same. We glued the overhang edges down with an all purpose glue, rather than a spray on glue. Instead of using the fabric from the sofa throws we found a sturdy, wipeable and water resistant material on eBay. It’s called Oxford 600d and it's the kind of thing used for camping chairs, tents and general outdoor equipment. It comes in many different colours but we went for ‘Pastel Turquoise’ which reminds us of the colour of the ocean. Unfortunately though, due to it’s brightness it’s a colour which can get dirty quite quickly. A lesson we had to learn the hard way!
After we finished preparing the biggest piece of wall, (the part with the kitchen window in it), we carried it from the garage in to the van to fix in to position. We were delighted with ourselves, the fabric had stuck down nice and smooth on the wall and it looked really great. Then, just as we were climbing in to the van, watching every step as if undergoing a difficult parking manoeuvre, we brushed against the side door and put a big stain directly in the middle of our lovely, perfect wall.
You can imagine the atmosphere in the room I’m sure.
Luckily though we managed to remove a little bit of the stain and now after living in the van for a few months, we don’t even notice it anymore. It just a reminder of how such things are never really as bad as they seem in the moment.
Well that’s all for now. We're gonna try and get updates up more regularly so catch us next time where we'll be talking about the highs and lows of building furniture for a campervan, with no previous experience of carpentry. On the face of it, it seemed like a mad prospect but (spoiler alert!) it all worked out ok in the end.