In Part I of the DIY Promaster Camper Conversion Guide we covered how to come up with a camper van layout and how to install windows, fan, insulation, and electrical.
In Part II of this conversion guide, we will cover how to do everything that’s actually seen: how to build an awesome bed and kitchen area, storage, finishing the walls and ceiling, and a look at the accessories we added in to make our life on the road a bit more comfortable.
For the van’s interior, we wanted to create a simple, clean look with light colored cabinets and walls and a contrasting dark wood ceiling, countertop, and floor. On the outside, we wanted to make it as capable as possible to take on any road conditions we might encounter during our trip to South America.
Promaster Camper Conversion Guide – Part II
1. Ceiling Paneling
The first part of our homemade campervan build was to install the ceiling slats. We wanted the slats to be thin to give us as much headspace as possible and in dark walnut color to provide some awesome contrast between the slats and the white insolation behind it.
The oak paneling that is typically sold at the stores is thick so we decided to make our own. We used 1/8” 4×8 wood paneling sheets from Home Depot and we cut them into 2” wide strips.
We stained these strips in this amazing dark walnut stain to give them a finished look.
We placed the strips about a half-inch apart and attached them to our Promaster roof’s crossbeams with stainless steel screws.
We did floors a bit different than most people in their DIY campervan conversions. We wanted a modern wood floor but didn’t want to make it too thick and eliminate our much-needed headspace. Instead of placing plywood down to level everything first, we decided to go with wide plank laminate flooring because it’s very thin and easy to install by snapping the pieces into place.
To level the floor, we instead cut small strips of ¼” insulation and put them into the floor grooves to keep the laminate flooring from buckling and warping when standing on it.
After the insulation was secured down with tape to prevent it from moving around, we used this underlayment noise barrier to provide additional insulation and noise reduction.
We went with a laminate wood flooring that had a natural wood look and only put it in the areas that would be seen, otherwise we would have needed another box of flooring that would have mostly gone to waste.
After the laminate flooring was done we put an aluminum bar on the doorstep to prevent it from breaking as we step in and out of the van.
All in all, the flooring was by far the easiest and fastest part of the whole build.
3. Bed Frame
Creating a custom bed frame was pretty straightforward but we did have a few requirements that needed extra modifications.
We travel with our cat so we needed to create a litter box area in the back as well as a catwalk to access it from the front that would also double as a hiding area. We also wanted a permanent bed with as much storage as possible underneath.
We planned on using half of the storage area under the bed for clothes, our camera gear, and other essentials, so we wanted it to be accessible from the inside the van.
The back half would be accessible from the rear doors and would be used to store our hiking gear, water tanks, litter box, and house batteries.
We started by creating the main frame from 2×3’s. We used a similar setup in our Honda Element conversion project and it held up great so we knew it would definitely be strong enough but not as bulky as 2×4’s.
We used wooden slats to make most of the bed top but used plywood on hinges to make access doors to the catwalk on the left and to our hamper on the back right. We also used 3/8” plywood to create a shelf inside the closet.
The front of the cabinet frame was finished off with smooth 1” pine boards.
We created some simple doors for the closet out of ½” birch plywood and used self-closing hinges and heavy duty door magnets to keep everything closed while driving. We painted the frame and the doors white to give it a simple, clean finish.
All the way on the front right, just in front of the wheel well, we created a hard-to-find sliding door where we will hide our drone in case of a break-in.
In the back, we placed the two house batteries against the dividing plywood and used ½” plywood to make an enclosed battery compartment. We vented the batteries to the outside by placing a ½” plastic hose through a hole we drilled right below the tail lights.
At this point, we also installed the fuse block and solar charge controller in the back and finished up hooking up the electrical we ran in Part I.
The finished bed dimensions came out to be 74” across and 54” wide. We used this full size 6” memory foam mattress and it fit perfectly. If we were any taller, we would have installed less insulation on the sides (we used a total of 1.5 inches on each wall) and made the space as much as 77” wide.
For the campervan kitchen area, we had a few requirements to improve our long-term traveling and encourage us to cook as much as possible. Some of our must-have requirements were a small built-in fridge to store fresh food, a sink with running water, and a permanent propane stove top.
We bought a pre-built kitchen cabinet from Habitat For Humanity’s Restore for $10 and built everything around that base. The cabinet already came with doors and drawers and just needed a fresh coat of paint along with a few small modifications to fit the fridge.
Before installing any of the kitchen cabinets in our Promaster camper van we created a hexagon pattern backsplash that would go behind the counter. We used 3/8” wood to create the backsplash and covered it with this hexagon backsplash sticker instead of using ceramic tile. The sticker looks just like the real ceramic counterpart but much easier to install and no chances of breaking it when driving over rough roads.
The backsplash was the perfect place to put a few charging outlets, a voltmeter to keep an eye on the battery voltage, and an on-off switch for the water pump. Once the backsplash was installed, we started working on the kitchen countertop that would go on top of it.
We bought a beautiful dark wood butcher block countertop from the clearance section at Ikea for $70 to go on top of the cabinets.
A couple of holes later the countertop was ready to be mounted along with the sink and cooktop.
The permanent RV stainless-steel cooktop runs off propane but we didn’t want to keep a large propane tank inside the van for safety and space reasons. Instead, we chose to use the common 1 LB Coleman green propane containers which usually last over a week of cooking breakfast and dinner every day. When empty, we refill them from an 11 LB tank that we keep in a Pelican Case on the outside of the van.
The sink came from Ikea and is the perfect size for a van conversion. Under the sink, we found a couple of adapters to connect simple ¾” clear tubing and drain it out to the outside. We found an existing drain hole at the edge of the floor and just enlarged it to fit the tubing.
We found this simple, cheap faucet on Amazon that only had one water line coming in instead of the usual hot-cold combo. To make sure we don’t waste too much water, we changed out the standard 1.5 gallon-per-minute aerator on the tip to this adjustable aerator with a switchable flow rate between 0.5 gpm and 1.5 gpm.
To store enough water for 1-2 weeks we decided to get two 7 gallon containers for water storage. We needed one container to store filtered drinking water and one container for sink water, a must while traveling through Central and South America unless we simply used filtered water for everything.
To supply the running water on demand, we installed this 2.3 gpm 12v water pump in the back just above the water tanks. We tested just about every water pump under $100 from Amazon and this was by far the quietest pump, barely noticeable when on.
We used a stainless steel braided hose to connect the water pump to the faucet because they can withstand high pressure, are safe for drinking water, and have a threaded connection on each end instead of using barbed fittings that can easily leak.
We already had the perfect built-in fridge and freezer that we used on our previous Honda Element SUV conversion. We added an inch of insulation all around it to make it more efficient and have it turn on less frequently and drilled 2” holes into the side cabinets to allow fresh air to flow behind the fridge.
We had some leftover countertop that we used to create the backing plate for our magnetic spice rack next to the fridge.
One of the hardest things about life on the road is resisting the temptation to eat out instead of cooking whenever possible, saving money and creating healthier meals. Having this permanent kitchen that includes all our requirements makes it easy to stick to the plan.
5. Finishing Touches
After creating all the cabinets and interior, we wanted to make a few additional modifications during our van conversion process that would increase our comfort and add décor to the van.
We added a swivel base to the passenger car’s seat which is great for hanging out at night. We didn’t know how much we would use it before installing but it turned out to be one of the best additions to the van and one that we use daily.
We also wanted to add some privacy curtains inspired by the campervan rental we had on our previous trip through Iceland. We bought a large orange curtain from Ikea that we cut into smaller individual curtains for the windows and we attached them in place with photo hanging wire.
We put in permanent curtains in the side and back windows, and also created removable curtains for the front passenger and driver windows that are held in place by magnets. The front passenger and drivers windows are already tinted so we use these removable curtains only at night.
In the outside rear of the van, we added a Pelican 1640 case that we use to store extra fuel, our super handy foldable grill that we use to cook outside any chance we get, and the 11 LB propane tank. We drilled some holes through the rear door to attach the case and added a couple of aluminum backing plates behind the door so that it can support all the weight.
On the roof, we built a custom roof rack out of 80/20 aluminum bars and wooden slats.
The rack is great because it creates the perfect spot to hang out at night or watch the sunset, and it hides the solar panel and ceiling fan when trying to stealth camp.
To access the roof rack we added this universal aluminum van ladder to the other rear door.
Before heading out on our South America trip we decided to upgrade the tires to better all-terrain tires. The roads in Central and South America are known for being pretty rough and muddy, and many people warned us about the constant flat tires from potholes and nails.
We put in a set of Cooper STT Pro tires that are very aggressive and have reinforced sidewalls. These should be able to get us to more places without getting stuck and should keep us from getting flat tires constantly.
6. Van Conversion Cost
Since we left our full-time jobs to travel our conversion budget was pretty tiny. It was very important to us to keep the costs as low as possible while picking out the most durable materials that would last at least a few years on our road trip from the US to Argentina.
We spent a total of $2900 on our DIY campervan conversion. The highest costs for our Promaster built were $400 for the fridge, $220 for window tint and $200 for a passenger swivel seat. We spent around $500 on materials from Home Depot like wood, insulation, nails etc.
After spending 4 months on the road everything is still working exactly as planned and we couldn’t be happier with how our van turned out.
We hope that by showing you how we did our Promaster campervan conversion we can inspire you to join the awesome van life and travel in a campervan. If you want to find out more about our current travels and our monthly van life travel expenses, check out our monthly recap posts.
One of the best parts of van life is the amazingly supportive community behind it. If you have any questions on how we converted our Ram Promaster van into a camper van, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below!
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