Where it all began
Myself and my partner Cian have always loved travelling, both Ireland and abroad, whenever we got a chance we took it. When it looked like Summer holidays in 2021 would be restricted to Ireland due to Covid-19 we decided we needed to make a plan that allowed us to travel around our beautiful country and not break the bank…. well, not entirely!! This led us to start looking into creating our very own self-build camper van.
Deciding on the type of Van to buy for a self-build
We spent quite some time going back and forth trying to decide which option was best for us. Should we go all out and buy a proper Camper van like a Hymer or a Fiat? Should we do a self-build camper van? If so, should it be a Micro Camper or a large high roof van such as a Transit or a Ducato?
Should we buy a van that has already been converted by someone else and save us the hassle of figuring everything out? These were a few of many questions flying around in our heads at the time. After some thought and a Pro & Cons list we decided that a self-build micro camper was ideal for us.
Why a Micro Camper self-build?
- Cheaper Option.
- Easy to drive and access areas that bigger vans or campers can’t.
- It’s only for 2 people.
- Perfect for carrying photography gear to photography jobs.
- Ideal for when we want to travel to locations for photoshoots.
- It will mainly be used for weekend trips or day trips.
It came down to looking for a LWB (Long Wheel Base) Ford Transit Connect or a Volkswagen Caddy Maxi, whichever we could source sooner would be the one we would go for.
Sourcing a van
Now that we had decided on the type of van we needed it was time to source one. Finding a van was quite difficult due to a number of factors, mainly due to Brexit causing a shortage in used vehicles and the high demand for Vans in general.
We searched for the right van for months. Daily we would check into, The Facebook Marketplace, Adverts, Done Deal, Car Zone and local van dealer’s websites. We also had rang a lot of local dealers and garages and requested to be called if what we were looking for came into stock.
We learned very quickly that the good vans don’t stick around for too long, so we had to be on the ball and act asap. Eventually we came across a 2017 Ford Transit Connect LWB on Done Deal and we made contact with the dealer. We organised a test drive and once we checked that everything was sound, we were now the proud owners of what was going to be a very fun lockdown project
The Van Conversion
Step 1 – Removing the Ford Transit Connect Bulkhead
The first job we had was to remove the Bulkhead. This would give us access from the cabin directly into the cargo area and also open up a lot more room. We wouldn’t be transporting anything bulky so we didn’t have any use for it. This is something that required a little more time and patience than expected. Some of the bolts in the cabin side were tricky to reach as they were located underneath the carpet lining. This is definitely a two person job.
Step 2 – Installing a Flettner wind powered Roof Vent
We bought the wind powered Roof Vent from Vanguard and it came with very easy installation instructions and a template for drilling the holes and the large vent hole. For this step we needed: A drill, a hole saw attachment, Hammerite, Silicone and of course the Rood Vent itself.
This was probably the scariest part of the entire van conversion, cutting through the roof. This would be the part that we couldn’t redo, we had one chance to get it perfect, so we did a practice run on an old sheet of metal. I would definitely recommend taking the time to do this to ensure everything goes smoothly.
We then sealed the vent with silicone, inserted the vent screws and touched up the area with paint rust inhibitor.
Step 3 – Installing the Vanguard Roof Bars
Roof bars were something that we definitely had to add to the van. Now we just need to buy kayaks!!
We bought them from Vanguard NI and again, the entire service was perfect. Once we had the bars installed, we had a question to make sure we installed them correctly. They answered very quickly and even confirmed it with their installation engineers.
Step 4 – Insulation and Sound Proofing
For the many void spaces in the van’s bodywork we used recycled plastic insulation from B&Q. This was inexpensive and easy to work with, as an added bonus, it’s better for the environment. We used high temperature spray adhesive to secure any insulation around door mechanics, this was to avoid anything jamming later on.
For the panels (including floor and roof) we bought a 10m roll of adhesive thermo-acoustic insulation which acted as sound-deadening as well as very effective thermal insulation. We even had enough left over to double up on most panels
Step 5 – Electrics and Leisure Battery
This was a very daunting task for me personally, luckily, my partner Cian is an electronic engineer and had some experience in the area. After a lot of research we decided on what we needed (and what we really didn’t) and purchased a Voltage Sense Relay (VSR) kit, a switch panel with USB and 12V charging and some temporary LED strip lighting. Cian sourced a 12V Leisure battery, cabling and connectors. Running the cables through the void spaces was definitely a two person job. The most difficult task of this stage was connecting the VSR to the van’s battery which would allow the leisure battery to be charged while driving. This involved running a cable through the firewall between the cabin and the engine bay. After a few hours of expletives and some cuts and bruises, it was a success. All that remained was to terminate all the cables.
It’s worth pointing out that we also added in some additional peace of mind in the form of an isolator switch which completely powered off the leisure battery when not in use. While this is not a must-have or widely done, it is something we thought was worthwhile considering the minimum effort and cost
Step 6 – Ply Lining
As we didn’t have a garage full of power tools to work with, buying sheets of Plywood and cutting it ourselves would be quite tricky. We found a business in Limerick also called Van-Guard that pre-cuts ply based on the make and model of your van. There wasn’t much of a price difference between getting it pre-cut and buying the sheets of plywood to cut ourselves so this was an easy choice. The ply arrived very quickly and we set to work installing it. We soon found that while it was cut for our type of van it still required some modification. By a stroke of good luck, our local Aldi had battery powered jigsaws in stock, so after a quick shopping trip we were soon trimming edges and cutting out curves.
On the floor we used a rivet gun to secure the ply to the body. We attempted to use this method on the side panels but found it too difficult and risked damaging the timber. We therefore went with screws which worked much better.
Step 7 – Carpeting
There wasn’t much debate about what colour carpet we wanted, we both quickly decided on Anthracite four-way stretch from Cosy Campers in Dublin. We quickly learned that we should have ordered more than we thought we needed so a second order was made not long after the first one arrived. Again, this was definitely a two person job. While one person was holding the carpet in place, the other treated both the carpet and the panel with High-temperature spray adhesive. Then the carpet had to be pulled taut and stretched into position, rounding any curves or obstacles. While quite labour intensive it was an enjoyable process and completely transformed the look and feel of the van, it was now starting to look more like a camper.
Step 8 – Flooring
We decided to try out the van first with just the ply lining flooring, to give us an idea of what we needed and what would be practical. After a few test runs we have decided on vinyl wood effect flooring, it will be durable, cheap and easy to keep clean. Flooring pictures to follow soon!
Step 9 – Camping Module Kit
We looked at a few options for the bed/ seating area of the van. We had a few options: Build one ourselves, hire someone to custom build a piece or buy a pre-made kit.
We discovered Errigal Campers had a Camping Module, a small compact camping kit that was made especially for small vans. It folded down to small size when not in use and within minutes it could go from a seated table area to a double bed. The price of the Camping Module was €1295.
We felt that this was a good investment as we would always have the option to sell the van and the Camping module separately in the future if we needed to. If we ever needed to carry anything big in the Van it was also very easy to lift the Module out temporarily or fold it down into its compact size.
Step 10 – Window Deflectors
These are a must have as they help keep the van cool by deflecting the heat and they also add a lot of privacy. They attach to the windows via suction cups and they stop 99% of the light coming into the van.
Step 11 – Finishing Touches
Step 12 – Van Adventure Time!
We added a €99 tent from Decathalon to our camping kit as an extra room. This has come in so handy when visiting campsites, so we can leave extra bits like a cooler box, table and chairs in it when we’re on day trips. It’s also been a lifesaver in Irish weather, when it has been raining it acts as an extra living spaces to comfortably sit down.
We are happy to answer any question about our micro campervan conversion on our Instagram page or if you would like to keep up to date with our van journey make sure to give us a follow.
@Two Wandering Lenses