Building cabinets

Building the cabinets took the majority of the time. I had made some quick drawings of the design I had in mind: A fixed cabinet as kitchen, 2 closets (left, below the sink) and right, below the stove. In between I wanted to have 3 big drawers. Also, I wanted to have a fairly decent sized countertop, not the usual very small campervan ones. Also, I didn’t like the looks of the commercial available stove/sinks. I preferred a more modern, more house-style look.
For the sink, I took an small sink from Ikea, the Boholmen sink, https://www.ikea.com/nl/nl/p/boholmen-inbouwspoelbak-1-bak-roestvrij-staal-s99157501/
This sink is designed to be mounted in the countertop, but I am going to install it below it.
This will give the sink about 3cm more depth (since it’s below the wood), and allows me to use the leftover piece as a plate to cover the sink when not in use. (Thus providing more space).

For the stove, I found a nice, but affordable stove at Klarstein ( https://www.klarstein.nl/Grote-Huishoudelijke-Apparaten/Kookplaten/Ignito-Domino-gasfornuis-2-pitten-Sabaf-brander-glaskeramiek-zwart-Zwart-2-branders.html )
This was a 2-burner stove, with black glass cover, so very nice looking.
Originally it was for use with natural gas, but I’ve changed the jets to match the van’s gas (Propane)

Above the kitchen, I wanted to have some storage space, with integraded LED light stip in the bottom.
On the other side, next to the sliding door, I wanted a cabinet with 2 drawers, the bottom one will hold my refrigerator. I decided to go for a fairly small cooling box since this was much more affordable. I have bought the Mobicool FR40, a 40 litre refrigerator box. Compressor based (I didn’t want to go with absorbtion due to the high amount of power required, and I didn’t want to run it on propane). The countertop on this cabinet will be equally in heigh with the main countertop, providing even more space.
Between the bed and the cabinets, I wanted to have a seating area, so 2 people can easily sit across eachother. In night mode, the bed will slide out, using these 2 seats as support.
Just below the bed, a retractable tabletop is installed.

Also, there will be more storage above this whole part of the van. I didn’t want to extend the cabinets from the kitchen all the way to the back, since leaving it open gives more ‘feeling of space’, and I won’t bang my head against the overhead cupboards 😉

All cabinets are made of small (22mm x 32mm) pine battens. Using a pneumatic stapler and wood glue I have build the structural frame. All panels are made of 9mm plywood, the doors and front panels of the drawers are made of 15mm thick plywood.

For all panels, I didn’t go for the mostly used birch plywood. My local woodshop (I don’t buy wood at the DIY stores – Way overpriced and crappy quality) advised me to use Tipoply (some brand name), based on poplar plywood.
I looked for its specs, and its weight is almost identical to birch plywood, but it was a lot cheaper (I payed about 19 euro for a 9mm 244 x 122cm piece)

The doors on the upper cabinets are build of 15mm plywood, the center is cut out with a jigsaw, edges are rounded with a router. On the back, I’ve added about 5mm additional space with a router in order to fit a 12mm panel in. I used the router to remove this 12mm, creating a 3mm thick outer ring to glue the 12mm panel on, to give the ‘recessed’ front look.
All front panels (both cupboards and main cabinets) are made from 1 single piece of wood, carefully creating all holes and cuts.
On the main cabinet (the kitchen), I’ve added a 8cm tow kick.

Once the frame was stapled and glued, I covered the small holes created by the staple gun, sanded, primed, and painted (multiple layers of paint to give it a decent look). This took quite some time!

I also builded all the drawers, painted them and installed the sliding rails (with softclose).

For the countertop, I took a big beech wood panel from a local DIY store. Unlike most of the other plywood, this was a quite heavy piece of wood, but since my van is capable of a total weigth of 3500kg, and I did like the looks of this, I just took this panel.
From this I have cut 3 pieces: The countertop, the top of the smaller cabinet and the sliding table. So it will all look identical.
I’ve painted it with a rather dark vanish, Rambo Pantserlak Puur Palissander, Used 3 layers to give it a dark wood tint, while retaining the original wood structure. Between layers, everything was sanded to give it a nice smooth finish.

The handles are from AliExpress. The hinges for the doors are from Ikea, ( Komplement, soft-close, 4 pieces for 14 euro). The hinges for the upper cabinets are from DGN in Italy (I ordered them directly at the factory). Those are nice solid hinges, which don’t need additional support to keep the doors open, and the opening angle can be adjusted). And they were cheap, about 3.5 eur/piece. I saw those hinges at the CaravanSalon last year, so I knew I wanted those (DGN 2960)

Walls, weelarches and bulkhead

It was time to start the construction of the walls. Since I was planning a sideways bed in the back, I had to pay attention to the final remaining space. The Ducato is 200cm (78″) between the outside panels, I didn’t want to loose much space.
For the lower parts, around the wheel arch, this wasn’t an issue.
I removed the small supporting piece of steel to get a flat surface on the upper part. Since I wanted still some minimal level of insulation (It will be the bed area) I covered it with 10mm Xtrem. This also prevented the panel from rattling and gave it some level of protection and stiffness. On top of the Xtrem I glued a 3mm thick PVC panel. This acts as a protection, and will evenly distribute any punch loads. (I didn’t want the thin panels left alone, very likely to make small dents in it)
The final panel is covered with 4way stretch lining carpet to give it a nice finish.

The lower parts are filled with some remaining pieces of PIR insulation to cover the big parts, everything else was finished with sheep woll as insulation. When needed, I also installed the wiring, before covering it with a final sheet of plywood.

On the wheel arches, I used Armaflex to insulate those, build a frame using some slats, filled it with sheep woll and covered it with plywood.

In the back, I also made a small closet where the gas bottle will be installed. This one has been properly sealed using glue to prevent gas leakage. It also has a vent in the floor for any leaking gas.

In the front, where the old steel bulkhead used to be, I installed a new frame. This will be the new separation between the cabin and the living space. It is installed about 10cm more to the back, to cover for the curve the old bulkhead had (In order to fit the backrest of the seats).

Roof, insulation, installing vent, fan and solar

Once the floor was finished I started working on the roof and ceiling.

The holes were already cut, now it was time to install the vent (Fiamma Vent 40) in the front, and the Maxxfan in the back. Also, I had to drill a hole for the cables of the solar panel, install it’s cover and install the panel.

I’ve measured the layout and made sure I (just) had enough room for everything: The solar panel fits perfectly between both holes.

For the vent and the fan, I first had to made a support bracket on the inside. Used Polymer adhesive to mount this. On the outside, I made small pieces of an old Trespa board to cover the roof, making it a rather flat surface so I could fix the fan/vent.

On the inside, I have glued small slats of pine. This will support the final ceiling, so I installed them from left to right, each approx 30cm apart, so the final ceiling has plenty of support.
However, since the van is slightly curved, this job was taking some time. I had to cut each slat with a jigsaw for about 80%, repeating each 2cm, in order to make the wood easier to bend and follow the curves of the van. So.. with 8 pieces, 40 cuts each or so..
Created a small ‘tool’ from my jigsaw so I just could slide it in to get all incisions.

For the solar panel, I used a regular panel. They are much cheaper, and the long-term reliability of flexible panels is questionable. (Lots of people are reporting issues after a few years). On the roof, I glued 6 support brackets for the panels using Sikaflex 552AT.
I didn’t use screws. The Sikaflex has massive strenght, so no need for screws and/or take the risk of potential leaks.
I didn’t doubt the Sikaflex, if anything, it would be the paint. So I made sure everything was cleaned properly, used primer, and to be on the safe side, I sanded the paint on some small spots so the Sikaflex would stick to the bare metal (This was only done on the inside, the brackets had plenty of surface, so I made sure there was at least 1 cm additional adhesive with paint, didnt want to expose the bare metal to the elements off course.

Both the vent and the fan are glued with 1 layer of Polymer on the inner side (this is strong stuff), and 1 stripe of Dekaseal 1512 on the outside, making it waterproof. So even if the Dekaseal somehow fails, there is still an additional layer preventing water to come in.

Also glued the cable entry to the roof. This could fit right underneath the solar panel, so highly unlikely any water could come in!

Once everything was installed on the roof, I finished the inside of the ceiling, yet again using PIR plates. Since the ceiling was slightly over 2cm in thickness, I covered the PIR plates with 9mm Armaflex for additional insulation and to equalize the height to the support beams om the van.

Also installed the wiring for the Maxxfan and the ceiling spots in the ceiling, before finishing the upper layer with the Armaflex.

Installing power hookup, fixing sliding rail

On the outside of the van, I needed an electrical hookup.

Most campervans in Europe use a 16A CEE plug, but I didn’t like those (too big)

CEE connector

Since I was planning on installing solar and a DC charger (using the alternator to charge the leisure battery) it was likely I wasn’t going to use it frequently, so I wanted something less visible, smaller, and it would save me cutting another hole in the van.

I decided to go for a DEFA connector. Lesser know in the Netherlands, but more common in eg Scandinavia, where it’s frequently used for eg engine heaters during wintertime.
Smaller (very small compared to the CEE plug), but still suitable for automotive usage, and rated for 16A current. It is also used on service vans, but not so much on campervans.

I bought a set (Cable and connector). Pretty expensive, although I found a nice deal online from someone in Lithuania.

DEFA connection kit

I found some available space behind the fuel cover where I could fit it. When using the cable, the fuel cover has to remain (partially) open, but as stated, I’m not likely to use it frequently, so it will do the job. And it’s small and stealth 🙂

Fixing the sliding rail

Once that was installed, I had to check the rail of the sliding door. On these vans, this is a known issue: The sliding rail is made from RVS, while the van is metal (painted). Water will stay between those, causing rust. Since the nuts from the rail are on the inside of the van, it’s hard to reach once the build is done.
I’ve removed the rail, and surely, there was some rust. So I cleaned it, repainted it with anti-rust (Hammerite). I also added a slice of rubber, so there is a rubber gasket between the rail and the chassis. Not likely there will be any water soon.
For the rubber part, I bought a cheap bike tyre, which I cut open and made a nice strip of it.

Another job done 🙂

Some car upgrades: Installing CC and rearview camera.

There still were some things left to do on the car itself: I did want to have Cruise Control and a rear view camera.

After a search, I found out its very easy to retrofit cruisecontrol. On the older car’s (The X250 series from 2006 to approx 2010 or so), there is no need to program it into the ECU, install sensors or other difficult things.
Basicly: Get a CC stalk, run 4 wires to (unused) pins of the ECU, and provide power, and you’re ready to go.

So I went to the local scrap yard and bought a cruise control stalk. Found one on a 2006 Fiat Croma (passenger) car. I was already guessing it might be similar, since its rather common parts are shared between various models of a car, and I was right.

Since it was on a scrap yard, I was able to get some parts of the wiring loom as well. This would save me a bunch of work later on, since I had to somehow connect it, while there wasn’t an original cable (since my van wasn’t installed with CC)

For 20 euro I now had the stalk, wiring loom, connectors and a ECU connector (I needed some of those tiny pins).

On an an Italian website I found a pretty good description how to connect it: https://www.camperonline.it/fai-da-te/meccanica/installazione-cruise-control-fiat-ducato-x250/937

I had removed the small pins from the ECU connector wiring which I salvaged from the scrap yard, so I just had to remove the blank covers on my car and insert the new pins (with wires), and run those wires to the cabin.
And with a knife I had to remove some plastic of course to fit the actual stalk on its original location. There was a slight difference between the Croma’s stalk and the Ducato stalk, but this was easily fixed by removing some plastic with a knife (eg a locking piece was 2mm off.. Well, even without it, it can’t go anywhere so I just removed it).

Using some heatshrink I connected the wires to the new installed cable, found a switched 12V, connected a fuse and did a test drive. Great, CC was working perfectly. Total costs involved: 20 eur 🙂

I’ve archived some files and documents I have found regarding the CC: https://djsmiley.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/cruise/

I also replaced the old brake light (with incandescent bulbs) for a newer one with LED and integrated camera, which I got from AliExpress. Not the greatest image quality, but more than fine for the use as rearview.. and for 65 eur including display I couln’t expect 4K quality anyway)

Installing the floor

Now I could start on the inside.

First step was to thouroughly clean the floor, and cover all exposed metal with paint (Hammerite) to prevent rust.

Once that has been done, I installed some pine lumber and glued it with Polymer adhesive (Den Braven HighTack). Since I needed to have as much as possible height available, I tried to limit the floor height to approx 2cm (0.8″). I didn’t go any lower since I still wanted to have at least some level of insulation of the floor.
Also, this allowed me to run some pipes for cables from one to the other side of the van, including 2 wires from the starter battery to the leisure battery for charging.
On the entrance (next to the sliding door) I added some more lumber to better distribute the load on the floor.

I also cut the nessecary holes in the van for the gas vent and the Diesel heater (I’m going to place it in the back of the van).

Once the wood was in place, I installed all piping (and included the wires, since it was likely to be a pita to insert the cables afterwards). Used a bunch of Polymer adhesive to secure all piping.
Finally, I covered all spaces with 2cm thick PIR isolation boards. This is pretty rigid stuff so it will give the floor some more support. I screwed the floor (9mm plywood) into place and my floor was finished.
I did go for PIR, since it has better insulation value (Rd 0.9) and is more rigid, thus less supporting structure needed compared to eg Armaflex or Xtrem (Rd of approx 0.6 for 20mm thickness)

Installing the windows and vents

After all paperwork was done I could start the actual build. I removed the temporary installed floor, table, kitchen and so on, so I could start from scratch.

First thing was a pretty challenging task: Cutting all the holes for the windows and vents.

Althoug this wasn’t that hard, it’s still scary: You’re going to cut into the van, with no room for errors!

I already had my design in mind, and had ordered 4 windows:
2 fixed windows in the back
a sliding window near the drivers seat
a fixed window in the sliding door

I didn’t want the ‘typical’ campervan windows (didn’t like their design). The Seitz windows are in my opinion too expensive.

I decided to go for the Reimo/Carbest windows. They looked great and more luxerious, so I did order those. Also I’ve ordered the proper adhesive, cleaner and primer. I found a good deal on Ebay UK for 3 pieces of Dinitrol 500, cleaner and primer (36 GBP including shipping to NL).

To start, I have cleaned the outside and polished the paint. I wanted to have a clean surface to start with, and I had to get rid of the traces of the old labels anyway. Once the windows are fitted it would be hard to reach.

First I created a template from some cardboard, just to be sure I really didn’t mess things up. After that, I carefully draw it onto the van, triple-checked it.. Drilled 4 pilot holes in the corners, again checking for its location.. Everything ok.. Expanded the 4 holes so a jigsaw could fit and I cut the holes.

In total, I ended up cutting 6 holes in the van: 2 in the both back doors, 2 for the side windows, and 2 on the roof. (I’m going to install a fixed vent – The Fiamma Vent 40) in the front, and a Maxxfan Deluxe in the rear (above the bed area))

Once all holes were cut, I cleaned all edges and covered them with some primer to prevent rust.

Next job was to install the actual windows. Went smoothly, just followed the provided instructions. Once done I let it cure for approx 24 hours (just to be on the safe side)

Acquiring parts and a passenger seat

During the months leading to the temporary setup, paperwork and all stuff, I started to acquire the stuff I needed for the conversion. Searched for suitable (and nice looking) windows, and I wanted to replace the passenger double seat for a single seat.

In my van, I wasn’t going to install swivel seats. Instead, I’m building a wall seperating the cabin from the rear. For me, it has some huge advantages

  • Less noise in the cabin, since the back is seperated
  • No light coming in or out from the rear through the front windows
  • Better AC/heating efficiency, during driving I don’t have all the space in the back to heat/cool.
  • Less heat in the summer, since most of the (big) windows are in the cabin (only the cabin heats up fast, the back has better insulation and less windows)
  • Similar in the winter/cold, less heat loss from the huge windows. (and I didn’t want to fiddle with isolation sheets for the windows)
  • Cheaper: didn’t have to buy swivel bases.

Since I did want a door in the wall (for easy access between the rear and the cabin) I needed to get a seat, to replace the double passenger seat.

Unfortunately, the majority of the vans is sold with the double passenger seats, and there is a high demand for single passenger seats. This results in a very low availablity of passenger seats. Hard to get, unless you’re willing to pay extreme prices (I’ve received quotes of 500-750 euro for a USED seat!)

On scrap yards… nothing: Only drivers seats and double passenger seats..

So this lead me thinking: If drivers seats ARE available and much more affordable.. than this should apply to the UK as well. And I happen to know they are RHD over there…
Thus… a UK driver’s seat (Which can be acquired at a rather normal price, since they are not in huge demand unlike a passenger seat), can be perfectly used as a passenger seat on a LHD vehicle.

Long story short: I had a weekend trip to the UK, picked up a drivers seat for 50 GBP and ended up paying about 300 euro (Half the price of a seat here in the Netherlands) for a full trip through the Eurotunnel to the UK. At least 200 euro saving, AND a weekend trip to Norfolk (the seller was near Norwich)

Also, I started scouting Marktplaats for used stuff, and contacted some friends, some companies to get some of the lesser know equipment. I sourced my inverter used from Marktplaats, bought a Renogy DC-DC charger from Germany, hinges from Italy, a solar panel from a local installer (overstock) and so on.

Before acquiring the van, I had visited the CaravanSalon fair in Dusseldorf. I had created a list of vendors and a whole bunch of pictures and measurements of commercial available vans, so I had a pretty good idea of what my van should look like.

Also did view a huge amount of Youtube vanlifers / vanbuilds to see how others did their conversions (and which mistakes they made so I could not make those)

Paperwork! (Registering and taxes)

After approval from the RDW, the van was officially registered as a campervan.

Now I needed new license plates, since the body type has been changed.

But before this, I had to pay the BPM (Private Vehicle Tax). This doesn’t apply to company cars, but once it’s re-registered as a campervan, it’s not a company car anymore.
This tax is a huge amount of money…. for my van, it was about 9500 euro when new, but it decreases once the van gets older. Beeing a 2007 van, I’ve calculated there is a 95.32% discount, so I had to pay approx 450 euro remaining BPM tax.

Once they have received the payment, the RDW could proceed with the paperwork

A few days after the BPM payment I received the official confirmation and new documents from the RDW. With these you need to get new license plates (The license plates in the Netherlands are fixed, and remain the same when the van is sold. It only changes if you eg change the body type like I did)

So another 40 eur later I had 2 new (Yellow) license plates.

Now I had to apply for the ‘kwarttarief’, the 75% off the regular road tax. Since road tax, especially for diesel cars, is pretty expensive, this is a huge saving.

With a new registered weight of 2168kg (4780 lbs) the usual road tax would be approx 200 euro / month (including the 15% additional tax for older polluting diesel cars). (approx 235 USD/month).
As a registered campervan, this would decrease to a more affordable tax of approx 65 euro/month.

The belastingdienst (Agency who handles the taxes) requires it having registered as campervan, and it has to comply to some additional requirements. Most of them are equal to the RDW requirements. Most of them are some more specific details compared to the RDW: Minimum dimensions for the bed, height for the kitchen part, also requires a sink and water supply. Finally, they require some dimensions of the van, but with the Ducato L2H2 I’ll apply to those (only for the lower vans this requires a popup roof to match the required height).

Their full requirements are on https://www.belastingdienst.nl/wps/wcm/connect/bldcontentnl/belastingdienst/prive/auto_en_vervoer/belastingen_op_auto_en_motor/motorrijtuigenbelasting/bijzonder_tarief/inrichtingseisen_kampeerauto_camper (in Dutch)

So yet another form, now to apply for the kwarttarief discount on the road tax. This has been send in November 2019. I’ve also included the (required) pictures of the conversion, showing it matches their requirements)

When I had to pay them (the BPM), I had a payment request within a few days.
Now they have to approve my request for this discount.. guess what? Took them 3 months 🙂

Anyway: finally the lower tax has been approved. Now I could start the final conversion.

RDW approved!

Temporary build as campervan

After removing everything, I could start building.

The building would be done in 2 stages
– First: A very basis setup in order to reregister the van as a campervan.
– Once that has been done, restripping everything and start the final conversion.

In order to re-register the van as a campervan, you have to match certain requirements provided by the RDW (The Dutch version of the DMV/DVLA). The requirements are not that hard, but you must comply to those.

https://www.rdw.nl/particulier/voertuigen/kampeerauto/inrichtingseisen-aan-een-kampeerwagen/inrichtingseisen (In Dutch)

  • There must be seats and a table. A removable table is also allowed
  • There must be a bed. It’s allowed to convert seats into a bed
  • There must be some kind of cooking facility
  • There must be storage.
  • All these items must be fixed to the bodywork

Once you comply to those requirements, you can apply for an inspection. If they agree, the registration will be changed into a campervan.
The RDW will also weigh the van. The new acquired weight will be registered and will be used for taxing purposes (Road tax in the Netherlands is based on province (state), fuel type, body type and weight).

So it makes sense to keep the weight as low as (legally) possible 🙂

Another advantage of a fast, temporary install is the road tax. When having a van, with a weight of almost 2000kg, road tax is very expensive.
Once registered as campervan, you can apply for a much lower road tax (Kwarttarief in Dutch). With this, you ‘only’ pay a quarter (1/4) of the regular road tax. Still expensive, but a huge saving.
Since the campervan weight will be slightly more than the official empty van weight, it’s not a exact 75% discount, but pretty close if you build it smart 🙂

So in order to comply to the requirements, while maintaining a as low weight as possible, I started construction for the temporary setup.
I’ve made this from the cheapest (yet lightweight) plywood I could find. Using wood glue and a pneumatic stapler I could build fast, cheap and lightweight.
For the cooking facility, I used an old kitchen sink. As a stove, I’ve sourced the cheapest gas hob I could fine. With some glue and screws it also could be considered as ‘a fixed cooking facility’.

The table was also the cheap 9mm ply. Wobbly, hardly to be used as a table, but it did match their requirements. So with the temporary setup done, I went to the RDW, and surely, it was approved and I had the registration as campervan finished.

Now I needed to do some more paperwork. Being a registered campervan doesn’t mean you’ll get the tax discount: You have to manually apply for it.

The temporary setup