Monthly Archives: October 2018

Camper Conversion – Electrickery

I have to admit that this was the stage of the conversion that I was least looking forward to. I think you’re either the sort of person who understands electrical wizardry, or your’re not. What I found when doing my research, was that a lot of people would say ‘I have no knowledge or experience of electrics etc. etc.’ and then go on to build some super dooper electrical set-up, using parts that I’d never heard of, let alone knew what to do with them. For this reason, I knew that what I wanted, was some sort of ‘all in one’, plug and play system that was as easy and straight forward as possible to fit, otherwise, I was going to have to go down the expensive route of visiting an auto-electrician.

As with all things, no matter how much research you do, you will no doubt find exactly what you’re looking for, after you’ve bought the item that you intend to use. I went with the first ‘plug and play’ set up that I found, basically because it offered everything that I was looking for. Having done some more research afterwards, it seems that there are more modern, efficient options available, but again, what we’ve fitted is tried and tested, it was straight forward, even for me, to fit, and it works. The option that we went for was the Sargent EC155 power management system.

As mentioned previously, I have no knowledge of electrickery at all, and even getting this kit out of the box filled me with doubt. However, after studying the instructions and getting my brain in the right frame of mind, I found that as long as I concentrated, I could make sense of what was what and how to connect it. In fact, the sense of achievement when getting the first light to work, was fantastic and probably more satisfying than any other part of the build. Once again, planning is key, making sure you get the wiring runs in the best places and planning access to them for any future issues etc.

Interestingly, because of my doubts about my abilities where this is concerned, whenever we’ve had an electrical issue, I’ve assumed that it’s because of something that I’ve done, whereas in one case, it was because the electrical supply at the site had failed and in another case, it was because the dodgy continental hook-up lead that we had borrowed, was faulty. This, of course I discovered after lifting the flooring to check my connections….lesson learnt!

Anyway, I’m not going to go into detail about the electrical set-up, as there are hundreds of resources out there, far better at explaining 12 volt electrickery than I possibly could. Suffice to say, that whatever your ability, if you want to do it yourself, there will be a way and don’t be put off by people who claim they know nothing, then go on to build the Starship Enterprise from some old bits of circuit board, a battery and a pump….

Camper Conversion – Lining

After we had spent some considerable time insulating the van, and fixing a moisture barrier in place, it was time to line it. As with all things when working on the van, what you originally plan, isn’t necessarily what you end up doing….! We had planned to ply-line, and then use thin furniture board to give us the finished look. However, after pricing up the final costs for the walls and ceiling, this method just wasn’t cost effective; we weren’t building a factory finish van, we were building a family friendly van. For this reason, we went with ply-lining, topped with vehicle lining carpet, and we were very pleased with the results. If you’ve never used this material before, you’ll find it very forgiving, and in many areas where we’d been worrying about achieving a nice finish, this material enabled us to get the effect that we wanted, with minimal stress/expense.

Due to the ‘square’ shape of our Ducato, we were able to ply line the sides and ceiling quite easily, whereas on other vans, the shape can present a few issues. As with all things van related, careful planning will help to ease your work, in this case, planning where to put your batons in relation to the size of the ply sheets.

As our van was intended to have 4 travel seats, we were obviously going to have to put some careful thinking into how we were going to achieve this. We definitely didn’t want ‘side facing; seats, as these aren’t suitable for travelling, even if they do have 3 point belts fitted; we wanted seats that were as near to factory safety as possible, if not stronger. After some inspiration from Kenny Biggins ‘Self Build Campervan Conversions’ book, we decided that the best way to get what we wanted, was to raise the floor behind the cab area and fit some ‘girders’ that the seats would be mounted upon. Sounds easy enough…… Well, this turned out to be one of the hardest parts of our build. We had to get the girders made up by a local fabricator, then we had to get some custom brackets made up, to attach the girders underneath the structural cross members, to give it the strength we wanted. Once these were in place, the seats could be mounted to the ‘girders’ with high-tensile bolts, and the floor built up around them. Phew…

One point worth mentioning here is don’t be put off by watching Youtube videos. Look at them as a source of ideas and inspiration; don’t think that the way they do things is the ‘correct’ way. What you’ll generally find, is that people who go to the trouble of setting up a ‘professional’ looking Youtube channel, will also have a fully equipped workshop, with every power tool imaginable, whereas you’ll be stuck with a hammer, screwdriver and a basic drill!

From the outset, we budgeted for a few, specific power tools, and then shopped around to get the best prices. In particular, I wanted a circular saw, for cutting the sheets of ply and batons, an ‘oscillating’ multi-tool, for various jobs, not least cutting awkward holes in the ply to fit the electrical components, a Jigsaw, for cutting more fussy shapes in the ply and an impact driver for helping get screws through the metal. These, in conjunction with some self-drilling screws proved particularly useful, and again, proves the worth of watching Youtube videos for ideas.

At the end of the fitting out, did these tools prove their worth? Yes, definitely. They saved a great deal of time and effort. Did we fall out with one of our neighbours because of the noise? Yes – but they’re miseries anyway…! Could we have done it without these tools? Yes, but it would have taken a lot longer, a lot more effort, and we were working to a deadline.