5 Easy Steps To Build A Custom Camper
Custom camper conversion vehicles are becoming all of the rages within a certain demographic of the RV community. There are still the traditional RV rigs you see all up and down the interstates and RV parks and campgrounds.
There is another kind of custom camper that is becoming more and more popular amongst full-time and part-time travelers though.
As we continue to travel across the United States in our custom camper, we are noticing more and more of the same type of RV vehicles.
These custom camper RVs are in the shape and form of school buses, cargo vans, box trucks, coach buses, and some, well, we wouldn’t begin to be able to describe what kind of rig you would define them.
The point is, full-time, part-time, and nomadic travelers are not just in your traditional Winnebago RV type of vehicle anymore.
The skoolie community is growing by thousands of people every year. Van life has become a sensation with not just the Millenials, but with Gen Xers and Boomers alike.
A significant portion of our North American society is waking up to the notion of working a 9-5 job all of their healthy young lives only to reach retirement and find they are too tired to do any of the things they have dreamt about all of their lives.
Besides building custom campers for people to live out their dreams of travel and adventure, we also teach them how to quit their 9 to 5 jobs in the first place and live a life worth living.
If you want to learn more about How To Quit Your 9 To 5 Job and Travel full-time, click that link.
What Is A Custom Camper?
The quick answer here, but we advise you, do not to get too caught up in this single definition, is that a custom camper is any type of vehicle that has been converted to a self-contained RV or camper.
Of course, there are degrees and opinions of what one would consider a custom camper. Also, on that same note, there are many different types of custom campers.
If you don’t know What Is A Skoolie, click that link to learn more about that.
A few that come to mind, from our own personal experience and exposure, would be a skoolie custom camper, a van custom camper, a box truck custom camper, a coach custom camper, and even traditional RVs can be turned into a custom camper.
A custom camper can be just about anything you want it to be. We are seeing more and more cars and SUVs turned into custom campers. We even have a few friends who are traveling and living full-time in their cars.
It is their choice to do so by the way. It is not a representation of their life or financial circumstances.
Sure, people all over the country are forced to live in their cars due to the economy and poor work market.
The people we are talking about in this post are those who are making a conscious effort to live an alternate lifestyle of adventure and travel.
Think about it for a second
Really, all you need for a custom camper, in reality, is a reliable vehicle to take you to your different destinations. A vehicle to safely, legally, and comfortably sleep in and a way or space to carry the minimal amount of items to survive in the environment you are camping, living and traveling in.
We have friends who car camp all over the United States. Granted, it may not be as comfortable or functional as a fully outfitted and off-grid custom camper van, skoolie, RV, or coach, but it still checks the requirements of being a custom camper vehicle.
We think, sometimes, we all get a little too caught up in trying to haul around as much stuff as we can. Having a refrigerator, stovetop, and oven, lots of solar and house batteries, and a queen or even king-sized bed is very nice.
At the end of the day though, it is more about the destination and experiences you encounter once you get to your destination than where you sleep, how many outfits you have, or whether or not you can bake a casserole in your custom camper oven.
Is it Cheaper to Build Your Own Custom Camper?
We hear this question all of the time and have pondered it on occasion ourselves. It is cheaper to build your own custom camper?
Ultimately, yes, it would be cheaper to build your own.
That being said, unless you are prepared for the time it is going to take you, and the expense of the tools and equipment needed to build your own custom camper, then it certainly warrants strong consideration before taking on a project like that.
While you will save on labor costs, which would cut your custom camper conversion costs in about half, you still have a ton of work ahead of you.
Who Can Build A Custom Camper?
Literally or more accurately, technically, anyone can build their own custom camper. That being said, the degree of safety, craftsmanship, and experience should be considered before taking on such a project.
As we mentioned, anyone can build their own custom camper. Building it yourself may save you some money on labor, but that saving is going to get eaten up by the tools you are likely going to have to buy to do a good job and the time it is going to take you.
Remember, you can’t pay yourself labor to build your open custom camper, but that doesn’t mean all of those hours, weeks, and months are not worth something. Money is time, and time is fleeting.
Hiring a professional who can knock out a complete build in about three months is going to take the average person around 4 times that in time.
Our first skoolie conversion took us 15 months to complete. Mind you, we were working full-time jobs and had never built anything like a skoolie before either.
Chances are, you have not taken on such a project and are likely going to be working at least part-time while building your custom camper.
With that being said, let’s break down the building requirements for a skoolie, camper, or van conversion.
What Do I Need To Build A Custom Camper?
There are five main categories of requirements to build a camper conversion.
- Skills to Build A Custom Camper
Do you know how to build basic cabinetry? Are you comfortable with designing and laying out an electrical diagram and then putting that layout into the application?
Being able to create a plumbing schematic and then construct it so that it works flawlessly. Designing and installing a solar array that will sustain your daily needs and is safe.
These are just a few of the skills required to build a custom camper.
- Overall knowledge of how to build a camper
Do you have an overall working knowledge of constructing a camper? Being able to balance the load on your vehicle’s chassis will save you hundreds of dollars in tires and tire alignments as you travel. Understanding how the electrical, plumbing, solar, and all of the other systems work and flow together.
- Understanding and being able to implement all stages of a camper build.
Understanding the systems you want to put into your camper without creating conflicts between those systems. Understanding what your and your family or travel partner’s individual needs are to live a comfortable and productive life every single day.
- A place to work on and complete the custom camper project
Having a safe, reliable, and efficient place to construct your camper without breaking any local ordinances, laws, HOA, or POA rules. A place where you can consistently work regardless of weather conditions or temperatures.
Does the location you want to build your custom camper allow the delivery of parts and packages? Is it easily accessible for your custom camper vehicle itself?
- The tools required to safely and effectively build a camper.
Turning a shell of a vehicle into a fully functional and safe vehicle to not just travel in, but to live in is going to require a significant amount of tools. Besides the amount, complexity, and cost of the tools, are you equipped to operate and utilize all of the tools in a safe and productive manner?
Plumbing in an RV is not all that difficult. We feel people put too much emphasis on the complexity of a plumbing system in a camper. Now, there are certain plumbing rules you have to follow to effectively install a working plumbing system into any kind of structure or mobile vehicle.
The basic element of plumbing in a camper is a freshwater and grey water source, black water or waste option, a water pump, plumbing lines, a little bit of electrical, and your plumbing fixtures.
Sounds simple right?
Well, it really is!
Electrical is one area of a custom camper build that intimidates most people. We sure were intimidated by it on our first skoolie build. We learned as much as we could and took it slowly.
No one got electrocuted and we didn’t burn our bus down!
Electrical can be broken up into two categories.
12v system and 110v system.
We prefer to keep our electrical systems simple and lean heavily towards the 12v system components and appliances.
Solar, while technically a part of your electrical systems, is a whole other piece of the custom camper project. Solar can get a little complicated as you add more and more pieces to it.
Ultimately, everyone who has solar wants to be able to run their appliances, have light, charge their cell phones, computers, and cameras, and maybe play a video game or two.
If you are not adept at how solar and house batteries operate, we highly recommend getting someone who is familiar with these systems to do it for you.
Carpentry is one of those areas of a custom camper conversion that is rather subjective. What may look like a masterpiece of craftsmanship to one person may look hideous and trash to another.
Besides just cutting and piecing your drawers, countertops, and cabinets together, there is a certain amount of skill involved with knowing how to properly sand wood, stain, poly it, and even paint it.
It may look simple and easy to do, but nice, polished, and professional-looking interior woodwork is harder than you might think.
Tools To Build a Custom Camper
Building a custom camper is not the project you are going to get by with just a hammer, pliers, and a drill.
There are some basic tools required to build that epic camper. Here is a short list of tools we have used on both our skoolie and van builds: Mind you, this is not exhaustive, as different builders will prefer different tools.
Various Drill Bits (metal and wood)
Various jigsaw cutting blades (metal and wood)
Various Drill bits
Phillips Head Screw Driver
Flat Head Screw Driver
|Open and boxed end wrench set
Exacto Knife/Razor Knife
Kreg Jig Tool
Paint Brush (various sizes)
Sand Paper (various courses)
Brown Paper (for masking and template)
Wire connector Crimper
Gorilla or Duct Tape
That is quite a list of tools. Believe us, we know! We used every single one of those tools on the different custom camper conversions we have completed over the years. These aren’t luxury items either.
There is a lot of work in so many different facets of construction that goes into a custom camper build. Not having the right tools to get the job done can mean mistakes and sloppy work, which ultimately means, more money to pay for those mistakes!
Let us know if we have missed something on this list in the comments below.
Place To Build a Custom Camper
Having a place to build your custom camper is about as important as having the right tools and the vehicle itself. Wherever you build your custom camper, plan on being there for at least a few months.
So, with that being said, the location you choose to build that amazing tiny house on wheels should be somewhere you are safe, comfortable, and have plenty of room to build in all kinds of weather.
One thing to be sure to check, before you start your custom camper conversion is to ensure that the city or county you are in allows your build to take place. Check with your HOA, POA, or zoning department for any infractions you may unknowingly commit.
You can see how to Get Started on having your very own custom camper conversion created just for you.
How Much Is A Custom Camper?
This is the one question that seems to trip people up the most. How much is a custom camper? The answer to that question is going to depend primarily on how much your budget is and how much you want to spend.
A custom camper can cost as little as under $10,000 including the vehicle itself. Conversely, a custom camper can cost well up to six figures.
Ultimately, it is up to you! At Tiny Starry Builds, we complete full builds, partial builds, and individual projects like portable Tiny Starry ceilings made from fiber optic lights. The average custom camper conversion costs between $50,000 and $90,000. This is including the vehicle, parts, and labor.
How Long Does It Take To Build A Custom Camper RV?
If time is a luxury for you, and you have the skills, tools, and location to complete a custom camper conversion, then it is going to take as long as you make it. Different people’s skills and tools will affect the length of time it takes to convert a custom camper from scratch to a finished product.
The number of conversion accessories, the size of the build vehicle, and the attention to detail will greatly effect how long it takes to build a custom camper RV.
Now, if you are paying someone to build your custom camper for you, all of the above applies, but the results rest on the conversion company’s or individual’s shoulders.
Do You Need A CDL To Drive A Custom Camper Conversion?
The answer to whether or not you need a CDL to drive a custom camper depends on your registered state DMV requirements.
Most states require a CDL if:
- The vehicle has a gross weight of more than 26,001 pounds.
- The vehicle is designed and capable of carrying 16 or more passengers.
- The vehicle is used for commercial purposes and carries passengers for a fee.
If non of the above criteria applies, it is prudent and recommended that you check with your state’s DMV for clarification.
Wrap Up To Custom Camper Conversion 2023
There are very few better experiences than heading out on the highway with your family or yourself in an off-grid custom camper.
Once you either build your own custom camper or have a professional like Tiny Starry Builds create a custom camper for you, one thing is for sure! Once you get your dream custom camper completed, you are going to want a Custom Camper Adventure Sticker made of your new rig!
If you have any questions regarding having us or someone else completes a custom camper creation for you, our FAQ page may answer all or most of your questions.
If you have a question that we have not addressed, we would love to talk to you and give you all of the information you need to make a better-informed decision.
We hope to connect with you soon! We are always attending Tiny House Festivals, Skoolie Events, and Van Life meetups!
We look forward to seeing you down the road!