Creating our own DIY campervan has been a dream of ours for a few years now. In May of 2020, we finally bought a Dodge Sprinter T1N and began our renovations! In this post, we will go over our entire budget and outline how we built our dream home on wheels for just under $20,000 CAD!
First of all, let’s talk about why we chose to buy a used Dodge Sprinter. The Sprinter is the original, high-top, extended, work van. Other options like a Dodge Promaster or a Ford Transit weren`t actually available until about 2014. What that means is that there is less of a used market for these vehicles and they will be more expensive to purchase. That’s not to say you can’t use them, but you will likely need a larger budget for your DIY campervan conversion if you choose to.
There are two different generations of Sprinters: 1995-2006 (Dodge, Mercedes, or Freightliner Sprinter T1N) and 2007-current (Mercedes Sprinter). The T1N is a popular choice for budget conversions due to price point, fuel efficiency, reliability, & maintenance.
The price can vary greatly depending on a number of factors like where you buy your van, condition, mileage, etc. We ended up getting a steal on ours—we only paid $6,000 CAD (around $4,700 USD). Sadly, I wouldn`t say this is common. The average price of these used vans in good condition is typically between $8,000 – $13,000 CAD ($6,250 – $10,000 USD).
Our best advice is not to be in a hurry. Do your research, know exactly what you want, and keep an eye out on websites like Kijiji and Autotrader. Expand your search to include the biggest cities in your country because they will have a higher number of used work vans for sale. You also want to make sure to have your finances in order before you start looking. This way, when your perfect van becomes available, you can jump on it!
Van Total: $6,000 CAD (approx. $4,700 USD)
Rust Treatment, Paint, & Primer
Because of the age of these T1N Sprinters(1995-2006), rust is pretty much inevitable. Before you get started on your conversion, it is incredibly important to take care of all the rust. If you just cover it up and don`t properly treat it, you will be in serious trouble a few years down the road.
The rust accumulation can vary greatly depending on location and maintenance. Some common places for rust in a Dodge Sprinter include:
- Rear Doors and Windows
- Roof Seams
- The Floor (depending on what it`s been used for)
- The Driver and Passenger Side Kick Panel
There are several products and methods out there you can use for rust control. These range from POR15 to cutting out the rust completely and using a Fiberglass filling if the rust has created a hole. Aside from being time consuming, treating rust is actually not as difficult as it seems. The one place you don`t want to see rust is on the frame of your vehicle. If that is the case, it may be problematic and very expensive to fix.
Rust Treatment, Paint, & Primer Total: $706.76 CAD (approx. $558 USD)
Skylight, Windows, & Fan
First of all, let me say that installing skylights and windows is completely optional. You do not need either of these for light or air flow but you might want to think about them!
We found that a strategically placed window made a huge difference in our van and we would highly recommend it to anyone who is on the fence. You can often find used RV windows for fairly cheap on Kijiji or from your local pick and pull.
A skylight is without a doubt one of the best features we’ve added to our campervan. Allowing a ton of natural light through the roof makes the interior look and feel bigger plus it allows for some extra head clearance over the kitchen. Sounds intimidating for a DIY campervan build, right? Well, contrary to popular belief, it is actually fairly straight forward to install yourself!
A fan is something that you don`t technically need in a campervan. Trust us though, you`re going to want one. They help with air circulation, temperature regulation, and are extremely important for ventilation if you have a propane stove. We got ours from Amazon and love it! The brand is Maxxair which is one of the most popular roof fans for DIY campervans.
Skylight, Window, & Fan Total: $713.30 CAD (approx. $563 USD)
Framing, Electrical, & Lighting
Once all your rust is treated and you`ve installed any windows or fans, you can move onto the framing. We used mainly 2X2`s and 2X4`s and actually framed inside the metal ribs of the van. This gave us a few more inches of living space on the walls and the ceiling. When space is a hot commodity, every little bit counts!
Next up is running all of your electrical wires and deciding where you want your lights to go. Take your time on this! At this point, you should have a clear plan for each of your outlets, switches, and lights. You should also know where your solar system will attach to these wires, even if you don`t have your solar system components quite yet.
Framing, Electrical, & Lighting Total: $471.58 CAD (approx. $372 USD)
The flooring can actually be done before or after the electrical and framing, we chose to do ours after. The main products you will need for this are insulation, plywood, adhesive, and whatever you are choosing to lay down overtop (vinyl sheets, vinyl plank, laminate, etc.).
Please note that you have two options with your flooring. 1) You can frame out your campervan floor with 2X4`s and lay the insulation down in between the framing. 2) You can lay sheets of rigid insulation directly on the floor of your van and cover them with thick sheets of plywood. We decided on the latter, for more information on why check out the YouTube video above!
Flooring Total: $690.40 CAD (approx. $545 USD)
Insulation, Walls, & Ceiling
There are numerous different options out there when it comes to insulating your van. Your choice may be influenced by budget, the climate where you live, your skillset, and your comfort level. We live in Canada and it gets extremely cold here in the winter so good insulation was a top priority. We opted for rigid foam on the floor and spray foam on the walls and ceiling.
At first, spray foam seemed intimidating and we decided to get a quote from a professional. Any guesses on what that quote came back at? $1,500 CAD! That seemed outrageous to us considering 1 kit of spray foam insulation at Home Depot was $365 CAD. Many of you know that we can both be a bit stubborn, so it`s not a huge surprise that we decided to give it a go ourselves. After all, if we messed it up, tore it out, and retried it 4 times—it would still be a few dollars cheaper than our quote.
Luckily for us, the spray foam insulation went on perfectly the first time and we were thrilled with the final result! If you`re interested in more information on the process, check out the YouTube video below.
For the walls and the ceiling, we decided to go with 4’X8′ white panels that look a lot like shiplap boards. These were excellent for the van because of how flexible they were and the fact that each piece covered a large area.
A piece of advice when framing your van: nothing is ever square. The walls are curved, the ceiling is curved, and unless you want to lose a ton of space behind your framing, it`s not always worth trying to make the walls straight. Our walls curve with the van allowing us to utilize the extra few inches of room.
Insulation, Walls, & Ceiling Total: $625.05 CAD (approx. $494 USD)
Bed Frame, Seats, & Table
If you were wondering what our favorite part of the van is, this is it! The bed frame is something that we put a ton of thought and time into and it has become our pride and joy of this whole project. Although it was not the cheapest way to go, it was absolutely worth the extra money.
We created a permanent bedframe out of aluminum and steel that holds a queen sized mattress as well as 3 storage cubbies and a bookshelf on top. Our kitchen table slides out from the front of the frame with 2 large drawers for clothes storage underneath.
Our seats are located in between the bedframe and the door, allowing space to pull the table out in front of us when seated. Underneath the bench cushions are more storage cubbies and a shoe rack that you can access both from the top and from the back at the door. This section of the budget also includes the queen-sized mattress and the cushions for the seats.
Bed, Seats, & Table Total: $1,095.22 CAD (approx. $865 USD)
The kitchen was one of the most expensive component of our van. While it is possible to do this much simpler and cheaper, we absolutely love how ours turned out and wouldn`t change a thing.
Ikea cabinets make up the majority of our kitchen. We would highly recommend them if you`re looking for something relatively easy and affordable! These cabinets ensure everything is square and you can choose between doors, drawers, or a combination of both. We used 24 inch deep cabinets for the bottom section of our kitchen. For the top cabinets and the pantry, David framed them out with plywood and we bought Ikea fronts to match the rest.
We decided on an 18″X20″ under-mount sink and used a spare piece of our butcherblock countertop as a “sink cover”. This increased our counter space substantially. If you are not planning on having a sink cover, we would probably recommend going for a smaller sink. The water lines run to the “garage” area under the bed where our fresh and grey water tanks are located.
For the fridge, we decided on a CRX 110 Dometic Fridge which can be run on DC or AC current. Although these fridges are quite expensive, they are extremely efficient and well built. The high price is well worth the build quality and reliability.
Next, we installed a two-burner propane stove. It is important to note that in order to safely use propane in an enclosed space, you need to have an airtight, vented box to store it in. You will then need to install a vent from the box out the bottom of the van. Because propane is heavier than air, any leakage will sink through the hole and out of the van. This 11lb tank and box is located underneath our sink.
Kitchen (Including Fridge, Water System, Propane & Stove System, & Cabinets) Total: $4,707 CAD (approx. $3,717 USD)
As we have established, Canada is hella cold in the winter. While a heater may not be necessary if you live in a warmer climate, we absolutely needed one in order to use this van year-round. We went with a Chinese Diesel heater off of Amazon and are, all in all, really pleased with it.
Diesel Heater Total: $320.99 CAD (approx. $253 USD)
A solar system can be very expensive and difficult to install on your DIY campervan. By using the right products and doing your research, you can drastically simplify the install and save yourself thousands of dollars. We primarily recommend using Renogy because many of their products are user-friendly, reliable, and inexpensive compared to other brands.
Although more expensive up front, we would highly recommend purchasing a lithium battery. The type and size of the battery you purchase will have a huge impact on the price of your solar system. Both Renogy and Canbat offer great lithium batteries. If you will be travelling in a cold climate, however, Canbat offers a specific cold-weather battery. This battery features a built-in heating unit and can continue to charge to temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius.
Solar System Total: $2,540.97 CAD (approx. $2,006 USD)
This is everything else that we have spent money on that doesn`t fit into one of the above categories. Our miscellaneous section of the budget includes:
- The roof rack
- A van hitch
- A new stereo and wiring
- Remote locks
- …and $500 worth of miscellaneous hardware store trips
Miscellaneous Total: $1,802.77 CAD (approx. $1,424 USD)
The grand total of our DIY campervan conversion including the van itself came to:
$19,674.04 CAD (approx. $15,535 USD)
It is noteworthy to add that we spent about $3,000 CAD on things like replacing our steering column, all 4 breaks, all 4 and shocks, a new windshield, etc. that we did not include in this cost breakdown. DIY campervan DIY campervan