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Pros and Cons For Van vs. Camper Renovations

At rain2shine, we specialize in BOTH Camper Renovations AND Van Conversions on a client basis. Below, we discuss the pros of Van Life vs Camper Life and the vast difference in the amount of work each takes during a custom-build/renovation.  


CAMPERS:  THE WORK

Camper Renovations can vary greatly in cost and labor between a facelift and a full gut job.  This is why there is no set price for our clients' renovations at rain2shine as each one of our remodels is completely custom to that client’s wants and needs.  Our estimates are based on the state and size of the RV the client owns or purchases, as well as the scope of the renovation and design requested by that particular client.  However, here’s a simple breakdown of what a renovation can entail:


  1. A facelift normally means the current layout works for the client so we’re not reworking the floorplan and typically consists of: 

    1. Paint

    2. New Flooring

    3. A few upgrades such as appliances, backsplash, wallpaper, fixtures, and furniture.


 

  1. A full gut requires removing everything from the furniture to the cabinetry and starting fresh.  This could mean keeping a similar layout or changing the floor plan altogether.  Maybe you need a second bedroom or bathroom.  Maybe you need a separate workspace if you’re traveling with family.  Maybe you’re using your camper for lodging and business such as a traveling masseuse, tattoo artist, hair stylist, dog groomer, pop-up boutique, etc (which also means tax write-offs!).  These are all things that have to be taken into account for the scope of work and labor required to make your RV fully function for you.  

    1. Paint

    2. New Flooring

    3. New appliances and fixtures

    4. Backsplash

    5. Custom-built furniture/cabinetry OR purchasing the necessary items and retrofitting them for the client’s lifestyle i.e. work, activities, hobbies, equipment, spaces for kids and/or pets, etc.   

    6. Running new (or adding to) electrical and plumbing to accommodate the new layout and any new items. 



   

  1. And then there's what we consider the “in-between” where it’s more than a Facelift but not a Full Gut:

    1. Paint

    2. New Flooring

    3. Removing and/or rebuilding certain areas of the camper to fit new appliances, furniture, equipment, accommodate sleeping arrangements, work/office space, layout, etc.  

    4. Other upgrades can be included such as backsplash, wallpaper and/or fixtures.



 

VANS:  THE WORK

Van Conversions are extremely different from a camper renovation; you are literally starting from scratch (a metal shell).  There’s no electrical, plumbing, walls, ceiling or floor.  The main reason there’s so much more cost involved in a van-build than in a camper renovation is due to the materials (or lack thereof to start with).  The second reason is that a van is built differently than a camper in that it has curves unlike a camper that has more 90 degree angles.  It’s a lot more challenging, time consuming and labor intensive than a camper renovation.  Keep in mind, the same would apply for buses.


THE COST*

*Disclaimer:  These costs are based on having the work done by a professional.  While many DIYers do amazing work, the cost they pay (and share) for their own projects can be misleading when compared to paying a professional.  Most notably, DIYers typically don’t track the amount of time put into their projects: actual labor/construction, researching and shopping for materials (and tools) needed–this can include scavenging for parts to save money.  If you have plenty of time on your hands to do the work and the money/expertise to purchase and use the required tools, you can certainly save money and maybe even cut some corners by DIY-ing.  However, for those busy with family, life and work, these projects can drag out for months or years and sometimes it’s more feasible to pay a professional. Furthermore, when considering a space you live AND travel in, it’s important to be confident that everything has been constructed correctly–wiring, plumbing, custom-built furniture, interior design, etc. The main takeaway is with a professional (with comprehensive experience/expertise), you’re paying for time, labor, and materials vs. only paying for materials when you DIY. 


CAMPERS

And now, the question on everyone’s mind…How much do these various types of renovations cost when done by a professional?  Well, at rain2shine, our FULL camper renovations start at $25K in labor (NOT including materials).  The reason for this is because the two largest, most time consuming and labor intensive jobs we do in any RV remodel include Paint & Flooring.  We’ve also never had a client that only wants these 2 things and nothing else. Therefore, once you add in a few extras like backsplash, appliances, fixtures, etc. you’re looking at a $25K starting cost for an average Facelift.  On the other hand, our Partial renovations start at $10K.


The majority of our clients typically want a renovation somewhere in-between a facelift and a full gut as I mentioned above.  The average cost for this type of renovation in an average size camper is $45K.


We’ve also done a few full guts and those will likely run $75K++.  Keep in mind that you are also going to be spending a lot more on all new materials and custom builds vs. painting and repurposing the items you would keep in a facelift but have been removed for a full gut.  However, this type of renovation can be very beneficial to those that need customized spaces for special equipment or a business and can also be a tax write-off in numerous ways when used commercially.


It all comes down to the amount of time and labor that is required to grant the client’s requests for their wants and needs.  Additionally, we offer our clients options in terms of their materials.  We typically give them a choice of 3 items (when possible) that will fit each space, whether it’s a light fixture, tile for the backsplash, sink, refrigerator, sofa, etc.  Therefore, our clients can choose how much they want to spend on their materials.  They have the option to pick the $500 sofa or the $1,500 sofa.


And yes, we understand that this might seem like a lot of money to some but there is also a lot of time, labor and materials involved in all types of construction including camper renovations.  In fact, camper renovations are much more complicated than in a brick and mortar home for various reasons.  


On the other hand, whether you are looking to go full-time in your RV or want to upgrade your RV (camper or van) for travel and recreational use, there can be many benefits.  For example, if you think about the price of buying a brick and mortar home (especially these days) with additional costs like HOA fees, monthly utilities, yard work and all the other expenses, you will most definitely be saving money not only on the initial purchase but on all your monthly costs while living in an RV.  


Depending on how much you travel, RVs can be a much more economical choice.  Let’s face it, inflation has caused pricing to go up for hotels, resorts, AirBnbs, gas, plane tickets, cruises, etc.  Having a camper that you can take to a campground near your desired destination and pay less than what it would cost otherwise is totally worth it, in my opinion.  You’ll also save on dining since you can cook in your own kitchen and most campgrounds have plenty of free activities and amenities in comparison to other travel experiences where everything is an add-on.


VANS

Unlike a camper, there’s no Facelift or Gut Job when it comes to a van.  It’s quite literally a “full custom-build.”  However, there are many factors that can affect the cost of labor and materials for a van conversion.  At rain2shine, we have completed van builds ranging from $75-130K in total (labor and materials, but not including the van itself) depending on what the client requests as their wants and needs.  Our starting cost for a van build is $50K in labor only (in comparison to $25K for a camper).  The reason for this is we know how much time and work it takes for the most basic of van builds.  I’m talking about running wiring for electric and plumbing for water and waste throughout the entire vehicle as well as installing sound deadeners, insulation and structure into the metal frame in order to install the ceiling, walls, flooring, cabinetry and bed.  



From there, depending on the client’s wish list, more costs come into play.  Keep in mind, we are a fully custom workshop; we don’t have any type of cookie cutter options to choose from.  Each one of our vans is designed specifically for that particular client and is custom-built (by hand) at rain2shine.  However, our pricing is right in line with other van builders that do offer pre-made designs and materials. 


 

There are also varying costs depending on the efficiency and brand of materials the client chooses to go with for their van conversion.  Our clients have paid $25-75K for their materials alone.  The low end of that was a client who had very little plumbing and a very simple electrical setup.  My point is that there are many reasons why vans cost more than renovating a camper; mainly the quantity of materials needed to start and complete the build.  However, there are many pros to living or traveling in a van that can make up for the higher cost.  



 

CAMPERS:  THE PROS (in comparison to a van)  Camper living and/or traveling can actually be quite comfortable.  Yes, it’s a tiny home on wheels but most campers aren’t really “tiny.”  Additionally, most campers have slide-outs.  With multiple slide-outs, the camper opens up immensely and has a lot more space.  You CAN have a full kitchen, dining, living, master bed & bath.  You might even have a second bedroom or office depending on how much space there is to work with inside the camper.  This is why we often see and hear from people after one of our renovations, “This looks like a ‘real’ home!”  Guess what, it is a “real” home for many people and that number is continuing to rise; so why not make it look and feel like home (or even a second home for traveling)??



Personally, I believe campers are much more practical for parties of more than 2 people that also have pets and/or kids.  Not to say that it’s not doable in a van because it certainly is but it also depends on your lifestyle, how much time you’ll be spending outside vs. in the RV and what comforts you require.  


On another note, insurance can sometimes be easier to procure for a camper than a van that has been converted.  It’s not extremely difficult to get insurance on a camper van but I’ve heard that there are a few hoops to jump through in order to have it classified as a Class B, such as proving the conversion and specific upgrades from the work that was done.  I suggest you do your own research on this as I’m not an insurance expert.


VANS:  THE PROS (in comparison to a camper)

  • Compact size which allows for more convenient parking/storage

  • Better fuel efficiency

  • Superior maneuverability for easier navigation through narrow city streets and winding mountain roads.

  • No waiting in line at an RV repair shop

  • Less maintenance:  no seals, slides, etc to maintain

  • No set up or tear down

  • Stealth camping

  • Access to remote and off-grid locations


In conclusion, there are many pros and cons for all types of recreational vehicles and each can serve a purpose for different lifestyles and needs.  It really all comes down to personal preference and I highly recommend doing your own research on the costs of each, as well as, what will best fit your lifestyle before taking the plunge on either a camper or a van.  And! I am always happy to offer guidance as a full-time RVer and renovator/builder for anyone interested, so feel free to reach out if you want my recommendations–contact information can be found on our website.


WHAT IT’S LIKE WORKING WITH RAIN2SHINE:

As a fully client-based company, offering customized builds and renovations specific to each customer’s wants and needs, we welcome our clients' ideas and guide them through the process with our expertise in small spaces, function and interior design.  

Some clients give us free reign and creativity while others are more particular or want options to choose from when it comes to the layout and decor.  

We strive to get to know each client before starting on their project to ensure a smooth process.  On the Contact form on our website, we ask questions such as:

  1. Are there any must haves or needs to keep in consideration? For example, spaces for children and/or pets, work/office materials, special equipment, etc?

  2. What is your design style or vision? Do you have examples (links or photos) of design styles you like?

  3. Are you Full Time or Recreational?

  4. What kind of lifestyle do you lead? Very active, relaxed, work-oriented, etc.

  5. Where do you intend to travel in your RV?


After reviewing these questions, we delve deeper with a phone call to get to know you even better and follow up with an in-person consultation to really understand what style/aesthetic you gravitate towards and what you need on a functional basis.  

After the consultation, we will make a list of the discussed work along with a breakdown of estimates for each major project.  This allows you to see what’s doable within your budget and if there are any adjustments you want to make before getting started.

We also touch base throughout your project with progress photos/videos as well as options for you to choose from such as lighting, backsplash, wallpaper, etc.  Our clients come first and the best part of our job is seeing you happy at the completion of the project!


For full details about Our Process, click here.


For those that could benefit from a camping & travel journal that helps keep track of camping spots that you like/dislike, amenities provided, operational functionality, memories made, etc., please check out our rain2shine camping & travel journal 😉




Wishing you the best as you drive into your future,


Alice Zealy,

Owner of rain2shine ventures

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