How to build a winter campervan versus a summer campervan? (for beginners)

Now that the warm days are officially over. The winter vanlife in Europe starts. However this winter vanlife has started long before in Scandinavia where the vanlife is particularly popular. The temperatures drop early in the year and won’t go back up until the summer months. The everyman’s right in Sweden and Norway and the right of public access in Finland allow wild camping throughout the country. Quite convenient!

On the contrary, the ‘summer’ countries are more strict and controlling when it comes to wild camping. Countries such as France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Croatia are great places for vanlife but you need to search for the right spots. Park4Night is a great application where other vanlifers share their (wild) camping locations so you can go there as well.

But whether you can use the same van in both circumstances is arguable. Of course you can but it might not be as comfortable. This article will help you tackle down some of the most important differences between building a winter campervan and building a summer campervan.

Interior space summer campervan

It is probable that your summer vanlife will mainly take place outside. The weather is nice, you won’t be sitting inside all day but out exploring. In most cases, you won’t carry as much clothing as you would in winter. When building your van you can already consider that you need less storage for clothing so maybe you can find other ways to conveniently use the small space in your van.

What is especially convenient of the summer van interior is the outside shower. It will save up so much living area if you install a shower at for example the back of your van. On top of that you can decide to use a natural source for heating water at the top of your roof.

Interior space winter campervan

Maybe the winter vanlife will be less outdoorsy but nevertheless you will get out of your van at one point. High-likely the ground is muddy or covered in snow. Meaning you have to go into your van with dirty boots. Make sure you choose the right flooring, in particular not one with a lot of grooving. A rubber floor (mat) is a better option in this case. So, you can easily clear out the water and clean the floor.

insulating a winter campervan

Now that I already have your attention on the flooring anyway, make sure that the floor is equally insulated as all the other surfaces. There might be different opinions on this out there, but believe me, you don’t want to skip the campervan floor insulation. It is better to insulate all areas equally than to have certain parts better insulated than others. Make sure that the inside air makes barely any to no contact with the metal frame of the van.

In general though, a winter van obviously needs more insulating than a summer van. Resulting in less space inside. This might only be some centimeters, but in such a small living area those centimeters matter. Make sure to design the interior with the right sizes in advance to make sure you won’t bump into spacing problems.

You might want to save costs on insulating material but if you do so you will in return probably spend more money on heater fuel. And yes, you will need a heater in a winter campervan.

How to keep your winter campervan warm?

In winter, you will need a heater in a campervan to stay warm. There are plenty of heaters to choose from. Which one you choose is totally depending on the rest of your van.

But what good would it do if you have an amazing heater but all the warmth gets lost. Even though you might prefer windows in your van, it is advisable to not have windows in a winter van. And if you do anyways, as few as possible. There is no good way to insulate the windows properly and thus you will lose a lot (but seriously a lot) of warmth. On top of that, they will condensate which leaves you with a lot of water in your interior.

Insulating a summer campervan

Even though it is warm in winter does not mean you don’t need to insulate your campervan. Insulating is not just for keeping the heat inside and the cold outside. It’s also for sound reduction. A van is just like a big echo box. Try knocking on a metal frame and knocking on a metal frame with a pillow behind it, you’ll know what I mean.

There are plenty of insulating materials to choose from. Which one is the best is hard to say, they all have pros and cons. If you do really want to know my recommendation then go for thinsulate/polyester. It’s expensive but definitely a good value for your money. However, there are probably a lot of people who would say otherwise.

How to keep you summer campervan cold?

The colour of the van has a great effect on the interior temperature. Try buying a bright coloured van or consider changing the colour if you choose or already have a dark coloured van. It makes a big difference as the dark colour retains a lot of warmth.

Unlike the wintervan, you can definitely put in windows in your van, on the sides, back and roof. It allows you to have a lot of natural light and you won’t need as much energy to turn lights on in your van. However, the windows can also make your van very hot on the inside. A tip that will help is darkening your windows or buying darkened windows in the first place. In regards to the roof window you might want to install a vent fan to extract hot air. Maybe you also want to take a portable ventilator which means that you need enough electricity and a good battery to power your appliances.

How do you get power in a campervan?

Summer means a lot of sunlight so it’s easy to generate a lot of energy during the day. Meaning solar power is the way to go. It’s relatively easy, efficient and eco-friendly. The sun’s energy needs to be converted into electricity. One solar panel can (in my case) produce 1 kWh in five hours of full sun. In a van you want to collect this electricity in a battery and use an inverter to convert the electricity into usable AC (alternating current) power. The number of solar panels is depending on the appliances you plan to use in your van.

There is not necessarily a lot of difference in generating power in a campervan in winter or summer. Besides that, you will have less power from the same number of solar panels in winter. Less sun means less solar power. It is wise to approximately calculate how much solar energy you will use and how much you will collect and adjust the number of solar panels on your van to that outcome. On top of that, in snowy places you have to keep your solar panels clear of snow otherwise they won’t do anything at all. In order to do so you probably need at least a ladder to easily access the roof.

If this sounds like too many solar panels, you can use a converter instead that charges your battery as you drive. These are costly but needing five solar panels is as well. In the video below you can see how such a converter is installed.

Can I build a winter and summer van in one?

As said before it is not necessary to build your campervan completely winter or summer proof. You might just want to wiggle somewhere in the middle. In the end, in Europe you can travel from a warm to a freezing temperature in a matter of days. Nevertheless, it is important that you know what you are building before you start.

Dutch Van Parts is a Dutch startup designing and selling exterior van parts. We love the vanlife and are here to give you all the tips for building you own van!