Our step-by-step guide from start to end of how we fitted the lights in our van, including all of the trials and errors in between. We’ve included the cost of all materials used to give an idea of what to expect when considering converting your own van.

 

LED strip lights:

LEDs are ideal for use in a van: they’re low energy, ultra bright and don’t get hot. During our first build we hung a 5m roll of LED lighting, which was wired directly to the mains and strung along the left hand side of the van using sewing pins to hold it onto the carpeted roof. It came with a little remote we Velcro'd to the wall in place of a light switch and had many colourful settings which turned a few heads at the parties we went to. Unfortunately due to everyday van life wear and tear these eventually snapped, to be replaced by another set, which also snapped. They were good while they lasted but we needed something more permanent and a lot brighter.

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Installing overhead lights:

Firstly we needed to assemble a central piece of cladding for the roof from which the rest of the cladding could be built outwards. On this central piece, made up of three strips of cladding glued together for extra strength, we installed our LED lights by tracing around them and cutting out these holes with a jigsaw. With a bit of extra sanding and pushing we were able to install the lights flush with the cladding and tape all the wires neatly to the back of it. Behind this cladding we also ran the wires from the lights to the fuse in the service area, and to the light switch by the door.

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Installing under kitchen lights:

The overhead lighting was great but a lot of the time we found ourselves cooking in the dark with the aid of torches, so we used the same LED lights to illuminate the kitchen area. To prevent them being splashed by oil and food while we cooked, we fed the lights through a clear PVC hose first before wiring them in and fixing them to the underneath of our hanging kitchen cupboard. It revolutionised cooking in our van forever.

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Making outdoor lighting for less than £10:

We wanted to create some outdoor lighting for both security and nighttime activities, but typical floodlights can use a lot of energy and be a bit bulky to attach to the exterior of a van. Our solution: a strip of ultra bright, low energy LEDs sealed inside a waterproof tube. The bonus: we did it all for under £10.

First we chose our lights: a string of 10 lights each containing 3 ultra bright LEDs designed for interior van lighting. These run off 12v and use <1amp of power, making them ideal for the job. 

Next we bought a length of clear hose from a local hardware shop at £1/ metre. We wanted the lights to fit snugly inside so they wouldn’t rattle around but still have enough space to be pulled through. We tested out a few sizes and decided on a 16mm internal diameter with a 19mm outer diameter.

Next we fed some strong thread through the tube using a weight, then looped it round the lights to pull them through the tube. We wired them up to a length of 1mm Durite twin core cable poking out of one end, then sealed either end by heating the plastic with a blowtorch and squeezing the ends together with a pair of pliers. We attached the whole thing to the van using generous amounts of Sika-flex, and fibreglass tape and clamps to hold it in place while the Sika-flex dried. The last task was to drill a small 8mm hole through the metal to feed the electrical cable through to the light switch on the inside.

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Making a light switch for less than £2:

Our original idea for the light switch was to use a piece of driftwood, but unfortunately driftwood isn’t quite strong enough to drill through, so we used a scrap of reclaimed oak instead.

We marked and drilled out four holes that the switches could sit snugly inside. We also used a belt sander to round off the edges of the switch panel slightly to give it a nice finish. Then we simply popped the switches in, no glue necessary.

The next step was to remove the two pieces of cladding where the switch would be positioned on the wall, trace around the back of the switch panel and cut out an appropriately sized hole that the switches could sit in without their metal prongs touching any of the metal of the van.

We screwed the cladding back up, connected the wires we’d fed around the van from the batteries to the switches, then screwed the panel on. We held our breath, pressed the switch, and luckily nothing exploded. In fact, we had brilliant white lighting illuminating the whole inside of the van! No more sitting in the dark reading at night or getting frustrated trying to chop onions in the dark (ahem, Ben…).

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Installing reversing spotlights:

We’ve all been there, trying to reverse into a park up in the dead of night with one person wielding a torch and shouting, “Left! Right!” while the other one cluelessly reverses into darkness. Well we wanted to make it easier to park up at night by installing some ultra bright LED spotlights to the back of our van that would come on when we select reverse gear.

The lights were £10.99 a pair from eBay; they run off 12V and are designed for cars. We had to drill two holes in the roof (not again!) at the back as this was the only place we could mount them, feed the wires through to the inside of the van, then secure the lights on using the mounting bracket they came with, some stainless steel screws and some Sika-flex for a watertight seal. Then it was just a case of wiring them to the van’s reversing lights and bing, we had light. Not only do they make parking up at night just like parking in the daytime, but they have the added bonus of blinding everyone behind you in a car park at night.

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Making our fairy lights:

With all our cool white LED lighting installed in the van we wanted something to add a warm, cosy feel for those long winter nights. Lucy had her heart set on a trio of vintage hanging Edison bulbs, but not only would these have been hugely impractical to run, they would’ve also swung around as we were driving and most likely smashed.

So we had to come up with an alternative solution if we wanted our warm winter fairy lights, and then we spotted these bulb-shaped drinking glasses in The Range. They were lightweight with removable metal lids but also made of a reinforced glass that wouldn’t smash if they fell on the floor (we hope).

Installing them was a little trickier than we thought, and took a bit of tinkering. We were going to attach the bulbs to the roof cladding with a screw and a washer using the holes already in them where the straws originally went. This however meant that that hole would be blocked, leaving no entry point for the fairy lights.To get around this we drilled a 4mm hole in the side of each lid through which we could insert the lights. Once the lids were attached to the roof, we were able to feed the fairy lights through them one by one. Finally we screwed the glass bulbs in place, arranging the LEDs inside in a swirling pattern, and used a strip of velcro to secure the battery box in place.

Our Edison bulbs were done! And for only £6 for the lot. Now we have some incredibly bright yet low energy warm lighting above our bedto make it super cosy at night.

 

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Total cost and materials used:

5m roll of LED strip lighting from eBay - £5

1 pack x 2.4m long pine cladding from B&Q - £4 

3 x LED lights from eBay - £6.75 each

2m clear unreinforced hose 16mm x 19mm from a local hardware shop - £2 

4 x 12V light switches from eBay - £1.98

One scrap of wood (we used oak)

3 x light bulb-shaped drinks glasses, £1 each from The Range

2m thin-wired warm LED fairy lights, £2.95 from eBay

Various screws & washers

 

Total cost:

 

£39.18 

 

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