Close up of downlight hanging from ceiling switched on

Wiring for Lights & Electricals in a Van Conversion | How to Install Cabling & Conduit

| Our Citroen Relay Van Build

Wiring for lights and electricals is another key component of a van build. For one, you want to ensure it’s done correctly for ALL the safety reasons and two, you don’t want to forget to run any wires now, put up your walls and then realise when it’s too late.

Important questions to answer at this point are:

  1. Where are your electrical components and batteries going to live in the van?
  2. What lighting and electricals do I want to install?
  3. How much wiring for lights and electricals do I need?
  4. And what type and size wires do you need? (That takes you on a whole other electrics journey. So, we’ll cover that in more detail in a later blog dedicated to electrics.)

If you’d prefer to watch, here’s our video…

It’s all about lighting (& electricals)

We’re concentrating on wiring for lights because we’re running the lighting wires through the van walls, which is phase one of our van electrics.

Lighting is also a very important part of your van build because in such a small space, lighting can make or break the atmosphere you are trying to create. Lighting can make the difference between creating a cosy little home or a dark van with a bed and a torch.

Decide on your lighting…

It is a good idea, as part of your van planning at this earlier stage to decide on exactly what kind of lighting and electricals you want in your van, (and where you need to run the cables to and from…)

You can look to other van builders and van layouts for inspiration but we recommend putting your lights where you want them, rather than simply copying where someone else put theirs.

We didn’t choose a grid lighting system, which looks nice and is symmetrical but depending on your van layout, it might not actually work with the way you live or the way you intend to use your van.

Make sure your lights work for you.

If, for example, you want to live and work in your van, lighting above the seating/table area will be important. But this also depends on where that area is going to be in your layout. So, a grid system that puts 8 lights in pairs down the middle of your van may not work.

Instead, we discussed how much lighting we wanted and where we needed it the most. We wanted to ensure that even on the darkest, most miserable of days we’d have a well-lit space and plenty of lights in the right places to make it nice and cosy, but also practical.

For example, we knew we wanted to have lighting in the kitchen, over the work surfaces but we also wanted under-cabinet lighting strips. We also wanted to make sure we had enough lighting in the middle of the van, over the table for working and eating, and more lights over the bed but also individually controlled reading lights.

Create a personalised lighting layout

An image of our lighting layout created in Adobe Illustrator

We added our lighting layout to our existing van layout in Adobe Illustrator. You can draw it out if you prefer with the more traditional pen and paper or use any of the 3D programs available online. We found it really helpful to see where all the lights were going, which then helped us to calculate the length of the wires for lights and electricals that we would need.

Which lights did we choose?

  • 8 spot (‘puk’) downlights – two on one circuit above the bed and the other 6 on a different circuit in the living and kitchen area.
  • 4 reading lights – two at the head of our bed and then one over each seat.
  • LED lighting strips for under the upper kitchen cabinets and upper storage cabinets at the foot of the bed.

White or warm light? With many lights like down lights or strip lights, you have the choice between white or warm light, we opted for warm light as we wanted a cosy feel, and white light can sometimes look a little stark offers a cooler tone. However, this is a totally personal choice. You do you!  

Where to send the wiring for lights and electricals?

It’s also a good idea at this point to plan where your electrics as a whole are going to be housed in the van. This will make it easier when wiring for lights and electricals to know exactly where to send your conduit and wires.

Some people like to have their ‘electric hub’ in the ‘garage’. Others, under their seats or behind the bulkhead. We chose one of the seats, in the middle (approximately) of the van.

Knowing where the cables are coming and going from, meant we could work out our cable and conduit lengths.

But how do you know what size wires to buy? (A dedicated electrics blog and video is coming soon where we’ll delve into the daunting world of van electrics, plans and where to begin!)

Other electricals that need wiring at the same time as the lights?

It was at this point we also considered what other electricals we needed to run wiring for at this stage. That will be different for every van build, but for us, we planned to run wiring for lights and electricals such as our Omnivent Thule fan, fridge and plugs/sockets.

Installing conduit & wiring

Now it’s time to installing the conduit.

[What is conduit? – Conduit is simply a flexible tube that allows you to pass wires through. It protects them from being damaged or bent in the build process and allows you to move your cables around once the walls are up, if you need to. ]

We utilised the van’s internal nooks and crannies to pass the conduit through, and then the best bit. We used Henry the Hoover to help us get the cables through.

A close up of a mass of conduit tube for wiring lighting and electricals

How to use a vacuum to get a wire through conduit:

  1. Tie a small piece of plastic (like a piece of carrier bag) to the end of a piece of string.
  2. Stick the other end of the string to the end of the wire (duct tape is great) and then hold it at one end of the conduit.
  3. At the other end of the conduit use Henry the Hoover (or an alternative vacuum cleaner) being sure to block any gaps with your hand, to suck the plastic and string through the conduit.
  4. Pull gently to guide the wire through the conduit. Et voila!

Top Tip: Once through, label your conduit tubes and/or wires individually so you know which wire should be heading where. We simply used masking tape at the ends so we could later easily identify each wire.

We found out the hard way that the thickness of wire we chose meant it was best to use only one wire per length of conduit otherwise you couldn’t easily run the wire through or move it as needed.

Top Tip: Run the wires through the conduit before you put them in the van wherever possible. In some sections there were too many bends making it more difficult to get the wire through.  

Tom writing labels for the conduit tubing

How to connect lights and wires?

The learning curve was steep when it came to wiring for lights and electricals. We had our lights and lengths of wire but we had no idea how to connect them together.

We looked online, but it still wasn’t clear enough. Finally, our neighbour helped us by lending us his crimper plier, and offered advice on connecting the bullet and butt connectors.

  • Butt connectors – these connect spliced wires, allowing you to split off from a main wire to join another.
  • Bullet connectors – these give you a female and male connection at the end of your cable wires and at the end of the light fitting wires allowing you to simply connect them.

In order to attach these connectors to your wires you need to strip the ends of the wires to expose enough bare wire. Then, twist the end of the wire and feed it into the connector. Take your crimper plier and crimp or ‘squeeze’ the bullet or butt connector around it securely.

Top Tip: Don’t crimp the connectors too heavily as you can severe the wires inside.

Put your connectors to the test!

Finally, everything was in place, the wires were through the conduit and the lights and electrics were connected. All we needed was our Renogy Lithium Iron Battery (link below). Luckily we managed to borrow a voltmeter to test the voltage was correct. (We recommend asking friends, neighbours or family members if they have such tools and gadgets before you go buy your own.)

First, we had to activate our Renogy battery, taking it out of ‘shelf mode’ and putting it into ‘active mode’ so it was ready for testing.  

Wiring for lights and electricals should be taken seriously. After a lot of research we felt confident that we could do it ourselves but if you’re still not sure, enlist the help of an electrician.

It was important for us to test every wire and connection to ensure all were working correctly. We turned our Thule Omnivent on, and tested every light. There was only one bullet connector that needed re-doing as it had been crimped too heavily and had severed the wire.

Top Tip: Test every connection, it’s far better to know at earlier than to test everything once the walls are up and you can no longer easily access the conduit and cables.

Success! We were delighted that we had installed our conduit and wires and our first tests were successful.

Good luck with your wires and lighting plans… We’re not qualified electricians, we are learning as we go but careful planning and lots of research meant we were confident in our ability to run our wires and ready our lights, so please feel free to get in touch if you need any help or advice.

What do I need?

Here are some key products we used…

(As an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying Amazon purchases.)

Thank you for reading our blog, we hoped you enjoyed it and we certainly hope it was helpful. If you did, and you haven’t already checked out our other blogs, please stick around. Or find our videos on our YouTube channel, where you can leave your questions and comments, and follow our van build series.

FAQs

How do you wire lights and electricals in a van conversion?

Firstly, figure out what lighting you want in your van and draw it out on your existing van layout or create a new van electricals layout plan. Then, decide where you are going to put your batteries and other electrical systems, which means you can work out the length of wires required.

Plan which wires you would like to run through the walls, run your conduit and wires through and attach connectors to your wires. Also attach connectors to the ends of your electrical fan’s wires and your lights’ wires using bullet connectors.

Lastly, now you can use your battery to test all the lights and electricals.

We recommend that you enlist the help of an electrician if you don’t feel confident to do it yourself.

How many lights should I put in my van conversion?

There’s no limit really but you do need to consider your power consumption. You can have lots of lights as long as your solar power and batteries can generate enough power to run your whole electrical system.

Plan your lighting when you plan your other electricals so you can calculate exactly how much power you will require on a daily basis. Your power consumption depends on the lights you are planning to use, your fridge, any electric vents, charging sockets etc. This is a personal thing as every van is different and every person’s use of their van is different. We want to work in our van so lighting and power for our laptops are two essentials for us.

Best places to put lights and sockets in a van build?

This is a personal choice. Some people prefer a grid system for their lighting as it looks nice and symmetrical and is an easier option if you don’t want lighting in any particular area. However, you can make your lighting plan work for you by putting your lights where you need them most. If you plan to spend a lot of time reading in bed, for example, you will want sufficient lighting over the bed to do so. Or, if you plan to spend a lot of time cooking, ensure you have plenty of light over your kitchen worktop.

It’s also important to plan where your plugs or sockets are going. Near the seating area so you can charge your laptop? Next to the bed so you can charge your phone at night? Or in the kitchen so you can use your Nutri Ninja for your morning smoothies? 

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