How to Make a Semi Into a Camper


"Semi" is the colloquial name for the tractor unit of an articulated 18-wheeler truck. Many semis are factory equipped with sleeper cabs, and while in recent years these have been as well equipped as their limited space allows, earlier models offered only basic provision. Retrofitting such a semi into a camper, using new or salvaged parts, can give a new lease of life to both the truck and the materials. Considerable planning is involved in such a project, and trading off added weight against the level of improvements should always be a consideration.

Things You'll Need

  • Semi with sleeper cab
  • Graph paper
  • Roof vent
  • Insulation
  • Electrical provision
  • Plumbing provision
  • Paneling
  • Floor covering
  • Cabinets
  • Appliances
  • Use graph paper to model the layout of your semi conversion. Accurately measure the internal dimensions of the sleeper cab, then transfer them to the graph paper. Space limitations dictate that a platform bed across the back wall is usually the best option, with enclosed storage beneath. A full-size double mattress will take up about half the available floor area, beyond which the space can be used in whatever way will best suit your specific purposes.

  • Attend a truck show or a recreational vehicle (RV) rally, or spend some time in truck and RV dealerships, and get to know what alternatives are available to you. Speak with other drivers at depots and rest stops to learn what works best for them. Search the Internet for salvage yards which specialize in reclaiming the equipment from damaged RVs, and trade off your budget against what appliances and equipment are available.

  • Formalize what you want from your conversion, then decide how luxurious the finished sleeper cab should be. A galley may not be a requirement if the semi is used on routes where roadside food is readily available, but if many overnights are spent on remote Interstate slip-roads or in rest stops with no provision beyond snack dispensers, decide whether a full household kitchen with a microwave, refrigerator and hot water would be an asset.

  • Photocopy your floor plan when it is complete, then use separate copies to draw in your plumbing and electrical systems. It may be that a free-standing shower in a corner and running water to a sink is a priority, but if so you must factor in all the tanks and equipment already present beneath the semi. Using household equipment would require the addition of a holding tank to store waste water until it can be vented at an authorized dump station. A good alternative is a cassette toilet/shower combination manufactured with integral fresh- and waste-water tanks.

  • Fit at least one roof vent first, above the kitchen or bathroom area, to vent steam and the hot air which builds up in enclosed spaces if your route takes you into parts of the country where heat is a consideration. Next install your wiring--either a rudimentary 12-volt system with a dedicated deep cycle battery and some lighting and outlets or a 120-volt system with a generator and regular outlets to run household equipment and appliances. If plumbing for a sink, a shower or a toilet is required, install that next.

  • Glue sheet insulation material to the walls, which will both protect the semi sleeper cab from extremes of temperature and deaden the noise of other drivers running their diesels overnight when parked in close quarters. Line the walls using lightweight sheets of paneling, and install a heavy floor covering to be decorative and to help with the sound and heat insulation.

  • Fix cabinets and shelves into the remaining space, and consider hanging curtains from curtain rails to create privacy. Factor in the points at which services, such as cable television and Internet connections, will be ducted into the semi when staying overnight at well-provisioned rest stops, and locate your television and work space accordingly. Locate your refrigerator where access from the cab is convenient.

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  • Photo Credit Semi image by Andrew Breeden from
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