January 24, 2015
Van Conversion: Floor Installation
We recently completed a build-out of the floor in our van. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that, first and foremost, this project was quite the undertaking for two people with no prior experience building a floor in anything whatsoever, let alone a vehicle! However, it is so rewarding to now see a finished floor that is going to provide us with much more warmth and durability while looking and feeling like a home. One of the great things about doing the conversion together is that we get to decide every piece of how we want to customize Vanna– and it’s much less expensive than turning to a service who would do the conversion for you. I’ll outline the basic materials we used first, as well as what resources it took us to complete the project. Then I’ll break the start-to-finish process down for those who are curious.
One quick side note: if you’re reading this post to get an exact formula for building out a floor in your van, know that each van will have its own quirks, so you will be more happy and successful if you approach your project with the intention to iterate.
Here are the materials we used for the floor build out:
Oak furring strips
Hard foam insulation
Self-tapping sheet metal screws
Hardwood style vinyl flooring
We spent approximately $700 on the overall project (which includes the purchase of the jig saw but not all of our project day snacks!), and worked the equivalent of 4 full (8-10 hour) days to complete the floor. This was about twice as long as we had expected to devote, but the time was well-spent and led to a very quality floor that we’re excited about and feel to meet all of our standards for safety and future use. I also want to point out that, as urbanites building out a van camper, finding an adequate workspace for this large project is a rare resource in itself. However, we are very lucky to be able to build out of the workshop at the Seattle Antiques Market, which is located on the Seattle waterfront and owned by Shane’s father. A big big thanks to Ken for letting us use his space, and for helping to troubleshoot when we ran into a snag or two!
Here’s how we went about it:
We first removed the original floor from Vanna and set it aside. The original floor makes an excellent template for the new one! The base of the Transit has fresh paint and is flat for the most part with 5/8” raised ribs extending from the front to the back of the vehicle.
Gathering our materials in the workspace, we first decided to tackle the plywood floor top first. Our ideal with the floor was to have it be something we could uninstall somewhat easily if needed, but still be a solid installation. Thus, we wanted to have the plywood split into 3 sections. Since the floor spans 11 feet long, we cut two 4-foot sections and one 3-foot section. We lined up these three sections on the floor and laid the original van floor on top.
Once we lined everything up, we made a simple outline and used the jig saw to cut the pieces out. We took the 3 custom-cut sections and placed them in the van to ensure there was a good fit before moving forward.
Having the floor top completed, we measured out where we wanted to lay our oak furring strips. After some guess and check, we ended up having a furring strip approximately every 12 inches from the back of the van to the front. We also accounted for areas that would need additional reinforcement due to the irregular shape of the floor or areas that would have higher traffic and put in more supports there. This was also the time for us to think ahead and consider where major weight would ultimately be sitting in the van, such as batteries and fresh water containers.
The next step was cutting the oak furring strips to the correct length. Where there were pieces that didn’t lay on top of the metal ribs, we had to create additional custom spacers of 5/8” in height so that everything was level and sturdy.
Once the furring strips were cut and prepared, the next step was affixing them down to the van floor. From what we’ve learned from other van camp DIYers, there are two mainstream methods used to properly install the floor: permanent construction adhesive (from such brands as Liquid Nails or Loctite) and self-tapping sheet metal screws. In the interest of safety and quality, we opted for both. To ensure the plywood sat perfectly level on top of the furring strips, we drilled down into the oak so the screws were well-hidden.
Before everything started becoming permanent, Vanna got a little love note inscribed.
The insulation was the next step in our floor project. We took measurements for the hard foam insulation and cut it with an Exacto knife. The 3/4” foam lays at the same level as the oak furring strips, making for a level plane for the plywood to rest upon.
Finally, the time came to think about the top of the floor! We had debated what option would be best for both aesthetic and utility. Initially, we had picked out laminate panels to lay down, but upon further consideration we opted for something a little easier to clean. The hardwood style vinyl we used is both beautiful and less expensive than the laminate, and will be more simple to replace if needed. We laid the vinyl out and placed our plywood panels on top. A couple swipes of a box cutter, and boom! Vinyl flooring at the ready. To finish up the floor, we installed the plywood first with wood screws into the furring strips, followed by laying the vinyl on top.
Lastly, Shane cut and installed metal trim around the sliding door, front, and back of the floor so that the vinyl is held in place and the edges have a finished look. It will also protect any potential chipping or wear– very good news for our outdoorsy lifestyle!
Now that the floor is finished, we’re ready to take Vanna out again, and will be turning our attention to finishing off the walls next. I’ll continue to post updates as the conversion moves forward!