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The Van Conversion Series: Flooring

Wednesday 11th December 2019
By Ely Power
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By Ely Power

Lay Your Van’s Flooring Like A Pro


After insulation comes van floor installation! A simple yet significant milestone in any van conversion, your space will really start to come together once you put in the (literal) groundwork. 

With all sorts of stylish and functional flooring options for your van build, this is a real opportunity to lay the foundations of whichever vibe you’re going for - from cosy cork flooring to retro vinyl tiles, you can create a camper that feels just like home. All without breaking the bank.
 
But don’t get out the jigsaw just yet. There are heaps of things to consider before you begin this section of your build, from understanding the importance of a subfloor to choosing when to lay your floor above. 

So to avoid delays and unnecessary costs, make sure you install your flooring correctly the first time around. The last thing you’ll want to do is rip up your floor because of a slight mistake or change of heart - especially if you’ve already built furniture on top of it! 

Not sure where to start? We’ve created a beginner’s guide to flooring to help you find your feet. From installing the subfloor to choosing your floor material, you can brush up on flooring basics before you lay anything down!

As a van owner, you can earn over $10,000 each year by hiring it out on Camplify. As a holidaymaker, Camplify helps you to find the perfect rental so that you can experience the joys of van life without having to own one yourself. 

Interested? Learn more about Camplify here.

Laying Your Subfloor


Now that you’ve insulated your van, it’s time to install the subfloor. This plywood sheeting lies beneath your actual floor to provide increased stability and durability. A crucial component to your build, the cost to install plywood subfloor is thankfully pretty low. That said, the thicker the subfloor, the more expensive it will be. 

Essentially, you need to decide if a thick subfloor is a bonus or drawback to your build. Are you planning to mount fixtures to your subfloor or wall studs? If it’s the former, you can screw into a thicker subfloor more securely. Otherwise, we suggest using only a 7mm or so layer of plywood to save on valuable interior space. 

How To Install A Plywood Subfloor:

  1. Clean your van’s floor (and we mean properly, with a vacuum, broom and wipes). This is because insulation installation is messy work, often leaving tiny bits of dirt, material and sawdust that need to be removed before you lay anything down.
  2. Get a big piece of cardboard and use it as a template to workout the exact dimensions needed to cover your space.
  3. Trace the final template onto your plywood sheeting. 
  4. Use a jigsaw to cut along this tracing, creating either one whole piece or several pieces of custom-shaped plywood - whichever you think works best.
  5. Install your subfloor, fastening it down with adhesive. Alternatively, you can make a floating subfloor that is secured by its own weight. Another option is to drill holes into the plywood from beneath the vehicle (up through its metal ribs to avoid any insulation). 
  6. The final - and optional - step is to add a waterproof barrier, such as a rubber mat or painter’s plastic. If you’re installing permeable flooring on top of the subfloor, an extra waterproof layer will prevent moisture from seeping through and causing mould.

And that’s your subfloor done and dusted.

Choosing Your Floor

Types Of Flooring For Your Van

Now that your subfloor is installed, you can get started on the fun stuff! 

That means choosing which type of flooring suits your van’s look and layout most. Don’t forget practicalities, either - van life brings all kinds of adventures, so you’ll need a floor that can withstand its daily demands (sandy feet and muddy paws included). 

Luckily, you can take your pick from plenty of materials ranging from high-end wooden floorboards to cheap laminate flooring. Here are a few of our favourites:

Laminate Flooring

Want a long-lasting, life-proof floor that won’t drain your budget? Laminate is your answer. This synthetic material is affordable, easy to clean and renowned for its durability. It’s also available in a wide variety of designs, so you’re guaranteed to find one that matches your style.

Yes, it might be a little thicker and heavier than other options, making it more difficult to cut (you’ll have to use laminate blades to get the job done). And it’s not the most pet-friendly of floors either, as paws can slip and slide. 

All in all though, there’s really no better floor when it comes to delivering on quality, design and price. If you’re sold but don’t know how to lay laminate flooring, check out this handy video.

Vinyl Flooring

Although similarly priced to laminate, vinyl plank flooring is much thinner (always a plus in van life!). It also comes in an impressive range of designs and textures, from ‘stone’ tiles to ‘wooden’ boards. 

Great for DIYers looking for a floor that’s easy to install, vinyl is usually peel-and-stick so you don’t need to use another adhesive. But even if you do, laying vinyl flooring is quick and simple - it’s thinness makes for easy cutting with a standard utility knife. Once installed, simply wipe the surface down when it needs a clean.

Now for the catch. Made from synthetics like chlorine and ethylene, vinyl isn’t a very eco-friendly flooring option. For a greener footprint, you’d be better off going for lino flooring, which is made from natural, renewable materials. However, vinyl is significantly cheaper and doesn’t require the complex floor prep and fitting that lino demands! 

All things considered, sheet vinyl is a quality choice for any DIY van build with a tight budget.

Cork Flooring

Speaking of being environmentally conscious: cork is an awesome sustainable flooring option. Compressing lightly as a feather when under pressure, cork floors offer unbeatable comfort and softness. And yet they are also tough, durable and resistant to mould! 

Coming in heaps of styles and shades, cork flooring is perfect for DIYers looking to create a unique and cosy living space. Essentially tree bark, cork provides natural insulation so its never feels as chilly as other materials. Not to mention that it also serves as a pretty effective sound barrier. Combine that with the silent footfall and you can enjoy a peaceful retreat wherever the road takes you.

But these advantages come with a higher price tag – cork flooring can cost up to ten times as much as vinyl or laminate floors. It also stains and scratches quite easily, requiring regular upkeep that can knock the simplicity of van life.

Flooring Options To Avoid


Hardwood Flooring

There’s no denying the timeless beauty of a hardwood floor, but it’s just not the right fit for a van. 

Heavier, thicker and more expensive than the options above, hardwood will take up more room than necessary in your already compact living space. Susceptible to scratches, staining and mould (even when sealed), you’ll be trading durability for aesthetics. Not a wise move when on the move.

Carpet

Carpeting and camping have never been an iconic duo. Far from it, given that carpet traps dirt, retains moisture and absorbs odours - all the things you want to avoid when staying in a van! Bare in mind that you won’t have access to a vacuum, either, which makes cleaning a serious chore. 

But if you love the look and feel of plush carpet beneath your feet, you can always buy a rug or floor mat to place on top of your flooring. That way, you’ll enjoy the style and softness of a carpet with minimal effort, simply throwing it in the wash every now and again to keep it fresh!

When To Lay Your Flooring

Once you’ve chosen your flooring material, you need to decide when you will install it. You’ve got two options:

A: Install Your Floor Before Your Fixtures

Lay all of your flooring first, affixing furniture to the wall studs afterwards.

Pros
  • Simple setup: no worrying about weaving your way around standing fixtures. The wheel wells will likely be your only obstacle, and tailoring to this should be easy if you’ve built boxes around them already.
  • Complete coverage: you won’t have any nooks and crannies around the edges of your fixtures. That means no dirt and moisture build up!

Cons
  • Heavier weight: the more material you use, the more weight you’ll add to the build, some of which isn’t that necessary. 
  • More expenses: a larger surface area to cover means more material to pay for.
  • Less stability: furnishings will have to be mounted to the wall studs, which are much less stable than the subfloor. 

B: Install Your Fixtures Before Your Floor

Build your furniture right onto the subfloor, installing your floor around them.

Pros
  • Greater stability: screwing your fixtures directly into the subfloor allows you to center their weight to the floor instead of the walls. 
  • Lighter weight: what you lose in weight, you’ll make in gas mileage!
  • Less materials: and a little more money will go a long way during your van conversion.

Cons
  • More difficult to install: expect to spend many hours cutting, trialling and recutting to make your floor fit the space like a puzzle piece. 
  • Fewer options: plan B only works with easy-to-cut flooring, as you’ll be tailoring it to slot in between any standing fixtures.
  • Subfloor damage: you’ll need to use tarp or some other form of coverage that keeps your subfloor dry and protected at all times. 

Geared up with the above tips, you’re well on your way to laying the right foundation for your adventures. Just remember to take your time and do your research - install the flooring properly from day one and you’ll enjoy a solid surface for years to come!

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