Van Conversion Floor DIY- Step by Step Guide
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This step has many different options that all work, making it a bit overwhelming. In this post I will be going over different methods and the pros and cons of each. Then I will explain exactly what I did for my floor and what I would do differently next time.
Table of Contents
The floor is extremely time consuming and took much longer than I planned. Some steps require days to dry and for me, I had to wait for some friends to have time to help. I chose to only fill in the three deepest corrugations of my floor and I did not frame the floor. I used 3/4 inch XPS foam board as the next layer and then 1/2 inch birch plywood before installing my final vinyl floor layer. I did drill some self tapping screws through the plywood and through the van floor to secure it down in a few places. I know people worry about putting holes in the floor but it really is not a huge deal and can be (needs to be) sealed afterwards. The adhesive materials I used are liquid nails, Loctite PL-300, spray foam and caulking around the edges. Looking back, I would of used 3m 90 spray between the van floor and XPS foam board instead of PL-300.
Materials Used & Big Decisions
- Self Tapping Screws- source locally based on length needed
- Basic Power Tools
- Speed Square
- Tape Measurer
- Band Saw (If applicable)
- Utility Knife
- Pull (Crow) Bar
- Rubber Mallet
- Gorilla Tape
- Caulking Gun
- Someone who has installed literally any of it before.
- Choose your plywood for your subfloor
- Decide if you are going to fill in your corrugations (valleys).
- Decide if you feel the need to frame your floor.
- Choose what kind of final floor layer you want (like vinyl planks or sheet vinyl)
Filling In Floor Corrugations?
After researching a lot I realized there is some controversy with how to do the van floor. Lets go through the possible layers, starting from the bare metal and moving up.
Vans come with different valleys and ridges on the floor. This can create a problem if the lower sections (valleys) are pretty deep. The subfloor will start caving in and you may feel it when you walk. Over time this could cause the top layers to buckle or warp.
Keep in mind, many van floors are different. Mine had corrugations of course but the valleys were very minimal. There were only 3 deeper ones that I felt the need to fill in. I chose to fill mine in with strips of pine wood that was thin enough to meet flush with the ridges next to them. Another option is to cut long and narrow pieces of foam board to lay down in the valleys.
I honestly think it is a little overkill to fill in every single spot on the floor. Especially since I put 3/4 in XPS foam board, 1/2 in Birch Plywood and 6M vinyl tongue and groove flooring over it. With all of these over the very small valleys in my floor, there is no problem at all.
I did have previous holes in the floor I had to seal up before putting the pieces of pine down. I did this using JB Weld. It caused a raised bump which we then drilled a hole in that exact spot on the pine so it would lay flush.
Should You Frame Your Van Floor?
Many people “frame” their van floor. This means they make a wooden grid like structure on the floor to then cut pieces of insulation to fit inside. The purpose of this is to give the floor more stability, strength and to anchor future parts of the build to.
First of all, wood is a great heat conductor so the more wood in your floor the less your insulation will work. These wooden routes create a great path of least resistance for heat to travel throughout your pieces of insulation.
Keep in mind, everything comes into play for your entire systems R-Value. This means framing the floor has a negative impact on how well your insulation does it’s job. Check out my previous post to learn about insulation here.
Second, it can take away precious space in the van. I don’t know about you, but I bought a tall van for a reason and I wanted it to stay that way.
Third, your floor isn’t going anywhere! Many people stick the wooden framing down with some type of adhesive and use those as anchoring points for the plywood. They drive self tapping screws to anchor the plywood to the wooden framing. I understand this although the wooden slats are still not anchored into the actual metal floor anyways (only adhesive materials) so it all just seems silly.
My Dad’s friend from third grade has been a carpenter for over 40 years. He is very good at what he does and when I spoke to him, he made me feel more comfortable in this decision. He has even put flooring down in vans before. He said the best ting to do is use half inch birch plywood with a few self tapping screws and that I do NOT need to frame the floor.
This is because some spots where two cuts meet may not stay 100% down or that specific spot may get a lot of traffic over the years.
This brings me to my next topic..
Drilling Holes In Your Van Floor?!
I chose to do a floating floor like many other Van Conversion DIY-ers. Well, I kind of did a hybrid. Many people avoid drilling into the actual van floor for a good reason: rust. Any hole you put into the floor of your van creates a possible leak/rust point. However, it is not too hard to seal the hole and may be necessary on some areas of your floor.
Lets face it, your van floor is not perfect. It may not be completely level, one ridge may be slightly too high from the factory or something from a previous step might of not been done too amazing. We all make mistakes, and thats totally fine.
I had two spots where the plywood was kind of popping up. You could feel it when you walked over it, and I knew this would bother me for the rest of my existence if I didn’t fix it. I would think about it every time I walked on that part of my floor and felt it move. I decided to put two self tapping screws into these areas. They were not only popping up or “loose” but they were in high traffic areas. They were not near the edge of the van wall where a bed or counter would be built on top of it.
Remember: it is OKAY to do this. You just need to seal the hole up after. You can go underneath the van and apply silicone or caulk around the hardware sticking through.
WARNING: Before drilling any holes you need to check that you’re not going into anything important underneath the van!
Choosing Your Subfloor Plywood
There are many different types of plywood. The term “ply” when talking about plywood refers to the layers manufacturers used to make the boards at different thicknesses.
A veneer is each single layer of of thin wood that is glued together to make a different number of ply. There is 3 ply, 5 ply and multi ply options.
- 3 ply is the most common and only uses 3 layers of veneers. Its more elegant look for using inside.
- 5 ply is again 5 layers of veneers and great for circumstances that don’t require it to be super strong and durable.
- Multi ply is super strong with 7 layers or more. This is used for exterior use and roofing.
Now that you kind understand different layering options. There are also different types of materials used to make up the layers or “veneers”.
- Softwood: often used by construction workers for framing, roof sheathing and sub flooring. Other common uses are shelves and cabinets.
- cedar, pine or redwood
- Hardwood: is usually between 3-7 layers and is very strong. The layers are glued at right angles to one another increasing the strength. Hardwood is used when something needs a very strong frame like furniture.
- maple, birch, oak and walnut
- Exterior: If the plywood is put together using water-resistant glue, it is considered to be exterior plywood
I chose to use birch hardwood plywood. Birch is one of the strongest materials that can be used but it is vulnerable to changes in temperature. This means, it could possibly expand due to heat. This won’t be a problem if you leave a 1/4 inch gap around the plywood on your van floor. You will want to do this anyways to prevent the wood from rubbing against the metal wall and causing it to squeak. Birch is known for its thin but strong qualities and is used for many different projects.
Understanding Baltic Birch Plywood
Long story short, I cried in home depot over this one. How ridiculous right? Well, after researching a lot I found a respectable page that explained why Baltic Birch Plywood is the best option. Its high quality because screws anchor into it better, it’s stronger, etc.
Well turns out this stuff is like gold in the wood world. I couldn’t find it ANYWHERE. The 5 lumber stores here did not even have it, some could order it in and some couldn’t even do that.
I was so stressed out and overwhelmed to build my van right. After my freak out I asked my Dad’s friend Jerry which I should of done in the beginning.
Jerry (carpenter of over 40 years, and a damn good one) thought using it was ridiculous. He said it just is not necessary and using 1/2 inch Birch plywood will be more than enough.
Research is great but we have to remember alot of the stuff we find online is very unnecessary. We all want to build our little homes perfectly, I know. Sometime less is more, and sometimes (well, ALL of the time) experience of many years is way more valuable than someone online who looks like they have an awesome van build.
Baltic Birch vs. Other Plywood
To start, Baltic birch is a plywood product native to the northeastern region of Europe around the Baltic Sea. It’s manufactured for European cabinetmaking.
This is what makes the difference: Baltic birch’s core is unlike traditional plywood you may be used to seeing: the layers of inner plies are 1.5 mm-thick solid birch veneer, cross-banded, and laminated with exterior grade adhesive. This is a great combination that is very high quality. Baltic Birch is great for thousands of projects in woodworking.
So.. Yes baltic birch plywood is great. The layers used are not softer filler layers like other plywood. The strength is great, 100% of the screw threads are claimed to be held, etc. What you need to think about is this is awesome for crazy projects, tables or having to use extremely large sheets of plywood and wanting to reduce possible bowing as much as possible. The van space isn’t that large first of all, and it is just a basic flat sheet of wood, not a crazy woodworking maze.
That is my rant. If you can easily find it and use it then great, it definitely is a great high quality choice but nothing to cry in Home Depot over if you can’t find it… moving on.
My Van Floor Layers
- Bare Van Floor
- Liquid Nails
- Filling Corrugations w/Pine (varies)
- Loctite PL-300 (I Recommend 3M-78)
- Insulation (XPS Foam)
- Loctite PL-300
- Plywood (1/2 In. Birch)
- Vinyl Flooring
The adhesive I used for each layer is listed in italics . PL-300 is specifically engineered for foam. This will not burn through foam board like other adhesive materials. I used Loctite PL-300 for between the van floor and the XPS foam board and I used it between the foam board and plywood. I used liquid nails just for the three pieces of pine I used to fill the three deep corrugations. Looking back I would have used the 3M-78 Adhesive spray I ordered online. This seems (from my research now) to be stronger between the foam board and the metal van floor. After installing the foam board and keeping it weighed down for two days I still had some spots that would not stay down well.
Keeping the original floor of your van is very important. You can re-use this template many times for your van floor. I did not cut the insulation to fit around the wheels with a radius but I did do that for the plywood using the old floor. This was done using a jig saw which is much easier and almost a necessity for this step.
A jig saw is extremely handy for cutting things like radius cuts, holes in the wall for windows or holes in the ceiling for AC units and vent fans. If you do not want to buy one, ask around and see if a friend has one you can borrow. There is one here on amazon for a decent price and you can always have one for future use.
Sub Floor Install: Step by Step
I applied liquid nails onto the pine then I laid down the 3 pieces to fill in the three deeper corrugations of my floor. The rest were very minimal. I added weight to them and let them sit like this for over 48 hours before moving on to the next step. This was to allow them to dry and secure down as much as possible.
Then I applied the Loctite PL-300 lines on the ridges of the van as the adhesive used between the van floor and XPS foam. Looking back, I would of used 3M-78 adhesive spray instead of this caulk because I think it would of held a little better. Both of these materials are specifically made for XPS foam! You will need AT LEAST 12 bottles of PL-300.
Once I had the whole foam layer down, I left it for 48 hours again! Then, I came back and applied spray foam along all of the outside edges and between each piece of board. I purposefully left a gap between each piece laid on my floor. I was worried the foam boards would rub on each other and squeak. The spray foam is also a great way to secure it even more.
WARNING: Be sure to pay close attention and do not spray too much. You do not want to get spray foam actually underneath the foam boards. When it dries and expands it could pop them upwards.
Once I let this dry for a day, I came back and shave it all down with a knife so it was level with the foam boards. Following this, I put gorilla tape down along all of the edges and between the boards before moving on to installing the plywood layer. Then I applied the precut plywood one piece at a time starting in the back. I used the same Loctite PL-300 which works well between the wood and foam board. I added a lot of weight around the whole floor and left it for 48 hours .
Subfloor is ALMOST DONE! Once I let this plywood sit weighed down for 2 days I had to fill in the gap around all of the edges I kept. I wanted something that is waterproof and not too rigid. If it is a little softer it will allow the plywood to expand if it ever has to. This will prevent it from ever buckling. I decided to use something I found a my Dad’s shop… OSI Quad Sealant Our guys use this stuff when installing hurricane shutters a lot. It took me about 3.5 cans.
Really it is only touching the gorilla tape (that was put down along each side over the foam), the plywood and the van wall. I only added this around the outside and not between the wood in the middle.
This OSI caulk took a VERY long time to fully dry, which is fine! I had to lay a thick layer around the whole plywood layer. It still feels a little squishy which again is a good thing because if the plywood ever needs to expand it can.
NOW IT”S TIME FOR THE FINAL LAYER! The step I had been waiting for forever, installing the vinyl flooring.
Choosing Your Final Floor Layer
This is the top layer of your floor that will always be seen. What are your options for your final floor layer?
Well you could use carpet, tile, vinyl, laminate, wood, etc. I hands down recommend vinyl flooring. Why vinyl? Many reasons! Vinyl flooring has waterproof options (laminate does not), wear and tear resistant, sound proof, easy to install and easy to clean with zero maintenance. There are a few different styles of vinyl flooring so lets go over each of them.
- Sheet Vinyl: comes in large rolls and is similar to paper. It has to be glued down to the subfloor. Not only does it have to be glued, but your subfloor has to be just about perfect or you will be able to see any divots or imperfections through the sheet. Yes it is a decent choice, but there are much better.
- Vinyl Planks: Can come in a few different ways like interlocking, loose lay, glued down, etc. I reccomend using vinyl plank flooring that you do not have to glue down. A floating floor is just fine and the van is not a huge area to worry about, it is not going anywhere. This is what I did with my floor.
Installing Vinyl Plank Flooring
Luckily, I had a coworker who has installed vinyl plank flooring before so I paid him to install mine. I was there the whole time, mostly for moral support and taking pictures and videos… Don’t judge me! If I know someone who would help I’d rather pay them some to do it instead of me do it.. not nearly as well.
This is a very popular and helpful tool for installing your floor and to use in many other parts of your van build. Clink on the link above to learn more.
Of course you'll need one of these. I am a fan of Milwaukee and use this exact one for work every day actually. You'll need it for the whole van build of course.
This is very important for locking in the planks that are right against the wall of the van. You won't be able to fit the mallet back there to hit the side of the plank into another.
You will need this to lock in the tongue and groove planks into one another once you have them set into place.
You can use this to make every single cut on the vinyl if you had to.Most likely you already have one.
These are needed to install a floating floor like I chose to do. They help you keep space between the planks and the wall until you're finished.
Now that you have all of your tools and have decided on what color floor to choose (honestly, very difficult) it is time to install it. The beauty of these vinyl planks is you do not need any adhesive glue to install it. This is called a “floating” floor which is very popular these days.
Vinyl floor also has complete waterproof options (not just water resistant) which is why I chose it. I also chose to get the slightly more expensive flooring because it can withstand hotter temperatures. I am originally from Florida and I knew it would be hanging out in florida some if I am not using it. Florida gets very hot and it gets even hotter inside a vehicle here. To me, it was worth the extra money.
I recommend starting on the far wall and getting all of the harder cuts out of the way. These are of course found along the van wall to get around certain ridges and the wheels. We did not find it necessary to cut a radius for the vinyl to curve around the wheel because A wooden frame will be built to surround the wheels anyways.
These vinyl planks click into each other fairly easy but there is some tricks to use. I recommend watching some youtube videos to see how people usually do it. The tools listed above are extremely important to do it the right way especially if you’ve never done it before.
I highly reccomend not doing your final floor layer until your insulation is done. The spray foam is relentless and I would of HATED getting any of it on my vinyl floor. There is no reason to do the floor first. You do want to get it done before you put the walls or any cabinet framing though. This is your waterproof layer! That being said, you do not need to o the floor before doing any of your insulation.
That’s a wrap for my floor! So far the most tedious step… but there is much more to come! The next post will be covering the electric system and how I chose my system and why. This is a big one!!!