What Lies Ahead Van Build Guide: The Floor

In our Nissan NV2500 van conversion, the first thing we felt made sense to tackle was the floor. That is, of course, after we ripped everything out of the van itself!

Since this post is the introduction into our own take on a Van Build Guide, I want to point out that I will be structuring these posts differently than other guides I’ve seen. You can find guides online that, for example, go deep into the nitty-gritty of how different types of insulation work and the mathematics behind it. Jamie and I are well-read on these facts, but we are not professionals. Rather, I will detail each key component of our build from start-to-finish, and mark clearly where other progress was made on other parts of the van in between steps if that information relevant. Obviously, this chapter will cover our floor, starting from insulation, to plywood flooring itself, and ending with our vinyl tiling choices!

Insulation

After stripping the interior of our cargo van and meticulously spraying, scrubbing, and vacuuming each surface clean, we were left with a bare, ribbed metal flooring. Our first question was – Will the ribbing in our flooring prove annoying (or dangerous) down the line after we lay plywood on top of it?

Both to protect your van floor against mold growth and to maintain the integrity of your insulation, it is imperative that there are not gaps in any sealed area of your van. To solve this issue with our flooring, we cut and laid strips of fiberglass batting (the pink fluffy insulation) inside the ridges of the van’s floor.

The pros and cons of fiberglass batting are as follows: it is a very inexpensive form of insulation, and it is super accessible and easy-to-find, but it can irritate your skin and you must wear a mask when it is openly exposed, because it is toxic to breathe in. The major concern here is that on the road, bumpy driving can shake and disturb this type of insulation and release microscopic fiberglass particles into your cabin. If you, like us, feel confident that this level of insulation will be completely sealed away, you should be able to use it safely.

Fiberglass batting easily fills gaps like what we had in our floor, so for us, this choice was a no-brainer. A more earth-friendly and less toxic alternative would be Havelock Wool, which was unfortunately both outside of our price range and is regularly on backorder.

On top of the fiberglass batting, we laid massive 1/2″ sheets of XPS foam board insulation (also pink!). To fit it around the wheel wells and the back door’s curves, I measured and cut rough cardboard stencils that I then traced and cut out of the foam boards with a standard utility knife. Save your stencils for later – They will also be used to shape your plywood. Our van is on the somewhat short side, so it only took two 4’x8′ sheets to cover the floor with XPS. Don’t worry about gaps along the floor’s edges, those can be filled in with Great Stuff spray foam!

Everything was adhered to our van floor with 3m high-strength spray adhesive. We kept several cans around because that stuff came in handy often.

The Plywood Floor

The actual floor itself wasn’t a huge deal to install. The XPS insulation boards were a sort of test run of how the floor would fit together, and if you go our route, you’ll basically be making the exact same cuts to your plywood as you did to the foam boards.

We used 1/2″ plywood, because with the right amount of pressure at a single point, 1/4″ could certainly crack. This wood doesn’t have to be anything special, we simply made numerous trips to Home Depot and grabbed the least expensive 4’x8′ sheets they have. When we knew the rough width or length we needed, we would ask an employee to make big rip or cross cuts for us. Most of the time, though, we would take the sheets straight home so we could double and triple check all of our measurements. And like I said before, our cardboard stencils continued to be useful for cutting out curves with a jigsaw. The tricky part here was actually locking our flooring down.

We have no drive to use this van as anything other than our own camper, so whereas other conversions take the extra steps to make sure the van can revert to its blank slate form, we… Didn’t. We found rust-resistant, self-tapping screws and stuck with those for virtually all of our van build. A 2″ screw could cleanly drive itself through the plywood, the layer of insulation, and lock itself in the body of the van itself. We screwed down a few key points, particularly where plywood had started to warp (we were after all working during the winter, and things occasionally got a little wet). However, with properly-cut pieces of plywood that conform to the shape of your van well, a tight fit and gravity will do a lot of the work here, so there is no need to go overboard with screws.

Vinyl Tiles

Some vanlifers go the extra mile and sand, stain, and varnish a nice hardwood floor for themselves. In our Nissan, however, after the bed frame and kitchen counter were in place, Jamie and I were left with floor space that was maybe around 4’x4′, and that sort of work didn’t seem worth the trouble. To be clear: we laid the vinyl tiling after the bed and cabinet were mostly finished, which means this step also came after wall, ceiling, and seating construction.

What we went with were faux vinyl shaped and printed to look like hardwood floorboards. They even have texture to them, so they honestly look pretty good! They are also water-resistant, easy to clean, and very easy to install.

The only two things to keep in mind when installing vinyl tiles are that you must always have a firm, measured starting point to base your layoff pattern, and you should separate identical wood textures as much as possible. Our vinyl tile boxes included five or six different floorboard styles – each piece is not totally unique.

Luckily, we had already cut our interior in half with our bed frame, so it was very simple butting a tile right against that framing, offsetting the next row of tiles by about nine inches, butting the next row right up against the frame, and so on. Our tiles were self-adhering, and gravity again helped us keep everything in place.

The only issue with vinyl tiles, in our experience, is that they are extremely susceptible to temperature changes. We tried to run a heater inside the van as much as possible, but we were still working in winter, and our travels from wintry New England to sunny LA cause the tiling to expand and contract considerably. Try to lay your tiles as tightly together as possible, but beware – You may still end up with some tiny gaps.

Notes

Many vanlifers, particularly ones thinking they may rip their floor out someday, will build a subfloor to attach their plywood flooring to. We did not do that, but a guide for that can be found here.

The very thorough guide we followed when settling on insulation was made by Far Out Ride.

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Until next time,

Noah

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