What Lies Ahead Van Build Guide: Walls, Ceiling, and Our Two Beds

Hi all, Noah here. I’m combining the walls/ceiling section of our guide with our bed builds because after going over our insulation use in our floor post, there’s not a ton of extra info to touch upon! This past summer, we also stripped and rebuilt our bed for a completely different interior arrangement, so I’ll note both here. Let’s get started!

Walls and Ceiling

Just like with the floor, the first step is of course stripping and scrubbing the van interior. With our Nissan NV2500, this involved removing particle board wall panels and even metal accessory tracks from the van’s bygone hauling days. The cleaning step here is always simple, but also time-consuming and laborious.

Unlike with our flooring, we only used fiberglass batting as our sole form of insulation. The way our Nissan is framed out left big gaps between the exterior and the actual framing strips, making it exceedingly simple to stuff fiberglass batting into the walls of the van. The ceiling was the same – our Nissan’s ceiling is segmented into roughly 14″-wide portions, and the fiberglass batting fit perfectly. The only note here is we filled hard-to-reach crevices and the inside of the framing beams with Great Stuff expanding foam so that we weren’t leaving pockets of air where moisture might accumulate.

We used 1/4″ sanded plywood for both the walls and the ceiling. Because our living space is about 9′ long, two 4’x8′ sheets of plywood could easily be cut to fit each section. Six sheets were used in total, with spare strips of remaining plywood used to fill the final cracks of exposed wall, about 6″ on each side of the larger pieces. Like with our floor, I used a jigsaw to cut the wall pieces to fit around the wheel wells (first creating cardboard stencils, of course), and rust-resistant, self-tapping screws secured the plywood to the frame of the van. Most of the process here is virtually identical to the way we laid our floor, so by the time we finished the walls and ceiling, our workflow felt fluid and simple!

The Stationary Bed

Our first bed was a fixed bed that sat about 3′ high, and we designed the bed specifically to have ample storage space for our travels. The build here was actually exceedingly simple.

Three ~4′ tall 2″x4″ planks were mounted vertically along each wall at the rear of the van, screwed directly into the frame for stability, and I cut out a rabbet joint from the top of each board. As you can see in the image below, the rearmost board reaches the floor, but the next two on each side were cut to rest on top of our wheel wells. From there, three more 2″x4″ planks were cut to run from wall to wall, fitting directly into the previously cut rabbet joints.

Next, a handful of 1″x3″ planks were cut to fit the width of our bed (which ran about 4 feet). They were screwed directly into the top of the frontmost and rearmost 2″x4″ boards, and we quickly had a surface for a mattress to sit on! For a mattress, we used an old foam mattress from a pull-out couch. We cut the mattress to fit the dimensions of our bed, threw it into a weatherproof case, and it was ready to go! The rest of the form of our bed came about as we constructed our living area seating and table, which will be detailed in an upcoming blog post.

The Convertible Bed

We realized relatively quickly that our stationary bed setup wasn’t quite to our tastes. We could store so much, but we truly brought along a TON of items that we practically never touched. When we visited home for a portion of the summer, we decided to rebuild the stationary bed into the common convertible bed setup, wherein a full-size table lowers down to fit among benches lining the walls, becoming a surface for your cushions to turn into a mattress.

Well, our convertible bed setup is HUGE. Our last bed took up 4′ of cabin space, and our new full bed is the same 5’10 width from wall-to-wall, but now it stretches a full 6 feet.

Here, we framed out benches in a U shape using our leftover 2″x4″ and 1″x3″ boards. Each van tackling this setup will have completely different measurements – the key here is figuring out your desired table size, centering it on your floor, and measuring the distance between your table and each wall. Our benches are 2′ tall (cutting off a foot of height from our previous bed) but they are also 2′ deep. Ultimately, we ended up with roughly the same amount of storage space!

Once the benches were framed out, we walled off the interior sides of the benches with decorative 1/4″ painted masonite. It was cheap, looks clean, and was an easy way to add a homey touch to our cabin area! We added the same masonite boards to portions of our walls during this renovation period, and we are much more happy with the way our van looks. Simple details can go a long way!

Our table was mounted onto the rear bench using a removeable, swiveling table mount. Finally, as seen in the TikTok above, we topped the benches with large 1/2″ plywood pieces, hinged to turn the benches into chest-like storage spaces. Another TikTok of the table and benches in action can be found here.

For the new mattress, we hand-made large cushions that fit the seating and converted easily into a bed. Our previous mattress was slightly too thin, so we cut the old mattress plus another foam mattress topper into five cushions worth of material: a large cushion for the rear bench, two medium-sized cushions for the side seats, and two long, thin cushions as seat backs which sit along the walls. In bed mode, the seat back cushions slide down flat, and the main side bench cushions slide center to cover the table. We’ll say it: the bed is huge… and we love it.

Did we miss anything? Feel free to reach out to us via our contact page if you have any questions about our build! Each van build is unique to the van and the adventurers living in it, so I tend to cover our thought process rather than type out a big ol’ wood cut list, but if there’s anything specific you’re wondering, don’t be afraid to reach out!

Notes

  • We did not cover the rear doors with any insulation or plywood. Instead, we attached four coat hooks to the door, and our many coats and sweatshirts do a good enough job of retaining any heat that could escape!
  • One issue with our stationary bed build was that a portion of our stored items was exclusively accessible through the back doors. With our bench setup, all of our storage can be accessed inside.

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