Camper Van Conversion – Installing Subfloor & Vinyl Flooring

Installed vinyl plank flooring

Installing a floor in a camper van has multiple steps as you will need to first install a subfloor before installing the finished floor.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to flooring on a van build. There are many different ways to approach it and the following list will detail many of the popular ways.

  1. Install the subfloor directly on the metal van floor – a lazy way of doing it and will cause an uneven floor.
  2. Use rigid foam insulation as a base to install the subfloor on
  3. Build a wooden frame so that the subfloor can be mounted evenly throughout the van

We went with the third option because this seemed like the best approach. We wanted our floor to be straight and square so the other options were out of the question.

Installing the Wooden Frame

Our flooring frame was built using 1 x 2-inch pine furring strips. These furring strips would allow us to install them on the flat areas of the van floor. On top of that, we would install the 1/2 inch plywood that would be our subfloor.

The subfloor allows a straight, square, solid base in which we will be able to install our final finished floor on. In the end, we should have a floor that looks straight with no dips or uneven areas, just like the floor in your house.

Step 1

First, we bought a bunch of furring strips and laid them out in our van to get an idea of how far to space them. The typical floor joists in a home are 16 inches apart. We wanted ours closer than that since we would be using 1/2 inch plywood, whereas a house generally uses 3/4 inch plywood.

Of course, not all the spaces were even but we made sure they were at most, 10 inches apart. The areas where we would be walking in the van received the most support. We wanted to be sure and have a sturdy floor that wouldn’t flex when moving around in the van.

Step 2

We cut each of the pieces to size and then glued them down to the floor using Liquid Nails. We also used bolts in two of them; one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger’s side.

These bolts went through the metal floor with a lock washer and nut on the underside of the floor.

We used 4 bolts in each one from front to back, that way we would have two furring strips that were solidly held in place by bolts. All the other furring strips would be connected to these two making for a sturdy base.

With the combination of bolts and glue, we had a strong base that was tightly held to the floor.

Step 3

We cut the small cross pieces to fit between the long pieces giving to floor more support.

These cross pieces allowed us to simply make the floor strong and more sturdy. They were attached using pocket screws and glue to the other long furring strips.

It’s also worth noting that we did these steps in phases. We worked on the front and then the rear and we laid down weights all over the floor to help the Liquid Nails dry more securely to the metal floor.

Installing the floor Insulation

Once the floor base was installed, we began working on insulation for the floor. Many people leave this part out and say it isn’t necessary.

However, we wanted to insulate our floor mainly because we had the space to do it and also because we hoped it would help reduce road noise.

There are varying opinions on this but we decided that using 1/2 inch Polyiso boards in the spaces between the furring strips made sense. It wouldn’t hurt anything since we already had space. Why not fill it with insulation?

Installing the plywood subfloor

Once the furring strip framing was in and the insulation was installed, we were ready to install the subflooring on top. We essentially had floor joists in which to mount the plywood on so at that point it was like working on a floor in a house.

We simply cut the plywood in three separate sections and then screwed it down in various places to the floor joists.

We used construction paper to build templates around any difficult areas such as the front rounded area and the wheel wells.

This worked great and we ended up with a perfectly fitted layer of 1/2 inch plywood for our floor.

Now with the subfloor installed, we had a nice area to stand and walk on during other parts of our build. It wouldn’t be until months later that we were ready to install the final vinyl plank flooring.

I had installed a paper along the floor to protect the floor while I was working on other parts of the van. Probably not necessary but I didn’t want to scar or scratch or get other things on the floor as I was working.

Deciding on a Finished Floor to Use

We wanted our van to look like a little home. This would entail installing a floor that looked as though it was in your home. We considered vinyl plank flooring and other engineered woods for this.

In the end, we chose to go with vinyl plank flooring from Lifeproof that we purchased at our local Home Depot.

We felt like this was the best option to use in a van build since it would be exposed to temperature extremes and possible moisture.

This flooring is supposed to be 100% waterproof and it’s difficult to determine whether its even real wood or not. It’s amazing how much it looks like wood.

Here’s what we like about it

  • It looks rustic and real which is the look we are going for in our van.
  • It is waterproof.
  • It is made of vinyl so it shouldn’t expand and contract as much as real wood does.
  • It already has an underlayment attached to it that also serves to reduce noise.
  • It seems to be very durable which is needed in a van conversion.

It’s pretty much everything we wanted in a floor, now it’s time to see how easy it is to install, what it looks like and how it holds up over time.

Installing Our Vinyl Plank Flooring

The vinyl flooring that we picked out seemed intimidating at first to install. However, we soon found out that the installation was fairly simple except for a few difficult places.

The floor cuts easily and attaches together easily which allows you to lay down the floor very quickly.

Tools we used

  • Measuring tape
  • Straight edge ruler
  • Pencil
  • Sharp box cutter
  • Saw of some sort – we used a scroll saw but a jigsaw would do the trick as well. There were a few areas where we did use a jigsaw.
  • #6 x 1 inch screws
  • Rubber mallet
  • Pull bar

Since the flooring already has an underlayment attached, we were able to simply lay the flooring down onto the plywood subflooring.

If your flooring does not have an underlayment, it will be best if you install an underlayment first. This will help cushion the flooring, deaden sounds, and remove moisture.

We started at the sliding door and worked our way towards the back of the van. We wanted to start here because we wanted to get this part perfectly straight since this will be the part that is seen first as the door opens.

Although we made sure everything was straight, there is still a chance that things could be slightly off as we work our way into the van with the planks.

If we had started on the other side of the van and worked our way towards the door, any part that isn’t straight would be instantly seen as you enter the van.

Step 1

The first thing we did on the first plank was to measure exactly how long it needed to be. This first plank also needs to be cut out to match the angles around the trim of the van.

This was easy to mark by using thick paper that we simply cut and taped together to get the exact angles. We then transferred this template to our final plank and cut the angles with a scroll saw.

Once we had the first plank cut and ready to go, we laid it down, made sure it was straight and then put a few small screws to hold it in place. These screws will later be covered with aluminum stair edging so you won’t see them.

Now that this first plank is in place and screwed down, we have a straight workplace in which to butt the other planks up against.

Step 2

Once you have the first plank in place, it’s easy to use this as the base for all of the rest of the planks. In our case, the next plank went beside the first plank. We continued this process towards the back of the van.

We decided to use this flooring in all of the areas that were still unfinished. Originally we were going to use rubber flooring in the garage area but we went ahead and used this vinyl planking since we had plenty and decided it would be a nice finished look.

It’s also waterproof and it will be easy to clean as we move things in and out of the garage area.

During this process, we simply laid the planks down and hammered them tightly using the tap that we purchased. There was also a lot of cutting around things such as the kitchen cabinets the front bench and lots of crazy angles towards the rear of the van.

We found that using a razor blade wasn’t the greatest way to cut these boards.

Although it did work in some cases and gave us a clean-cut, we mainly relied on our scroll saw to make most of the cuts, especially cuts that weren’t straight.

The scroll saw gave us a clean-cut and was straight for the most part.

However, if you aren’t comfortable with a scroll saw or don’t have one, a jigsaw works fine as well.

Step 3

After we finished the entire floor, we went around and put small screws on the outside areas that are going to be covered with trim. That way the floor never moves since it is screwed down on all sides of the van.

We will have quarter round moulding along the baseboards of the walls so any screws or nails that are put down will be covered up by this.

Just make sure you measure first so that your screw isn’t out past where the quarter round moulding will cover-up.

Tips on Installing The Lifeproof Vinyl Planks

  • With each piece you lay down, be sure and sweep any debris out of the way. We didn’t do this a few times and had some pieces that wouldn’t go down all the way.
  • Measure multiple times, think it through and take your time. It’s really easy to get all turned around when you are cutting around corners or weird angles if you are not an expert at this.
  • Be sure to have a very sharp blade. A box cutter works fine but you may need to change the blade a few times to keep it sharp.
  • You will need a good tapping block and also a good pull bar to pull the flooring tight once you get to the hard to reach areas.

Final Thoughts on the Lifeproof Vinyl Planks

Overall, we had a great experience with this flooring option. The installation process was extremely easy, even for people who have never done anything like this before.

If you want a homey look to your van, RV or any type of camper, you can’t go wrong with Lifeproof flooring.

We felt like it was the perfect flooring for our camper van build because it’s a great in-between option. We didn’t want to go with cheap-looking vinyl floor and we didn’t want to use high-end wood or manufactured flooring.

Those would not be a good option in a camper environment where the humidity levels can get high.

We won’t have to worry about that with the vinyl planks that we chose. They are supposed to be waterproof and they likely won’t be an issue with humidity.

They are also well made and seem like they would take a beating without showing any signs of wear and tear.

We are glad we chose them for our build.

Update After 6 Months

At the time of this writing, it has been around six months since installing our flooring. We have been able to put it to the test on road trips, in rain, snow and major temperature swings.

I’m happy to report that the flooring has held up very well and it seems like it was the perfect choice for us.

There is only one problem that we have noticed with the flooring. When we initially installed the Lifeproof vinyl planks, it was the middle of summer in the South and the heat had the vinyl planks expanded to the max.

When we installed them, everything was great. There were no gaps and the floor looked as if it were one seamless wood floor.

Fast forward six months and now we are in the wintertime and the temps have already been below freezing. The flooring has a few small gaps in it now where it has contracted with the cold weather.

I’m not sure how to avoid this other than installing this when it is in-between hot and cold temps. I would assume that the fall or spring would have been a better time to install it.

However, I still think there will be small gaps from the floor contracting no matter what you do.

Even still, the floor looks great even with small gaps here and there and I would assume that as it gets warm again, the floor will expand and the gaps will disappear.

Other than this minor thing, the floor is a winner and we are extremely happy with the look, feel, and durability of it.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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