Flooring, Flooring Everywhere
If you're like me, you don't give a lot of thought to the floors you stand on every day. When it came to install one in my van conversion, however, it turned out that - maybe unsurprisingly - there's quite a lot of things involved in flooring, especially flooring in a vehicle like this!
Floors need insulation, just like walls and ceilings. However, how much they need depends on what kind of environment your van will be in. If your van is generally going to be colder than the outside environment, then floor insulation is important as it'll be where the biggest heat delta is in your van (the heavier, colder air inside versus the hot outside).
However, if your van is generally going to be warmer than the outside environment - which here, in the high-altitude mountain west, is going to generally be the case - then the roof insulation ends up being more important for the opposite reason. Floor insulation is still useful, don't get me wrong, but it's going to have less of an effect on overall temperature.
Floor insulation is also more limited a selection than in other locations - you need a material that can take a human foot compression load, which generally means you're going to end up with some sort of solid, closed-cell foam.
The two main options I've read up on are:
- XPS foam (rigid, pink board often used for houses). Great insulator, easy to cut, but it does squeak so it needs gluing down well.
- Polyethylene foam (often called Minicell). Almost as good an insulator, very waterproof and doesn't squeak.
Normally, you'd go buy these in sheets and cut them to size around the ridges in the van floor so you get a nice level surface, but if you go with the polyethylene foam, there is a pre-made product called VanTred that comes pre-cut and shaped for the ridges and the van walls/wheel wells. Since I was going to pick polyethylene anyway, and I'm lazy, this is what I went with.
Installation? Put the mat in the van. Though, before you do that, you may want to use it as a template for your subfloor!
Subfloors are important - they are an important part of the floor's structural stability - keeping it flat and stopping it moving around - as well as a place to fasten things into, like cabinetry. For this reason, you would generally use 1/2" - 3/4" (12 - 18mm) plywood.
However, I am taking things a bit riskier - I'm using 1/4" (6mm) plywood. The reasons for this are threefold:
- My flooring layer is luxury vinyl plank, which itself has quite a bit of structural rigidity. Thus, the subfloor needs to do less of that job.
- I'll be fastening all of my cabinetry and other interiors to the walls, as they will be built out of aluminium extrusion. As a result, while they will rest on the floor for weight-bearing, they will not secure into it for sideways load-bearing.
- I'm tall, and want to get as much vertical height inside as I can, even if it's 1/4" at a time.
For this reason, I made the tradeoff and went with the thinner plywood. We'll see how it holds up over time, but it feels good and solid now once it's installed with the flooring on it.
- Trace out the outline of the van floor on your sheets of plywood. This is a lot easier if you have a pre-shaped cargo mat to use as a template! Remember to leave a gap around the edge, you don't want it touching the sheet metal.
- Cut out the pieces of plywood using a circular saw and a jigsaw.
- Test-fit them into the van individually and refine if necessary
- Place them into the van using a little adhesive to secure them to the installation (if you want - not strictly necessary)
- Tape them together to make them move more as a single piece (again, if you want)
- Use painter's/masking tape to protect the walls and then foam around the gap between the insulation/subfloor and the van walls to close up the air gap, and also to help hold both in place.
The flooring itself - the main event! The thing you'll use! The thing you'll notice every imperfection on if you do it wrong!
Again, you have a few choices here - the ones I considered were:
- Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) - Rigid, plank flooring made out of vinyl (the hard kind). Waterproof, hard-wearing, but expands/contracts with temperature.
- Laminate wood flooring - Particleboard with a veneer and wear layer on top. Also hard-wearing, but is not waterproof and additionally expands/contracts with humidity.
- Vinyl sheet - Provides no structural reinforcement of its own, but as a single large piece, expansion/contraction is less of a problem.
Knowing how annoying vinyl sheets are to install perfectly and repair problems in, I opted for the luxury vinyl plank. It also helps that my local Home Depot has a very large selection of colours in stock so I could go browse and compare them directly.
- Get templates for the left and right walls of the van.
- Check your living area's length and make sure the last plank segment will be more than 8 inches long. If not, you'll need to cut down the first plank in every other row to ensure that it will be (you want to stagger the joints by more than 8 inches)
- Start at the rear left corner, and lay the first row, using the templates and a jigsaw to cut out the notches for the wheel wells and pillars. It's best to do this one plank at a time, butting it up against the previous plank for reference.
- To join planks at the short end, use a deadblow hammer to tap them into each other.
- Use a table saw to cut the last plank to the right length to end just before the front cab. Remember this measurement!
- Now, do the center rows of flooring, staggering each one so the joins are offset. Do this by cutting the first or the last plank (on alternate rows) to that shorter measurement you took.
- To join planks to the previous row along the long edge, lever them in, and then use a scrap piece of flooring with the matching lip, clicked into that row, to tap it in. You need the scrap piece so you don't damage the "click lip" on the row you're tapping in.
- For the last, right-side row, use the templates and the jigsaw again, as well as the table saw to rip the planks to the slightly narrower width required. Use a prybar to push this against the previous row if needed, as you can't hit it with a hammer now.
My floor would have taken exactly 4 boxes of planks if I hadn't screwed up, but knowing how I built things, I bought 5 boxes and used exactly one plank of the fifth box, so I feel vindicated in that choice.
Finally, since you don't want the raw edge of your flooring showing near the doors, you need to add floor edging. This is relatively simple - pick the style you want, cut to length, glue/nail it on, and done.
I used one style of thicker edging (actually not quite intended for this, but it works) for the cargo area, and a sleeker one designed specifically for LVP for the cab-to-living-area transition. I haven't done the side door yet as it will need a little extra work once the cabinetry is in, but I'll use a similarly large edging there (like the cargo area) I imagine.
- Measure where you want the edging to go
- Cut it down to length with an aluminium-rated blade on a chop saw or mitre saw
- Add adhesive on the inside and put it in place
- Nail it in if it has nail holes
And done! Not too bad, eh?
Well, that's flooring. It was fortunately not too difficult to do, reversible and re-doable if I had screwed it up, and I think the end result came out rather nicely.
One comment on sequencing - some people choose not to do flooring until later in the build, and I can see why. Once you've finished it, you need to cover it with a drop cloth while you do insulation and roof work, so it could be worth leaving it until after those - though I did value having a nice solid floor to stand on while doing those, rather than a noisy sheet metal floor!
You can see even more blog posts about the van build on its category page, and get updates via my YouTube channel, Twitter, or blog RSS.