Part 3: Flooring
Everything starts from the ground up right? Made enough sense to me to start there, but I may have taken it a bit too far…
What I did, what I used, how long it took, and how much it cost?
To start off my van build, I decided to install a wall to wall interlocking LifeProof vinyl floor that sat on top of a plywood base, which in turn sat on top of a layer of sound deadening material/thin insulation.
In total the floor took about two days (~16 hours) to install completely. One day for sound deadening material and plywood, and then another day for vinyl. Could probably be done faster but it was the first thing we did, so we didn’t have a rhythm yet for measuring and cutting wood, and we knew absolutely zero about installing vinyl flooring.
All in the floor was ~$560 with the breakdown coming to about $250 for sound deadening material, $250 for the vinyl floor, and $60 for the plywood.
Why I did it (including counterpoints)
Sound Deadening/Insulation: I decided not to insulate the floor much (if at all) based on hearing a consensus online that even with inches of insulation, the floor is still going to be cold. Sure, insulation anywhere is going to help, but I also wanted to make sure I had ample headroom in the van as I’m six foot, so no insulation it was. I did install sound deadener as plywood directly on sheet metal just seems to be loud as hell. For the floor I laid sound deadener on the whole thing which I realized later is probably overkill (probably could have used a bit less and left some spaces in between each panel of the sound deadener) but you live and learn.
Floating Plywood Floor: I used 3/4” OSB so it’d have some substance to it in case I wanted to secure anything into the floor (which I later did, so good call there I guess). You can probably go thinner but OSB is so cheap you might as well go big. I got the tongue and groove sheathing which locked into itself really nicely and made sure there were no gaps. This doesn’t matter too much on the top end as I covered it all with vinyl, but I also decided not to tie the floor down and let it float, so having the tongue and groove for it to lock in place I think helps out in that regard. I’ve seen a lot of people tie the floor down, but knowing I was going to have a stationary bed, benches, and cabinets we just couldn’t imagine it moving around once all that weight was on top. Been working out great so far, and it saved me from drilling holes in the floor to secure it (more on holes in your van below in the Build Tips section)!
Interlocking Vinyl Flooring: As you can see in the photo, I laid vinyl from edge to edge in the van. At this early in the build I just wanted to get going, so I just went for it, but realize now that it’s a bit of a waste to have laid vinyl all over the floor. It is nice to have a waterproof vinyl layer everywhere on the floor but as I talk about down below, you certainly do not need to do that. Vinyl is waterproof, super easy to install, and looks great so while I know there are other flooring options, vinyl is just a no-brainer in my mind for a van floor that you know needs to be able to take a beating.
What went well
This vinyl flooring is the bomb.com! My dad and I had absolutely no experience with it prior, and after just 8 hours we had it installed with little frustration and it just looks awesome. Add on top of that that it’s waterproof and easy to clean and what more do you want?
I think not bolting the floor down will be something that works out very well. With the various temperature ranges in the van, I think it’s important to give the wood some room to contract and expand and not bolting the floor down will do just that. If you do go for this option though, make sure you leave some room on the sides of the floor. I believe the industry standard is a quarter inch. Also, I think this option is great for me because of my stationary layout/setup. If you are going to have less items holding the floor down or have a very modular setup you may want to think this through a bit.
What didn't go well/What I might’ve done differently
Cutting the Plywood and Vinyl: In the van there are some parts of the floor that require curved cuts for the vinyl to fit in perfectly. When we cut the plywood we rough cut it and then perfectly cut the vinyl to fit. What this caused in some spots was the vinyl to not lay perfectly over the plywood. Vinyl is very strong if backed by something but if it has space to fall into, not so much. Thankfully for us, this was in parts of the floor that you won’t really be able to see if the vinyl does snap, but at the end of the day, cut the plywood to fit just as nicely as you would the vinyl. No shortcuts :)
Putting Vinyl In At the End: As mentioned above you certainly don’t have to spend a bunch of money to put vinyl everywhere. Instead, lay down everything and then install the vinyl just where it is needed. This is how it’s done in houses and certainly makes a lot more senes than what I did. It is cheaper, more appropriate (in terms of using the right material in the right place), and allows the vinyl floor to also shrink an expand without having heavy weight on it.
Amount of Sound Deadener Used: I’ll be upfront and honest in saying that I know jack about this sound deadener stuff. I can certainly tell it works but in what way exactly I’m not sure. Does it need to be laid across the whole floor end to end or can you just lay down one square foot patches every other 6 inches like a grid? If you know let me know and I’ll do the same!
Vinyl Flooring: We bought a vinyl flooring installation kit that came with a mallet, spacers for keeping the quarter inch spacing against the wall, and a pull bar and tapping block to help you lock the vinyl sheets in place. I thought it was overkill when we bought it for $30 but after the install every penny was worth it. In order to get a watertight seal between panels you really need some tools to snap each panel into place, and these get the job done. Something similar to what we got from Home Depot can be found on Amazon here. Thank you to the friendly neighbor at Home Depot who recommended this to my dad and I as we sat and pondered if we should get the “Starry Light” or “Breezy Stone” color.
Drilling Holes in Your Van: Early on in your build you should decided what your stance is on putting holes in your van. This goes for small holes (like when drilling something into the floor or roof) or large holes (like when putting in windows, fans, or water/power access to the outside). The argument for no holes would be that some day if you want to try and sell the van as just a van, having holes in the sheet metal that don’t serve a purpose when you gut the van aren’t going to be a great selling point. Additionally, the more holes you cut, the more you need to worry about making them water proof, which if done improperly, can cause nightmarish problems. I knew from my design stage that I needed holes in the van for a fan, window, and solar install. So right off the bat I decided I shouldn’t be scared of putting in holes IF they serve a purpose. With the floor, we were confident we didn’t need to lock it down with all the weight being placed on it, so putting holes in the floor just seemed like overkill, and consequently we decided against it. At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to put holes in your van, just understand the consequences (especially longterm and with resale), and take each decision on a case by case basis.