Installing camper van flooring is a critical early step in the van conversion process that must be completed before you can move to other parts of the build. Although you could throw in a plywood board and call that your floor, we recommend taking the time to properly install a multi-layer flooring system that not only supports your weight but also insulates your van, is impervious to mold growth, and looks great!
This post discusses what you need to know to install a proper van floor. We cover the different layers that support and insulate the floor, provide a step-by-step installation guide, and discuss how to ensure your floor remains clean during your van travels.
Anatomy of a Camper Van Floor: The Different Layers
A camper van floor comprises several layers, each with a specific purpose. Depending on your budget and preference, you can customize the layers to suit your needs. We used all the following layers in our van conversion and suggest you do so to ensure a comprehensive van floor installation.
Layer 1: Sound Insulation
The bare sheet metal floor of your van is thin and delicate. Without proper sound insulation, the metal floor rattles and vibrates while driving. Adhering sound deadener strips directly onto the metal floor dampens the vibration and reduces the sound emitted.
Layer 2: Thermal Insulation
Much of the warmth inside a camper van is lost due to the intrusion of cold air through the floor. Adding a thermal insulation layer helps slow the introduction of unwanted cold air and maintains your camper’s internal temperature for as long as possible.
Layer 3: Subfloor
A subfloor is typically installed on top of the thermal insulation layer and helps support your weight and those of your interior van furnishings. The subfloor provides a level and stable surface for your floor’s top level to rest on. Most camper vans have a plywood subfloor. We suggest selecting a plywood thickness of 1/3″ to 1/2″ to provide ample weight support. Plywood boards that are too thin will warp and flex when there’s too much weight.
Layer 4: Top Layer
The van floor’s top layer is what you will see and walk on every day when inside your camper. You can choose from many different materials, and you’ll need to decide which top layer is best for your van conversion based on budget, color, durability, and weight. We detail several of the most popular options below and list their pros and cons.
Which Top Layer Flooring Material Is Best?
Depending on your budget and visual preferences, there are several different flooring materials for your top layer. While it might be your initial instinct to select floorboards made from natural wood, we don’t recommend this as they are heavier and more cumbersome to maintain. Below, we discuss several popular flooring van conversion flooring alternatives.
These flooring planks have a ‘tongue-and-groove’ interlocking mechanism that simplifies installation. Two popular materials utilize these interlocking planks.
- Laminate: Consists of a particleboard wood base with a smooth laminate top layer. It is inexpensive, but the particleboard is susceptible to water and humidity. Boards can also chip easily.
- Luxury Vinyl: 100% waterproof planks that more closely resemble natural wood flooring in both color and texture. Vinyl planks are not prone to warping and chipping, unlike laminate planks. The downside is that they tend to be more expensive.
Recommendation: We use luxury vinyl planks and love the look and feel. In its 5th year, our flooring planks are holding up well to the daily grind of van life.
Peel & Stick Strips
This is an inexpensive and lightweight option. Unlike interlocking boards, peel-and-stick planks are thinner and are intended to stick directly onto the subfloor. There is no need to put an underlayment layer, which makes the peel-and-stick installation considerably easier and faster.
However, if not installed correctly, the material can start to peel off over time, especially in high-traffic areas. Considering the entire van receives constant traffic daily, we wouldn’t recommend this material to anyone looking to get into long-term van life.
If you are looking for a high-quality flooring solution that is also practical for the daily grind of van life, consider looking into Lonseal’s wide array of flooring solutions for specialty vehicles. Their flooring materials are durable, easy to maintain, and stain-resistant.
Required Materials To Install a Floor in a Van
Below are the materials we recommend using to help with your camper van floor installation. We used these products in our van conversion and elaborate in more detail in our floor installation guide below.
- Sound deadener mat
- Sound deadener roller
- Duct insulation
- XPS foam board
- Silicone sealant
- Plywood (1/3″)
- Mold spray
- Mold primer
- Spray foam
- Vinyl plank boards
- Floorboard installation kit
How To Install a Camper Van Floor (7 Steps)
These are the seven steps we suggest to install a floor in a camper van. Throughout this section, we’ll recommend ideal tools and materials to help complete your flooring project.
Step 1: Add Sound Deadener to Metal Floor
When driving, the van’s sheet metal floor rattles and vibrates, creating an unending noise that can be annoying if you’re on the road for hours. Luckily, if you’re beginning your floor installation, you can significantly reduce this noise with a sound-dampener mat.
This hefty, self-adhesive mat sticks directly onto thin sheet metal, dampening the vibration and rattle while driving. Cut the mat into strips and place it on your van's metal floor, ceiling, and walls.
This dense mat comes in large sheets. You DO NOT need to cover the entire metal floor with this material. Although you could, doing so would add unnecessary weight and cost to your flooring. Instead, we recommend cutting the mat into small strips of roughly 3″ x 12″ and sticking them intermittently within the grooves of the van’s metal floor.
Refer to our flooring image below, where we are laying down our duct insulation layer (Step 2). But we indicate where we installed our sound deadener strips (circled in red).
Install Tip: Use a wheel roller to ensure the sound deadener strips are pressed adequately onto the metal floor. The mat’s top layer has a raised texture that you must flatten with the roller for proper installation.
Step 2: Cover the Metal Floor With Duct Insulation
Next, cover the entire metal floor with duct insulation. We like using duct insulation as the first thermal insulation layer because it’s a thin material that adheres directly to the sheet metal floor without any air gaps. Sheet metal is cold and quickly cools down the air surrounding it. But with duct insulation, the air does not come into contact with the sheet metal and, subsequently, does not cool down.
Duct insulation also has an adhesive bottom layer, which makes adhering the material to the sheet metal floor quick and easy.
We are almost done applying the duct insulation over the metal floor in the picture below. The temperature difference between walking barefoot on the metal floor versus on the duct insulation is tremendous. As a bonus, the duct insulation prevents water and moisture from reaching the metal floor, which prevents rust spots from forming.
Install tip: Use leather gloves. The edge of the duct insulation’s top foil layer can slice through bare skin if you’re not careful.
Step 3: Add XPS Foam Board Layer
Next, we recommend adding a layer of XPS (extruded polystyrene) foam board for additional thermal insulation. These foam boards have strong compression resistance, meaning you can walk on these boards without breaking or denting them.
XPS insulation often comes in 4′ x 8′ boards. You must cut these boards down to fit around the curvature of your van. We recommend measuring your van’s floor shape using cardboard templates and tracing the template over the foam board. Then, cut along the trace lines with a jigsaw.
Foam board thickness: XPS boards often come in 1/2″, 1″, and 1.5″ thicknesses. The thicker the board, the better the insulation value, but the reduced headspace you’ll ultimately have when your floor is completed.
In the picture below, we are fitting the XPS foam boards on the floor of our camper van. This was just a temporary fitting as we had not yet installed the duct insulation first.
Install Tip: Place a bead of silicone sealant on top of the duct insulation before placing the XPS foam boards on top. This ensures that the boards properly adhere to the material below and aren’t “floating.”
Step 4: Add Plywood Subfloor Layer
Next, add a plywood subfloor layer on the XPS foam board. This layer supports the top floorboards and ensures the boards won’t wobble and lift when you walk on them. We recommend a plywood thickness of 1/3″-1/2″. Choosing thinner plywood than this risks having a subfloor that warps and bends when you walk on it.
Installing a successful plywood subfloor involves the following four steps.
Trace & Cut Plywood Boards
Use the same cardboard templates that you used to size the XPS boards for the plywood boards. Trace the cardboard around the plywood with a pen and cut it with a jigsaw. In the picture below, we finished shaping our plywood boards and placed them in our van to see how everything fit.
Look closely for the plywood resting on the 1″ pink XPS foam board. The different layers of our camper van floor are starting to take shape.
Treat Plywood With Mold Control Spray
Treating all wood installations in your van to prevent mold growth is essential. Once mold takes hold and starts to grow, it can be difficult to remove completely. To avoid mold growth on the plywood boards, spray two rounds of Concrobium Mold Control Spray. It kills mold spores in the wood and prevents mold from growing back in the future.
Paint Plywood With Anti Mold Primer
Once the anti-mold spray has dried, paint two layers of primer. This helps to seal the wood and blocks moisture from getting in. Specifically, we like to use the Zinsser Mold Killing Primer because it provides an additional layer of mold protection.
Place Finished Plywood Subfloor on XPS Foam Board
Once the primer has dried, place the plywood subfloor on the XPS foam boards. Add several beads of silicone sealant for improved adherence to the foam board. In the picture below, we’re celebrating the completion of a successful subfloor installation. Looking closely, you can see the duct insulation bottom layer, the pink XPS foam board, and the white plywood subfloor.
Step 5: Spray Foam Around Subfloor Edges
If you look at the edges of your plywood subfloor, you’ll notice a small gap between the plywood and the van’s perimeter. We recommend to fill this gap with spray foam. Not only does this prevent cold air from seeping up, but it also prevents water from leaking down through the floor. Take a bottle of spray foam and extrude a thin bead along the edge of the subfloor. After several hours, the foam will have fully expanded and hardened, and you can then cut away any excess foam.
Install tip: Wear latex gloves. Spray foam might look harmless, but it is messy if not applied correctly. Avoid touching the foam; it bonds to your skin and takes a long time to peel off.
Step 6: Add Underlayment Layer
If you plan to install interlocking plank boards for your top layer, it is a good idea first to add an underlayment. This is a thin layer of foam that not only supports the rigid planks but also protects them from moisture and mildew.
Good to know: If you will install peel-and-stick flooring, you do not need underlayment. You can adhere the floor directly to the plywood subfloor. Underlayment is to be used alongside interlocking planks.
The picture below shows how we installed red underlayment under the top vinyl plank floorboards. The underlayment is easy to cut and size, resulting in a quick installation process.
Step 7: Install Top Layer Floorboards
At this point, you are ready to install the van floor’s top layer. This is the layer that you will see and walk on every day. So, choosing a material, color, and design that matches your aesthetic is essential.
Whether you use interlocking planks or peel-and-stick strips, we recommend starting from the middle of the van and working your way to the left and right sides. This assures that you have a strip of planks that run down the middle of the van (which is nice for aesthetics) but also ensures that the flooring runs as straight as possible along the length of the van.
If you have a single roll of laminate flooring, we recommend adhering the flooring from the driver’s side and working your way towards the sliding door side.
Install tip: You will want to ensure the plywood is clean and free of debris. Any dirt or dust trapped underneath will prevent the flooring from adhering correctly to the subfloor.
We recommend picking up a flooring installation kit if you use interlocking planks. These tools help ensure the floorboards are tightly linked together with no gaps. Eliminating gaps is critical to prevent dust, dirt, and water from entering and sneaking underneath the floorboards.
This kit ensures your interlocking floorboards are installed correctly and tightly together. You don't want gaps between the boards, which would allow dirt and sand particles to sneak underneath.
Learn more: How to install walls in a camper van
Adding a Rug or Mat on Your Van Floor
Once you’ve finished installing the top layer, there’s still more you can do to finish off your camper van’s flooring. In our camper van, we add an entry mat and several area rugs that serve both aesthetic and practical functions.
Van life is rough on your floors. When traveling, we’re constantly exiting and entering your van and tracking in dirt, sand, and grass. If you’re not careful, all this unwanted debris quickly spreads to every corner of your van’s floors. This is particularly troublesome if you have interlocking plank boards because these tiny particles can fall into the gaps between the planks.
Placing a door mat at the entrance of your camper van’s interior is a great way to trap most of the outside debris and prevent it from traveling further into your van. This only works, however, if you’re consistent in removing your shoes on the mat before fully entering the van, duh!
In particular, we like welcome mats that are made of coconut fiber. It is a natural, renewable resource, and the rough surface does a great job trapping small particles. We shake the mat outside every morning to remove all the debris collected from the previous day.
We love adding a small area rug to accentuate your camper van’s interior design. Since rugs come in all different colors and patterns, this is an excellent opportunity to express yourself and your home! In our van, we have a handmade wool rug that we picked up during our travels through Mexico.
Read more: Where to find your own Mexican wool rug.
In addition to improving a camper van’s aesthetics, an area rug also helps insulate the interior against the cold flooring. When traveling during the cold winters, every little bit you can do to maintain a van’s internal temperature counts.
How To Clean the Van Floor
Even with a welcome mat, the floors will get dirty over time. Luckily, keeping the camper floors clean isn’t rocket science. More important than how you clean is making sure you do it regularly, on a daily basis. In our case, we brush and wipe down our floors every morning before breakfast. This is what we recommend.
Use a Hand Broom or Car Vacuum
Depending on your budget, you can use a small hand brush and pan or a portable 12V car vacuum. We’ve used both before, and both work fine. We’re not picky. The vacuum is quicker and does a better job picking up microparticles (since it has a filter), but they’re bulkier to store and more expensive.
Use Wet Wipes
After removing most of the dust and dirt from the floor, we recommend taking a wet wipe and wiping the floor to remove the grime that the brush or vacuum can’t pick up. This is an easy step that is often missed, and because the van floor doesn’t take up that much area, wiping the floor takes us less than a minute to do.
Learn more: How to keep a camper van clean
Van Flooring FAQ
You should use XPS foam board when insulating a camper van floor. XPS boards have a higher compression resistance and can support your weight without breaking. Polyiso boards will crack and crumble under minimal weight pressure.
The thicker the insulation material, the more effective it is. That being said, you must consider the amount of headroom you have in your van. The thicker the insulation, the less headspace you will have. We recommend 1″ foam boards for high-roof vans.
We prefer vinyl as the material looks better, lasts longer, and has a texture that better resembles natural wood. But vinyl also costs more, so you must consider your budget before deciding which material to select.
Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoyed and found our camper van flooring article informative and helpful. After over four years and 70,000+ miles on the road, we still love our luxury vinyl plank flooring in our DIY van conversion, and it has, so far, held up against the test of time.
If you have any questions or comments regarding the camper van floor installation process, please let us know in the comments below.
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