Installing walls in a camper van is an essential step that must be completed early in the van conversion process. You won’t be able to build your furniture or install the electrical system until you put up the interior wall boards.
Also, since the walls occupy a large area inside the van, they’re an essential aesthetic component of the camper’s overall interior design. Thoughtfully designed van conversion walls contribute to the mood of the space and transform a camper van into a beautiful and cozy tiny home on wheels!
We installed plywood walls in our camper van and love their clean, streamlined look. Below is an example of our van’s passenger-side interior wall.
This article will discuss how to install a comprehensive van conversion wall, including insulation, furring strips, and outer plywood boards. A lot of effort goes into this, but installing walls in a camper van is more than just nailing up wood boards and calling it a day! It’s worth your time to plan thoughtfully and build methodically.
This post also provides a comprehensive step-by-step wall installation guide with recommended materials and helpful tips. Our goal is to help you build van walls that are beautiful and that you can be proud of!
Anatomy Of A Camper Van Wall: The Different Layers
The walls of a camper van are comprised of more than just the outer visible layer. There’s insulation, wiring, and furring strips to include. These are the materials that you don’t see but serve vital functions. We break down the essential layers below.
Layer 1: Electrical Wiring
Based on your van’s electrical design, you may need to lay cables along the walls. This is often the case if you plan to install lights and a ventilation fan in your van’s ceiling. If so, you will likely have to lay electrical wires from your auxiliary battery along the walls to the ceiling.
Layer 2: Sound Insulation (Sound Deadener)
The vehicle’s frame is comprised of large pieces of sheet metal. This sheet metal vibrates and rattles when driving, especially on bumpy roads. But by applying sound-deadening patches to these thin metal sheets, you can dampen the vibration and reduce this noise while on the road.
Layer 3: Thermal Insulation (SmartSHIELD & Foam Board)
Sheet metal can get hot when the sun’s rays constantly shine on the van’s exterior frame. This heat then transfers inside, warming up the interior space. Without insulation, being inside your van on a hot day can feel like sitting in an oven. But by adding insulation, you can slow the rate at which heat enters the van so that you remain cool inside even when the sun’s shining bright.
Layer 4: Furring Strips
Although you can screw the wallboards directly to the van’s metal frame, we don’t recommend this. You will be creating new holes in your van, and your wallboards will eventually come loose because screws in sheet metal DO NOT create much pull-out resistance. Instead, we recommend installing furring strips along your van’s metal frame. We’ll show you how to do this without making any new holes in your vehicle.
Layer 5: Outer Ceiling Wood Layer
This is the outermost layer of the van walls, which you will see daily. You have several material options, and we will detail the two most popular materials below.
Which Material Is Best For Van Walls?
Because the walls assume such a large part of a van’s interior, you ideally want to choose a material that is relatively lightweight and aesthetically looks nice. Most van conversions choose natural wood for their ceilings, and below, we discuss two of the most popular options.
This is the most popular option for van conversions. Plywood is easy to cut, lightweight, and cost-efficient. The material is also readily available at many hardware stores and lumber yards. We used plywood boards in our camper van walls and will discuss how we installed them further below in this post.
Thickness tip: If choosing plywood, keep the overall weight down by selecting either 1/3″ or 1/4″ thick plywood boards.
Cladding Boards (aka Shiplap & Tongue-and-Groove)
This wood board is a type of paneling with grooves (rabbets) cut out on the long-side edges of each board so that each board can overlap. Shiplap is most notably used as home exterior siding, but some prefer using this material inside a camper van for its rustic, ‘log-cabin’ look.
One of the downsides of shiplap is that, compared to plywood, it is a heavier material. So, if keeping your van conversion’s total weight to a minimum, you may want to consider plywood.
But for some, the aesthetic value of shiplap outweighs its cons. Below is an excellent example from Wildlebender of how shiplap looks when installed in a camper van.
Below are the materials to install plywood walls in your van conversion. We’ll review these materials again in our step-by-step installation guide further below.
- Sound deadener mat
- Sound deadener roller
- SmartSHIELD insulation
- Duct tape
- Polyiso foam board
- Spray foam
- Furring strips
- Cross nuts (vehicle specific)
- Cross nut bolts (vehicle specific)
- Mold spray
- Mold primer
- Trim screws
How To Install Walls In A Camper Van (11-Step Guide)
These are 11 steps we recommend to install finished plywood walls in a camper van. We’ll start with the various layers of insulation, followed by furring strips, and finally, the installation of the outer plywood layer. Along the way, we’ll suggest recommended materials and tools for this project.
Step 1: Lay Electrical Wire Along The Metal Walls
Most likely, you will be running electrical wires behind your wall boards. It is wise to lay out your wires before adding the insulation layers. In our van, we have three sets of cables:
- 10-gauge wires: Between the solar panels and the charge controller.
- 12-gauge wires: Between the 110V inverter and the power outlets.
- 14-gauge wires: Between the 12V panel, ceiling lights, and vent fan.
If you plan to have a similar electrical setup, you must account for these wires before you put up your walls. For more specific information on wire sizing, check out our camper van wiring guide.
In our van, we made the mistake of taping our electrical wires all across our van. This was a van build mistake because this left our wires vulnerable to damage over time due to vibrations from driving. We recommend protecting your wires by wrapping them in a wire loom. Then, run the loom along the van’s support beams and fix their location with zip tie mounts.
Step 2: Apply Sound Deadening Strips To Sheet Metal Walls
Because the van’s sheet metal walls are thin, they tend to vibrate and rattle while driving, which creates an unending noise the entire time you’re on the road. Adhering sound-deadening patches directly onto the sheet metal can dampen these vibrations and reduce the noise.
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.
The sound-deadening mat arrives in one big sheet. You DO NOT need to cover all the walls with one continuous sheet. Instead, use a blade, cut out approximately 6″ x 8″ strips, and adhere each strip to the center of each sheet metal panel. Refer to the below image as an example.
Tip: Use a wheel roller to ensure the sound deadener patches are pressed adequately onto the metal roof and create a firm seal. If not, you risk the patches falling off over time. The mat’s top layer has a raised texture that you must flatten with the roller for proper installation.
Step 3: Attach Furring Strips to Van Frame
At this point, most van conversions screw the wall boards directly to the van’s metal frame. We don’t recommend this, however, because those screws will come loose over time, and you risk the wall boards falling out.
Why? Because sheet metal is so thin, the screw doesn’t have many contact points to grip the metal. As a result, there is a very low pull-out resistance, and frequent driving vibrations can force the screws loose.
Adding furring strips to the van’s frame and then attaching the wall boards to these furring strips provides a much stronger anchor point.
How To Use Cross Nuts
If you look at your van’s frame, you can see lots of ‘blind holes’ throughout the interior. These are holes that you only have access to one side of. You can take advantage of these ‘blind holes’ by inserting cross nuts into them. Cross nuts are cylindrical, threaded inserts that turn these holes into threaded anchor points.
In the below picture, you can see how we use a bolt to attach a furring strip to a cross nut.
Cross nut sizing: Different vans have different-sized blind holes and require different-sized cross nuts. Review the product display below to find the correct sizes for your vehicle.
Our top recommendation for fixing plywood walls, ceiling boards, and furniture to your van's sheet metal frame. Different vans use different size cross nuts, refer to the links below to locate the specific size you need.
Tip: Be sure to pick up a cross nut installation tool. We used a DIY install method that was technically cheaper, but the increased time and physical effort were not worth the small savings.
The result should resemble the image below. These five furring strips are running along our van’s upper half. We also have a similar set of five furring strips that run along the bottom half of the van.
More details: How To Install Furring Strips With Cross Nuts
Part 4: Tape SmartSHIELD Insulation On Sheet Metal
Sheet metal heats up as it absorbs the sun’s solar energy. By mid-day, you’d be surprised by how hot this metal can get! The goal of adding thermal insulation to the van’s walls is to prevent the hot sheet metal from passing the heat to the van’s interior.
The first step to isolate the heat is to add a layer of SmartSHIELD insulation directly onto the sheet metal. We used Reflectix in our van, but we now prefer SmartSHIELD over Reflectix because of its superior R-value insulation rating and because it does not require an air gap to function correctly, unlike Reflectix. This is because SmartSHIELD utilizes closed-cell polyethylene foam instead of bubble wrap.
Double-sided engineered reflective foil that sandwiches a layer of closed-cell polyethylene foam. Delivers a high degree of thermal insulation that is space-efficient and lightweight. Also provides sound insulation.
From floor to ceiling, wrap the entire wall section with SmartSHIELD. We recommend using strong duct tape to ensure the insulation wrap stays in place. When completed, your van should look like the one in the image below. The van in the image below uses Reflectix instead of SmartSHIELD, but the final outlook is the same.
You can decide whether or not to cover the furring strips with SmartSHIELD insulation. If you cover the furrings strips, you will need to remember where each is located when it comes time to screw the wall boards in.
Step 5: Cut Plywood Boards
Most plywood boards you buy at a lumber yard are sold in 8′ x 4′ sheets. You must cut down these boards to the correct size to fit each section of your van’s walls. Essentially, each piece will need to be custom-sized.
Cutting Tip: Large pieces of cardboard make great templates. Size your wall piece with the cardboard, trace the cardboard template over your plywood board, and start cutting.
Because you will need to cut a lot of curves and uneven lines in your plywood, a jigsaw is the best cutting tool for this job. We used the DeWalt jigsaw to build our walls and countless other parts of our van conversion, like when installing our windows, floor, and vent fan.
Step 5: Separate the Van Wall Into Sections
Before cutting up the plywood boards, you need to know the dimensions of each section of the van walls. In our van, we divided the van’s frame into three sections:
- Upper Third: Adjacent to the ceiling
- Middle Third: Entire inset middle panel
- Lower Third: Adjacent to the floor
We will be placing plywood panels on top of each third. You can see how we partitioned these three sections in the picture below.
Step 6: Cut the Plywood Boards
Once you’ve selected and purchased your plywood boards, you need to cut them down to an appropriate size to fit along your van’s frame. Each plywood piece will need to be custom-sized.
In the image below, we partition the van’s wall into three parts and will install plywood boards onto each section.
- Upper Third: Adjacent to the ceiling
- Middle Third: Entire inset middle panel
- Lower Third: Adjacent to the floor
Installation Tip: Large pieces of cardboard make great templates. Size your wall piece with the cardboard, trace the cardboard template over your plywood board, and start cutting.
Because you will need to cut a lot of curves and uneven lines in your plywood, the jigsaw is the best cutting tool for this job. This is one of the top tools for any van conversion, and it is used in virtually every facet of the build. And with the proper blades, you can even cut through sheet metal to install a ventilation fan and windows.
In the photo below, we attached plywood boards to each of the three sections.
Step 7: Make Cutouts in Plywood for Switches & Wires
Before you attach your plywood boards to the furring strips, you must cut out any holes in the plywood to accommodate any electrical wiring. This is especially true if you plan to install light switches or power outlets on your walls.
Cutouts For Light Switches & Power Outlets
To know the cutout size, you must decide which type of switch/socket you will use. If you use a standard ‘household-style’ light switch, you must cut out a whole large enough to fit an outlet box (gang box). Or, if you will be installing an RV-style switch, the cutout size must match the size of the switch panel. Below are examples of each type.
Outlet box tip: If you plan to install outlet boxes (for household-style switches), we highly recommend the above outlet box. Not only is it an “old work” box, which is easier to install, but this particular box also has a narrow profile, which makes it easier to install in tight places.
In the picture below, you can see an example of how a work box is installed through the wall and that the electrical wires are pulled through the wall and box.
For more information on gang box installation help, check out this article from The Spruce.
Cutouts For Lights & Other 12V Devices
If you plan to install other electrical devices, you may need to consider drilling holes in the plywood to allow the electrical wires to come through. Common devices include:
- Reading light
- Bedside fan
- Water pump
- 12V fridge
If this is the case, we recommend cutting out a 1/2″ hole in the location where you want your electrical wiring to come through.
In the picture below, you can see how we made a cutout in our plywood wall to make room for the gang box to be installed behind the wall. Later, we will install the light switch on top of the gang box.
Step 8: Spray Plywood With Anti-Mold Solution
Mold is one of the worst enemies of van life, especially when traveling in warm and humid environments. Once mold takes hold and starts to spread, removing it can be tricky because the roots can grow deep into the wood.
To prevent mold from growing, we recommend spraying your wall boards with Concrobium Mold Control Spray (both front and back). Not only does this kill any mold spores that might already exist in the wood, but it also blocks any future growth.
Step 9: Attach Plywood Walls to Furring Strips
Once you’ve completed this step, you can attach each plywood wallboard to the furring strips. In our camper van, we used bigger #10 wood screws to attach the plywood to the furring strips. The bigger the screw, the more grip it will have in the furring strip and the more pull-out resistance it will have.
Want to hide your screw heads so that they aren’t visible? To do this, you’ll need to drill a conical hole with a countersink drill bit so that the flat head screw heads sit just below the plywood surface. Then you can use spackling to cover the screw heads and hide them from sight.
Remember! If you have any dangling wire ends (for the future light switches), pull the wires through the holes you cut out from the plywood boards (from Step 7). You will attach these wire ends to the light switches later on.
Step 10: Beautify the Wall Edges and Corners
Once all the plywood boards are mounted, you’ll likely still have many rough edges and imperfect corners throughout the van. We used a combination of Drywall Corner Tape and Spackling to smooth out these imperfections. The corner tape wraps around the corners and edges, giving each edge a clean, continuous look.
After applying the corner tape, use the spackling to adhere the tape to the plywood walls and smooth out the transition between the wall and the tape. You can see in the below image how we used the spackling to smooth out the edges where two pieces of plywood boards meet.
Step 11: Sand the Walls
The next step is to sand the plywood walls to smooth out all the rough areas and remove any excess spackling. Use an orbital sander and sandpaper (80 & 120 grit) to sand the plywood walls properly.
Safety Tip: Whether sanding inside or outside, it’s a good idea to wear an adequately filtered mask to remove small particles before they enter your lungs. This mask also comes in useful.
Step 12: Paint the Walls
Once you’ve finished sanding, you are ready to paint the plywood walls. This step is divided into two parts: color selection & painting instructions.
Selecting Wall Paint Color
Color is a personal choice; everyone has a unique style and flavor. Therefore, creating a color scheme for your van before painting your camper’s walls is a good idea.
Take your time when selecting your van conversion’s wall color. The walls account for a large percentage of your van interior’s total area, and you want to get the color right. We recommend taking your time and getting paint samples. In the images below, we brought home four ‘off-white’ paint samples from the hardware and tested them on a scrap piece of plywood. You’d be surprised by just how many different types of “whites’ there are.
Paint tip: Avoid cheap paint. Premium quality paint is thicker and is easier to apply an even coat. We recommend getting ‘eggshell’ paint to give your walls a slight sheen. This also makes it easier to clean your walls when they get dirty.
Additional read: Why white walls are best for a van conversion.
Once you are ready to paint your van’s walls, apply two coats of anti-mold primer. The walls should have already received a layer of mold control spray, but this primer helps give an additional layer of mold protection.
Once the primer has dried, paint two coats of your selected paint color onto the van walls. In the picture below, we just completed the second coat of paint.
Step 13: Install Light Switches Onto the Wall
Attach your light switches to the plywood to finish off the van’s walls. You should be able to insert the gang box and switch through the cutout you made in step 5.
Check our light installation post for more information on how to wire LED lights and switch to the battery.
Plywood is one of the best materials for van conversion walls. It’s lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to install. Plywood is also readily available at most lumber yards. Look for 1/4 to 1/3 inch plywood boards for the ideal compromise between weight and sturdiness.
Use plywood for a van conversion. MDF boards are brittle and not water-resistant. Over time, MDF can absorb water and humidity, which will eventually cause the boards to swell and break down. Plywood is more water resistant and durable, which is better for van life in the long run.
Shiplap and tong-and-groove boards are excellent cladding materials for van conversion. They are often used for both the walls and ceiling of camper vans. Cedar cladding boards are lightweight, and the natural wood color adds to the overall interior aesthetic.
Look for 1/3-inch plywood boards for your camper van’s walls. Quarter-inch boards lack structural support, and half-inch boards are unnecessarily heavy. You can find 1/3 inch plywood at the lumber department of any big box home improvement store.
You can use plywood and cladding boards for your camper van walls. Plywood is popular for van conversions due to its lightweight, low cost, and ubiquity at hardware stores. But tongue-and-groove cladding boards are also common for those who prefer a more natural, rustic interior look.
Van Walls Finished! Step Back & Enjoy
Congratulations if you’ve made it this far! Installing camper van walls involves a lot of steps and can be tricky. But we hope all your effort in this project was worth it. Putting up our van’s walls took us over a week to do. We made mistakes along the way and had to take some steps backward to ensure everything was done right.
We’re convinced that if you take your time and are careful about your work, you, too, can have stunning camper van walls that you can be proud of.
If you enjoyed reading this post, we’re sure you’ll love learning how we built our beautiful cedar plank ceiling.
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