Since we’ve finalized treating the rust in our van (if you missed this post, you can read all about it here), it’s finally time to install the floor of our camper van!
This was such a time-consuming task, but it was definitely worth it in the end. We’re very happy with the decisions we made regarding the insulation, framework, and flooring material!
Here, we thoroughly explain everything we did and why exactly we chose for these options. Keep reading if you’re interested! If you have any additional tips or tricks for anyone that’s still building their home on wheels, or if you happen to have questions, feel free to share them in the comment section at the end!
Postponing the build
Over the past few weeks, it has been quite chilly in the Netherlands.
Because we want to use kit to attach the framework of the subfloor to the the van, we had to wait for temperatures to exceed 5 degrees Celsius. Below this temperature, the kit does not adhere properly.
We hence had to postpone working on the van outdoors for a while, as the combination of rain and cold didn’t allow for wood to safely be transported to the van. Luckily, we were able to do quite a lot of work for the flooring in our apartment.
In many van conversion videos we watched on YouTube, we saw that the subfloor is often placed directly on top of the floor of the van. We have personally chosen to make a framework from wooden beams upon which to rest the subfloor.
We went for this option because it allows us put some insulation in between the subfloor and the bottom of the van. We will spend most of our time in the van, no matter the country or season, and Mojo will be sleeping on a dog bed on the floor. Proper insulation is hence very important.
More often than not, floors of cargo vans have slanting ridges running across from front to back, as well as other irregularities. Regular insulation plates would hence not make the best option to put below the subfloor as it will leave unutilized space which would be a shame.
However, when using small snippets of insulation material it does not matter how irregular the surface is, as every bump and dent will be filled as we wish.
We hence chose to work with cork snippets, and ordered a bag of 220 liters a while ago.
As coarseness, we chose 2 to 4 millimeters. This will allow the cork to fill each corner and crack in the surface leaving no space unutilized and thus maximizing the insulation potential of the limited space we have available.
We will explain why we picked cork as insulation material in a future blog post in which we focus on all types of insulation that we’ll be using throughout the conversion!
Enclosing the snippets
Because we chose to go with cork snippets as insulation material, our framework had to exist of perfectly enclosed boxes. Otherwise, our cork could seep out from underneath the subfloor.
The framework consists of support beams along all the sides of the subfloor; three beams lengthwise in the middle, so that the maximum distance the subfloor panel has to bridge is never more than 40 cm; and two extra beams broadwise.
We started by measuring the length each of the beams would need to be. After that we went to our local construction market where we bought the necessary wood and proceeded to cut them to the correct length.
The measurements of the beams we used are 27 x 27 mm (a little over an inch). We chose for this thickness because it fitted perfectly between the ridges on our van. Additionally, the height of our van is quite low, if we would’ve opted for thicker beams we wouldn’t be able to stand in the van after paneling the ceiling.
Gluing down the beams
We wanted to drill into the frame of our van as little as possible. Therefore, we chose to glue the supporting beams to the floor using regular construction kit.
We think gluing the beams down is more than enough. The only pressure these beams have to endure is vertical pressure from on top, it is highly unlikely that the beams will loosen from this.
Due to some small ridges on the floor of the van, we had to leave some space open between some of the beams or had to cut them into two pieces. We chose to bridge most of these gaps with silicone sealant so that the cork snippets won’t be able to get out of the framework.
The advantage of using silicone here is the fact that it stays flexible. It can easily withstand the expansion and contraction of the wood during temperature changes.
Choosing a sustainable floor
To finish off, we had to cover the subfloor with an appealing and protective layer. We went (again) for cork. We’ve chosen a cork floor for a number of reasons.
The first and foremost reason for choosing cork is the fact that it is a sustainable option. Cork is sustainably harvested in cork forests, mainly situated in Portugal. Cork trees are harvested by solely removing the outer bark of a tree every 7-9 years. This does not harm the trees and they can reach ages of 300 years.
Removing the cork is still done by hand. The forest and the trees are thus not harmed during the harvest. This has resulted in its own ecosystem with unique flora and fauna.
By buying cork you thus contribute to the conservation of these forests. If no cork is bought, these forests have no value and are therefore prone to be converted to more profitable land types. The same can be said for buying wood, but there is of course much more to it.
Besides helping to conserve cork forests, it provides work for many people as cork is harvested manually.
Opting for natural materials
Many other flooring types have some sort of plastic incorporated. This is obvious in vinyl, but it’s also the case in your standard laminate as this usually has a plastic top layer.
A real wooden floor doesn’t have any plastics, but is just not a practical option in a camper van due to its thickness, weight, and the fact that it shrinks and expands as temperatures vary.
Great as insulation and nice and warm to the touch
Besides being a more sustainable option, cork floors offer many advantages over regular types of flooring. Cork floors never feel as cold as others do, making them feel nice and warm for your feet.
Cork floors are also softer. They compress ever so slightly under pressure. This makes it better for your joints to walk and stand on!
Lastly, cork floors are great in a van because they give you some extra insulation. Cork is the bark of a tree and is thus made to insulate. Cork floors offer some insulation against heat and cold, but more importantly, they work as a great sound barrier. And since they are soft, you won’t make as much noise on them when walking around and such.
We however do wonder to what extent the cork floor is able to withstand the nails of our dog Mojo. We maintain her claws short and round, so we hope they won’t damage the floor. We’ll just have to see how strong the protective varnish is and how it pans out.
Working from home
The floor had to be attached to the subfloor panels with double-contact glue. Afterwards, in order to protect the floor, and give it a waterproof finish, we also had to apply 3 coats of varnish.
The glue and varnish however have to be applied at 20 degrees Celsius. As winter has just started here, we are far away from reaching these temperatures outside.
As we do want to continue with our project, we chose to glue and varnish our floor tiles in our apartment before installing the completed floor in the van; which brought some difficulties along with it.
We rearranged the furniture in our working/dining room, so we had a relatively large empty surface in the middle. The birds were moved to our bedroom, as they love to fly around and spread quite some dust everywhere. Mojo was banned from the room as well, since her hairs really get everywhere!
Laying the cork
We cut the cork to size using a Stanley knife, which was quite hard to do! Especially cutting curvy edges was very difficult.
We then numbered all pieces of cork and applied glue to the cork and the subfloor. Once the glue had dried, we carefully placed each piece where it belonged.
Once the entire subfloor was covered in cork tiles, we varnished it three times using a paint roller and brush. We let it dry thoroughly overnight before moving everything into the van!
Installing the floor
As our framework was nicely divided into boxes we were able to install the floor part by part.
We started by filling the boxes upon which the floor section would fit with our cork insulation. Next, we kitted the top of the beams and laid the floor on top, and continued with the next section of flooring.
Because the floor was divided into three parts, we now still have a small gap between each of these parts. Currently, we are still debating how to fill this gap so it still looks nice, but is also effective. We are thinking about malleable wood, but are not sure whether this will look nice as the color will never match our cork flooring. Another option would possibly be to just fill this up with silicone kit, which is at least certainly waterproof!
If you’re still interested, we also created a video about the entire process which you can view below.
We hope this is helpful for some of you, and if you still have any questions please let us know in the comments!
Did you like this blog post and want to read more? Click here to go to our main camper van conversion page! Here, you can find a neatly organized list of all blog posts related to our van conversion project.