Within an hour of us arriving home with the van, the work had begun! The first step was to strip out all the old existing lining on the doors, sides, and floor.
We only had door panels and linings on the bottom half of the sides so it didn’t take us too long to remove everything… once we figured out how that is. The trim clips that were holding them in place just wouldn’t come out, but after a few sprays of WD40 and realising Allen keys weren’t the right tools, we managed to pop them out with a screwdriver, pliers, and some force.
Next was to remove the plywood floor which came off in three separate pieces. I was really worried about what we would uncover underneath, but aside from dirt and a ton of dried adhesive that was holding the floor down, the van itself was luckily in very good condition, especially considering its age.
The next few days were spent doing not much else except for cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. Once we’d removed as much of the dirt and silicon as we could, we then scrapped and treated the small bits of surface rust with Hammerite, before getting on with what felt like the first real bit of work.
Insulating the van floor
After a lot of reading, I decided to use insulation boards for the base of our flooring. This seemed to be the easiest and most cost-effective way of doing the floor, and I spent quite a while trying to find the popular Celotex boards that everybody in the van life world uses.
Unfortunately, it seems there’s currently a shortage of Celotex boards, so we ended up buying the next best thing we could find and used two sheets of 25mm Kingspan. This was the thinnest depth I could find as we’re conscious about not losing too much space in the already limited height of the van.
Laying the floor foundations
Next, we had to find the right-sized timber to go around the insulation boards which would act as the support beams. Logic would dictate that 25mm boards would require 25mm timber beams, which is what we bought after an hour of wandering up and down the aisles in Wickes. However, as we had decided to lay the beams in the flat areas of the floor, we failed to account for the ridges which the insulation boards sat on, so we ended up having to go back to buy 34mm x 34mm beams which luckily fit perfectly.
With the right timber, we then measured everything to size and started cutting them down by hand. Being amateur DIYers though it was really difficult to get the ends cut dead straight, meaning when we laid them down they didn’t all align perfectly. Later that week, we invested in this mitre saw which has since made everything 10 times easier and is something I can highly recommend getting straight away.
With the timber beams placed down on the floor, we then measured each space in between for the insulation boards. This took us a lot longer than we had expected, and the first few pieces of the board we cut was probably even worse than the wood! Back to Wickes we went to buy a better handsaw, and another day of work later we had finally laid the whole floor, ready to be secured.
One thing to consider while placing your floor beams is to consider how the insulation boards will sit in between them. We had a few areas where there were more ridges underneath one side of the board, meaning they dipped slightly as you stepped on them. This wasn’t a problem once the plywood floor was placed on top as the timber beams were all level, but it’s something we would definitely consider more next time. I’ve also seen other van builders laying their timber beams over the floor ridges instead of in the flat gaps like we did, but we chose not to do this, again, to try and save ourselves that little bit more space.
With everything cut and in place, we marked up each beam and insulation board before removing them carefully to sweep out the van again of any dust and polystyrene which was now *everywhere*. We then put everything back and started glueing the wooden beams down piece by piece, and then rested bricks on top of them overnight to help it secure firmly into place.
Autumn and winter in the UK is not the most ideal time to start a van conversion, and it had gotten dark really fast when we began this job – we ended up having to finish it with only the torch from our phones as light! It was pretty good going really that we found only three beams that didn’t secure properly the next morning which needed redoing.
With the foundation and insulation ready, the next job was to create a moisture barrier by sealing the gaps between the boards and the wooden beams with insulation tape. After a full 45-metre roll, it was done! Next came time to cut the plywood which would be our new floor.
We bought three sheets of 12mm plywood and made new cutouts using the old floor that we had removed as templates. In hindsight, it would have been better if we’d made our own templates instead of using these; as the old plyboards were secured directly to the floor it turned out to be a slightly different shape to what it was now that it had been raised by 34mm. This meant we had a few small gaps around some corners which we then had to fill (carefully) with expanding foam.
The last thing to do was to drill all the plywood down into the wooden beams! Make sure you make a note of where all of your timber is underneath so you know where to drill – I’m pretty sure I missed it on one or two places. This is also a good time to walk around the floor and check for any squeaks in the wood to fix, so you don’t have to live with creaking sounds forever.
Finally, the most exciting part was choosing the floor top. We had planned on using vinyl sheets like most van builders, but we ended up buying vinyl planks instead because there was a sale on at B&Q that was too good not to take advantage of! We also thought the individual planks might have been easier to fit than dealing with one huge roll, but this turned out not to be the case as measuring, trimming and fitting everything piece by piece took forever.
If it wasn’t for the great offer, I would definitely recommend getting vinyl sheets instead, or at least using tongue and groove planks which would be much more waterproof than our self-adhesive planks. Because of this, we also primed our plywood with a clear varnish before laying the planks on top to help ensure any water that does get on the floor won’t seep through and damage the wood underneath.
And there we have it, our new van floor! This was really exciting to complete and it’s already made such a big difference in making it feel more like a tiny house instead of a panel van.
Coming up next:
- Van insulation and what we used
- Choosing and installing a ventilation fan
- Cladding the ceiling and walls
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