A few weeks ago we did a post on how we insulated our conversion van. The last thing we did in the insulation process was laying down Reflectix on the floor. Now we get to install the rest of the floor!

There are three main parts to a flooring installation for a van build:

  1. Insulation
  2. Subfloor
  3. Flooring

There are several options for van flooring. Many van dwellers choose vinyl flooring because it’s thin and waterproof. Our neighbor offered us some old hardwood flooring, but the ¾” thickness would have taken too much height out of the van.

We ultimately decided to use laminate flooring because it looks better than vinyl, it’s easy to install, and it’s thinner than hardwood. We found some gorgeous laminate flooring with interesting wood grain effect at Menard’s (our new favorite store! And no, we don’t get paid to say that). We needed 3 boxes (60 sq ft) to do the entire floor.

Update from the Road

Because of some leaky rear door seals, we had a run in with mold growing on our subfloor. We ended up ripping out the entire floor, installing a new mold-proof subfloor, and redoing the flooring with a different material.

Read about mold prevention and our new floor here.

We still think laminate is a good option for a van floor, but there are other options as well. Check out the flooring section on our Build Your Van page for more info on different options.

The instructions below will show you how to install a subfloor and any kind of tongue-and-groove flooring (laminate, vinyl planks, etc).

Installing Laminate Flooring in Our Van

We had a few frustrations and setbacks, but once we got into a good groove the flooring install flew by. We got most of it done in a day.

What We Used to Install Our Flooring

Step 1: Insulate the Metal Van Floor

Reflectix-on-floor

A metal van floor doesn’t provide much of a temperature barrier between you and the outside, so you’ll want to put down some sort of insulation. We used Reflectix for this because it’s thin (less than 1/4″ thick) and easy to work with.

The R-value of Relfectix is minimal and its reflective properties won’t work if there isn’t an air gap, but it’s better than nothing. An even better choice would be 1/2″ pink extruded polystyrene sheets.

We were able to roll the Reflectix straight down the length of the van, then Jayme made cardboard templates for the wheel wells and other odd shapes along the walls. We then traced the templates onto the Reflectix and cut pieces to fit. We used 3M High Strength 90 spray adhesive to glue down the Reflectix, and Gorilla Tape to cover the seams between pieces.

Step 2: Lay Down the Subfloor

subfloor-complete

The subfloor provides a sturdy base on which to lay your actual flooring. We used 1/4” plywood underlayment for this, which worked perfectly. Many van lifers use thick 3/4” plywood for their subfloors, but it’s not necessary to go that thick and it cuts out too much height. This is a van, not a house!

Update: We recommend using 3/8″ or 1/3″ plywood for the subfloor. These thicknesses add much more “grip” for screws than 1/4″, but don’t take away as much height (or add as much weight) as 3/4″.

Installing the subfloor was just like installing the Reflectix. We started by laying down a full sheet and glued it down with High Strength 90.

subfloor-sheet

We then used the templates we made for the Reflectix to trace and cut pieces for the sides and back of the van. The jigsaw really comes in handy here!

subfloor-jigsawwide

You’ll probably have to fine tune your cuts before your subfloor will fit perfectly around things like the wheel wells and fuel pipe.

subfloor-finetuning

Step 3: Start Laying Out Your Flooring

flooring-half

You’ll want to put down the laminate flooring one row at a time. We started with the passenger side because we could run one row along the side door and wheel well all the way to the back.

Start the next row with a half piece so that it’s offset from the first row. We used a miter saw to cut the first piece in half, but you could also use a jigsaw or circular saw if you have a steady hand or a jig.

The T-Lock system takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty easy. Here’s how you lock pieces together:

Lock the long edge together first by inserting the new piece at an angle.

t-lockflooring

Use scrap wood and a hammer to tap the end of the board and lock in the short side.

knocking-flooring

That’s pretty much it! This flooring is a “floating floor,” which means you don’t need nails or glue to hold it down.

flooringalmostdone

This Youtube video helped us a lot on the install. Check it out if you’re having trouble.

Step 4: Use Templates to Cut Flooring For Irregular Spaces

flooringsideview

We used the same templates from the Reflectix and subfloor installs to cut and trace pieces of laminate flooring for the odd-shaped areas at the back and sides of the van.

Note: You may want to cut off your laminate flooring a few inches from the back of your van. We spent time tracing and cutting our flooring to perfectly match the contours of the rear of our van only to find out that the flooring is so thick it makes the doors stick. We had to recut the end pieces to fix this.

Look At That Beautiful Floor!

flooringdonenight

It’s finally starting to look like a home! Once we finished the install, we were so excited that we had to climb into the van for a little dance sesh celebration, tap dance style. John can’t fully stand up in the van, but he’s great (terrible) at dancing hunched over. Now that we have our flooring installed we can start on our walls!

Stay tuned for more build updates and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @gnomad_home and on Facebook at: Gnomad Home.

More Dope Sh...enanigans

  • Thx for your can build details, super helpful. My Chevy Express has a similar molded plastic cover over side door step that I’d like to keep, but unsure how to make it fit since my flooring adds 1.5” (mincell foam, subfloor, vinyl). How were you able to trim around it to make it fit? Thx!

    • Hi Garlin, thanks for writing! We’ve gone through several iterations of this. The most successful so far has been exactly what you suggest, which is trimming around it. Once you’ve got the subfloor and insulation in, this will probably be a little bit higher than the top of the step cover. You could put in some spacers (thinner foam or plywood) to make it flush with the top of your insulation, run your flooring on top of everything, then use aluminum L channel or something similar to conceal the seam and create a finished look. I hope that makes sense – let me know if you have other questions!

      ~John

  • What color did you use for your laminate floor? There are two options for the Menard’s product: Italian Walnut or Creston Oak. I’m guessing it’s the walnut one? I absolutely love it!

    • Hi Kelcey, I don’t remember the specific color off the top of my head, unfortunately. There were several different colors at Menard’s when we went (back in 2016), so I’m not sure if they are all still available for that specific one.

      ~John

  • HEY! Done with out flooring and beginning on construction of all else. I am wondering – and it looks like you found it – what you used for the capping of your vinyl floor and subfloor at the trunk and sliding door entrances in order to keep it from getting banged up etc.

    • Hi Cole, we used metal flooring transition pieces that we got from one of the big box hardware stores (Lowes/Home Depot). For the side door, we left the plastic step cover in and build the floor to be flush with it. We then concealed the seam using a metal flooring transition piece. For the back door, we covered the edge of the floor with an aluminum L-shaped cover (I believe it’s meant for protecting the edge of stairs). We cut both with a jigsaw with metal blades. We basically found them by spending a lot of time in the flooring sections of Home Depot/Lowes, gameplanning different options with what they had. Hope that helps!

      ~John

  • I am enormously appreciative of all the thoughtful work you have put into your site. It’s incredibly comprehensive and just a wealth of valuable information and is clearly a labor of love. Our family recently purchased a GMC explorer van conversion (very similar to yours actually- same chassis) and I am in the early stages of pulling out all the stuff we won’t be needing, TV/DVD player, electric sofa, wall panels, etc. I am kind of intimidated by the sheer quantity of wires and have thus far left the wires intact, labeling them as they have been disconnected- most seem to be associated with the TV and audio system. Anyway… with respect to the flooring, I am contemplating leaving in the carpet (it’s in very good condition and there is a nice layer of insulation under the carpet) and simply laying the subfloor directly on top of the carpet and using some of the existing anchor points to attach the subfloor (in addition to High Strength 90. The carpet/ insulation combo would seem to be a reasonable stand-in for tearing it all out only to add insulation back in. Do you think this would work or would you foresee problems with this approach down the road? Many thanks again!

    • Hi Jeff, thanks so much for the kind words! We do indeed put a lot of work into this site, and we always love hearing when it helps others on their own journeys! 🙂

      We had the same issue with the wiring in our van, but we were so anxious to get the van gutted that we didn’t label them along the way. It was quite a nightmare figuring out what we could get rid of, but in the end we were able to identify and remove all the non-vehicle wiring. Most of it was for the TV/audio/mood lighting, so all of that could go.

      As far as leaving in your carpet, that would certainly be a time saver and would probably add some insulation value. The only potential issue I can think of would be what happens if water ever makes its way down there. Having it completely covered up with flooring would mean that it wouldn’t be able to dry out as well, and mold could potentially form. Hopefully this wouldn’t happen, but you never know. We had a leak around our rear doors last year, which caused a mold issue on our subfloor. We ended up taking all the furniture out of our van and replacing the entire flooring situation.

      I hope that helps! Best of luck with your build!

      ~John

  • Hi! Finding your website has been such a MIRACLE! I love your story, and how thoroughly and efficiently you’ve documented and made your process a collective resource! I recently acquired an express van and I’m starting my build this week. Starting with gutting, the floor and the insulation. I’ll be working on it this spring and however long it takes.

    Maybe I missed it on this post, but how did you seal the flooring? Did you use any sort of filler between the edges of the laminate (now vinyl) and the walls?

    • Hi Kali, thanks for writing and I’m glad our resource has been helpful! If you’re using laminate or vinyl, the actual flooring itself it already completely sealed and ready to go. The first time we did our floor we did not seal the subfloor, but due to a water leak that we procrastinated fixing the subfloor got wet and developed a mold problem. When we installed our new flooring, we treated the subfloor with Concrobium mold killer/preventative (you can find it at Home Depot/Lowe’s) and sealed it with Zinsser Bullseye 123 mold preventative primer. We did not put any sort of filler between the edge of the floor and the walls, since we have furniture covering up all of those areas. We did use flooring transition strips to cover up the transition between the floor and the carpeting in the front, as well as the floor and the side step.

      Quick note on flooring materials: vinyl planks look great and are durable, but they do expand and contract. Our vinyl floor develops small gaps between the planks in cold weather. Laminate flooring does not have this problem, and sheet vinyl also would not do this. Hope that helps!

      ~John

      • Hi John!! Amazing resource!! <3

        How small are the gaps that develop in cold weather? I am also installing vinyl planks and a friend of mine mentioned he's heard horror stories about the floor expanding and contracting so much that it bubbles up.

        Have you found that to be an issue? Or did you not have the planks long enough to tell since I read that you re did your floor?

        • Hi Lorena, thanks for commenting! The gaps we’ve seen aren’t more than about 1/8th of an inch (probably less), and we haven’t had any issues with the floor bubbling. Expansion/contraction definitely is an issue with vinyl planks, and it is something to consider when picking your flooring material. Hope that helps!

          ~John

  • Looks awesome! We are in the process of insulating the floor and wondering if we need to put wooden beans on the metal floor to make sure we secure the the subfloor. Did you drill your kitchen/bed frame into the laminate flooring?

  • Hello! Thanks for all this awesome information. Super complete and clear. We recently bought a 1995 Ford Econoline Conversion van and we are following your guides.
    The black box next to the wheel, on the right side of the rear, is that a heat-a/c unit? Did you guys remove it? Or just leave it there? Did you disconnect any valve/cable? We have the same thing in our van and we don’t know what to do wih it! We wouldn’t mind leaving it there, but i’m concerned that it might be dangerous?
    Thanks!!

    • Hi Flor, that’s exciting! The black box in the rear of our van is a rear air handler/AC/heater core unit. It’s certainly possible to take it out, but it’s not something you can do yourself. These units are connected to the main AC and heat system via piping that runs under the van. To safely remove it, you would need a qualified professional to depressurize your AC system, cut the pipe and cap it off (which would likely require a custom piece being fabricated), and recharge your AC. The heating lines aren’t pressurized, so you could in theory cut and redirect those yourself. Once that’s done, you can remove the actual unit. The cost of voiding your AC, custom fabrication, and recharging the AC would likely cost $300 or more, so you would have to decide if that’s worth it. There’s no problem leaving it in, except for the space that it takes up.

      We initially left ours in because all of that seemed like an expensive hassle. But our AC developed a leak on the road and we had to have the pipe under the van cut and capped to fix it (we know a pretty affordable place in Taos, NM if you need a cap fabricated – I think it was about $100). After that, taking it out wasn’t an issue. We did have a mechanic do the heating lines for us, but it wasn’t expensive.

      Hope that helps and good luck with your build!

      ~John

      • Hi John. I have just started my van conversion & find your blog very helpful. Thanks for so much detailed info, especially on the flooring, which I’m tackling now. I also need to have my AC serviced & wondered who you used in Taos, where I happen to live. Happy Trails!

        • Hi Jim, so glad our site has been helpful! We absolutely love Taos and Northern NM! The Rio Grande Gorge was our first “real” stop when we hit the road two years ago, and we actually just spent the entire month of February (and a bit of January and March) in that area. We’re dreaming of eventually purchasing some land around there and setting up a home base of sorts, complete with tiny homes and/or yurts, and maybe an Earthship someday, haha.

          For our AC servicing we went to Metric Motors on Paseo del Pueblo Sur because they had a spring AC deal going at the time. We were happy with the experience there – they diagnosed a leak issue with our AC, sent us to a machine shop behind the Walmart to fabricate a custom cap for the AC line, then they recharged the freon for us for no additional charge. Hope that helps!

          ~John

          • OK, thanks John. I’ve had brake work done at Metric Motors before & know they do good work. I spent this afternoon along the banks of the Rio Grande on one of our first spring days – it’s an awesome area. Happy Trails!

          • OK thanks John. I’ve had brake work done at Metric Motors & know they do good work. I was able to spend this afternoon along the banks of the Rio Grande as spring finally begins to take hold after a brutal winter. Taos is amazing country – happy trails!

  • Thanks for all of this information! Question about where your floor meetings the door behind the passenger seat: how did you get the full build up (insulation, subfloor, laminate) to fit under the plastic floor cover?? Having trouble with ours – will probably need a trim piece – but curious if you did anything in particular.

    • Hi Monica,

      Great question! We had the same problem. Our plastic floor cover (the step protector for the side door) comes out, so we basically placed it on top of the floor. Since the floor we put in was so much higher than the stock floor, this created a gap on the underside that we filled with additional insulation. But it was not the best setup.

      Just a couple of weeks ago we redid our entire floor (we had some mold/water damage to the subfloor due to leaky rear door seals). This time, we cut the subfloor so it would fit around the step protector, so the floor ended up being flush with the plastic lip. We then used a metal seam binder flooring piece to cover the gaps and make it look nice. We’ll be publishing a full post on what we did and how we treated our new subfloor to prevent mold in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned. Hope that helps!

      ~John

  • First big fan of your site, keep it up! Second, did ya’ll screw through the subfloor or laminate floor to secure the matierals to the floor of the actual van at all? I have seen others who have drilled up through the floor of the van and into the plywood subfloor. Or did you only use adhesive? What do you do to combat the floor sliding or moving? Does the adhesive suffice? Or is it that once you start securing the bed/shelving to the walls and flooring they kind of lock the floor in place? Thanks for any feedback in advance.

    • Hi Mitch,

      Glad you enjoy the site! We used 3M High Strength 90 spray adhesive to secure the 1/4″ plywood subfloor to the insulation below it. The laminate flooring we have is a “floating floor” so we did not secure it at all. The floor is held down pretty well by the weight of everything on top of it, but we did screw down all of furniture pieces (bed frame, bench, and kitchen cabinets) using angle brackets and 3/4″ screws. The screws are penetrating both the floor and subfloor, and we also bracketed all the furniture to the walls for additional security. The combination of the weight of everything, and securing the furniture to anchor points in the floor and walls makes everything in our van rock solid.

      I hope that helps, let me know if I can clarify further!

      Thanks,
      John