The Build · The Van

My Story – Beginning the Build

The Executive Summary

We named the van Boyd! VERY IMPORTANT!!! After doing some research on different flooring and floor insulation, I decided to leave the floor uninsulated. That let us use a thicker plywood for a more sturdier floor. It might be cold, but it’s a small area. It should take that much effort to heat it. If the floor is cold, I can always throw down a rug and put some slippers on.

The Details

With the van now squeaky clean inside, it was time to begin building it into the stealth camper that it would become. Before I started that, however, there was one item that needed to be addressed. The van needed a name. I’m not typically one for naming my vehicles, but this seemed different. They say it’s unlucky to leave a boat unnamed and while this was a van and not a boat, it still felt like this rule may apply.

Not being a terribly creative person, I had mostly been calling the van Big Red up until this point, per its red color and large size. Genius, I know. I asked around for ideas. Red and Clifford were presented as possibilities, but I wasn’t fond of either. Other names were probably thrown out as well, but I can recall them now. After gathering some ideas from friends, and giving it some thought myself, I settled on Boyd. Boyd’s Coffee was the company that originally owned the van. Companies often neglect their fleet vehicles, adopting more of a churn-and-burn mentality. Boyd’s Coffee, however, obviously cares for their fleet vehicles and it showed it this one. It was because of that care that they had taken with this van that I was able to acquire the van of my dreams in such good working order. It only seemed right to pay homage to the company that had enabled my current situation. And so with the van being newly dubbed Boyd, I was now ready to begin the build.

My initial thought was to begin with insulation, but given that I was only in Portland for a limited time before I had to drive it home to Cleveland, and that I’d built anything out of wood (I’ve never needed a saw to fix my car), I decided to start with the sub-floor. Having a much more skilled laborer, my dad, at my disposal, this seemed like the best use of my limited time in Portland.

Up until this point, I hadn’t given much thought to the flooring. I had originally thought that I would start with insulating and so all the research I had done was on various insulating materials and techniques that people had used in their own conversions. The floor, I thought, would be as simple as driving to Home Depot and picking up some plywood. This idea proved how inept I was. While the task was not as simple as I originally thought, I was luckily able to figure it out as I went. Being somewhat terrible at planning ahead, this is how I approach most things in life. I just figured it out as I go. I think it was Chris Guillebeau who said: “all things are figure-outable”.

What I hadn’t considered when thinking about the subfloor for Boyd was what insulation I would use on the floor and how this choice would affect the height. The more insulation you put down on your floor, the more height you lose. Being able to stand upright was one of my main two criteria when I settled on the high top Sprinter and so I didn’t want to add so much insulation that I was no longer able to stand up straight. The insulation I chose for the flooring would determine what type of plywood I would purchase to construct the floor.

I started researching various floor insulation materials and techniques and found a wide variety of different options that others had done, although there were a few common methods that shown through. The most common method consisted of cutting out strips of Reflectix (more on this stuff when we get to insulation) to fit the grooves of the floor. Another I found was to simply lay full sheets of Reflectix along the entire floor. A third was to raise the entire floor up so that insulated batting or foam board could be placed underneath your floor without being squished down (squishing down insulation causes it to lose its insulating properties. This makes almost worthless). All of these methods had advantages and disadvantages and I had no idea which to go with.

I was running low on time and I wanted to get something done while I still had my father at my disposal. I decided to just make a decision and move forward. After all, I could always change my mind and re-do it later. I decided that I wasn’t going to insulate the floor at all. This would allow us to use a thicker, sturdier plywood for the flooring so that I didn’t have to worry about it bowing around the edges. I also decided to go with marine board which is meant to hold up better to water. With all the holes in the floor from the removed rivets, I wanted something that would hold up to moisture in case the sealant that I had used to plug those holes came loose or failed in some way.

We drove Boyd up to Home Depot to gather our materials. I figured we would need to adhere the wooden sub-floor to the metal floor of the van and I didn’t want to put even more holes in the thing so I decided to go with Liquid Nails. I figured this might not be the best option, but the weight of the floor and eventual furnishing would also help hold it in place. We then headed over to the lumber section to grab our board. What I discovered, and what my dad had pointed out to me previously, was that marine board is treated with so many chemicals to make it water resistant that the boards themselves feel oily when you run your hands along them. A number of materials are called out on the tube of Liquid Nails stating the various things that it will adhere to; oily chemicals is not one of them. Afraid that the adhesive would not stick to these boards, I decided to search for an alternative. What we settled on, I can’t quite recall. It’s a hard 3/4 inch thick plywood set off in the corner of the store. It seemed sturdy enough and had a smooth finish. You wouldn’t even know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. My dad, who works at Home Depot outside of his normal 9-5, told me that it was a great board but that no one hardly buys it. Not know much about wood myself, I decided to defer to his judgment. And so we loaded up a few pieces and headed home.

Back at the house we set up our workstation and began measuring and cutting. Luckily, we had not yet disposed of the original sub-floor that I had ripped out and so we were able to use this as a template for cutting around the wheel wells and step next to the sliding door. That was extremely helpful! Aside from a few measurements, we were mostly able to trace the old floor onto the new floor and cut it out with a jigsaw. I say “we” but I was very little help with this. I mostly stood around and documented the process.

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The floor felt like a major milestone. It really helped act as a mental spur to kick-start the rest of the process as it was the first step in beginning to build my new home. Having the floor in not only made the inside look and feel better, but it provided momentum and motivation.


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