Knowledge guide

Vinyl Plank Flooring in a DIY Cargo Camper Conversion

Vinyl Plank Flooring in a DIY Cargo Camper Conversion

Every camper needs flooring, and there are a ton of options. Which do you choose and why?

Carpet? Anyone?

Just kidding. Please don’t put carpet in your trailer.

We chose to go with vinyl plank flooring as we just did our entire home in this material. Let’s discuss what this material is and why we used it.

Choosing a Type of Flooring

Flooring is very confusing. The biggest problem is how many options there are and how similar they are to each other.

Go to any big box store and peruse the flooring section, and it becomes apparent just how many options you have.

To narrow down your options, let’s discuss some criteria that make the most sense in a camper.

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First off, it needs to be waterproof. Camping is often wet and dirty, and campers have a tendency to leak. Accidents happen. Don’t choose a flooring that is prone to water damage.

You also want something relatively easy to install. Your subfloor is probably not perfectly level, nor is it perfectly square. You need a product that is relatively flexible in its design and is DIY-friendly.

You also want something easy to maintain. Don’t pick a material that is hard to clean and needs tricky maintenance. Hardwood flooring, for example, needs to be refinished every so often and has specific cleaning regimens.

Lastly, you probably want to consider weight. Obviously, wood is a heavy material. Pick something lighter than wood.

Luxury vinyl plank easily meets all these criteria.

What is Luxury Vinyl Plank

Plank vinyl floor, also called luxury vinyl plank (LVP) or luxury vinyl floor (LVF), is vinyl flooring that comes in long strips. LVP is exactly the same as luxury vinyl tile (LVT) but comes in strips rather than square tiles. The terms LVP, LVT, and LVF are all virtually interchangeable.

Note that LVP / LVT is very different from sheet vinyl which is flexible vinyl with a printed top layer covered by a clear wear layer. LVP is almost five times thicker than traditional sheet vinyl and has multiple layers:

  • A topmost layer, designed to prevent light scratching and scuffs
  • A clear film layer that protects against more severe ripping and tearing
  • A design layer that provides the photo-realistic look of wood or stone
  • A backing layer made of fairly rigid vinyl, comprising almost 90 percent of the total thickness of luxury vinyl

Rather than being rolled out and glued down, LVP snaps together. The seal between planks is waterproof as well, making the entire floor water-sealed. No glue is involved. It floats on the floor.

LVP comes in standard sizes - typically 48 or 36 inches long. Most planks are about 6 inches wide, though there are limited sizes with a wider look.

LVP in a Cargo Trailer Conversion

LVP is perfect for DIY camper builds. It’s waterproof, durable, and easy to install.

Lowes and Home Depot both carry in-house brands of LVP, which are high-quality products similar to that of the brands in flooring stores.

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Home Depot carries Lifeproof and Trafficmaster brands, while Lowes carries Smartcore and Shaw brands. Both are excellent for our purposes.

Are the big box brands of flooring any good? Yes!

Caitlin and I actually did our entire home in Smartcore flooring in 2019. We went to several flooring stores and learned what metrics to compare. Basically, there are several things to compare, such as the materials and thickness of each layer - particularly the outer, thin, protective coatings. The flooring stores tried to sell us super hard on the idea that big box brands are trash and the expensive brands they carry are superior. Still, all of that information is available from the manufacturer, and on paper, the higher-end products from Lowes and Home Depot are virtually identical to their more expensive counterparts. So don’t fall for those sales tactics!

As far as cost, you are looking at $2-4 a square foot. For our 7x14 foot trailer, we spent about $300 on flooring. Note that it comes in boxes of seven or so planks.

Installation of LVP in a Cargo Trailer

Installation is pretty easy though there is a bit of a learning curve. There are excellent videos online. I primarily used this video to learn how to install LVP.

There are a few tools that make this job a lot easier.

Tapping Block. This is a simple plastic tool that you whack with a hammer that helps the pieces click together.

Floor Cutter. This is a tool that cuts the flooring. Imagine that. You can scribe the plank and then break it cleanly with a carpet knife. But this made the job a lot easier. I may or may not have bought one then returned it. There’s no proof!

A spare piece of flooring. What worked better than anything to force the pieces together was a small scrap piece of flooring. Just put it in the groove and whack it with a hammer.

Final Result

We are super pleased with how our flooring came out. It’s clean and looks like natural wood flooring. Knowing that it’s waterproof offers peace of mind, and we couldn’t be happier with it.

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