Top Vanlife Ceiling Ideas | Shiplap Vs T&G Vs Plywood + Install Guide

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Moving into your van is a major decision, but possibly one of the best choices you’ll make. From heightened freedom to more adventures, there are plenty of advantages to living in your vehicle. However, before you can enjoy everything van life has to offer, you may have to do some work.

One of the most important things you can do for your van is install a ceiling. In this article, we’ll review the benefits of ceilings, some top van ceiling ideas and how you can easily install one.

Why Do I Need a Ceiling?

When you live in your vehicle, you’ll probably want a proper ceiling, walls and floor for the interior. Here are a few advantages to installing a van ceiling:

  • Improved appearance
  • Protection
  • Functional benefits

There’s no doubt that a van with a ceiling looks more polished and professional than a van without one. Installing a ceiling makes your vehicle feel more like a home. Ceilings also provide an extra layer of insulation for your van roof.

There are also many functional benefits to having a ceiling. Not only do campervan ceilings cover insulation, but they also provide a place to secure your van roof fan. Ultimately, if you plan to live in your van extensively, a ceiling is a must-have.

How Do I Choose a Van Ceiling?

The first step to installing a van ceiling for your Sprinter, ProMaster, or Transit, is deciding on a ceiling type. If you’re new to van life, you might think that any expanse of wood that covers the van roof will make a sufficient ceiling. In reality, it’s important to carefully consider what model fits best in your vehicle. More specifically, you should focus on these factors:

  • Appearance
  • Weight
  • Cost

First, think about what you want the ceiling to look like. Ideally, your van life ceiling should be aesthetically pleasing and fit in with the interior. For example, if you have a welcoming, brightly colored van interior, you don’t want to pair it with a dark ceiling.

In addition to appearance, it’s important to think about functionality. The ceiling is going to add weight to your van – the last thing you want to do is damage your vehicle by going over its weight limit. Be sure to double-check your van’s weight capacity before settling on a ceiling type.

The last factor to consider is cost. An aesthetically pleasing, high-quality ceiling may last long, but it will also cost more than a cheaper, plain looking ceiling. Plan out your budget before looking at ceiling models.

Van Conversion Ceiling Ideas

Once you know your budget, van weight limit and style requirements, you can move on to choosing a van ceiling type. Here are a few leading campervan ceiling ideas, as well as their respective pros and cons.

Shiplap Van Ceiling

Van Shiplap Ceiling with Lights On
@blue.eyed.vanlife on IG | Photo

Shiplap consists of long, horizontal panels of wood that overlap at the edges to create a flush joint. It gets its name from its function in wooden ships and boats (where it’s used to create watertight hulls).

The appearance of a shiplap van ceiling varies depending on which direction the wood runs. When installed horizontally, the shiplap boards fit into each other to make small gaps that create a unique, lined pattern on your ceiling. Conversely, if they’re installed vertically, the boards elongate your ceiling and make the space look bigger.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Quick installation process
  • Can be decorated to your liking
  • Affordable (costs between $2.50 and $7 per square foot)

Cons

  • Can warp or break if not installed carefully
  • Dirt may accumulate on gaps/grooves
  • Difficult to repair

Is a Shiplap Ceiling Right for Me?

A shiplap ceiling is a great choice if you’re looking for a simple yet aesthetically pleasing ceiling option that doesn’t add too much weight to your van. However, while the installation process is relatively quick, it requires having a strong attention to detail. If you don’t have carpentry experience, you should consider hiring a professional for the installation.

Tongue and Groove Van Ceiling

Two Men Installing Tongue and Groove Van Ceiling
@lexyandmikeyking on IG | Photo

A tongue and groove campervan ceiling features flat wooden boards with a protruding tongue side and a receiving groove side. The tongue side of one board is inserted into the groove side of the adjoining board — then, the joint is strengthened using nails or glue. The final product consists of a continuous wooden ceiling board with thin, parallel lines.

Since the boards fit into each other seamlessly, tongue and groove planks are relatively easy to put together. Once they’re assembled, they can be left as they are or painted to achieve a certain design.

Pros

  • Lightweight, thin and flexible
  • Simply installation process
  • Affordable (costs between $2.00 and 3.50 per square foot)
  • Strong groove joints (planks won’t fall off once they’ve been glued together)
  • Long-lasting

Cons

  • Difficult to disassemble or repair
  • Prone to splitting if not installed properly
  • Won’t fit well if there are large gaps between any two adjacent boards
  • Time-consuming installation that requires many materials

Is a Tongue and Groove Ceiling Right for Me?

A tongue and groove model is a great choice if you’re looking for a ceiling that will last a long time. Moreover, due to the flexible material, it can work well with a variety of van roofs (including curved ones). However, it’s difficult to disassemble and change, so make sure you’re 100% satisfied before choosing it.

Simple Plywood Van Ceiling

Man Installing Plywood Van Ceiling
@humphrey.the.hyundai on IG | Photo

Simple plywood ceilings are made of a thin wooden board with at least two layers of veneered wood – these are glued at a 90° angle to one other. The direction of wood grains alternate during the gluing, which helps reduce the risk of common construction issues (such as wood shrinkage or swelling).

The thickness of plywood boards vary depending on the number of veneers used. Usually, the boards come in three designated sizes: multi-ply, three-ply and five-ply. The final product is a continuous, uninterrupted flat board which can be left as it is or decorated to match the van.

Pros

  • Lightweight and flexible
  • Easy to handle and install
  • Affordable (costs around $1.7 per square foot)
  • Visually appealing
  • Cross graining process helps ensure the boards don’t split at the edges

Cons

  • Gluing process may be odorous
  • Less durable than shiplap or tongue and groove ceilings
  • Surface can peel off over time

Should I Get a Simple Plywood Van Ceiling?

A plywood van conversion ceiling is best suited for people who live in their vans part-time or don’t travel extensively. They’re budget-friendly but are not the most durable option – thus, they’re not ideal for those looking for long-lasting ceilings.

Van Ceiling Installation Guide

Executing a DIY van conversion project isn’t easy – it requires time, effort and determination. However, as long as you’re willing to do the work, there’s no reason why you can’t install your own van ceiling. Let’s go over the essential steps of installation.

1) Gather Your Materials

Various Materials Gathered for Van Ceiling Installation
@ittakesajourney on IG | Photo

Here are some of the campervan ceiling materials you’ll need for the installation project:

  • Ceiling material of your choice
  • Insulation material
  • Self-tapping screws
  • Hole saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Jigsaw
  • Caulk gun
  • Lap sealant

If your van roof isn’t insulated, you should take care of that first. Insulation will protect your van interior from extreme temperatures and help conserve heating and cooling costs. You can read more about van insulation here.

2) Install the Van Roof Fan

Two Men Installing Van Roof Fan
@gluglue_the_vanactivist on IG | Photo

Before installing the van ceiling, you’ll should put in the roof fan — this helps regulate temperatures in your van. By completing this step beforehand, you’ll save yourself the trouble of cutting your finished ceiling later. To install the fan, complete these steps:

  • Mark out the corners where the fan is going to go
  • Drill holes in each corner
  • Use a saw to cut into the drilled holes and cut out the van roof metal
  • Use a caulking fun to apply lap sealant around the edge of the cut
  • Screw the fan to the roof

Once your fan is attached, frame it with a garnish trim ring.

3) Install Furring Strips

Van Ceiling Furring Strips with Insulation
@gabeandsam_inthevan on IG | Photo

Furring strips are narrow, long strips of wood used to create a flat surface for mounting the ceiling boards. They also create room between the ceiling and the van roof, which is helpful when installing insulation and wiring.

To incorporate the furring strips, start by locating the ribs on your van’s roof – these are slightly arched protrusions that help support the roof. Measure the length of each rib, then trim the furring strips until they’re the same lengths. Finally, glue or screw the strips to the ribs.

4) Stain or Paint Your Wood

Painted Wood for Van Ceiling
@steveandaudra on IG | Photo

If you like the look and feel of natural wood, you can leave the ceiling boards as they are. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of color and decor, you might want to stain or paint the boards. You can adorn the ceiling with intricate patterns, paint them a single color or play around with different designs.

5) Run Wires for the Van Lighting and Fan

In-Ceiling Lights and AC Mounted for Van
@chexvanz on IG | Photo

In-ceiling lighting is a great way to brighten up your van – plus, unlike lamps, it doesn’t consume valuable space. To install lighting, follow these steps:

  • Decide where the lighting is going to go
  • Connect wires to a power source
  • Run wires from the power source to the lighting and roof fan

Once you’ve decided where the lights will go, you’ll have to connect them to electricity. Start by attaching the wires to a 12V distribution panel (or directly to the battery). If your wires are too short, use connectors to extend them.

6) Install Your Planks and Prep for Lighting

Man Installing Wood Planks for Van Ceiling
@lifesallryte on IG | Photo

Once the wiring is installed, you finish up the ceiling installation by screwing the van ceiling panels (or planks) to the furring strips. It’s best to complete this process with two people – one person can hold the planks in place, while the other one screws them in.

Before installing the planks, cut holes for the lighting and electrical wires. These should be just big enough to allow wires to slip through. Then, screw the planks in place, feed the wiring through the cut holes and connect them to power sources.

7) Celebrate Your New Van Ceiling!

Installing a sprinter, ProMaster, or Transit van ceiling is no easy feat. However, it’s essential to making your van truly feel like home. If you have any questions or need help choosing between van ceiling ideas, feel free to reach out. Our team is always happy to answer questions about van life!

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