We see it all too often. You’re excited to get going on your conversion. You head down to Home Depot or local lumber yard and pick up a bundle of framing 2x4s to get the camper van conversion process started. We need you to put the 2x4s down and read the rest of this post before you go any further.
The steps to converting a van can seem similar to residential home construction. There’s walls with insulation, electrical, plumbing etc. It’s just a house on wheels right? Not really. A camper van is closer to a boat if you think about it. And one thing we know is there are no 2x4s used in marine construction. The main reason being is that boats and vans are subjected to different stresses and environmental conditions than houses. Houses do not move. They do not flex. They don’t see wide temperature and humidity changes on a daily basis. This is why it’s important to use the right building materials for your camper van conversion.
Reasons 2x4s are bad for long lasting conversions
Now don’t get us wrong. You absolutely can use 2x4s in a camper van conversion and get decent results. After all, there are plenty of examples on the internet of people doing so. Detailed how-tos for using 2x4s for various aspects of a build are everywhere. The one thing you should ask yourself whenever reading van conversion advice on the internet is, who is this information coming from? Is it put together by someone with years of experience and trial and error or is it advice from someone on their first build doing what they know and documenting it?
We said before that you can use 2x4s in your van conversion? But should you?
Here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t use 2x4s if you want a van conversion that will stand the test of time.
1. Framing lumber expands and contracts with temperature changes
We mentioned before that vans are not like houses. They are subject to severe cold and extreme heat. We’re not necessarily talking about when you are in the van. You can have a heater and an air conditioner installed but are you going to run it 24/7 365? Are you going to run it during the downtime when your camper van is parked? For many this doesn’t make sense and is not an option. Framing lumber is not manufactured to handle freezing and scorching temperatures and daily swings.
With drastic temperature swings also come moisture changes. Residential air conditioners actually dehumidify the air they cool. In camper vans there is a lot less air volume and even breathing impacts the humidity. Winter can be especially challenging and many living the vanlife find their van almost turns into a cave. Cold outside + warm inside = condensation. Framing 2x4s are highly impacted by moisture content. You’ve probably seen this in action when picking through a pile of curved & twisted 2x4s. All 2x4s are straight when produced. It's the combination of moisture and temperature that leads to them warping.
3. Most new wood is green
Traditionally framing timber is green wood. Meaning it is manufactured from freshly-cut or still living trees and has a higher moisture content. Green wood is easier to work with but over time this wood will begin to dry. Wood contracts when it dries and can cause all sorts of problems from cracking to baps forming between joined pieces. All of these points basically say the same thing. 2x4s will work in the short term, but ultimately they will bend or warp and compromise the structural and aesthetic quality of your camper van conversion.
We suggest using marine grade baltic birch plywood to ensure your conversion can stand up to the conditions camper vans are put through. Read more about why we use baltic birch.