A stunning ceiling is one of the showpieces of a camper van interior. And that’s no surprise. Because the ceiling takes up such a large amount of real estate, it is oftentimes one of the first things people see when they enter a van for the first time.
So it’s worthwhile to spend the time and the research to learn how to put in the best possible van ceiling.
This post offers a step-by-step guide to install a ceiling in your camper van. You can expect to learn how to:
- Install furring strips
- Plan the ceiling layout
- Select the best cedar boards
- Staining the wood
- Prepare the wood boards for LED lights
- Install the wood boards on the furring strips
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Install Furring Strips On Van's Ceiling Rips
Using furring strips is the ideal way to install a ceiling in a van. This will ensure the ceiling is attached firmly to the van’s frame and won’t come loose over time.
If you have an empty shell of a van, you should be able to see 4 or 5 metal ribs that run horizontally across the inside of your van’s roof. You can see three cross-ribs in the picture here.
Each of these ribs should have factory holes punched into them. To create the strongest hold for your ceiling, you should install cross nuts into these holes
Then you can attach 2″ wide wood boards to these cross nuts for an extra strong hold. These will be the furring strips.
In this image, you can see where we attached three rows of 2″-wide wood boards on top of each rib.
The idea is to screw the eventual wood boards to these wood furring strips.
Plan Your Van Ceiling Layout
Making a layout for your van ceiling before putting up any wood boards really helps to make the installation process easier with less headaches. By planning ahead, you can know where each wood board will be placed and where your eventual vent fan and ceiling lights will be located.
Check out the van ceiling diagram we made during our own van conversion. You can see where we planned to install our lights and vent fan.
Another thing you can see from the diagram above is where our furring strips are located. We planned to screw each of our wood boards at each furring strip. We also staggered the boards so that there was a nice “interlaced” look.
To help with your camper van ceiling installation, you can easily create a digital ceiling outline. In the below diagram, you can see how we 1) planned to stagger our cedar planks, 2) factored in the location of our future LED puck lights (black circles), and 3) worked our cedar planks around our vent fan (grey square).
To learn more how you can create your own ceiling layout, like the one below, check out our post: How To Create A Camper Van Layout For FREE
Select The Wood Boards For Your Van Ceiling
While there are different types of wood to use for a van conversion ceiling, cedar wood is a great choice as a ceiling material for a number of reasons. Cedar plank wood is:
Additionally, many cedar planks come in a ‘tongue-and-groove’ format, which makes installation easy and clean.
Where To Buy Cedar Planks
‘Tongue-and-Groove cedar planks are common building materials. If you’re in the USA, you can purchase cedar planks at most major big box hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Also, cedar wood is a soft wood. This means it’s easy to scratch and dent these planks if you’re careless. Take care when transporting your cedar planks back home.
Preparing Wood Boards To Fit LED Lights
12-volt LED puck lights are the most popular ceiling lighting solution for camper vans.
We use 12 of these puck lights in our van and are very happy with them.
These lights are easy to install and wire. But best of all, each light only consumes 2-watts of power, ensuring that your batteries (no matter their size) can easily support these lights for hours.
To install these particular LED lights, you will need a 2-3/8″ hole saw. This saw attaches to your power drill and allows you to make precise, clean cuts in your ceiling wood boards to install your lights.
Key Tip: Before drilling any holes in your ceiling boards, refer to your ceiling layout design and ensure your drill holes won’t be blocked by any future overhead cabinets.
Staining Van Ceiling Wood Boards
Cedar planks look great naturally, but if you stain them you’re able to really turn up the vibrance of the wood boards.
Plan Ahead! Before staining, it’s good to know what shade of brown you want your cedar boards to become. If you have a color plan, check out our post How To Create A Color Scheme for your van build. We show you how to device your own interior color plan.
Which Stains Did We Use?
For our van’s ceiling, we wanted to stain our cedar boards a dark brown color, similar to a medium roasted coffee bean.
We could not find a stain that could produce the exact color we wanted. So we mixed two different stains from Minwax to get our final result.
Test Your Stain Color First
It’s smart to test your stains first on some scrap cedar wood to see how you like the color. The color you see on the product label is likely to be different than what you achieve in real life.
In this picture, you can see how we tested our stains on a sample piece of cedar wood to see how the colors would turn out. Because we were mixing two different stains together, we blended the stains in different proportions to get the exact shade we wanted.
To get our final color, we used a 3:1 ratio of Minwax’s Special Walnut to Espresso stain.
Once you’ve selected the correct color, you’re ready to start staining all your cedar ceiling boards. Place each of your boards side-by-side and apply the stain. It’s critical to apply the stain with the same even coat to every inch of every board. If you apply too much stain to one area and too little stain to another area, you’ll end up with color inconsistencies.
Allow the stain to sit on the wood for about 5 minutes. After, wipe off the excess stain with some paper towels. Allow the newly stained cedar planks to dry overnight.
Installing Your Cedar Plank Camper Van Ceiling
Installing the cedar plank ceiling boards is a multi-step process that includes:
Step 1: Install Furring Strips
Although you COULD simply screw the cedar boards directly to the van’s metal frame, this is not ideal because screws in thin sheet metal have low pull-out resistance and encourage rust formation.
A better solution is to attach cross nuts and furring strips to your van’s frame. Sounds confusing? It’s not! We explain everything you need to know in our other post, How To Build & Install Furring Strips In A Camper Van.
In our van, we installed furring strips along all five of our van’s supporting cross ribs.
Step 2: Mount Cedar Boards To Furring Strips
With the furring strips installed, you can now mount the cedar boards onto the furring strips.
If your boards are ‘tongue-and-groove’ there is where you’ll really appreciate it because installation is incredibly easy. Simply insert the tongue side of the board that you’re currently installing into the groove-side of the already installed board to create a snug fit.
By the end of the day, you should have a perfect looking cedar plank camper van ceiling!
Step 3: Wire LED Lights To Battery
Hopefully you read our post on laying electrical wire throughout your camper van before installing your ceiling. If you did, you should now have a single RED wire and a single BLACK wire coming out from each of the holes you drilled for your LED puck lights.
Connecting your LED puck lights to these existing wires is straightforward. Assuming you are using 14AWG wire, use these butt connectors to connect your lights to the existing wires in your ceiling.
Lastly, once the LED lights are wired in, insert the puck lights into their respective holes in the cedar boards.
Need help with your electrical setup? Check out our post on How To Set Up A 12v System In A Camper Van.
The Final Result - A Beautiful Cedar Plank Ceiling
If you go slow and steady, we’re convinced that you, too, can easily install a stunning camper van conversion ceiling.
We love our tongue-and-groove cedar planks and wouldn’t change anything about our van ceiling build. And these ceiling boards have held up nicely during all the thousands of miles that we’ve driven.
If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment below!