This article has 20 practical van racking ideas for plumbers; the most popular are:
- Create a false floor to store things under.
- Divide the under-floor storage.
- Create bulkhead storage.
- Create a workbench at the rear.
- JET Rack’s ladder storage system.
- Build a storage cabinet in the side door.
- Magnetic strips for hanging tools.
- Create long drawers at the rear.
In exploring the best racking ideas for your plumbing van, ensure the system you adopt follows a convenient design that sticks to your budget and houses everything, all while maintaining safety and a professional outlook.
Let’s dive into the 20 practical van racking ideas for plumbers in detail.
1. Create a False Floor
Cut 4×8 plywood according to your van’s floor area and secure it on the floor to form a foundational bed for fixing everything else.
It’s also ideal and secure for storing long items like pipes, hand augers, levels, basin wrenches, and beams.
You can then obtain your preferred floor height. For example, carefully lay a framework of 4” battens on the existing bed and screw an extra 4×8 on top.
Use screws long enough to reach the existing ply bed so you minimize risks of water penetration and rust.
Bevel all corners and sharp edges of the ply to allow easy access through the rear and side doors.
If you need drawers under this false floor, adjust the height accordingly.
While a false floor creates ample storage underneath for long items and fragile tools, it’s quite difficult to clean.
A good tip is to lay the false floor ply in sections to allow future modifications, provide removable panels for easy access to other tools, and enable easy cleaning.
Pro Tip: The height you can take at the bottom limits your vertical space. Therefore, it’s more reasonable to pick a van with a high roof if you’ll often work from the inside while standing.
2. Divide the Under-Floor Storage
You can optimize your under-floor storage by dividing it up, so your long tools and pipes go into separate compartments.
The good news is you can easily achieve this using wooden beams or the wide PVC pipes you’ll be transporting.
If you opt for beams, you can fix them at 15 to 20 cm intervals after the space you reserve for drawers.
Under-floor storage ensures fragile items get protection from other objects that may damage them when things start bumping into each other.
To make it better, you may cushion the under-floor compartments with foam. I also think it’s a good idea to leave one column that can accommodate ladders.
While you could haul ladders together with other heavy equipment onto the roof, it increases drag, which translates to higher fuel consumption.
Full-length PVC pipes could also do the trick of dividing things up, and I like using 10 to 15 cm diameter pipes.
In this case, you’ll do well using brackets to secure them, or you can stack them carefully in two levels, so they hold each other snugly in place. It’s a beautiful hack since it makes the system remarkably cheap, flexible, and lightweight.
And if you need to transport larger panels, you can easily rearrange the pipes or take them out altogether.
3. Maximize Wall Storage With Shelves
It’s a no-brainer: you’ll need racks and shelves to optimize your wall storage and organize toolboxes.
There are tons of modular racking systems for plumbers, and I’d like to think you can easily get your hands on an affordable, lightweight, and easy-to-install system out there.
However, if you’d love something that’s made to measure and have real DIY skills up your sleeve, create the shelving yourself.
I find plywood (3/4“) pretty cheap and simple to work with, but you can build your racking with any other reliable material.
I’d prefer shelving that spans the entire length of the van, and I believe you can’t go wrong with three or four columns for your toolboxes.
It’s also reasonable to have deeper shelving on one side for larger toolboxes, but make sure you maintain balance on both sides of the van.
And remember, heavier boxes go to the bottom shelves, same as Dewalt and Milwaukee power tools that don’t come in regular boxes.
To ensure your boxes won’t move about and crash, back-angle the shelves something like 10°. You could also keep the shelves level and bore 10 mm holes for Miller dowels near the edges.
Pro Tip: I have a high opinion of dowels since they don’t compromise storage space, and you can easily remove them.
4. Build a Storage Cabinet In The Side Door
A van-high cabinet in the side door allows you to grab your regular tools easily. You can do the trick by building a cabinet with two columns of wide shelves using a 3/4″ ply.
Plan the dimensions according to the sizes of your most used tool boxes, power tools, etc.
Notably, having a cabinet in the side door makes more practical sense if your van has double sliding doors, so your access is not limited to the rear door.
A swiveling cabinet would be better since you can only access a fixed one from the outside. However, it makes the design a bit complex.
Pro Tip: Make some levels heavy-duty drawers so you can easily pullout a regularly used toolbox, grab a tool, and slide it back easily without lifting.
5. Create Long Drawers at the Rear
You can’t go wrong with something like two drawers at the rear end for storing long tools such as adjustable wrenches, levels, and spare pipes.
Remember to install latching mechanisms for your drawers, so they don’t slide out unnecessarily when you’re making sudden maneuvers or taking sharp corners.
The flipside of drawers that are accessed from the rear is that they’re remarkably long, and you may lose a great chunk of under-floor storage.
Plus, if some genius parks right behind you, I can only imagine the hard time you’d have getting your tools out.
6. Install Shorter Drawers at the Side Doors
Drawers you can access from the side doors are better since they tend to be shorter, sturdier, and help save space.
You can install a beam that acts as a “slam stop” under the flooring between these shallow side drawers and the long rear drawers.
7. Create Separate Storage for Spares
You can have smaller shelves above the standard shelving for your push-fit fittings, compression fittings, toilet spares, faucet heads, washers, valves, etc.
Labeling each compartment will save you the trouble of looking for spares sometime. It’s also fair to do so if you’ll be having an apprentice on board.
8. Place Solar Panels On the Roof Racks
If you have a roof rack that won’t be holding ladders, I’d recommend putting a small solar panel on top of the van.
You’ll, of course, need a reserve battery pack and an inverter too, and the good news is you can find an affordable package for less than $500.
It’s the easiest way to obtain unlimited electricity for your power tools, meaning you can always charge them on the fly.
9. Install LED Lamps & Strips On the Roof
I love LED lamps on the roof, as they save the headache of looking for that one valve or pipe joint in a heap of fittings.
LED strips in upper shelf corners may also work great if there isn’t much ambient light that can ordinarily reach hidden compartments.
The good thing about such fittings is that they’re affordable and consume very little electricity, meaning you can just hook them up to your starter battery.
10. Design an Easy-Access Space for PPEs
Personal protective equipment you use every day, like goggles, gloves, heat pads, and ear protection, should be kept in a separate compartment, preferably in one of the wall storage shelves.
11. Create Bulkhead Storage
A storage area in the bulkhead section allows you to keep items and tools that you don’t use regularly.
Designating this area specifically for such tools will save you the trouble of looking for them among other tools when you randomly need them.
Since your bulkhead tends to follow the shape of the cab seats, high up you have space for smaller items, and down low, you’ve generous space for larger stuff.
Fix two battens, one above and one below the viewing window, to provide vertical fixing points without obscuring the view. Do this in the cargo area behind the driver, not in the cab.
Afterward, fix a 3/4″ ply sheet with a window cut-out on the bulkhead to form the back panel for a face frame cabinet.
You can install enough battens or ribs to the back panel of your cabinet for strength and support, then simply fix it on the bulkhead as a single unit.
A 1/2″ ply face works excellently to bind the bulkhead storage spaces into one unit.
Pro Tip: Be sure to have a couple of small compartments facing the side door for easy access. These form perfect storage points for smaller cans of sealant, silicone tubes, plungers, marker pens, etc.
12. Build a Locked Compartment for Costly Gear
A heavy-duty security compartment with a deadlock allows you to safeguard your most expensive tools, just in case someone quickly breaks into your van in a public parking lot.
I’d like to think one of the best places to put this compartment is under the false floor.
13. Install Magnetic Strips for Hanging Tools
Magnetic strips like the Vanitek 12” tool holder and the Senrob magnetic holders can do an incredible job holding your metallic tools.
Since each magnetic strip holds a maximum of 20 lbs, they work great for hanging wrenches, hammers, spanners, screwdrivers, pliers, tape measures, and saws. Just make sure the magnets are strong enough to hold the tools even with the roughest possible driving you could have to do.
They also come with sturdy brackets and screws, meaning you can easily secure them on your van’s metal ribs or ply lining.
You can also order magnetic strips from HM Magnets.
14. Protect the Cargo Area with Ply Lining
If your van doesn’t come lined, you can install ply lining on the inside to prevent denting of panels.
You’ll have to secure it in place using bolts and rivnuts against the van’s metal ribs, instead of self-tapping screws, which easily pull out.
Be sure to use a reliable elastic sealant like Sikaflex EBT+ or DAP’s polyurethane construction sealant for the joints. Either of these two won’t let the joints give in to loading, and they can still take paint.
Notably, ply lining reduces drumming, especially when you’ve got things bumping around during a rough haul. It also provides a solid fixing surface when secured firmly enough.
Pro Tip: Ply lining on the walls already makes it hard to locate the side ribs that you’d use as fixing points, so don’t cover the roof ribs.
15. Use Old Bottles & Cans as Storage Compartments
Cut out the top of old bottles and cans at an inclined angle for easy access, then secure them using metal brackets anywhere you want. Small items like faucet keys and thread sealing tapes will easily go into these.
16. Create a Workbench at the Rear
With proper planning, you can have a slide-out workbench at the back of your van to extend your working area.
You could create this from 1/2 “ or 3/4 “ ply and ensure it has adjustable legs. Adjustable legs work great because you likely won’t enjoy a stubbornly inclined workbench, and you can offset the height of your loaded van.
While you may be tempted to use this workbench as a normal shelf inside the van, I’d advise you stick to the regular shelves. They’re much sturdier and likely won’t drop items when you’re driving on bad roads.
17. Create Storage On the Rear Doors
If you come to think of it, your van’s doors provide a cost-effective option for storage, mostly for items that you can hang and grab quickly.
Since most van doors nowadays can open up to 270°(apart from the sliding side doors), you can easily reach your tools from the inside or the rear of your van with doors open.
By hanging lightweight plastic or fabric organizers with ample pocket storage, you can keep small equipment that you regularly use without a hassle. That goes for washers, O-rings, pipe clips, stubby screwdrivers, etc.
Remember those magnetic strips I talked of earlier? You can still secure one or two on the rear doors for hanging metallic tools that you’d want to access easily.
I’d like to think rear door storage is also ideal for a well-stocked first aid kit, so you don’t have trouble locating it when your Milwaukee tool or plumber’s torch deals you a hand injury.
18. Create Extra Storage Using Pipe Cuttings
Don’t throw away all the clutter – you can improvise short pieces (4 to 5 inches) of PVC pipe for storage.
The wheel arches already consume space, so your shelving may fit there.
That said, you can attach 2” ply on top of them to provide a fixing surface, then glue PVC pipe cuttings on them to form little pouches for screws, glues, marker pens, and anything round that can fit in.
I like a tidy van, and I’m sure this simple hack can help you too.
19. Keep Heavy Items Near the Doors
As modern tools come in regular boxes, your design should have larger and heavier boxes near the side or rear doors. This is so you can avoid stressing your spine when you lift them.
Additionally, keeping heavy equipment like wet vacuum cleaners and snake machines near the doors makes good sense.
20. Install JET Rack’s Interior Ladder Storage System
If you’re tired of ladders sitting at the bottom and getting in the way of other things, I recommend mounting the JET Rack interior ladder storage system onto the roof.
It comes with mounting plates, heavy-duty metal brackets, screws, nuts, and bungee cords. You also need a suitable length of unistrut channel (unistrut), which you can buy separately.
With it, you can slide your 6-foot ladder in and out without breaking a sweat.
To make things better, fix the system on one side of the roof, so it doesn’t limit your headroom when accessing the most regularly used shelves. Here’s how to do it:
- Drill holes into the roof ribs for your unistrut, mounting bracket, and rear ladder catch. Be careful not to drill all the way out, as you don’t want to deal with water leaks.
- Fix the mounting brackets and unistrut onto the roof ribs using screws.
- Depending on your van’s dimensions and the length of ladder you want to store, fix the guiding bracket for bungee cords at a convenient point along the unistrut length. That should be around 30” from the rear end of the unistrut.
- Next, fix the ladder stop at the rear end of the unistrut, and the sliding ladder catch at its front end.
- Fix each bungee cord through the sliding forward catch, guide it through the middle bracket, then terminate it at the rear ladder stop.
- Slide the ladder into position and adjust the cords.
- Snap heavy-duty plastic tensioners along the bungee cords, 12” from the front of the guiding bracket (towards the cab), so the bungee cords don’t slack out each time you take out the ladder.
That’s it, now you can easily take out your ladder and slide it back in.
Here’s the link to the detailed video description on how to install the whole system.
The Best Material For a Plumber’s Van Racking
Generally, most professionals use metal, wood, or composites for van racking.
Metal racking systems use either steel or aluminum, as they’re durable, easy to maintain, and often adjustable.
If you need a lot of drawers, shelves, and racks without adding too much weight, aluminum can be a great option.
Being super-lightweight could result in better fuel efficiency. Aluminum shelves can also be adjusted or easily welded into place, making the whole system easy to plan and install.
But then it’s expensive and won’t suit a tight budget. Steel racking is cheaper, more flexible, durable, and rugged, especially with advanced high-strength steel (AHSS).
It’s your best bet if you’ll be hauling heavy-duty equipment and going through roads that are in bad shape. On the flip side, it’s considerably heavy and could take a toll on your gas mileage.
Wood racking is cheaper and arguably more customizable than steel or aluminum, making it the number one choice for a DIY build.
Regardless, be mindful of the weight, so you don’t compromise safety and fuel consumption.
Since every plumber is different, I can’t tell you in good conscience that any particular idea is the perfect one for a plumbing van.
Likewise, if anyone told me there’s only one right answer for a plumbing van racking system, I’d probably balk and run.
So bounce different ideas around and choose only what suits the type of van you have, your needs at work, and makes you feel relaxed while fixing stuff or when you’ve just parked in public.
That’s it, champ. The nooks and crannies I’ll leave to you. Good luck with your latest touch of ingenuity.