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The Van Conversion Series: Insulation

Monday 9th December 2019
By Ely Power
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By Ely Power

An Introduction To Insulating Your Van



Want to relax in your van without sweating or shivering all night long? Then insulation is an absolute must!

Australia is blessed with some of the world’s most spectacular wilderness, but with it comes some pretty extreme weather. So if you’re taking on a DIY van conversion in the land down under, insulation is a key step to creating a pleasant living space. 

But what about those sweltering summer camping trips? You might’ve heard that insulation is a bad idea if you plan to camp in hot climates, as it can hold heat inside your cabin. While this might be true for basic builds, insulation will actually support temperature control in any van with an electrical system and vent fan. 

So now you want to install insulation but don’t know which materials to go for - there’s a lot of debate concerning the best way to insulate a campervan or caravan! Below, we discuss the ins and outs of insulation so that you can insulate your van properly. 

Know your stuff and you’ll enjoy a comfy conversion in no time!

As a van owner, you can earn over $10,000 each year by hiring it out on Camplify. As a holidaymaker, Camplify helps you to find the perfect rental so that you can experience the joys of van life without having to own one yourself. 

Interested? Learn more about Camplify here.




Why Insulate Your Van?



Radiation

Radiation occurs when heat moves through the air - imagine the warmth of a crackling campfire! Windows will be the prime source of radiation in your van, especially on scorching summer days when sunlight streams through to create a sauna on wheels...

Luckily, you can deflect radiant heat away from your van with some reflective window coverings.  A winner all-year round, they can be flipped to retain heat inside your van during the colder season.

Conduction

Conduction, on the other hand, occurs when heat moves through solid surfaces, like your van’s walls and ceiling. On a warm summer’s day, conduction transfers heat through the metal body of your van and into the cabin. It can also transfer heat out of your van on a cold winter’s eve. Not great.

Insulating your van’s walls, ceiling and floor will hinder heat transfer via conduction, meaning you can chill out in comfort no matter the temperature.

Convection

Heat inside your van is continuously rising, thanks to a natural process known as convection. As a result, insulating your ceiling is the key to retaining warmth inside the cabin. So if you can part with the extra headroom, we suggest installing thick insulation under your roof.

What if you want to get rid of this rising heat? A ceiling vent fan works wonders for keeping cool in warmer weather, extracting heat while it pulls in cold air from below.

Heat Resistance

Insulation slows down heat transfer across your van, making it a whole lot easier to control the temperature inside. So if you insulate your van properly, it will be cosier in the winter and cooler in the summer. What’s not to like?

Every insulation product has an R-value, which measures its resistance to heat conduction. The greater this metric, the more effective the material is at slowing heat transfer. As space is oh so valuable when you’re living the van life, make sure to use insulation with a high R-value! 




Insulation Materials For Your Van Conversion



Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sheep Wool Insulation


Recommended Use: Walls, Ceiling, Door Panels

Sheep wool is quite possibly the gold standard for van insulation. 

Eco-friendly, non-toxic and mould-resistant, it’s also renowned for its breath-ability and moisture management. Sheep wool naturally absorbs and evaporates moisture in the air, protecting your metal wall from condensation as it insulates. That means you don’t have to fret over correct installation, which is a major plus for any DIYer! 

And to top it off, sheep wool even has sound-deadening properties for peaceful camping trips.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Sheep wool is more expensive than other insulation materials, so it’s not the best bet option for budget van conversions. And as it has a relatively low R-value, you’ll need to pack it on thick compared to foam boards or spray foams. That means more costs and possibly less interior space.

Our opinion? If you can afford sheep wool insulation, it’s an awesome option!

Foam Board Insulation

Recommended Use: Walls, Ceiling, Floor, Door Panels

Rigid foam boards are a great option for insulation, especially if you don’t have much money to spare on your van conversion. It’s the most cost-effective insulation material, boasting a high R-value without taking up too much living space or blowing your budget. 
But be warned: correct installation is critical with foam boards. If you’re not careful with its placement, condensation can get trapped behind this insulation, which will eventually lead to rusting. 

Polyisocyanurate Foam Boards

Polyiso is a top choice for wall and ceiling insulation in your van. While more expensive than other types of foam board, it has the greatest R-value. It also tends to be foil-faced on one side, serving as a radiant heat barrier if installed with an air gap.

Extruded Polystyrene Foam Boards

Extruded polystyrene (XPS) is excellent for insulating your van’s floor. Thanks to its high compression strength, you can stand on top of a sheet as thin as 1.27cm without damaging it. This form of foam board also has a high R-value, but is slightly cheaper than polyiso. 

Expanded Polystyrene Foam Boards

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is similar to Styrofoam, yet many subtypes have a foil-faced side for radiant heat deflection. While it has a lower R-value than other foam boards, it’s affordability makes it a strong choice for budget builds. 

Spray Foam Insulation

Recommended Use: Gaps, Nooks And Crannies

Spray foam is a lifesaver for insulating those tiny, hard-to-reach spaces. Covering irregular surfaces in seconds, you can ensure that all gaps in your insulation are sealed properly.

It is possible to use spray foam insulation throughout your entire van. However, it’ll cost you heaps (you’ll have to purchase a kit) and make a serious mess if you’re a first-time sprayer. That’s why we recommend reserving its use for any voids between your foam boards. 

Fibreglass Insulation

Recommended Use: Door Panels

The dead space inside your door panel can be filled with fibreglass for extra insulation. However, we do not advise using fibreglass insulation for any other parts of your van. 

With the vibrations of a moving van, this particulate insulation can gradually degrade and release harmful molecules over time. Basically, fibreglass is an irritant, so you don’t want to inhale or touch it in any way!

If you decide to install fibreglass, make sure to cover it with bin liners. That way, you can block nasty particles from entering your living space.

Reflective Foil Insulation

Recommended Use: Windows And Windshields

Windows are by far the biggest culprits for letting heat in and out of your van. There’s almost no point in insulating your campervan or caravan if you ignore these big panes of glass! And with foil insulation, it doesn’t take much money or effort to make your van as comfortable as possible.

You can make your own window coverings with insulation foil, reflecting radiant heat away from your van’s interior. And when the cold weather rolls in, flip them over to keep any warmth inside.  

Alternatively, attach tinted film to your windows. This will help to keep out the heat and give you an added layer of privacy during the day. 

Lastly, always cover up your windshield when you park up in the sunshine. There’s really no reason not to, with all sorts of budget-friendly windshield coverings to choose from!

Is A Vapour Barrier Really Necessary?


The short answer: Nope. 

With van life comes lots of moisture, be it from heating, cooking or just plain breathing. Unfortunately, humidity reacts with the cold metal body of your van to form condensation. If this gets trapped in the walls, it can lead to issues like rust - which is a death sentence for older vans. 

But will a vapour barrier actually stop this process?

Some van lifers insist on installing a vapour barrier on top of any insulation, as it will protect the metal body against moisture. We respectfully disagree.

If your van is well-ventilated (and it should be), then installing a vapour barrier is totally unnecessary. If anything, it might increase moisture build-up by creating a pocket that traps condensation if not 100% sealed.

So instead of wasting valuable time, energy and dollars on a vapor barrier, focus on installing proper ventilation. Paired with insulation, a vent fan will not only maintain a comfortable temperature inside your van, but also draw out moisture from the air. Learn more about van ventilation here.

What’s more, foam board insulation and spray foam are impermeable to moisture. Essentially, they are vapour barriers in their own right. And for fool-proof protection no matter how successful your installation, use breathable materials (like sheep wool) that allow moisture to evaporate instead of accumulate. 

And there you have an introduction to insulation! You should be well-equipped to source the right insulation for your van conversion, becoming one step closer to the cosy cabin you’ve always dreamed of.  

Just remember to seek specialist advice on the installation of whichever material you choose!


To find out how Camplify can work with you and your RV, register today here.

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