Insulation

The first stop for me was the Colorado Rockies to finish the ski season. That meant I needed to do a good job insulating the van from heat loss.

After lots of research on insulation, I settled on 3M Thinsulate SM600L (datasheet).

Pros:
1) Non-toxic, does not outgas (unlike spray foam), and safe to touch (unlike fiberglass). We’re living in a very small space, we want to reduce chemicals whenever possible.

2) Easy to install – can compress down and fit into cracks, slowly expands a bit over time to increase the R-value, no need to wear gloves to handle it

3) Does not hold moisture (unlike Denim)

4) Has sound deadening properties, great for stealth and a quieter nights sleep

A note on spray foam: Many people suggest this first. Unless it’s professionally done, it can cause the metal walls to actually warp.

Cons:
1) It’s a bit more expensive than other options. It cost me $550 for 45 linear feet to do my 140″ WheelBase van.
2) The sound deadening properties also seem to block cell and wifi signals. 4 bars outside the van becomes 2 inside.


 

 

 

 

 

Insulation and Flooring Install

You want as few “seams” between the insulation as possible, so take a look at your van and break it down into “sections” for the insulation.
1) Cut out one section at a time. Measure the panel you want and don’t forget to include extra space to slide it under any protrusions

2) Cut it to shape, I highly recommend getting some really nice scissors to do it

3) Use 3M 90 Contact Cement spray to attach each panel to the van
Note: Contact cement is different from most spray adhesives. You must spray both surfaces, wait until it’s tacky, then press them together. The contact cement bonds incredibly strong to itself. If you want a spray that’s more like a regular glue, use 3M 80 Spray Adhesive. It won’t have as good a hold, but will adhere with just one surface sprayed.

4) Save all of your scrap pieces, and shove them wherever they will fit into your van ribs. No need to glue it, as the Thinsulate will expand to fit.

The floor:
This should be insulated too! Squishy Thinisulate isn’t right though. I used a bunch of stuff from Home Depot for this part.
1) Cut rigid foam board with a box cutter to match the floor plan of your van (I laid it over my floor and cut it in place)

2) Use your foam board to trace a pattern on your plywood, cut out with a jig saw or plunge saw

3) Use your plywood to trace and cut your vinyl on top. The Vinyl on the big rolls is perfect for van life, waterproof, won’t warp, and it looks GREAT

4) Lay down your foam with the plywood on top

5) Use countersinking deck screws to attach the plywood to your stock wood floor. Some people remove the stock wood, I saw no reason to, and this way you don’t need to put holes in the bottom of your van

6) Glue the vinyl on top of the plywood, I used contact cement (remember to cover both surfaces or contact cement won’t work!)

Reflectex Insulated CurtainBut what about those leaky front and rear windows?
I used Reflectix Insulation to create insulated curtains (with magnets stitched in) that block cold/heat and light for privacy. Reflectix works best when there’s an “air gap” on both sides to block radiant heat. This is why it doesn’t do much good to put it on the metal sides of the van (some people do, I did my research and decided it was unnecessary).
-Another solution if you don’t need to make full curtains, is to cut out individual “window shades” and cram the reflectix in there. It will hold pretty well, and the air gap on one side will block a lot of light. Consider using 3M 80 Spray Adhesive to attach some black fabric on the outside so it doesn’t look suspicious.