Instructables
Picture of How to insulate a camper van
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We just bought a new Mercedes Sprinter Van (2013, 144" with high roof) and are starting the conversion towards a winterized camper. We live in the Pacific Northwest and love to ski - our goal is to drive the sprinter around ski resorts and camp out in the parking lots, ready for the next day powder! The construction of this van is for us the start of uncountable adventures discovering the area around here. We are outdoors enthusiasts, love to do backpack camping and backcountry skiing, but we also want to have a bit more comfort, specifically in the winter. The first step was, of course, to insulate the walls, the floor and the ceiling of the van to keep the warmth in.

After reading multiple blogs and info sites about Sprinter and van conversions, we decided to use metallic bubble wrap, fiberglass insulation, and a plastic vapor barrier.

In total, it took us about 2 days (6-7 hours a day) with 2 to 4 people working on this to finish the insulation process. It cost us about 300$ for the materials (although we got the fiberglass insulation for free from a friend).

DISCLAIMER: This is the first van conversion we are doing, so this is certainly a process of trial and error! We tried to describe at every step the reasons why we made the choice materials we made, so hopefully you can see that we used common sense to design this process. I am an industrial designer and design researcher and my boyfriend is a landscape architect with some knowledge in wood working. We see this project as an experiment and as a wonderful place to try out some ideas about design, materials and fabrication.

UPDATE: Since then, we have made some progress on the van. Here are the next steps: Storage platform, Cedar panel walls, and Bed-Table-Benches unit!


For an overview of the work we did, take a look at our timelapse videos!

 
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Esmagamus17 hours ago

Did you make sure there are no access covers for the fuel pump or rear axle mounts that go throught the bottom of the van?

If access to the fuel pump is through a cover in the bottom, you'll have to have the flooring sawed to fix the fuel pump, clean the strainer, etc.

Veewee1111 year ago
Hi,
Fiberglass (and most any foam) insulation is bad news. Take it out now and avoid the rust problem that follows. Seen way too many VW buses over the years with the nasty results. Sealing it with plastic will make it load up with moisture even worse/sooner. Only way to make that work would be to cut the sides of the van and install vents to allow out the condensation like as done to houses.

Veewee111...Hi...I was thinking the same thing about the condensation. Starting a van build now and wondered if you had any solutions to the moisture issue...

Thanks!

Sent the below to a fellow who Pmailed us about this problem. Have added some more to it to post it here.

There are two catagories to insulating a camper or any other structure, short term or long term.

Short term like a few days to a few weeks then you could insulate the walls when camping in temperate weather, but need to allow moisture to get back out of the walls back to the interior to be let out of any venting window. We have side windows and a roof vent that can be slightly opened on sunny days, that really helps.

Long term for months and especially in artic conditions one would need to insulate with vapor barrier and cut vents in the outer walls to let moisture vent out all of the time. VW did this to the pre-1968 non-walk thru panel buses with a panel sealing off the cargo area from the front bench seat, by punching vents in the upper rear corners of the rear cargo area to prevent moisture build up.

Image looking forward to the panel behind the bench seat of non-walk thru panel bus.
http://images.thesamba.com/vw/gallery/pix/267582.jpg

Here is an interior shot of a special order walk thru panel with the upper cargo area vents in the body. These vents were usually only in the non-walk thru panels.
http://images.thesamba.com/vw/gallery/pix/1116625.jpg

Here is a post on a VW website we have weighed in on about the subject for short the term.

http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=153837&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=insulation&start=0

Thinking of using thin 1/4" (6 mm) styrofoam glued to the mylar coated bubble wrap. Neither of these insulation materials will sponge up moisture. Insulation needs to be thin enough to not be packed tightly in there against outer sheet metal when paneling is in place. Want a bit of air space so air flow can pass thru and get out the moisture from behind the 1/8" (3 mm) plywood. Having the mylar coated bubble wrap with the bubble side against the outer sheet metal will allow air to dry out any moisture that gets in between the insulation and sheet metal. The wood unlike plastic will breath back out the moisture when heated up in the sunshine or a heated garage. Will use velcro in places to hang the insulation from drooping down and at same time allow air flow around edges of the insulation. That way insulating panels stay in place, but easy to remove for body repairs or inspection.

Was in the USAF and got to handle the insulating panels used in cargo aircraft like the C-130s. Blanket type material with velcro at edges. Very cold at 30,000 feet over the North Atlantic with temps down near -50 F. Would pull back a panel, and slip in a 1 liter bottle of Moutian Dew for fifteen minutes. Pull the bottle back out and shake up for slurpies. Yum!

Hope this info helps!
AudreyDesjardins (author)  Veewee1118 days ago

Wow Veewee111!! This is quite the response! Thank you so much for sharing all this information. I think this should help other folks figure out what they need for the usage of their van. I think a key point that you shared is the need to have air circulation between and around the insulation. In our build, since our cedar panels are almost floating in front of the metal wall, we were able to have about half an inch of air circulation. This should definitely help.

smidGe7775 months ago

Ah that's sweet as! Nice job!! Did you find out about the temperature difference? And have you had any problems with the setup as of yet I.e rust, dust, ventilation, condensation or anything else? I am looking to carry out the same to my Mazda bongo to live in the winter months whilst at work! So very curious on how it's going? :D enjoy!!!

AudreyDesjardins (author)  smidGe7775 months ago

Hi smidGe777! Thanks for the comments and sweet that you are starting a similar project! We have had the van since November 2013 now, and finished installing the insulation and wood paneling walls (instructables to come...) in December 2013. We have used it to camp in the winter, spring and summer. Up to now, we have not had any problems with it :) We are pretty happy with how things are working for us and it seems like there is no condensation happening in the walls (although it is hard to see because most of it is now covered in cedar panels). We did not do a serious comparison for the temperature difference, however, we spent nights at -10 or -15 celsius and we were fine. We use a small propane heater (made specifically for indoors environments, and with the ceiling vent open) and it has kept us warm enough. For ventilation, the ceiling vent is crucial, and even in winter time it is important to leave it a bit open at night, to let the humidity get out. We have also definitely noticed that the windows and the side door were conducting the cold from outside, since they were not insulated. For the front and back windows, we made curtains. For the side door, we are in the process of adding a window, and eventually curtains as well. We used a light wool for the curtains.

Enjoy the project!

Nice one! Glad your happy with your project! And thank you for your wishes and advice :D
timaldiss10 months ago

Wow, so very jealous. Great work. I particularly liked the hands-in-the-air moment in day one!

I did a complete conversion myself some time ago and wrote it up with a few photos here: http://loftsites.co.uk/campervans/vw-lt-camper-conversion.html

AudreyDesjardins (author)  timaldiss9 months ago

Hi Timaldiss! Thanks for the comment! Yes, it was almost like a dance with everyone's hands in the air! Nice work on your conversion. We will soon start on making a seating area and a table. How did you brace the different plywood panels? Did you just glue them together or nailed them as well? I think I saw some angled braces as well, did you put those everywhere? Thanks!

I used quite thick heavy ply which in some cases I did screw together, yes, but in the most part it was right angle brackets.

I used Sikaflex to bond all the wood panels to the metal bracing in the van - this is key to stop rattles.

Have fun :)
hi, great job. I had an older VW van with insulation much like yours - except the builder (not me) had forgotten the vapor barrier. My point here would not be mould, but rust. When my van started to show brown dots in the outside seams of the sidepanels it was too late - it had rusted from the inside.
Could this be a problem with your floor and ceiling? Condensation could occur if vapor is allowed to pass to the metal panels.
best rgds
Martin
AudreyDesjardins (author)  MHaakansson9 months ago

Hi! Thanks for the comment. This is a good point, we will have to see with time. I think that the metallic bubble wrap as well as the foam for the ceiling are less likely to hold and maintain humidity over time than fiberglass wool... is that possible? Assuming this is true, rust (or mold) would be less likely as well...

mbog11 year ago
What do you think about: http://kore.koskisen.com/ ?
Really neat project you have here. :)

One thing about finishing the interior, keep in mind the weight of the wood. You might be surprised how fast it adds up and that will kill any mpg in a hurry. Indoor/Outdoor carpet is made to get wet and dirty, so it cleans up fairly easily plus it's cheap. Less than .50 sq ft in my area(Minnesota). Carpet will also help keep dust down when everything does dry out. I've done a few van conversions back when I was much younger and so far you've done great IMHO only other thing to be careful of is after running your wiring try not to run any fasteners into them (really sucks when the back speakers stop working out of the blue LOL).
Wishing you best of luck on your adventures to come :)
Thanks for the comment! (and the advice hehe!)
On my own van, I originally planned to use bubble insulation like Reflectix which includes foil to block radiant heat. I'm having second thoughts after googling Reflectix and learning that its real R value is just about 1, and that radiant heat transfer isn't relevant to most real-world situations. Maybe I'll try closed-cell foam, as used for camping mats. It doesn't absorb moisture, and should also add sound deadening.
mugget1 year ago
Good stuff - love Sprinters!!

I don't know if fibreglass provides more effective insulation than polyester, but poly is another option for people who are turned off fibreglass. Poly is so so much easier to install.

BTW do you have a forum thread or anywhere with regular updates on your fitout?
AudreyDesjardins (author)  mugget1 year ago
Hi Mugget,

Thanks for the comment! We don't have a forum thread anywhere for now. This was only the first step and we are thinking about adding more here, as Instructables is easy to manage and show pictures.
M.Ploeger1 year ago
Very nice.
Love it! This is awesome! One question I have, for everybody, is how to manage condensation inside? I've slept plenty in the backs of vans while traveling and have noticed on the well used ones that they often have a musk about them that is unfortunate. Any thoughts, aside from leaving doors open, on how to avoid this? In the winter, cracking a window or door doesn't do much to evaporate the mug. Thoughts?
Great comment! This is something we are really aware of and are curious to hear about how others deal with condensation. Our strategy will be to have good air circulation. We had someone install a roof fan for us (The FanTastic Vent: http://www.fantasticvent.com/products/model_4000/model_4000.html ). Even in the winter, we will try to sleep with it open (at least a little bit) in order to have new air come in and our own humid air go out. We are also thinking that a little bit of heating before going to bed and in the morning will help with this. Anyone has other thoughts?
heating only moves moisture into the air as hot air can contain more moisture than cold. When it hits cold surfaces it'll condensate. Ventilation is the only way to deal with it, which of course has the double effect of removing the heat as well.
The space is too small to use a heat recovery (feel free to show me something that does!) so you'll be stuck with being a bit cold.

I can't breathe through my nose, so as a mouth breather the amount of moisture I generate is several times higher than most.

If you're installing ventilation I'd install it down low as you'll only be getting rid of the coolest air. Trouble is by installing it low, you risk gusts coming in.

Very much catch 22.

I'd work on the basis of using it at night and ventilate well in the morning.

Carpet of course won't condensate so much and will absorb some of it. You can then air it in the morning with the hope it'll dry out before the evening!
Circulation, circulation, circulation! You can also get a dehumidifier to run for a couple of hours, along with some small fans to dry out the insides really well. The fans push the air around, and the dehumidifier sucks the water into a pan or a bucket. Just remember to empty it!
przem1 year ago
It looks like simple, yet effective solution!

But let me give one advice - just in case: route any wires you need (power, audio, additional lighting etc.) and maybe some spare ones, before covering all with that very nice cedar :-)
AudreyDesjardins (author)  przem1 year ago
Thanks przem! Very good advice, we will indeed pass all our wire before finishing all the walls. We were also thinking of keeping one slat easily removable, where we would hide all the wires behind in order to have quick access.
Also, make a "Wire Map" where you have a sheet of paper with the outline of each panel and where each wire is run, and where they split and whatnot. Pictures help, but having a paper sheet can also help a TON!

The more detailed you make this wire map, the more it will help you when you need it most.
AudreyDesjardins (author)  Spokehedz1 year ago
Thanks for the advice!
Great Job, I wish we had the time and money to do something similar!
ledshed1 year ago
Cool! I did a Transit with Celotex a couple of years ago, managed to get it in all the panels and on the ceiling and makes a hell of a difference.
AudreyDesjardins (author)  ledshed1 year ago
Sweet! We are really excited to go try it out in the wild in a couple of weeks when we finish off the walls!
Kevanf11 year ago
Excellent 'ible' well done. I have this same job to do on an old military Land Rover ambulance. I know about that fibreglass wool :) I used to work with the stuff and it is nothing short of vile, especially if you get it into your clothes.

A thought. The fibreglass wool 'might' start to sag after a while. I wonder if it might be better installed in a net like structure for the bigger runs?

You have mentioned that the van is now a lot quieter :) Is the drumming completely gone from the panels? If not it might have been a good idea to attach thin flat bituminous panels to them before putting the metallised bubble wrap in place. It would just stop that last bit of possible drumming.

Well done and thank you :)
AudreyDesjardins (author)  Kevanf11 year ago
We were also very careful in our choice of materials and new the bad reputation of fiberglass insulation. We made sure to wear long sleeve shirts and pants as we did the work, with gloves and masks too. This is also why we insisted on putting a vapor barrier on top of the fiberglass, to seal everything off into the walls so that no dust would come into the cabin once we would be done.

As for sagging after a while. I don't think that the small pieces in the top and bottom areas of the walls will move. They are quite tightly placed there and there is not a lot of room to move. For the bigger panels, this is why we used tape to hold it. However, this is only a temporary solution, everything will be hold up more in place once we add the cedar walls - coming up in the next instructables!

For sound, we have only done short city trips for now, we will have to really test that out once we go on the highway. Stay tuned! (and thanks for the tip!)

Thanks for your comments!
qboid1 year ago
Can you do a temperature difference of outside and inside?
AudreyDesjardins (author)  qboid1 year ago
Hi qboid,

Great question! We will try to do a quick test once we finish the inside walls with cedar panelling. Stay tuned!
Nicely done and excellent instructable. I would love to see how you finished it out!
mole11 year ago
Is the van also quieter as a result?
AudreyDesjardins (author)  mole11 year ago
Hi mole1,

Yes, you are right, the van is a lot quieter since we have installed the insulation. We noticed before that as soon as we hit a bump, we could hear the metal sheets do a sort of bong sound. This is way less present now.
Bobey1 year ago
Wow! Soooooo cool I want to do that!