How-To Insulate A Van With Thinsulate

You add insulation to a van for the same reasons you add it to a house, to reduce the transfer of thermal and sound energy. Many established methods for insulating traditional homes exist. Unfortunately most of these methods don’t apply to vans as they have metal walls, lots of single pane windows, and lack large HVAC systems.

For the #vanlife community insulation is the most debated topic. You have many options: fiberglass, rigid foam board, Reflectix, recycled denim, spray foam3M Thinsulate, vapor barriers, CLD sound deadening material, and many more. Each material has pros and cons and doing the necessary research can be overwhelming.

We choose 3M Thinsulate (SM 600L) because it doesn’t need a hazmat suit like traditional fiberglass, it’s removable unlike spray foam, and it doesn’t absorb moisture like denim insulation. It’s also pretty light weight (642 g/m²), has a good thermal R value (5.2), is moisture wicking, and is easy to install. But it is the most expensive option.

Completed insulation in van

Gidget with ceiling and wall insulation.

Parts

Tools

  • Heavy duty fabric scissors – best quality you can get
  • Long thin flexible stick for stuffing insulation into tight spaces
  • Cardboard for protecting the floor from the spray adhesive
  • Measuring tape
  • Drywall T-square to make straight lines when cutting the insulation
  • Marker
  • Flat head and phillips screwdrivers
  • Socket wrench to remove any D rings that get in the way
  • Push Pin Pliers to remove protection panels
  • Gloves to protect hands from van’s sharp edges

Time

It took us approximately 8 hours and would have been shorter if we weren’t documenting the process.

Instructions

We ordered Gidget with the wall panels option (Load Area Protection Package 96D). We figured it would give us a template for when we install walls. But before installing the insulation the panels need to come off. Before removing the panels we used painters tape and a marker to note their locations.

Marking each panel

Marking each panel so we know where it goes later.

Next we removed every panel. The panels use several types of push pins and screws to stay attached to the van walls. We used Push Pin Pliers and flat head screw drivers to remove most of the pins.

The special Push Pin Pliers are not recommended. We found a flat head screwdriver worked better.

Push Tabs remove

Using a flat head screwdriver to remove the push tabs.

Push pin removal

Push pins come in two sections. Remove the inner section then the outer section.

Push Pin Removal Tool

Special tool to remove push pins. Not much better than a flat head screwdriver.

Panel removal

Phillips head screwdriver is required for removal of the larger panels.

Removing panels

Matt removing the panels.

The bottom push pins of each pin don’t actually need to be removed from the panels, just lift up the whole panel.

The lower front panel, behind the driver’s seat required removal of one of the D-rings to get the panel off.

unscrewing d-ring

Unscrewing the d-ring in order to get the lower panel off.

After all of the panels were off, it was time to start installing the insulation. We started by stuffing some thin strips in the ribs of the van.

Roll of Insulation.

The insulation arrived as a compressed roll.

stuffing insulation

Stuffing insulation in the van ribs.

Using a flexible stick to stuff insulation.

Using flexible plastic door molding to push the insulation into the wall ribs.

Next we measured and cut some larger pieces for the sides of the van.

cutting insulation

Cutting insulation for the side panel.

After cutting the insulation we checked the fit. Next we sprayed the insulation (white side) and the van wall with 3M 90. You need to wait a few minutes for the adhesive to become tacky. Then you just stick it on.

spraying adhesive

Spraying 3M 90 adhesive on van wall.

After we did the sides of the van, we insulated the top smaller sections. The van ribs in this section keep the insulation in place without the use of adhesive spray. We made the cuts big enough that the insulation wedges into the openings and overhangs each rib. Doing this held each section in place pretty well.

insulating top sections

No spray adhesive is needed in the top sections.

side panels

Completed insulation on side panels.

Next we insulated the sliding door. This was more difficult because there are wires and mechanical linkage in the door. I am assuming because of this, Ford added a plastic layer behind the black protection panel. The plastic sheet attaches by a type of tacky putty. We managed to pull it off while keeping the top part still connected. A strong yank will pull the putty off of the van but keep it attached to the plastic.

Once the plastic was out of way we added the Thinsulate the same way as the top openings on the wall. First we cut a large piece and then we cut out portions to wrap around the ribs. After wedging the insulation into place the plastic piece was just reattached.

sliding door

Insulating the sliding door panels. The panel to the right has insulation and the plastic piece reattached.

Next we insulated the ceiling. We stuffed small strips into the ribs and then attached large panels using the 3M 90 adhesive.

ceiling insulation

Installing insulation on ceiling of van.

After finishing the ceiling, we added painters tape to secure the insulation material. We wanted to make sure nothing fell or stretched before we get a chance to install the actual ceiling.

Finished insulation

Finished insulated ceiling.

We didn’t insulate the ceiling section where the roof fan is because we may still add extra support.

Finally, we add insulation between the headliner and the ceiling above the front seats. If you detach the headliner from the 3 center attachments there is enough room to add insulation.

Insulating The Cab

Stuffing insulation in between the headliner and the ceiling.

Insulating the van turned out to be easier than putting a hole in the roof. With good scissors the whole job is doable in a day.

We’re happy with how it turned out although we haven’t really tested it yet. Driving down the highway is quieter. Any insulation has got to be better than no insulation, right?

If we we’re to do it over we would have bought sharper scissors or at least a knife sharpener. The scissors we used were good at first but after several cuts they became dull and hard to cut the insulation.

Van Completely Insulated

Van walls and ceiling are now insulated.

42 Comments

  1. Reply
    JG April 16, 2016

    Morey

    That is awesome! So glad that you have the patience to document this whole thing as I am a visual person. If I have read right in the fordtransitforum.com do you guys have one of the QuadVan 4×4 Conversions? If so I am curious as to your MPG and if you have the slightly irritating humming from the back and if the Thinsulate has helped out? I am 90% certain that thinsulate is the route my wife and I are going to take. Great “How-To” pics!

    • Reply
      Matt April 16, 2016

      Yes, our van is a QuadVan. We’re seeing 13.6 MPG after about 2000 miles.

      Our van has a lot of noises! Especially the sliding door. I’m hyper sensitive to it.

      It doesn’t really bother Tricia, she just tells me it’s a large cargo van and that’s what they sound like.

      The Thinsulate did reduce noise levels but didn’t get rid of it. Hard to quantify.

      I’m not sure if I have a humming noise from the back or not as the sliding door is pretty loud.

    • Reply
      kurt August 31, 2016

      Matt and Tricia,

      Thanks for all your info on this blog. I am converting a ford transit 250 w med roof. I am going to use the same insulation you did. When you sprayed the adhesive onto the thinsulate did you just apply around the edges or over all the insulation and then stick it on to the wall?

      Thanks again

      • Reply
        Matt September 4, 2016

        We sprayed the adhesive over all the insulation and wall.

  2. Reply
    JG April 16, 2016

    That is odd that you are getting a sliding door noise. Our van’s noise originates from the rear and then permeates to the forehead (above the windshield). We are slowly getting accustomed to it though. I did talk to Joh McKee at QV and he seemed genuinely interested/concerned. I tired the added weight that he recommended and that did not work. He also stated that he would like to address/fix the issue, so that is pretty positive. Like I said we are getting accustomed to with about 2700 miles on the whip.

    As far as the fuel economy though…that is about what we are calculating. The trip computer is saying about 14.6-14.8 MPG at times. It is probably the only disappointing thing about the van. I own a 1991 F-250 4×4 with a 460 V8 that gets comparable MPG. I’m hoping that it will slowly start to improve as the engine becomes more broken in.

    Keep me posted on your fuel economy and your noise.

  3. Reply
    Vivian McAleavey April 16, 2016

    Did you consider floor insulation? Seems that in winter, a lot of cold comes in that way.

    • Reply
      Matt April 16, 2016

      Yes, we plan on insulating the floor but still figuring out the best way and material. Any suggestions?

      • Reply
        Bob Hope August 23, 2016

        I have done 4 vans over the years, and I put a 3/4 ply base that I custom cut to fit inside the van. I attach all the plywood pieces together with tin bracing. Need two or more people to get it in once the carpet is installed on the plywood and foam pad. Don’t try it when it is windy unless you have more than two people. I top the plywood base with carpet foam pad and then carpet the plywood. That gives great insulation and sound proofing. I leave the floor insulation that comes with the van as that adds to the insulation.

      • Reply
        Farrow Ball October 13, 2017

        Hello Matt, i LEARNT THIS FROM mercedes benz dealer who does some van conversions, low cost at Lowes,

        1, amvic THERMOQUIET HIGH PERFORMANCE UNDERLAY. Blue foam with a radiant barrier ( now I’m not 100% sure that what he told me is correct as i thought you were not supposed to put any radiant barrier material against metal)

        3 layer set up.

        He said to lay the first layer aluminium side down then sandwich the upper layer with a sort of fabric type underlayment, it looks like recycled material with a blue plastic sealing side, then add another layer of the Amvic THERMOQUIET there with the blue foam side down and aluminium side up.

        Anyhow i did it that way and i’ll have to see how it does, I’m sure it will be good for the winter but not sure if the aluminium side will attract heat in the summer.

        i have a wooden factory floor installed floor over that.

        you could dalso check pout this guy,

        Dave Orthon transit build, he did a super job and installed a compete flor fromAluminium extrusion and very well insulated.

        http://ortontransit.info

        He uses a lot of Aluminium extrusions for his build and i will be doing that as well for several items like a rear bulkhead, shower frame, bench seat and upper 3 panel bed frame, oh and upper cabinets as well.

        Hope this helps some people.

        Good luck!

        FB

  4. Reply
    Chris Klebl April 21, 2016

    Did you use any special tools to pry off your headliner? Any tips for headliner removal. I’m about to put 60ft of Thinsulate in my HR ext.

    • Reply
      Matt April 21, 2016

      For the cargo area there is no headliner of course. For the cab area we didn’t actually remove the headliner we just loosened it enough to allow us to push Thinsulate into the space. There are 3 attachments in the center of the headliner, just needed to use your hands and push down and out. No tools are needed.

      • Reply
        Chris Klebl April 21, 2016

        Thanks Matt. Worked like a charm!

  5. Reply
    JG April 22, 2016

    Are y’all just putting back the OEM panel back on over the thinsulate or what are you doing to for interior siding? Or am I jumping the gun on a future post.

    • Reply
      Matt May 29, 2016

      We’re not sure yet. Probably go with wood.

  6. Reply
    Chris Klebl April 26, 2016

    Matt, a quick follow up. In the process of removing the headliner two of the attachment clips on the headliner ripped off. No problem really as I can just epoxy them back on. I’m not seeing any easy way to re-attach the headliner with the clips in place. Any tricks you used? Was this remotely easy or kind of a struggle.

    • Reply
      Matt May 29, 2016

      That sucks! They didn’t rip off for us. I have video of us doing it but still needs to be edited and posted.

  7. Reply
    Dave July 1, 2016

    After a few months and a few thousand miles, is there anything you would change with the insulation in hot or cold climates?

    • Reply
      Matt July 3, 2016

      No not yet, that said we have only slept in it for 2 nights so are data set isn’t very big.

  8. Reply

    […] 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 92 Post(s) I have Thinsulate installed and have no relation to Hein. http://moreysintransit.com/how-to-in…th-thinsulate/ I did the same experiment and recorded it and found the same results. But I did it in 2 takes so […]

  9. Reply
    frank bale October 7, 2016

    There are a series of photos on ebay demonstrating Hein installing thinsulate. In them, the black scrim faces the opposite direction of how you did it. Howcum?

    • Reply
      Matt October 10, 2016

      Can you share the link? If you’re referring to this page http://impact3d.com/Thinsulate_installation.html then we’re doing the exact same way. The black scrim faces the inside of the van, the white stuff goes against the metal walls.

  10. Reply
    Hayley June 7, 2017

    Hey,

    Im converting a van and I have been stumped on what type of insulation to use. There is so many different kinds out there, just curious why you guys choose to insulate with this material? Has it been warm enough for you so far?

    • Reply
      Matt June 8, 2017

      Yes, it has been warm enough so far. We choose Thinsulate based on it’s R value and ease of installation,

      • Reply
        Hayley June 8, 2017

        What was the coldest temperature? Thank you for your response.

  11. Reply
    Andre June 26, 2017

    Hi Matt,
    Andre here, great work on the van and website!
    Was wondering if you could suggest a couple of suppliers for the 3M thinsulate? I’m in Australia and can’t find anything nowhere near the same quality (R value / ease of installation) would be very happy to pay some extra bucks to get my hands on the thinsulate you used.
    Many thanks!
    Peace

  12. Reply
    Vennem June 28, 2017

    Just bought a Ford Transit, I really like your site.
    Have you any opinions on using Blue Jean insulation inside the walls instead of Thinsulate? Seems it might be easier to fill the gaps.

    • Reply
      Matt June 28, 2017

      Never used Blue Jean insulation but I know it’s a popular option. We went with Thinsulate based on the reviews we read online.

  13. Reply
    Christian Mason July 25, 2017

    I saw another question that asked about remounting the OEM panels.
    Do you think this would be possible? We’d like to go this route (remove the panels, insulate with thinsulate, replace panels) but we’re not sure if this approach is doable.

    Thanks!

    • Reply
      Matt July 25, 2017

      Yes, shouldn’t be a problem.

  14. Reply
    Chris July 28, 2017

    How did the thinsulate affect sound levels in the van?

    • Reply
      Matt July 28, 2017

      We didn’t really notice a difference. Doesn’t mean it didn’t make a difference, we just weren’t listening for it.

  15. Reply
    Ray August 21, 2017

    Saw you bought 250 sq ft of the thinsulate. Did you find this was just enough or too much?

    • Reply
      Matt August 21, 2017

      Just enough.

  16. Reply
    Gayle Siler August 31, 2017

    Thanks for the information. We JUST bought a Ford Transit 2500 EB Medium roof. The insulation part has been the toughest to figure out. I’ve been leaning towards Thinsulate because I read its not toxic, no bug issues, and easy to use -I liked that.

    Is there a reason why you didn’t use a vapor barrier of some kind? So many people use tape and reflectix after applying the Thinsulate. I don’t know if it’s even needed. I don’t want to spend anymore money then necessary.

    Thanks again for the detailed information.

    • Reply
      Matt August 31, 2017

      We didn’t use a vapor barrier because we figured there would be no way to keep it air tight. So we went the route of letting it breathe.

  17. Reply
    Gayle S. September 2, 2017

    Hi Matt…thanks for the great video. In the upper roof corners are (2) black foam corner pieces. Looks like wire covers. Also there’s a black tube running front to back, for wires. Did you remove or modify these? I want to remove the tube, so I can install the walls to the ceiling. The black foam corner pieces can stay, but I’d like to get rid of them too, if possible. Any help or advice would be so appreciated regarding these.

    • Reply
      Matt September 2, 2017

      We replaced the large front to back wire chase with a smaller wire loom. The corner pieces we painted white.

  18. Reply
    Chris Dunham October 2, 2017

    Thanks very much for posting, this helped me reach a decision on which insulation I chose to insulate my 2015 Sprinter. I’ve heard very good things about Thinsulate and your post confirmed that info.
    I hope your van turned out as well as you’d hoped!

  19. Reply
    Colby Palmer October 6, 2017

    Thanks for all you info on the build, we have started ours and you have helped alot already

    On the thinsulate, you say 250 square feet…. I have the extended van, but do you know how many linear feet of thinsulate you purchased
    thanks

    • Reply
      Matt October 6, 2017

      We bought 60 linear feet. The material is 60 inches wide.

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