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 foam, 3M 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.
- 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
- 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
It took us approximately 8 hours and would have been shorter if we weren’t documenting the process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next we measured and cut some larger pieces for the sides of the van.
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.
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.
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.
Next we insulated the ceiling. We stuffed small strips into the ribs and then attached large panels using the 3M 90 adhesive.
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.
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 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.