Creating your space – the insulation and lining of your van.
Most conversions follow a similar route here, and if you’re doing it yourself I’d bet you will too: van chassis – insulation – ply lining – carpet. There are some other options, but this is a pretty easy and cost effective way of going about the first stage of your conversion.
I found this to be one of the larger discussion points during my conversion. The selection of materials for insulating greatly vary in effectiveness and this is reflected in the cost. The most common types of insulation are:
- Natural wool
- Fibrous materials
- Foil-backed foam
- Expanding foam
- Foil bubble wrap
- Aluminium foil/synthetic layers.
Natural wool is one of the best insulators out there. It’ll insulate both thermally and acoustically while be tolerant to condensation and fitting in all the small gaps. The downside is that it is definitely the most expensive option in the list above.
Fibrous materials, such as fibre-glass used in loft storage are a cheap alternative to natural wool. It too, can be very malleable but it far less tolerant to condensation.
Foil backed foam is another readily available building material that comes in a range of different thicknesses and is easy to cut with a hand saw. The downfall of this for wall insulation is that being a solid material, it is hard to fill voids.
Expanding foam is commonly used with foil backed foam to fill the voids that are left. I’ve seen this been used to insulate a whole van but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as its highly unbreathable and condensation problems may occur.
Foil bubble wrap acts as a great first layer, sticking to your van wall. It has very low insulating properties on its own, but in conjunction with any of the other options, this would work well.
Aluminium foil/synthetic layers, while being a bit more expensive offer the ability to fill voids while dealing with condensation and being easy to work with.
The majority of vans out there will come with ply lining, even if you’re buying new. Ply lining offers several things; a hard surface that protects you from metal work and vice versa, a versatile platform for mounting things and also a means to holding insulation in place. Builders vans will quite commonly be a bit mucky but a quick sand down sorts this out, or kits containing the right cutouts for your van are available if you want to buy new. These are typically then coated in a thin carpet for a more homely feel.
Cladding is also another popular option, providing the protection, mounting options and finished look in one go. This can perhaps be a little more fiddly to install, but when done well it can look really good.
I spent a lot of time deliberating over this, until I found these rolls of aluminium foil and synthetic layers. The rolls are really easy to cut and fit into small voids, while expanding and filling the large voids found in van walls. I covered the walls, floor and ceiling in this, and used foil bubble wrap around the wheel arches. The van retains heat really well and also keeps a lot of the heat out during summer. We’ve had a few uncomfortable nights, but only during extreme temperatures of around 40 and below -5 where we hadn’t moved the van during the day.
As the van came ply-lined, excluding the ceiling, I decided this would be the easiest way forward. Having filled the voids with the aluminium/synthetic combo insulation I went about attaching carpet to the sheets of ply before re-installing them in the van. The method for doing this was pretty simple; cut the carpet around the sheet of ply, leaving a couple of inches on each side to tuck over onto the rear of the board. Apply glue to the sheet of ply, then turn over and stick to the carpet. Once this had semi dried, I cut tabs on the remaining carpet and staple-gunned this to the back of the ply board for an extra secure bond. Bear in mind here that this will add a few millimeters to the size of your ply sheet, so you may need to cut the ply down before hand.
Gluing up ply lining ready for carpet.
The floor got a good clean before applying a wood effect vinyl coating. I decided to stick with the original floor ply lining knowing that I’d be covering it in some way or another. I spent a few days shopping around, trying to find any off cuts that might just cover the whole floor but unfortunately nothing appeared. I ended up buying a few meters off a full roll from a generic carpet shop along with a bottle of adhesive spray. I was cautious of the floor peeling up, and the effect that heat would have on the adhesive spray but as most of the floor is now covered with furniture, and the remainder is regularly walked on, very little bulging has occurred. It is important to properly seal the edges, to ensure it doesn’t lift and start peeling. This can be done with a small angle section that screws down through the vinyl and into the ply. This also covers the end of the ply, improving the overall look of the van.