Most conversions follow a similar route here; [van chassis – insulation – ply lining – carpet] or [van chassis – insulation – battens – cladding]. Both of which are pretty easy and cost effective ways of going about the early stages of a 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, fit in to all the small gaps while being tolerant to condensation. The downside is that being natural it is definitely more expensive but it is obviously far more eco-friendly than some of the plastic based insulation products on the market. Many van converters do choose to focus on being environmentally friendly, for example re-using pallets for cupboards / cladding / flooring.
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 rolls are really easy to cut and fit into small voids, while still expanding and filling the large voids found in van walls. In the 2016 conversion, we covered the floor, walls and ceiling in this. In the 2018 conversion we decided to reduce this to just walls and ceiling, opting for foil bubble wrap layers under the flooring. In both conversions, the van retains heat really well but 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 deg C and below -5 deg C where we hadn’t moved the van during the day.
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.
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.
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.