Thinsulate Installation

Thermal Insulation

Our DIY camper van conversion will be used as a winter splitboarding basecamp, so climate control is primordial. The Thinsulate insulation, the EZ-Cool insulation, the insulated window covers, the Webasto AirTop 2000 STC air heater and the Maxxair Fan are the key elements to make our campervan conversion comfortable during winter.

Choosing which type of insulation to use was one of the toughest decision; there is no perfect solution, therefore we went with the solution that was the best compromise for us.

How does our insulation performs? Please read “On Second Thought” at the bottom of this page! We have a thorough discussion about that 🙂

 

TIME SPENT ON THE JOB: 16 hours

 

TOTAL COST : 900$ USD

 

DISCLOSURE:

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Buying through our product links is the best way to say thanks if we were of any help for your conversion! Thanks for supporting us and for keeping this website alive 🙂

Alternatively, you can visit our Say Thanks! page.

 

MATERIAL:

 

TOOLS:

  • A good pair of scissor

 

HOW WE DID IT*

*Disclaimer: we’re good, but not that much. Use these instructions at your own risks!

 

 

Notes:

  1. The floor thermal insulation is covered in our Floor Installation post. So let’s focus on the van walls and ceiling here.
  2. Our thermal insulation is comprised of Thinsulate and Low-E EZ-Cool. The Thinsulate installation is covered in this post while the Low-E EZ-Cool installation will be covered in Part II (wait for it…). 

 

As much as the decision to go with Thinsulate was difficult, the installation was an easy task:

  1. cut thinsulate to size (using kitchen scissors)
  2. apply 3M 90 spray adhesive to the van wall & on the white face of the thinsulate
  3. wait 30-60 seconds for the adhesive to become tacky
  4. press the thinsulate against the wall
  5. That’s all!
ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-1

Cutting Thinsulate (amzn.to/2zbeT9B) to size

 

OVERHEAD STORAGE ABOVE DRIVER & PASSENGER SEATS

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There is about 1.5″ gap between the van ceiling & overhead storage, that’s perfect to insert some Thinsulate in there. We did not use adhesive since the gap is about the same as the Thinsulate thickness.

No need to completely remove the overhead storage; we slightly lowered it a few inches to fit the Thinsulate as follows:

 

First, we removed both foam pieces on each side of the overhead storage

We used vise-grip and raw power to remove the pins (they were not damaged in the process and we were able to reuse them)

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-6-ps

 

Foam pieces removed

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-10-ps

 

Then, we removed the four screws (total) under the left-side and right-side handles

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-8-ps

 

Next, we unsnapped the three pins in the center of the overhead storage

To unsnap them, the overhead storage must be pushed forward. This is quite tricky, keep calm! Some people have damaged them in the process, but they can be glued back in place later…

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-4-ps

THREE!

 

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-9

BAM! (third one not shown in picture)

 

It is now possible to lower the overhead storage a few inches and install the Thinsulate

We used tree pieces of Thinsulate (amzn.to/2zbeT9B) to fill the gap: one on the left-hand side, one on the right-hand side and one in the center.

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-13

Sliding-in the large Thinsulate center-piece

 

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-12

Sliding-in the Thinsulate right-piece (left not shown…)

 

Reinstall the fasteners and VOILÀ!

 

 

CEILING

The challenge with the ceiling is to work against gravity. However it proved to be fairly easy for 2 people. We won’t go in details here, because there is not much to say…

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-16

Admiring the work in progress!

We left the Thinsulate (amzn.to/2zbeT9B) as shown in the picture above for several months and we did not loose a piece. The 3M 90 spray adhesive is doing a great job!

 

 

WALLS

Large cutout were filled with Thinsulate.

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-18

Applying the 3M 90 spray adhesive

 

We also filled the van cavities where possible.

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-2

Sliding the Thinsulate in

 

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-14

It’s in!

 

SLIDING DOOR

The plastic panel must first be removed.

The panel is fastened with several push pins. They are fairly easy to remove with a flat screwdriver, or you can do it with a push pin pliers.

 

push-pins

Pulling the tab will “unlock” the push pin

 

Since the sliding door is exposed to exterior elements, there is a plastic sheet to protect the door mechanism. The plastic sheet can be removed simply by pulling it; the goo should remained glued to it for later re-assembly.

Sliding Door Plastic Sheet

 

Thinsulate was then placed in the cutouts.

sliding-door-before

Before…

 

sliding-door-after-thinsulate

… after

 

Then just reinstall the plastic sheet and the plastic panel.

 

 

Thinsulate installed

We’re done with the Thinsulate!

 

EDIT: “We’re done with the Thinsulate”. Euh, no we’re not! We also added some under the passenger seat base (after installing the Webasto Air Heater) and to the driver and passenger doors (while upgrading the factory speakers).

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT…

We could go on forever about R values, thermal bridge, etc, but here are the real questions:

Q: How does our insulation solution (Thinsulate, EZ-Cool and Insulated Window Covers) perform in real life?

A: It’s GREAT! It does what it’s suppose to: keep us warm in winter, keep us cool in summer.

Q: If we had to start over, would we go the same route again?

A: Yes!

 

Now, here is a more thorough discussion:

Summer:

1- On a very hot and sunny day, the Magnetic Grey sheet metal of our Ford Transit is burning hot. The Thinsulate is warm-hot, but the wood paneling is warm-cool. It shows that Thinsulate alone is fine, but the finished van (thinsulate+ez-cool+wood paneling) is even better! (It might be wise to choose a van with light color if you are living in a hot and sunny region)

2- If the van is left in the sun without the insulated window covers, the temperature will increase beyond our comfort level (ventilation or not); if the window covers are installed, we can keep the van within our comfort level (with the help of the Maxxair fan).

 

Winter:

On any cold day (the colder we’ve experience is -15F, that’s -27C) it’s possible to keep the van to our comfort level (66-68F / 18-20C) when running the Webasto heater.

But what if we turn off the Webasto heater? Does our insulation solution will maintain the ambient temperature for a while? The answer is YES, if the insulated window covers are installed (if the window covers are removed, the temperature drop much faster AND it gets uncomfortable near the windows). In fact, we took the habit of turning the heater off when going to bed to turn it back on when we wake up (or use the MultiControl timer to automatically turn it on 30 minutes before we wake up). The temperature drop during the night, of course, will vary a lot with the outside temperature:

-Outside temperature of 50F (10C) in the evening dropping down to 28F (-2C) in the morning: the temperature inside the van will go from about 68F (20C) in the evening and will drop down to about 50-53F (10-12C) in the morning. (remember, we turned off the Webasto heater when going to bed)

-Below what outside temperature do we need to leave the Webasto heater running all night? We still don’t know, wait for it! We spent a week at -10F/-15F (-20 to -27C) last year in the Chic-Chocs (faroutride.com/chic-chocs-winter-wonderland-december-2016), but we didn’t have insulated window covers at that time and our insulation was about halfway done (no ez-cool), so we cannot draw real conclusions from that trip.

 

Conclusion

We can conclude that insulating a van is not only about Thinsulate, or spray foam; it’s about the combination of different items. In our case: Thinsulate, Ez-Cool, Wood Paneling and Insulated Window Covers.

 

About thermal bridge:

This photo was taken during the conversion without ez-cool installed; it means all the frames inside the van had no insulation on them:

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-19

It was a cold and damp morning (37F) and we were heating the van with the Webasto heater (55F). Note that there was condensation everywhere outside (on the van, on the ground, etc).

We observe that condensation remains where Thinsulate is installed, but this condensation is “evaporated” at the frame locations where there is no Thinsulate. This is because the frames are forming a thermal bridge for the heat to be conducted from the inside to the outside of the vehicle, thus providing enough heat for the water to evaporate. In other words, there is heat loss where there is no condensation.

We also observed inside the van that the Thinsulate is warm to the touch, while the adjacent “bare” metal frames are cold to to the touch. The Thinsulate is doing it’s job, the bare metal form a thermal bridge.

To minimize the thermal bridges, we will apply Low-E EZ-Cool to the “bare” frames (the wood finish will helps as well). The EZ-Cool is a closed-cell foam sandwiched between two aluminum sheets.

 

 

(Very) Related Articles:

 

 

 

 

 

WANT MORE?

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ABOUT US

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine, a couple dreaming of being on the move and we’re seeking for the ride of our life. We bought a Ford Transit van, converted it to a campervan, sold our house and hit the road full-time to make our dream a reality. We are sharing this in hope of inspiring and helping others to follow their dreams too!

 

 

CHEERS!

 

 

23 comments

  1. Comment by Lisa

    Lisa Reply October 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Thank you so much for your detailed conversion notes, especially the close in photos of strange parts and how to deal with them and all the materials you are using! It’s my dream to do a similar Transit van conversion, though mine will be several years in the future. Please say that your website will still be up at that point!

    • Comment by admin

      admin Reply October 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      I wish that your dream will come true 🙂
      The website will be there to help!

  2. Comment by Van Williams

    Van Williams Reply October 2, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    As always a well-written post with a lot of information. Just the way I like it!
    I have to face the insulation question soon too, but still have some doubts about Thinsulate. Things are less critical for me as my van will be a ‘warm weather van’, with an occasional cold weather trip. As you likely know, Thinsulate has only a moderate R-value and after your little experiment (“the Thinsulate is warm to the touch”), I wonder if Poly-Iso might be a netter choice, not withstanding the ease of installing the Thinsulate in small places. I recently also noticed how hot the (inside) sheet metal can be and will use a piece of Poly-Iso to do the same experiment.
    Enjoy yourselves!

    Van Williams

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply October 2, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      As you know, there is no perfect design! Everything involves choices and compromises to answer constraints and specific needs 🙂

      Let us know how your experiments turns out!

      • Comment by Van Williams

        Van Williams Reply February 24, 2017 at 7:54 am

        I’m still working on my Murphy bed and several other items, but before I install the bed, I will do the (wiring and) insulation.
        I have pretty much decided to use the Poly-Iso in combination with a second material, such as Thinsulate or Blue Denim. Poly-Iso is clearly a proven material, with high R-values and low cost. Thinsulate is expensive, less effective and highly promoted by one person on well-known forums. Poly-Iso is more difficult to install inside the walls; the gaps are also an issue, but the addition of a second material may alleviate that.
        I am still left with one issue: condensation from the windows (I have all-around windows) will flow along the outer skin downwards and I have to find the best solution to keep it away from the insulation and create a way for it to evaporate or leave the vehicle (p.e. through new weeping holes).

        Van Williams

  3. Comment by Nicola

    Nicola Reply October 8, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Great info as we wondering how to get in there.

    On a different note, checking to find out if anybody has any of the black J shaped clips (approximately 1″ long) from the back of the black wall panels that they may no longer need. Lost a bunch into the walls when we took apart the walls and ford only sells them as part of the panel.

  4. Comment by Nicola

    Nicola Reply November 17, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    We are working on insulating the overhead panel today. Can you tell me what size bit you used for the 4 overhead panel screws? It doesn’t seem to be a common size. Thanks!

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply November 18, 2016 at 7:26 am

      Hi Nicola,
      you will need a 7mm socket (or 9/32 could also work i think).

      Have a nice day!

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  6. Comment by Piper

    Piper Reply February 5, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    Hello friend!

    Question – did you two do any kind of undercoating before applying the Thinsulate?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply February 5, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Hey Piper, we did not have to, the van is already primed and painted from factory 😛

      Are you thinking rustproofing? We primed, painted & clearcoated EVERY trimmed metal (fan cutout, screw holes, etc) to prevent rust.
      Then, the Thinsulate was installed directly over the factory paint. Any rustproofing (that i know of) would prevent thinsulate from being glued to the van.

      What did you have in mind?
      cheers,
      antoine

  7. Comment by Scott

    Scott Reply February 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Help me think through this. It seems that in a poorly insulated van the metal will be cold and therefore not experience condensation on the exterior. A moderately insulated van (yours, for instance) will raise the temperature of the metal and result in condensation on the outside. Only a very well insulated van could prevent the heat from the interior of the van from warming up the exterior metal. Some condensation on the exterior seems like a fact of life unless you insulate your van as though it is a Yeti cooler. Am I correct?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply February 17, 2017 at 7:43 am

      First to clarify, i am not trying to fight the condensation on the exterior. It will happen and that’s fine (however, obviously, I don’t want condensation inside). I was just using that phenomenon to “demonstrate” the thermal exchange. In the particular case (“second thought” section), humidity was very high outside so there was condensation everywhere (not just on the van). At places where we have not insulated yet, the heat from our heated van was transferring to the outside sheet metal, evaporating the water from the surface.

      So you are right, condensation on the outside is a fact of life. Where I disagree is that a POORLY insulated van (and heated inside) will have LESS condensation on the outside. Because heat loss = evaporation.

      I hope that make sense!

  8. Comment by Ryan

    Ryan Reply February 22, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Did you guys put any thought into getting the version of the van with full wrap-around windows? I think there are options for privacy glass. Were you considered about privacy or the ability to insulate?

    Thanks

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply February 22, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      It’s a no-go for us, since we use the van in winter (like -25°C sometimes). Even with insulated windows covers, I think thermal loss would be too much.
      Also, when were in the van, it’s probably because we want some privacy. We’ll go outside to see the world around us.
      Finally, window = no space for storage.

      That’s is! It totally depends on your needs though.

      Cheers!

      • Comment by Ryan

        Ryan Reply February 23, 2017 at 10:54 am

        Man you guys are the best. Thanks again!

  9. Comment by Vlad

    Vlad Reply March 19, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    Hey guys awesome site! My question is, how do you know you aren’t getting that condensation on the inside of your metal walls, underneath the insulation?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply March 20, 2017 at 7:57 am

      Some condensation is almost inevitable at very cold temperatures, especially in cold areas in the van (windows, floor level, “garage” under the bed, etc). That’s why we don’t think a vapor barrier is a good idea: moisture will find it’s way and won’t be able to dry with a vapor barrier.
      Also, vans are not totally waterproof (many owners report small leaks on the FordTransitUsa Forum) and are designed with drain path for water evacuation. Another reason not to use a vapor barrier…

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  11. Comment by Taco Otten

    Taco Otten Reply September 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    Interesting. I’m only just scratching the surface on insulation and it’s issues. Have you looked at vapour barriers like membrane that moisture out from the insulation under certain conditions?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply September 24, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Like goretex? I haven’t seen anything like that for automotive application, and I guess it would come with a HIGH price tag. And material like goretex has to be maintained to keep it’s breathing properties (washed and treated periodically).

      If you find anything let me know!

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