Thinsulate Insulation for Camper Van – Install & Data

Thinsulate Insulation for Camper Van – Install & Data

After two winters spent full time skiing from the van (faroutride.com/winter-vanlife), we can definitely say that using Thinsulate insulation was a GREAT decision. It has kept us warm (down to -25F!), and it is still in great condition after that time (no mold, no bugs, still holding in place). We think Thinsulate is the best van insulation option:

The current page is about the installation process of the Thinsulate. To build your knowledge about vanlife insulation and what's best for you, we highly recommend reading this article first:

Vanlife Insulation Guide

Make an educated decision

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait-FarOutRide-Isabelle-Antoine-Van

Time Spent

0 HOURS

Total Cost

$ 0 USD

Prerequisite

Material

ItemDescriptionQuantityLink
Thinsulate InsulationSM600L 40’x 60″ + 30’x60″ TheSwivelShop
Spray Adhesive3M 904 cansAmazon

Tools

ItemDescriptionQuantityLink
Scissors A good pair of tailor scissors will make it easy!1 Amazon

How Much Thinsulate Should You buy?

Thinsulate comes in 60 inches wide rolls. It's up to you to determine what length (feet) you need! So take a measuring tape and find out the surface area you need to cover. To make things easier, we came up with the "Thinsulate Calculator" just below; hope that helps!

Thinsulate Calculator

Arrow-down-left

Cargo Surface

Don't own a van yet? We listed the dimensions for the Transit, Sprinter, Promaster, & Nissan here: Van Selection

Dimension (in)
Cargo Length
Cargo Height
Cargo Width
Cargo Surface (sq.ft.)*

*Cargo Surface = passenger wall (including the sliding door opening, which will be subtracted next in "Remove Surface"), driver wall, & ceiling.

Remove Surface

As required
Height (in) Width (in)
Remove Surface (sq.ft.)

Add Surface

As required
Height (in) Width (in)
Add Surface (sq.ft.)

Result

Includes: passenger & driver walls, ceiling, and all your custom ADD/REMOVE.
Surface (sq. ft.)
Cargo

Remove

Add

Waste 1 50
TOTAL SURFACE

LENGTH OF THINSULATE NEEDED (FEET)

1: To account for waste (it's inevitable due to the multiple funky-shaped pieces needed), mistakes and estimation errors. 50 Sq.Ft. adds 10 linear feet of Thinsulate. We don't recommend skipping the "Waste", unless you don't mind interrupting your build to wait for your next order of Thinsulate...

(Free shipping to USA and Canada. USA orders are tax free and ship from USA warehouse. Canadian orders are subject to taxes and ship from Canadian warehouse.)

As a general rule of thumb:
Small Vans40 feet
Medium Vans50 feet
Large Vans60 feet
Extended Vans70 feet

Thinsulate Installation In A Nutshell:

1- Cut the Thinsulate using tailor scissors:

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-1

2- Apply 3M 90 spray adhesive to the van surface & on the white surface of the thinsulate, then wait 30-60 seconds for the adhesive to become tacky:

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

3- Press the Thinsulate against the surface and voilà!

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

Cabin Overhead Storage (Headliner)

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

ford-transit-camper-van-thinsulate-installation-3_ps

1- We used a 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

2- Foam pieces removed:

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

3- Then, we removed the four screws (total) under the driver and passenger side handles:

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

4- Next, we unsnapped the three pins in the center of the headliner. 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

5- BAM! (third one not shown in picture)

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

6- It is now possible to lower the headliner a few inches and install the Thinsulate. We used three pieces of insulation 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

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

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

8- 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 to details here because there is not much to say…

We left the Thinsulate as shown in the picture above for several months and we did not lose a piece. The 3M 90 spray adhesive is doing a great job!

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

Walls

Large cutouts were filled with insulation:

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

We also filled the cavities where possible:

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

It's in!

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

Sliding Door

The plastic panel is attached 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

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 remain glued to it for later re-assembly.

Sliding Door Plastic Sheet

Here is how it looks without Thinsulate in:

sliding-door-before

Thinsulate was then placed in the cutouts:

sliding-door-after-thinsulate

Driver/Passenger Doors

We insulated the driver & passenger doors when we upgraded the speakers; therefore, it is documented here:

Windows

You can spend a lot of money and time on the best insulation, but remember that glass is an excellent heat conductor (in other words, a horrible insulator). You can make cheap & dirty Reflectix covers to reflect the sun in summer, but if you are skiers like us, you will want something that performs better… To minimize heat loss during winter, we made insulated window covers out of ez-cool + thinsulate + fabric. They make a HUGE difference in sub-freezing temperatures, and they’re just plain essential below 5F (-15°C). Here is how we made them:

On Second Thought...

We could go on forever about R values, thermal bridges, 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 supposed 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, it’s possible to keep the van to our comfort level (66-68F / 18-20°C) when running the Webasto heater. Below -18°C (0F), inside temperature starts to lower; for example at -30°C (-22F) the maximum inside temperature is 15°C (58F) which is actually not that bad considering how cold it is outside!

But what if we turn off the Webasto heater? Does our insulation solution 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 drops much faster, AND it gets uncomfortable near the windows). In fact, we took the habit of turning the heater off when going to bed and 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 (10°C) in the evening dropping down to 28F (-2°C) in the morning: the temperature inside the van will go from about 68F (20°C) in the evening and will drop down to about 50-53F (10-12°C) 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 -27°C) 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 observed 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 the touch. The Thinsulate is doing its job, the bare metal forms 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.

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About-Us-Narrow

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then, and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

54 thoughts on “Thinsulate Insulation for Camper Van – Install & Data”

Heads up! As of summer 2021, we are currently travelling to Yukon (and hopefully Alaska) and have very limited access to Internet. As a result, we might not be able to answer all comments. Thanks for understanding and see you on the road! -Isabelle and Antoine

  1. Has anyone done this method for a passenger van with many windows? Curious how the process would differ. We have an 08 Dodge Sprinter that we recently acquired. Getting ready to purchase materials but havent quite decided on how to do the windows. Should we do EZ Cool First? Thoughts anyone?

    Additionally – we are going to try “cut out” small sections where we would have insulation to essentially have “submarine windows.” Curious if you have any thoughts on how to do this? Maybe just frame up the sections?

    Thanks for this incredible resource. My second build, first sprinter build and super excited.

    Reply
  2. Planing to start insulating my VW LT mk 1, i found your articles very helpful so as to get an idea on how to go about it, in fact i was thinking of using a combination of sheeps wool for hard to reach beams and thisulate for panels, my query is as im averse to glue anything to the metal i was thinking of sandwiching the thinsulate between the panels and a metal mesh 1″x1″ on the inside held in place with wooden battens, what do you think of the idea will it work

    Reply
  3. I accidently purchase the 400L which only expands to 1inch thickness, do you think that will make a huge difference when it comes to insulation properties?

    Reply
  4. I might be a bit of an idiot.
    I installed my thinsulate “backwards” from what you all did, i.e., I glued the black side to the van and have the white side out. Do you see any issues with this? It’s still “fresh” so I could re-do it if necessary… 😐

    Reply
  5. Hello, thank you for all your information – I can’t find anything about any prep to the bare metal before the glue and Thinsulate – would it be a good idea to “rubberize” (or similar) the van walls first, to eliminate condensation and rust? Thank you, KCee

    Reply
    • I don’t think that’s necessary to be honest; Thinsulate has been around for a while now and I’m confident about using it directly on the metal. THat’s what I’d personally do for my van…

      Reply
    • We added CLD tiles from Sound Deadener Showdown on our walls/ceiling and don’t feel it changed anything. If we were to do another van, we aren’t going to use it again as we think Thinsulate is enough.

      Reply
  6. I over estimated and have quite a good bit left over. Do you see any issues sandwiching 2 or 3 layers of Thinsulate (especially in the deep cavities)? Not sure if its necessary to remove from the black backing from the under layers?

    Thanks again for all the great advice.

    Reply
  7. Love what you guys do! Thanks for all the helpful information!
    In regards to insulating the cavities, did you guys open up the panels over the front seatbelt columns and insulate in that cavity? I’m trying to determine if it’s helpful/possible to insulate that area and, if so, how big of a hassle it is to take those panels off and put them back on.

    Thanks!

    Reply

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