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:
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.
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!
Don't own a van yet? We listed the dimensions for the Transit, Sprinter, Promaster, & Nissan here: Van Selection
|Cargo Surface (sq.ft.)*|
*Cargo Surface = passenger wall (including the sliding door opening, which will be subtracted next in "Remove Surface"), driver wall, & ceiling.
|Height (in)||Width (in)|
|Remove Surface (sq.ft.)|
|Height (in)||Width (in)|
|Add Surface (sq.ft.)|
Includes: passenger & driver walls, ceiling, and all your custom ADD/REMOVE.
|Surface (sq. ft.)|
|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 Vans||40 feet|
|Medium Vans||50 feet|
|Large Vans||60 feet|
|Extended Vans||70 feet|
Thinsulate Installation In A Nutshell:
1- Cut the Thinsulate using tailor scissors:
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:
3- Press the Thinsulate against the surface and voilà!
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.
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):
2- Foam pieces removed:
3- Then, we removed the four screws (total) under the driver and passenger side handles:
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…
5- BAM! (third one not shown in picture)
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.
7- Sliding-in the insulation right-piece (left not shown…)
8- Reinstall the fasteners and voilà!
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!
Large cutouts were filled with insulation:
We also filled the cavities where possible:
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.
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.
Here is how it looks without Thinsulate in:
Thinsulate was then placed in the cutouts:
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?
Now, here is a more thorough discussion:
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).
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.
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:
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.