Thinsulate Insulation for Camper Van: Installation and Real-World Data

Thinsulate Insulation for Camper Van: Installation and Real-World 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:

  • VERY easy to install
  • Doesn't absorb moisture
  • Doesn't off-gas
  • Excellent noise insulator (no need for extra sound barrier)
  • Doesn't attract bugs
  • Can be removed for body repair

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

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Portrait

Time Spent

0 HOURS

Total Cost

$ 0 USD

Prerequisite

Material

ItemDescriptionQuantityLink
Thinsulate InsulationSM600L 50’x 60″ + 20’x60″ Amazon
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 what's the surface area you need to cover. Don't forget to substract the windows and to add the doors, overhead cabin, etc. as required!

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

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 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 tree 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 voilĂ !

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


We left the Thinsulate 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!

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 remained 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, an 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 plain essential below 5F (-15C). Here is how we made them:

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, it’s possible to keep the van to our comfort level (66-68F / 18-20C) 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 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.

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about us

Nice To Meet You.

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!

75 thoughts on “Thinsulate Insulation for Camper Van: Installation and Real-World Data”

  1. Thank you for all the amazing content! You’re site has been my #1 site as I take on my own conversion soooo THANK YOU!

    Did you have any issues with the 3M 90 spray adhesive sticking to the your sound dampening material? I have more sound dampening material and less exposed van metal currently which is why I ask. Also, does it degrade the sound dampening material? This last question stems from me trying 3M 90 on a piece of foam insulation which the adhesive ate through… Obviously, not meant for polystyrene 🙂

  2. I didn’t notice it mentioned anywhere in the article, but did you guys double-layer the Thinsulate anywhere in the transit? Seems that at least the wall panels are pretty deep with respect to the frame “posts” and that another layer would probably fit fine behind the (eventual) furring strips, although not sure if it’s needed/useful. We’ll also put the EZ-Cool in there eventually anyway so not sure it would make too much difference. We don’t plan on doing anything too extreme like your adventures in the sub-zero teens (we currently have a < 1 y.o. in tow, after all) but will probably use the van to post up in parking lots at ski slopes from time to time, so would like it to be as comfortable as possible in the above-zero teens 🙂 Thanks for all your awesome content!

    • We doubled it in the “cavities” on the wall, near the ceiling. We had some extra Thinsulate left I believe.
      If you go ahead and double it, just make sure not to compress it; it must be all expanded to be fully effective.

      Cheers!

  3. Hi! Thanks so much for being an excellent resource! You two have made my van conversion super smooth. I’m wondering why you didn’t insulate the back doors with Thinsulate or EZ- Cool. I’m curious if it will impact my experience in the desert for a week. What are your thoughts/ recommendations?

    • Because it was last on the “to-do” list and we just never did it haha 😉

      So we’ve been travelling without insulation in the back doors for the past two years down to -15F sometimes; you’ll be fine in the desert 🙂

      Cheers!

  4. Hi guys,

    Love the blog and all the data points! I was wondering how you measured that 70′ linear amount. I’m planing on the Ford Transit without the extended back, not a huge difference but if I can end up getting away with less that’d be better.

    Did you have a lot of the thinsulate left over? Did you end up just cramming it where it needed to be?

    • The amount was based on recommendation from others, pretty much. I just emailed the supplier (Hein) to ask him if he could provide a table with recommended amount for each van/length. Hopefully we get an answer soon!

    • We considered it, but we went for Thinsulate because:
      1) If not apply properly, spray foam can create “ripples” on the sheet metal (seen from outside)
      2) Spray foam is permanent, while you can remove thinsulate fairly easily
      3) Thinsulate is MUCH easier and cleaner to install

      That’s pretty much it. Here are all the material we considered and why: https://faroutride.com/insulation/

      Cheers!

  5. Hello! I was wondering how much you are supposed to buy for the transit high roof extended cab?
    which combination of what they have available on amazon equals 70 linear feet?
    thanks very much =]!

  6. Hi Antoine and Isabelle,

    Q on the van cavities in various places esp. near the roof line:

    Did you try to spray/glue the Thinsulate in, or did you just stuff them in like you did over the front overhead? And, so much room, did you ever do two layers?

    The access is so dodgy that it seems that pushing pre-glued Thinsulate in, it would just stick to everything/anything as you are pushing it in. Or maybe I am over thinking this, and it’s easier than I think.

    Cheers, and when will/did you tackle your new side window!

    Don

    • Hi Don,
      – We didn’t glue Thinsulate in the cavities. Like you said, it would be too hard to install!
      – We had some Thinsulate leftover, so we did double it in the upper portion of the walls (near the ceiling).
      – No heat wave so far this summer, so we haven’t feel obligated to add a window! Maybe later… 🙂

      Hope you’re progressing well in your conversion!

      • A&I,
        Thanks for the response.
        Re the conversion, I have some picts, I might send them by normal e-mail when I think my progress is not too embarrassing.
        -d

    • Do u need to minimize the amount of thinsulate you put in to get the loft to do the insulating or can you pack it in and the more the better.Thanks

      • To be fully effective, the Thinsulate should not be packed; it should be fully expanded. So you can add two layers if you want at some places, but don’t compress it.

        Cheers.

  7. Thanks for this amazing resource. I’ve referenced your posts many times during my build.

    I wonder if you have thoughts about the prospect of eventual removal of Thinsulate? I did testing with application and removal of Thinuslate and 3M 90 spray on my Transit cargo walls, and found the removal process to be *extremely* messy. I used WD40 and Goo Gone, both of which loosened 3M 90 considerably, but the process was very time consuming. It took 15 – 20 minutes to remove a 1 foot square test section of Thinsulate from a completely flat surface, and I think non-flat surfaces would be difficult. White side toward the metal is the way to go, though, and is defintely the easiest for removal.

    Although Thinsulate is mold resistant, I could see mold forming in nooks and crannies where separation between the wall and insulation occur months or years down the road, depending on conditions and ventilation. Currently, I am using Thinsulate for spaces that need no adhesive (beams, holes in walls, etc.), and polysio with insulation tape for wall and ceiling panels that can be easily removed (thanks to crossnuts!) for cleaning. I have cut Thinuslate to fit in areas that require adhesive, but haven’t installed them yet and would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thanks again for sharing with us! Love your site!!

  8. My wife and I are working on our own van conversion and love your website. We purchased Thinsulate for the main insulation but I was on the fence about adding the EZ-Cool or not. Based on your results ya’ll posted “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.” Do you have any post installation of the EZ-cool results to compare to the pictures showing the condensation you took before you installed the Ez-cool?
    Thanks,
    Eric

  9. Hi Guys,

    Excellent work with the website! Its helped tremendously with my ford transit build!!

    Quick question, If you could start over with the insulation, would you have applied EZ cool to all of the bare metal surfaces in the back of the van & then applied the 3M insulate on top of that?

    Please let me know your thoughts on this!!! I should be doing insulation on my transit within the next few week.Would love to get your opinion on this!

  10. Removing those foam pieces between cab and back! WOW! I got frightened trying to do so because it seemed that the airbags were underneath the foam. Is that so?

    • Yes there are airbags, but they’re behind the headliner not directly under the foam pieces. I don’t think removing the foam pieces will make the airbags deploy 🙂

      cheers

  11. Hi there! We are trying to decide whether or not to insulate our Promaster front doors as well…did you two? We’re worried about impeding the “down” window position space, but if we aren’t insulating everything inside the door because of avoiding that space, is it even worth it?

    Can’t wait to hear!

    Bailey and Jake

    • Hey!
      The window should be in an enclosed space; I don’t think you can prevent it from opening, no worries. We insulated our doors when we upgraded the speakers (https://faroutride.com/speakers-upgrade/); we’re not sure how big of a difference it makes, but if you have time and extra Thinsulate why not? If you don’t plan on using the van for skiing or such, it might not be worth it.

      Cheers!

  12. Resalut Ă  vous deux,

    Petite question au sujet de l’isolation.

    Antoine tu disais dans ton post “climat control” qu’il n’avait pas de solution miracle quand vient le temps de parler d’isolation et qu’il Ă©tait difficile d’avoir un bon Ă©quilibre entre bien isoler et Ă©vacuer l’humiditĂ© pour Ă©viter la corrosion au point de contact du vĂ©hicule.

    Tu ajoutais aussi que l’idĂ©e est d’empĂȘcher l’humiditĂ© de pĂ©nĂ©trer dans les matĂ©riaux isolants et que par contre, de cette maniĂšre, le matĂ©riau isolant est pris en sandwich entre deux pare-vapeur. Au final, si l’humiditĂ© pĂ©nĂštre il n’ya pas d’évacuation de cette humiditĂ©.

    Dans ton post “On second tought” tu rĂ©affirmes que vous avez fait le bon choix en retenant la combinaison Thinsulate et EZ-cool.

    Maintenant, si j’ajoute Ă  cela la question suivante: Comme l’humiditĂ© pĂ©nĂ©trera d’une facon ou d’une autre, as tu pensĂ© Ă  un moyen pour contrĂŽler (dans le sens de vĂ©rifier) la prĂ©sence d’humiditĂ© entre la partie isolante et le mĂ©tal du vĂ©hicule? Si oui, de quelle façon? Si oui (ou non), est-ce que votre choix de combinaison d’isolation permet Ă  de l’humiditĂ© de s’accumuler entre la partie isolante et le mĂ©tal du vĂ©hicule?

    Merci Ă  l’avance 🙂

    • On pourrait toujours enlever quelques planches et se glisser la main entre le mĂ©tal et le Thinsulate, mais on l’a pas encore fait.
      Le Thinsulate est hydrophobique, c’est-Ă -dire qu’il ne retient pas l’eau. C’est entre autre ce qui fait du Thinsulate un bon matĂ©riel pour l’isolation, Ă  mon avis.

      VoilĂ  bonne journĂ©e! 🙂

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