February 21, 2018

Van Life 2: Insulation & Finishes

Insulating a van is necessary.  If you are in a hot climate it will keep you cooler.  If you are in a cold climate, it will keep you warmer.

Reefer vans that transport food use 3 inch ‘high thermal insulation’ and completely seal the cargo space.  I think that is a good standard to use to consider what it is I want for insulation.

CAUTION:  If you are living in the space, you don’t actually want it completely sealed.  Like a house, the van needs to breathe.  So venting for air circulation must be planned out. Humidity builds up in a small space (cooking, people), so you need one of those RV dehumidifers or you end up with that damp musty smell so many campers have, or you need to open up everything daily to do an air exchange.

My first look through YouTube and Google taught me the following:

  •  Using spray foam insulation on the entire interior of the van is risky.  There is the potential for distortion of the sheet metal panels if the foam is put on as a thick layer.  It allows for no movement and the van panels can warp which would then be visible from the outside of the van.
  • There are lots of nooks and crannies in the van, and they all need to be filled with insulation.  It easy to do, just time consuming. It is OK to use the spray foam insulation in a can to fill in small hard-to-reach places.  Spray in thin layers and allow it to expand before applying more.
  • It helps to know the exact layout of your van so wiring/plumbing can be completed before you close in the insulation.  Think about how a house construction has electrial boxes, and plumbing all run in the walls before the walls are closed in.
  • The mechanical design includes lighting, stereo, kitchen and bathroom power, kitchen and bathroom plumbing, TV wiring, wifi booster wiring, etc.   Solar wiring, deep cycle battery wiring, generator wiring, and/or propane-diesel venting.  This all depends on what products you will be installing and what kind of system you want.
  • It is important to decide what appliances, and power systems you want before you start to build.  So research first, then plan the layout based on your choices, then build.
  • Knowing your van layout early, allows for you to affix wood supports to your van frame so you can properly attach cabinets, etc.
  • Build with as little wood as possible because it is heavy and will affect your gas mileage.  The alternative for wood cabinets is to use a foam insulation “sandwich”.  Very light weight and strong.


Interior Wall Panels of Van

Interior Wall Panels of Van*

Van floor being insulated

Van floor being insulated*








*Sprinter Van Conversion article







There are a lot of options depending on the weather where you live or where you will be travelling.  I will use the typical insulation standard:

  1. Radiant Barrier like the Relextic metallic bubble wrap.  This creates an insulation barrier and also helps with making the van quieter.
  2. Spray Foam for nooks and crannies.  Apply in thin layers and allow it to expand so you don’t have issues with the van panels being distorted.
  3. Foam Board Insulation to fill in indentations and level the surface.  Tape all joints so it is a sealed barrier.
  4. Batt Insulation
  5. Vapour Barrier.  Tape all joints and edges so it is a sealed barrier.
  6. Foam Board Insulation as a final layer on the floor instead of a subfloor, and apply vinyl flooring on top.
  7. Finishing material for ceiling and walls.


  1. Typical floor finishes are:  carpet, indoor-outdoor carpet, grey speaker carpet material, vinyl sheet flooring, vinyl plank flooring, plywood flooring and hardwood flooring.
  2. Laminate flooring is the lightest of the wood floorings.


Vinyl flooring.  I love vinyl flooring for the ease of installation, and for the easy care and maintenance.  I want the vinyl flooring that looks like hardwood flooring.  Sheet vinyl flooring does not even need to be glued down.  It can sit on top of the subfloor.  It is easy to trim to fit perfectly in the space.  It doesn’t buckle or move.  I’m not sure if it is the most light weight material, but its a small floor space, and the convenience outweighs other factors for me.  I will measure my floor space and call commercial flooring installation companies to see if I can get an off cut piece for cheap.  I would only use commercial homogeneous vinyl flooring for the floor as it has superior durability and a high resistance to wear, cuts and stains.

HDX 10 ft. Wide Natural Walnut Vinyl Universal Flooring Your Choice Length

HDX 10 ft. Wide Natural Walnut Vinyl Universal Flooring Your Choice Length


I see wood a lot.  I don’t want to use wood as it is heavy and you need to have wood supports to screw it into.  More wood.  The back of my van will freeze in winter.  Heat up in summer.  Wood expands and contracts.  It is not moisture resistant unless I seal it all—and even then I’m not sure.  Not the best for my project because of the weight.

I’ve seen a few vans use the grey acoustic carpet used on speaker boxes.  It looks very nice, and just glues on.  The downside to carpet is it picks up debris, so I would need a vacuum or a stiff broom to sweep it clean.  I worry about spills on carpet.  Moisture/mold.

I wonder about using vinyl sheet flooring on the walls and ceiling.  I’ve used Aqua Floor vinyl flooring on the tub walls of a bathroom in a rental property that worked wonderfully for very many years with no water seepage, was easy to clean, didn’t discolour, and was an all around great product.  We just glued it to the drywall.  I may go with vinyl sheet flooring on floors, walls and ceiling.  It bends.  Just glue firmly.  More research is required.  Main downside would be how much it weighs, which goes up with better quality.

That leaves me with paneling.  Paneling comes in sheets, is easy to install, and lightweight.  I found a 1/16 inch x 4 ft x 8 ft white plastic panel with a “cracked ice surface texture” (very subtle), moisture and rot resistant that weighs 8 lbs per panel at Home Depot.  I like it.  $20 a sheet.  I anticipate the walls to be covered with cabinets, fold up beds and other stuff, so my priority is durability.  The white colour will help reflect the light I will be installing since I plan to have no windows.

8 lbs for a 8 x 12 foot plastic sheet

8 lbs for a 4 x 12 foot plastic sheet



About Angela

Angela Fiebelkorn is a non-denominational minister, and a New Consciousness Teacher affiliated with the Crimson Circle. She has been teaching classes on spirituality and metaphysics since 1996.

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