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When converting a van to be used as a camper van, it can be a challenge trying to figure out everything that needs to be done. It can also be an expensive undertaking and some try to cut corners and reduce the overall cost of the build. Insulation is one of those areas that often gets cut or reduced. Some consider it a necessary part of a build while others may not.
This article will tackle the question of insulating or not insulating a van based on my experience of converting and years of traveling in one.
Do you even need insulation in a camper van?
You don’t have to insulate a camper van BUT insulation is essential if you desire a comfortable, temperature-controlled living space. Beyond helping to regulate temperatures, insulation can also serve as a sound dampener and make the overall experience much more pleasurable.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in a camper van, I consider insulation to be one of the most important steps of a van conversion. This is your opportunity to build a foundation in your van that will allow you to complete a build that will be comfortable to travel in.
There are some who disagree and consider insulation to be an unnecessary step but anyone who has spent a fair amount of time living or traveling in a van will certainly appreciate the benefits of an insulated van versus an uninsulated van.
To further explore why insulation is essential, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of having insulation. While insulation isn’t totally necessary and you do not have to use it, you may agree after seeing the pros and cons that it is a good idea to do it in the early stages while you have the chance.
Pros of Insulating a Camper Van
If you are on the fence and are unsure whether or not you want to spend the time and money involved in adding insulation to your van build, the following pros will help you to decide. I only have two pros for insulating a van but they are pretty big ones and they can make or break your van build in the end.
Better Temperature Control
The obvious reason for adding insulation to a van or any type of structure is to help regulate the temperature. Without insulation, heat transfer can happen without any friction holding it back. Insulation gives a barrier that will slow the heat transfer down.
This will help to keep your van cooler in the summertime as well as keep the interior of your van warmer in the wintertime. If you do not include any type of insulation that has a decent R-value, you will be riding around and living in a big metal box that will get extremely hot in summer temperatures and will not retain heat very well in winter temperatures.
To avoid this, high R-value insulation can be used. Many people choose an insulation type such as wool, Rockwool, Polyisocyanurate foam board, Thinsulate, or fiberglass batt. All of these have a respectable R-value that will do a good job in a van. However, each has its own pros and cons.
It’s a good idea to consider the way you will be living and the environment that you will be in when you make your final decision as to the type of insulation that you will use. Those who live in extreme climates will need more insulation and those who live in more moderate climates will need less.
One of the biggest benefits that many people do not even consider is the added bonus of reducing overall noise in your van. Insulation can do an excellent job at dampening the noise whether it be road noise as you are driving or outside noises as you are trying to sleep at night.
Noise-reducing insulation such as Thinsulate will help to muffle sounds and give you an overall better experience. You will hear less outside noise while you are in campgrounds or other loud areas such as parking lots.
When combined with sound deadening material, insulation will give you a quiet ride and will help make the long drives more bearable.
When I first purchased my van, it was just a large metal box and the noise level was pretty high as I drove home from where I purchased it. I was already wondering if it would always be this loud or if there was something I could do. This experience prompted me to research the subject more and come up with a solution that would reduce the noise throughout the cabin and living area so that I could experience more joy in the journey.
When you combine different types of insulation that are designed to do different things, the noise level can be reduced dramatically. I experienced this after installing Noico sound deadening material along with Thinsulate insulation throughout my entire van. The noise level was noticeably less and driving in the empty cargo van was much quieter than it had been on my original ride.
Now, after driving my van and using it for a few years, it has been a pleasurable experience and I attribute a lot of this to the prior planning I did to combat noises like this.
Cons of Insulating a Camper Van
Of course, there are always cons to doing anything no matter what it is. It’s up to you to decide whether the cons matter more or the pros matter more. In my case, the pros of having insulation far outweigh the cons and I am happy I went that route. You, on the other hand, may find a different conclusion. Let’s look at a couple of cons that may arise.
Possible Moisture Buildup
A van is a place where you will be introducing moisture through cooking, showering, and traveling in humid climates. Some worry that insulation will only add to the problem and create areas where moisture and dampness could accumulate. However, this is likely only a problem if ventilation is not thoroughly considered in your van build.
I have never had any problem with condensation or moisture whatsoever. I have built in proper ventilation throughout my van including a roof fan along with a window on the side that pulls air through my van anytime I need additional ventilation.
I even have a shower with a water heater in my van that I use often and even with the moisture that this shower creates, the moisture has not caused any issues that I have noticed. This may be a problem if you insulate your van with a type of insulation that does not do well with moisture such as fiberglass batts.
If your van is not properly ventilated, you could see an issue over time with normal levels of condensation and moisture buildup during cooking, high humidity, and just normal breath when in a non-ventilated area.
Additional Cost & Time Commitment
The second con is the obvious cost and extra time involved in installing it. Many people just want to get to the fun part of the conversion which generally involves setting up the kitchen and living space to look like a dream home.
However, it won’t be much of a dream home if you don’t consider this step and take the time to install insulation while you have the chance. The best time to do this is in the beginning before you have done anything else. Yes, it is an additional cost that can be quite expensive depending on the type of insulation you choose.
However, if you skip on this choice, the foundation of your van may be at risk because the temperature will not be regulated as nicely as it otherwise could be.
This is important for your living comfort, as well as resale value. If you decide to resell your van, many people won’t be happy that insulation is not installed behind the walls because this means that if they want to do it themselves, they will need to rip apart the van and basically start from scratch. Consider this as you build your van and plan your layout.
Including insulation into your van build is just good common sense and is a win-win for everyone.
In my opinion, going with good quality insulation like Thinsulate is worth the cost, and the time it takes to install it is minimal.
Is Van Insulation Worth It?
Insulation in a camper van is more than worth the cost and time that it takes to install it. There are so many benefits that you will notice when you have your van properly insulated. If you want to keep your van cooler in the summer or warmer in the winter, it’s a no-brainer.
It comes down to the type of environment you plan on traveling in.
The weather varies greatly in different parts of the world. I live in the Midwest and often experience very hot summers with lots of humidity as well as cold winters with snow and ice. These temperature swings put you in predicaments where controlling the temperature better inside your living area is important.
If I lived in an idyllic area that was a nice 75 degrees year-round, perhaps the answer to this question may be different. However, this isn’t the reality for most people and van travelers often experience large swings in temperature and weather patterns.
My advice, as someone who has experience with a properly insulated camper van, is to make the extra effort to make your van more comfortable from the beginning. You’ll be glad in the and once you begin traveling and experiencing the fun that this lifestyle provides.
You don’t have to insulate a camper van. There is no one forcing you to do it and you can still enjoy traveling, sleeping, or camping in your van without it. However, if you want to take the experience to the next level, adding insulation to the van is an easy way to level up on your total experience.
Insulation is a tricky subject and there are numerous videos and websites online discussing the good and the bad of it. I speak from experience and know that I am extremely happy that I insulated my van and put extra thought into it.
I went a little overboard on my insulation, mainly because I purchased too much and had a lot leftover and also because I just assumed the more insulation I could pack into it, the better off it would be. This has proven to be a good decision for me but each person is on a different journey and may experience a different result altogether.
Whatever you do, don’t skip over this part and assume it doesn’t matter. Consider the options and make an educated decision before you continue with your build. After all, you can’t easily go back and install insulation once the van has been fully converted. You’ll have to tear it back apart and start over! It’s best to take care of it now.
Having insulation can make a huge difference in a van and make it feel more comfortable, cozy, and professionally made. Buyers will appreciate it once you are ready to put it up for sale.