The Insulation Conundrum

I have had many conversations on various forums and with materials suppliers about the best way to insulate. In the main we are looking to insulate against cold because if it is hot we can simply open doors and windows. There is a plethora of available materials and methods but there is no definite right way to do it.

With the van being a big tin box as well as insulation you have to consider condensation. As well as the general atmospheric humidity moisture is introduce by us breathing and perspiring, by boiling and cooking and by the bathroom and washing. If you cook with gas, which we don’t, you will introduce a lot more condense from the combustion but I assume no one would consider actually heating such a small space with naked gas flame.

The warmer air is the better able it is to carry moisture. However when warm moist air meeting a cold surface the moisture will condensate. It will do this against the outer skin of your van and even the insulation and structure between the inner and outer skins if it is colder. Uncontrolled this condensate could build up, saturate your insulation, the ply lining and wall boards and even rot the outer skin of the van from the inside out.

Don’t let anyone pretend you can prevent this by installing a vapour barrier behind the ply lining thus creating a void full on installation. That changes nothing and may even make it worse. You cannot create a sealed void so air from inside will get in there. No, the best solution is, as in your home, to keep air moving. Condensation may still happen but it will evaporate again and move away as the air circulates. Indeed a perfect solution would be heat recovery ventilation but this is a small space and that is hardly practical.

As for insulation materials themselves the first rules are not to use anything hygroscopic (absorbs moisture) as it could end up as a soggy mess and avoid mineral wools that will discharge fibres. How to install the insulation is important too remembering that you have to get into all of the structural ribs and that years of driving on bumpy roads high shake your insulation to the bottom.

One extremely good solution would be spray foam which is a job best done professionally. Care needs to be taken to only spray as much as can expand into the space especially within box sections. Get this wrong and as the foam expands it will buckle the bodywork. However one big concern I have about it is the implication for body repairs should you have the misfortune to have an accident. Panels will no longer be easy to straight or replace and will add significantly to the cost of damage repair. As a result your insurance company will likely argue with you about the cost.

In the end we are going to use several methods.

  • Primarily we will stick self adhesive DoDo Mat, a dense sponge foam mat designed as sound deadening as well as thermal insulation, to all the flat panels we (well actually Sue’s small hands) can get at. WE are going to start with a layer of 6mm between structural members and into ridges such as the roof ribs. On top of this we will add one or more layers of 6mm and 12mm. In the larger voids below the waist line we will also stuff polyester insulation wadding.
  • The structural members will also be filled with polyester wool. This will be fed / pulled in using fibreglass rods to get at the very difficult and may even need a couple of new holes to get at some sections.
  • The ply floor will be lifted and strips of 6mm insulation laid between the ribs and then 8mm high density floor foam laid before fixing the ply floor back down.
  • All the doors and the cab area will be insulated with self adhesive DoDo mat.

Our accommodation windows are twin skin and they and the roof vents have thermal blinds. And finally we will use SilverScreen covers on the cab windows at night.

Interior Layout

I started using my favourite 2D CAD package before I discovered Sketchup. Since then I have had great fun designing the interior layout in 3D. Here is the final design subject to final dimensions once the van arrives, which at the time of writing should be soon as it is at UK docks awaiting distribution to the dealer.

So here is the planned layout of our van – subject to final dimensions once I get my hands on it. The driver and passenger seats swivel and the bench seat pulls out to a 1900×1200 double bed. The kitchen has a microwave under the hob and there is a 150ltr fridge with a big freezer compartment in the tall unit. At the back is a toilet / shower and behind and beside that is a bit of garage space accessed from the rear doors. You will notice too that Fred gets his own kennel.

Update : since I originally posted this and before work started in January the layout evolved a wee bit. The toilet moved to the left rear corner freeing up the garage space. The dogs kennel relocated to the bottom of the garage. The result is more and better storage with the only downside being 5hat I have to make a custom shower tray to cover rage wheel arch.

Lighting Scheme

Getting the lighting scheme right is important to being comfortable.

When we were doing the second Van Blanc Mirko, Premium Camper, introduced me to Hafele Loox lighting. It is a range of low voltage (12V and 24V) lighting designed to be incorporated into furniture such as kitchens and built in units. There are several different styles of LED light fitting, individual units that will fit within a 15mm panel and strip lights as well as several switching options including multi channel dimmers.

Loox offers a plug together cabling system but it is simple enough cut an splice with a soldering iron and a bit of heat shrink. For use in a domestic installation there is a 230V/12V power supply but of course we have no need as we are 12V anyway. In addition being LED the current draw is very small so we can have a lot of light for little energy use.

LED Downlight

For the ceiling / overhead lights we have opted for 3 zones, l lights in the cab area, and 4 each in the lounge / bed area and the rear kitchen using 65mm Cool White downlights with Nickel surrounds. They give a nice clear light and have a 2m tail that we will connect 6 way distribution blocks.

LED Plinth Light

Along the plinth line we will use 6 x 30mm Cool White downlights rather than plinth lights so that we can control the light level with the dimmer for day and night use. They will also be rigged to come on as the van courtesy light when the side door is opened. Again they come with 2m tails.

So this gives us 4 zones that will be controlled by a 4 channel dimmer unit for which we have 2 remote controls. Something I learned from last time is the the receiver really needs to be mounted perhaps in the ceiling to receive the signal well.

Reading Lamp

In addition we have a couple of Loox reading lamps on flexible stalks these we will mount behind the seat back so they can be used as reading lamps in the seat or in bed when it is pulled out.

Again these are 4000K Cool White which gives a nice bright clear white light.

We still need to sort a couple of other specific lights but really need to get our hands on the van first. We need an outside light for sitting under the awning and would really like one fixed above the side door which may have to be behind the door. I expect though we will end up either with a battery lantern or plug in LED bar as well. We also need a nice bright light in the back of the van behind the rear doors which will be a large store or garage.

Microwave Cooking

Ready meals are now a real possibility ;=)

This will be a first for us. We don’t need or want an oven and Sue really enjoys using her Wallas XC Duo diesel hob and when we can cook al fresco, something the big awning will let us do more of, we use our Cob oven / grill. However with a big van and more power we have the possibility of 230V so as well as taking our toaster with us we have found a neat Russel Hobbs 750W Microwave on a deal from Asda.

Simple knob controls won’t be worried about voltage / current consistency and the silver grey finish will go well with the fridge and the furniture finish.

Daylight and Fresh Air

Every camper van needs windows and vents to connect with the great outdoors

One of the first and most daunting jobs will be to take 40 Grands worth of brand new van and cut holes it in it. I am not really looking forward to that but it has to be done.

We could have ordered the van with factory fitted side windows like we used to have on our previous vans. The problem with this would be the sheer amount of uninsulated glass, the difficulty of fitting blinds and the limited opening possibilities. Instead we have decided to go with aftermarket Seitz units from Dometic.

The only windows we want are in the front of the accommodation on either side which includes one in the sliding door. There are a few options available but really only one manufacturer, Dometic, that supplies suitable units. There are three types of their Seitz units, two with plastic frames and one, Seitz S7P, with aluminium frames that have a slight curvature specifically for panel van conversions and it is these we have chosen to use. The windows themselves are a twin wall polycarbonate construction that finish reasonably flush with the van sides and have swing out opening.

They have a matching internal blind system that sandwich the wall construction. There are two blinds in each cassette, a blackout and a mesh, so that you can have them completely open or working together to give any mixture of blackout and mesh.

Next we need an opening roof light over the kitchen area and a smaller roof light with  fan assistance over the toilet / shower.

For the roof light we have opted for a Dometic Midi Heki unit that is 700 x 500mm. It opens up to one of several positions with and comes compete with an internal blind cassette not dissimilar to the windows that again sandwiches the roof construction.

Lastly we have a small 280mm square roof light vent by Fiamma that has its own fan. This will provide a little daylight but also extract odours and moisture. It comes with a mesh on the inside to keep the bugs out.

And finally the sliding door of the van is coming with stops we can adjust to limit its opening. We have our eyes on a  a mosquito screen to help keep them out of the van. We have a Thule 500mm wide power operated step that will fit under the door cill. This can be opened with a simple button and I will rig a relay so that it retracts automatically when the ignition is switched on.

Media System on the Move

Trying a new approach to entertainment and navigation.

Both Van Blancs had aftermarket media systems, the first had a Kenwood and the last a Pioneer. They were state of the art DAB Radio and Music entertainment systems with Satellite Navigation and phone integration.  They also had quality aftermarket speakers. Both great bits of kit in their own way supplied and fitted by Jason and Noel at Absolute Audio.

But here is a thing; We used the radio and occasionally music a lot when driving but not so often when parked up. We gave up on the Sat Nav which was slow to update routes and sent us on unreliable detours so we started using Apple Car Play with Apple Maps and now also Google Maps. We started using Apple Maps in Norway this year and and found it equally as good and with some advantages over the built in system. Using Car Play maps  has a small downside in that it does use a small amount of data but in return it is real time and far better. We also have Car Play in our new VW Polo and we are sold on it.

So this time we have a new plan. The van comes as standard with a decent media system with DAB, Music, Car Play and Phone integration so it does everything we want while we are on the road. In which case we will stick with it and only maybe look at the speakers.

Instead we have invested £150 in an UltimateEars Megaboom 3, Logitechs Blue Tooth speaker offering. It integrates well with iTunes and Apple Music from iPhone or iPad and playing with it at home so far sounds brilliant. It is controllable using an app and its speakers are designed to fill the space and give a good range of sound that can be adjusted by an equaliser in the phone app. The unit is waterproof and cordless, charged from a USB point, so it can be used anywhere inside or outside the van.