Filling the voids

We--and by "we" I mean "Brian"--researched a variety of insulation options. The obvious candidates were foam board insulation and "bubble wrap" insulation (aka Reflectix). Some also use spray foam insulation, particularly in the support beams. But Brian doesn't settle for obvious...

 The roll of Thinsulate is almost as big as me!

The roll of Thinsulate is almost as big as me!

Like with the floor, a primary concern was space. Since we’re both tall, we wanted to conserve as many (fractions of) inches as possible. But we don't want to freeze either. (A year in sunny California and even Brian is less tolerant of cold.) We needed a solution that would fit between and within the existing support beams but wouldn't be too toxic during or after installation. Bonus points if we could do the entire job with one material.

Brian read a report or two of people using Thinsulate for the job. Yes, the stuff used in gloves and other thermal clothing. Thinsulate is lightweight, hydrophobic, pliable, and non-toxic. Also, it seemed less messy than some other options, particularly the foam.

We know of only one supplier for this type of van conversion process, Hein van Swaay in Portland, OR. While his price is good for the material, it's worth noting that Thinsulate is not the most economical option. While we don't know how long it would have taken us to install other materials, my guess is that Thinsulate isn't the quickest option either. See Quick Facts box below for summary of cost.

The Thinsulate arrived in large rolls. It's basically white fluffy stuff attached to a thin black backing. The basic plan was to cut as few pieces as possible, covering the larger areas with continuous pieces wherever feasible. Remnants would be stuffed into the many irregular support beams.

 Andrea measuring a long panel of insulation. The roll is 60" wide.

Andrea measuring a long panel of insulation. The roll is 60" wide.

Cutting the Thinsulate turned out to be a bit tricky. We purchased some heavy duty shop scissors, absolute necessities for this task. Still, slicing the black backing while also separating the white insulation material without causing it to bunch required both strength and finesse. It’s quite doable, but a day of cutting did leave my scissor fingers bruised!

We applied spray adhesive to both the wall of the van and the back of the insulation, and then we worked together to attach each panel, one holding the material and the other unrolling it onto the wall, pressing it firmly into place as s/he went.

 Brian testing my triceps strength (and my patience) by asking me to hold that pose for a second.

Brian testing my triceps strength (and my patience) by asking me to hold that pose for a second.

The side panels went relatively quickly and smoothly. We added an extra inch or two to our measurements so that we could press the insulation around the ribs within each panel.

Of course each ceiling panel is a different width! (I may have exaggerated a bit there. Two may have been identical.) But all are the same length, and they went pretty quickly. 

Oh, and don’t forget the the doors! Those factory-installed black panels conceal networks of wires, latches, and tail light assemblies, the space around which must be filled! Double-sided tape was essential there, as we couldn’t use the spray adhesive without coating the network but the voids were large enough that the insulation would have slumped without something securing it to the wall of the van. 

QUICK LOOK
Time Spent: 22 hours 
Materials Cost: $650
Products Used: 
    * 3M Thinsulate SM600L vehicle insulation 
    * 3M 90 Low VOC (adhesive)
    * 3M 4941 VHB Acrylic Foam Tape
Special Tools: heavy duty scissors
Frustration Factor: mild

Filling the beams was straightforward but tedious. For each bean we folded a strip of insulation so that the backing was on the outside, inserted one end at the top of started, and pulled, pushed, and threaded it into the cavity. The larger beams were easy, as we could get a finger in every once in a while to pull the material along. For many voids we didn’t use any adhesive, but for some of the larger ones we wrangled some double-sided tape near the top of each strip to prevent too much slouching.

 Here we have insulation on most of the walls and some of the ceiling. Somehow we failed to take (or save) a photo of the fully insulated van before moving on to the next step. Doh!

Here we have insulation on most of the walls and some of the ceiling. Somehow we failed to take (or save) a photo of the fully insulated van before moving on to the next step. Doh!

Brian deserves props here for sticking with the task well after I tired of it. There are several beams on the ceiling that have small and largely inaccessible voids in them. After I had declared the job done and gone to shoot a climbing competition, Brian snuck out to thread insulation through those needles. I’m sure it was the right thing to do; I’m glad I didn’t have to do it.

Two weeks after hanging the insulation, it’s all still in place. The ceiling panels remain attached, and we see no evidence of slouching in any of the support beam voids. We had several changes in humidity and temperature, and so we’re feeling pretty good about the installation!