Frequently Asked #Vanlife Insulation Questions
The insulation space is crowded, confusing and has become overrun with low integrity, underperforming products. Wool insulation reverts to a time of natural, high-performance fibers that have evolved across time in nature’s R&D department. The head start is 1000s of years ahead of synthetic fibers designed to maximize profit, not performance.
We are fortunate to speak with van enthusiasts throughout the US and Canada every day, and slowly worldwide. It is wildly exciting to connect with cool people making interesting and exciting plans for whatever their definition of #vanlife might be. Wool as an insulator and sound dampener in your van is an easy decision once the rationale is understood; what follows is an effort to share the conversations and experiences for those of you embarking on a mission that can feel overwhelming at the start. We will continuously add to the list and encourage you to help us ensure nothing is missed.
With brevity as a guide, please consider we want to share and move on. If you seek clarity pick up the phone, we’re on the other end.
Moisture Management/Air Quality/Sound Deadening:
What does moisture management mean?
Moisture in a cavity is inevitable, even an airtight one, given the simple properties of condensation and vapor drive. Taking its presence as a given, moisture needs an escape path. While it is in the cavity it can either be managed or degrade what it comes in contact with. If it is the side of your van then rust enters the equation. If it is a sub-par material than reduced efficacy and mold are both an issue. If it is wool then you have a wildly dynamic fiber working in your favor. It will take moisture in when the ambient air exceeds 65% rh. When those levels drop below the threshold, moisture is dissolved adding to temperature control and indoor air quality.
What is condensation and why should I care?
Condensation is the conversion of a vapor or a gas to a liquid. It most often refers to the cycle of water. Think of it this way: you just bought a loaf of a bread at a bakery and are sitting at a table having a coffee in the sun. The bread and the (plastic) bag it is in started dry; as it heats in the sun, suddenly there is noticeable moisture inside of the sealed bag. Say hello to condensation. This is one example of many for this occurrence. Now think of the environments you and your van are likely to frequent and you’ll appreciate the inevitability of condensation.
Also, we suggest you let condensation concern you more than road noise. In the space between your van interior and the walls, condensation will flourish. If you insert the wrong materials so too will mold. Exposure to whatever grows therein is unhealthy at best and potentially dangerous.
I live where it is hot, will wool insulation still help?
The same principle applies to all insulations in hot or cold climates. It serves as a barrier for thermal transfer.
Insulation works both ways, keep you warm in the winter and keep you cool in the summer. An additional benefit of the wool fiber- the release and capture of moisture will help modulate the temperature making you feel warmer in colder environments and cooler in warmer environments.
Do other insulations manage moisture too?
NO! Cotton absorbs water and is treated with chemicals to be temporarily hydrophobic. Fiberglass acts like a sponge and then turns into a moldy science project gone bad. Cellulose is paper, attracts moisture and this too will become a moldy disaster waiting to happen. Synthetics like Thinsulate do not absorb water, but then where does the water go? It collects in the bottom of the cavity. Foam will not absorb water either but instead forces the water into the cavity to collect and corrode.
How does wool clean the air?
Talk about a standout for wool. Other forms of insulation will emit something not good for you – particulate, harmful chemicals, or both. The amino acids in wool, conversely, will irreversibly bond with formaldehyde, NOx, and SO2. There is NO OTHER INSULATION material available that will provide this service to your space.
Does wool insulation smell?
No. As noted above the kiwis are the best in the world at cleaning wool. The smell is left behind after scouring.
What about sound deadening? Does wool help?
Wool has excellent sound deadening characteristics. Noise reduction coefficients are outperformers when tested. Anecdotally we constantly hear folks telling us how quiet their vans become once wool is introduced – note the ability to stuff wool in the headliner and voids indoors as a true difference maker.
Is wool good for road noise?
Yes! Wool has a 90 and 95 noise reduction coefficient for batts and loose fill, respectively.
Will the wool sag when I drive down bumpy roads?
No, in fact wool is constantly moving as it retains and expels moisture. This movement allows for a growing effect and it maintains its space. Wool also sticks to everything it touches.
How Does Wool Compare To Other Choices?
Why should we use wool in a van?
This answer is both simple and complex. The former is easy – the alternatives are toxic garbage. Conversely, there is nothing like a wool fiber. Nature’s R&D department looks back some 10,000 years. A wool fiber has evolved to protect sheep from the elements – hot and cold; damp and dry. The same goes for your van. Wool inherently manages moisture against 65% relative humidity (see below for more), absorbs harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, NOx and SO2, crushes road noise and can be reused or composted (to grow award-winning heirloom tomatoes) should you choose to move into a new rig.
Is Reflectix a good product?
No. Well maybe if you put it outside your van or in the windows. It is designed to reflect the sun. It has no place inside for all sorts of reasons – not least it needs an air gap to work properly, which is highly unlikely to be consistent in a van.
Why do van fitters use recycled denim?
Most van fitters just don’t know the correct insulation to use and they choose mainstream options. The folks we have an opportunity to speak with are quick to accept wool on its merits of high insulative value, ease of installation and ability to manage moisture. Many of them did not have firm reasons for using cotton other than it seemed to be a “green” product. Once we have a chance to explain why the cotton fiber is a poor choice for skiing or surfing trips, it becomes clear why cotton is also a poor choice in a van.
Is rock wool still wool?
No! rock wool is trying to mimic a natural fiber by masquerading as our favorite natural fiber: wool. There are many glaring issues with rock wool, one being that it does not “manage moisture” but rather simply won’t absorb it- forcing it elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the production of rock wool uses an exorbitant amount of energy to melt rock and slag; as concerning, formaldehyde continues to be used as a binder. There is nothing “green” about this product.
I hear lots of people use Thinsulate, do you have an opinion?
Yes. Thinsulate was originally purposed in automobiles for sound attenuation. Wool is a better insulator and also better at minimizing sound. Thinsulate is certainly the lesser of other insulative evil mediums but similarly underperforming by comparison to our favorite natural fiber.
Any thoughts on foam board or spray foam?
Yes. Why would you ever put a toxic, petro-chemical based material in a confined space? Foam is a nasty material that should be discontinued. It does not address moisture challenges, is unsafe to breathe, makes noise when driving and is likely to spend a few thousand years in the ocean once your van is repurposed. Please use common sense and don’t use foam.
Do you (Havelock) have any experience with can conversions?
Yes, we have a high-roof Sprinter 144 crew van. We fit it out ourselves and are just now on a second round to enhance our experience. Note ours is more winter than summer given the passion to ski. Either way, we appreciate preferences vary and there is no playbook for how a conversion should unfold.
Can you use any wool?
Sure, any wool is better than no wool. But, our loose fill wool, for example, is mechanically processed to further allow for loft and higher R-values- called knops, providing a consistent product to our customers who trust us with their vans. Simply “chopping” wool into pieces after its sheared from the sheep has much less effective thermal properties.
Why do you need my address?
Trust me, we like our privacy too and will hold your information tight, but we need to know where you are so we can quote shipping and/or find the closest business to you with stocking inventory.
Why does a business address have cheaper shipping?
The major carriers see business addresses as having a faster and more efficient delivery time than residential. They are willing to charge less to make delivery faster and increase their efficiency.
Where can I buy it?
Call us and we’ll get you going in the right direction. Ever heard of Lake Tahoe? Some say it’s a world-class destination – we think so. Come see for yourself.
How do I order?
Let’s get the right product for your needs, refine the quantities and get a shipping quote to your specific address. Once this is in place, we accept Venmo or old school check (provided you still have any).
Why is wool so expensive?
Well, why is insulation so cheap? Consider what traditional insulators like glass “wool”, rock “wool”, spray foam, etc. are all made with. Massive amounts of chemicals and energy go into producing these harmful, off-gassing products. Do these cheap insulation alternatives, permanently encapsulate formaldehyde? Filter the air? Resist mold? Work when wet? Contribute to sound deadening? Wool does. Wool insulation has an inherent integrity that the alternatives don’t. It does a better job and it costs a little more, ultimately your health is worth it.
How do I install wool insulation?
This depends on your build. Ease of install would call for batts. Loose fill is just that and therefore not hard it just may be a bit more time-consuming. Our experience suggests a combination works well. Batts in walls, floor and ceiling; loose fill in nooks and crannies.
Also, don’t be afraid to be creative. String can hold batts in place, you can stuff behind T&G boards or finished wall coverings as they go up. Said another way, we support creative alternatives over adhesives and other forms of ‘traditional’ methods.
What gear is needed to install wool?
All you need is a beer and a razor blade to cut open the packaging. No protective equipment required.
Should I use batts or loose fill?
Up to you. A combination is fairly standard. Batts are malleable and easy to stuff in out-of-way places. Loose fill goes anywhere but is best for all the totally random spots that need to be filled in your van.
How do I measure for insulation?
Keep it simple. Measure the area you plan to insulate (height and length) and take note of the depth. The latter is the variable. Once you have the square footage apply the associated depths and you will have an idea for insulation needed. Typically, we see two bags of batts and one of loose fill (for nooks and crannies) used in a van conversion.
What should I do for the walls and floors?
This can vary greatly. Our experience would suggest building the floor up slightly from factory specs to allow for extra insulation to reduce road noise and minimize a cold/hot floor depending on the season. Walls will vary greatly based on the finish. Batts or loose fill are generally suggested for T&G for ease of install whereas batts are almost required for wall panels.
What is thermal bridging?
If a highly conductive material like metal reaches from the exterior to the interior of a building it will carry temperature differential in either direction. To simplify, think of a metal beam exposed to the inside and outside of a building. Now imagine cold wintery temperatures. The beam will carry the cold exterior temperatures within an inch (or finished wall thickness) of your living space and create noticeable cold spots. This is thermal bridging in its most simplistic form. Now fast forward to your van. The whole thing is a thermal bridge. Ideally, you will find ways to create a gap or thermal break between the metal structure and your FINISHED WALL
. The schematic highlights the fix:
Do I need to be concerned about insects or moths?
No. We apply a minor amount of boric acid, which is all-natural and non-toxic, as an insect repellent. In addition, it is often the lanolin that attracts pests. Our wool comes from NZ where the most advanced scouring (cleaning) techniques in the world are employed to ensure a consistent, clean fiber is provided for our process.
How thick should my insulation be and how much should I buy?
Your insulation should be as thick as your build will allow. We typically see 2” batts used across the van. Measure the square footage and note the desired depth; you will then know what to buy and how much.
Do I need a fan?
Yes, if you are sleeping or cooking then you will want one of these. Again, you live in a metal box and it needs some ventilation.