The Executive Summary
After some deliberation, I decided to use Reflectix as a radiant barrier for the first layer of insulation. I dug up some doubts about the efficiency of this stuff in my research but didn’t have enough evidence, or time to secure appropriate data, to make an informed decision. So I opted for action over research and decided to move forward! On top of the radiant barrier, I placed fiberglass batting. This will hopefully keep the van nice and warm come winter.
With the flooring in place, it was time to start thinking about insulation. I’d seen enough builds on Instagram and the web at this point to have a pretty good idea of where to start. Reflectix was the first layer to go down… or so I thought.
The evening before I was set to head up to The Home Depot and pick up the Reflectix, I was scoping out other people’s builds on YouTube and a friend had sent me a link to this guy. He mentions that he did not adhere the Reflectix directly to the wall because you’re supposed to leave an air gap between it and the wall. This was the first time I had heard this and so I took to the Internet to see if this was true.
I emerged from about an hour later from the Google rabbit hole that I had fallen into even more confused than ever. What I found was a number of home builders, contractors, and HVAC specialists debating the proper use of Reflectix, how to install it, and questioning the validity of the product altogether. Every van build that I had seen to date had used this Reflectix material in some capacity to help insulate their van, but none of the people doing these builds seemed to be in the insulation business. These were all just average Joe’s figuring out their projects as they went along. Just like me. Could they all be wrong? Was Reflectix worthless? Was such an air gap required for it to work? I sat there debating what to do. If I wasn’t going to start off my insulation layer with Reflectix then what was the first step. My head was spinning! This was going to be my home and I wanted to do things right.
After going back and forth in my head with various ideas on different materials and ways I could install them, I finally settled on charging ahead with my original plan. I was going to use the Reflectix. I was going to glue it directly to the metals walls of the van as my first layer. After all, the Reflectix is basically bubble wrap covered in aluminum foil. Wasn’t the bubble layer the air gap? All those van dwellers that came before me couldn’t all be wrong. Could they? What ultimately led me to the decision to move forward, beside decision fatigue, was that my Cleveland home was built in 1899 and had no insulation whatsoever. If I could survive the Cleveland winters in that, then a botched Reflectix install wasn’t going to be the peril of my van insulation. After all, there would be more insulation covering the Reflectix. The van was actually going to be insulated, which was far more than I could say for my house. I couldn’t let myself get hung up on indecision. So I bought the Reflectix and trudged onward.
Putting up the Reflectix was relatively straightforward. You can cut the stuff with a regular pair of scissors. To adhere it to the side walls of the van, I used 3M High Strength Spray Adhesive. As fun as this stuff is to use (the spray adhesive makes me feel like Spider-Man), it’s not cheap! I went through several cans of the stuff, just in putting up the Reflectix. You could probably get away with a lighter adhesive, which would help shave down yours costs a bit. When it was all done, I had myself one shiny red box!
With the radiant barrier up, it was time to start thinking about the next layer of insulation. Depending on where you live and where you think you’ll be spending your time with your van can influence your insulation choices. I already live in an area with fairly cold winters and, as a snowboard, hope to get up into the mountains in the winter and so I knew I would need all the insulation I could get.
On top of the Reflectix, I ended up using fiberglass batting. This is a common insulation material in most houses. I’ve seen many people use foam boards, like these, but I decided to go with fiberglass for the higher R-value. For those not in the know, the R-value on insulation refers to its ability to insulate. The higher the number, the better the insulation. I had also never used the foam boards before, whereas I had plenty of experience with fiberglass batting. So fiberglass it was!
Installing the fiberglass is relatively straightforward. You measure the space and cut a section from the roll to fit the space. In a home, you would then staple the edges of the fiberglass to the wooden studs to hold them in place. This wasn’t possible in the van, however, and so I used some reflective tape to keep the fiberglass from falling until we could get the walls built. This wasn’t elegant, but it did the job. The insulation was placed in the large indented sections between the supporting frame of the van. On the top half of the van, this is where the windows would be in a passenger version. The bottom section proved to be a little more tricky though. The exposed space is much smaller than what you are actually insulating because there is a gap underneath the metal. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of this specific gap, which would help to better explain it, but it boiled down to having to make some weird cuts in the fiberglass so that we could stuff it into the cavities in the spaces on the lower half of the van. On the plus side though. this helped to hold the insulation in place and so less taping was required.