Insulating a Sprinter Van Converison with Wool: the Eco-Friendly Way
Updated: Jan 20
In this post we'll cover the basics of insulating your van conversion with Havelock wool. This is one of the best all-natural options we have found for van insulation. We'll talk about our decision to go with US-based Havelock wool vs other options, and how we installed the wool in our Sprinter Van conversion.
If there’s one thing for certain in the van world, it’s that everyone has their own way of doing things. I guess that’s one thing that draws many of us to this ‘alternative’ lifestyle: we like to live life on our own terms. Choosing how to insulate your van is probably as controversial a subject as any when it comes to van conversions, and our method might go against the grain even more than usual. As is a common theme in our van builds, we chose to use the most natural yet functional insulation we could find for our second Sprinter Van conversion. Read on for our reasoning about why we chose to use wool insulation (again), as well as our installation methods and thoughts on what we might do differently next time if we run into any issues. We’ll keep this page updated with any new developments down the road, so check back here for future observations.
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UPDATE Jan 2019: We've been getting a lot of questions about how we're liking our wool insulation now that we've lived with it for a few months of winter. We are happy to report that the insulation has done as well in winter as summer and we still can't find any downsides to wool! Judging by how many questions we get about Havelock's insulation, it seems like this whole wool thing is finally taking off in the van conversion world, and we couldn't be happier about it. If you've got detailed questions about wool insulation that are not answered here, we suggest getting in touch with the guys at Havelock. They are way more knowledgeable than we are and very helpful. Cheers and happy building!
We chose to use all natural wool insulation for our second Sprinter Van build, made by Havelock Wool. The company is based out of the Reno, NV area and is run by some genuinely cool human beings. A few days after placing our order with Havelock, we received our shipment of a few highly compressed bags of Havelock’s insulation, both in traditional batts and ‘loose fill’. The batts (similar to the “traditional” pink fiberglass rolls, only not super toxic) worked great for all the bigger areas of wall and ceiling and the loose fill was perfect for stuffing into all the nooks and crannies. The guys at Havelock recommended that we open the vacuum sealed bags up and let the wool expand for a bit before actually installing the insulation, and we were impressed how big the insulation got as soon as we cut the outer bag off.
There are a lot of reasons we chose to use wool insulation again for our second Sprinter van conversion. First of all, it's probably the most natural, least 'processed' insulator that is practical for a van conversion. In addition to being totally natural, it is also highly efficient--not only at thermal insulation, but at sound deadening, air filtration, and managing moisture (if you live in a van you might have heard of condensation issues). Honestly, we don't know of a single drawback of using wool insulation, but we'll let you know if we find any.
The wool insulation we got from Havelock was ridiculously easy to install. Because it is 100% natural and nontoxic, we didn’t have to wear any protective equipment while working with it. Actually, I take it back, I did wear ski goggles while installing the wool in the ceiling so I didn’t get any itchies in my eyeballs, but we love wearing normal clothes and not having to worry about getting cancer every step of the way while building our van. We ended up insulating our van in stages, mostly because we did a lot of things (like installing our wall and ceiling panels) totally out of order. If we were not trying to live in our van while converting it, and were doing things in a ‘standard’ order of operations, we would have done all the insulation at once, then moved on to covering the walls/ceiling.
To fix the insulation to the ceilings, I wove some old string (actually upcycled paraglider line, because that’s what we had on hand) through the factory holes in the ribs of the van’s sheet metal. I basically formed a spider web of string to hold the batts up in place until we could install our ceiling panels and really hold the insulation in. For the smaller areas of the wall, I just cut and/or tore the batts to the correct size and shape and placed the pieces in the ‘cubbies’ of metal. They held themselves in well enough just with friction until we got the walls in place. The larger ‘window’ areas of the walls we held up in place and used a few pieces of gaffer’s tape momentarily as we placed the wall panels up.
As far as all the small areas of the van--and there are many--I stuffed the loose fill wool into every nook and cranny I could. I used a variety of tools for this job (mostly my fingers, screwdrivers, pencils, and the butt end of a ballpoint pen (because that’s what was on the floor of the van at the time), but as the build progressed, I accidentally happened to find that these odd little doingers that we bought for a totally different purpose were the best way to cram the wool into the hardest-to-reach nooks and tightest spots.
For our second van conversion, we chose to use wool insulation again. The first time around, we went with the only wool batts we could find on the market at the time, which came from Black Mountain Wool via Eco Building Products. The insulation was easy enough to install, performed really well in the van, and in general sold us on the whole concept of wool insulation. Our only reservations about that product were as follows: the company is based in Europe and imports its batts via Florida as far as we could tell. The insulation wasn’t compressed at all when they sent it, so it was quite bulky and inefficient as far as packaging. This seems like a pretty unnecessarily large carbon footprint. We also didn’t love the plastic backing that the batts were mounted on. The plastic mesh seemed unnecessary for our purposes and added weight and avoidable plastic to something that was totally natural to begin with and not so much in the end. We also had trouble finding any information about people that had used the insulation in a van and they best way to install it. Although they did their best to answer my questions, the guys at Eco Building Products were obviously not experienced at this application and couldn't really help me wrap my brain around the process.
This time around, we were much happier with the batts and loose fill from Havelock Wool. Besides being more impressed with the product itself, these guys obviously care a lot about their process and environmental impact from start to finish and are incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of their wool. Being able to call Josh up and chat about installation, amounts, and curiosities was really reassuring and took much of the guesswork out of a nebulous part of the van building process. They have insulated their own Sprinter Van and have helped many customers with hands-on insulation so they totally get it. They are also outdoor enthusiasts themselves, so we immediately felt like they understood the way we use our van and the practical issues we face when making buildout decisions. Their phone numbers are published on their website and they encourage you to give them a call to discuss any questions before you buy!
Now, onto one very controversial part of our process. We decided to totally eliminate Reflectix from our walls and ceiling on this van conversion. We are still using the silver bubble wrap for window shades, but we are using wool as our sole insulator in the interior surfaces. We realize that many vanlifers will disagree with us here. However, after a few discussions with Josh at Havelock, we are convinced that the Reflectix is a waste of time, money, and space when it comes to the walls/ceiling of a van. Honestly, we’re not thermal engineers or insulation experts. However, we trust the guys at Havelock and have been super happy so far with our walls that are only insulated with wool. After having been through a couple years worth of hot summer days and frigid winter nights, we're sold.
If you have specific questions about how wool insulation functions or how it might be applied to your van conversion (or other project) we would encourage you to check out the Havelock website and get in touch with them with your questions. Again, we are not experts and have done our best to share our personal experiences, but they have far more knowledge and real-life experience than we do and can probably help way more than we’ll ever be able to.
Havelock's website and some basic wool insulation knowledge:
Havelock's Vanlife-specific Information:
Full Disclosure: We made a marketing trade with Havelock in exchange for our wool insulation. This means that they provided us with insulation in exchange for content. All opinions expressed here are still our own, and honestly, even if Havelock had denied our request, we still would have bought their insulation and sung their praises because we are 100% stoked on their product. We only partner with companies we believe in, and we wholeheartedly believe in Havelock wool. Please let us know if you end up using their insulation and what you think--we'd love to hear your experience!