2017-10-12: Insulation woes

Fortunately, the fine particulates in this insulation board are all organic and GM-free

The last time I wrote about fitting insulation was back in May, and it feels like the job has been dragging on since then. When you look at the YouTube videos, you see time-lapses of people fitting insulation over the course of a weekend. Maybe we could have achieved that if we’d known exactly what we were doing before we started, but we didn’t, so … tough luck, I guess.

To be fair, we haven’t spent all the intervening time fitting insulation, but every weekend, pretty much, we’ve been doing part of the job, just enough to progress some other part of the job: fitting the bench bed, or the shelf above the cab.

But the main source of frustration has been the endless trips to Screwfix to buy more materials – and in particular, expanding foam. This van eats the stuff.  A quick check of my van expenditure spreadsheet reveals we have bought this many cans of expanding foam:

That’s 14 cans.

They’re 750ml each, and the packaging states the contents will expand to 35 times the original capacity. So – ignoring wastage, of which there has been a fair amount – I calculate we’ve sprayed over 26 litres of foam into the cracks and crevices of this van.

Anyway, we’re almost done.

Insulation is one of the most controversial topics on the van conversion forums, with many a certainty bandied around. Our original plan was to use rigid board for the bulk of the insulation, with expanding foam to fill the gaps. I still think that was a pretty solid plan, but I wish I’d known at the time we’d by spraying this much of the stuff.

2017-08-06: Bench bed and cladding test

We’ve been busy on various jobs since I last wrote, mostly trying to get some basic components built in prototype form for we can take the van on a short trip and test some things out.

Almost every design/build problem in the van is a chicken and egg problem. And we tie ourselves in knots trying to decide which part to commit to, so that we can move on. The interaction of furniture, cladding, and electrical supply is one such problem.

Since we had to start somewhere, we took the passenger side of the van as a low risk first step.

Bench bed

I started by building a simple bed frame. It’s mostly self supporting, with the legs nearest the wall bolted to the van body using rivnuts.

Bench/bed frame

I set the frontmost legs back from he edge of the bench so that, when seated, you can swing your legs back. The front and sides will be panelled with ply, as will the top. For now, we have a piece of MDF on top to use as a test. The front edge of the bench has a 2cm lip which will form the middle (longitudinal) support for the bed. The other half of the bed will be removable, with one edgeand resting on this lip, and the far side resting on a lip on cabinets (still to be built) on the other side of the van.

Structure of the bench largely complete

Cladding

Once the bench was complete, we spent many hours figuring out how the cladding could work. The van walls are curved, and flexible plywood could conform to the curve, but there are very few places where it could be pinned back to the walls, risking it flapping around, unsupported, or ‘drumming’ when on the move. So we decided to build a flat frame for the middle section of the wall, onto which one large sheet of flat ply can be fastened.

To clad that section, we re-used some of the 5mm plywood that was in the van when we bought it , cutting out holes for the task lights and USB sockets. It feels pretty solid, so we’ll see how it works on our trip in a couple of weeks.

One wall section insulated, with electrical supply, and framing up ready for cladding

2017-06-11: Research, planning and insulation

Something of a slow grind since we got back from our first trip. We’ve both been very busy with work, so not much time to spend on the van.

Amy has been insulating the rear and side doors. Since these cavities hold loose wires that connect to the central locking and door catches, we don’t want to install insulation that can’t be removed if we need to fix any problems. So we’re using left over closed cell foam sheets (about an inch thick) which can be friction fitted without using any glue or expanding foam.

I’ve been drawing more layouts in Sketchup, trying to iron out all the little niggles, and figure out what we can pin down now so we can continue the build. It’s a constant struggle between getting stuff done, so we can test whether it does work, and planning things out, so we know that it will work.

 

Current draft layout. Yes, I know it doesn’t conform to the laws of physics. It will.

At this stage, while we’re trying to maintain maximum flexibility, that means a lot of shifting sand.

So we’re trying to make some decisions on the electrical system:

  • What battery technology to use
  • How much capacity we need
  • How much solar we need
  • What arrangement of panels will work best on the roof (in combination with other components like a fan or a rooflight)
  • How to run wiring through the van
  • How to charge the battery off the alternator, and what system will work for our van (voltage sensitive relay, or battery-to-battery charger)

2017-05-30: Admin, insulation, conduit

Today has not been the most fulfilling of days. I spent half the morning on the phone trying to sort out spare keys and the correct trim for the new window we bought. Amy was swapping materials at Screwfix. Then we tried to figure out where to route the conduit to allow for wiring up the solar panels and any 12V electrics in the van — which is tricky given that we haven’t decided where any of that is going to go. Then we fixed more rust, cut more Celotex insulation boards, sprayed more expanding foam … the same as we’ve been doing for days now it seems. We’re getting through cans of foam like there’s no tomorrow, and I can also tell we’re going to have to swap some of the insulation boards I bought for thinner ones, as the cavities at the back of the van are much shallower than those at the front. 

Treated and repainted door retainer

Fixed door retainer

Treating the rust where the sliding door stopper hits the van body

Marking the routes for the conduit so we can remember where it goes
I did manage to finish one small job, which was to improvise a raised platform for the dog to sit on behind the cab seats so he can go in the back comfortably while we’re driving. And Amy had success fixing one of the rear door magnetic retainers on the side of the van, which was poorly seated and letting in water. We want to go away in the van for a few days at the end of this week, so we’re just trying to get it fixed up enough to do that.

Onwards.

2017-05-29: Insulation and conduit

With the floor in, Amy applied some preventative rust treatment to the new holes we just made in the van floor (screwing the plywood floor down), and I started on the wall insulation panels. We don’t yet have a solid plan for our electrical routing, so we fitted some conduit (“convoluted sleeve”) into some of the wall cavities before fitting the solid insulation panels in.

The insulation panels are 50mm thick, which is a little too thick in many areas of the van, so this job involved a fair amount of shaping, shaving and a bit of hacking too. We may need to return one or two of the sheets (we bought 5) and swap them for a different thickness.

I then used the insulation foam to fill in all the gaps and hold the panels in place. There is no extra glue here (I had planned to use the Soudal High Tack) but so far, they’ve all fitted very securely just with a friction fit, and the foam really locks them in.