Vanbuild weekends #4, #5 and #6 : Insulation, electrical and bed

Hi everybody!

If you are new here, please go check out the previous articles before reading this one :

  1. Why we bought a van
  2. 3D renderings
  3. Fan and window installation
  4. Floor installation

For the others, welcome to blog post number 5 ! Today, we will be addressing insulation, bed frame and electrical planning.

But first, let me make things right and actually admit that I am lying a bit in the title. This step of the build has not really been done throughout weekend #4 and #5 only. We actually worked 3 full weeks and weekends on this (week nights and weekend days). This is because we had tons of small things to do and trips to Lowe’s to make and we had been waiting for our sheep wool sheep-ment (sorry…) to arrive to Louisville. We also got busy on the weekends seeing friends and celebrating Halloween so we weren’t as efficient as the past weekends.

Now, we also left for 2 weeks to see our family in Mexico and just finished a few things yesterday.

Now that this is rectified, let’s get into the serious stuff.

  1. Insulation

Insulating our van is something that we consider strategic during our build. Since we are planning on going to California where it can be hot in the summer and Alaska where the nights can be quite cold, we need to make sure our van is strong enough to support all types of weather. We initially purchased fiberglass insulation from Lowe’s but we weren’t sold on it for several reasons : it’s not environmental-friendly, it’s quite dangerous for your skin and breathing system AND moisture can get trapped inside the material. In consequence, we returned our purchase and decided to spend the extra buck and go with sheep wool as our main insulation. As a reminder, we used polyiso foam boards for our flooring. As gasp fillers and extras we used rockwool and spray foam insulation. Hence, our insulation is made of 4 different materials.

Here are a few reasons why sheep wool seemed like the right insulation to pick for our walls and the ceiling (source : haverlockwool.com).

  • It filters air and improves indoor air quality – harmful chemicals are in your walls. The amino acids in wool irreversibly bond with formaldehyde, NOₓ and SO2 on a molecular level.
  • For moisture and climate control – moisture and mold happens in your walls. Wool absorbs and adsorbs it against 65% relative humidity.
  • Suppresses mold and mildew – natural keratin prevents against the spread of mold and mildew.
  • It absorbs sound – wool exceeds other forms of insulation as an acoustic buffer.
  • Thermal conductivity – wool batts are industry standard at 3.6 per inch; loose-fill outperforms at 4.3 per inch.
  • Resists fire – wool will not support a flame below 1100F; conforms to Class A of the ASTM E84 test.
  • All natural – wool insulation is entirely renewable and sustainable.
  • Long lasting – inherent characteristics allow stated R-values to exceed other forms of insulation.
  • No off-gassing – natural characteristics make our insulation devoid of harmful chemicals.
  • Installs easily – blow-in and batts are installed like other mediums but with no protection required.

Now that you know why we picked sheep wool, the installation won’t require an explanation like other steps of the build. I don’t have pictures yet because we are not done but I’ll share with you a video of us installing it on the bottom of the van below.

We also purchased rockwool as I mentioned earlier. We only purchased a little amount and it will be used to fill some gaps we might have in our walls. The advantage of rockwool is that it offers fire protection. Rockwool is a breathable material allowing moisture to escape from the construction. This reduces the risk of mould and bacterial growth.

The progress in insulation allowed us to panel the bottom of the van with plywood and to finish our back doors.

2. Electrical planning

We had already ordered our solar system through Renogy and Amazon a few weeks ago but now we needed to make a proper diagram and figure out where everything would go and how we would connect all of it + order any missing components. We have very few things to power in our van : a couple LED light strips, a 12 v refrigerator, our maxxair fan, an inverter with two 120V plugs for our computers/phones and MAYBE a water pump. So our system is pretty small compared to other vanlifers out there. We are installing 2 x 100 watts solar panel + a 1000w pure sine inverter + a charge controller and a 200 apH battery.

For now, I’ll share our diagram below and I’ll redo a detailed post about electrical/solar once we install it. But basically planning is done and we pre-wired the van when we got back from vacation with 16 AWG black and red wiring. This means we can safely build around it and move forward.

3. Bed Frame

Why are we doing the bed frame before the walls, might you ask ? Well, that’s a good question and you will be pleased to know we thought about it very thoroughly. The objective for this build is to spend money smartly a.k.a spend what is necessary to make it right BUT also re-use and re-purpose anything we can to save a few bucks here and there. In that very case, our current QUEEN SIZE mattress is not going anywhere and HAS TO fit in the van. So we had to plan a way to make the mattress fit in our design. Also, our hearts were set on having the bed sideways to try to gain as much space as possible. In other words, we needed to fit a 60x80in mattress into a van that basically is 80in wide.

Sounds like the perfect measurement right now but if you think we have to add wood + insulation on your walls, then it becomes a little tight. The good news is our bed is actually 79.5in by 60in. So it actually worked fine for us but we weren’t able to install any insulation right where the mattress is located (except a little bit of sheep wool under the beams that you might spot on the pictures!). That’s the only big sacrifice we had to make for it to work so that’s fine with us, especially because we have sheep wool all around the rest of the car and we feel confident our little house is properly insulated.

Regarding the frame, we had to design a floating frame, using the van’s supporting beams. We created an L-shape support system with a 2x10in beam and a 2x4beam. This allowed us to remain fully LEVEL as well and make sure our bed was not at an angle. After creating those support beams, we constructed a wood frame that we screwed into our support. We also created plywood inlets that we liquid nailed/glued to our bare metal frame.

Next step is to install bad slats but we will do that towards the end of the build in order to keep the van a workable space. Et voilà that’s as simple as that ! Pictures below to illustrate my words.

The next step for the bed is to cut a custom-made plywood piece that will separate the garage area from the inside of the van. I’ll show that to you later when it’s done :). But for now we are starting the skeleton frame for our walls/ceiling.

If you guys have any questions, concerns or tips – please feel free to reach out. I’ve tried to put links to everything we use throughout the article but if anything is missing, please let me know.

Love,

Bobby and Coco

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