I’ve read a lot of posts recently where people are looking for advice on how to prepare their van for winter camping. There are many opinions, but to me it’s a matter of keeping the cold out and the warm in.
This (believe it or not) is a contentious topic…. But if you keep the cold out, it’s got to be a bonus? How you do it is up to you though. However, We will cover how we did it and you can copy it or not, but for me there are a couple of rules:
1. Moisture is bad….
Whenever you breath, sweat or cook with gas, you generate moisture. This moisture is in the form of steam or vapour and if it comes into contact with anything cold it condenses. This condensation then gets into the places you can’t see and eats your van…. So, you need to put a stop to this.
2. Heat is good!
You need a source of heat and you need to keep it inside the van. We like heat, unless its fire… usually fire inside the van is bad….
So how do we obey the rules?
To me, insulation is key. Look at the roof tops on a frosty morning and it’s easy to see who has insulation in their attic. The same goes for your van. You need to insulate your roof, your walls and not forgetting your windows and floor. Insulation will keep the warmth in in winter and heat out in summer. But what insulation should you use? Firstly you must ensure the insulation doesn’t trap moisture. Avoid using Rockwool loft insulation: it acts like a sponge. I know some people have a different experience with this, but having held water filled rockwool I will never use it. A flow of air helps.
In the walls and doors we went for:
1. Dynax spray wax along all the inner panel seams and welds
2. Self adhesive high density foam with a foil backing stuck directly to the metal panels. This helps deaden road noise and stops the moist air contacting the metal.
3. Foam pipe insulation filling the voids. It allows air to move but maintains an air gap which is very insulating. For spaces where we couldn’t get the pipe insulation in, we used foil backed foam sheets, often sold as cheap gym mats.
4. Then a plastic vapour barrier (thick polythene sheet) to keep moisture away from all the cavities.
5. All holes in the structure were covered with aluminium foil. Then we carpeted them using stretch carpet and high temperature aerosol contact adhesive. High temp adhesive is necessary, especially for the ceiling or it will come down after a few days in the sun.
6. The trim panels were then carpeted as well to further insulate as well as making it look nice. The idea is to cover up all bare metal.
Insulating floors is very important. Some people put down wooden battens either screwed or glued to the floor and filling the space between with foam, foil bubble wrap or even Kingspan insulation block. They then lay down ply or laminate as the main floor. It’s up to you what you do. If you have a VW T2/3 and your bed is over the engine, don’t forget to insulate here too.
We use the cheap high density foam sheets used for play mats or workshop floor mats. It’s strong, easy to clean and if damaged cheap to replace.
We have close fitting stretchy curtains, originally design for a VW T4, but they are perfect for our van with a little work. The curtains are double thickness, but still pretty thin. So to supplement them, we use a home made insulating panel on each. You can buy ready made thermal mats, but we found them to be rubbish, usually falling off or losing the sucker pads. Ours are simply two layers of foil bubble wrap, cut to size and edges taped up with Duck Tape. Cheap and works a treat when put against the glass and held by the curtains.
The best solution is double glazing and some vans are lucky enough to have it. We have it for our rear window and it doesn’t get any condensation, nor the cold air sink you get on other windows.
For the front windscreen, we tried loads of alternatives but found the very best to be a British product called Silver Screens. They’re not cheap, but in our opinion they are worth every penny. They are external and do get wet, but nothing else comes close. No condensation in the mornings. Downside is if you need to drive off in a hurry, but you can make them sort of fit inside if necessary. You need to call them for VW T3s as they don’t list them on the website. They also modify them if you have Syncro truck mirrors fitted.
Pop Top Insulation
In the winter we avoid lifting the pop top, but if your cooking inside it’s very cramped. So when we use the pop top, we have an external silver screen that wraps around the pop top and secures at the rear with an elastic cord. The screen also keeps the rain off and the drafts out. There are a couple of versions available. Take care with the elastic cord though, it is under quite a bit of strain.
Finally, once you’ve insulated the van, you need to heat it. You could run your engine but that’s impractical. Some campers come with a built in blown air heater, or if you are on hook up you can use a fan heater or oil filled radiator. If none of these work for you, you can fit a heater.
You need to decide on the fuel: gas, diesel or petrol.
Ours is made by Eberspacher and uses the leisure battery to power the pump and fan and takes fuel from the diesel tank. It’s extremely effective and thermostatically controlled. It makes some noise during start up, but once up to temperature you only hear the fan. There’s no fumes or risk of fumes since the unit draws air in and exhausts out through the floor. The blown air is never in contact with the combustion process. Several hours of running will only consume a cupful of diesel. However, your batteries need to be in good condition and well charged. The Eberspacher allows us to remain single fuel, as we also cook on diesel (another story). Other makes of diesel or petrol heater include Webasto.
If gas is your choice, then companies like Propex make a heater which uses lpg or Camping Gaz and works along the same lines as the Eberspacher.
Wallas make another option, which uses a diesel cooker as a fan heater but it’s quite expensive.
I do not recommend any of the cheap aerosol gas heaters as they produce a lot of moisture, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Also all these other ideas using nightlight candles etc, are a waste of time.
All vans should have a CO Alarm fitted as a precaution and must observe reasonable ventilation.
I hope this has been of help and I am happy to answer questions.