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Full Version: I have no building or carpentry skills so how do insulate?
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Hi everyone, 

Once I get my van, I  would like to live in colder, snowy climates. Like Alaska cold and snowy. I have no building or carpentry skills so I was thinking of making "insulation curtains" instead of insulating the walls and ceiling for the winter. I saw something similar on a youtube video. 

I decided on curtains because I need to be able to turn the car back into a regular car quickly and easily. So I can't have any permanent changes to the car itself.

So, my plan is to layer pieces of styrofoam with blackout curtains and fleece. Or maybe a thermal blanket. It's the kind that looks like waffle knit and looks like little squares. Not sure which: fleece, thermal blanket, or both?

The side facing the inside of the van would be a light colored fabric to make it look light and bright. And the side facing the outside would be a dark fabric, maybe a black fleece blanket. Not sure yet. I know not to use reflectix, which Bob says doesn't work to keep a van warm.

All of that would be sewn together and attached to the van walls and ceiling with heavy duty magnets not snaps, because like that youtube video said, the snaps would leave gaps since it doesn't conform to egg shaped edges. I'm going to assume she meant convex edges versus concave??

Can someone help suggest some materials? Here are some things I can't figure out:

1. Following Bob's advice, white styrofoam is the cheapest for ceiling and walls, but isn't it rigid, so how do I make it conform to the walls without actually gluing it on, considering these are curtains and not attached to the walls?  

1A. How about I break the foam into little pieces? Would it be just as warm? Should I use packing peanuts instead? Or maybe I should use those little foam pellets that look like tiny little balls almost like confetti? 

2. Should I bother to put anything on the floor besides carpeting? 

3. Do you think hooks would work better than snaps or magnets? I'm thinking those little 3M command hooks,but I don't know if they are strong enough. Thpse hooks don't leave a sticky residue when they come off.

4. Should there be a space in between the walls and the curtains to avoid condensation and rust? I'm confused about that.

Thanks guys, I appreciate your advice and input! Smile
hmmm... a few thoughts.

- in order to attach polyiso boards to the metal in a van, no fabrication skills are needed. All you need to do is to cut and glue, meaning; the polyiso boards can be glued in place.  The edges can possibly be sealed/held in place using tape. Either alu tape or tape developed to be used with polyiso sheets (or styrofoam sheets) 

- thin sheets of polyiso (or styrofoam) are quite bendable, so they should pose no problem bending the little bit a ceiling or walls of a van typically bend.
- and even thicker sheets, can be helped (by 3/4 through cuts) to become bendable.

- if you use loose fabric/curtains to insulate, then there will be the gap from the metal, so reflectics can actually do its reflection of the heat/cold waves. So reflectics could be chosen to be part of your curtain sandwich.

- insulating the floor is a matter of personal choice. I would always insulate the floor, because I have cold feet, and know that I need more than socks or feet-warmers to keep my feet and legs warm.  But this is a personal choice/opinion.

- if you create and hang a blanket-sandwich type insulation (a blancet consisting of several layers of different materials), then I would imagine that you would need to do spring cleaning every year, meaning, take everything out and wash the inside walls, so any dust/mold/rust spots are cleaned and resealed every spring.
I prefer LOTS of insulation.
If you're trying to live somewhere like Alaska through the winter... I don't think that's a good idea with only "temporary" insulation. In my opinion, you will need permanent modifications for adequate insulation, and potentially for a heat source also.

And since I mentioned heat source, do you have one in mind? For long-term cold weather I would not use propane. Burning propane produces moisture. Just in 40 degree climates you will find your windows dripping with condensation while heating with propane.

People who full-time in cold weather (without hookups) generally have other methods of heating, such as compact marine wood or coal stoves.

I am actually in the design phase of building a cold-weather vehicle, myself, intended to be able to winter in Vermont. I intend to insulate it with two part A / B foam and heat with diesel tapped out of the vehicle's tank.

I'm not here to tell you that you can't live your dreams - by all means, please do. But I would not try to weather Alaska with only temporary modifications to a vehicle. You may be better served by getting a different, cheaper vehicle that you don't feel bad about permanently modifying.
I would use the rtech foam, cut it into small sections to conform to the areas you want to cover. You can use duct tape (gorilla duct tape) to join the sections. 
With rtech foam its rigid but you can make it more sturdy by hot-gluing a piece of cardboard to one side and this wont add any appreciable weight to the foam.
Use alot of foam insulation for the best results at least 1 inch, you can always hot-glue foam on top of foam to get the thickness you need. It has to be as airtight as possible with only a small vent if you use a heater, any outside air getting into your vehicle will defeat the purpose of the foam.
In my van I have the entire rear covered in foam, the windows,roof,floor,sides, its totally dark in the back of the van. Its already January and I still haven't used my mister heater. just covering all the areas were the cold outside air was coming in made a big difference.
The only thing you need is a box-cutter to cut the foam, gorilla duct tape (or something similar), and a hotglue gun would make quick work of adding multiple layers of foam.

rtech foam (found at home depot about 8 to 10 dollars for a 4x8 foot sheet) easy to cut with box-cutter. Its perfect for insulating a vehicle.
Thinsulate maybe