Monday, August 15, 2011

Why do you want to live in a van? part 5 - Climate Control

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

 The camper van has no source of heat and air conditioning is an option but neither are very useful if you are unable to contain/maintain the temperature inside the van. The smaller and better insulated the space the easier it is to keep warm or cool.

The first improvement I would do to any van is increase the insulation. The Westfalia comes with fiberglass mats in all body cavities except for the front doors. This fiberglass is mediocre at best and it holds moisture, if you are looking at a van with a rear window washer, chances are that it has rust above the right side rear panel due to the tank leaking there.

What can be done? there are many products that can be used, I used reflectix because it was easy to cut to shape and has good insulation properties for it's weight. I placed a layer of this against the metal body panels, then put the fiberglass back in and the placed closed cell foam cutouts into the body cavities on top of the fiberglass (but not compressing it).

With the side panel insulation improved, next up is the floor which I also covered with reflectix and windows which I purchased some insulating window covers for. The windows are really important because they transfer heat/cold very well and there are a few options on the market or some covers can be made with leftover reflectix. During the day, if you want to keep the heat out, window tinting will greatly reduce absorbed heat from the light entering through.

The pop top is a very large cavity and if you can seal it off it will help, leave the top bed down and block off the rest of the gap with blankets or reflectix. The front driving cab is also another large cavity to heat/cool so a large blanket will also help seal it off from the main living space.

Once everything is insulated you can begin to work on the heat/AC systems. To generate heat there are a few options. Use the engine and heat the coolant which will circulate into the dash and rear heaters. Easy enough but will use fuel and is noisy. A popular option is to install a propane heater behind the passenger seat and vent the exhaust through the battery box, this works well but consumes propane and the oxygen in the van so keep a window open. An electric heater will work if you have a large enough battery and charging system. Cooking with the stove will generate heat but it should not be used as a primary heat source. The fridge will also emit heat but probably not enough to be comfortable. The last option is to insulate yourself with blankets or extra clothes. Heat seems to be the easier option to control, cooling the van is way harder.
To cool the van you will need an AC system, so get a van with AC or get a portable house window unit to install in the window or on the roof of the van. If using the built in motor driven system you need to have the engine running to operate the compressor, the cabin will cool down but the motor is generating a lot of heat and that will rise up through the floor and into the van, how fast depends on the quality of insulation. The window unit will need 120V AC power so plan on plugging into an external power source or have a large set of solar panels and a large inverter. I suppose a diving suit filled with ice could work.

Either way, a fan to help circulate the warm/cool air is needed and this has to run off the auxiliary battery.

To further improve air circulation, many manufacturers offer screen kits for the windows and doors and GoWesty has a hatch extension bar that allows you to lock the rear hatch open approx 5inches. Both of these significantly improve air circulation within the van.

Part 6: Where to GO and Stay.

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


  1. Stay cool buddy! My only way of doing it is by the old fashion way of sweating.

  2. I am usually ok with sweating but a daily high of 105F and high humidity makes it a rather inefficient way of cooling down. Plus I am constantly dehydrated when working in the garage.
    I guess I will be spending more time in stores with A/C till the weather cools down or I move to a cooler location.