Sound Dampening & Thermal Insulation on Sprinter Van

When we took on this project, we didn’t realize the amount of time an energy it was going to take in order to meet our deadline. During our research phase, we asked many questions on forums and read articles plus build out journals of other van lifers. The hours that were spent on wall installation and other aspects seemed a bit over stretched. In one of the posts, the estimated time for the wall insulation install was 16 hours. Did our build take 16 hours? Yes, possibly more.  Were we slightly over ambitious? Yes, but we took our time and opted for a viable solution that we felt would work long term:

Materials used:
Noico sound insulator (150 square feet $200)
Uxcell Sound Deadener Wheel Roller ($7)
Thinsulate 3M SM600L (40 linear feet $400)
Low-E 60″ wide (40 linear feet $130)
3M Hi-strength 90 adhesive spray (2 cans $14 each)
REALLY GOOD pair of scissors ($20-40)

Our dear friend Angela came over to hang out and help us install some of the Noico – the sound deadening material. First we cleaned all the surface areas with a cloth to remove any dust and debris from the walls.  We cut out the Noico (which was also installed on the floors) and placed it all over the van walls and ceiling (we might have gone a bit over board).  The 50mil sound insulation came with the adhesive pre-applied, it just required to be cut to size and applied to the surface. We used a wheel roller to apply pressure on the Noico and get it to form to the surface without bubbles or gaps. In some tight areas where the roller wouldn’t fit, we had to use our hands.In most cases a small square of Noico over each ribbed section or wall would have been enough, but we really wanted to keep noise inside the van down as much as possible and applied a good amount of the material on the floor, walls and ceiling. After a few hours of working while jamming out to 90’s tunes, we were done. The finished product? A Noico sponsored silver spaceship where sound didn’t travel very far.

Then it was time for the Thinsulate, an insulation material that will help the van stay warm in cooler temperatures.  There are many insulation materials available with choices between denim, wool, traditional home fiberglass, or spray foam applications out there. We opted with the more expensive 3m Thinsulate due to its very good R value (thermal rating), moist wicking, lightweight properties, and sound deadening properties. We didn’t realize how effective the material was until we accidentally had one of the pieces fall over our portable speaker and it almost completely muted the sound. As for the installation, we cut out the pieces using really sharp, heavy duty scissors and it was still a challenge to cut through without snags.  If you don’t have a good pair, save yourself the trouble and invest in a pair of solid metal shears.  It made all the difference cutting through the thick fluffy material.  We were was so glad we opted for Thinsulate rather than the traditional insulation that has fiber glass, as the material wasn’t abrasive to the skin and didn’t fall apart easily. Once the pieces were cut to size,we stuffed them into the cutout spaces in the walls and ceiling.  We used the 3M adhesive to hold them in place (remember to wear gloves!) and filled as many gaps as we could, including the overhead compartment, front, side & rear door panels and and the remainding material went over the wheel wells. We probably could have went with another 5-10 linear feet for a double layer in some of the bigger sections, but as we were planning on sticking to warmer weather during our travels, we felt one layer of Thinsulate was enough in most places.

After the Thinsulate was put in, it was time to install Low-E, a reflective material very similar to the more popular Reflectix which deflects heat. We picked Low-E  because it has a cell foam mid-layer rather than bubble wrap, and passes standard auto safety tests due to its nonflammable properties. We cut the pieces to size, and used foil tape to fix it into place between the wall and ceiling ribs. We tried to leave an air gap between the Thinsulate and Low-e where possible (this was easier to do on the ceiling than in some places on the wall) and used the aluminum foil tape to trace the entire pieces so that it the air is trapped and reflected back.

All in all it took well over 16 hours to complete all three steps. Time will tell whether the extra effort to install Noico over the entire floor, most of the walls and ceiling was worth the effort. We felt one solid layer of Thinsulate was sufficient for the climate we’ll be in, and focused on making sure the Low-E material does its job reflecting heat back. We are happy with the result, and as you can see from the last photos, have already begun working on the next phase: wall installation & painting.

Sprinter Van Floor Installation: Part 2

Sprinter Van Floor Installation

After completing the first step of floor installation, we outlined the 3 separate plywood panels (harvested from sustainable sources with no added formaldehyde adhesive) using the same paper templates we traced on the minicell foam, and used a jigsaw to cut the pieces to fit the floor like puzzle pieces. It took us a few tries to get it as close to the walls and wheel wells as possible. We did offset the plywood panels a bit so that the breaks would be in a different position than the minicell foam, and also to align it better with the factory bolt locations.

Once fitted, we lifted up the panels one at a time and placed a permanent marker tip in the factory bolt holes facing up so that we could accurately mark the proper spot for holes. This was done by slowly lowering the panels down onto the marker and repeating that step for the rest of the bolt holes.  We drilled holes into the panels, using a 3/8″ drill bit which was just slightly bigger than the M8 1.25 pitch 70mm bolts that we were using to bolt the panels down. After making sure the holes lined up, we used a 3/4 Countersink drill bit to create flush dips for the bolts to sit in.

After the plywood panels were bolted down, we filled the corner gaps with Great Stuff insulating foam. It took an entire can to fill the floor spaces.  The stuff can get really messy and the nozzles often break or malfunction, so don’t get frustrated, take your time and wear gloves because this stuff doesn’t come off.  After the foam dried and hardened,we trimmed the excess foam so that it would sit flush to the floor. We sanded the plywood to make sure it was clean, and then dusted and vacuumed it in preparation for the adhesive layer.

We opted to use the Roberts 2310 adhesive, because of its pressure sensitive and resealable properties, in case we ever had to replace the floor. We began laying down the adhesive using a trowel with 1/16″ notches to spread an even layer across the first panel. Once spread evenly across the floor we waited around 40-50 min for a resealable application(less time for a more permanent seal) and began rolling out the vinyl flooring.

Initially we wanted to install bamboo flooring, but the cost was too high for us, so we opted to use a standard vinyl floor that was low cost, waterproof and fairly damage resistant. We purchased a 12ft by 6ft roll of vinyl and it covered the entire floor with enough excess to wrap around the edges. We used a rolling pin to get rid of any bubbles underneath the vinyl and once the adhesive dried, we used a knife to trim around the walls and wheel wells leaving excess at the edges near the doors for a fold over. We then laid down caulk around all of the edges to create a waterproof seal.

Ta da! The floor is finally finished.  It really was a process and a challenging learning curve and a lot of pre-planning since it was our first time installing insulated floors, but we are happy with the end result. Of course Kyuri had to test it out with a few yoga moves before we start filling the space with furniture!

Maxxair 6200K Fan Installation on Sprinter Van

Maxxair 6200k Fan Sprinter Van Roof

One of the first projects that we completed in the van was installing a fan for adequate ventilation. What better way to kick off a relationship with your newly acquired vehicle than to cut a big hole in its roof?  The installation was a bit unnerving at first, but as soon as we knew we had the right size cutout it was a breeze. Here is how we approached it:

Materials Used:

  1. Maxxair 6200K Fan
  2. Dicor Butyl Seal Tape
  3. Dicor 501LSG Lap Sealant
  4. 3/4″ Plywood or piece of wood
  5. 1″ aluminum bar
  6. Nuts, bolts & washers
  7. POR 15 Rust proof paint

The Maxxair 6200k was picked over a similar model Fantastic Vent fan because it is designed with the option to be open during driving and when it rains, and the latter was definitely a key point for us. After doing research on sprinter-source.com and various blogs, we knew we wanted to install the fan using a sandwich method. What it entails is having a solid base to screw the fan into, instead of only the roof’s sheet metal. The sandwich that you end up creating consists of lap sealant, aluminum bars, fan flange, butyl tape, van roof, and 3/4″ plywood in order from top to bottom. All of that is held together using bolts and securing with nuts from the bottom.

If you are installing a Maxxair 6200k fan on your vehicle, the first step you’ll want to complete is cut out your wood (3/4″ is a solid base to use) to a 16.5″ by 16.5″ square. Then you’ll want to cut the dimension of the fan flange to fit into that piece of plywood, which is 14″ by 14″. Once you jigsaw that piece from the 16.5″ plywood piece, not only will you have the bottom most layer of your sandwich, but also a square template to make sure that the vent cutout is centered and avoids the ribs on Sprinter roofs. As our Sprinter is a 2007, we were lucky enough not to have a circular rib in the back of the van as most of the newer model years do, and had the option of installing our fan on the anywhere that best fit our layout. Due to our planned roof setup of solar panels and Thule carrier box, we decided to install the vent in the back of the van towards the driver side.

Using the previously cut out 14″ template, we used Gorilla tape to temporarily mount it to the roof once we had our ideal location determined. We drilled a center hole into the roof using a 1/8″ drill bit and mounted the template with a nut and bolt to align it properly and to outline the edges of it with a sharpie. With the template unmounted, we drilled each corner of the marked square using a 3/4 Countersink drill bit. Some folks opt to leave the template in to have a good base to cut around, but we had a few jigsaw blades designed for cutting metal and weren’t concerned about it slipping away. We cut the square hole following the black sharpie lines from corner to corner, and soon enough had a 14″ hole in the roof of our van.

The jigsaw blade for metal worked well, but we had to file some of the jagged edges. Once that was done, we mounted the fan flange into the hole to determine where to drill holes in the roof for securing the entire sandwich. We drilled holes in the roof as well as the plywood template, and then used some of the leftover POR-15 rust proofing paint on the hole edges to prevent it from rusting. Once that coat tried, original paint was applied over it. It took another 30 minutes to dry and by that time we were ready to apply butyl tape on top of the roof. The Dicor tape is just about the right width for the fan flange and after putting two layers of it on top of the roof, we pressed the fan flange against it. While the paint was drying the aluminum bars were also cut to size and pre-drilled, so they were ready to be mounted above the fan flange.

Once the plywood, flange and aluminum bars were all secured with bolts, the next step was to apply lap sealant over the flange to prevent leaks. The stuff is very messy, so we took our time here. It takes a bit to dry, but does spread evenly. Once the lap sealant dried, we were done!

 

Sprinter Van Floor Installation: Part 1

After applying two coats of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating to the cargo floor and letting it cure, the next step was to install a wooden floor with sound and thermal insulation underneath it. Having done a bit of research before hand, and picking up tips on Sprinter-Forum.com and from a few other van conversion blogs, we felt ready to tackle this install. Heat and sound insulation were of upmost importance to us. We ended up picking the following materials for the floor, listed from top to bottom layer:

  • HPVA Oak Plywood harvested from sustainable sources, no added formaldehyde adhesive
  • L200 MiniCell Foam
  • Noico 50mil Sound Deadener

The sound deadener from Noico has great reviews on Amazon, some comparing it as a close competitor to the much more expensive Dynamat. It does not have a strong odor such as Fatmat, or other tar based sound deadeners. Noico offers both a 50mil and 80mil versions of its product, and we opted to use the thinner deadener for the floor, as a few more layers of other material were going on top it. Beginning at the seats and working our way back, the entire cargo floor and the wheel wells were covered with the deadener. Roughly 65 square feet of the product was required for a 144″ wheelbase van. It was easier to apply the product side to side instead of front to back of the van, due to the direction of the floor ridges. A roller tool helped with removing any air bubbles, and we would definitely recommend using gloves to help avoid hand cuts from the thin sheet metal layer found on Noico.

Noico Installed on floor
Noico sound deadening material installed on floor

After that step was completed, we began cutting the minicell foam into thin strips to fit into the ridges of the floor. Some of these were 1″ wide, others closers to 2″. It took a while to cut all the required pieces, and after we were done cutting and arranging them out in the ridges, we numbered the pieces from 1 to about 60. The reason for this was to know which piece goes exactly where, as we did not want to glue the strips before putting down another layer of foam. The next step was to trace a paper template for the large pieces of foam and plywood, and the small foam pieces were taken out of the van.

We had some studio photography background paper left over, and used it for the paper template. Next we traced and cut the three separate templates precisely, and paper made this process easier as its inherently more flexible than material such as cardboard. With the paper templates ready and traced, the next step of cutting the minicell foam was easy, and both the ridge strips and the full foam layers were ready to be installed. 3M 77 Spray adhesive was used to glue the 60 strips to the cargo floor ridges, and then the process was repeated for the entire three sheets of minicell foam which were glued on top of the strips layer.

After applying both the Noico and L200 MiniCell foam, the plywood was ready to go in. We taped the same paper template used for the foam to the plywood, and marked the outline. Using a jigsaw, the contour was cut out, and then a drill was used to get to the bolt holes. After a few corrections to get everything right, the three plywood pieces finally fit in like a jigsaw puzzle and were left in the van overnight to let the underlying foam adhesive to cure.

The next steps of bolting down the plywood, applying adhesive, and gluing a vinyl floor on top are covered in Floor Installation Part 2.

Part 2 of Tear Down: Rust Removal & Painting Floor on Sprinter Van

After tearing down the inside of the cargo area and cleaning it up, it was time to remove the small amount of rust that had formed inside the van’s cargo floor. After a quick run to Home Depot to pick up some metal brush bits and 3m dust masks, I began to chip away at the rust with a drill bit. It was a slow process, and at first I used a portable drill, but quickly ran out of battery. Modern rust proofing paint applications make it possible to apply it over the affected areas without removing the rust, but as Gaia will be a home for an extended period of time, I wanted to remove all the corrosion that had developed inside the cargo floor and then apply the rust preventative paint. Using a corded drill, it wasn’t until late into the evening that I got to a point where I was happy with the result.

The cleanup process also exposed the areas where drywall screws held the factory wooden floor in place. It didn’t take long to remove the screws and clean them up. I mixed together some JB weld and applied it over all the little holes, mostly located in the back of the cargo floor, and let it cure overnight. The next morning I cleaned the entire cargo floor and the bottom of the side walls with acetone, and then with a POR 15 degreaser. Painter’s tape was applied to the side walls and to the bolt holes in the floor.

The floor was finally ready for a rust proof paint application. Having done a bit of research beforehand, I opted to use a can of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating. A quart was more than enough to cover the entire cargo floor and wheel wells of a 144″ Sprinter van, and there was still plenty left for a second application. I used a 1.5″ wide nylon brush to be able to get into the smallest floor ridges, and painted the entire floor with it. The paint is thin and spreads very easily, making it a breeze to apply. It does take a bit of time to get through the whole floor, and I had to apply a second coat as the paint had trouble sticking in some areas of the floor. After the second coat dried, the van was ready for a brand new floor installation. A bit of a warning to those attempting to do any POR-15 rust preventative coatings – make sure you are covered head to toe in clothing and wear proper gloves, as the paint does not come off for weeks if it dries on your skin, and don’t forget your eye protection. If you do end up painting any areas of your vehicle with POR-15, please share any additional input you may have in the comments section!

Part 1 of Tear Down: Floor Clean Up on Sprinter Van

After driving Gaia (the Sprinter van) across the country, it was time to strip the cargo area to the barebones and begin the buildout process. Gaia’s previous owner used it for weekend mountain biking trips, so it was already fairly empty inside in the back of the van. We removed the floor trimming, wall panels and the old insulation that had been put in by the previous owner. It started raining while we were working on the van, which is a rare occurrence here in Los Angeles nowadays, but we managed to stay inside and continued with the teardown. After removing all the floor hooks, it started to get dark and we needed to make a run to a car parts store to pick up a torx bit (there are many of those bolts in the Sprinter) in order to remove the rails that held the original wooden floor panel down.


When we finally removed the wooden floor panels, we discovered a lot of dust, sand, bolts, and what had a distinct asphalt or tar smell to it in places. My guess was that it might have been Fatmat, or some adhesive used to get the factory wooden floor to stick to the base of the cargo floor. It had deteriorated over time, and was now just and old gunky mess. Cleaning the inside of the van took hours, and we first tackled the dust, sand and all the loose bits. A previously used bottle of Goo Gone helped us get the tar substance off. In hindsight, something like Unique’s Degreaser and Oil & Tar Remover would have been a more environmentally friendly option, but we were not aware of it at the time. After getting the tar off, we filled a mop bucket with one gallon of water plus 1 cup of bleach and proceeded to mop the floor. Now that the floor was much cleaner, we had a much better idea of where the handful of little holes from drywall screws used to hold down the wooden floor were located. The cleanup process also revealed that the floor corroded over time in places, and rust began to form. We tackled that task a different day, and wrote about in in Part 2 of the teardown, which covers rust removal, JB welding the floor holes, and painting cargo floor with rust preventative paint.