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 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.