Insulating Your RV: Acoustic, Thermal & Passive Cooling

rv insulation

Insulating an RV is a controversial subject among RV owners. With such a great variety of products and even more opinions about the ones to use, it’s unavoidable that individual choices will lead to multiple solutions, customized to local climates and personal convictions. But in the end, if it works for you, then it works great!

Cooling the RV starts with minimizing heat gain by using lighter colored vehicles to reflect as much heat as possible. Parking in the shade will reduce direct solar radiation and insulation limits any radiated and conducted heat gains.

insulationTo me, insulating an RV or Cargo Van involves more than just applying a layer of fiberglass insulation; attention should be given to both sound & temperature insulation. Several of the new European style vans are already equipped with some sound-deadening materials and combining them with temperature regulating insulation that has good sound vibration limiting properties is the ultimate goal.
Additional temperature control by itself can be achieved with regular insulation and passive cooling techniques, standard in many home designs, can to some degree be applied too.

In this three-part series, I’ll discuss the complexities of acoustic insulation, passive cooling and heat insulation.

Acoustic Insulation

Let’s first concentrate on noise reduction for our upcoming van conversion. Cargo vans are notoriously noisy with their exposed walls and ceiling. Contrary to the design of passenger cars, their payload areas are not equipped with interior finishes, specifically designed to add comfort and to reduce exterior noise penetration from reaching its passengers.

ceilingSome of the new European cargo vans are already equipped with some basic ‘noise reduction padding’, but adding some insulation at specific locations around the van may improve the acoustic qualities of the van considerably. Despite the implied need, acoustic insulation for RV’s may be overrated, as these vehicles tend to be stationary and not driven on a daily basis. The high price AND weight of some of these products may deter many from using these materials, without having a major impact on their outdoor experience.

Personally, I would prefer to use the soundproofing qualities of some thermal insulation products, to achieve some level of noise reduction. Fiberglass batting, polyurethane spray foam and Blue Jeans insulation are well-known to serve as a barrier to airborne sounds. In contrast, Styrofoam boards have little effect. This will make for easier installation and a major reduction in weight.

DynamatDynamat is perhaps the best known of these products, is butyl based and quite expensive at approx. $4.00/sf. Cheapskates substitute it with products like Peel & Seal or Snow and Ice Shield. These roofing materials are asphalt based, but at $1.50 much less expensive.

Just 25% coverage will limit the redistribution of sound through vibration, but not necessarily the transmission of noise. Butyl and rubberized asphalt are chemical compounds and their use in a confined space may have environmental consequences. These are heavy materials and will easily add 100 lbs to the overall weight of the vehicle.

Acoustic Materials

Dynamat Fatmat Thinsulate Snow and Ice Shield Peel & Seal Fiberglass Blue Jeans
Price/sf 4.00 4.00 3.00 1.50 1.50 0.30 1.10
Fire Resistant yes yes yes
Contains Chemical Irritants no no yes yes no no
Waterproof yes yes yes yes no no
Noise Reduction no no yes no no yes yes
Sound Vibration Reduction yes yes no yes yes no no
Weight heavy heavy heavy heavy light light

I’m not an expert in acoustics and these are just my personal views on a complicated issue.

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insulating your rv

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