The good news is that panel lining and insulating your van is perfectly achievable with a few basic tools and a bit of know how. The bad news is that it does require a bit of patience and a for best results a bit of practice. Below is the shopping list for panelling, insulating and lining your van.
This assumes you have a SWB van with 2 x side windows and a set of barn door/tailgate windows. And that you will have laid all relevant wiring looms for things like lighting – it won’t be easy to put these in after.
- Ceiling; 2 x sheets of 4mm Ply (or 2 x 6mm MDF if you’re on a budget)
- Side walls; 2-3 x sheets 4 mm (or 6mm MDF If you’re on a budget)
- Side walls 2 x rolls of 3 inch insulation material (we use either natural sheep’s wool or a recycled plastic insulator – depending on customers preference)
- Ceiling 7m roll x 10mm foil backed foam insulation.
- 5-6m roll of 2mm foam vapour barrier
- 8.5-9 running meters of super stretch carpet lining sheet.
- 12 cans of high temperate 500ml spray
You can purchase your materials in our online store here.
Venture into any campervan forum, and you’ll quickly encounter a wide range of opinions. The topic? The best insulation materials for a campervan.
Some methods self-builders use include spray on foam insulation, Celetex ridged panels, various flexible loose roll (sheep’s wool, plastic wool and mineral wool), self-adhesive foam sheet and even polystyrene balls and sheets.
Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the decision rests on your shoulders. It’s crucial to make an informed choice. One that suits your personal preferences and budget constraints.
Now, let’s talk about our workshop. Here, we typically use either recycled plastic wool (see Fig.1) or sheep’s wool. The choice depends on what our customers prefer. And we choose to pair it with a vapour barrier.
The main advantage of a loose roll material is that it can be stuffed into awkward and inaccessible areas quite easily. It is also not prone to rubbing or squeaking like some rigid insulation sheets. The key to insulating, panelling and lining your van is in the preparation. A well-insulated van will reduce noise in the vehicle when travelling as well as help stabilise the internal temperate in summer and winter.
Start with larger areas. Loose sheet material can be kept in place using high-temperature spray adhesive. However, proceed with caution. Avoid stuffing the voids within the side and rear doors too much. Overdoing it might cause the moving parts of the central locking to jam (see Fig. 2).
Moving on to thinner sections of the van, such as the ceiling and windowless panels, a different approach is required. In these areas, we opt for a 10mm foil-backed foam sheet. Its top side features double-sided adhesive, perfect for the ceiling void. To maximize insulation, we double the thickness, creating a 20mm layer of dense foam.
This foam sheet excels at protecting the van from the intense summer heat that often builds up on the roof. Precision is key here; you’ll need to cut the sheets carefully to fit between the roof’s structural beams (see Fig. 3).
Lastly, don’t forget about the panels without windows. The foam sheet works well here too. As before, ensure precise cutting for the foam to fit neatly within the panel’s void.
While installing a vapour barrier isn’t strictly necessary, it does provide reassurance. It helps minimise the build-up of condensation within internal voids.
Working with a roll of vapour barrier membrane is quite straightforward. You can easily cut it to your desired size. Once cut, you have two options for installation. The first is using duct tape around all edges. The second option is sticking it on with spray adhesive. For a visual guide, refer to Fig. 4 and Fig. 5.
Sealing the van completely with a vapour barrier can cause a problem with allowing air to escape from the van when the side door closes. Most vans have slam vents incorporated into their bodywork, usually at the rear behind the wheel arch. These are air vents to the exterior of the van, tucked a way out of sight.
The slam vents make it easier to close the side doors. We often fit a small vent on the panels we install that still allow the slam vents to function properly (see Fig 6).
To start, it’s important to know that there’s no harm in using the existing side wall and ceiling paneling in your van. This can be a good option if you’re on a tight budget. For instance, your average VW T5 usually comes with a 3mm hardboard, which can be in decent shape.
However, replacing the factory boards with something sturdier has its perks. For this scenario, let’s assume we’ve removed all paneling. We’ll replace it with either 4mm Ply or 6mm MDF. Here are the advantages:
- Better sound insulation: Thicker panelling can significantly reduce road noise while driving.
- Enhanced insulation properties: It keeps the van warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather.
- Resistance to warping: In hot weather, original panels, especially on the ceiling, may warp or buckle.
- Stronger fixing: If you plan on attaching storage nets, hooks, or retainers, thicker material offers a stronger hold.
When it comes to panelling and lining the van, we have two primary options:
- Flush smooth sides: These provide a neat finish but don’t allow access to interior voids once installed (see fig 7).
- Clipped/screwed removable panels: These allow access to void spaces but have visible fixings. This means the overall look isn’t as tidy (see Fig 8).
This guide specifically focuses on the smooth-sided version with permanently fitted panels (see fig 7). If you’re lucky, the existing ceiling and door card panels can serve as templates for creating new ones. However, if they are damaged or don’t fit well, you’ll need to create new templates.
Cardboard templating is a straightforward and efficient method for getting the contours right without wasting board or making expensive mistakes.
Next, let’s talk about the rear quarter panels. If you’re not planning to install rear quarter windows, the newly made panels should extend upward to cover the rear quarter window enclosure (see fig 9). However, if you intend to fit rear quarter windows, you’ll need to create a smaller panel. This panel will fit just inside the shallow recess, underneath the rear window (see fig 10).
Start by carefully cutting your panels. Use a jigsaw with a fine-toothed blade for precision. Don’t forget to make allowances for wiring or sockets, as shown in Figure 9.
Before moving on, make sure all your wiring is properly laid out. This includes any 240v cable that needs routing.
Interestingly, if you build your cabinets with enclosed backs and bases, it can simplify things. It reduces the amount of pre-laid wiring required when lining the van. The cable can be routed behind the furniture, keeping it out of sight.
Next, secure the side panelling. You’ll need 3.5mm x 20mm countersunk screws for this task.
Now, let’s talk about the roof panels. Given their size in most vans, you’ll likely need a two-piece ceiling. To ensure a seamless joint when carpeted, join the plywood ceiling panels between the structural beams. You’ll need to screw a thicker secondary strip, usually 12mm x 100mm x 1200mm, behind the ceiling panel for a good joint. Refer to Figure 11 for guidance.
Carpet lining the van becomes significantly easier when the windows are not yet in place. Additionally, having the insulation, vapour barrier, and panelling installed beforehand simplifies the window cutting process. This setup prevents metal fragments from getting trapped within the van’s internal voids (see fig 12).
When it comes to fitting the ceiling panels, teamwork truly makes the dream work. With two or even three pairs of hands, the task becomes more manageable. Why? Because it’s necessary to hold the panels accurately while marking the ceiling beams and fixing positions.
It’s best to pre-measure the positions for the countersunk screws off the side of the panel. You want to avoid the numerous holes in the roof structural beams.
Next, attach the roof panels using just two screws per beam in the panel’s centre. We recommend 20mm x 3.5mm countersunk screws for this task.
After securing the panel with a few screws, you can then pull the cable tails through their corresponding holes. For a visual, refer to Fig. 13.
Now, continue securing the panel from the van’s centre to the outside. As you move along, push the panel against the ceiling beams.
Once the panels are firmly attached to the beams, go ahead and secure them further with screws on the panels’ outside edge.
Note: When installing ceiling panels in VW T5/6 vans, you’ll notice that the panel’s outer edge is supported all around (except the back edge) by the van’s inner metal skin. This makes securing the ceiling panels much easier. However, for other vans like the Renault Trafic, this outer edge support isn’t available. In such cases, you can glue wooden battens to the roof of the van, providing support for the ceiling panel’s perimeter. Flexible polyurethane glue works well for this. The wooden battens should match the thickness of the roof’s structural cross beams, offering a solid platform for the ceiling panels.
Finally, once all panels are in place, check for any rough edges or protruding screw heads. These could create visible lumps underneath the lining carpet.
Now, we come to the trickiest bit of the job, adding the carpet lining. As with most practical jobs, if the preparation and ground work has been done neatly and conscientiously then the final finish is that much easier to achieve.
Firstly, you’ll use a high-temperature spray adhesive to glue on the lining. This adhesive prevents the lining from sagging during the hot summer months. Therefore, don’t be shy with your use of spray glue. For a SWB VW T5, you can expect to go through a box of 12 cans to fully carpet line the van.
Start with the ceiling. Measure and cut a piece of carpet lining long enough to cover the entire ceiling and the rear beam at the back of the van. Make sure to allow an extra 3 inches on each end for overhang.
Next, mask the areas around the side and rear doors and front headlining to prevent overspray (see fig 14). Be mindful of other parts of the van that could be affected by overspray, such as the front seats. Cover these areas as needed.
Most spray cans come equipped with a nozzle that offers variable width spray patterns. First, adjust the nozzle to its widest fan width.
Next, start spraying the van’s ceiling. Move from one side to the other, maintaining an even distance of about 6 inches from the surface you’re spraying (See fig 15). Be sure to slightly overlap the spray to avoid leaving any bare patches. Remember to use a high-quality vapour mask and goggles for safety.
Now, apply this same technique to the entire backside of the carpet lining (see fig 16).
Finally, repeat these steps for a second coat of adhesive. This time, spray in a direction perpendicular to the first coat on both the van ceiling and the carpet lining.
Leave the adhesive to dry for 4-5 minutes.
Once touch dry get someone to help to pick up the carpet lining creating a fold in the middle. Without creasing the carpet carry it into the van lengthwise (see fig 17).
Pull slightly to keep the carpet taut, and touch the fold of the carpet against the centreline of the ceiling. Gently run your finger along the fold toward your helper at the front. Once this is done you should have the lining carpet hanging from the ceiling on its fold (see fig 18).
To avoid creases while flattening the carpet, you’ll need to create a push board. This is an easy process. Start with a rigid piece of board measuring 9 inches by 6 inches. Then, fold a piece of carpet material over its edge. For visual guidance, refer to Figure 19.
Start by positioning yourself within the folded carpet. Gradually, raise one side at a time from the centre and move outward. Use your push board to help smooth out the lining carpet onto the ceiling (Fig. 20). It’s important to apply light pressure initially to prevent the carpet from stretching or creasing.
Once you’re certain that the carpet is properly in place without any air bubbles or creases, it’s time to go over the ceiling once more with your push board. However, this time around, you can apply stronger, more lasting pressure.
The next step involves trimming the ceiling lining. Grab your 300mm metal ruler and use the curved end for this task. Firmly press it into the crease where the ceiling panel’s side ends, and the sidewall begins. This area is situated right between the van’s metal and the edge of the ceiling panel.
Finally, slide the end of the ruler along the entire length of the panel. This action will create a neat crease in the carpet that spans the full length of the ceiling. Keep in mind, precision is crucial for a professional finish (see Fig. 21).
Slot a Stanley knife, equipped with a new blade, into the crease. Run it along the edge to create a neat cut line. Remember, it’s crucial to use new blades and replace them frequently. If the blade can’t cut through the lining in one go, it’s time for a replacement. Refrain from hacking at the lining with the blade, as this will result in an uneven edge. Typically, you can expect to use around 10 blades per van.
After trimming the entire ceiling, pay attention to the lighting positions. Carefully split the carpet lining here and pull the tail of the lighting cable through the carpet. Upon completion, the ceiling should appear seamless, with no visible crease or fold line at the joint between two panels (see fig 22).
Once the ceiling has been completed either of the side wall lining can be undertaken. This time mask and spray the whole side, taking care to carefully mask the edge of the ceiling carpet lining to avoid overspray. Cut a suitable size length of carpet allowing for a few inches of over hang on both ends.
Spray the entire back of the carpet lining and side wall, with two layers of glue at a perpendicular angle (as done previously for the ceiling), and wait 4-5 minutes to dry.
Pick up the carpet lining with a fold in the middle and walk it in to the van. Position the top edge of the carpet lining so that it over laps the ceiling lining by 2-3 inches (see fig 23). Once you’re happy with the overlap and position run a single finger along the length of the wall around 6 inches below the top.
Gently adhere the carpet lining onto the sidewall. Start from the top and work your way down. Avoid letting the carpet fold drop down during this process. If you’re working alone, using some masking tape to keep it tacked up can be helpful.
Focus on the large, flat areas first. Use your push board to smooth these out. Once these sections are firmly stuck, you can then move on to the more intricate parts.
Now, it’s time to tackle the contours of the window reveal (see fig 24). Go back and press the carpet into these areas. Remember, patience and precision are key for a neat finish.
Moving on to carpet lining around the window. Cutting a large cross within the window space can be helpful. This strategy eases stress from the carpet and enables it to mold into the window reveal shape.
As previously pointed out, carpet lining the van is simpler without the windows in place. The carpet lining can bend over the window opening’s edge and be trimmed back on the outside edge of the window reveal. This creates a neat finish that doesn’t need a knock-on trim (see fig 25, 26). When trimming the carpet outside the van, ensure you leave enough space for the window glue to be applied directly onto the van’s metal. A carpet overhang of 5-10mm is sufficient.
If the van is being lined with windows already in place, the carpet lining must be carefully cut back and tucked into the existing window trim. Cut the carpet about 5mm oversized so it can be pushed under the window trim edge (see fig 26).
Lining the wheel arch can present a unique challenge, particularly behind it, at the van’s rear. Difficulties can arise due to a lack of understanding about the carpet’s stretch capacity and limitations.
After the lining is positioned above the wheel arch, you should carefully start working from its front towards the sides. As you crest the wheel arch, strive to keep the carpet on its front face quite tight. Doing so allows for excess material to be gathered on either side of the wheel arch, simplifying the carpet’s stretch into the sides (see fig 27).
Next, gently manoeuvre towards the corners on both sides of the wheel arch. Maintaining the carpet’s tautness while fitting it in place will prevent formation of wrinkles. Remember, the key here is to work gently yet firmly to ensure a smooth finish.
While lining the van’s side walls with carpet, ensure it extends down to the metal floor. It’s crucial not to have the ply floor in place during this process. This is to prevent the spray adhesive from collecting and forming hard-to-remove lumps on the floor.
After applying, trim the carpet lining back onto the metal floor of the van. And leave about a 30mm border of carpet stuck to the floor after trimming. Once the lining is complete, you can fit the ply floor in.
The images provided below depict the finished carpet lining. The first image (Fig. 28) shows the lining with front quarter windows only. The second image (Fig. 29) displays the lining with both front and rear quarter windows.