In this post we’ll cover some of the initial steps in our Sprinter conversion, from back in March when we were struggling with freezing conditions that made it difficult to want to be outside. This post covers sound dampening, insulation and windows.
When driving an empty Sprinter van, you can get quite a lot or road noise and while we wanted to eliminate as much of it as possible, we didn’t want to spend too much. A lot of people seem to spend a fortune on sound dampening! Our thought was that the majority of the noise comes from the wheel wells, the doors, the large, thin sheet metal areas, and the area above the drivers cabin (behind the grey overhead cover). The sound dampening material isn’t cheap and we thought that the furniture we built into the van would act as additional sound dampener. In the end, we opted to use RattleTrap.
When driving an empty Sprinter van, you can get quite a lot of road noise and while while we wanted to eliminate as much of it as possible, we didn’t want to spend too much. Further, our thought was that the furniture we built into the van would act as additional sound dampener and we would focus on using the sound dampener on the areas that produce the majority of the noise; wheel wells, axles, doors, and the large, thin sheet metal areas, as well as the area above the drivers cabin (behind the grey overhead cover). In the end, we opted to use FatMat RattleTrap.
- 25 sq ft 80 mil FatMat RattleTrap (Amazon)
- Small wooden roller (Came with the RattleTrap)
- Blow dryer or heat gun if the weather is cold
- Razor Blade
We bought 5 sheets of RattleTrap with the intention of using it as follows:
- 2 sheets for the wheel wells
- 1 sheet underneath driver and passenger foot area
- 2 sheets for the sliding door, and sheet metal areas above rear wheel wells
The van was pretty dirty when we first got it and despite cleaning it out, the wheel wells had some leftover gunk on them. We used some degreaser to make sure the areas that we’d be applying RattleTrap to were entirely clean of any residue. Once clean, we cut small sections out of RattleTrap sheet, about 3” by 6” using a razor. Since the weather was near freezing, RattleTrap was too stiff to work with so we used a blow dryer to warm up each small section prior to applying it to the van. RattleTrap smells a little of tar and once you place it in one spot, it’s difficult to remove so we had to be careful with placing it. Once it was in the right spot, using the small wooden roller that came with the RattleTrap, run it over the section you just placed to push out any air pockets and ensure it’s stuck. Repeat until done covering the area.
We could definitely hear a reduction in road noise (even with an empty van) and while we can’t speak for how much less noise there would be if you were to cover more of the van, we are happy with our decision and wouldn’t have spent the extra money to cover more.
We’d done a bit of research on what other people had done with insulation, and there were a few (unscientific) conclusions we came to for ourselves: 1) There is a ton of exposed metal and windows that conduct heat, so there is a limitation to what insulation can do for the van. 2) Most of the floor would be covered by our bed construction, plenty of insulation there. 3) A lot of people miss some part of the van when insulating (the cab ceiling, exposed metal parts, windows, rear doors, screws / metal parts that touch the van body, etc.), but go overboard on insulating only part of the van. 3) As there was no real information on effectiveness, we wanted to keep it simple (and non-toxic). 4) We typically keep a vent open at night for oxygen, so the air flow voids much of the insulation as well.
Sleeping with 2 people in the van, we’ve never really had huge issues with temperatures dropping too much overnight (and we’ve experienced outside temperatures of 10-20 degrees). Whether this is a function of 2 bodies heating up the inside of the van or the insulation we’ve used, we’re not quite sure. What we’ve found is that low temperatures have been less of an issue than staying cool in hot areas. We definitely wouldn’t spend too much time on the insulation in hindsight, for the limitations mentioned above.
We opted for the Denim R13 material on the walls and 1.5” foam insulation on the ceiling. We didn’t want to use fiberglass insulation, given that the Sprinter is a small space and we’d rather breathe in natural materials. Fiberglass is also impossible to remove and you need to let it sit and ventilate several days after installing.
The Denim R13 was a little tricky to find – we were lucky and ended up buying it from a small dealer not far from State College. It may be possible to have it special ordered by Home Depot or Lowe’s, but plan ahead as it may take a few weeks, and we weren’t prepared to wait that long.
- 3 packages of Denim R13
- Plastic Sheeting – 4mm (1 roll – much more than you need. This stuff’s pretty cheap.)
- Sheathing tape for fixing plastic sheeting (we used Gorilla tape)
- 3 sheets of 1.5” foam insulation (for ceiling) – we used 2 layers of 0.75” foam
- 3x ¼” plywood panels
- Sheet metal screws – we used existing ones that were holding the OEM plastic wall panels.
We stuffed all the obvious areas of the van with the denim. You can just work with your hands as the denim is easy to tear apart. Some of the larger areas (the large thin sheet metal panels) were covered with denim and then taped so that the denim would stay in place. The 4 mil sheeting is used to create a vapor barrier. It might be better to do this on a dry day rather than a humid one (we did it in cold but dry weather, by chance), but we’re not quite sure on the ramifications. Make sure all the potential openings are sealed so that moisture does not get through the vapor barrier.
Since the “ribs” in the ceiling are about 1.5” deep, we filled the areas in between with 2x 0.75” foam insulation. Foam is also easy to work with, just cut fitting pieces with a knife, and tape to the ceiling.
Once we finished insulating, we covered the entire driver side wall as well as the passenger wall below the bed frame (the bottom ~40”) with ⅛” plywood. The remainder would then later be covered with cedar panels, which was one of our later, final projects. To do this, we carefully measured out and cut panels to fit. We used the sheet metal screws that previously attached the OEM grey plastic sheets to attach the plywood panels to the frame.
Air circulation and light was a huge factor to us – we both knew we wanted windows in the ‘living area’ and when sleeping or driving through warmer places, you definitely want airflow in the van. So, we knew we needed a vent and, at the time we wanted 4 windows in the back (side windows behind both the driver and passenger, and 2 rear door windows). In hindsight, we would have only wanted to have the windows behind the driver and passenger, not the rear windows, since we tend keep our privacy curtains up 100% of the time in the back.
Our van is a crew version that came with a sliding door window and the two rear door windows. We ordered the additional driver side window, made by CRLaurence, and had it installed by a local automobile window shop. Installing the window doesn’t seem all that difficult, so we would probably do it ourselves next time. However, getting the window was one of our first modifications of the van, and cutting a 40”x20” hole into the side of the van sounded a bit too scary at the time. While the window is a little pricy, we’re very happy with it. If the sliding door window hadn’t already been there when we bought it, we would have added the same CRLaurence window there. Driver side is the FW621L window, passenger side is FW625R.