Image by Jeremiah Luke Barnett

Insulating Ford Transit Van Conversion with Thinsulate!

Jeremiah Luke Barnett
7 min readJul 1, 2020


Materials needed for this project →

If you get bored with reading, take a break and watch the movie!

Step 1:

Try a trial piece to get the hang of things.

Pictured: Jeremiah not using enough 3M and placing his first piece crooked.

Spray on both the surface of the van to be covered as well as the WHITE part of the Thinsulate. Let both sit for about 30-seconds (allows the solvents to evaporate and improves the bond strength) then stick the piece you cut off the roll to the wall so the BLACK side shows on the outside.

I chose a wide-open wall panel to try my first piece. I didn’t spray enough 3M, the set was slightly crooked and I was just generally nervous! After that piece, I sprayed the 3M far more liberally.

If you get an easy and straightforward trial piece out of the way it makes the whole thing easier.

Step 2:

Measure and cut for all the rest of the open spaces in the van.

some of these pieces were really satisfying to insert!

After my trial piece, I measured and cut pieces for the ceiling panels (easier if you have two people!) and then started on all the little cubbies in the lower part of the van. Some of these walls are like high-level jigsaw puzzles as far as finding a way to fit pieces in between support pillars and the angle of the wheel wells but persevere! You can do this.

One thing I wished I had been doing from the beginning was reaching as deep, as high, and as far to either side as I could for measuring and cutting and then fitting pieces. There are some places in the van that are quite tall/deep but only if you reach your arm into the recesses.

that squat tho

Considering you will (hopefully) never touch the insulation again after the van is built, it seems wise to do your best now and over-use the Thinsulate rather than suffer the small heat-leaks or heat-entrances down the road from having been sparing in the installation.

COVID masks coming in handy

The ceiling, walls, and other open spaces in the van are easy to spray 3M on and then install the piece of Thinsulate which itself is sprayed. BUT…there are some places in the walls that would be near impossible to reach with a piece of Thinsulate that has been sprayed with 3M without getting it stuck multiple times and ruining the tearable and web-like white side of the Thinsulate. The good news is that most of these spaces are so tight that the Thinsulate won’t move once you install it. But, just for good measure, I occasionally reached inside the wall with my can of 3M spray adhesive and sprayed what little I could behind the hard-to-reach pieces.

Step 3:

Get Thinsulate in the sliding door and two rear barn doors.

images of Jeremiah's first-ever life-size jigsaw puzzle completed

If you have a piece of plastic on the door (most vans seem to have it) you can remove it rather easily and without breaking any parts. Use a flathead screwdriver to jimmy the flat plastic bolts in the door out and a Phillips head for the few metal screws around the edges.

Once you’re inside, there are quite a few cables and wires and mechanisms for the function of the door. No worries! You can cut and piece together Thinsulate that fits behind nearly all of it without impeding the function of the door. But as you go along, close, open, and lock the door to make sure you haven’t blocked the mechanisms in the door from closing properly or locking.

images of Jeremiah, to his own surprise, NOT breaking anything while removing these pieces…

Get that Thinsulate into the rear barn doors!

First of all, don’t wear jeans under a 5:00 PM sun in 85-degree weather. Oh, you didn’t know wardrobe was a part of this guide? Absolutely is!

With a flathead and some careful jimmying, you can work the edges of the black panels and pop out each of the little plastic bolts on the inside. No screws, just plastic bits holding the panel in place. If you focus on one at a time (as opposed to just yanking at the panel as a whole) you can remove each plastic bolt without breaking anything.

hot and sweaty Jeremiah totally unaware of the sun because I was excited!

Once you’ve removed the panels, one of the doors will be all filled with wires and cables like the sliding door and the other should be pretty open and easy to access. Measure as best you can and cut pieces to slide in there. Pro tip: if you can get away with using ONE piece instead of 2–3 you’re doing yourself a favor as far as the integrity of your insulation job. This can often be done by cutting a slit in a large piece so that it fits around a pillar, support, or other random metal objects inside the van. I did this several times in the back door.

There are a lot of sharp metal edges inside the doors and walls so if you can wear gloves and still manipulate the Thinsulate, you could save yourself some scratches and cuts.

Step 4:

Remove header and insert insulation above the cab.

Be extra careful if you think you may want to re-insert these…I no longer have that option :(

There is a big space directly above your head while sitting in either driver or passenger seat that you can put more Thinsulate into! Yay, so exciting, I know.

To access the opening and insert a big sheet of Thinsulate, begin by removing the foam corners on either side of the cab. Use a flathead on the flat plastic heads holding the foam piece to the wall. There should be two. Be careful, the airbags are directly behind these foam pieces. I don’t know if you could set them off by accidentally smacking them with a screwdriver but I’d rather neither of us find out…

I had to ask a neighbor to browse his tool collection to get these out

The next step is to remove 4 total bolts (two on each side) under the handle bars on each side of the cab. They are rather small and hard to reach so you might have to borrow a tool from your uncle/carpenter family friend after all. Or just go to Ace Hardware and buy yourself a large socket wrench set.

be gentle but firm and you too shall succeed

Once the foam pieces are removed and you’ve loosened/removed the 4 bolts, all you need to do is pull gently but firmly down on the center of the header until you pop the orange plastic bolts connecting the header to the roof out. I popped mine out without breaking anything but I’ve heard of people breaking them if they aren’t too careful. So…be careful! The plastic bolts are right in the center of the header.

happy but tired camper :)

After you’ve measured, cut, and inserted your Thinsulate, just reverse all the steps and you’re all finished! (I didn’t put the foam pieces back but that’s just personal build preference.)

Final step: be a happy camper ready for a cold beer after a long one.

Article originally published on my site,