Everyone wants to stay comfortable and this means keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter. But which product is the best at achieving this? In this blog, we’re going to discuss the upsides and downsides to several types of insulation products that are commonly used in tiny homes and vans. At the end, we’ll reveal our favorite product and link to another blog post further detailing what we believe is the most superior product. Keep reading to find out more!
Fiberglass is the pink, fluffy, itchy material people often think of when they think of insulation. While fiberglass isn’t the most popular choice for vans, it is still a popular choice for tiny home builds. While traditional fiberglass insulation is somewhat cost effective, it does come with some down sides.
Fiberglass can contain carcinogens, and occasionally even formaldehyde. It can also settle over time, leaving large gaps that greatly reduce its thermal capabilities. In addition, fiberglass insulation, if not installed properly, can grow mold. When inhaled, mold can be hazardous to humans and can especially impact young children, those with asthma and other lung conditions, and the elderly.
Foam Board is exactly what it sounds like – foam plastics that have been molded into a board shape and is cut to fit when installed. Amongst foam options, foam board is probably the best choice because it offers pretty great thermal protection. However, there are definitely some drawbacks to foam board as an insulator in vans and tiny homes.
Foam board insulation is rigid and therefore not great for the curved inside walls of a van, because it can often leave gaps no matter how well it is installed. Also, foam board contains tiny air pockets that can trap moisture. If this happens, the foam board insulation becomes compromised and can no longer stop heat transfer from occurring. Lastly, HCFC’s (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons) are used in the manufacturing of foam board insulation and these are known to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.
Spray Foam insulation is similar to foam board insulation, but rather than coming in a pre-shaped board style, it is sprayed through a special hose and nozzle directly into the wall cavities of a van or tiny home. The foam then rapidly expands to fill the space in which it is sprayed. The main advantage of this type of insulation is that it works very well to fill curved walls and hard-to-reach places where heating and cooling can escape in a van or tiny home. It creates a hermetic seal, acting as a perfect vapor barrier to reduce condensation. It has a very high R-value per inch and works as a sound dampener. Despite these facts, spay foam is not our favorite insulation option for several reasons.
First, as spray foam ages, it can sometimes shrink. This causes a lot of energy loss and compromises the product’s thermal integrity quite a bit. The vibrations and shifting of a van can exacerbate this and can lead to foam separating from the vans wall altogether. Spray foam also needs to be installed correctly. There is a specific temperature range that the foam and substrate need to be in order for the foam to set up properly, which can be tough to achieve if you don’t have a climate controlled area to spray.
Probably the biggest turn off is the negative environmental impact. It is not uncommon to fill several 30 gallon trash bags with trimmed foam that will go directly into a landfill. The tanks and left over chemicals are often hard to dispose of as well, and usually end up alongside the trimmed foam at the landfill. These chemicals and cured foam trimmings are inorganic and do not biodegrade.
Sheep Wool is currently our favorite insulation product for tiny homes and van builds for a variety of reasons. Wool offers superior temperature control and has an incredible ability to regulate humidity. Also, unlike every other product discussed so far, wool is completely sustainable and organic. We source our wool directly from a farm in New Zealand that practices sustainable, cruelty free farming. It is 100% natural, does not contain harmful chemicals and requires much less energy to produce than other types of man-made insulation.
Wool also provides excellent sound insulation and is virtually flame resistant! And, unlike other loose insulators, wool does not settle. In fact, we love sheep’s wool so much as an option for tiny homes and vans, that we wrote an entire blog post about it! You can also check out our suppliers page for source info.
As you can see, there are many options out there to consider when insulating your tiny home or van. Each product has pro’s and con’s and it’s up to the customer which option they think is best. However, in our years of experience, we have come to discover that some products are just plain better than others. We are happy to pass our wealth of knowledge along to you when discussing your individual needs, budget, and build. Contact us today to get the ball rolling on your dream project!