While these cooling tips are valid for all RV’s, I’ll be focusing on off-grid camping and boondocking. Those of us that frequent regular campgrounds with all their amenities have it much easier.
It is always difficult to stay cool in the Heat of Summer or warm when the temperature drops. The best we can strive for is a comfortable experience anytime we’re in our RV. But what do you do in a small van or Class B RV?
Before we talk about lifestyle changes, we have to discuss the structural composition of the vehicle. Unfortunately, many factory-built RV’s are still manufactured with little insulation, but with a custom van conversion we can add as much as we feel is necessary. The transfer of heat is a major concern, yet can be addressed with a variety of thermal insulation products.
There is no general agreement on the total required R-value, but remember that any insulation is better then none and that these smaller vehicles, with their frequently opened windows and doors, cannot prevent interior heat gain for long.
So, we have to look at small changes in our lifestyle and a few modifications, to make our trip as comfortable as can be expected.
Upon deciding where to go on your next trip, consider following the sun. That means visiting the northern regions in summer, where cooler temperatures reign and slowly move southwards when winter approaches.
An even more important factor is that we know that for every 1,000ft up in elevation, the temperature will go down by 5.4°F. That means that when it gets warm, you’re often only a few hours away from a more comfortable campsite. When it got too warm in California’s desert area, we used to move up into the Sierra Nevada foothills and when those high temperatures caught up with us there too, we again moved higher up the mountain.
Wherever you choose to go, when you arrive at your new campsite, always take a moment to determine how to park your vehicle to reduce the sun’s impact on the interior’s temperatures. A little shade makes a huge difference, yet with roof-top solar ever more popular, shade may be your enemy on extended trips.
To avoid the sun’s rays, park with the rear of your vehicle pointing south, and the exposed front windshield facing away from the sun. Or find a coastline or lake shore location to take advantage of an onshore breeze.
An awning can provide a wonderful opportunity for outdoor activities, while limiting direct exposure of the RV. Stealthy vans may have to do without it, but you can always bring a tarp or some residential shade fabric and create your own.
To further limit the sun’s rays from entering the RV, cover your windows with a thermal-resistant fabric. Many seasoned campers add an additional layer of Reflectix directly to the glass to increase the barrier. Double pane windows are only an option for a few of us, but the deeply tinted windows that come with my new Ford Transit cargo van, will be an extra layer of protection. Unfortunately, that’s also a disadvantage in winter! Keeping the windows, that are facing the direct sun, closed, is a non-starter for me, because all the new vans come with glued-in, fixed windows.
Don’t forget to cover your front windshield with a reflective cover or appropriate shades and hang a thermal cabin curtain to keep your living area private and fully protected.
In my opinion, probably the most influential in lowering the internal temps of your rig. Optimize natural convection by opening windows on the shady side; cooler air can enter and leave through your roof vent. The induced air flow along your skin makes you feel cooler. The fixed windows in the new European-style vans, make that impossible, yet at the same rime, create the opportunity to improve convection by installing a floor vent (Are Floor Vents The Solution For A Hot Problem?), that allows for cooler air to be drawn in from underneath the vehicle. Install a roof fan and open up your van after sundown.
It works by releasing heat, that can build up in your van/RV. Proper ventilation with the aid of an extra, temperature regulated computer fan, will make it run more efficient.
Skylights can enhance your life in an RV, by allowing extra light to enter the vehicle, but they will quickly heat up your interior too. Always cover them up during the dog days of summer.
Plan for activities outside the vehicle, during the warmer parts of the day. Cooking inside, can add a lot of heat and humidity. Lithium batteries allow me to operate a portable induction cook plate outside.
What About Winter?
Sadly, it can also be too cool inside your RV, especially during the winter months, but also at higher elevations or further up north. This is the time to park in a way to maximize solar heat gain, with your large windshield or windows facing south. You can install a Webasto heating system, but can keep it simple by using an extra blanket or sleep in a sleeping bag. Build a campfire and avoid the chilly hours before bedtime!
Your RV can be as hot as a tin roof, but a little ingenuity can bring a lot of relief and make for a more enjoyable trip, particularly while boondocking in some of the most remote natural areas this country has to offer.
Hi…where can I find someone to insulate my cargo van? Leslie from Cape Cod, MA
Unfortunately, i cannot make any recommendations and I have not enough information to give you an exact answer about insulation.
The type and kind of insulation are always a point of contention with RV’s and I assume you’re thinking of heat insulation, but you may also consider sound insulation. The job will be more complicated if it’s an existing RV, rather than an empty cargo van. With an empty van you may consider to do it yourself.
Then you have to decide where the vehicle is used primarily. If further up north, like where you live, I would put an emphasis on thicker layers of materials, where in the south you could ease on the insulation and create more ventilation opportunities.
There is an almost unlimited number of insulation materials available, but an affordable material with one of the highest R values is Poly-Iso (Polyisocyanurate), that comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets in varying thicknesses. In addition, you’ll need some flexible materials that will fit into little nooks and crannies. That may be some spray foam, denim insulation or a professional product like Thinsulate.
Applying insulation yourself is very doable for almost anyone, but it has to fit into your overall plans with the van. If you want to make a complete makeover, you could consider working with a local upfitter. But that’s could be expensive.
Insulating is part of temperature and humidity control and you may want to consider adding a roof vent and/or floor vent to remove humidity and improve ventilation.
I’m currently working on the floor of my van and like all other projects that I do, I publish very detailed, step-by-step guides with lots of photos and videos, that may give you some insight of what’s involved.
You can find an increasing number of projects on my Project Page and specifically the Insulated Floor Project right here.
Wish you good luck!