Insulation is a bit of a hot topic.
It’s one of the most important parts of a van build, keeping the van comfortable in any weather. But there is a loud debate about the right way to do it.
We spent hours researching, trying to find the right insulation solution. What is the most effective insulation for vanlife? Which one would be safe to use? How do we even install it?
It was easy to get lost in the sea of information, until we came across sheep wool insulation. It seemed to fit all our criteria.
Problem was, no one was selling sheep wool insulation in Australia anymore. It was everywhere about 20 years ago, but over the years it (apparently) just got too expensive to manufacture.
Some suppliers across Australia sell a hybrid insulation of sheep wool and polyester insulation, but the percentage of wool is variable, sometimes less than 20%.
It all changed when we heard Car Builders were going to start supplying Havelock Wool, a 100% sheep wool insulation from the U.S. specifically geared towards vans. And we knew Car Builders because we had gotten our sound deadening from them.
It’s funny because we came across Havelock Wool insulation in the early days of our van build. We thought it was the perfect solution, but it just wasn’t available in Australia. Until Car Builders.
And that’s how we got to installing 100% sheep wool insulation in our van! (fist pump x1000)
The Importance Of Insulation
A lot of people say that because the climate in Australia is hot, insulation is unnecessary in a van. However, insulation doesn’t just keep the van warm – it also keeps the van cool on hot days. Additionally, insulation helps regulate air quality, moisture, and sound.
But there are good and less good types of insulation. It was important to us to find insulation that was suitable for a van, was non-toxic, would manage moisture, and had a high R-value per inch.
What Is AN R-Value?
R-value is the thermal resistance rating. It quantifies the insulation’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. The R-value formula is:
R-value = Thickness (m) / Thermal conductivity (W/mK)
Essentially, this means two factors affect the efficacy of the insulation: the thickness of the material and the thermal conductivity of the material. In other words, packing the walls with poor quality insulation will not necessarily increase the efficacy (or R-value) of the insulation.
Havelock wool has an R-value of 3.6 per inch (and R7 at two inches of depth), meaning it resists heat flow well – both into and out of the van. This helps keep the climate in the van more consistent and comfortable.
So, Why Havelock Wool Insulation?
Wool has many properties that makes it ideal for a van build. Here are a few of the reasons we chose Havelock Wool:
It’s All Natural
Wool is a natural insulator. Havelock Wool is sourced from sheep that graze on the rolling hills of New Zealand. It is a renewable resource, and Havelock has specialised practices to sustainably convert 100% raw wool into insulation, like using low impact textile manufacturing techniques and repurposed machinery. Boric acid is added for fire and insect repellence and the wool is bonded with a needle punch rather than a chemical binder.
Additionally, wool is biodegradable. So, at the end of its life, wool can be composted to avoid landfill! Havelock Wool has more details about their environmental impact here.
It’s Effective (Wool Has A High R-Value)
The inherent characteristics of wool means that it’s a very effective insulator. Due to the design and spring-like shape of the fibers, wool traps air better than most other types of fibers. As a result, Havelock Wool has an R-value of 3.6 per inch. Afterall, there’s a good reason sheep grow such thick woollen coats!
It’s For Vans
Havelock Wool is geared towards vans. Wool is a natural product that doesn’t degrade or off-gas over time, helping to maintain air quality in a small space like a van. The wool batts fit into the wall cavities of a van easily and can be pulled apart to fill all the nooks and crannies, helping to cover any thermal bridges and better control the temperature inside the van.
Additionally, wool naturally absorbs and releases moisture without losing its insulative ability, keeping the van dry with less risk of mold or mildew (which is a real concern in the van interior as trapped water from condensation can breed mold). Wool also absorbs sound, helping with sound transmission in an otherwise noisy metal box (especially when combined with sound deadening).
It’s Safe To Use
Unlike other types of insulation like fiberglass (which requires full protective gear to handle), wool is safe to touch. You don’t need glasses, gloves, or protective clothing when installing it. Additionally, it helps passively filter the air, it doesn’t off-gas, and also inherently suppresses mold, meaning it’s probably the safest type of insulation to use.
It’s Easy To Install
Havelock Wool is really simple to install. The wool battens fit easily into the wall cavities (mostly without needing to be cut) and can be pulled apart to fit into small spaces. As wool is safe to handle, the install is actually fun because you can play around with it. It also doesn’t require many tools to install either.
It’s High Quality
One of the biggest appeals of Havelock Wool is the quality. Aside from Nature’s own R&D, Havelock has invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into the science and technology of the product. They source the highest quality fibers, best suited for insulation, and use a specialised manufacturing process to make a uniform, high-quality product. We couldn’t find another similar product on the market in Australia.
The Drawbacks Of Sheep Wool
There are so many advantages of using sheep wool insulation, and we can’t see us using any other material for future builds. However, it’s important to note there are some drawbacks too:
Whilst the product itself is sustainable, the manufacturing, transport, and distribution of the product is something to consider when it comes to the environment
The wool is procured as a byproduct of the meat industry, so the idea of that may not be for everyone
The wool has the faint scent of sheep, so the van can smell like a farm for quite a time after the install (although we actually thought this was a bonus, because it feels like getting a big woolly cuddle!)
Although it provides a high R-value, Havelock Wool can be costly at $300+ for 15 square metres. However, it doesn’t require a vapor barrier or other additional materials like other insulation types, which helps lower the overall cost of the build and makes the install easier.