Building a car camper – insulation

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In the previous post I showed how to create a comfortable space to sleep in the back of your car. In this post I am going continue and show how we made some insulated screens to fit the windows. This makes a big difference to the temperature in the car. Not to mention the privacy. Without something covering the windows, at night with the light on, you are lit up like a Christmas tree!

To make the window insulation you will need:

  • Some paper, or even newspaper to make templates of all the windows.
  • Reflectix-style bubble wrap with silver foil type material.
  • Black fabric tape (aka Duct or gaffer tape)
  • Blackout cloth
  • Spray adhesive
  • Curtain wire or similar.

How we did it:

Firstly make a template by pressing a sheet of paper against each window. Get it into all the corners, but allow plenty of extra so there is enough material later on to wedge the screen into the window frame with no gaps. The snugger the fit, the less likely the sections are to fall out of the window frames.

It is worth spending some time getting this right, just cutting a bit off each time until it fits just right. It’s a lot easier removing material, than having to add material because you were a bit trigger-happy with the scissors.

Also, don’t forget most cars are symmetrical, so you should only need to do the windows on one side and the back window. The other side should be a mirror image and you can just trace around your templates.

We wanted screens for five windows. The rear passenger windows, the three-quarter windows and the rear windscreen. The front windows are left alone so the car looks more natural. A curtain will be fitted across the interior of the car to block sight of the everything behind the front seats.

We traced around the templates onto the foil material. We used two pieces of foil for each window to make the screens stiffer and to hopefully insulate better. If you had enough foil you could even go with three layers for maximum effect in really cold areas.

Next we used the template to trace around the blackout material. We used one piece of material which will go on the outside of the screens. This makes the interior of the car completely black so nothing is visible. The foil will go on the inside and hopefully will reflect the heat back in. You could use a can of black spray paint if you did not have any black-out material, but I think it would flake off after a while.

Now, with two layers of foil, and one layer of black-out, the layers were glued together. This created a thick insulation layer, about one cm thick. The fabric tape was then stuck on to create an edge all the way around each screen. This just stops the edges ripping or fraying and makes the screens stronger so they do not flop over.

The screens fitted into the window spaces nice and snug so no extra fastenings were needed. I suppose I was lucky with the design of my car, if you have particularly big windows, you may need to add some velcro or magnets to keep things in place.

As a final step the curtain wire was cut and hung across the car B pillar (behind the front row of seats). This was hooked from the car trim on each side and cut so it was taut as possible. Then a big piece of blackout material was cut to be about twice the width of the car interior. The top of the curtain was folded over into a long pocket to thread the curtain wire through. The pocket was stitched with a sewing machine we borrowed, but could also be done by hand or with a stapler.

For a final touch, since we had the sewing machine, a hem was made all the way around the curtain to stop it fraying. The black-out material does seem very prone to fraying, so it is definitely worth doing if you can.

The result

When the screens and curtain are fitted to the car, the interior is completely invisible – even if the light is on inside! It is also noticably warmer, and cuts down on the condensation that would otherwise form on the windows.

If sleeping in your car, make sure you have plenty of fresh air circulating. I crack open the two front windows a couple of cms. This might seem counterintuitive letting in the cold, but it stops the air getting too damp from your breath which will also make you cold.

A health and safety message – if you do any cooking or heating in your car using gas, make sure you get a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide is a silent, odourless killer and one of these alarms could save you life.

All the bits for this project were bought from ebay and Screwfix. Total cost was less than £50.

In a couple of weeks I will be testing this setup by driving 1500 miles to Murcia, including an overnight stay in Jaca in the Pyrenees. Obviously I will document the journey here in the blog so you can see how I get on.

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