It seems like it would be great fun to spend all year long traveling the country in a camper. Most of the country gets cold in the winter though and most people have told me that most campers are rated 3-season only.
How are campers insulated for cold weather?
A camper often uses the same types of insulation that a standard brick and mortar home would use. You’ll find that campers mostly use fiberglass insulation or foam insulation. The foam insulation can either be spray-on foam insulation or foam board insulation.
Some campers are much more suited to cold weather compared to others.
If you’re in the market for a camper that you can use all year long (in cold weather) you’ll need to pay close attention.
You’d probably want to buy one that has a large amount of insulation in its walls and ceiling as well as its floor.
Short Introduction To Insulation Basics
Different types of campers will use different types of insulation.
Before we can talk about the quality of insulation in campers, we need to first go over the basics of insulation. Insulation is rated based off of it’s R-value.
According to Energy.gov, R-value is the “insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow rated in terms of its thermal resistance”.
In essence, the higher the R-value, the more efficient the insulating material is at insulating.
R-value can be affected by the thickness of the material and the density of the insulating material.
The way insulation is placed into the camper also affects its effectiveness. Any gap in insulation can reduce its effectiveness. Because of this, some insulations and insulation install work better than others.
Types of Insulation Used In Campers
Campers make use of a few different types of insulating materials.
The most popular types are foam insulation and fiberglass insulation. This being said, many DIY campers are built using natural insulating materials like denim, flax, and hemp.
In this post, we’ll go over professionally manufactured campers and their insulating materials rather than the DIY types you might find elsewhere.
Let’s get started!
1) Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation is an insulation that is created using a combination of two different chemicals which harden after the chemicals are applied. This type of insulation is highly efficient as it can expand to reach every nook and cranny of a camper.
I currently do not know of any manufacturers that are using this in their walls or ceilings but some RV manufacturers are using it underneath of their campers.
This helps provide a layer of insulation around the water tanks and under the floor of the camper.
The Forest River camper company has been using spray foam insulation on the undercarriage for several years now. They believe that this helps keep the pipes and the tanks from freezing and helps to keep the camper warmer in the winter. These campers also have insulation in the floor so the spray foam adds to this existing layer which raises the R-value of the camper.
2) Foam Board Insulation
Foam board insulation is the most common type of insulation used in camper walls and ceilings today.
This insulation comes in the form of foam panels which are often built into the camper’s walls and ceilings. These panels can also be laid alongside the ribs of the camper’s walls and along the ceiling panels as well.
The advantage of foam board insulation is that it is both water and fire resistant.
This is especially advantageous in camper walls as it makes them less susceptible to harm from condensation.
Foam board insulation in campers can come in R-values as low 5 and as high as 20. Typically, a heavy insulated camper will have an R-value of 10 on the walls and an R-value of 20 in the ceiling. this is high for a camper but low when compared to a house.
For example, most homes in the northeastern part of the United States have an R-value above 40 in their ceilings. In fact, EnergyStar.gov recommends that people adding insulation to their attics should bring the R-value all the way up to 60.
3) Fiberglass Insulation
Many older campers used fiberglass insulation within their walls as well as their ceilings. This type of insulation is inexpensive and easy to install.
The insulation also works well but it comes with many drawbacks.
For starters, fiberglass insulation does not hold up well under wet conditions. This is especially troublesome in campers as campers tend to experience quite a bit of water infiltration over time and they are also susceptible to moisture buildup due to condensation.
Wet fiberglass insulation is less effective and susceptible to mold.
Once the mold has set in, your only option is to remove and replace the insulation.
Fiberglass insulation is also a great nesting platform for mice, rats, and other burrowing animals. With foam insulation, you don’t have this problem.
Other building materials also have insulating properties.
For instance, a sheet of plywood might have an R-value of 1 or 2. A fiberglass shell may also have a small R-value to it. Often times camper manufacturers will include this number in their R-value ratings.
For example, a camper with a fiberglass shell and a wooden interior with foam board insulation in between might have a listed R-value of 7.5.
However, it is possible that only 5 of this R-value comes from actual insulation with the other 2.5 coming from the wood and the fiberglass.
Other manufacturers may only list the actual insulation’s R-value.
This means that one camper listed with an R-value of 10 might have a total R-value of 10 while another manufacturer’s R-value listing of 10 might actually have a total R-value of 12.
Other Areas That Affect Temperatures
Insulation isn’t the only area to focus on when trying to find a camper that is good for winter camping. Other areas to think about are the slide seals and the windows.
Campers with certain types of windows and heavily insulated slide seals will be warmer than ones without.
This is true even if the other camper has less insulation in its walls.
Slide seals are the seals that go around the camper’s slides. If you don’t plan on buying a camper with a slideout then this isn’t something you’d have to be concerned with.
For those of you who are looking to buy a camper with slides, look for one that uses bulb seals.
These seals hold up better against the weather as well as the constant movement of the slides.
There are two attributes of windows that help to insulate a camper. These are the window panes themselves and the frames.
Frameless camper windows tend to keep air out of a camper better than framed ones. For even more insulating properties, get a camper window that is double paned.
This helps create an air gap between the two windows which provides its own insulating quality to the window.
How to Buy a Well-Insulated Camper
Many RV manufacturers sell campers specifically built for cold weather. They have different names but they all express the same sentiment.
Heartland has it’s Extreme Weather Package, Keystone has their Four Seasons Living Package and Northwood has their Arctic Fox Line.
We also find caravans that are so well insulated that you can take them to the Arctic areas. Examples here are the Alpine models from Adria in Northern Europe.
All of these different models are built to withstand cold weather.
They have insulation with higher R-values and will usually have foam spray insulation around the bottom chassis. These models also tend to have advanced heating features as well.
For example, you may find campers with heating elements in the floor around the wastewater and freshwater tanks. Some even have heated tank pads and extra insulation right on the water tanks.
These are put in place to help keep the water tanks from freezing up in cold weather.
How to Keep a Camper Warm in The Winter?
Buying a camper with good insulation is one of the best ways you can keep a camper warm in the winter. In addition to this, consider buying a camper with a heater that can run off of multiple sources of fuel.
This will help ensure that even if you do not have power going to your camper, you’ll still have heat.
Many new campers come with gas furnaces as well as electric fireplaces. This works well for people who spend some of their time connected to the grid and some of their time off the grid.
You can read more about how furnaces work in RVs.
We also have a very in-depth and super helpful article here with all there is to know about heating up an RV.
Can I Use My Camper in The Winter?
All camper can be used in the winter but not all campers will give you the ability to use all of their functions in the winter.
Even though it might not be ideal you CAN even go camping with a pop-up camper in the winter.
What I mean by this is that some campers are not heated well enough or insulated well enough to keep the pipes and tanks from freezing.
You can still use these campers in the winter but you won’t be able to use the bathrooms, the sinks, or the showers.
Camper insulation has gotten better over the past few decades but it still has a long way to go.
If you’re considering buying a camper to use in the winter, make sure you go with a winter weather package with a high R-value.
Alternatively, you should invest in more than one way of heating your RV. This way you will have a backup plan in case you run out of propane (for instance).
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.