When it comes to insulating a skoolie there are a lot of big opinions out there and for good reason. Throughout this article, we’re going to share why we chose to insulate our bus with sheep’s wool insulation, and what we did to prevent the wool batts from sliding around in our ceiling and walls as we bump down the road in our tiny home on wheels.
Definitely stick around to the end to learn about the unique technique we used to make the wool insulation fit our school bus conversion perfectly!
First Impression Of Havelock Wool
Originally we were looking into doing a Sprinter Van conversion, and as most people interested in doing something so crazy, we were binge-watching YouTube videos to see how these ambitious souls were doing it.
That’s when we bumped into Havelock Wool for the first time. A couple in their 30’s were ranting about how they insulated their van with sheep’s wool insulation. We thought it was brilliant! A natural way to insulate?! Who’d a thunk? Something so luxurious must be through the roof expensive, so we saved the real wool insulation option in our note-keeping app for a later date.
As our idea to build a tiny home on wheels evolved into something a little bigger, we kept seeing people blasting their rigs with DIY spray foam insulation. By this time we had completed our demolition phase and were getting close to making a decision on insulation. It turns out if we wanted to get someone to come and spray foam our rig, professionally, it was going to cost around $1,100 CAD ($876 USD) in Ontario, Canada.
That’s when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, getting someone to come to spray foam for us wasn’t an option, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The more we dug into spray foam the more issues we heard people were having with it. People were complaining about condensation getting trapped in the ceiling causing mold issues, and some even spoke of chemical off-gassing smells. This was reason enough for us to kick the spray foam insulation idea to the curb.
Researching Insulation For School Bus Conversions
There are quite a few different ways to insulate a school bus being converted into a tiny home on wheels. It’s not to say that there is a “correct” way to insulate your future freedom-mobile, but there are various pros and cons to various types of insulation. That’s when we started doing research on the many ways to insulate a school bus. Although this is not an exhaustive list, this should get you thinking about your options.
Here are a few of the insulation types we researched:
- Spray Foam Insulation
- Fiberglass Insulation
- Foam Board Insulation
- Real Sheep’s Wool Insulation
Spray Foam Insulation
When talking with other skoolie owners, most of the time their go-to for insulation is using spray foam. The reason people like it is that it can create a watertight seal and has a relatively high r-value compared to other insulation types. Spray foam is typically applied using two cylinders of compressed chemicals. When mixed together, they produce foam insulation. Although spray foam insulation can seem like an excellent idea, the major problem we didn’t like is that if the two parts of the foam mixture are not mixed PERFECTLY in the spray gun, then the foam does not cure resulting in perpetual off-gassing that is extremely toxic to breathe. Considering our skoolie is going to be our tiny home on wheels for years down the road, we didn’t want to take that risk.
Residential home construction commonly uses fiberglass insulation in the walls and attic spaces because it is fairly inexpensive. Although fiberglass does have insulation value to it, while installing it you’ve gotta wear N95 respiratory protection along with a full-body Tyvek suit to keep the fiberglass out of your lungs and off your skin. If fiberglass insulation gets wet, it can also mold pretty badly.
During the demolition phase of our skoolie build, when we took down the walls and ceiling panels, we discovered fiberglass insulation in the void spaces. As we carefully removed the insulation, it deteriorated in our hands turning into a fine dust that wafted about in the air.
Luckily we were wearing our N95’s and Tyvek suits! Our bus being 22 years old at the time was a perfect example of how bad fiberglass insulation can break down. Yet another insulation type pitched to the curb!
Foam Board Insulation
Another form of insulation we considered for our skoolie build is expanded polystyrene (XPS) and graphite-enhanced polystyrene (GPS) foam board. Both of these types of foam boards are typically sold in flat 4’x8’ sheets and can be easily trimmed to size using a razor knife.
We did use some of this type of insulation in our underbody storage void spaces. However, when trying to get this to fit in the curve of the roof, we found that we’d have to use construction adhesives (which most have noxious smells) to get the board to stick to the curve of the ceiling. Besides the adhesives, we’d still have to buy cans of spray foam to seal the cracks so as to reduce air gaps around the perimeter of the foam board. If we were to do that part of our build all over again, we would have used sheep’s wool for all our insulation. But alas… it was already installed by the time we decided to go with Havelock Wool.
Sheep’s Wool Insulation
Late in our skoolie insulation research, we kept running into vanlifers who were using sheep’s wool to insulate their spaces. This reminded us of our luxurious dream of using it too!
We saw a video of one couple having to remove some ceiling material to run a wire after a year of living in their van that was spray foamed. As soon as they removed the ceiling boards, they saw that their spray foam was completely covered in black mold. Why? Because the condensation from breathing, cooking, and atmospheric humidity did not have a way to escape the hidden void spaces. This essentially created a massive Petri dish behind their walls.
Being that sheep’s wool insulation is a natural, open insulation that efficiently manages moisture, it quickly made sense that the walls and ceiling must be constructed in a way to allow for the sheep’s wool insulation to do its multitude of jobs. We’ll get into more of the benefits of using sheep’s wool insulation in a school bus conversion in just a minute.
Stories like these really connect with us, guiding us down the path to finding better, naturally occurring, and renewable building materials, such as we found in Havelock Wool insulation.
Sheep’s Wool Insulation Was Back On The Table
Though a school bus conversion isn’t the most “natural” home to build, we really do our best to source the most eco-friendly products. We couldn’t help but dive back into researching natural wool insulation.
The benefits of using real wool batts blew our minds. Insulating our 40’ skoolie with Havelock Wool suddenly became a no-brainer.
Benefits Of Using Sheeps Wool Insulation
- Moisture & climate control
- Havelock Wool is renewable, sustainable, biodegradable, and compostable
- Sheep’s wool is known for its incredible sound absorption
- 2″ wool batts are R7
- Wool is the ONLY insulation that is capable of filtering toxins from the air to improve air quality
- It’s critter resistant
- Suppresses mold & mildew
- Fire resistant
- Sheep’s wool insulation is natural
- The cost is about HALF the price of getting a professional to spray foam
Insulating Our Skoolie With Sheeps Wool Became Our #1 Choice
After we found out all the benefits of using wool batts it became the obvious choice. Originally we figured something so luxurious would cost a fortune, but it turned out to be half the price of spray foam.
We were happy to find a Canadian distributor, Sage Restoration so we didn’t have to pay import taxes, and it arrived super fast.
Our original order was for 300sq feet for our 40’ long school bus conversion. However, after installing the first order, we ended up needing 100 more square feet to thoroughly finish the rest of our skoolie insulation, and the order arrived within 48 hours. Incredible!
Wool Batts Gave Us More Time
Typically when going the spray foam route, you would need to get it done super early in the build. A lot of people run their electrical wire through conduit, and blast in the spray foam which embeds the wires. Most people will also leave several extra feet or wire dangling for lights and plugs throughout their bus, which is then trimmed shorter and becomes waste.
Throughout our build, it’s been important to us that we aren’t wasteful, and do this school bus conversion as cost-effective as possible. Especially since we are sharing our build on our YouTube channel called ‘BE Adventure Partners’. People tend to follow the lead, just like we have followed others. It only made sense to us that we set a good example. Thus, why leaving bundles of extra wire wasn’t something we wanted to do.
Choosing sheep’s wool insulation batts bought us way more time to get our footing with our build. It allowed us to frame out all of the major areas of our skoolie, like the bedroom, closets, bathroom, and kitchen. Having the main framing done saved us cost & waste when it came to running plumbing and electrical lines because we knew EXACTLY where everything was going to be positioned. Framing out the floor plan took away the guesswork of not knowing where we wanted to place things like light switches and sinks. All because we chose to go with natural insulation that we could easily install after the major framing was up. How cool is that?
Insulating A Skoolie Conversion Is A Bit Different Than A Van Conversion
By the time we were ready to install our sheep’s wool insulation, we’d seen tons of van builds on YouTube sharing how they did it. Something we hadn’t seen yet was other school bus conversions installing Havelock Wool.
The most obvious difference between a school bus conversion and a van conversion is the size.
People doing van conversions seemed to just cut the wool and squish it up in between the ribs of the vehicle. When they put up their wall and ceiling material they were able to achieve a compression fit. Some vanlifers used a bit of painter’s tape to help secure the wool batts between the ribs, pre-wall installation, which seemed to work great because the walls aren’t as deep as a bus.
Needless to say, we needed to figure out something that would work for us. With the ribs of our school bus being spaced so far apart, we were going to have to get creative, because compression fitting the wool batts wasn’t an option. How were we going to do it?
Read more about How To Install Havelock Wool In A Van Conversion.
Our Unique Technique For Installing Havelock Wool In Our Skoolie
The wool batts come in pieces that are 48” long x 16” wide x 2” thick.
Interestingly enough, the ribs on our bus are 24 inches apart between the wooden furring strips! What if we cut the Havelock Wool batts in half making the pieces 24” x 16” and THEN hand stitch the long side of wool batts together?
We were on to something! At first, we both thought it might be a little tedious hand stitching a bus worth of wool batts together, but once we figured out what we were doing we loved it, and our stitching became really quick!
Ideally, no one wants to open up their walls a few years down the road (literally) and realize their beautiful wool insulation slid down into a heap. Theoretically, this would eventually leave the highest point of the skoolie with no insulation, resulting in possible hot & cold spots. That would be no good!
The theme of our bus is to “build it bomb-proof.”
Once we brought this idea into our existence there was no turning back. Think about it… as we’re driving down the dusty highway road, east of Omaha, listening to Metallica, the bus will be bouncing down the road. This vibration is like a building sustaining an earthquake. But in our case, this is happening every time we drive!
We started by measuring the length of the pieces we needed. Each ceiling section needed 3 batts of wool cut in half (making 6 pieces), and then we hand stitched the long side of the batts together. Stitching that many pieces overhead didn’t seem too smart, so we enjoyed making our stitches on our beautiful handmade countertop. After the wool insulation was stitched we stapled the edges to the furring strips that run along the ribs to quickly get it up. Then we zig-zagged jute twine from rib to rib, back and forth stapling the wool into place.
At first, we used upholstery thread to stitch the wool batts together, but we ran out so we started using thin jute twine to attach them. The jute twine worked great, but once we ran out of that and got into the thicker, medium-duty jute (the only stuff we could find) it was a bit more challenging to pull through the wool. So if you can find fine jute twine, that worked excellently!
Stapling the Havelock into place worked out great, as well. We stuffed all the little cracks and crevices with wool. One of the biggest benefits of insulating a metal vehicle in the winter is that you can feel the cold radiating off of the metal. So even the tiniest of void areas are really easy to find. Simply place your hand over a gap, and see if you feel a cold breeze. There are no more cold breezes in our rig! That’s for sure! When it came to stitching together the corners where the bus ceiling meets the rear or front of the bus and the wall, we created pie-shaped pieces to stitch together in place. A square or rectangle wasn’t always the optimal shape for the space needing to be insulated.
If you are like us and need more of a visual tutorial on how to install Havelock Wool in your skoolie conversion, check out this video we made on YouTube.
Why Insulating A Skoolie With Havelock Wool Is The Best
Beyond the pure joy of hand-stitching the wool batts together, there are so many positive aspects to using wool. The first being it’s a naturally renewable resource as sheep are constantly growing their coats out with the changing of the seasons.
When we kept hearing about condensation inside vehicle dwellings, we were concerned. Sure you could try to “properly ventilate” your rig, but how do you know if you did a good enough job until it’s too late? By then you already have a mold problem or water pouring down your windows every time you cook or shower. Talk about nasty… yuck!
Sheep’s wool is an excellent solution to condensation. If sheeps wool held moisture like a sponge, their “fur” would freeze in sub-zero temps. Imagine how uncomfortable that would be. They wouldn’t survive through winter.
If you’re like us and plan to live in your tiny home on wheels for years to come, you want to make sure that the air you breathe is clean & fresh, and doesn’t have harmful toxins that can harm your health. Isn’t the idea behind this lifestyle a healthy free one?! It is for us, so choosing something natural was ideal. Plus the fact that Havelock Wool actually filters harmful toxins from the air, makes it a great long-term choice.
Before we were even finished installing the wool batts in our skoolie it was retaining the heat from our little makeshift heaters, maintaining inside temperatures of 20℃ or 68℉ while it was below freezing outside.
Another thing we noticed was that the echo in the bus was gone. Being filmmakers we really appreciate high-quality sound in videos, which gets both of us REALLY excited about our upcoming cooking & craft show when we get on the road.
We look forward to enjoying years of love and life in our tiny home on wheels insulated with Havelock Wool, and we hope you enjoy your’s too!
Want To Get Havelock Wool For Your School Bus Conversion?
If using sheep’s wool sounds like the right choice for your school bus conversion, click here to place an order.
About The Authors
As of this writing, Brian + Erin are just about complete with their skoolie conversion. Once done, they plan on taking to the road to do a huge research project interviewing homesteaders and off-grid dwellers to share their stories on sustainability, self-reliance, and coexisting harmoniously with nature. One day they plan on building their own homestead.
If that sounds interesting to you, here’s how you can follow Brian + Erin aka BE Adventure Partners…