How to stay warm and comfortable when living in a van through the winter


Here are our tips for keeping warm and looking after your campervan during the winter months…

Parked up with the snow plows in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

As the nights draw in, leaves fall from trees and the first shimmers of frost dust the ground we are starting to prepare our van for winter.

With this being our fourth year living in the van we’ve already experienced the discomfort and inconvenience of freezing temperatures when you’re not fully prepared. In January 2017 we drove across the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary where temperatures reached below -10°C, causing our water to freeze almost the instant you’d poured it into the kettle for a cup of tea! We’ve learnt a lot since then and wanted to share our top tips for surviving the chilly season, whether you’re living in your van full-time, going away for a short break or tucking your camper up in storage for winter…

The basics…

Insulation:

The foundation of any good van conversion is quality insulation. This topic is much debated across the internet and there are lots of options depending on your van’s size, your budget and preferences for materials…our preferred technique for larger vans is using rigid PIR insulation boards (eg. ecotherm, celotex etc.), 50mm  glued on to the wall panels and 25mm on the floor and ceiling, with recycled plastic loft insulation crammed in to the harder to reach nooks and crannies, all covered with foil bubble wrap and foil tape for a complete vapour barrier.

Heating:

We have a Propex blown air space heater in our van which is still going strong after four years of continuous use. Again there are lots of options for heating your van, we went for the gas Propex option as it means we can easily regulate the temperature in our van using the thermostat, it is powered by LPG so cheap to run and although there is some noise when the heater is running, it is fairly quiet from the outside of the van. They are not the cheapest campervan heaters on the market but considering how long we’ve had ours we think they’re good value for money. 

Our top tips..

No matter how well you’ve insulated and heated your van there are lots of other things you can do to beat the cold and help keep your home on wheels feeling warm and dry…

A cosey Christmas in the van with mine pies and board games…

Service your heater

As with all campervan components, years of use through different conditions can inevitably lead to things going wrong. We had our heater serviced for the first time this year by Propex and it’s made a huge difference! Our heater was already second hand when we bought it and we found that every now it would struggle to start up. Unfortunately we didn’t get around to having it serviced until the first frosty mornings of winter had already set in, (meaning we had to spend a few chilly days with no heater!). It cost us about £100 for a full service where they replaced some of the parts and it now works like new, starting up first time every time and it also now runs more quietly. If you suspect your heater might need a service don’t be like us and wait for a really cold day to get it done, the sooner the better!

Keep your van dry

The main thing that makes our van feel cold and uncomfortable in the winter is damp. Any exposed metalwork in the van will instantly create condensation when there are freezing temperatures outside and a heater running inside. We try to ensure as much metalwork is covered with foil bubble wrap insulation as possible but inevitably there will always be little areas you can’t cover. This alongside sweat through your mattress overnight, steam rising from cooking, soggy clothes and moisture from breathing can create quite a damp environment, the perfect breeding ground for mold, rot and eventually rust if you don’t keep on top of it!

Reduce condensation on windows

One of our best van purchases has been the Karcher Window Vac – we use this to go over all the van windows last thing at night and first thing in the morning to collect condensation which can then be poured away outside, you’d be amazed how much it picks up!

Get a dehumidifier

Many people use refillable dehumidifiers such as the Unibond Moisture Absorber, which can be stored anywhere in the van and doesn’t require electricity.

Keep windows/vents open

You might be very tempted to shut yourself in and block off any drafts from outside but it is really important to keep your van well ventilated, not just to keep down damp but also to ensure safe ventilation of air inside your camper. We have two SEITZ Heki roof windows fitted to our van which are great as you can lock them open. In the winter we always have our smaller window opened on the first latch, we also have a mushroom vent fitted in our bathroom to create a through flow of air.

Confine damp clothes to one place

We’ve all seen how steamy the windows get when you’ve been out for a hike on a damp day then come in and drape your soggy coats, jumpers, socks and shoes around the van…we have a sealed off bathroom which is great for hanging our wet clothes to dry, if you don’t have this option then try to dry things off as much as possible outside or elsewhere before bringing them in to the van, or if needs must hang everything in the cab where you can at least open the windows a crack.

Use lids on pans when cooking

It might seem like an obvious one but we’ve always been surprised by the amount of moisture created by boiling water for a short time while cooking pasta or rice! Putting lids on your pans will help keep the heat in, using less fuel and minimising the amount of steam in the air. We even have a large silicone lid for our frying pan…

Declutter your storage

We’ve had the nasty experience a couple of times where we’ve left a damp tote bag or jumper in one of our little cubby hole storage areas, only to find it weeks later covered in furry mold 😢 Where van storage is often small and sometimes lacking ventilation this can happen more quickly than it would in a house. We’ve now gotten in to the habit of decluttering our awkward storage areas (like above the cab and under the bed) in time for winter, so that there is enough space around all our bits and bobs for air to circulate through.

Of course you can’t beat a trusty old bonfire for keeping warm…

Check your antifreeze

A bit of basic but very important vehicle maintenance. Coolant is mixed with water and removes excess heat from your vehicle radiator, ensuring efficient running of the engine. It’s important to check that this is topped up, doesn’t have a sludgy or oily surface and that the hoses surrounding the reservoir aren’t leaking, cracked, bulgy or squishy. 

Ensure your CO Detector is working

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is increased when staying in a campervan as different fuels are being burnt to run appliances like stoves and heaters, within a confined space. It is vital to make sure your carbon monoxide detector is tested and working. This article has some useful information for ways to stay safe in your camper.

Check your tyres

Again, some vehicle maintenance that applies all year around but especially important during the winter when road conditions can be hazardous. Ensure your tires have plenty of tread for safe braking in wet and slippy conditions and to help get you out of muddy spots. You can check the RAC guidance on tyre tread depth here.

Vienna – Jan 2017. Parked up next to the frozen Danube!

Park in the sun

To reduce the amount of frost on your camper windscreen in the morning pick a parking spot that the sunrise will hit first thing.

Get a rug

Many camper conversions have wooden or lino flooring which isn’t always the cosiest when you’re feeling chilly. Having a nice thick rug under foot will help keep your feet warm and make you feel altogether more toasty.

Wear thermal base layers

As we’re often working outside when converting vans we always rely on our trusty thermals throughout the winter. We find it much more comfortable to layer up with thermals than be suffocated under huge coats and jumpers.

Get an all seasons combination duvet

We have a double layer duvet which can be stripped down to a single layer for summer and doubled up in winter, this really helps us stay at the right temperature in bed all year round.

Insulate between the van cab and living space

Having such a huge amount of window in the van cab can really suck the heat out. We have a thermal insulated black out curtain between our van’s living space and the front cab which works amazingly for keeping the heat in during the winter and keeping the living space cool in the summer. For this we adapted a set of IKEA curtains and layered them up with second hand woollen blankets. If you want to go for a more simple work around you could drape across a blanket using magnets or hooks.

Here are a few tips for storing your campervan over winter…

Drain water tanks and water heater to stop freezing

Ensure all the water has left the system, draining the fresh and waste tanks, all hoses and water heater if you have one. Freezing water can cause pipes and tanks to crack and leak.

Prevent wood from swelling

We build our conversions with lots of different types of wood and have sometimes found where the moisture levels in the van fluctuate, the wood can swell and contract, this can be an issue with doors and cupboards. If you experience this we recommend opening the windows and running the heating in the van for a short period to bring the temperature back up, the humidity down and let some of the moisture leave the wood.

De-clutter your storage

As mentioned before, having lots of bits and bobs crammed in to small spaces can trap the cold/damp and create mould. Leaving your van storage areas open and dry will keep your van happy over the winter.

We hope you’ve found this post helpful. Travelling in a van over the winter can be a wonderful experience and if well maintained your tiny home on wheels can be a warm and cosy winter retreat. If you think this post might be useful to someone you know we would be really grateful if you could share it using the buttons below.


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One thought on “How to stay warm and comfortable when living in a van through the winter

  • Tim

    Great article. I lived in a boat for years and I always had a hot water bottle at night and in the evenings. When it got really cold I sometimes even had two.

    I can’t stress how important is it to have a CO detector, be that in a van, boat or house. They are now super cheap.

    Enjoy the crisp winter mornings.