Updated: Jun 1, 2021
This year has been a really weird one, summer was cancelled, fun was cancelled and travel was cancelled but more and more people have been turning to Vanlife than ever before.
If you believe what you see on instagram living in a van in the winter is nothing but awesome and romantic... Curled up in the back of your van with furry blankets, coffee on a wood burner stove, surrounded by fairy lights, taking a picture of you and your partners feet and legs with your back doors wide open and an amazing view of some snow capped mountains.
In reality living in a van in the winter is a much different experience to what you see on instagram it comes with its own set of new problems and can be hard even for the toughest vanlifers.
However if you have prepared yourself for the winter, know what to expect and know what to do when problems arise then you should have no problems at all.
So one of the first things you will need to do to get your van ready for the winter is insulate it. Obviously this needs to be done at the start of your van build as it will be impossible once you have started putting things in.
Insulating your van well is a must, the walls on your van are really this and conduct the cold like you wouldn't believe and without insulation any heat that you produce in the van will just escape straight away.
Not only is insulation good for one of the main problems you will have in the winter... The cold it is also the solution for one of the other big problems you will have in a van in the winter and that is condensation.
In the winter condensation is a huge problem in van builds, when your breath out warm air and it touches the cold metal panels of your van it will turn into condensation and then drip, if you have a bare metal roof then it will drip on you in your sleep and that is a really creepy feeling when you are asleep. Condensation is also bad for any wood, electrics, soft furnishings etc as your whole van will be damp, you will have mouldy soft furnishings, rotten wood and very dangerous electrics in no time at all.
To stop condensation you need to form an effective vapour barrier and this is done by insulating your van with the correct materials. For more info on insulating your van and vapour barriers please take a look at this post.
Just as important as insulating your van is getting a decent heater for your van, even with a fully insulated van it it still gets very cold inside the van.
As I mentioned above you probably would have seen all the awesome photos of amazing vans on instagram with wood burning stoves installed in them, yes this is awesome and romantic but it reality it isn't really the most practical option out there for lots of reasons.
They are heavy
Hard to install
The fuel is heavy
The fuel takes up lots of storage space
There is no real heat control
You can't just turn them on and off when you want
They can go out if you don't keep them stoked/fed
The list goes on and on, they are a nice idea but in reality they are so much more hassle than they are worth.
My suggestion for heating in your van is always going to be a diesel heater, they are the safest, easiest and the best option for any van. They are cheap to buy, easy to install and diesel can be found pretty much anywhere at anytime.
For decent diesel heaters that turn up in no time at all and work perfectly from the box check out the post below.
Diesel heaters are awesome, they just turn on and off at the flip of a switch and they will have to toasty and warm in no time at all. They can be left on 24/7 without having any problems at all and some people in colder climates leave them on non stop all the way through winter and they are also very cheap to run as you can run them on red diesel or kerosene, both are much cheaper that road diesel with all the taxes they slap on it before the pump.
These heaters were first used as night heaters and parking heaters for lorries and trucks but are now a firm favourite with van lifers around the world because they are so amazing, simple and cheap.
They have so many awesome uses that will make your van life a lot easier.
They heat you van (obviously)
They can quickly defrost your van from the inside on cold morning
You can use them to dry wet clothes
Some people even use the to dry their hair
They use dry heat so help with condensation issues in a big way
They stop your water tanks and pipes from freezing
If you use butane instead on propane you will have no problems when its cold outside
As I said above these things are easy to install yourself but make sure you do it safely. For a complete step by step installation guide for your diesel heater please check this post out.
In our opinion when it comes to keeping warm in your van at all in the winter the best bet is to bit the bullet now and get yourself a diesel heater, they are around £100 and can be fitted an running in less than 4 hours, buying thick socks, thermal underwear, hot water bottles extra blankets etc all together will probably cost you more and be less effective.
FOR MORE INFO ON KEEPING WARM WITHOUT HEATING PLEASE READ TO THE END OF THE POST
CHARGING YOUR LEISURE BATTERIES
Another problem with winter is that it gets dark early and just like in a house you will be using a lot more power between heating, lights, tv etc.
In the summer keeping your batteries topped up enough is no problem at all, there is lots of day light and sun shine so even a small amount of solar is good enough for a full top up not to mention all the driving you will be doing for your split charge relay to actually make a noticeable difference.
In the winter it is a totally different story all together!
Your solar becomes next to useless as the sun isn't high enough in the sky for long enough to give your batteries a full charge. Each 100W of solar will top your battery bank up by 55ah in the summer on a sunny day but in the winter on a sunny day that same 100W of solar will only top your battery bank up 8ah per day.
So let's say that you have 1x110ah lead acid leisure battery (as it is a very common size and for easy maths)
You can only discharge lead acid leisure batteries to 50% before you do some damage to them so that 1 x 110ah leisure battery will only actually give you 55ah of useable power.
As each 100W of solar will top your battery bank up by about 55ah a day in summer that means in 1 day 100W of solar will be enough to top your 110ah battery up every day.
However in the winter when each 100w of solar will only top your battery bank up by 8ah a day the exact same battery in winter would take 690W of solar, you would need the full roof of a LWB van just to fit enough solar to charge one battery. most people have more than one battery though so if you had two you would need 1380W if you had three you would need 2070W by the time you get to that amount you would need a HGV license just to be able to drive a vehicle big enough. A lot of things in your van use a lot of power and a lot of you will burn through way more than 55ah of battery power a day so as i said above solar will be pretty much useless for a lot of people.
One option a split charge relay, these are a decent cheap option that will charge your leisure battery via your alternator as you drive. These will give you a little power boost but in my opinion in the winter they are pretty useless too, they don't recharge your leisure batteries very quickly so you have to drive for quite a while for them to be effective and they only actually top your battery bank up to 80% not to full so although they will give you a boost in the winter and allow you to run pretty much anything you want, as much as you want, whenever you want to with the engine running they are not the best all round solution.
My suggestion would be a B2B charger, they are wired to your starter battery in the exact same way as a split charge relay (so if you already have a split charge relay you can just swap the unit and the fuses) so is very easy to install yourself at home.
B2B chargers also charge your battery when your engine is running but unlike the the split charge relay the alternator charges your leisure battery and the alternator carries on charging your starter battery. The B2B charger then charges your leisure battery a lot quicker (up to 10 x faster) and to 99% instead of the split charge relays 80%, this enables you to drive for a lot less time.
For a B2B charger my recommendation is this one, it is a power 50amp so can top your leisure battery bank up by 50ah with just one hours driving, it also has a built in MPPT solar charge controller that allows you to add up to 660W of solar panels (in parallel) without the need of buying an extra expensive 60amp MPPT solar charge controller. As an amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases
Renogy 50A DC-DC On-board Battery Charger with MPPT
LG Electronics 320W Neon Monocrystalline Solar PV Panel (Black) LG320N1K-A5
FOR SOME AWESOME AGM BATTERIES FOR YOUR VAN PLEASE CHECK OUT OUR NEW BLOG POST...
CHECK YOUR VAN AND ENGINE OFTEN
Okay so this goes for all year round but it is worth saying, make sure you check your van and engine over often!!
It is a good idea to set an hour aside each week to give your van a full check over and make sure everything is how it should be, this is a good for a few reason...
To stop preventable breakdowns
To make sure your van is fully legal
Road safety for you and other road users
To make your van last longer
Most breakdowns are preventable there is no doubt about that and the best to to avoid preventable breakdowns is to make sure everything on your van is well looked after. If you run out of fuel on the side of the road that is 100% your fault, if you get a blow out there is a good chance that your tyre wasn't in the best condition, if your engine starts smoking and ceases up because you had no oil in it that was your fault.
Give everything you can see a good check over, look after your van and your van will look after you.
Check your oil
Check your coolant and make sure it has antifreeze in it
Check your tyres all around (even the inside walls)
Check tyre pressure (too low you will use more fuel, too high you will have less traction)
Check washer fluid (add winter screen wash)
Check all your lights and bulbs (even number plate light bulbs)
Check power steering fluid
Check brake fluid
Check you have sufficient spare oil, washer fluid, coolant, bulbs etc onboard
Check for any rust or stone chips (treat if you find)
Even if you do check your van over often there is still always a chance that other things mights go wrong, you might get stuck in snow or mud, you might run your battery flat or even get a puncture. These situations happen and can easily be worked around if you know what to do and have the right equipment. For more information please take a look at the posts below...
And even if you are fully kitted up and have every single based covered there are some things that can go wrong on your van that can not be fixed at the roadside. This will be a dark day for you if it ever happens and there is a good chance this will cost you a small fortune, it will cost you even more if you do not have a decent break down policy! DO NOT try and save money on your breakdown service, the better the policy the more you are entitled to, the further they will tow you, the less things will cost you in the long run. Make sure the cover you have covers Europe if you plan to travel to Europe and make sure that they cover vans of your size.
The three big ones in the uk are
All the above always have awesome deals so check them out and find the best policy for you.
TOP TIP - IF YOU DO NOT HAVE BREAKDOWN COVERAGE AND YOU BREAK DOWN DON'T PAY FOR AN EXPENSIVE INDEPENDENT BREAK DOWN SERVICE FOR A ONE OFF TOW. THE AA WILL LET YOU SIGN UP TO THEM EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE ALREADY BROKEN DOWN AND WILL COME STRAIGHT OUT TO YOU ONCE YOU HAVE
Another thing that happens in the winter months is crime rises, the nights are longer and it gets dark a lot earlier so it is a good idea to make sure you and your van are safe and secure. This is especially important for families in vans, solo females and people in high crime areas.
Again we have already written a full post on this so for more info please follow the link below...
GET YOURSELF A DOOR MAT
The last thing you want is to be bringing mud, rain, snow etc into your van, if you have laminate flooring down it will be ruined in under a week, if you have lino you will be forever wiping it and if you have carpet it will stay wet for days (unless you have a dry blowing heater like a diesel heater).
The best thing to do it either take your shoes or boots off before you get into the van however this isn't very practical so why not wipe your feet as you come in and also take your shows or boots off whilst you are still standing on a door mat.
FB FunkyBuys Heavy Duty Barrier Mats Non Slip Rubber Mat
JVL Eco-Friendly Expression Latex Backed Coir Entrance Door Mat , Happiness Design
Inbox B’Safe Shoe Sanitizing Door Mat for Home & Business Office Carpet Disinfecting Sanitizer
CURTAINS FOR YOUR WINDOWS
Although windows are pretty much a necessity for most van builds for fresh air, natural light, amazing views and security reasons they also cause you problems all year round. In the summer they make your van hotter than it needs to be and in the winter they make your van colder than it needs to be.
Although glass is actually an insulator not a conductor is isn't very good insulation at all and as you need to be able to see through them you can't just insulate over the top of it and be done with it.
It is possible to insulate you windows at night though whilst you are in bed and don't need to see through them and this is a very good idea to keep the heat in. The best way to do that is cover it some thermawrap to reflect any heat that is trying to escape from the window. I like to paint the side that will go against the window black so it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb and to anybody looking from the outside it will just look like a pitch black van inside, in the summer you can turn it the other way to reflect the heat away from your van.
ThermaWrap 600mm x 7.5m x 3.7mm Insulating Wrap
Another problem that comes with having windows in the winter is that is gets dark a lot earlier so you will need the lights on in your van from about 5pm, with the lights on in your van when it is dark outside everybody walking by can see inside your van even if you have blacked out windows.
Obviously losing heat through your windows and people being able to see inside your van all night isn't ideal so it it best to get yourself some thermal blackout curtains or blinds or at least have enough blankets to hang up over the windows at night.
Curtains for your van can be as simple or as complicated as you like, as I said above if you are on a budget and can't afford curtains then you can just hand some nice thick blankets or a spare duvet you have spare or you could go in the other direction and buy some made to fit your specific van with built in rails etc. The most popular option by far though is making some yourself.
Viceroybedding BLACKOUT THERMAL CURTAIN LINING FABRIC MATERIAL 3 PASS INSULATED SOLD PER 1 METRE - (Black)
1200mm Integra Discreet White Metal Curtain Track Top Fix Campervan Motorhome
MADE TO MEASURE CURTAINS...
KEEPING WARM WITHOUT HEATING
If you don't have the money or time to fit a heater then you 100% need to try everything you can to keep warm, if you haven't insulated your van then staying in it in the winter can be just as bad if not worse than sleeping outside. It will get really cold and the condensation will drip from the roof of your van onto your face all night long, the one thing your van will do in the winter without insulation or a heater is block the wind ad that is a good start.
So if you are living or staying in your van during the winter with the bare minimum there are a few things you can do to make van life a lot more comfortable.
HOT WATER BOTTLES
Hot water bottles stay warm for hours and can take the chill off of a cold winters night. All you need is a way to heat the water, some water and some hot water bottles and you will already be feeling a lot better.
They come in all shapes and sizes but the more the merrier on cold winter night, I think they even sell small ones in the pound shop...
Giant 2.7 Litre Hot Water Bottle
Easycosy Long Hot Water Bottle- Bed Warm Waist Warm Back Hot Water Bottle with Super Soft Fabric Knitted Cover 2L Pure Natural Rubber-72 cm for Back, Neck, Legs (Grey Heart)
Highland Cow Foot Warmer with 2 litre Hot water bottle – Foot Muff Brown
BLAST YOUR VANS HEATER
If you don't have a bulkhead or any other kind of partition between your cab and the back of your van every time you drive blast the vans heater as hot as possible for as long as possible, if all the surfaces in the back of your van are already warm when you park up then thats it always a better start than getting into it when everything is cold. In emergencies you can leave your van running whilst you are in the back so the heater will keep you warm, this isn't a good long term solution though as it is bad for the environment, your wallet, your van and security not to mention the noise of your engine and the constant vibration of it through your van.
BLANKETS, BLANKETS, BLANKETS
One of the most useful things in a van with no heating is blankets and lots of them, not only blankets lots of cushions, throws, duvets and anything else similar.
Again the more the merrier as they can be used for so many different things. You can cover yourself with them, wrap yourself in them, use them as curtains, use them to sit on in and outside the van, build a little den or even wrap all of your belongings in one attach a stick and go to a fancy dress party as a hobo... the possibilities are endless!
If you have an uninsulated van you can even hang blankets and duvets all the way around the inside of your van to add some insulation from the cold outside and stop your body heat from escaping the van as quickly. You could take this one step further and build a small blanket fort in the middle of your van big enough for you to fit into, this will stop your breath hitting the roof and turning into condensation and hopefully will stop you getting dripped on and also will be a much smaller area for your body heat to warm up.
STAY OFF OF THE FLOOR
You have probably noticed that walking barefoot on tiled or laminate floor in the winter will suck thew body heat straight out of you, in a van it is even worse.
Try to keep off of the floor as much as possible on cold days, this is especially important for bare uninsulated vans as the floor will get very cold, if you have insulation down and laminate flooring or lino down it won't be as bad but it will still be very cold.
If you are surviving on the bare minimum and have not managed to build your van just yet a few carpet off cuts will go a long way to helping preserve some of you body heat if you do have to walk around without any shoes on for any reason.
It is very easy to find FREE carpet off cuts as they are pretty much always an unwanted left over that the carpet fitters left behind instead of taking back with them to fill up their skips, the best places to look for these are facebook marketplace, facebook groups and gumtree.
Sleeping on the floor of your van won't be a very pleasant experience either so if you were planning on sleeping on the floor of your van until you get sorted I would rethink that and try and elevate yourself.
If you are on a budget and need a quick free fix again check out gumtree and facebook marketplace for literally anything that can keep you off the floor... The cushions off of an old couch, an old mattress or you could even make yourself a hammock out of an old tarp and some string.
you could get something like an inflatable mattress if you have a few quid and want the space during the day.
Active Era Air Bed - Premium Single Size AirBed with a Built-in Electric Pump and Pillow
Or even a little hammock... you will be surprised how comfortable and snug they are
Overmont Double Layers Camping Hammock German TUV Certificated Portable Outdoor Hammock Lightweight for Backpacking Hiking Sports Travel with Tree Straps Max Load of 400 KG (Black+Orange)
So thats it for today we hope you all found it helpful.
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