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GMC Savana Van DIY Conversion Update 3: Adding Insulation

The day this post goes live, we will be officially on the road indefinitely! Our lease on our Penticton apartment ended on 30th November and now we are driving to Eastern Canada for the winter. Our van life has begun!

Well. Kind of. Winter is going to be something of a transition since we will be spending most of the time starting and finishing our GMC Savana conversion.

It’s also pretty cold in Eastern Canada over the winter so not the best time to start our life in the van.  Come spring, we hope to be travelling and living in the Savana full time.

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The temporary conversion

As mentioned in previous posts, our GMC Savana van is currently outfitted with a basic, temporary conversion. This is intended to last the two-week long 5,5000km journey from British Columbia to New Brunswick.

The plan is to start completely afresh with the conversion once we arrive in the Maritimes.

Since we last updated you, we have added a few things to our temporary conversion. The first is shelving inbetween the bed and the partition wall. This will be useful for storing day to day supplies (clothes, food, blankets etc) during our journey across the country.

It’s not pretty and definitely not as functional as it could be, but the shelves are from our apartment so this upgrade cost nothing. The second improvement is the main reason for this post.

Adding insulation to our DIY GMC Savana conversion

If you’ve been following our conversion story for a while, you may remember that I mentioned the van feeling colder than our previous van. Being an ex-work van, the Savana has little to no insulation at all.

We really noticed this on a September trip to Manning Park. With our initial travel plan involving driving across Canada in December, we decided that having warmer van was a priority.

For direct heat, we have purchased a portable propane heater. If you read about any van conversions that are used in the winter, there’s one heater that keeps being recommended over and over again – Mr Heater. 

It’s fairly small, super warm and has an accidental tip-over safety shutoff. We plan to use it to warm the van up in the mornings and evenings. Of course, we will be buying a CO2 alarm before using the heater in the van.

inside van
GMC Savana Conversion - side door insulation

Bubble wrap and wood

For a relatively quick and cheap fix, we first fitted sections of thermal bubble wrap on both the roof and side door. Destined for the trash before our intervention, we were lucky enough to find off-cuts of this material at work.

Red sheathing tape provided the perfect level of stickiness on the ceiling to keep the thermal panels in place. Finally, we added a quarter inch plank of plywood to keep the heat in.

Drilling the plank to the ceiling beams proved a little difficult since we hadn’t marked exactly where they were. Oops. With two kayaks and a canoe on top, it wasn’t as easy as just looking at the roof of the van.

After making a few slightly scary drills, the plank sits perfectly in place sandwiched above the partition and between the van frame. Not only will it make sleeping in the van that bit warmer, but it is also pretty aesthetically pleasing too.

GMC Savana Conversion - roof insulation

Let there be light

The third big upgrade in our GMC Savana conversion is an equally functional one. It was much easier to finish than the bubble wrap and wood combo, however!

JR wrapped a length of LED lights around the circumference of the back of the van with zip ties. These were given to us at a trade show and are USB powered, so we are able to plug them into our solar charged batteries. There are several different light settings, with the brightest being almost blinding!

It almost seems overkill to mention it as an improvement, but we also have some new wall decorations above the bed. A couple of broom holders wonderfully display our canoe paddles and saving them from getting (more) scratched at the same time! We hope to create something like this for our kayak paddles too.

GMC Savana Conversion - inside with lighting
GMC Savana Conversion - paddle decoration

Starting our journey

The next conversion update on here will be written from New Brunswick! In the meantime, keep an eye out for a post on our cross Canada road trip. And be sure to have your fingers crossed for us that our journey is smooth and safe!

GMC Savana Van Conversion with LED lighting

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GMC Savana Van Conversion part 3: Adding insulation and lighting -

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Answer Stewart

Tuesday 9th of July 2019

We used the red "Tuck" sheathing tape, it failed miserably. It continuously let go and we tried over and over but it would not maintain its stick. After going to their official website we discovered the red tape is not meant for vapor barrier, and we were informed to use their Blue tape. We have since purchased the blue tape and are in the process of removing all the red tape.


Saturday 13th of July 2019

Good to know! We haven't had any issues with the red tape, when we affixed it and now over a year later (so far!) I hope the blue tape works for you!

Dave Gallant

Wednesday 30th of May 2018

Hi Gemma,

I currently live in Moncton, NB, and am looking to do the van conversion. By chance, are you guys still in NB? I'd like to pick your brain about this. (email: [email protected])


Friday 1st of June 2018

Hi Dave! We're leaving New Brunswick in the next couple of days for Nova Scotia (via Moncton actually!) but we'll be back in August! As of today, our conversion is 95% done and it is looking amazing!