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Old 01-25-2019, 10:39 AM   #1
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denver , Colorado
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Current state of OEM A/S insulation?

Hey all! I'm having a heck of a time finding photos or information about modern insulation in Airstreams.

In a nut shell: Omitting the obviously huge amount of work it would take to tear apart a newer (2009-2012) Airstream-- does anyone know if the insulation could be improved upon? Does A/S use the best R-rated insulation that they can?

Looking at purchasing an '09-'10 Airstream, and just mulling over the possibilities to improve, or replace the existing insulation with something better.

Ultimately there just seems to be a lack of information to satisfy my curiosity, and I'm exploring all options (easy and hard) to improve chances of surviving a Colorado winter in an Airstream (with a wood stove).

Along the same vein, has anyone ever added insulation to the interior existing aluminum skin, and found that to be helpful?

Thanks!

Keelan
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Old 01-25-2019, 12:29 PM   #2
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Welcome to another can o worms!

Short answer: AS uses pink fiberglass batts, which are cheap, but not the most effective insulation, with an R-value of only about 3.5 or so, and can most certainly be improved upon.

Answer background: Insulation is one of the topics here that, like choice of tow vehicle, has competing camps of ardent believers, evangelists, heretics, and agnostics. If you use the search feature in this forum, you will find hours of interesting reading on insulation.

A quick summary: Spray foam has the highest R-value of the most commonly used insulation materials, (ignoring the really exotic NASA-stuff like Aerogel) but Spray foam is expensive and challenging to work with. Old spray foams turned to dust, newer formulations said to be able to handle flex. Foam may be best, relatively cost effective insulation (compared say to Aerogel), but Foam is not as affordable or as easy to work with as cheaper, but nearly as good R-value rated Polyisocyanurate. And if you need to replace a panel, Foam may be a pain. Will it trap moisture against skin and accelerate corrosion? Depends on how it is applied. Foam is said to add strength to shell, however Pain to remove if ever need to remove it, and some recommend adding conduit for wire runs before applying foam. Bubble materials like Reflextix and Prodex only have an R-1 value, but do really well on windows REFLECTING radiant heat. Rock wool, denim, thinsulate and other materials are also sometimes used.

Most often overlooked factor: Thermal bridges -- the AL ribs conduct a tremendous amount of thermal energy -- so much so that you could have a "perfect" insulation in the walls, and still be too hot/cold just from the ribs! AS puts a thin foam tape between outer skin and ribs, and it is only slightly better than nothing.

Here is a link to a short but thorough insulation article (about vans) with good info explaining the challenges and comparing materials/R-values/bang-for-buck: https://gnomadhome.com/van-build-insulation/

Hope this helps. You can quickly loose a good night or two reading about just this one topic here.
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Old 01-25-2019, 12:47 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ksears View Post
Does A/S use the best R-rated insulation that they can?
I have found that when in comes to the current Thor-owned Airstream company, if you substitute "cheapest" in place of "best" and any component you'd like in place of "R-rated insulation" in the question above, then the answer in almost every case would be "YES!"

And as almost any AS owner will tell you, AS trailers are, at best, three season trailers. They are not designed to handle cold climates.

It has been done, but it will cost you plenty in terms of propane/energy to heat. And you will have to get creative with hay bales, etc. to skirt the underside. And you will have to come up with a plan to keep the exterior plumbing from freezing. Many have done it once, few have done it more than that.
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Old 01-25-2019, 01:02 PM   #4
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Artic Fox or Lance Trailers are far superior at handling the cold. That is my opinion of course. I agree with skyguyscott. Foam is the best insulation.
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Old 01-25-2019, 08:45 PM   #5
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Outdoors RV Mfg. builds a good 4 season RV. When we were shopping, their Titanium Series was the only other unit we considered.
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Old 01-25-2019, 10:35 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skyguyscott View Post
I have found that when in comes to the current Thor-owned Airstream company, if you substitute "cheapest" in place of "best" and any component you'd like in place of "R-rated insulation" in the question above, then the answer in almost every case would be "YES!"

And as almost any AS owner will tell you, AS trailers are, at best, three season trailers. They are not designed to handle cold climates.
Well, I don't think "cheapest" is appropriate, but it is certainly is true that an Airstream is a three season trailer and I think it always has been.

Ksears, to improve the insulation INSIDE an Airstream's walls would mean removing all of the aluminum on the inside of the trailer. Not a very practical proposition and a lot of work. Insulation on the walls can help. The much-maligned "mouse fur" which we have on the walls in our trailer helps considerably. Despite that, I wouldn't put it in a newer trailer which did not come with it from the factory.

The other, four season trailers already suggested above are a better solution.

Tim
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Old 01-26-2019, 09:57 AM   #7
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Current Airstreams use EcoBatt insulation. It is a high density fiberglass. The r-value is 7 which is pretty good for a 2 inch thickness.
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Old 01-26-2019, 10:10 AM   #8
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I think thermal bridging is a bigger issue than your choice of insulation material between the ribs. The difference in r-value between spray foam or various batt insulation isn't very big when you only have 1-1/2" to work with. A bigger issue is the heat that's conducted straight past the insulation through the ribs.

I wouldn't discount a thin layer of foam tape as slightly better than nothing. I added foam tape between the ribs and my interior skins on my 74 and it makes a big difference. Sure, the r-value of the foam isn't very high, but compared to the aluminum skin actually touching the aluminum ribs, you don't need a high r-value to make a substantial difference.

Consider touching a cold metal surface with your bare hand vs with a thin glove. The glove doesn't need to be several inches thick to make a big difference in the amount of heat transferred.

The other big issue with insulation is technique. You want the space to be filled with insulation to prevent convection moving heat straight past your insulation. Spray foam is obviously the best way to get a perfect seal, but batt insulation (especially rockwool) can do a pretty good job at a much lower cost. One thing I'm not a fan of, though, is cutting pre-formed foam panels to fit the walls. You'll invariably leave large air gaps around the panels, allowing air to pass right by your insulation.

I just wrote a blog post a few days ago reflecting on our modifications to make our Airstream suitable for 4-season use after spending a couple of Winters full-timing. Insulation is, of course, only one part of the equation. If you're planning on overwintering in a newer Airstream and aren't already planning on gutting it for other reasons, I think there are better places to invest your energies than in taking the walls apart to squeeze a tiny bit more r-value out of your rig.
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Old 01-26-2019, 12:27 PM   #9
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As a spectator to this thread, thanks to the OP and respondents for some really good info and recommendations. Gotta love this forum.
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Old 01-26-2019, 08:55 PM   #10
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What if the factory insulation gets wet?

Brand new 2019 FC on maiden voyage had water on the floor at every stop. Granted it poured for the entire trip and when stopped overnight there were no leaks. But at 60 or 65, open the door and at every single stop, the floor was soaked.

Unit is getting fixed at this point, but my worry is
- electrical corrosion in 5 years after the warranty is done. Ceiling lights, fan are all in that location.
- impact on the insulation. We won't do 4 season, but several trips each winter out of Michigan. There will be some cold nights.

At one stop, after drying the floor, we pushed on the ceiling seam and water appeared from under the seam. The center aluminum ceiling strip, overlaps the side so when you pushed on the center piece, at the intersection that's where the water appeared.

Our dealer has a good service department, so I'm sure they've found where the water intruded. I'm more worried about the 5 year situation.

Thoughts about my corrosion concern and insulation efficiency concerns?
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Old 06-24-2020, 07:50 PM   #11
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Looking at a ‘76 sovereign which has already been gutted. Curious about spray foam insulation as an alternative in the restoration process.
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Old 06-24-2020, 07:58 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim A. View Post
Well, I don't think "cheapest" is appropriate, but it is certainly is true that an Airstream is a three season trailer and I think it always has been.

Tim
Funny, I recall the ads where Airstream had a lady in beach outfit inside the trailer while it was sitting in fairly cold temps. They advertised as a rig that was built to withstand the need of 4 season camping, and maybe the vintage units from the 50 and 60s were built to a higher standard, but as long as I've been into Airstream, nearly 20 years, they have been a 3 season RV.

Tearing into a newer one for the sake of trying to insulate it better is an expensive proposition and the thermal xfer from the exterior via the rib to the interior is nothing you are going to solve very easily, let alone all the air gaps and holes in the floor and such getting to the tanks and the un-insulated wheel wells. If you really need a 4 season RV and plan for a lot of zero or below zero, Airstream really isn't the trailer for that, unless you have a 100 gallon propane tank handy. ;-)

I agree fully with what skyguyscott posted...it's spot on.
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Old 06-24-2020, 08:37 PM   #13
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Welcome, Booberboo. Sounds like you are looking for an education.


Newell makes very expensive motor homes with aluminum skin (like Airstream) and uses a spray foam insulation. It is a several step process, with a couple or three different foams used. It has been several years since we did the Newell factory tour, but that was one part that really got my attention. Of course, since they are doing that to each of the hundred or so coaches they build each year, they have quite a setup for it. You, doing only one coach, might not be able to duplicate their system yourself. Might be worth a bit of time to find out more about how and what they do.
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