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Winnebago bills the Travato as a 3 season coach, and that’s fine. But Lance, our Travato, was built with a few tweaks to extend his useful camping calendar into the winter. He’s got heating pads on the Grey and Black (sink and shower for us) tanks. There’s a heating pad on the pump that’s used to dump the grey tank. Water lines have been brought inside the coach. The window by the bed is double-paned. But I still had the feeling that I could do more.
I figured it out one day when I slammed one of the doors. It sounded, well, “hollow”. As a 3 season coach, the doors in a standard Travato aren’t insulated. I’m talking here about the large sliding door, and the two rear doors. They do have outer and inner panels, with a dead air space in between; and that works well for 3 seasons. But to take Lance out in the winter, I felt like I needed to do more. And so I did.
Now, I’ll say up front that I am NOT an insulation expert, thermal transfer engineer, heat-flow scientist, or whatever. I didn’t even particularly enjoy thermodynamics in college. What I did to our doors is probably not the theoretical maximum that could be achieved. I’m sure the approach could be improved upon. I’m sure someone will tell me how I haven’t left enough dead air space around this or that radiant barrier, or how I’m not using enough material to mitigate conductive losses, blah blah blah. But I’m also pretty sure that I’ve significantly improved things over stock, and I think you’ll agree. Now onward.
Phase 1: Remove the plastic door panels
This actually isn’t too difficult. The first thing you’ll need to do is find a very tiny screwdriver or some other prying implement and pop off the plastic covers that are over the mounting screws.
When you’re doing this – it helps to have someone else available. That way, when the tiny plastic circles suddenly spring out of their locations at 43mph, hit your driveway, and bounce randomly and impossibly far away, the extra set of eyes can help you find them. They’re approximately driveway colored. You’ve been warned.
Once the covers are off, simply remove the screws holding the panel down. There’s nothing special about that. However, on the large sliding door, the first 7 screws will come off pretty easily.
But if you have the screen door option, the last three screws are a bit difficult. I had to use a right angle chuck and a really short bit for my driver to get them out. You can’t get to them with the door closed, or with it open, so you have to squeeze a hand in there like this.
When you’re removing the screws, you might notice that some of them seem to be missing. At first, I thought this was a build mistake. But as I looked at it more, I realized the missing screws were missing on purpose. Had screws been driven in these locations, they would have been in danger of piercing or fraying wires or other door operating hardware. Leaving them out makes sense, so don’t go driving extra screws in thinking you’re doing something good.
The other thing you’ll want to pay attention to are all those wires and hardware pieces inside the doors. Whatever you do, you don’t want to impede or fray any of those pieces. And also, you should make sure that they remain accessible; because they will likely need to be serviced in the future.
Phase 2: Sound deadening
I like things quiet, and the ProMaster chassis was pretty quiet anyway, but there’s always room for improvement. Big pieces of sheet metal stretched over structural ribs can act as drums, and so I like to do something about them where I can. So the first thing I did was to add some sound-dampening film to the insides of the doors.
There are several products out there for this: Dynamat, FatMat, HushMat, RAAMmat, and more, I’m sure. I’ve actually used no less than three of these different products over the years. Regardless of the chest thumping on various car audio forums, I can tell you that you’ll observe absolutely zero difference in performance regardless of which product you use. They all work well, and they all work about the same.
So if you want to do this, your choice of a product should be based on something other than performance claims. In this case, I went on price. I wound up using FatMat, because it is by far the least expensive in the category. Some folks say it smells worse than some of the other ones. It doesn’t smell bad to me – I can barely detect it. (And I can smell gas leaks that the heating techs with their gas-sniffing-Geiger-counter-thingies can’t find – true story.)
This stuff is very sticky on one side, and has a thick aluminum foil on the other. But it needs a clean surface to stick to, so the first thing you’ll want to do is to clean the inside surface of your door with some denatured alcohol.
While you’re doing this, hopefully you’ll get a feel for which parts of the door you can actually reach your hand into. There are a number of meal ribs in the doors, and access to some of the parts of the panels can be challenging.
Once the door is clean, it’s time to get to work. Measure out an area of door skin that you’d like to apply the FatMat to.
Take those measurements to your roll of FatMat and cut off a piece with a razor knife.
Then remove the paper backing, and adhere the FatMat to the skin of the door.
Use a roller or block of wood to press the mat down, to make sure it’s solidly adhered to the door. But don’t press so vigorously that you dent the door…
And if you have any air bubbles, slit them with the razor knife and then roll them flat.
Well gee, James. That sounds easy.
But just wait until you try it! You’ll be miserable! It takes a lot longer than you think it does. I’ll share some things I’ve learned along the way that will hopefully make it easier for you:
- You’re going to bleed. Have some bandages ready.
There are several things working against you here.
The first thing is that all the metal edges inside the door aren’t really meant to be show surfaces. So they’re not filed, de-burred, or sanded. They’re just kind of sharp and scratchy, and you have to contort and force your hands against and around them to get to some parts of the door.
The second thing is, in some of the doors, there are screws poking through from the outside. You can’t see all of them, and will inevitably wind up dragging the back of your hand across the tip of a screw.
And finally, there’s the FatMat itself. The foil backing on it is pretty thick. Even though I’m warning you now, you’re going to forget this, and at some point you’ll slide your fingers down the edge of the FatMat to press it down. The thick metal backing will act like a razor, and slice your fingertip open. Just accept it, it’s going to happen. The good news, I guess, is it leaves pretty clean cut.
- Keep the FatMat away from the parts that make the doors work. This stuff is no fun to have to remove, so just plan your pieces so that you can stay clear of strikes, latches, cables, springs, wires, etc. It’s just not worth it to try to get past those things.
- Generally speaking, smaller pieces work better. It may seem like you could deploy a piece of FatMat 18 inches wide and 48 inches long, and that would save you lots of cuts. But in reality, those larger pieces have to be rolled or folded to get into position. Then you have to remove the backing somehow, and unroll or unfold the piece to get it into place. That seldom works well. It’s easier in the long run to just resign yourself to pieces of no bigger than 6” x 8” and just go with that.
- When you get it stuck somewhere you don’t want it – and you will – the residue comes off pretty easily with lacquer thinner. This does not seem to harm the cured paint on the ProMaster.
- You don’t have to be perfect, or have complete coverage. Unless you’re one of those people who writes for audiophile magazines, and pretends that digital data sounds better coming through a $100 HDMI cable (btw – it doesn’t), you’re not going to hear a difference from a few square inches you missed. The really important thing in the install of this stuff is to make sure that you get it solidly adhered to the door.
Well once you’ve got that process down, you just keep doing it until you’ve got as much of the door surface covered as you have the patience for. This can take anywhere from half an hour to six days, depending on your personality.
Once you’ve got that part done, you should notice a big difference in how your doors sound when opening and closing them. This does translate to being quieter on the road. But we’re not done yet. It’s on to…
Phase 3: Insulating the interior of the door
With the FatMat on, there’s still quite a bit of space left between the inside and outside of the door panels, and I thought this could use some additional, more traditional insulation. But I didn’t really want to work with fiberglass, and I don’t like the idea of it breaking up and getting into the air in our smaller coach. So I looked for something else.
What I wound up with was a foil-backed recycled denim product that you can find at local home centers. This is the stuff I used (though I bought it locally). There are other, thicker denim products available, but none were available locally and immediately. Plus, I didn’t want to stuff so much insulation in the doors that I interfered with the opening and closing of them. This insulation was only about half an inch thick as I unrolled it (it expands to about an inch).
The down side of this product is that it doesn’t exactly “stand up” on its own like a thicker product would. So I used little bits of aluminum tape to hold it in place.
Again, be careful not to impede the mechanical parts inside the door, and keep in mind access for any future repair work. After working with the FatMat, this stuff is just a joy to use. It cuts easily with scissors, doesn’t stick to anything, and it soaks up blood like nobody’s business.
It’s only a foot wide though, so you’ll have to creatively put the pieces in there to get the coverage you want. When you’re all done, the door should look something like this.
The rear doors are much easier to work with, since you get to stand up and there’s nothing in your way. With the insulation in them, they look like this.
Again, do as much of this as you have the patience for. For reference, to cover the sliding and two rear doors of our Travato, I used 30 square feet of this product.
And now, on to the super-cool
Phase 4: Prodex insulation
If you read the information out there on Prodex, they’d have you believe I was wasting my time with all the other steps, and Prodex was the only thing I needed to use. It has an R-value of 16 for under a quarter of an inch! They put it up in a barn in Phoenix and it started snowing inside! The Heat Miser uses Prodex for his wardrobe!
Prodex is two layers of reflective film around a core of closed-cell polyethylene. It’s good, and it’s thin, but I don’t really believe the claim of R-16. Anyway, I had some Prodex lying around, so I decided to use it to cover the backs of the inside panels we removed in Phase 1. This is even easier than the last two phases.
The first thing to do is to roll out the Prodex over the panel (here, I’m working on the large sliding door panel), and cut it roughly to size.
Then, go back and trim it up to fit within the edges of the panel. You’ll also want to cut out around where the screws and trim caps will go later when you reassemble.
Once you’ve got the piece fitted up as you like, take it outside and coat one side of it with spray adhesive. I used V&S 1081 adhesive that I can only find from RAAM Audio.
And when I ran out of that, I used regular old 3M 77 spray adhesive that I got from the local home center. They both seemed to work equally well. They smelled different, but that’s about it.
One thing to make sure of here is that you SPRAY THE CORRECT SIDE OF THE PRODEX! It looks the same on both sides, and the door panels are roughly – but not perfectly – symmetrical. So it’s really easy to spray the wrong side of the Prodex and then realize it doesn’t fit and then have a sticky mess and start yelling and trying to throw it across your shop but you can’t because it’s stuck to you and then your wife starts laughing but that really doesn’t help matters any and then you just wish you were back cutting yourself on the FatMat again.
But I digress. Once you’ve got the Prodex sprayed, simply press it down onto the door panel and you’re done. Then it’s just schlep the panel back out to your pimped out Travato, and start to reinstall.
Phase 5: Reassembly and aftermath
Reattaching the panels is pretty easy, but not completely easy. Just screw them back on.
And then pop the little covers back inside. These are actually pretty tough to snap back in. Unless you have steel fingers or something, you’ll have to use a hard surface like the back end of a screwdriver to get them to snap back into place. This is also another opportunity to launch them into the far reaches of your driveway.
The really good news now, is that the UPPER panels on the doors are much easier to do than the lower panels, because, generally, there’s nothing inside of them.
The one exception – on the 59G anyway, is the panel over the bed, which will have reading lights attached to it. The easiest way to deal with that panel is to put down the bed and lay the panel on the bed (there was enough slack wire in my Travato for it to reach). But come to think of it, most of you will probably have to put something on your bed to get it high enough.
When it’s all done, it doesn’t look any different at all. Not one bit. It does feel different though. The doors are heavier, and more solid feeling. And it certainly sounds different. Whereas before, Lance’s sliding door sounded like a metal van door, now it sounds like a tank hatch or a blast door or something like that. You’ll just have to catch us out sometime and ask to hear the door.
Time will tell if the insulation is doing its job, and how much quieter we think it is on the road. But my initial impressions are that I’m satisfied.
Would I do it again?
Yes. But I might wear gloves next time. Also, I might not do it in August.
Sound off below if you have any other questions. James out!