Insulation Installation | Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion: Part 2 ⚙️

"Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation: now, a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper." - Henry David Thoreau

In this post:

  • Insulation Installation

  • Cassette Toilet

 

Why, hello! It's been a minute since Brian and I have been able to work on our trailer (or since I've been able to write about it!). The last 12 months have brought unexpected family health scares (thankfully unrelated to Covid), a failed house hunt (directly related to Covid), and prolonged car troubles (sigh). Needless-to-say, I'm looking forward to a near future where I'm not operating at quite this level of daily stress. I just can't wait to go camping on wheels.


So in the meantime, let's talk trailer!


Insulation Installation


It was a perfectly overcast October 2020 day with autumn leaves just beginning to fall - time to finally put some of our design ideas and plans into action!


We started by inserting foam board insulation into the walls and ceiling, with the addition of spray foam on the underbelly and the spaces between joists. Insulation is important because it helps regulate the interior temperature, ensuring that it doesn't heat up too quickly in the summer and remains warm in the winter. Although we don't envision using the trailer in feet of snow or layers of ice, doing what we can to slow any unwanted input and output of heat seems important, especially since we view our trailer as a slightly more sophisticated, hard-shelled tent and not a luxury mini-home.



The trailer came with pieces of plywood as the walls and thin metal paneling as the ceiling. These were removed and stored in our shed throughout the installation process. (Once we decide where to install our windows and vent, the plywood will be returned [to sit on top of the foam board insulation] and covered with lightweight linoleum or vinyl paneling - but that's a different discussion!)


 

It is my belief that accurate and detailed documentation is necessary for the success of any project, especially one as big as this one. Henry David Thoreau once wrote of his 10 x15 foot, hand-built cabin on the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts:

I give the details because very few are able to tell exactly what their houses cost, and fewer still, if any, the separate cost of the various materials which compose them.

Our trailer is only 6 x 10 feet - if Thoreau can do it, we can too.


So in honor of my dear friend Henry, our materials list for this portion of the project included the following:

  • Foam Board Insulation (3/4" x 4 x 8).................... $93.44

  • Foam Board Insulation (1" x 4 x 8)........................ $52.77

  • Liquid Nails Heavy Duty...................................... $17.96

  • Duct Tape......................................................... $4.48

  • Box Cutter......................................................... $0

  • T-Square........................................................... $0

  • Spray Foam...................................................... $0

In all......................................................................... $168.65


Some items - like the cutter, spray foam, and T-square - were already in our at-home workshop while the insulation and liquid nails (not including the dispenser gun) were purchased new.


(Brian carried the foam board insulation on his back.)


 

The foam board insulation pieces were cut to 6 feet high and15 inches wide, plus or minus an inch on the latter to accommodate inconsistencies in the spacing of the z-joist (z is the shape of the metal wall framing that supports the trailer), also more friendly known as studs or framing.


My brother stopped by to help.


As you can probably tell, I am the least construction-savvy member of this team (I'll shine when it's time to for organizational design) and don't always use the correct terminology. But where I lack in knowledge, I make up for in curiosity!


What I learned this day was that the trailer contains both wall joists (the wall framing) and floor joists. I also learned that to accurately cut a piece of the foam board to size, the distance between the studs (wall framing) is measured from the center of one frame piece to the center of the next frame piece. The framing in the trailer is generally 16 inches on center (O.C.), meaning that there is about15 inches between each frame piece to fill with insulation.



Much to our misfortune, these widths weren't all 100% uniform from floor to ceiling, which made cutting the insulation a bit tricky. Several times we had to slice on strange angles to make pieces fit snuggly. In addition, the point of the trailer (pictured in the back of the photo above) required different measurements. Brian says that if he were to purchase a trailer over again, he would look for one without z joists but with square joists instead.


Once the boards were in place, it was my job to use the spray foam gun to fill any visible holes or gaps to ensure maximum insulation.


In total, it took 8 hours to fully insulate the walls, ceiling, & underbelly.


 


Cassette Toilet


As the physical construction of the trailer was underway, we were - of course - still considering the larger picture. This included comfort items we didn't want to go without. And what's more important, I ask you, than the toilet situation?!


How can I write this delicately? Neither Brian nor I are new to going to the bathroom out of doors, but we still want an in-trailer option for obvious reasons. We first considered installing a stand alone black water tank but quickly changed our minds after investigating plumbing options and the long-term associated costs.


Then the most exciting thing happened: we discovered the realm of cassette toilets, or permanent toilets with built-in portable black tanks that can be manually emptied. In other words, these little buggers are self-contained plastic toilets complete with a bowl, seat, and lid but without any pipes leading to or from. Ours even came with its own toilet paper holder! Yup, we fancy.




After much deliberation, we decided to go with the 18.39 x 15.75 x 17.83 inches Porta Potti 92306 White Thetford Corp weighing in empty at 13.45 pounds. It not only had the sleekest design of all the models we researched online (hello, my little droid), but it also had the highest ratings across YouTube Channels and blogs. (And believe me, we watched a TON of toilet videos!)


It also has the option of being secured to the floor of the trailer with the purchase of an additional 12 oz bracket piece. Otherwise, the full toilet is completely portable and can even be taken on regular tent camping or even beach trips, if draped in a popup tarp. Who doesn't love versatility in their toilets?


  • Porta Potti 92306 White Thetford Corp.................... $171.03

  • Mounting Bracket................................................. $28.36

In all............................................................................ $199.39


I won't go into any of the specifics here, but most people recommend using cassette toilets for number one only - unless it is an emergency. Even with cleaning chemicals and holding tank deodorizers, there is always the potential issue of smell. The cost of these items are not included as they will be future reoccurring purchases.


Our kitty, #MisterVík, supervising the unpacking and inspection process.



Up Next:

  • Ceiling, Windows & Walls

  • Convertible Bench to Bed

 

Further Reading:


Thoreau, H. D. (2016). Walden. Macmillan Collector’s Library.