Ramblin Farmers share why they chose Havelock Wool as safe, sustainable insulation for their off-grid skoolie.
Logan Hailey is an ecological farmer, writer, and co-owner of Ramblin Farmers LLC. She lives full-time on the road with her partner Cheezy and three adventurous pups. Find them foraging wild plants & mushrooms, working on organic farms, and off-grid boondocking in their self-converted 2008 Chevy Bluebird short bus. Full Disclosure: Ramblin Farmers paid full price for their wool insulation over two years ago - no discounts, no promotions, and no affiliate linking. After seeing the results, they sought out collaborations with Havelock Wool because they love their products and their company. Logan was paid to write this blog post sharing her honest personal experience. All opinions expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Havelock Wool or Bus Life Adventure.
Written by: Logan Hailey of Ramblin Farmers
When my partner and I set out to convert a bus into a tiny home on wheels, we had absolutely no clue what we were doing. All we had was a dream to build a safe haven for life on the road and on farms with our three pups.
Like many, we taught ourselves carpentry, plumbing, solar electrical, and interior design along the way. It still amazes me how far we’ve come. What we didn’t realize is how much we would learn about the downfalls of conventional building products, namely insulation.
Breathing Clearly On the Road
I was diagnosed with chronic asthma and allergies from a young age and unknowingly suffered from Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) throughout my life. Indoor air quality can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, often causing symptoms like headaches, brain fog, asthma, allergies, dizziness, nausea, eye & skin irritation, and muscle aches, collectively known as Sick Building Syndrome (https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Home/The-Inside-Story-A-Guide-to-Indoor-Air-Quality/).
From day one, we knew that our bus needed to be free of chemical toxins and allergens so that I could breathe clearly and enjoy the road. But all around us, we saw skoolie builders proudly installing Spray Foam, Reflectix, and Polyisocyanurate foam board.
In my search for the perfect insulation to keep our bus warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and free of excess moisture and mold, I got lost down a rabbit hole of frightening studies on the health impacts of standard insulation options.
Toxins in Conventional Insulations
From fiberglass to spray foam to foam board, conventional insulations are some of the most toxic and carcinogenic materials on Earth. They are laced with cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde, isocyanates, polyurethane, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
They harbor mold, mildew, dust, and allergens. They seal in moisture, creating a lack of ventilation (which is a key factor causing SBS). Many require specialized equipment or protective gear to install. Not to mention, the production of these synthetic materials has a horrific impact on the environment, as well as factory workers exposed to them. No thanks!
The Ideal Alternative
Our insulation had to be:
1.) Simple to install by ourselves
2.) Affordable for a high R-value
3.) Non-toxic, allergy-free, without any cancer-causing chemicals
5.) Able to prevent moisture buildup or mold
It took countless hours of research before I finally found insulation that fit the bill: Sheep wool batts from Havelock Wool!
Finding Havelock Wool was a godsend. They spent hours on the phone with us answering all my questions (best customer service ever). They were completely transparent about their production processes, sourcing, and customer experiences. They talked us through measuring our square footage, preventing thermal bridging, maximizing airspace, and different install options.
At last, I thought. By then, I was desperate to insulate and move on with our build. We instantly ordered two bags of Havelock’s “Van Life” wool batts (which cover about 200 square feet) for $240 plus shipping.
The batts are 2” thick with an R-value of seven. It was more than enough to cover the ceiling, area above driver, and back walls of our 25-foot short bus. Unfortunately, we had already insulated our subfloor using pink foam board (huge regrets there). In hindsight, I wish I ordered four bags and insulated the whole bus (approximately 300 square feet of surface area on the floor, walls, and ceiling) for $480. That’s $1.60 per square foot.
Installing Sheep Wool
Our wool shipped quickly and arrived pristinely clean, soft, fluffy, and without any chemical smells. I could literally rub my face on it. No other insulation could make that claim, except maybe recycled denim, which is of course cotton, and we all know how jeans feel once they get wet (sounds like a moldy mess! but I digress…)
The wool felt dense and durable, ready to withstand all the crazy roads and unpredictable climates we travel through. After all, sheep wool has been used for thousands of years to insulate doors, walls, homes, and barns, as well as blankets, jackets, and socks. Wool has been found perfectly preserved in Egyptian tombs.
The batts were super easy to install and no protective gear was needed. Isn’t anyone else freaked out by the Hazmat suits they wear to apply spray foam? For more information see this article on why foam fails.
We simply slipped the batts between the aluminum roof and our cedar ceiling panels as we anchored each click-and-lock piece to the beams. Of course, this means we fully gutted our bus (every damn rivet) and we are very glad we did... the old school bus insulation under there was nasty, yellow, and moldy.
If I had a van or a framed ceiling structure, I would've used the cross-rope method. Then you can secure all the insulation in place before installing your ceiling or walls.
Benefits of Wool in a Tiny Home on Wheels
As we worked with the batts, I quickly discovered all the benefits of wool beyond the non-toxic, insulative capacities:
- It is naturally fire-resistant with zero flame retardants. We have tested this ourselves by attempting to light our insulation on fire several times... nothing happens.
- Wool is remarkably sound-deadening and often used for recording studio walls. It significantly cuts down on road noise in our bus.
- The wool is completely bug and insect resistant due to the naturally-occurring lanolin (produced by the sheep) and small additions of natural boric acid (borax), which is basically what your grandma used to wash clothes.
- I have investigated the wool in our ceiling several times over the past years by pulling out the ceiling lights and peeking underneath. It is just as pristine as the day we bought it! No bugs, no critters, no mold, no nothing. Speaking of mold, that was a huge worry for us. Having built our bus in the rainy PNW, we were all too familiar with the gnarly mold problems in nearly every conventionally-built home in Oregon. We also knew that lack of ventilation is a key threat to living in any vehicle, especially a bus.
- Metal and glass repeatedly accumulate condensation, regardless of how many windows are open or fans are running. One person exhales more than a cup of water into the surrounding air every day just while breathing normally.
- Wool simply absorbs excess moisture and slowly releases it back into the interior air over time. Havelock uses this as part of their marketing, but I have witnessed it work firsthand. Even during the longest, rainiest, 100% humidity months of PNW winter, the wool has never shown any signs of mold or mildew. It always feels dry and soft to the touch.
Wool-Insulation two Years Later
It took us one year to convert our skoolie into a non-toxic, eco-friendly space with clean, allergen-free air. We have been living in Magpie the Bus full-time on the road for nearly two years now, rambling from high mountains to warm deserts and everywhere in between.
Our dogs can safely stay in our bus home in most any weather while we are working on farms. The temperature and humidity levels stay comfortably moderated year-round. My lungs are breathing clearer than they have in two decades and I’ve ditched the asthma medications that I took every day since I was a toddler. I’ve got Havelock Wool to thank.
Clarification: Sheep Wool is NOT Rockwool. Keep in mind that Sheep Wool from Havelock Wool is FAR DIFFERENT than the health-harming Rockwool insulation, which is made with industrial waste and toxic slag. Havelock Wool comes from sheep freely roaming pastures of the New Zealand countryside. Rockwool is a synthetic, carcinogenic, and completely un-natural industrially manufactured product of melted basalt rock and “recycled” slag (aka industrial waste). Don’t get the two confused when insulating your bus conversion.