How to convert a van into a refrigerated van

Light commercial vehicles play an absolutely vital role in the UK’s economy, and are heavily used in all sorts of industries to transport everything from edible goods to bulky cargo and power tools. However, more sensitive goods, such as raw meat and pharmaceuticals, require the use of a fridge or freezer van. While some enthusiasts attempt a fridge or freezer van conversion as a DIY project, the expense involved in running one – not to mention the narrow margin for error – means that it’s only generally performed by commercial businesses.

Conversions make up a key part of our core service offering at CoolKit, and our experts have years of experience on delivering bespoke conversion kits for our customers. It’s fair to say we know a thing or two about the process! So, to find out what’s involved in converting a van, first our customers often ask…

How does a refrigerated van work?

There’s a lot of complex technology that goes into the making of a fridge van, but it can be broadly categorised into two main systems; the surrounding insulation, and the actual refrigeration mechanism itself. They’re fairly self-explanatory; the insulation prevents any incursion from heat leaking in, while the refrigeration system actively traps and expels any existing heat out into the atmosphere. These two systems are mutually dependent – one can’t work without the other, and they’re both necessary to maintain acceptable interior temperatures for sensitive cargo such as raw meat, ice cream or pharmaceuticals.

Refrigeration cooling system

The cooling system itself is essentially composed of a network of pipes which are embedded in the roof compartment, trapping any rising heat. (This part of the system is collectively known as the condenser.) Coolant fluid runs through each of these pipes. The fluid uses a chemical reaction to trap any rising heat, before transferring itself to the evaporator system. (That’s the visible bit you can see on the top of many refrigerated vans and freezer vans.) The evaporator cools the fluid, returning it to its previous temperature before circulating it again through the condenser to start the cycle anew.

coolkit refrigeration engineer

Now, that’s the most common form of refrigeration unit you’ll find on most fridge vans. There is an alternative, known as eutectic cooling. This involves large columns of heat-absorbing gel, which soaks up available heat within the van’s storage compartment. Then, these same columns are frozen overnight using mains electricity (as you’re probably aware, power is a lot cheaper during off-peak hours, making this method of cooling more efficient than it might seem at first). It’s a reasonably complex alternative, which means it’s not always a viable alternative for many small businesses we serve here at CoolKit.

Insulation system

The insulation doesn’t involve quite as many moving parts (none, in fact), but it’s vital nonetheless. It’s made of a high-density polymer foam, filled with air bubbles which make it an intentionally poor conductor of heat. The thicker this is, the more effective it is. When the foam is installed in the refrigerated van, it’s then lined with a hard and durable coating, which shields it from being damaged during the loading and unloading of the van. Once this is all complete, the insulation acts as an effective barrier to heat, and a highly influential factor in the lowest possible temperature of the van.


Insulation is usually available in two forms. The first is known as dry lay, which takes the form of white plastic tiles installed in the loading bay. They’re not always the preferred choice for many businesses, partially because the gaps between the tiles can be vulnerable to bacteria, which poses a serious problem for businesses transporting raw meat, as you can imagine! The other version of insulation is known as wet lay, which is sprayed on, not entirely dissimilar to the spray-on insulation people use in their lofts (in general principle, anyway). This is often more heavily favoured for many businesses, as it creates a surface which is beautifully smooth, impermeable and uniform.

As we’ve touched upon above, fridge van conversions constitutes a major part of our business here at CoolKit, in addition to our extensive range of refrigerated vehicles. Right here on our site, you can find out more about the fridge and freezer van conversions carried out by our own in-house experts, or alternatively get more information on our bespoke fridge van conversion kits. And if you need any additional help or advice, feel free to call our sales hotline, where one of our team will be only too happy to provide the answers to any questions you might have.

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