Al's Creative Vandwelling Modifications-ADCO RV Windshield Cover
(Today we are going to have a guest post from my friend Al about four different modifications he made to his van. I thought they were very creative and wanted to share them with you. I hope you find them helpful! Be sure to check out his blog: http://rollingsteeltent.blogspot.com/)
After the first ten months in my van I’d learned which things worked for me and which needed improvement, Here are four things I either did right or corrected to make work better.
The first improvement is a straight-off-the-shelf item used exactly as it was originally intended. (Not very creative, but…) My windshield had cracked because, according to various people, I’d used a Reflectix shade. They said it gets incredibly hot between the shade and the glass as sunlight bounces back and forth between the two. The heat causes tiny chips to expand into cracks. So after I had the windshield replaced I went looking for an alternative shade. I stumbled across an RV window cover in a configuration for my van. There were Ford and Dodge versions, too. Classic Accessories White RV Windshield Cover
It’s vinyl with a fuzzy backing. I don’t know yet how well it might keep out heat, but I could layer other insulation between it and the glass if necessary. It’s held in place with straps and magnets and is easy to install and remove. It folds down to about the size of a loose leaf binder or, if you roll it, the size of a bread loaf. It can blow off in strong winds, so I stick the edges down with more magnets.
When I started out, my Dometic CF-25 fridge sat naked next to the driver seat. Then I was given enough foil-backed closed-cell foam board to make a box around it. That helped reduce the amount of time the fridge ran, thus the amount of electricity used. Later I wrapped the foam box with three layers of Reflectix. That helped some more but was kind of clunky looking. It also kept falling apart. Yeah… duct tape repairs. Get the Dometic CF25 from Amazon here: Dometic Portable Freezer/Refrigerator
So this summer I decided to build a new box out of 2” foam-backed closed-cell foam board. I taped the sides and end pieces together (with openings for the fridge vents) and used that assembly as a guide for the bottom piece. I could have just made a top, hinged it with duct tape, and called it a day, but I wanted to skin the exterior with plywood to make it durable. That meant I needed a way to hold the plywood together, besides gluing it to the foam board. An external frame was the answer. The frame I built could have been simpler and lighter, I suppose, but the design evolved as I went along.
The box lid originally hinged the same way as the fridge lid, but I discovered (oops) that it hit the van ceiling. I changed it the other way so it would stay open without me holding it.
Besides protecting the foam, the wood box also raises the fridge off the floor, away from van exhaust heat. It allowed for a strong hinged and latching lid as well. And I could mount two 12V outlets to it, too. The fridge plugs into one of them. Since the fridge is near the dash, I can plug it into the van’s factory 12V outlet when I drive for a while, saving house battery power.
I painted the box white to decrease solar gain, then added Reflectix panels between the frame pieces and on the lid, because more insulation is better. And sexier looking. The fridge runs so much less now, even in summer. Get Reflectix from Amazon here: Reflectix 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation
My original electrical wiring was functional, but a mess. So I mounted it to the fridge box, and upgraded all my wiring.
I used to have a steel cabinet where the passenger seat once was. It didn’t work out very well. So I removed it and put the fridge there instead, bolting it down to the former seat anchors. The only drawback with the location is that the fridge and wiring will need to be moved in order to remove the engine cover. I think the tradeoff is worth it.
The cabinet I’d removed had been home to all my atlases, among other things. Where could I put them? How about a thin, flat box between the mattress and bed frame? The cross braces could act as dividers. It was simple to build. Just cut, glue and screw. It cost me two inches of headroom, but I don’t notice it much.
I originally assumed I would need some hinges, but attaching them to plywood would be a problem. Then I realized all I really needed was some locating pegs to keep the top panel from sliding around.
One thing that worked out great from the start was my idea for overhead storage. Mailboxes. I screwed a 1×2 to the joint of the roof and wall, then screwed the boxes to the board. And since the boxes are steel, I can stick magnetic tap lights to them. Gibraltar Extra Large Horizontal Wall Mount Mailbox, Black
More on Windshield Covers
Thanks Al for all those great ideas! After I heard that he had to replace his windshield and the glaziers blamed it on his use of Reflectix on the inside of the windshield, that really got my attention. It makes sense because the Reflectix holds all that heat right up against the window so you could have 110 degrees coming from the outside from the sun and then bouncing back from the inside. That makes the glass very, very hot which apparently puts it at risk of cracking.
So putting the Reflectix on the inside puts the windshield at risk, but I’ve always thought putting it on the outside was a better idea anyway because that way the heat is never allowed into the van at all. No matter how well you cut the Reflectix it can’t seal so tightly around the windshield to keep all the heat out, some will get in making the van hotter. But, it you put it on the outside of the windshield, very little of the heat ever gets inside, keeping it noticeably cooler. In fact I cut my Reflectix to go on the outside of the windshield and it works extremely well to keep the van cooler. However, it’s a pain in the butt to put on and take off and then in the rain or wind it’s damaged or blown away. The bottom line is its so difficult I just don’t bother with it.
As soon as I saw how great the cover Al bought was working I had to get one myself because it solves all the problems I was having with the Reflectix on the outside. So I searched Amazon and ordered this one: Adco Windshield Cover for 2001-2013 Chevy Express Vans. It cost $40 and I’m very pleased with it. It fits my 2001 Chevy Express pretty well, so I tried it on Judy’s 2007 and it fit perfectly. So apparently there were some minor changes in the body over that time frame but it still works extremely well on both. What I like best about it is it appears to be very good quality and I think it will last a long time. Plus, it’s very easy to put on, even easier than Reflectix on the inside. It has pockets on the corners that just slide over the corners of the doors and a magnet to hold it at the bottom of the window. It also has an opening for the mirror and a velcro strap that goes under the mirror to hold it in place.
Adco makes them for every van. Here is a link to Amazon for the one that works on the 1997-2010 Ford van ADCO Windshield Cover for 1997-2010 Ford Vans
I highly recommend ADCO RV windshield covers to you! You’ll be cooler, the windshield won’t crack from the heat and you’ll get some light in the van during the day.
I liked storing the atlas under the bed, neat idea!
I saw a vw camper where the owner had Ikea breadboxes mounted up towards the ceiling along the side, sort of like the mailboxes were.
This is the fuse panel I used:
It should say “foil-backed” where it now says “box out of 2” foam-backed closed-cell foam board.” Oops.
Any what the windshield covers are made of? Is it just a canvas tarp?
Vinyl with a fuzzy backing.
fuzzy backing makes sense, wind blowing the cover around might scratch the car paint without it.
Very resourceful modifications — or “hacks” as they’re calling them these day. I especially like the map storage. It’s so hard to keep your maps from getting beat up.
Vinyl with a fuzzy backing sounds a lot like a tablecloth. Just wondering hard it would be to make one.
Pat, I was thinking the same thing! Do you think that would work??? It would be a LOT cheaper than a factory made one.
I haven’t looked at vinyl tablecloths in quite a while, so I don’t know what they’re like these days. This cover is thicker than the tablecloths I remember. And the covers might have some sort of UV-resistant composition. But if you’re handy with a sewing machine, it’s worth a try.
I’ve always liked Al’s van, and he’s done nothing but improve it. It is probably the simplest, cleanest build I’ve seen that is not so minimalist that you feel like you’re always temporarily camping in a rental. If I ever replace my truck with a van I’ll certainly copy many of his ideas. Only major change I’d make is I’d leave the front seat in and add a swivel. But that’s just because I seem to always have a kid or wife or something that thinks they should get to come on my adventures too!
I might have kept the passenger seat if I had managed to find a suitable extended van. But all the used ones in my region (I searched all over the Southeast) had been beat to crap or were out of my price range. I knew I would need the room more (every day) than the ability to carry a passenger.
all outstandingly clever ideas. I read Al’s blog, but it’s good to see them all in one post.
BTW, what mileage does Al’s van get again? And Judy’s? Just wanted to compare with my projected truck purchase.
I get about 17mpg.
Ming, Judy averaged 17 MPG on our trip to Alaska. She has the larger 5.3 V8.
Ming, I got 24mpg between my most recent fill ups. Mostly it’s 17 to 19…I don’t do jack rabbit starts & anticipate slowing traffic patterns as much as possible to avoid using the brakes to go from 30 mph to a dead stop for a red light. Also very important to replace the air filter as needed. In the dusty desert, that’s a couple times a year.
Best of luck finding your vehicle! judy
thank you Al, Bob and Judy. 24mpg is impressive!! Judy, I drive like you do, to try to minimize gas usage.
I’m still thinking Tacoma with barebones camper on it, a 6 cyl 4×4 by helpful commenters’ recommendations on this blog. It looks like that combo will run 14.5-18mpg, which doesn’t sound too bad compared to your 17mpg figures.
Ming, I’m a huge fan of the Tacoma! Awesome vehicle! They are small though, you have to truly be a minimalist.
What? No special mods for Chet?
He keeps nagging me for a throne.
I have a windshield cover like that for my 2001 Ford van. It is quite heavy and difficult for me to get it on. It does give better privacy than the inside curtain and I like to use it when I am boondocking.
I’m a little surprised because mine doesn’t strike me as heavy and mine is easy to put on. Maybe it’s a different brand.
The outside vinyl covers have been around since the mid 70’s. We used to use them made of good quality naughahyde although they wouldn’t fold up to the size of a binder because the material was much better
We used a strip of plastic channel on each end that fitted on the door before you closed it or magnets that were sewn on.
And yes, you can DIY them yourselves although for $40.00 it’s hardly worth it given the price of material these days.
Thanks Beth! It is fairly expensive and their are cheaper ways to do the same thing. You’re just buying the good fit and convienance and if you have the money it’s a pretty good deal.
If you’ve trimmed your life back to what can fit in a van or other vehicle, you probably don’t have a sewing machine or even a place to spread out fabric, even if you have sewing skills. So buying a shade might be the only option for some people. As for the fridge box and bed storage I built, I wouldn’t have been able to if a brother-in-law hadn’t let me use his shop. I don’t carry a table saw or mitre saw with me.
The comment from Beth is spot on. If someone is interested in using a good quality vinyl, they could visit an upholstery shop and ask to see a Naugahyde sample binder and look at the marine grade patterns. Special ingredients (Plasticizers and UV Inhibitors) make the vinyl pliable and fight the suns rays. The patterns and thickness are all over the map for the intended use. Had a chance to use up thousands of yards of Naugahyde and other brands of vinyl over the years and have seen the wear and tear (backsides and sunlight). American made will still outlast others. Also have had the chance to tour the Naugahyde plant in WI and see how vinyl is made. Quite an experience.
Thanks Foster! That’ll help people who ant to make their own.
Judy mentioned that the air filter needs changing more often because of the desert winds. Do people need to cover the front grilles/ hoods of vehicles when parked to help keep sand and dust out of the engine compartment? I’m a total desert newbie!
Ming, I’ve never heard of anybody doing that.
good! One less thing to remember to do!
Also, modern air filters don’t need to be REPLACED as often as those selling them would like us to believe. Shake them, blow them out (from the inside) and you’re good to go for another six months.
Hey there, Im just trying to gauge whether putting Reflectix in my rear side windows (which are already tinted too) is a good idea or no? It seems logical for keeping out extra heat and insulating on cooler nights. But this article has got me concerned about extra heat getting trapped in between the window glass and Reflectix. I understand the windshield because it is wide open. Whats the general consensus here?
Zach, first, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a windshield cracking because of Reflectix, so it is very rare. Since your windows are tinted, it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
My advice is too put the Reflectix on the outside, but very few people can do that for everyone who can’t I say go ahead and put it on the inside of all your windows. The odds of a problem are tiny!
You can count me as another one with a cracked windshield, just from those fold out reflector screens! Last summer it was.
I am racking my brain to come up with a way to insulate using all natural materials. So far, I use a lot of blankets and skins, but want to figure out a way to insulate the roof without glue. I am sensitive to solvents. I might try ropes or lath or bamboo. Fun challenge.
Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge.
Rita, thanks for writing that, I’d never heard of cracking a windshield from reflectors inside but here are two cases in just a little while. I like the idea of natural insulation, I think wool blankets might be a good choice. Good luck with the roof!
I carry one of those windshield repair kits and use it asap after chip or crack apear they seem to work if used according to directions to stop spreading you may still see org. damage
Forest, that’s a very good tip, I’ll have to pick one up!
Thanks for the tip about using the windshield cover! I have been thinking about how to keep our van insulated a bit more. That sounds like it’ll be a great option!
Veronica, I have one and it works really well.
I didn’t realize that certain shades could cause your windshield to crack. Even though I don’t drive an RV, I still might want to check my shade to make sure that it’s not reflecting heat onto my windshield. I don’t want to replace my windshield due to it overheating and cracking. Thanks for the information, and for the rest of the article!
Hazel, that’s the only time I’ve ever heard of it either, but it makes sense. On a really hot day the Reflectix would hold all the heat right by the windshield ad build it up like a greenhouse. I could it getting 150 degrees right there.
Thanks for sharing! I hadn’t realized how much impact heat had on expanding cracks, so this is a great accessory for your vehicle!
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