While working at Vanlife Customs, I was able to help hundreds of people navigate the process of converting a camper van. While there is no shortage of van conversion content available (we’ve all fallen down the youtube and Pinterest rabbit holes), it was my job to consolidate the vast sea of information into something useful and approachable. One of the very first steps of converting a camper van is installing aftermarket windows and vent fans, so let’s get started!
We added 6 aftermarket windows to our Sprinter, totaling over $1,600.
6 windows added:
– CRL Sliding door t-vent
– (x3) CRL 37″x16″ sliding windows
– (x2) CRL rear door windows
Before you decide to cut a bunch of holes in your brand new Sprinter, let’s discuss the pros and cons of adding windows and vent fans to your conversion.
Light. Most people purchase cargo vans without windows to convert. While these windowless metal boxes are great for stealth camping, they can feel pretty claustrophobic once the doors are closed. Natural light is one of the best ways to avoid the “free candy” vibe of a cargo van.
Ventilation. Smelly gear, wet dogs, hot nights, and cooking up that fish that you just caught can quickly take over your tiny space if you don’t get some air moving. Tip: Whatever brand of vent fan you get, make sure you get a model that has both intake and exhaust functions as well as a rain sensor. It’s worth the extra $$, trust me on this one.
Visibility. I always recommend getting some sort of glass put in your sliding door. Being able to check blind spots while driving, especially if you aren’t used to driving large vehicles, is really important for safety and driving confidence. Rear door windows were an awesome choice in our Sprinter build because we had a low convertible bed and I could actually see out the rear doors while driving. That being said, if you plan on having a loft bed with a garage/storage underneath, rear door windows won’t be very useful and they don’t offer any ventilation (they are also notorious for leaking). You might want to consider vented bunk windows instead.
Price. We added six aftermarket windows and a MaxxFan 7500k to Juicebox. While it looked pretty cool, and had some awesome airflow, it was definitely overkill and cost us over $1,600 with a wholesale account (#ouch). On average sliding door windows will run you between $350-$750, smaller bunk windows are $200-$350, and a MaxxFan 7500k should cost around $350 (although I’ve seen them cost upwards of $600 lately due to demand). If you aren’t comfortable cutting giant holes in your van, which is totally understandable, a reputable shop will charge you around $250/window and will typically fix any leaks that may occur in the future (be sure to confirm with them prior to making an appointment).
Installation. If you don’t want to pay the pros, installing windows yourself can be intimidating, but it’s totally doable. There are dozens of great videos and blogs to walk you through the process. Two of my favorite tutorials are Live Like Pete and Project Vagrant. Try and catch any window/fan leaks (pressure washers at a car wash are a good test) prior to installing wall and ceiling panels. It’s not a huge deal to go back and add more sealant, it IS a huge deal to have to remove cabinets, walls, and ceilings because a leak caused your interior panels to mold, warp, and rot.
Heat loss / climate control. Single pane auto glass is a major culprit for heat loss. Every window in your van reduces your insulation capacity and introduces the potential for cold drafts. So if you plan on camping anywhere that gets chilly, you might want to reconsider that all glass passenger van, or you can add some insulated window covers to your build. Take it from our friends Isabelle and Antoine over at Far Out Ride,
Privacy. If you are trying to be stealth in a city, light and noise coming from your windows is an obvious sign that your van is occupied. If you are at a camp site, festival, or parked anywhere around other people and you don’t want them to watch you change or sleep, it’s wise to consider a curtain solution like our signature Window Jackets that can remain on the windows at all times.
More things to consider:
Window/Fan location. Primarily you’re going to want airflow for sleeping and cooking. That’s why you’ll notice most vent fans are installed above the bed or the kitchen. If you have a long wheelbase you can get away with having two fans and still have enough room for your solar panels. My standard recommendation is a fan above the bed, and a vented window behind the kitchen. Crack the window and flip the fan to exhaust mode while cooking, and then switch the fan back to intake for a cool breeze while sleeping.
Tip: if you have a kitchen that is located behind the driver’s seat, don’t install a t-vent window behind it. Most counters will be higher than the vented part of the window, making airflow difficult/nonexistent. Consider a smaller 1/2 slider (10”x33” is the most common). That way you can have ventilation, an insulated wall panel, and still have space to hang a spice rack!
Window Brands. There are several companies that make aftermarket windows for van conversions. Three big names in van glass are CR Laurence (CRL), Motion Windows, and AM Auto (AMA) windows . Having worked with all of these, I can’t say there is a clear winner. CRL and AMA have windows designed to fit seamlessly into your van’s factory window stamp, so if aesthetics are important – you might want to start there. Motion windows are slightly smaller (which means they can’t replace non-vented factory glass), but provide more airflow than the CRL t-vents.
The most common piece of glass in a sliding door is a CRL t-vent window (that’s what we put in our Sprinter build). Aesthetically, it’s great, but the screened/vented portion of the window is relatively small and doesn’t offer a ton of airflow. It is also recommended that you close all t-vents and awning windows while driving. So if I had to do it over again, I would opt for the AMA half slider. The glass still fits into the factory window stamp, the vented area is larger, and the window can be open while driving.
Bunk windows are small windows typically in the rear near the bed. If you camp mostly in warm weather a cross breeze from two bunk windows and a fan can really make a world of difference, but drafty windows in cooler climates can be a real buzzkill. Also if you have a Promaster you will probably be sleeping in the van widthwise (6’1” and under sleep comfortably widthwise in a PM) which means your pillows and feet will block the window. CRL, AMA, and Motion all make bunk windows.
Tip: Pricing from all three brands fluctuates frequently with supply and demand, so buying windows during the winter months might end up saving you a couple hundred bucks. If at all possible, I would highly recommend buying your windows through a local rv/van shop and picking it up. Call around and see if any local shops have spare windows in stock. Most builders order extra windows because glass can be backordered for 2+ months. This also bypasses residential shipping fees, which can run you upwards of $200 depending on the window. Remember to check all of the glass for cracks and flaws before accepting the package.
Whether or not you decide to add fans or windows to your van, we hope you find this guide useful. Stay safe and let us know what else you would like to learn about!
Still have questions? Want to share your van conversion stories and insight with the community? Tell us in the comments below!
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