Whether it’s a Transit, Sprinter or Promaster, many people find themselves in the same position at the start of any van conversion process. An empty base panel van with no windows. There may be rear windows but the sides and slider door are often solid panels.
One of the first things to tackle in a van conversion process is to install windows.
There are many things to consider and decisions to make when deciding to add windows to your van. This guide lays out the benefits and drawbacks as well as the different types and location options for camper van windows.
Do you need windows in a van conversion?
The main benefit of adding windows to a camper van is improved ventilation. A good ventilation system helps exchange air by bringing in clean, fresh air from outside and exhausting hot, humid (and sometimes smelly) air. Opening a window is a simple and effective way to improve air flow. Combined with a roof mounted exhaust fan, windows are the perfect way to add the necessary intake to effectively exchange the air in your van.
To a degree, windows allow for some control of the temperature within a van. They can help keep air moving on a hot day. Just remember that the inside of a van can only get as cool as the outside air.
There’s no way to get around it. Many things done in camper vans tend to create high humidity environments. Water from cooking food, burning propane and even breathing all contribute to increased levels of moisture in the air. This becomes even a bigger issue when winter camping. The temperature difference from outside to inside creates an ideal environment for condensation and the inside can quickly transform into an icy cave. Cracking a window to exchange the air can help mitigate this issue.
Another main reason to add windows during a van conversion is what they can do to the feel of the space inside a van. Windowless vans can feel dark and cramped. Windows provide a great light source during the day to help brighten up the inside space. Natural light also means that powered lights don’t need to be used during the day and this helps conserve energy.
What are the different types of van windows?
Bonded camper van windows are normally attached to a van by a strong adhesive. Bolts, clamps or screws are not normally used. They have a very flush fit, keeping the same smooth lines as the van exterior. They typically come in exact sizes designed specifically for a certain make and model, as the vehicle will have panels ready to take these windows.
Rubber-mounted camper van windows are where a glass window sits in a large rubber frame. This frame slots in the hole in the side of the van. The van metal is sandwiched between the outside frame and an inner trim ring using screws to hold it altogether.
Fixed windows are a solid piece of glass that has no openings.
- Factory - Most factory windows in newer vans are fixed. Factory windows are usually available for the rear doors and slider door. You can also order factory windows from the passenger version of your van and install them in the proper locations in your panel van as many have the same body panel cutout locations that allow for seamless installation.
- Porthole - Porthole windows can provide the benefits of bringing light in without the commitment of cutting large holes. These windows are typically 12inches in diameter or less.
To get all of the benefits of installing windows, windows that open are a must.
- Hinged - These windows include any style that has the window opening outward via a top hinge. The main benefit to this style is that they can often be left open in light rain to allow ventilation without letting water in.
- Slider - Slider windows have the opening by sliding all or a portion of the window glass over the fixed portion.
Determining where to install a window in a van takes the most planning. It is essential to have a solid idea of the final van layout because windows can dictate a variety of things such as storage options and bed height.
- Sliding Door - This is one of the most common locations to install a window. Windows designed for sliding doors are usually the largest window sizes and allow for the most light. This is also a great location because it improves visibility for the driver when coming up to tight intersections.
- Driver Side Panel - Just behind the driver's seat is another popular window location. In many van layouts, this is where the galley kitchen is located. Putting a window here can provide nice lighting and ventilation when cooking. It’s important to take into account the planned countertop height when installing a window here.
- Mid - This area is only found on larger extended vans and refers to the area between the slider door just past the rear axle. Mid windows can also be a great location as they are less likely to interfere with internal build components such as bed, countertop and storage. It’s important to ensure that any windows installed on the slider door side will not interfere with the opening and closing of the door.
- Rear ¼ - This refers to the last 5 feet of the van. Many people converting vans like the idea of having a window in their bed/bunk area. Windows located in this area can provide a nice breeze at night and a great view to wake up to in the morning. Just make sure bed height is taken into consideration to ensure the window won’t be blocked.
- Rear Doors - Many panel vans come with factory rear windows included. Not all of them do but most. This can be a great place to add some light and visibility when driving. Options for windows are limited and most likely factory windows are the way to go.
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Check out our DIY Camper Van Knowledge Center for more info to help you with your camper van conversion.