A campervan window fitting is an absolute necessity! It brightens up the interior and improves ventilation by letting in fresh air. It is also a requirement in the UK by the DVLA when converting a vehicle into a campervan. In this guide I will show you how to very easily install a window in your van!
In our Roaming Home 2023 Study, we found that a window installation was by far the most common exterior modification done in a van conversion; 87% of people have a window installed in their van.
I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for years; I'm the author of Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan,writer of The Van Conversion Newsletter, instructor of The Van Conversion Course over at Udemy. And full-time vanlifer for 4 years!
Now let's jump in and have a look at van window installation!
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Types of campervan window fitting
When buying a campervan window fitting you have the option of buying a clear or tinted window. Van window tinting is important and a tinted window is generally recommended for campervans.
Benefits of van window tinting:
Ensures that nosy parkers can’t see any valuables inside the van.
Helps with keeping your van cool on warm summer days (keeps the sun out).
Preserves your vehicle interior. UV rays damage and discolour furniture over time.
Privacy when you are walking around your van naked. A common occurrence in my van.
When buying a campervan window fitting, you also have the option of a sliding or fixed window. Sliding windows are great because they allow air into your van without having to open a door. When paired with a roof fan, they can really cool down your van. However sliding windows do tend to be more expensive.
How many campervan windows should I install?
The answer to this question largely depends on the location in which you live. It is important to understand that the window will be the biggest thermal bridge in your campervan. That is technical jargon for ‘your window is a really bad insulator and will transfer a lot of heat’.
In winter having a lot of windows is bad because your van will get very cold, especially at night. Even with the heater running, you will lose heat very quickly.
In summer having a lot of windows can also be bad as your van will get very hot during the day (unless you use window covers / shades).
As a general rule of thumb, if you only use your van in warm climates, you can afford to have more windows. If you use your van a lot in winter (like me), be sparing with your campervan windows!
I have one fixed window with 80% tint in my sliding door.
Tip: I recommend installing a window on the opposite side to the driver’s seat, towards the front of the van. This gives you visibility of one of your blind spots when you are turning; you can look through the window to see if there is oncoming traffic.
Campervan window blinds
Before we hop into the van window installation, let's touch on campervan window blinds first - something you will have to tackle at some stage.
On the cosmetic side, you can consider installing campervan curtains. Curtains will give you privacy and offer some insulating properties, primarily protection from the sun!
Because glass has one of the very worst e-values, it is imperative that we cover it up to slow the heat transfer. You need to consider window insulation. You can make DIY window covers by cutting some Reflectix and attaching some suction cups to the corners. As a winter vanlifer, I can tell you first hand the importance of window covers! Do it! Else, you can purchase nice -premade window covers.
How to install a campervan window fitting
To install a window in your van you will need a window bonding kit, these can be bought online.
The window bonding kit should contain the following;
Step #1: Make a cardboard template
Get your hands on a large piece of cardboard and trace a light outline of the window onto it.
Then make another, thicker trace indented several inches on all sides. This will be the shape we need to cut in the side of the van. The indentation is needed so that we have enough room to glue the window to the van.
Note: This cardboard template typically comes with the window you have purchased.
Place the cardboard template over the location where you will fit the window. Temporarily stick it to the van with tape and trace around it with a sharpie.
Step #2: Drill pilot holes
Drill pilot holes around the traced line. Make sure you put a tarp on the floor inside the van to catch all the metal shavings (swarf) that come off. They rust very quickly and could damage your van.
Make sure you use a drill bit that will cut through metal; one typically uses cobalt drill bits for this purpose. They are resistant to abrasion and drill efficiently, they also dissipate heat quickly.
Step #3: Cut a hole in the side of your van
The best tool to use for this job is a jigsaw. Indeed, it is the single most important tool in your entire van conversion. Jigsaws cut corners very nicely and are easy to use.
Ensure you are using a jigsaw blade that can cut through metal. To make a clean cut, hold the jigsaw very firmly (it tends to wander, which can cause damage not only to your van, but to the jigsaw itself!). Cut your way around the pilot holes until you cut out the complete shape of the campervan window.
Note: To prevent the jigsaw from scraping the painted metal as you cut, you can/should place strips of masking tape down first.
Tip: When cutting, take intervals to add a few drops of tapping and cutting fluid to the cut. This reduces the heat of the blade and allows a straighter cut.
After removing the cut-out, file down the edges with a metal file to reduce the burs and remove the loose metal shavings.
Apply metal paint to the exposed edges to prevent rust and leave it to dry.
Step #4: Prep the van for bonding the window
You will prep the van for bonding in 4 steps, using your window bonding kit.
1. Rubbing alcohol: First use rubbing alcohol to clean and prep the area on the van where you will stick the window. Spray/rub it directly on the metal surface where you will fix the window and on the window. Leave it for a few minutes to dry off naturally.
2. Glass activator: Then apply the glass activator with a microfiber cloth (comes with the window bonding kit). The glass activator enhances the bonding surfaces of the glass (glass and metal), activating the adhesive on contact. Apply the activator to both the van and the window.
3. Primer: Next, apply the primer to the van where the window will be placed (to the edge of the metal). The glass primer chemically alters the glass surface, increasing its surface energy and making it more receptive to adhesive bonding.
Ensure you use masking tape around the edges as the black primer is just like paint. Allow about 15 minutes for the primer to dry.
4. Glue: Finally, apply glue on the van. Lather it on generously! Apply it continuously around the metal edges without leaving any gaps. Start from the bottom and work your way up - ensure you join the two ends of the bead of adhesive to form a watertight seal.
Glue can be quite thick and hard to apply. To make application easier, warm it up in warm water first.
Step #5: Install the campervan window!
Place the window right over the big hole! It is a lot easier if there are two of you to handle both ends of the window when placing it on the glue.
When the window is in place, push it firmly on the glue to seal it. Tape it to the van so it doesn’t slide and leave it to stick for several hours.
Note: Some people choose to use glass suction cups to stick the window to the van (a more accurate placement + easier to lift). This is the tool the professionals use. I personally found no need for this given the second pair of hands I had.
Step #6: Apply sealant
Most window installation instruction manuals don't mention using sealant because silicone can corrode the window adhesive glue if they touch. However in my opinion, sealant is really important to ensure a waterproof seal! The sealant will effectively seal up the gaps between the two surfaces.
Just make sure that you only use the sealant on the very outside of the window - make sure the sealant doesn't touch the glue on the interior!
To apply the sealant, first mask around the area, then apply a thin bead all the way round. Finally, wet your finger and trace over the bead to smooth it over.
I hope you found this guide to Camper van window fitting useful! You are well on your way to a beautiful self-build campervan!
Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion (I'll send you a free wiring diagram when you join).
If you're looking for some guidance with your van conversion, you might be interested in Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan. In the 380-page book (or ebook), you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,