10 Ways a Vandweller Can Stay Cool in the Heat

Video-Cool-Van

By far the hardest part of living in a van is coping with summer heat–it can be miserable!! If you live in a city and stealth park there is virtually nothing you can do but look for and try to park in the shade whenever you can. Even the noise of running a Fantastic Fan powered roof vent on the roof or a portable fan inside the van can ruin your stealth and  bring unwanted attention to you. Obviously running a generator is out of the question and even if you have enough solar to run an Air Conditioner they’re so noisy they are problematic at best.

So there is very little I can offer vandwellers who live in the city, but if you are a boondocker and live on Public Land, there is a lot you can do to stay cooler because you don’t care what you look like and if anyone notices you. I put Reflectix on the outside of my van and I don’t care what anyone thinks, as long as it works!

But, I have to warn you that unless you have a generator or enough solar to run an Air Conditioner, they best you can hope for is to keep the inside temperatures the same as the outside temperatures. But, even that can be a big improvement! If It’s 95 degree outside and you do nothing to keep the van cool, after an hour it will be 140 in the van–now that’s hot!!

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On the other hand, I know for a fact (because I’ve done it numerous times) that by using these simple techniques that on a day when it’s 95 degrees outside, you can hold the heat down to 95 inside, and on an 85 degree day outside to 85 degrees inside–that’s a saving of 45 degrees, making it bearable to be inside the van. To my mind, it’s well worth the money and effort to cool the van by 45 degrees!

Here are 10 Ways to Beat the Heat

1- Be a Snowbird and move to where it’s cooler. For every 1000 feet of elevation you go up, the temperature drops about 3.5 degrees. Go up to 10,000 feet and it’ll be 35 degrees cooler than sea level! Unfortunately sometimes circumstances won’t allow you to do that so you have to figure out something else.

2- Park in the shade. While that’s fairly easy in the National Forests, it’s nearly impossible in the desert and in many cities. Plus, if you have solar you must park in the sun or you’ll lose your power source.

3- Put Mosquito netting over your windows. That way you can leave them open for ventilation. The easiest and cheapest way is to A) cut the mosquito netting bigger than the window, B) use duct tape around the edges so they don’t unravel and C) use Magnets to attach the netting to the door. I have regular mosquito netting from Walmart on my van–and I greatly regret it! It still lets No-See-Ums in and they are horrible. Buy this No-See-Um netting from Amazon here:

4- Install a Fantastic Fan on your roof. Nothing will do you more good than having a powered fan on your roof. The only thing better is to get two, one pulling air in, the other pushing air out!

5- Get a Portable fan to keep near you, pointed at you. I like and own both of these,

6- Put ladder racks covered with plywood across the roof. I like to put plywood over it so the entire roof is in the shade at all times, but you can put enough solar panels on it to do about the same thing. I bought this ladder rack from Amazon because it was incredibly inexpensive ($51) but in 5 years has served me very well (like all steel ladder racks, it does rust somewhat). They come as a pair but I split a second pair with a friend so I have 3 on my roof. Highly recommended!

7- Attach Four foot wide pieces of Reflectix onto the OUTSIDE of your van using bungee cords and spring clamps. It works well on the inside of the windows of your van while you’re moving, but it work much better on the outside! On the outside it reflects the heat away so that the sheet metal never even warms up and heat never gets inside the van. Putting Reflectix on the inside of the van lets the heat in where eventually it will work it’s way around and into the van–even if you have insulation on the walls. It works tremendously better to have the Reflectix on the outside!!

Clamps

8- Get an ADCO Windshield cover for the windshield of your van. I love mine and wouldn’t be without it!! Again, if you put Reflectix on the inside of the windshield, the heat is already in the van and it WILL work it’s way around the Reflectix and into the van the ONLY way to keep it out is with the windshield cover on the OUTSIDE of the windshield!! They make them for nearly all years of Chevy, Ford, Dodge and Sprinter Vans, and best of all  they install very easily, (no snaps or mounting in any way).  You just slip a corner pocket over the door, put a piece of velcro around the mirror and a magnet holds it on at the bottom (not all of them have cut-outs for the mirrors). Super simple and yet stays on extremely well! Let me say it again; I wouldn’t be without one of these–highly recommended!!

This is the ADCO parts number list for their windshield, Find the one that works best for you and order it off Amazon.

This is the ADCO parts number list for their windshield covers. Find the one that works best for you and order it off Amazon. If you use any link on this page, I’ll make a small amount and it will cost you nothing.

9- In the Desert, use shade cloth instead of Reflectix on the outside of the Van. The wind in the desert is so strong I don’t believe the Reflectix would hold up to it, even worse it will probably rub the paint off your van. Instead I use shade cloth I buy at KB Tools in Quartzsite and I’ve been extremely happy with it!! Very durable and keeps out 90% of the suns heat while allowing the wind to blow through it and into the van. Amazon sells 70% black (you want it to be black), 10×20 shade cloth. Attach it to the gutter of the van and use stakes and bungees to tie it down away from the van. It gets good reviews:

10- Put an awning out. I own one made by ARB that is 8 x 8 feet and it is very good but this Smittybuilt is just like it (but smaller at 8 x 6) for less money:

So there you have it, 10 ways to stay cooler in your van. Following these simple steps you can  keep the inside temperatures of your van down to a bearable level and make your life much more pleasant!


I’m making Videos on my good friends James YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/cheaprvliving

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Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

42 comments on “10 Ways a Vandweller Can Stay Cool in the Heat
  1. Lucy says:

    Bob, I have 2 questions:

    1) while been in the desert, would a wet towel hanging into the van help to bring the temperature down due to the process of evaporation ?
    2) those no-see-UMs are the same as gnats ? the latest are miserable, horrible tiny beens that could cover your whole entire body in a matter of seconds without you been able to avoid them or to see them, those things are BAD NEWS with capital letters, Last year I had one outbreak of them in my garden, I couldn’t go th the back yard X 10 days at least.

    My regards: Lucy.

    PS: Your articles get better & better with each one U write, THANKS !!

    • Wayne Wirs says:

      Gnats. No-See-Ums. In Marathon, down if the FL Keys, we used to call them, The Cloud Of A Thousand Teeth: http://waynewirs.com/2013/reminiscing/ 🙂
      Wayne Wirs recently posted…A Parable: The ArtistMy Profile

      • Bob Bob says:

        That’s the way they are! In the Juniper forests of the Southwest in the spring the Cedar Gnats are the very worst flying insect I’ve ever seen (or not seen)! As soon as I get my first bite I move up into the Ponderosa Pines, better to risk snow than be eaten alive!! Bob

    • Bob Bob says:

      Lucy a fan blowing through a wet towel directly at you would be very helpful or just misting yourself with a fan blowing on you. The moisture evaporating on your skin cools you off however you accomplish it. Bob

      • Myddy says:

        Good to know, I’ve wondered about the towel thing. I’ve been hearing something to the effect of using a fan and a frozen water jug for regular housing to cool down. I’ve moved back into an apartment and am living the rat race again (unfortunately), but I am trying to not use electricity in this heat and it is hard!

        • Bob Bob says:

          That seems like a great idea, let me know how it works for you! Bob

        • william Smith says:

          Wonder if a milk crate plastic and full of holes put in middle of room put a block of ice in it and lay a fan on top pointing to the ceiling as I know it works with out the ice so adding ice should be much better

  2. Dave says:

    I’ve seen a few evap coolers on van and rv roofs. Bykool/Turbocool used to make these and Lazydaze RV’s had a lot of these either as standard and/or optional equipment. In lieu of that, the old standard when it gets really hot is a spray bottle to spray on your face or clothing – I use a 1 quart pump sprayer (repurposed insecticide sprayer from home depot or lowes) that has adustable spray tip that atomizes well.

    Sometimes if it cools off enough overnight, my vehicle will stay cool til mid-morning if I keep the windows closed and covered. Then as the day heats up, I open opposing windows to facilitate good cross-ventilation.

    These are other no-brainers but worth mentioning, drinking ice cold water and finding a nice swimming hole or stream to park next to :).

  3. cmipilot says:

    Just curious… Why would you want the shade cloth to be black? Seems counter-intuitive.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Yes it does, doesn’t it? My first one I bought a tan color thinking it would work better, but it didn’t. One of the keys is to stake the shade cloth out so it is away from the skin of the van. The heat hits the black cloth and is absorbed by it out away from the van and then radiates away from the van. If you let it lie next to the van, then a light color might work better, I don’t know. But the further away from the van the better because the heat never gets to the van at all. Bob

  4. Calvin R says:

    I’ve done a bit of “stealth” living in New Orleans and a few other places, and I would pay more attention to staying cool than to stealth. I agree with Mike in the video. If someone moves you along, just move along. There are plenty of other places, and it’s not that common to be moved from a well chosen place. I would definitely use whatever kind of fan I could get and get power for.

  5. “Instead I use shade cloth I buy at KB Tools in Quartzsite…”

    However, I believe KB Tools is only open during the winter when the snowbirds and LTVA crowd is in Quartzsite. Shade cloth is also available in desert area hardware/building supply/agricultural supply stores. Also online. It comes in black, green, tan and silver and is rated for the percentage of shade they produce or light they allow through.

    I’ve been working in the sun this summer and it helps a lot when I soak my ball cap in water.
    Al Christensen recently posted…After the storm, before the next oneMy Profile

  6. I sure appreciate all your knowledge I am getting all my ducks in a row I will be ordering these items soon through your link happy to help please do keep doing videos any knowledge is appreciated I will be hitting the road soon

  7. Scott says:

    One of the projects on my list is to attach electrical conduit to the solar panel mounting bars on top of our camper trailers “road side” (ladder rack would work as a base to) and then carabiner the shade cloth to it when setting up.
    Another idea would be to replace awning fabric with shade cloth. My hope would be that the wind would blow through the fabric whereas we have to retract the awning on windy desert days. With both sides covered in shade cloth, one could sit out or set up an outdoor kitchen on either side.

  8. Cindy says:

    Great information. I was wondering how van dwellers do with all this flooding and crazy weather. How do you make sure you won’t be in harms way. Seems worse than in past.
    Thanks Cindy

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cindy, other than tornadoes we have very good warning about all these disasters and even tornadoes have a season so you know when NOT to be there. Avoiding disasters is one of the very BEST reasons to be a nomad! Bob

      • Cindy says:

        Wow, never thought of it that way. Thanks. So much going on lately with the weather! When I get out there can I just follow you if I stay 300 yards away. 😄 I am still nervous about where to go and be and camp and exist. Lol

  9. Seth Delaney says:

    I’m wondering if the “Space Blankets” of mylar or reflective coated fabric might be better for hanging outside the van. They seem more durable than Reflectix and would take up less space when not in use. In this use the reflectivity seems much more important than the isulation of the Reflectix.
    Love your blog, Bob.
    Thanks

  10. LaMarr Harding says:

    This spring I experimented with windshield covers and made One out of silver Lemay and 1 out of a space blanket.

    Neither material held up to the wind for more than a week.

    Useing an infrared thermometer, I found that the white paint and white fabric was actually cooler than the aluminium and and chrome trim.

    My van was 101 in the sun. Parked next to darker vehicles at over 150 degrees surface temperature.

  11. Richard says:

    Excellent write-up on ways to manage the heat. And, I totally agree with all of your comments regarding Reflectix. Thank you.
    I also appreciate the links to Amazon for a couple must-have exterior items. Makes it easier for us lazy folks (me anyway) to just click them into our shopping cart.

  12. joe says:

    Why don’t you just buy a quick tent top with poles to cover the chevy this also helps and it is easy to set up makes great shade that cover you have looks pretty wild I remember listening to car talk a while back and he had a guest that covered his front glass with a window cover like you are doing and I agree it works good just think in about 5 wks it will cool down a lot so hang in there

  13. Francisco says:

    Bob, here is a comment that might really really help people who are trying to stealth camp in the city in warm or hot weather. Trust me, I live in Florida, yes it’s hot and humid, but am I, no.
    Here is how I go about staying cool in the city. I work second shift, but my routine can be used for any work shift. First, the windows in my van are tinted. Second, I use the AC-unit in my dash. I know, I know, it will cost money to do it like this, but it really can be affordable and especially if you have to stay in one spot called employment. The trick is to get ready for the day or work at a national health club like 24-Hour Fitness, then be at work, a library, mall food-court, Starbucks, 3-D movie theater, a 24-hour restaurants like IHOP or Denny’s, or some place of entertainment that you like. The location can be free or expensive, it’s your choice.

    The bottom line is that all these places will have free air conditioning. At night I go to bed late and the temperature will then be at about the 80’s or less. I then will run the air-cond. intermittently but only if I wake up during the night for what ever reason.
    Also to keep cool I run an O2-Cool- 8″ Fan. It is only 8″ inches in size, uses only (6), not 8, alkaline Energizer batteries, that saves money and the fan makes no noise.

    This means I have no need for a roof mounted ventilation fan, roof mounted air conditioner, roof mounted solar panels, no deep-cycle batteries, no electric generator, no kitchen, no shower, no insulation needed, all plastic floor carpet easy to clean- no lint, and no propane appliances. I eat healthy from the grocery store. Eat raw foods or I can use the free microwave at the community college library.

    As for being bothered by the sleep police, I have been doing this for 5-years, not once have I been bothered by anyone.

    Here is my secret to staying stealth.

    I have been staying at an extended stay hotel, no security, and some people actually live at these expensive places for years on-end, yikes! Sooo, there are other vans and many many same or repeat vehicles always parked there. Sooo, very very easy to blend-in with no Big Foot or Sand Man Hunters. Nobody hears or cares if I run my engine, or for how long.
    Isn’t life wonderful, but be very very careful to not make too much noise like setting off fireworks. People then might think it’s a price reduction then the parking lot might get even fuller, joke, then maybe not.

    So you see, van dwelling can be good in Never Never land, FL. Just be smart about life.

    P.S. You can always get your dash air-cond. fixed if or when needed, lots of locations with price competition.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Fransisco, those are great tips, thank you very much for sharing them with us!! Bob

    • A lower-temperature urban stealth spot I’ve used before is the lower levels of a parking structure—once at a hospital and a couple of times at a Las Vegas casino. The trick is finding ones with enough overhead clearance.

  14. AZClaimjumper says:

    I would think TYVEK, something I’m going to try using would make an ideal “shade cloth”.

  15. Karin says:

    Here is a product that comes highly recommended by an experienced vancamper. ( not me )

    http://cleardomesolar.com/cooltarp.html

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