(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.