If you’re on a budget or simply fully committed to a DIY van build you are probably thinking about installing camper van windows yourself. If you’ve never done anything like this, it can of course be daunting.
But with plenty of research and a dash of self confidence you can totally do it.
Camper Van Windows Guide
In this blog post we’ll be going over the different types of retrofit van windows, the pros and cons to installing them, where to buy them and location options. Plus a step by step instructions on fitting bonded van windows and a list of all the tools and materials you’ll need.
Disclaimer: We are by no means professional van builders. All the skills we employed in converting our van are completely self taught. So, basically, if you follow what we did something goes wrong, that’s on you. Just saying!
Installing Van Windows – Pros and Cons
The main reasons for not installing van windows are usually cost, security or both. Depending on how many van conversion windows you plan to install, the cost will run into the hundreds. A big piece of glass in the side of your van is also a weak point when it comes to security.
However if you’re not parked up somewhere where you can have your doors open or the weather is rubbish, you also won’t have much natural light. Panel van windows also open up your living space so it feels bigger even when you have the doors closed.
If you’re only installing one roof vent, you’ll also need another opening to let fresh air in and provide ventilation. In tandem with a roof fan, fitting windows in a panel van provides a great cross breeze and allows you to control the temperature. Essential for babies and pets.
In the UK specifically, another reason for fitting conversion van windows is that if you want any hope of having your van reclassified with the DVLA as a campervan installing windows in the living area is a must. You can read more about the requirements here.
Best Windows For Van Conversion
The most popular type are bonded van windows. These are essentially where a hole is cut out in the side of the van and a window quite literally stuck over it. It is glued on with a strong adhesive sealant and sits flush against the outside of the van.
Fitting bonded campervan van windows is relatively straightforward and they are widely available.
But there is another type of retrofit van window on the market worth considering too.And these are framed acrylic campervan windows. The benefits are that they are lightweight, come with built in blinds and mosquito nets and in loads of different sizes.
But they can be more complicated to install because you will likely have to modify the thickness of the van wall with an additional frame. Dometic Seitz are the most popular choice of acrylic camper van windows here in the UK.
Van Window Fitting Locations
We have two windows on our nearside/passenger side. A bonded universal vent window with flyscreen at the back in our bedroom, and a bonded half slider window in our sliding door. They are both privacy tinted so you can’t see in unless it’s dark out & there’s a light on inside.
Another popular place for installing van windows, other than the side panels or sliding door is in the back doors. In most cases camper van windows fit in the sunken blanks panels that already exist in the van. For example where windows would be if it were a minibus.
Of course any external camper van window location and size needs to match the interior layout. The universal vent or van bunk windows as they are also known are great for where you plan to have furniture inside as they can be installed at whatever height within the panel suits best.
For the larger whole panel bonded windows, you will need to purchase specific to the make and model of your van. Framed acrylic campervan windows are available in a huge range of sizes so it’s just a case of choosing what best fits the space of your panels.
When purchasing van conversion windows be sure to buy the right window for the right side. That is to say, the near or offside version. This is important because the opening needs to go to the back of the van for direction of travel and there are also little drainage holes in the bottom.
Van Conversion Windows UK Suppliers
For bonded windows there’s also Leisure Vehicle Windows in the Midlands which is well recommended amongst the UK van build community too. They all come with fitting kits and instructions. And all offer fitting services, some mobile, if you do decide not to do it yourself.
Campervan Window Installation
As already mentioned, our bonded Sprinter van windows came from different places. We didn’t actually fit our bunk van window ourselves because there was a fitting offer on and we were a little worried about how complicated it would be getting the position right.
However in hindsight, after having fitted the other bigger window and installing our roof vents, we could have totally just done it ourselves. The process for both windows is essentially the same, so we’ll run you through how we did it in 10 easy to floor steps.
Bit before we get into it, it’s with mentioning here that before you start fitting bonded van windows, double check you have everything you need. The last thing you want is to cut a big hole in the side of your van only to realise you can’t complete the job.
Allow yourself plenty of time, this is not a job to be rushed. And pick a dry day with no rain forecast. Also be sure to inspect the glass for any damage or imperfections before you start cutting any holes.
Alright, van side window installation, let’s get into it.
1. Mark out the cut
Installing a sliding door or full panel camper van windows are slightly easier to start with because you don’t need a template, you are simply just following the edge of the sunken panel.
Some vent windows kits come with a template, but if they don’t you’ll need to make one by tracing around the smaller area of the window that will be being inserted just inside the van.
First position the template where you want it in the inside of the van, taking account of the height any furniture will be at and making sure it’s central widthways in the panel, and level. Then fix it in place with tape and drill two holes through the centre of it to the outside of the van.
Next take the template off and put it in the same orientation on the outside of the van and tape it in place. Double check from a distance that it looks level and is central widthways from this side. Finally draw around it to give you your cut line.
2. Drill starting holes
After that the next stage is to drill some holes, large enough for your jigsaw blade to fit into, just inside the edge of the cut perimeter. Take extra care when putting a window in a van that the holes do not go over the line or the hole will be too big.
This is easier where full panel van window fitting is concerned because as already mentioned you are just working to the edge of the panel that is already there. We worked from the inside of the van while cutting out the sliding door panel which worked fine.
But you may find it easier to work from the outside to cut against a flat surface. In which case you’ll need to drill holes all around the perimeter and join them up on the outside so you can see exactly where the cut line is.
You might have seen in some van window fitting guides that it’s recommended to remove the whole of the vertical struts with an angle grinder but it’s not. A decent mains powered jigsaw will cut through both sections of metal.
Also for the vent van window only the section where the window will be needs removing, not the whole support.
3. Cut the hole
Consequently it’s now time to join up all the holes with the jigsaw. Before you start be sure to tape up the underside of the jigsaw to prevent the metal on metal scratching your van. Alternatively you can put masking tape directly on the van around the cut area.
Go slowly and take extra care around the corners and across the supporting struts. Make sure you have a fine tooth metal blade in the jigsaw and a few spares to hand.
Every now and then keep adding masking tape to the cut out to stop it flapping around and just falling out at the end.
4. File and treat edges
With the hole cut, the next step is to use a metal file to straighten the edges and remove any sharp burrs.
Most importantly you then need to hoover up all the metal shavings both inside and outside. Not forgetting those inside the edge of the double metal skin, if the door has one like ours did.
If you don’t have an air compressor or a heavy duty magnet borrowing either or is a good idea. They get everywhere and you won’t notice you haven’t got them all until flecks of rust start appearing on your paintwork.
In addition the bare metal edges need painting with a rust proofing paint.
5. Add the trim
Once the rust treatment is dry, the sliding door window hole needs trim adding to the inner skin. This will be provided in the window fitting kit. A rubber mallet is handy to knock it on with and some sharp shears to cut it to size at the end.
This tidies up the look from the inside so it’s not just a bare metal edge there.
6. Clean with alcohol
Also in the camper van windows fitting kit will be an alcohol wipe. This is to clean both the back of the window and outside of the van where they will be sticking together.
7. Apply primer
Next up is to apply the primer to the edge of the van metal. Try to do this in a continuous sweep rather than painting it on. You’ll need quite a thick strip, but be careful not to go too wide so it’s not bigger than the window itself.
8. Apply adhesive
Now to apply the polyurethane bonding adhesive. If it’s a colder day when putting windows in a van it’s best to warm it in some hot water to make it easier to apply.
The nozzle should have a V in it that needs to be pointed away as you work your way around in a continuous bead. There must be no gaps.
9. Stick window in
Having two people will make handling the big panes glass in this next step way easier. Some suction cups will help if you’re on your own. When you have the window in place push it firmly on and slightly wiggle it to get a good seal all around.
10. Support with tape
Finally add some tape to the top of your van side window fitting to prevent from slipping while drying. We also slipped some folded card along the gap at the bottom to give support there too.
Don’t drive the van for a good few hours until the bonding adhesive is completely set. It’s best left overnight if possible. Give it a good wash down to get rid of any remaining metal filings too.
And that’s it, your project should now be looking much more like a campervan than a plain old panel van.
Van Window Tools & Materials
Here’s everything we used during our Sprinter window install:
- Sliding Door Window (with fitting kit)
- Universal Vent Window
- Vent Window Bonding Kit
- Spare metal blades
- Rubber mallet
- Metal file
- Rust proofing paint
- Masking Tape
- Safety goggles
- Safety gloves
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If you have any unanswered questions or some additional camper van window installation tips to add, get in touch in the comments.
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