Fitting Windows In A Camper Van Conversion
Fitting windows to your camper van conversion is one of the best finishing touches to change it from a van into a campervan. This guide lays out the different options of window type, and how to fit those windows to your van.
Having windows in your campervan gives more light and more ventilation to the vehicle. Great if you are going to be spending large amounts of time in your camper van. The downside is that windows make your camper van less secure, they can be expensive to buy, and are a bit tricky to fit.
You can pay someone to fit the windows for you, but it tends to be expensive. If you are a confident DIY'er or engineer consider fitting the windows yourself. Because fitting a window involves cutting a hole in the side of your van you need to make sure you don't get it wrong.
Adding a window to the sliding door of your van is particularly useful as it allows you to see traffic coming from that side when pulling out of junctions.
Types of window
There are several types of window used in camper vans:
Bonded windows are the new sort of factory fitted window used by van manufacturer since around 2001. They are made of glass or plastic. They are normally attached to van by a very adhesive strip that sticks to the outside of the van. Bolts, clamps or screws are not normally used. They have a very flush fit, keeping the same smooth lines as the van exterior.
Bonded windows tend to give a larger field of vision, as the edge is small. They often open by swinging upwards, hinged at the top like a caravan window. This allows the window to be opened up to allow air in.
Bonded windows are available for most modern vans. The come in exact sizes for your vehicle, as the vehicle will have panels ready to take these windows.
Fitting bonded windows is not easy. They are also very expensive. Expect to pay £200+ for a side door window for a Volkswagen T4 or T5.
Rubber-mounted windows are the older, more traditional style of van or campervan window. They are much cheaper than bonded windows, and I would generally recommend most camper van DIY'ers consider this type if window. Rubber-mounted windows are almost always made of a flat sheet of glass.
The glass window sits in a large rubber frame. This frame slots in the hole in the side of the van. Rubber-mounted windows don't open up, as they are not hinged. Most don't open at all, but you can buy versions with a sliding section, that allows air to travel in.
Rubber-mounted windows are the recommended type for most DIY'ers. Prices start at about £70 for most vans, expect to pay about £90 for windows that open.
You might be able to find used rubber-mounted windows at van breakers. They may still be fitted to the van. Mini-buses are obviously full of them. Using an angle grinder to cut the metal around the window is the easiest way of removing a window from a scraped van.
If you are looking for really cheap windows, or already have a donor caravan, then consider using old caravan windows. Caravan windows come in different styles, but most are of the clamp-style, where there is an outer part of the window, that goes outside the van, and an inner part of the window which goes inside. The two parts are held together by bolts that pass through the van wall.
Fitting caravan windows can be the easiest of the lot, however the window will be designed to fit a certain thickness of van wall, i.e. the caravan wall. The thickness of your campervan wall will have to match that of the caravan.
Most van walls are only a few millimeters thick, so you need to pad the inside of the van wall. If you have insulated your van then you already have a padded interior, and caravan windows may fit well. Always measure both your van walls and the caravan wall before buying or trying to fit.
Caravan windows can be found cheaply on eBay, from the local newspaper or from caravan breakers.
Seitz are a manufacturer of window, rather than a type, but they are quite distinct so I have listed them here. Seitz make perhaps the best campervan windows there are. They are used by most professional conversion companies.
Seitz windows are a complete unit. They contain the inner frame fitted to the van, a window pane that normally hinges up like a caravan window, a fly screen that pulls down, and a roller blind that pulls down. The whole unit is very well made and a very neat complete product.
Seitz windows are expensive. Expect to pay £200+ for a single small window. If you can afford these windows then I highly recommend them, as they are very neat.
Fitting campervan windows
OK, so you've chosen and bought your windows, now it's time to fit them. Before you start cutting holes in your van check you have everything you need. You don't want to leave the van overnight with a big hole in it whilst you wait for a tool, etc.
Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guide to help you fit windows. I will take no responsibility for any damage caused to you, your vehicle, your windows, spouse, or relationship should anything go wrong. You are responsible for this task alone.
What you need
- A window
- All the parts needed to hold the window in place. If you have bought a kit, you should have everything you need. But check you have the window, rubber or plastic frame, sealant and bead tool for rubber mounted windows. Bead tools are really important for rubber-mounted windows, as it makes life much easier. Windscreen sealant is perfect. It is more flexible and remains flexible after setting, unlike silicon sealant which sets hard. Use a sealant gun to apply.
- A jigsaw - with lots of metal cutting bits. You are likely to break quite a few bits. Using a hacksaw is not really an option. You need neat straight lines.
- An angle grinder - useful for removing struts in the side door, but is not essential. Borrow one if you don't have one.
- A metal file - for removing sharp edges after cutting the hole.
- A sharp knife - such as a Stanley knife
- Paper or cardboard - for making a template. Your bought window kit should come with a template already.
- Paint - to paint over the exposed bare metal, to stop it rusting.
- Blu-tak - for holding the template in place when you cut.
- Safety goggles - when cutting the metal. Seriously, you should use them.
Whatever the type of window you have, the fitting process is generally the same. I will go through each step, adding variations depending on the type of window you have.
Important: If you are going to insulate the inside of your van, then I highly suggest you fit the windows before insulating the van. Fitting the window without the insulation and inner wall present is much easier. Also, cutting a hole into the newly added inner wall, to allow the window light through, is very difficult if you do not know where the window is on the other side. You can measure, but it is difficult. You also risk breaking the window.
Tip: before you cut any holes, read this guide, get everything you need together, read the guide again, do a practice run, and then go for it......
Lets get started
- Create the template
You need a paper or cardboard template to cut around, when making the hole in the van. If you have bought a window kit you should already have a template. If you don't then place a piece of cardboard flat on the floor. Place the window in the middle of the cardboard. Draw around the window. The hole, and template, needs to be bigger than the window as the frame will sit in the hole, and the window will sit in the frame. Draw a new line around the window shape adding the extra space required for the frame. If your window does not come with instructions indicating the extra space needed, you will have to work it out. Rubber mounted windows generally required 7mm. But you need to be sure of this. You cannot make the hole you have cut in the side of your van smaller.
If you need 7mm or extra space around the window, your template should be 14mm wider than the window. Double measure everything. Remember: measure twice, cut once.
Cut around the outer line of your template with a sharp knife. Don't cut yourself of the kitchen carpet.
- Preparing the van
Choose where in the van you are going to fit the window.
Tip: if it's your first time fit the window to the sliding door. If it goes wrong you can at least buy a new sliding door. Replacing a side panel of the van is not really an option.
Most vans have panels where windows would be fitted if the van were a mini-bus. This is the best place to fit the window. These panels have struts running up and down to prevent the panel bowing out when driving along.
You need to remove the struts from the inside. An angle grinder is the best tool, but you can also use a hacksaw. Cut the struts at the top and bottom, and then remove the strut from the metal. Be careful no to cut anything other than the strut.
- Cutting the hole
OK, now the important bit. Position the template inside the panel you are going to cut out.
Take care to position it in the middle, measure the edges to make sure it is level and center.
Blu-tak the template to the panel, so it holds itself there.
Now have a cup of tea/coffee and stare at the panel. This is your last chance to change anything before you start cutting holes in your van.
Use a drill to drill a hole inside the template, near the edge, so that you can insert the jigsaw blade.
Using the jigsaw start cutting from the hole, towards, the edge of the template, and them very carefully and slowly cut around the template. Take your time. Take extra care when cutting around the rounded corners. A jigsaw is very good at this task, so just be patient. Take a break if you need to, you don't have to make the cut in one go.
After every 30cms or so, stop cutting and add thick masking-type tape to the inside and outside of the van, where you have just cut. This will hold the loose metal panel and stop it flapping when you cut the rest.
Once the panel is free, file down the rough metal edges.
Measure the hole again. If it is too big then.... well.... sorry, you've done something wrong.... But if it's correct then you're ready to fit the window.
Before you do though, paint the exposed metal edges. You need to stop the edges from rusting.
- Fitting and sealing the window
If you have a rubber-mounted window you need to fit the rubber frame into the hole. Cut the rubber frame to the right length, making it slightly too long to allow a neat butt finish. (remember you can cut some off, but can't add some on). Slot the rubber frame into the hole, trimming the end if necessary. Now slot the pane of glass into the rubber frame. This isn't the easiest job and having someone to help makes a big difference. Careful now as the window can just fall out. So, using the beading tool, and a bucket of warm soapy water, feed the beading between the rubber frame and the window. This will secure the window into place.
Now lift the rubber frame away from the van edge and squeeze sealant between the rubber and the van wall. This will seal the window to the van, stop rust forming and reduce vibration.
If you have a caravan or Seitz window slot the whole window frame into the hole from the outside of the van. Add any sealant required to make it fit securely. Once tight add the back part of the frame from the inside of the van. Now add and tighten the bolts/screws to secure the inner and outer parts of the window frame together. You can unscrew and remove the frame if necessary, if you need to add more sealant.
If you have a bonded window stick the windows adhesive edge to the outside of the hole you have made. But, make sure you get it in the right position, as you won't be able to move it once it sticks on! Add the interior frame from the inside, should you have one.
- Finishing up
Now the window is fitted take time to ensure you have vacuumed up all of the metals fillings and other debris that have come from the van wall. Those filings rust really quickly and will cause other metal to rust.
Also inspect the outside and inside of the window frame adding any sealant where necessary.
If you are not happy with the finish you can remove the window/frame and try to fix and issues. Better to get it right the first time though!
OK, so you've fitted the window, and it's looking good. Well done, this is perhaps the most daunting job when converting a campervan. Go get a cuppa, you deserve it :o)