Installing a roof vent should probably be done either at the beginning of a camper van conversion. We didn’t put one in when we first started the conversion and now we have, I wish we’d done it earlier. If you are planning to go to somewhere hot in the summer or do a lot of cooking in the van, vents make a huge difference. They stop windows from steaming up, let extra light in and cool the van down. With no vent, the solar charger in our van last year reached heights of 48 degrees on super sunny days! The vent sits nicely on top of the roof, next to our solar panel.
CHOOSING THE VENT
Since we were adding cladding to the inside of the van, we figured now was as good a time as any to add in a vent. After searching though reviews we bought the Fiamma 40x40cm Crystal Roof Vent on Amazon. The crystal version is more expensive than the white, but this is actually one of those few times, I would say spending a little more money is worth it. You can see out but not in. This means lots of light comes in during the day and you can look up and see the sky. This is a is pretty cool feature. Online, there generally wasn’t much choice of different vents. Going off the research we did, this one had the best reviews and we are extremely happy with it so far. It has now been tested in almost all weather conditions and there’s been no problems.
CUTTING THE HOLE
To install the vent, the exact centre of the roof panel on the van was measured out the dimensions of the vent. To cut the hole, the only tool that was available was an angle grinder (terrifying) and the hole was cut as accurately as we could. The design of the vent means theres a fair amount of room for error. There’s a large overhanging lip both on the in and outside but it’s best to get it as close to perfect as you can. Measure 37 times, cut once!
Something to bare in mind, if you use an angle grinder for this, sparks will fly! Probably best to make sure theres nothing too flammable around like say, carpeted camper van walls for example. We got lucky, no fires this time! Once the hole was cut and tested to make sure it was the right size, we painted the small amount of exposed metal with a rust proofing paint.
INSTALLING THE VENT
The vent was a perfect fit, thankfully. Next came the drilling of all 20 holes for the screws that bolt the vent firmly in place. We used self-tapping screws for this. When they were in place, the tops of the screw holes were covered with sealant to prevent rust. It also makes it harder for anyone to unscrew them and potentially get into the van. Probably an irrational fear, but it’s nice to know for sure.
Next we applied a generous coat of sealant around the outside of the vent, to make sure it stays waterproof. There were also two or three ridges on the inside of the lip that we totally filled with sealant, so we’re fairly certain no water is ever getting in. It’s rained a lot since we did this, so I think we’re good to go!
Finally the underside of the vent goes in. It comes in two parts, so the bottom half screws into the top half to secure everything in place. There’s also a built in bug net to stop any unwanted visitors – another absolute must!
THOUGHTS ON THE NEW VENT
The whole process took maybe 2 hours, but most of that was measuring to make sure the hole was perfect. Once we started cutting and drilling it was a very quick and easy process. Finally we can let some heat out at night and during the day without having to open the door. Very handy for stealth camping or staying in aires (camper van stopovers) that are a little on the iffy side.
If you’re building a van conversion and wondering whether or not to put a vent in, just do it! It was my one regret last year and the only thing I was absolutely set on changing before heading out for another summer. Some nights were just unbearable because the heat has nowhere to go.
After a test weekend away, it’s made such a difference already. The van is so much lighter inside, while not being noticeably colder. If cold became an issue in the winter, we could cover the inside of the vent with some insulated fabric if needed. It was a little weird at first to realise you have a huge hole in the top of your roof but it was cool to gaze up at the sky. Or to watch the rain fall on the outside while being snuggled up warm inside. Hopefully now summer heat will rise nicely out of the van. Along with the two layers of insulation we added, we’re hoping for a big difference. We shall see!