There's a hole in the roof for the stars to fall in*

Building out the van ourselves requires quite a bit of technical skill we do not possess.  I am not handy.  I’ve never built anything really.   I only own one power tool.  So we’re kind of faking our way through it (and doing surprisingly well, I might add).  But cutting huge holes in the van’s side and roof for windows and a ventilation fan would push our luck too far.  We decided this job was just too risky for amateurs and started looking for experts.

QUICK LOOK
Products Used: 
    * MaxxFan Deluxe 6200K 
    * CR Laurence Windows
Special Tools: just a phone and the internet
Frustration Factor: 
    * First installation, minimal.  
    * Fourth try, high

Turns out good help is hard to find.  An internet search turned up two local camper van converters and a few commercial van upfitters.  We spoke with all of them but struggled to find someone we liked, did this type of work, and had time available on their schedule.  Eventually we connected with Jesse from Happy Vans in San Jose, and we dropped the van off with him for 3 days.

 The "factory look" window on the sliding door.

The "factory look" window on the sliding door.

Our requirements for windows were pretty simple.  We wanted windows that opened to allow air flow and preferably awning style so we could have them open in the rain.  CR Laurence (CRL) seems to be the biggest RV/Van after market window company.  There are a few other companies out there, including Motion and a variety of no-name brands you can find on eBay.  CRL makes a zillion varieties, including some custom-sized for the Promaster so they have the “factory look.”  Ultimately, the deciding factor was Jesse typically works with CRL, so that was just easiest.   We picked a factory-style window for the sliding door with an awning opening, and two slide-opening windows for the rear doors.

Our original plan included 4 windows: in the sliding side door, on the driver’s side wall across from the sliding door, and on each of the back doors.  After getting a price quote from Jesse, we dropped the one on the driver’s side.  Ultimately, I’m glad we did.  The windows we got provide plenty of light and airflow.  The 4th window would have just added more expense and complicated building out the wall.

 Simple sliding windows on the rear doors.

Simple sliding windows on the rear doors.

After researching ventilation fan options, I concluded most people go with MaxxAir fans for good reason.  They have a reputation for being reliable and a great design allowing them to operate in the rain.  Amazon had a good price on the MaxxFan Deluxe 6200K.  This one has a “smoke” colored cover and no remote control.  I couldn’t figure out why I’d need a remote control when I can reach the fan from every location in the van with my nearly-golden-eagle wingspan (see proof here). 

 Fan, maybe without leaks.

Fan, maybe without leaks.

Despite paying a professional to install the fan, it may be the single most frustrating thing we’ve done in the van.  A few weeks after we picked it up from Jesse, El Nino kicked in and California’s drought came to an abrupt, although perhaps temporary, end.  As the skies rained precious water on our parched state, it seeped into the van through a corner of the fan.  The first time we took it back to Jesse he added a few more pounds of caulk around the fan as he shook his head in disbelief.  The second time, Jesse’s guy thought he found a small hole in the caulk and assured us his new caulk application would never leak.  The third time, Jesse agreed to pull the fan all the way out and start over.  So far it appears the last fix worked.  We’ve made it through two rainy days without a puddle forming in the van.  Hopefully that’s the last trip to Jesse.  Luckily he was pretty accommodating and every time I called him he made time to work on it the next morning.

The leaks set our ceiling and walls schedule back by about 2 weeks.  But with the fan and windows behind us, we are finally picking up speed.  It’s starting to feel like this van thing may actually work!

 

* That's a Joe Purdy lyric from Worn Out Shoes.  Go listen to it.

 The finished fan with some of our cedar planks installed around it.

The finished fan with some of our cedar planks installed around it.