They don’t call Australia a sunburnt country for nothing. When on the road, our vans can feel like a sweat box in summer, while midwinter nights can leave them so cold you’d be forgiven for fearing a dose of hypothermia while seated around your lounge. According to the US Department of Energy, up to 87 per cent of our rigs’ heat is gained through its windows, and 40 per cent of its cosy warmth is lost the same way (most likely when you need it most!).
When we’re off grid, many of us can’t make the most of our air conditioners. It would take an electronics upgrade, 5kW of lithium batteries and 600W of solar up top to justify their use for extended periods. So, what can we do about it?
The simplest and cheapest solution is to strengthen the windows by blocking the heat gain — and loss — with solar screens. We’re talking about something much like the visor you place in the front windscreen of your tow-tug, but custom-cut to fit your rig’s windows. Have something like this, and you’ll go a long way in keeping the temperature of your van at a comfy level, whether in hot or cold conditions. Another bonus is that they can help block out the sun for those mornings when you’d enjoy a sleep-in, and, if thick enough and fitted well, they can even absorb/dull unwanted noise from outside.
Sounds great right?! But if you try to buy a custom screen package at point of sale or aftermarket, your wallet might soon get a workout. Prices can exceed $500 to fully fit-out an RV. Yet you can buy a common everyday windscreen sun visor for less than $15, and even cheaper if you find them preloved. Alternatively, rolls of insulated material similar to that used in commercial screens can be obtained online for as little as $2 a metre.
So, the only thing standing between you and a more comfortable van is a bit of imagination and some inexpensive fittings.
STEP ONE — Gather your parts
For our build, we used a couple of spare windscreen sunshades that we had lying around. If you purchase yours, take some time to find screens with either a patterned or subdued side so that you have a choice of shiny side or not. After that, all you need is a set of grommets, some suction caps, scissors, glue, duct tape and a knife. You’ll probably be able to scrounge most of these things from around the house. Grommets and suction cups are readily available from hardware stores.
STEP TWO — Measure twice and cut once
Minimise waste by measuring all your windows first. Using a whiteboard marker, draw out the shapes on the screen material, arranging them in a way that makes the best use of what’s available. By using a whiteboard marker, you can wipe off the lines if you get them wrong. When you’re finished and happy with the dimensions, cut out your pieces.
STEP THREE — Tidy up around the edges
Now, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, you could hem the cut edges. However, we opted for duct tape which looks tidy enough while still preventing the material from fraying/separating.
STEP FOUR — Line up your holes
The next step is even easier, mark-up where you want to have your suction caps and make a small incision with your knife. Take the time to balance and even-up the placement of the holes in each screen so they look good and properly support the screen material when it’s stuck to the windows.
STEP FIVE — Insert the grommet
We chose snap-lock plastic grommets that don’t require any extra work, but you could go with traditional metal ones with only a couple more tools.
STEP SIX — It gets sticky from here
It may seem a simple job to glue in the suction gap and, to be honest, it is. But you need the right glue.
The radiation from the sun will reflect off the screen and back onto the window. This will create a little hot micro-climate. If you use a glue with a relatively low melting point, the glue will melt and the screen will simply fall off, particularly for windows that predominantly face north. So, glue from a hot glue gun won’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried.
In addition, to make the job last, choose suction cups with the metal hook going though them. Remove the hook and recycle it. The remaining hole will fill with glue during assembly and will provide a stronger hold.