Insulated window covers are a “must-have” for camper or adventure vans because they provide privacy and thermal insulation (for hot summer days or snow chasing winter vanlife). By strategically inserting magnets all around the edges, the window covers are super easy to install/remove: they simply snap to the metal window contour. Neat and functional, like it should be! The shape of the window covers can be changed to fit pretty much any vans: Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, etc.
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1- Insulated Window Covers In a Nutshell
Back when we converted our Ford Transit camper van, we decided to make the insulated window covers ourselves (DIY). More information on how we made them is available further down this page, but for now, here is an overview of the final product:
A well-made cover should match the window contour AND have enough magnets so the edges stay in contact with the window contour.
Light coming in (from street light, car driving by, sunrise, etc.) is super annoying and disturbs our sleep. The truth is, we don’t always sleep in the middle of nowhere, so light is to be expected!
Compared to an RV, a van is “stealth”; you can sleep on a city street, and chances are that people won’t notice and won’t call the cops on you. But if light leaks out, that’ll reveal your presence…
People are curious, and it’s not unusual to have someone peak inside the van. That’s not cool, and it might even get you in serious trouble: there are laws against indecent exposure so don’t put on a show…
1.3- Thermal Insulation
People tend to go crazy with insulating their van, but the windows are often neglected. Remember that glass (window) is a poor insulator; you can spend a fortune on insulation, but cheaping out on window insulation will pretty much cancel out your efforts…
The greenhouse effect needs no introduction: leaving your car in the sun will raise the ambient temperature to an unbearable level. And because of thermal mass (energy absorbed by all the objects in your van), it will take forever to cool down afterwards. Using window shades dramatically reduces the greenhouse effect, we can’t emphasize that enough.
For us, there would be no winter vanlife without insulated window covers. For example, just removing a single window cover makes the surrounding area cold and uncomfortable (when it’s sub-freezing outside).
2- Insulated Window Covers: Do-It-Yourself (DIY)
This project turned out to be way, WAYYYYY more time consuming than we ever imagined. The problem is sewing the layers all together: we tried with a normal sewing machine, but all it did was break the needle. Turns out an industrial sewing machine is required. Of course, we didn’t have one, so Isabelle’s mom sewed all of them BY HAND. She’s experienced, so we thought it would be fine, but that’s a lot of material to go through, so it’s extremely difficult and time consuming. We’re incredibly grateful for all of her help, but we suspect she’ll never want to do this again 😂 (with reason).
|3M Thinsulate AU-4002-5 (1″ thick)*||eBay|
|3M 90 Spray Adhesive||Amazon|
|Rare Earth Magnets||Amazon|
|Spring-loaded extendable curtain rods||Amazon|
|Synthetic Fabric||We sourced it locally|
*Please make patterns (in cardboard or something) and check the quantity you need. At the time of writing these lines, we forgot exactly how much we used sorry…
We won’t get into much detail, but here is the important stuff:
- The layers are as follow: Low-E/Thinsulate/Fabric.
- The 3M 90 spray adhesive was used in between Low-E & Thinsulate layers.
- The rare earth magnets are POWERFUL …but not that much once they’re covered with fabric, and they have to hold the weight of the cover. Make sure to use plenty of them all around (we used 9 round magnets per cover for the rear doors, 12 for the slider door, 3 for each driver/passenger door) and make sure not to use a thick fabric over the magnets (we wish we had used a slightly thinner fabric, the black border you see on our insulated window covers is quite thick). Also, with time, the magnets have migrated slightly away from the van metal contour, making them even less effective. Bottom line, the holding power is affected by the magnet dimension, quantity, and location accuracy. We didn’t quite find the perfect balance, it’s up to you to do better than us!
Each magnet is contained in a small pouch, and this pouch is sewn onto the the Thinsulate (so the magnet stays where it should):
On Second Thought...
- We should have used synthetic fabric because after a few years our covers shrank a little, and we lost some privacy (especially around the windshield edges).
- The exposed Low-E gets damaged over time, and repairing it is not really an option…
- We love the fact that the insulated window covers can be installed on-the-fly with the rare earth magnets, but we would use more magnets (and make sure they don’t move away from the metal border) and a thinner fabric to retain the power of the magnets.
- The Low-E is not exactly stealth… it might be a good idea to make the insulated window covers reversible: one side with Low-E (to reflect the sun) and one side black (stealth = not to attract attention at night).
- We would use 1″ thick Thinsulate on all covers to reduce the weight and make them easier to store (we updated the “material” section to reflect that!)
– If you’re living with an Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity condition, get these insulated window covers NOW ! Yep, it seems that Low-E is an excellent signal blocker (similar to metal). If you’re working from your van, you might want to get a cell phone signal booster. Once the covers are installed, we lose about 2-3 bars of signal, and we completely lose signal in weaker spots. We sometimes remove the covers to get better signal, but then it gets uncomfortably cold… So get a Monopoly game or get the WeBoost 4GX-RV signal booster! It’s not cheap, but, again, if you’re working remotely, it might be a good investment. There are cheaper options out-there, but this is the most popular and best available:
If we had to start over...
Yeah, we would just buy the insulated window covers and save our precious time to work on our van build instead!
3- The Easy Way (Buying Window Covers)
No sewing skills? Or maybe you’d rather spend this precious time working on your van conversion? Then we recommend going pro:
We’ve been testing a full set of the VanMade Gear window covers in our Ford Transit camper van, and we confirm these things are GREAT! Their contour match the window patterns perfectly, it’s super easy to install/remove them (thanks to the magnets), and they’re quite compact when stored away. As a downside, the thermal insulation is not as good as our DIY window covers, but that’s the price to pay to have more compact window covers. We’re OK with that!
4- You Might Be Interested In...
If you’re like us, the noise of a single mosquito can ruin a good night of sleep. They say that killing the mosquitos before going to bed is part of the Vanlife routine… it actually doesn’t have to! Adding bug screens to our van was a priority, and in retrospect, we’re SO GLAD we did! In the article below, we’ll give you a quick tour of our bug screens and give you a solid option for the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, or Ram ProMaster vans.