Installing a Sprinter Van Roof Fan
In this post we’ll cover our roof ventilation fan choice for our second Sprinter campervan conversion, installation tips, as well as thoughts on placement. As far as we're concerned, a roof vent is mandatory in any conversion as it allows you to safely cook inside without the doors open (essential for rainy days), so although this is a committing project to start your build with, it's an important one.
DISCLAIMER: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. **This post also contains Home Depot affiliate links and we will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on the links.
One of the very first projects we took on when we brought home our brand new shiny van was to cut a big hole in the roof! We had successfully installed a roof vent in our first Sprinter buildout two years prior, so we felt pretty good about tackling this project before moving on to our windows. We share our installation tips for the four aftermarket windows we installed in this post.
This may be stating the obvious, but it should be noted that you’ll want to have a dry forecast or an indoor space (with very high ceilings) to tackle this project. It would be a bummer to end up with a big hole in your roof during a rainstorm! The lap sealant that you apply at the end of the job needs some time to dry as well, so make sure you take that into consideration.
It's also worth mentioning that it’s a good idea to contain the metal shavings on any project where you cut through the walls/roof of your van. They tend to get *everywhere*, and having tiny pieces of metal inside your walls could start a rust issue that will come back to haunt you later. Our friends at Our Karavan shared the great idea to use rare earth magnets to collect the shavings as you drill/cut (we saw this tip too late to take advantage). It’s worthwhile to cover the interior of the van with tarps or old sheets even if you use the magnet trick. Regardless, a thorough clean with a shop vac will be in order to get any stray shavings that escape once you’re done. Likewise, you’ll want to carefully seal all metal edges that you expose on the van after drilling and cutting with paint. We used self etching primer, which we sprayed into a reused plastic container and painted on with a foam brush. Color doesn't really matter as you end up covering these edges. Sealing these surfaces will prevent rust issues that could be detrimental to the future of your walls down the line.
Fan Choice + Layout
During the two years we spent living in our first Sprinter van, we found that the fan we chose was perfect for our uses, so we went with the same MaxxFan model on our new setup. There are quite a few different options on the market, and most will probably get the job done. However, it’s something we use every day and we’d always rather buy the best one we can find that will be super functional and last us the life of our build. We love the fact that this vent can not only stay open, but actually run the fan in the rain. When we’re cooking or sleeping, we don’t have to worry about water coming in if it starts raining, and we generally just leave it open all the time when we are parked. This is a key feature of this particular fan, and the only one we know of with the capability to run in the rain that is still so low profile in the closed/ ‘driving’ position. It can also be set to turn on at a certain temperature, which we often use when leaving the van for the day. We like knowing that the fan will automatically turn itself on when it gets hot inside. This is worthwhile peace of mind, especially if you’re ever leaving a dog in the van for longer periods.
We also chose to keep the placement of the fan the same on our second build--in the ‘forward’ position over our kitchen area. This allows us to ventilate while we’re running our propane stove/oven. Since we cook in the van every day, this was a big priority for us. We love being able to crack a window and turn the fan up to cook even when it’s cold or rainy and still not asphyxiate ourselves. Some people choose to install a fan in the rear of the vehicle, over the bed. This option can help with condensation and climate control at night (you’d be surprised at how much water vapor two sleeping humans can produce!). We’ve also seen some people install two fans, one in front, the other in back, to get the best of both worlds, especially on longer vans. We have actually thrown around the idea of adding another fan over the bed, although we think it might be a little excessive for a 144" Wheelbase Sprinter. These decisions will depend on both your layout and the way you will use your van.
This particular fan mounts in a standard RV 14” by 14” square opening. First we made a square wooden frame for inside the van using 2x2 studs from Home Depot. The screws that come with the fan will go from the top down, through the flange, through pre-drilled holes in the roof and attach into this frame. We used the frame as a template and measured at least 8 times to ensure we had the perfect placement before marking the square to cut out on the ceiling. We then drilled holes in the ceiling (from inside the van) on the 4 corners of the square and connected the dots to mark our lines on the outside with a permanent marker. You can practice drilling inside the square if you want as this will be a throwaway piece. We taped around the edges of the square on the roof (to avoid scratching the metal with the shoe of the saw) and used a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade to cut the square from the outside.
It takes a little filing to clean up the burs and get the hole to perfect size as we cut it a bit on the small side. It’s a good idea to err on the side of caution--you can always make a hole bigger, but it’s hard to make it smaller. We used hand files to smooth things out. We dry fit the mounting flange and pre-drilled the screw holes through the body of the van (from the roof), then we cleaned everything up with rubbing alcohol and carefully painted the raw metal edges we just cut with self etching primer. Once the paint was dry, we cleaned everything with alcohol again and used a strip of butyl tape and a bead of silicone on the roof between the flange and van body, clamped, then screwed it in place to the wooden frame.
Next, we used self leveling lap sealant to go over all the screw heads and around the edge of the flange to make a watertight seal. Once everything is dry, the next step is to install the fan unit itself. It just screws to the flange in 4 places. Easy! The wires will be left dangling until you’re ready to connect them into your electrical system.
Maintenance note: You will want to periodically check the condition of the lap sealant around your roof vent to make sure it is still watertight and there are no cracks or gaps. Every year or so, it's a good idea to reapply. It would be a huge bummer to end up with a leak in the roof so give your sealant some love! Depending on how it's looking, you may be able to just spread some more sealant on top of the existing seal. Or you may need to remove what's there and start from fresh. Either way, give it a good wipe with rubbing alcohol to ensure it's clean before you reapply.
The fan comes with a plastic white trim piece that can be screwed into place on the interior of the van once you have your ceiling material installed. We’re jumping ahead a bit, but we eventually decided to customize our trim to match the rest of the van with reclaimed barnwood, so we ended up modifying the plastic trim piece. The plastic is easy to mark and cut, and we still used the ‘vertical’ portion of it while cutting off the ‘horizontal’ portion that we replaced with barnwood. Depending on the thickness of your ceiling material, you will also most likely end up cutting this piece to fit even if you are using it as intended.
Maintenance note: Every few months we like to pull down the screen on the vent and give it a good clean, along with the blades of the fan. Ours tends to get pretty darn dusty, and this freshens things up. We've found the easiest way to clean it is to spray some simple natural cleaner (we use a homemeade vinegar/water/essential oil solution in a spray bottle) on a kitchen towel and wipe both the blades and the screen clean.
We also (eventually) made a cover for our vent to seal it up completely while not in use. We do notice a bit of road noise while we drive, even with the vent closed, and this quick DIY cover totally eliminates any wind noise. We’ll go into the materials and design we used in a later post about our window shades and link back here once it’s live!
These are the manufacturer’s installation and operation instructions for the Maxxfan if you need more detail or diagrams, or you're just one of those people that reads the instructions like me ;)
Honestly there's not much to say here as far as sustainability. We cut a big hole in our roof with power tools, plopped a thing made almost entirely of plastic that we ordered on Amazon, and used numerous substances known to the state of California to cause cancer to seal everything up. There are certain aspects of building a van (and life in general) that there just aren't really eco-friendly options for. About the best you can do here is to make sure you buy the most optimal components you can so you don't end up having to replace something down the line, and wear a face mask when working with the auto paint (ahem... Cade....). I guess at least since the south side of Cade's parents shop/barn is pretty much completely covered in solar panels, the energy we used all came from the sun, if that counts for anything.
If you find this blog post helpful, please feel free to visit our “Thank You” page to leave us a note or send us a Paypal contribution that will allow us to continue producing useful content. You can also use the affiliate links throughout our posts to help us earn commissions on your purchases. You pay the same price, we earn a small fee. Thanks for helping us help you!
Silicone or Sikaflex