Adding Windows to a Sprinter Van Conversion
In this post we’ll go over the basics of installing aftermarket windows in a Sprinter Cargo van. Windows can go a long way to turn a dark stuffy metal box into a comfy home and we spent quite a bit of time perfecting ours. Read on for our thoughts on window placement, installation tips, and a thing or two we wish we would have done differently.
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One of the first projects on the list when you buy a new (or used!) van may be to take a saw to the metal and cut some gaping holes in your shiny new walls. We’ve got to say--this is a seriously committing job without a lot of room for major errors. That being said, the tools and skills required are relatively straightforward--just make sure you measure at least 3 (or 30) times before cutting. If you don’t feel comfortable taking on the project, there are professionals that can install aftermarket windows for you. However, If you’re feeling confident, then we believe in you, let's cut some holes!
Our first Sprinter van was a Crew model, which comes with large forward side windows and windows on the rear doors. We loved all the light that the large factory windows brought in, but found ourselves constantly wishing we could open them to let in the breeze. We also found that we generally kept our shades in the rear windows since they were covered by our mattress as well as the jackets that we hang on the back doors. For our second build, we ordered a cargo van without any extra factory windows. This allowed us to customize our options with aftermarket windows that open to allow for ventilation (with screens to keep insects out). We installed one large CR Laurence window in the sliding door and three panel bed windows from RB Components. We put one panel bed window across from the sliding door (over the kitchen counter), and one on either side of the bed. The CR Laurence window has one small panel that opens on the lower part of the window and comes with a screen that is fixed. The panel bed windows slide open. The insect screens can also slide open separately, which is handy if you want to fully open the window. So far, about 8 months into life in our second van, we are loving this window setup.
One major consideration is that you’ll want to tackle this project when there’s either a zero percent chance of rain or in shop with a tall enough door for your vehicle. We ended up having to move inside to escape rain showers and were glad to have Cade’s Uncle’s barn to shelter us for the second half of this project. It would be a bummer to end up with a bunch of holes in your van in a rainstorm and nowhere to go!
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.
Sliding Door Window
CR Laurence makes some really nice windows that have the look of the factory windows-- fitting perfectly into the wall panels, but that have sections that tilt open on the bottom with a removable screen. The window we chose has the cleanest look and functionality we could find. We considered using these on both sides of the kitchen (sliding door and opposite). Our first Sprinter had the standard factory windows on both sides, but we realized that with our high countertop opposite the sliding door, a large portion of the window is covered by cabinet. It would also be tricky to operate the dial on the opening section as it would end up behind the counter, and the ventilation wouldn’t be all that functional with a cabinet in front of it. We also knew that in our previous van, we had to install a backsplash on the back of the countertop to keep from losing stuff into the space between the cabinet and the window, and that things would still occasionally fall into the gap. Although we loved all the light in the kitchen in our previous van, we decided that a small panel window made more sense above the countertop this time around, so we ended up going with only the large sliding door CR Laurence window. An added bonus is having more wall space to work with for outlets, light switches, spice racks, etc.
The CR Laurence is a simple clamp-style window with weatherstripping already installed so you don’t have to use any sealant, which is cool. The window didn’t come with any instructions, but installation is pretty self explanatory. The metal body piece on the inside of the sliding door shows the shape of the window opening pretty well, but because of the shape you can’t cut from the inside with a jigsaw, so you have to transfer the shape of the cutout to the outside the van.
We saw examples of people both using a punch to make little dents all along the line to mark the shape and of people drilling a series of small holes. We decided on the ‘hole’ method. In retrospect, although it worked okay, we would have drilled fewer holes and used a smaller drill bit to keep the cut of the jigsaw smoother.
Once we had an outline visible on the outside of the van, we taped around the outside of the line with painter’s tape to keep the jigsaw shoe from scratching the metal of the van, said a little prayer to the van gods, and started jigsawing with a metal cutting blade. The supported parts of the window are pretty straightforward to cut. But the cutout is a large piece of thin metal so when you get far away from the supports it starts to vibrate quite a bit. We ended up having one person hold the cutout (with thick leather gloves) to stabilize it as best we could while the other one jigsawed. A very sharp blade also helps, but even so the blade caught and bent the metal once or twice. We were able to smooth it out with a hammer and block later, once the window piece was out. The window also ends up covering quite a bit outside the actual hole, so will hide any small errors on the edge of the opening.
Along the top edge of the cutout, the contour of the van door didn’t allow the shoe of our jigsaw enough room to cut all the way to the line. We didn’t want to try to cut without the stability of the shoe against the metal, especially since it had already grabbed the blade. In retrospect, the best idea would have been to rethink our situation and/or find a jigsaw with a narrow shoe to be able to cut the line in the right place the first time. Instead, I cut where I could with the jigsaw and then had to come back and trim an inch or so off the entire top of the opening. We tried every tool in the shop-- an angle grinder, oscillating tool, sawzall, and even a dremel. The tool that I ended up doing most the work with was a hand file and it was pretty time consuming. We went back and forth for a few hours, checking to see if the window would fit, going back to filing, back to checking again and again. It was a frustrating day, but in the end we got it just right.
Once the hole was (finally) the right size, we painted the bare metal with self-etching primer, let it dry, and set the window in place. We had a few helpers hold the window up while we fit the included trim ring on the inside of the van. We tightened the included screws a little bit at a time, moving around the window to keep things even, which slowly clamped the window right into place. Since the weatherstripping is included, there is no need to wait for anything to dry so we got out the garden hose for a spray test and fortunately found no leaks! With the big one done, we *only* had the three small windows left to install.
Panel Bed Windows
These 10” x 36” sliding windows are available from a few places, but we ordered ours from RB Components. Again, no instructions were included but we did have a good video to watch with some words of wisdom beforehand thanks to our friends at Our Karavan. Since these windows are a different shape than the factory windows, you have to make templates, so we traced one of the windows onto cardboard. We then used the cardboard template to place them where we wanted on the inside of the van and traced them with a permanent marker. You could place them directly on the outside of the van and mark them directly on the outer surface, but we found it easier to measure layout and placement from the inside.
These windows are a clamp-style window like the bigger one we installed, but require more thickness to clamp to than just the sheet metal sides of the van, so we needed to add a border of ¼” plywood as a backing plate. We used the cardboard templates and a jigsaw to cut out the plywood rings to fit the space--they ended up being a bit oddly shaped to fit just right.
Each of the four places on the sides of the van where the factory windows can go have vertical supports to give the big sheet metal panels some rigidity. On the bigger window we could just cut through them with the jigsaw on the same pass because the window is made to clamp all the way through. With these smaller windows we needed to cut back the supports an inch or so bigger than the window opening so we could get our backplate to lay flat against the sheet metal all the way around. To do this we used a grinder with a cutting wheel. We tarped everything in the van (to protect the nooks and crannies from metal shards), opened the back doors and tried to send as many of the sparks toward the open doors as possible. It took some patience and was a bit scary as we finished the cuts because they are separated from the body of the van only by a small bead of silicone-like glue. Going a hair too deep would send the cutting wheel through the glue and through the wall of the van--which would mean we would end up with a bigger window hole than we had expected. Fortunately the walls escaped the cutting wheel unscathed.
Once all the supports were out of the way we cleaned up the remaining silicone/glue with an oscillating cutter and some alcohol and were ready to jigsaw. With rain on the horizon we pulled the van into Cade's uncle’s barn to stay dry. Using the same “drill lots of small holes” technique we transferred our markings to the outside of the van. The corners are a pretty tight radius, but the jigsawing turned out to be much easier on these smaller windows, as there was plenty of clearance for the jigsaw shoe. Overall, the smaller windows went much quicker than the large one. Once the holes were cut, we filed the edges with a hand file to de-bur them and painted them all with the self etching primer. These windows don’t include weather stripping so we used butyl tape to seal them, applying it to the external window flange before installation. The process of holding the window in place while installing the trim ring, tightening a little bit at a time around the ring to get things even is the same as the bigger window. As you tighten everything up, it squeezes the butyl tape out so you have to go back around and trim the excess away and do a little cleanup when finished.
To say we were stoked to have our windows installed just a few days after bringing home our new van would be a huge understatement. We had previously discussed having them professionally installed, but decided to tackle the project on our own. Although there were probably a few moments when we regretted that decision, once the job was done we were glad we took it on. The hardest tasks are sometimes the most rewarding. After about eight months in our new van, we couldn’t be happier with our window setup.
We’ll also be writing a post with more info about our window shades soon! Check back here and we’ll link to that post once it’s live.
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