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  • Writer's pictureJohn Hayward

Installing Windows in Your Van: What you need to know

Installing windows in your van is an important step in converting it into a livable space. Windows provide natural light, ventilation, and can add to the overall aesthetic of your van. However, installing windows in a van can be a scary and daunting task, and it's important to do it correctly to ensure safety and functionality. In this post, we'll explore what you need to know when installing windows in your van.

1. Determine the Placement

Determine where you want to install the windows in your van. Consider the layout of your van and where natural light and ventilation would be most beneficial. Keep in mind that the placement of the windows will affect the overall structure and insulation of your van, so it's important to choose locations that align with your build layout and strike the right balance between light and privacy. Windows are a low thermal barrier so they are a primary location for heat transfer. The more windows you have, the more heat is lost or gained. This is one of the reasons not to add windows to every possible location. The other is privacy and build layout. Often you'll want to cover the windows with blackout shades for privacy and insulation; and the more windows you have the more time that takes.

2. Choose the Right Windows

Consider the size and placement of the windows, as well as the type of glass and frame material. Look for windows that are specifically designed for vans or RVs, as they will be the most suitable for your conversion. Will you want awning style to shed rain or the simplicity of sliders, or do they need to open at all? Do you want tinting? How will you cover the windows when boon-docking or for privacy? Lastly, use a reputable brand that uses quality materials and stands behind their products.

3. Read through the manuals

The windows and installation techniques you will use will often come with instructions. Those instructions highlight the specific techniques or details specific to those windows, the manufacturer, or the materials, and it's important to understand the nuances of your installation before getting started. Often this will include details related to safety, proper handling of materials, proper preparation, special tools and adhesives. This is the time for you to familiarize yourself with the entire process. Maybe you need the adhesives at room temperature or you need to install in a certain temperature range. Will you need a partner or helper? Do you have all the proper tools?

4. Prepare the area

Before you can install the windows, you'll need to remove any interior panels or obstructions. This will give you access to the metal frame and allow you to properly install the windows. Start by cleaning the area and removing tripping hazards or things that can get in your way. Wipe down both inside and out with a clean rag and a little rubbing alcohol or window cleaner. Make sure all your tools and materials are available and ready to go. Do you have new sharp saw blades? Do you have rust-prevention paint and a roller or brush to apply it? Do you have paper towels and rubbing alcohol at the ready to cleanup?

Before you move on, take a few photos and continue to do so throughout the process. It's nice to have a visual comparison of how it looked before, during, and after. In some cases you may want to refer back to detailed photos or videos to see what was present at a particular point in the installation.

5. Test fit the windows and/or trim rings

In the next step you'll start making irreversible changes to your van so now is the time to test-fit everything and make sure you ordered the right parts and that you know how they're going to get installed. If your window is installed with a trim ring, hold the ring inside the van where it will go and verify the location looks right. Imagine how you'll secure the ring to the window with screws or clamps (depending on your window installation instructions). If the window is installed with adhesives imagine where the adhesive will be applied, what will be hidden when the installation is complete and what will remain visible.

6. Mark the opening

You can take all the time you need to insure your marking is exactly where you want it; but this is the only time you get to do this.

"Measure twice, cut once"

Compare from the inside and outside and verify the opening will be exactly where you want it. Often the opening you'll mark follows exactly to a contour on the inside of the van and. you can transfer that contour to the outside using a hammer and nail. Be aware; however that every punch you make IS permanent so be sure the contour you're following on the inside is correct. You don't need overwhelming force on the hammer strike, maybe do a couple test strikes in the center of the opening to find the right pressure such that you can see and feel the punch on the outside.

Then go around the contour making taps. Tap closer together around corners; perhaps every 1/2" so that you get an accurate arc of the corner. On straight sections you could go every 2-4 inches. Once complete you can connect those dots on the outside of the van with a permanent marker.

Some windows won't follow the contour of the van; like a bunk window. In this case you'll need to make a cardboard template that mimics the opening. On the inside of the van use tape to perfectly align the cutout exactly where you'll want it. Drill a couple holes through the cardboard and through the van wall being careful to keep the hole in the cardboard perfectly aligned with the hole in the van. Take the cardboard outside the van and using the same orientation, line up the cardboard holes with the van holes and tape the cardboard template to the outside. Trace around the cardboard with a permanent marker.

7. prepare to cut

Once you have your window location marked with a permanent marker you can prepare for the cut. If you're cutting with a jig-saw you'll want to tape around the outside of the mark you made to protect the van paint from scratches.

Also tape the foot (base) of your jig-saw. Drill a pilot hole about 1/2" in from the bottom edge, large enough to get your jig-saw blade through. There will be metal filings that come off during the cut so protect anything around the area that needs to stay clean. Wear protective clothing as well including long sleeves, eye protection and ear protection; I prefer a full face shield and I like to use a head-lamp to insure I have adequate light on the saw blade.

8. Cut the Hole

Once you've marked and prepared the cuts, it's time to cut the hole for the windows. This is a crucial step.

Move slowly and deliberately

Use a jigsaw or a reciprocating saw to cut the hole in the metal frame. Use ladders or step-stools to insure you have a stable and strong position where you can see the saw blade and the line you're following for the cut. Make sure you have plenty of light; perhaps using a head-light to shine on the saw blade.

Remember you can always take a little more material away, it's impossible to put it back.

9. Sand the Edges

After you've cut the hole, it's important to sand the edges of the metal frame. This will smooth out any rough edges and prevent rust from forming. Use a grinder with a sanding blade and be very careful not to scratch or scuff the area other than where you want to sand.

Again, be slow and deliberate; but you do need to move across the material. If you stagnate in one place you'll remove more material than you intend to. Start with light sweeping motions until you're comfortable and then apply more pressure, sweeping all the while. Sharp edges and burrs are the hotspots where rust will start.

10. Paint the raw metal edges

After the opening is cut and sanded you'll want to clean the bare metal of any sanding dust and metal filings, and then paint the exposed metal. The exposed metal and sharp burrs will attract rust so use a rust-prevention paint to protect against it. Like everything you're doing here; be slow and deliberate; the last thing you want is paint spilled down the side of your beautiful van or all over the interior.

Some folks like to tape near the edges with blue painters tape to help avoid drips or overpainting onto the van surface. If you do that be careful that your tape is very well sealed near the painted edge. I've seen where a slight gap or non-adhesion in the tape allows paint to get underneath. Then you have a bigger mess to contend with, assuming you realize the issue before it dries. Personally I like to skip the tape and just be slow and deliberate. I keep towels and rubbing alcohol near-by in case I need to do a small cleanup. Use some sort of foam brush or roller and touch it on, don't drag a brush and don't spray it. those are too prone to make a mess outside the exact edge your painting. I like to go over the edges a couple times with a few minutes between just to insure it's completely covered; Then let it dry.

Congratulations; the hard part is over. You've marked the hole, cut it out, and cleaned and prepared the area. All that remains is the window installation.

11. Test fit again

Before installing the window, use the trim ring and window and just verify how the install will proceed. Do you need a helper to hold the window in place? Are your tools ready to go such as drill and screws or adhesive and caulking gun? Do you nee to clean anything up or paint on a primer. Review the instructions for your window and installation technique for what follows and get prepared for what's to come next.

12. Install the Window

Now it's finally time to install the window.

Carefully place the window into the hole, making sure it's centered and level. Use screws or bolts to secure the window to the metal frame. Be sure to tighten the screws or bolts evenly to ensure a proper seal.

13. Test for Leaks

After the windows are installed it's important to test for leaks. Use a hose or a spray bottle to spray water around the edges of the window. Check for any leaks or drafts and make any necessary repairs.

14. Reinstall the Interior Panels and clean up

Once the windows are installed, it's time to reinstall the interior panels. Use screws or bolts to secure the panels to the metal frame. clean up the workspace, vacuum, wipe down the new windows with window cleaner, then take a few more pictures and videos.

Installing windows in a van can be a scary proposition, but it's an important part of any van conversion project. By planning carefully, measuring accurately, and following these steps, you can cut holes and install windows that are secure, functional, and attractive. With a little patience and attention to detail, you can transform your van into a comfortable and inviting space that you'll be proud to call home.

If this part of the process seems a bit too daunting, contact us at Whitewater vans. We offer services to help get your exterior wall work completed so that you can start to use your van; and you can add some of the interior components on your timeline and on your budget.

How do you feel about doing this?

  • I can totally do it!

  • I'm nervous but I think I can do it if I'm careful

  • There's no way I'm going to try this on my van


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