Van Buildout #1

We got a Sprinter van! Now to turn it into a home…

After a lot of work, we managed to pull out the screws and railings holding the floor in. We pulled up the floor, cleaned the filthy interior.VanBuild-03177

We finally managed to remove the flooring… only to find the filthy floor below!

Then came the nervewrecking bit. It was time to cut a hole in the roof of the van to install a fan. Fortunately, good friends Julia and John came over for moral and technical support. John’s a mechanic, and his can-do attitude and know-how guided us through the process.


John Jones, the man of the hour.

We traced out a 14″ x 14″ square for the fan, measured the dimensions again, and checked the template against the fan itself, then placed the cutout on the ceiling, and traced around it. It just fit in a flattish space toward the front of the cargo space which looks like it was designed for just such a fan – the roof ridges lapse here, and a round push-out in the ceiling marks where we put the fan.
After stepping up in drill bit sizes a few times, we got holes in the four corners of the traced-out square, and managed just to fit the blade of the jigsaw through. Each of the four cuts was progressively more difficult. The jigsaw wanted to jump up and down, and putting pressure down on it was difficult given that the roof was only thin sheet steel. In the end, John held the flimsy bit from inside the van as I cut above. On the last cut, the saw plane was not flush with the roof of the van, due to the proximity of the roof ridge. That made things awkward and forced cutting at a bit of an angle, which eventually took its toll and broke the saw blade. We managed eventually to the the hole finished, and… the fan fit! Hooray!

Annie punches a hole through the roof of the van.

To make sure we minimize rusting, we sealed the edges of this rough cut with a Rustoleum spray paint coating. I wiped down the area around the hole, first with water, then with rubbing alcohol. Then we sealed the base of the up using some foam insulation tape, and some bathroom caulk. We made many a punny joke.

With the fan seated and caulk oozing out of the screw holes (did I mention that a lot of puns were made?), I drilled down and secured the fan in half of the provided holes – one screw in each corner and one mid-length on each side. 16 seemed like too many new holes to put in the poor van, so we just opted to drill a self tapping screw right through to secure the fan to the van. Another seal of caulk around the edge, and filling in the un-filled screw holes, and we declared it good enough.

Thanks to Julia for taking over the camera, and for putting up with this madness! A few more photos are here.

John fingers the caulk skillfully.

Update with more technical details

The van we bought is a used 2007 Dodge Sprinter 2500 with a 144″ wheel base, and normal height ceilings. It has a 3.0 liter, 6 cylinder diesel engine with about 173000 miles on it. The van runs and sounds good, so we expect it can do at least that many more, besides if the engine does finally decide to give up, it will probably be worthwhile to get in touch with a service like Alberta Cummins repair or others to conduct some engine maintenance. The vehicle inspection required that we replace the cracked windshield, a license plate light, and the ball joints. The ball joints were pricier and more involved than we really wanted to undertake, so we let the professionals do it, and it seems we got a pretty good deal ($630 out the door).

We got a Maxxair 0004500K MaxxFan. It fits in a ‘standard’ 14″ x 14″ RV fan hole. It has a rain sensor, and should automatically close when it senses rain, though we haven’t tested that. The fan also comes with a remote, which we also haven’t tested. Cutting the hole was nerve-wracking, but kind of fun. There is a lot of (>1cm) leeway with sizing, so long as the hole is big enough it should work. This is thanks to wide flanges all around the fan opening. I did not file or sand down the edges after cutting, as they will be covered by the fan at all times. I did, however, put on a coat of clear Rustoleum to help prevent rust.

Many people have used butyl tape to seal the fan, but we didn’t have any and decided that some foam tape and enough caulk ought to do the trick. It seems initially, at least, to be waterproof. I have some Dicor self-leveling lap sealant that just arrived. That seems to be what most DIY and RV folks use for this kind of thing, so I’ll put a coat of that on the outside, and over the screw heads, just to be sure.

Next up is electrical!

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