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Vanlife Build: Window

If you read my last blog post about the cutting large holes in my van, you know I made a pretty major mistake in thinking that a flat RV window was going to conform to the curved sides of our Chevy Express. I was actually pretty stressed about leaving a gaping hole in the side for a couple weeks to source and ship the proper window. Turns out it wasn’t that big a deal: I just put the cut piece back in place and duct taped the hell out of it.

Epic fail

In the meantime, I was impatient, and decided to continue work. I finished one wall in the van, and built the dinette/bunk. Doing some of these steps out of order proved to be a total PITA later, as I’ll point out. I’ll be detailing all the work that went into the walls and bunk in future posts.

I decided to get a much larger window from a conversion van, instead of having two smaller windows. After some research, I settled on one from CR Laurence. I like this one because it is “all glass”, and has more of a factory look. Plus I really liked having a crank-out lower section. It retailed for $450, but I was able to find a used one from Waldoch in Minnesota for $250. Unfortunately, it showed up without the screen, so I’ll have to have that made later.

Cutting out the rest of the body metal was fairly uneventful. Again, I laid down some tape (I used duct, but I’d recommend masking) to protect the paint. Once the metal was out of the way, I found myself regretting my impatience from the previous weeks. How was I going to cut out the inner wall that I had just installed? I got out my sawzall, which seemed to work pretty well. Problem is, it’ll cut into metal just as easily as wood, and I caught myself sawing into the outer body metal a couple times. Plus, my interior paint job looked like hell after the jigsaw got a hold of it. Luckily, nothing I couldn’t cover up.

Once I had a hole all the way through, the window was fairly easy to install. There was an inner ring that sandwiched the body metal to the window, securing it with sheet metal screws.

Here is where I had to get creative with some finish carpentry work. The wall I had installed followed the contour of the van, so I had to create an inner frame that followed that contour. I used some leftover paneling that I had from the wall, and used the jigsaw to create pieces that would fit. It took a lot of trial and error, but I feel like they turned out all alright. I then used some thin trim pieces to round out the look. I will say that having a miter saw and air compressor with finish nailer helped immensely here. I can’t imagine having to nail all these by hand.

So there you have it. Probably the most heart-stopping parts of this build are in the books, but I’m sure more challenges lie ahead. Hope you enjoy!

Finally, that looks nice
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August Acres Family Farm

(Charisse) My cousin, Alyssa, and her husband, Rick, own a sustainable farm in the small town of Tipton, IA, where they raise and sell pastured chicken and eggs. https://www.augustacres.com/ Their acreage is just beautiful, with a stream running through it, and several old barns and outbuildings. We got a tour of their pastures, orchards, and garden. We got to see their home, which is a modest size, but extremely well organized and comfortable. And then, there were all the animals and their adorable gaggle of kids. We saw ducks, chickens/baby chicks, peacocks, cats/kittens, dogs, goats, sheep, cows/bulls, and a pony. I literally couldn’t help myself, and was as giddy as a little girl around so many critters.

But what really tickled our funny bone was their awkward adolescent goose, Lucky. The kids found his unhatched egg in the mouth of one of their dogs, rescued it from an untimely death (hence the name), and incubated the egg until it hatched. Apparently, wild birds do a thing called “imprinting”, and if their first exposure is to humans, they will identify/bond with humans for life, rather than their own species. Lucky is no exception. He follows Rick, Alyssa, and the kids around the farm as if he’s one of them, and even clumsily waddle-runs next to the Kubota as they drive around to do their chores. Here he is in all his awkward glory.

Lucky
Lucky trying to eat my shoes

We’ll definitely be back soon to see how their farm and family are growing!!

Home, Vanlife Build

Vanlife Build: Cutting large holes in the van. Totally normal.

Ask any vanlifer what the hardest part of their build was, and they’ll tell you it was putting in the roof fan. It’s not all that complex or physically demanding, but the mental anguish that comes with CUTTING A LARGE HOLE IN A PERFECTLY GOOD VAN is palpable. But it’s a rite of passage that all of us go through. Once it’s done, you realize it’s not that big of a deal. But I was still sweating it.

Why a roof fan? They are nearly mandatory if you’re going to be spending any time sleeping inside. They make a huge difference in keeping the interior temperature comfortable, and whisk away cooking and “other” odors. Plus, just breathing as you sleep causes condensation, which will eventually lead to mold.

After doing a lot of research, we went for the top of the line Maxxfan Deluxe, sourced from Amazon for $265. This one is unique in that it can be fully open in a downpour. It has 10 speeds, blows in or out, raises electrically, and comes with a remote control. It had great reviews across the board.

So, on to the install! We decided to put it nearly in the center of the van. This kept it out in front of the roof box, while still leaving plenty of room in the front of the roof for solar panels. Plus, it will be close to where we are putting the cooking stove.

I started by measuring it out and using a carpenters square to get the precise line. Some people say to use the trim ring, but I found that I couldn’t get a Sharpie in there. I then used masking tape to give myself a good sight line.

Basic layout, and some of the tools I used

And now we’re at the point of no return. I took a deep breath, and drilled all four corners to create space to put the jigsaw blade.

Drilling the corners

Next, I simply grabbed my jig saw (ensuring that I had a sharp blade), and connected the dots. Some people prefer to use electric metal shears because it creates less metal shavings, and I would definetely recommend that if you have access to one. DO NOT use a sawzall or grinder! Pro tip: Make sure you lay down something to collect all these shavings, AND to prevent the cut piece from dropping and damaging your pretty new floor. Whoops!

I may look calm, but…

Once it was done, I sat back and thought, “In essence, I’ve just totalled my vehicle”. No matter, ONWARD!

Resale value enhancer

I hit the cut edge with some rust inhibitor and let that dry. Afterwards, I cleaned the surface and vacuumed up all the shavings.

Here’s where I cut a corner that I might have to come back and redo. Every blog I read said that the best adhesive/sealant was from this brand called Dicor. But it was Sunday during the pandemic, and the only thing open was Walmart, so I had to settle for a similar product. I layed down a bead on the roof where the fan frame was going to rest, then set it in. The kit came with some self tapping screws to really secure it to the metal. I put a bit of sealant on the head of each screw as well. The Walmart sealant wasn’t all that easy to work with, being a little too thick to make it pretty. Looks like it’ll keep out water though.

The next best thing in a pinch

Then, I simply attached the fan to the frame, ensuring that the wiring didn’t get pinched.

I came back inside, and temporarily wired it to the dome light circuit. It works perfect! The remote has a thermostat that allows you to set a temp, and the fan will do the rest. (Within reason of course, it’s not an AC unit.) I will eventually be running the wiring into the fuse box I’ll be creating for the electrical system.

And there you have it!

Post script: I felt pretty awesome about this afterward. This was a big step, and something I had never done before. It boosted my confidence enough to do something stupid, like the following…

We knew we wanted to install some windows on the drivers side to bring some light in where the dinette would be. So I ordered what I thought would be the correct RV windows. What I failed to account for was that the sides of our van have some curvature. And the windows had none:

Seems like a water entry point

So, there will be a big gaping hole in the side of the van till the correct window gets here. Because I’m a big dummy.