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So, it has been a hot minute since we have given you a van build update! Everything moves slow and steady, just to test my patience. We have almost gotten rid of the rust and patched all of the holes! This means that we were able to install our roof vent fan!
Maybe it was the never-ending rust work but I. Was. So. Excited. I never in a million would have guessed I was be so pumped to cut a giant hole in the roof of our van!
The one thing I was the most nervous about when we started van life was whether or not we could pull off the build. It turns out that you have to do your research and dive in feet first. You will forever be paralyzed by the “what-ifs” if you don’t just do it.
We probably sat for an hour measuring and then remeasuring again before we cut into the van. Messing up was a scary thought, but eventually, we made the first cut and the world didn’t end!
We put together this guide full of our corrected mistakes so that you too can install a roof vent fan in your conversion van! If you’d like to watch our YouTube video, it is here!
Vent Fan Options
There are a ton of options when it comes to the roof vent fan. You can choose between Fiamma, MaxxAir, Fantastic Fan, and more. Regardless of the fan you use, they all install basically the same way.
We chose the MaxxFan Deluxe because of the many speed options, remote control, and rain guard! If you’re on a budget, check out Amazon, you can find vent fans for as low as $60!
Tools & Materials
Disclaimer: all Amazon links are affiliate links. We may get a very small percentage of any item you decide to buy listed here, but the price you pay is the same regardless.
Step 1: Construct Wooden Frame
First, you will need to build a wooden frame for your fan’s flange to screw into. The flange is a square plastic piece that holds the fan in place. You can see it inside our frame in the photo above!
We used a 1″x2″8′ furring strip from Home Depot and cut two 17″ strips and two 14″ strips. We tested our wooden frame on the flange, and it was about 1/8″ longer on one side. It’s totally fine if your frame doesn’t fit perfectly as long as it covers the screw holes.
Pro Tip: most vent fans can actually be installed right into the van’s roof without using a wooden frame, but we chose to create a frame for a couple of reasons.
1) Your roof vent fan will be more secure because of the wooden frame. It screws into the wood much deeper than installing it directly into the thin metal of the roof.
2) Using the frame will allow you to pre-drill and paint the exposed metal to prevent rust.
Step 2: Choose Your Vent Fan Location
We wanted to keep the process as simple as possible, so we chose the flattest location on the roof to put the fan.
You can install your vent fan anywhere you want, even if there is a rib(s). Do this by layering butyl tape along any gaps. This will give the flange an even surface.
Once you have settled on a location, drill a hole near the middle. Go inside the van and check about 8 inches around the hole you drilled to ensure this space is clear of any support beams or other obstructions.
Once you have confirmed this location will work for your vent fan, go ahead and use the inner side of your wooden frame as a template to draw the square you will be cutting.
We definitely triple checked our square to make sure it was near the 14″x14″ mark, but keep in mind it doesn’t have to be perfect. Generally, you have around 1/4″ of wiggle room on each side.
Once you’re happy with your square, drill holes in the corners to help achieve a curved edge. Then, drill holes along the line to help guide your cut.
Step 3: Cut & Test Fit
Okay, at this point you’re probably rethinking this whole idea! Don’t panic!
Get your jigsaw ready with a metal blade. We highly recommend the Bosch blade linked above. It has 36 teeth per inch which is perfect for cutting metal. Take your time with the jigsaw and you should get a nice clean cut.
Pro-Tip: Tape a box on the inside of the roof to catch all metal shavings.
Once you have completed the cut, go ahead and test fit the flange. We had to take the jigsaw back to this corner to get the flange to fit.
Once your flange is fitted well, take a file and clean up any rough edges.
Step 4: Drilling and Prime Time!
IF YOU ARE NOT USING A WOODEN FRAME, DO NOT DRILL THESE HOLES.
Next, you should use the holes in the flange as a guide for where to drill into the van. If your flange is not sitting evenly on the roof, you may want to clamp it down so the marks are where they should be.
Now its prime time… or paint time! Before applying primer, take rubbing alcohol or acetone and clean 1.5″ around the hole really well.
Once cleaned and dry, use a sealing primer or any other paint to seal the exposed metal. We did a messy job, but it doesn’t matter since this will never be seen.
Step 5: Install the Flange
Before installing, completely cover the lip of the flange with butyl tape. The butyl tape is going to be the main sealer for the vent fan.
Make sure you have the flange oriented the correct way. In our case, the metal tabs face the left/right sides of the van and not front/back.
If you created a wooden frame, you can have someone hold it in position while you screw in your first few screws. We alternated sides when putting the screws in, and then went back and tighten them all up. This ensures you have a tight, even seal all the way around.
Let the flange rest for a moment until the butyl tape stops oozing.
Once it has stopped, go around with a putty knife (a plastic card would work) and clean up the excess tape.
Once that is complete you can apply the final sealant. Dicor is highly recommended. You want to put a bead on the edge of the flange as well as over the edges of the screws.
Step 6: Install the Fan!
Grab the fan, and follow your instructions for installation.
For the MaxxFan Deluxe, we had to open the fan all the way and place it into the flange. Then we had to screw the fan into the flange with the 4 provided screws.
After the sealant has dried, pour water around your fan to test the seal.
One way to test the fan’s functionality (without an electrical system) is to push the +/- wires into a 12V drill battery.
That’s it, y’all. If you follow the steps above, you should have a virtually painless vent fan install!
If you run into any questions, drop a comment below or reach out to us on Instagram!
Happy travels, friends!