Minivan Window Coverings Made Easy

Thank you for being patient, Dear Readers, while I was on my summer trip. Despite being hopeful about posting, the occasional lack of internet and my own busyness kept it from happening. I hope you kept up with the travels and photos on Facebook, but now it’s time to get back to how I made the trip possible in regards to what was done on the van.

One question that always pops up, is what to do about window coverings in a vehicle, especially where you don’t want to drill holes in it to mount rods or fasteners. After reviewing many ideas, and discarding many of them because of the time and/or equipment needed, or having to put holes in the van, I decided on Reflectix… that Mylar foil-looking product with air bubbles in between the two layers of Mylar. Although it has insulating properties, which I don’t really care about because I don’t plan to travel anywhere that I would need that much insulation, it also blocks both vision and light. Those two things I did care about, because of the eventuality of having to do some “lot-docking” in lighted parking lots!

So let’s start with the basics, the tools needed… a pen that will write on Mylar, and a pair of scissors. That’s it!

I precut the roll of Mylar into rectangles just large enough to span the glass area top to bottom and side to side, with enough extra to tuck into the edge of the trim around the window… about a half inch (it varies). Keep in mind, the side windows may be similar in height, but can vary greatly in length. In some places you may only be able to get a quarter inch behind the trim and in other places, it can go back several inches. Don’t short yourself, because I discovered one curious thing about Reflectix… it shrinks over time!

The Reflectix cut into rectnagles the size of the windows.
The Reflectix cut into rectnagles the size of the windows.

Once I had the rectangles cut, I simply held the piece up to the window, starting with the straightest edge (usually the bottom), and pushed it into the other edges and corners as tight as I could while marking the perimeter. A soft, rounded tool, like a flexible plastic kitchen spatula could help here, but I just used my fingers. It doesn’t need to be tucked in at this point. Mark the edges as close as you can to the corner of the glass and trim. When you have your template marked, pull it off the window. Now it’s time for the trimming.

Remember, you don’t want to cut exactly on the line. You want extra material to tuck behind the edge of the trim around the window. Start by cutting about a half inch outside the line you marked. If you can’t guess at a half inch, use a ruler to mark a second guide line around the first one. The first attempt will be a trial fit. If it won’t tuck in so that the Reflectix lays flat against the glass without bulging, you can always trim a little more of the edge off, but you can’t put it back on! You want just enough around the edge that you can easily tuck it in with your fingers, and that should hold the Reflectix in place, flat against the glass.

Reflectix trimmed to fit the rear liftgate window.
Reflectix trimmed to fit the rear liftgate window.

 

Reflectix fit to the inside of the right side windows.
Reflectix fit to the inside of the right side windows.

On my Chrysler van, I had enough pieces out of the 24-inch by 25-foot roll to do all the side windows and rear window with enough left to do the windshield… but not in one piece. The latter had to be pieced together. For one thing, the windshield is the only window that’s more than 24-inches tall. The largest piece left was a little short for width, also. But I had a packaging tape gun, and a couple rolls of clear packaging tape (available at Walmart) on hand, so I spliced other leftover pieces on and added to it as needed until the entire windshield was covered. And… I made it fit tight to the trim… not like some of the generic sun shades that you can buy already made, that leave lots of gaps! If you want privacy, you need it to fit tight… so someone with a flashlight can’t look in around the edges!

If you do see some small gaps and light showing through, remember where those places are, and you can usually fix it when you add the curtain material to it (keep reading), or you can simply cut some small pieces of Reflectix and use the packaging tape to “extend” the edge.

OK, so once you have done that for all the windows, you need to decide if you want it to look like you have windows full of foil… or if you want it to look a little more professional and a little more like home.

On my van, I didn’t care too much about the windshield, as most front sun shades are foil on the outside anyway, and it does reflect the sun to keep some of the heat out. Besides, the windshield and the two front cab windows are not in my living area of the van. But I didn’t want it to look like foil in the rear side or rear liftgate windows. To solve that problem, I wiped down the outer side with alcohol, and then sprayed the Reflectix flat black with Krylon Fusion spray paint, formulated to paint over plastic (which is what Mylar is). Now, with the tinted glass and a black surface on the inside, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb to people passing by on the outside.

Plain Reflectix before being painted flat black. Not very attractive, is it?
Plain Reflectix before being painted flat black. Not very attractive, is it?

 

The side windows after painting the Reflectix flat black. Looks much better!
The rear side window after painting the Reflectix flat black. Looks much better! (The door windows are uncovered.)

But neither did I want to look at foil on the inside, either. I saw some fabric that another RVer and blogger had used, and it went very well with the colors on the van, so I located and bought nearly a whole bolt of it, even though I only needed a few yards. The material was so nice I may want extra to use on another project! However, everyone’s tastes are different, and a stop at any fabric shop should allow you to choose your own design.

Again, I used the Reflectix templates as a guide, and cut the curtain material into rectangles large enough to cover the windows and marked them as to which windows they were for. Then I laid the material face down on a table, and then laid the Reflectix template over it, making sure to keep the height and width of the curtain pattern centered with each piece. You also have to remember which way to flip your template, so that you have the proper side against the fabric for the window you want to cover. And remember it will go the opposite way on the other side of the van! This pattern had certain peaks and low points in the design, and it was visible from the back side, so it was easy to see it and adjust the template position accordingly. (Sorry, I was working away and forgot to get photos of that part).

Then I marked around the template about 2-inches out from the template, so that I had a marked area that would be sprayed. There’s no sense in wasting adhesive by spraying the entire sheet, when the only area that needs it is the area that will stick to the template! After removing the template from the curtain material and flipping it over, I used 3M brand #77 spray tack adhesive, and sprayed only the area within the guide lines, the same way I would use spray paint. You want to make sure that you have 100% coverage, without any heavy buildup. The template was also wiped down with alcohol and sprayed on the side that goes against the curtain material, and then you have to wait about 30 seconds (minimum) for it to become tacky. When you can touch it with your finger without any adhesive coming off on your finger, it should be ready.

One point of caution here… don’t try to lay the curtain material onto the Reflectix. It is too “floppy” and you run a risk of dropping it onto the Reflectix, and once this stuff sticks, it won’t let loose! Leave the floppy curtain material on the table, back side up, and hold the stiffer Reflectix template over it until you get it reasonably centered within the guide lines that you drew earlier, and then start at one end, lay it onto the curtain fabric, and then press it down tight all over.

Once you have that done, you can use a pair of scissors to trim the curtain material flush with the edges of the Reflectix template. If you had any spots that let light shine through, remember to cut the fabric a little outside the template, so that it can cover those gaps. When you are done, test fit the coverings to their respective windows to make any final adjustments. Just insert the material down into the bottom of the window trim first (the recommended starting point), and then run your fingers around the rest of the window to tuck it into the trim all the way around.

The curtain material on Mylar fitted to the rear liftgate window.
The curtain material on Mylar fitted to the rear liftgate window.

Now you have beautiful window coverings, with your choice of fabric on the inside, and flat black on the outside so that people aren’t visually repulsed by ugly foil inside your windows! And unlike curtains that hang loosely toward the inside of the window opening and can get in the way… these fit tight against the glass, out of the way, and it makes it seem like you have more room, which is important in such a small space! If you add side cargo nets, like I did (more on that later), you will want those window coverings back out of the way of the nets! The window coverings install easily, can be removed easily for travel or just daytime visibility, and they still do add a little insulation value to the windows.

Just one thing to remember… DON’T roll down your windows with the coverings in place, because they may not roll up again without repositioning the window covering! Or worse yet, it could fall (or be sucked) outside… and if you are driving, it would be long gone!

Some people have (logically) questioned whether the flat black on the outside transfers heat to the inside when sitting in the sun. To that I tell them that in this type of vehicle (with no a/c other than the dash) I don’t normally park in the sun, and if I did, it wouldn’t matter much anyway! The vehicle itself is black, so it’s a magnet for the sun’s heat already! Therefore, I try to not park in the sun!

Also, with this type of vehicle, you aren’t likely to be using RV parks. Most of the places you camp with it are going to be in the forests and other shady areas. During the daytime, you are likely going to be out seeing the country! If you have to use a “lot-docking” situation or out in the desert where there are few trees, I suggest waiting until the sun goes down to park for the night, so you don’t have to sit there with the van running and the a/c on to stay cool!

All that Reflectix does for me is block the light and provide privacy in a visually appealing way. If you are worried about insulation value, yes, it will provide “some”, but maybe traveling in a van (which has no insulation in the walls to begin with) is the wrong vehicle to use for traveling in extreme temperatures! As for me, if it gets down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night or above 90 during the peak of the day… I don’t want to be there in the first place! That’s why I travel… to stay out of extreme temperatures! But those highs and lows are only there during the peak hours, and the rest of the day or night, I can do quite well without an air conditioner or heater!

After a few months, if you notice the window coverings shrinking away from the edges of the window (mine did it more side to side, rather than vertically), a simple fix is to to get some large paper clips. Simply slide a few as needed over the edge of the material and then when you get the window covering in place, slide the clip part way off the edge and into the window track. That should keep them in place sufficiently.

In all fairness, it may not be the Mylar that shrinks. It could be the fabric that is glued to it that draws it in. But whatever causes it, it happens! Just be aware of it ahead of time.

In the next post, I will show what I did for ventilation. Most of you have already seen the custom screens I made for the two side windows in the middle, but those also affect the window coverings, too! After all, you can’t get air flow if the window coverings are blocking it! So I’ll show you a simple trick to solve that problem while still retaining your privacy.

As always, let me know your thoughts, and if you have any questions, I’ll be glad to answer.

Travel safe!

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