Campervan Project #1: Window Shade Prototype

To save some money and to meet our needs a little better, we decided to tackle some van outfitting projects ourselves. One of those projects is window shades. Since we added the extra insulation in our van build, we wanted to make sure that we were not losing that advantage by letting heat in or out through all of those wonderful windows. We also wanted to have the shades totally block out light to not advertise that people are sleeping in the van and to block out the midnight sun when we go to Alaska.

There are a couple of videos that we found describing How to Make Reflectix Hyper-insulated Custom Fit Window Covers that we used to base our design on. Since we will not get our VandDOit van until June, just days before we start traveling for the summer, we didn’t want to wait until we had the van before trying to make the window shades. So Right Buddy (RB) made a prototype to fit one of the windows on her Prius C (so appropriate since the videos we watched are by Prius Stealth Camper).

Left Buddy (LB) was concerned about how thick the covers would be and where we would store them in the van, since there are eleven large windows. The original Prius Stealth Camper design calls for five layers: one layer of corrugated plastic (Plaskolite Corrugated Sheets 24 " X 48 " White - paid link), two layers of Reflectix (Reflectix BP48010 Bubble Pack Insulation - paid link), and two layers of blackout fabric. So our initial prototype excludes one of the layers of Reflectix and one layer of the fabric. This will reduce the insulation properties of the shade, but we’re hoping that it will still be good due to the corrugated plastic giving the shades a tight, custom fit to the window without the need for suction cups, clips or magnets.

Because there is only fabric on one side, we spray painted the corrugated plastic on the other side to make it look a little cleaner. The fabric we used is a little different from what Prius Stealth Camper used. Hobby Lobby carried fabric similar to Prius Stealth Camper, but Duvetyn Flame Retardant cloth from Rose Brand online was a cheaper price per yard, so we ordered that. However, once shipping was added to the price, we really didn’t save much. Duvetyn (or Commando Cloth) is what theater set designers and photographers use for blocking light. The Duvetyn we purchased is cotton and Prius Stealth Camper warns people about using cotton due to moisture and mold concerns in a vehicle. Hopefully it will not be an issue in our camper van with our air conditioning and ventilation fan. Time will tell and we’ll keep you posted.

Here are the steps we used to create our window shade prototype:

  1. Roughly measure max dimensions of window.
  2. Cut piece of masking paper slightly larger than window.
  3. Press masking paper into window (did not stay by itself as Prius Stealth Camper claimed, added tape).
  4. Trace with ball point pen around perimeter of window.
  5. Cut out paper template with scissors.
  6. Trace shape onto corrugated plastic with a Sharpie.
  7. Cut out plastic with box cutters or razor blade.
  8. Attach duct tape pull tab for removing shade from window.
  9. Test out fit in window.
  10. Trim plastic as needed for better fit.
  11. Trace plastic onto Reflectix.
  12. Cut out Reflectix with box cutters or razor blade (scissors did not work well).
  13. Add duct tape pieces to Reflectix for glue spots (Prius Stealth Camper warned that hot glue does not stick to Reflectix - may depend on type of hot glue used).
  14. Hot glue Reflectix to corrugated plastic.
  15. Spray paint plastic black (Rust-Oleum 249122-6 PK Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover - paid link).
  16. Seal edges with black duct tape to seal air gap.
  17. Trace shade onto fabric.
  18. Create a two inch margin.
  19. Cut fabric with scissors.
  20. Wrap fabric around to inside of shade and hot glue.
  21. Add fabric pull tab, hot glued to outside.
  22. At this point, we decided to add a layer of fabric on the inside of the shade.

After test fitting the initial prototype (after step 21), we noticed there were still quite a few gaps around the edges that were letting light in or out. So RB hot glued another layer of fabric to the inside of the shade with a one inch overlap to serve as a flap to try to seal out light. However, the Duvetyn we used was only 8 oz instead of the normal 16 oz to save money and thickness, but it is not quite fully opaque and, although better than without the fabric flap, light still bled through. The PVC/Poly fabric at Hobby Lobby was completely opaque, or at least as far as RB could tell by holding the flashlight of her phone behind it in the store.

The final prototype was around 5/8 inch thick. Playing with some graphing paper and scaled cut-outs, we were able to determine that we could store all eleven shades on or under the mattress with the stacks being no more than three shades high. Therefore, the stack of shades will stand about two inches tall, but cover most of the bed.

Lessons learned from building the prototype:

  1. Box cutters work better than scissors when trying to cut Reflectix, especially around corners and when trying to trim off a small amount.
  2. Cutting out the fabric with a two inch margin was too much, one inch would have been plenty to fold over.
  3. Carefully cut the fabric so there is a nice edge that is visible on the inside of the shade or fold the fabric over (like a hem) for a cleaner look. However, folding it over will create more thickness.
  4. Take extra care when cutting out and trimming the corrugated plastic to make sure it is a good fit. This should be easier on the van as almost all the windows are rectangular instead of the strange shape of the Prius C window.
  5. Fold or cut bulky tape and fabric around curves and edges to get it to lay flat.
  6. If there are still gaps around the shade with only one layer of fabric, may want to add another layer on the inside with a one inch gap. However, use the PVC/Poly fabric from Hobby Lobby for this since it is more opaque. Could just use a two inch strip of fabric around the edge instead of covering the whole shade with the second layer of fabric to save money, but it would look better if it totally covers the shade as it would hide the edges of the overlapped fabric and eliminate the need to spray paint the plastic.
  7. When gluing fabric to shade, don’t try to glue it all at once as the hot glue dries too fast. Try to keep most of the glue near the edges of the shade and work in sections around the perimeter.

We created a video of the Van Window Shade Prototype build on our YouTube Channel if you care to watch the process.

We think we are ready to build the final shades for our van after we bring it home. We’ll let you know how it goes!

(RB)