Installing a Fantastic Fan roof vent in a Sprinter camper van conversion

Posted on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Van Building

Materials List

The Plan

Back home in Las Vegas with my new van, it was time to get down to business. It was March 22nd and by the 1st of June, I’d be heading to British Columbia.

I already knew a few supplies I’d need to get started, so a quick trip to Home Depot for insulation and a stop at Camping World for the roof vent and I would be on my way to construction.

Supplies
Supplies

The first task on my list was probably one of the scariest: cut a hole in the roof. I wanted to position a roof vent over the bed area for a few reasons: 1) when camped out, I could crack the front windows and use the vent to draw air through the entire length of the van, 2) on those hot nights, the van could be switched into intake mode and provide a nice breeze on the bed, and 3) I wanted the fan to be in reach of the bed so it could be adjusted through the night if needed.

The two main brands I considered for the roof vent are: Fantastic Fan and MaxxAir. Each are very similar in features and price, but I chose the Fantastic Fan because they are rumored to have excellent customer support. I picked the basic model with manual opening, manual control, and two fan directions. There are fancier models with remove controls, thermostats, rain protections, etc., but I didn’t want to spend the extra $100 for feature I wasn’t sure I’d even use.

Installation

The Sprinter roof is corrugated with a single flat spot toward the front for the installation of a fan. Unfortunately, this isn’t where I wanted my fan, so my task would be a little more difficult.

After reading through the Sprinter forums, I found a good way to handle the placement of the fan on top of the corrugation.

I started by measuring out a good location between the ceiling ribs on the interior. I marked everything up with a sharpie, then measured again and again to ensure I did it right.

Vent Position
Vent Position

Once I was 100% sure I marked everything out correctly, I drilled four holes on the corners from below, then crawled up on the roof to finish the cut with a reciprocating saw. This made an awful commotion and mess, but it worked. I think next time I would try to use tin snips as I found out much later that they will cut the body panels with ease. I didn’t think of it at the time of my vent install.

As I mentioned earlier (and you can see in the above photo), this vent location would have to span a corrugation in the roof. The plan was to cut the sides out of the single rib it would need to span, then slip the lip of the roof vent under the remaining top of the rib. You can see the end result here:

Vent under Rib
Vent under Rib

That all worked out much easier than I’d expected. Again, measure once, twice, and then some more before you make your cuts, and it should work out pretty easily.

Next, to attach the van to the roof, I made a frame out of 2x2’s to fit the under side of the hole. I pre-drilled each hole in the sheet metal using the vent flange as a guide. This would give me three layers: the top being the vent flange, the middle being the sheet metal and the bottom being the wood frame.

Vent wood frame
Vent wood frame

To seal everything up, I used a tube of Dicor Lap Sealant. First, I cleaned up the sheet metal where the vent flange would be glued down. I used some water to clean it off followed by some rubbing alcohol to ensure it was spotless. Next, I applied a nice bead of Dicor around the circumference of the hole. Then, I gently sat the vent down into the hole (this was tricky with glue on since I had to work the flange under that cut rib). Using a friend to hold my wood frame up from the bottom side, I installed all the screws from the top.

I double checked the entire circumference of the vent flange to ensure some of the Dicor had squeezed out with no dry spots. Then, I smoothed that out and applied a spot of sealant to each screw head and a healthy amount to the cut rib.

After 10 months, I’ve not had a single leak come through the vent cutout!