Van Build Diary #3: Measure Twice, Execute Once – Fitting Windows into our Sprinter Layout

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Baby steps, I keep telling myself, baby steps. Taping out the layout on the van walls, floor and ceiling was quite the baby step. At the same time, it accomplished several goals all at the same time. So, this post covers (skip to the section that's relevant to you, if you want):

  • Confirming that our crazy layout to sleep/seat 5 with all the amenities of home DOES fit in the 170 extended Sprinter

  • Figuring out what kind of windows we could/needed to install based on how our layout fits into the actual metal frame of the van

  • Deciding to go with Van Windows Direct and why we went with them and not just Amazon! . . . side note – they have a sale going until the end of the year!

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Taping it out

So, we used a medium strength painter’s tape to mark everything out. Some might remember that we have a pretty complicated layout, with a lot more appliances/amenities than others might have because we’re traveling with my 79-year-old mom.

a collage of photos of Marino working with Dante, Leila and Baba in the background with Nikki, the dog, watching them.
What is it? The family that works together stays together?

It was great to see that we had the wiggle room we originally guesstimated and that everything fit. It was also helpful to see how tight everything will be. I strongly suggest you all really examine what is/isn’t really needed – meaning, what is just a"want" and what really is a "need," because space IS really tight. The beauty of some of the layouts everyone sees out there on the web is due to the empty space created by long counter tops. We don’t have that luxury due to our specific needs. Still, it works and we’re willing to live in tighter quarters if it means traveling the world and creating an itinerary that checks off my mom’s bucket list!


Windows

Types of Windows

Once we taped it out, we could actually see where it made sense to add windows and what size windows we’d want/need.

A photograph of the the van taped out. It shows that the window space available is smaller than the standard cutouts for Sprinter van windows wouldn't fit our needs
You can see that the window space is smaller than the standard window cut-outs in the Sprinter

Before I go into the details, I will say that there are several window types out there: vent, T-vent, sliding, and fixed. Each has its own benefit:

  • Fixed window

Because they don’t open, they are great for security purposes. Depending on where you want to travel, where you want to sleep/boondock, this might be very helpful and give you a stronger sense of security. They can come in different sizes and I’ve even seen porthole windows, too. The downfall is that they don’t open up. . . so, if you were hoping for that ocean breeze hitting your face while you nap, it won’t happen!

  • Sliding windows

These are your standard sliding windows that slide side-to-side. They are great for keeping open and circulating air, especially while driving and not needing to run the AC. They allow air to circulate through and are usually netted. This is great for when you are driving, for example, through mosquito-ridden territory and cannot have the front cab windows open because a million mosquitos will enter. Instead, you just slide these open and voilà, you get air circulating without the little bugs! There are even ½-sliders that given the greater security of a mostly fixed window with a very small slide. The downside is, if it is raining outside in an direction other than down, you’re likely to get that wetness inside your van and moisture is a constant battle inside a van, I’ve heard.

  • Vented windows

These windows crank out so that you can open them in almost any weather conditions. You get the nice breeze, you get fresh air and the rain cannot get in! Vented windows open out the whole window and you can adjust how far out you open them. The downside is you cannot have them open while the vehicle is moving. So, if you wanted more air circulation in the back while driving, you can’t get it this way.


  • T-Vented windows

These are like vented windows except only the bottom 1/3 cranks out. The vented area is divided into two parts and you can choose to open just one or both, depending on how much you want open (except on the sliding door – only one of the two opens). Usually, only the full-sized windows are T-Vented. If you need a bunk-sized window, they’re usually standard vented windows.

How Many Windows to Have?

This is a very personal decision, based on your family’s needs/wants and layout. Major considerations include stealth and temperature control.

The more stealth you want to be for, say, overnighting it on city street parking, the less windows you’ll want because you’re disguising yourself as a regular cargo van. The less you are concerned about that, the more windows you can have.

As for temperature control, the more windows you have, the less insulated wall space you have, the more leakage there is between inside and outside temperatures, the less efficient your temperature regulation tools are. There are definitely some great window coverings out there that will insulate the window spaces when needed but they aren’t 100% effective at counterbalancing the temperature regulation loss.

What We Went With

I really felt strongly about making sure everyone had a view from every angle. All of our windows that run along the sides of the van are going to be T-Vented. We appreciate the liberty it provides us to keep them open in rainy and snowy weather. We like the security of knowing that no one can squeeze through the T-Vent. We’re ok with the fact that they don’t open while driving because we have the air-vent fans to keep air circulating instead. Lastly, the size of those universal T-Vent windows is perfect for our layout because the standard windows are too big (they would sneak into the shower or behind storage otherwise – wasting window space and creating more areas for temperature regulation loss).

  • Driver’s Side Forward

My mother isn’t the most mobile person and in some places, a view from the window might be the best way for her to take in the sites (at higher or colder temperatures, or because the osteoporosis kicks in, her back is hurting that day and she needs to stay in bed, or because we’re going to go on a grueling hike with the kids and she’ll just hang out in the van reading a book while looking out at the sites).

While driving, that window will also serve as the window for Dante, Leila and I, who will be in the 2nd row behind the passenger and driver seats. While we will be able to look out the front a bit, could you imagine being in the backseat with no windows to your side?

  • Sliding Door Window

I knew I’d want a window by the kitchen/cooking area because I’ll spend a lot of time there feeding 5 people and a dog. Since we’d like to have the sliding door open whenever possible, it didn’t make sense to have a window on that wall but rather on the sliding door, since our kitchen area extended halfway into that area. This way, if the door is open, we have the whole doorway to give us a view and if the door is closed, we have the whole window to give us that instead.

Also, it provides the side window for whoever ends up sitting on that side of the 2nd row passenger seating.

Lastly, it gives my mom a view to both sides of wherever we are straight from the comfort of her bed!

  • Driver and Passenger Side Rear Area Windows

Our bed sleeps from side to side because we cannot afford the extra length from front to back. A little lesson learned from Campovans is that, windows on both sides in the rear, can give you an extra 4 inches of length on your bed if you plan your bed height so that your head and feet are at window height. Even with the insulated window coverings, you’ve got more room to stretch out and we need every ½ inch we can get! You could make that space without windows - just creating the window frame to give you the extra inches - but, for me, if I'm losing the insulation, I'd rather get a view out of it than lose the insulation and no view. The major difference is the cost for the windows themselves, and the window covers

Also, a third of our bed space converts into a seating area and it would be nice to be doing some work from there and having a view, regardless of which direction you’re facing.

We are making both of them T-Vented, again for air circulation. I tend to prefer to sleep cooler than Marino and having a bit of air circulating around my head space sometimes is enough to do the trick. For example, when we boondocked at the Walmart while testing out the RV, I slept closest to the window opening (right up against it) to get the cooler air I needed while Marino slept further away to get the warmth he needed.

  • Rear Windows

We are getting rear windows for several reasons: Dante will be able to see out from his bunk, since our heads and feet will be in the rear side windows, we will get most of our view from the back windows instead, I just don’t feel comfortable driving without being able to see in the back (even though we have a rear camera), and I just like knowing that I have a view to the outside in each direction – I just feel more secure knowing I can see whatever is going on in any direction.

These windows are fixed and will not open at all. There are no options for rear windows other than fixed windows so that wasn’t a difficult decision to make!

Why We Ordered from Van Windows Direct

So, first off, it seems that many people purchase their windows from Amazon and maybe Amazon even has som flash sales going sometimes.

If you want to help me make a commission at no cost to you, by all means, I’m including links right here. Make sure, when purchasing, that you are purchasing for the correct position in your vehicle. The T-vent is for the driver's side forward window space. There is a completely different one for the sliding door as only one vent opens on it.


The T-Vent:

The Vented Bunk Window:


The fixed window:


The Sliding Bunk Window:


HOWEVER, when we did general internet research, we found that, not only are there other brands of windows, besides CR Laurence (which everyone is buying), but also, some of the van window suppliers produce their own windows at a significantly lower price.

Enter Van Windows Direct (VWD), which not only has its own brand of windows, but also, has a fairly significant sale going on for ALL windows. We saved $500 on our 6 windows by purchasing everything from VWD.

As a side note, 4 of our windows are T-Vent windows and since only C.R. Laurence produces those, we couldn’t take advantage of the more significant cost-savings of ordering those 4 as VWD. VWD still has them at a great discount, though. We banked significant savings by ordering the VWD rear windows. If you are open to other window options though – like fixed or sliders, you can get their VWD windows and benefit from greater cost-savings.

VWD was also very helpful over the phone – they answered right away and addressed any questions I had (like super beginner questions like can the T-Vent stay open while driving) without my feeling ridiculous for asking.

They were also very flexible with the possibility that I might need to change some windows out. Because almost all windows are on back-order due to COVID-shutdown, they were open to my need to order ASAP to get myself on the waitlist and then change my mind.

On the back end, once ordered, they were still helpful with any questions I had, coordinated pick-up arrangements (they’re in Victorville for any Southern CA folk), and are great at contacting after the fact, once the windows come in.

So, to wrap it all up, taping out the van helped us to make sure the layout actually worked AND see which size windows we wanted/could have, where we wanted to place them and how many we wanted in total. We recommend went with a window vendor, rather than order on Amazon, because of their excellent customer service and pricing (and they’re having a sale now until the end of the year!) and because we can save on shipping since they’re only a drive away.


Stay tuned for the actual install once the windows have arrived! I will certainly be posting the "how" of installing the windows. You can subscribe above to get alerts as to new posts on this or other categories of posts!

I’d love to hear from you all, who you used/plan to use, what kind of windows and why. So, drop a line in the comments! If you appreciate the information, please don’t forget to subscribe (at the top of the page) and share to your social media sites and thanks for supporting On An Imperfect Journey!