Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby Greylin [OP] » July 27th 2010, 6:59am

I'm converting my 1999 Astro into a camper van for an upcoming roadtrip. After a bit of research I decided a roof vent/fan was a must have to help with ventilation/cooling and to help combat condensation. The defacto choice in the RV world seems to be those made by Fantastic Vent (http://fantasticvent.com. I found a new, unboxed model on eBay for a reasonable price. It's the basic model with a manual crank to raise the vent and a 3-speed exhaust-only fan. It'll be hooked up to my aux battery bank. They have a reputation for being quiet, effective and to draw very few watts. Sounds great but then there's that issue of having to cut a huge hole in my roof...

The first step was figuring out where on the roof to install it. The obvious spot is the flat raised platform in the very rear. It's presumably designed for exactly this purpose and it's the perfect size to fit a standard 14x14 vent like mine. The problem is that I have rear A/C and the ceiling vents are directly under that area.
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So I figured I'd just have to locate it a bit further forward. Here's a pic of roughly where I planned for. Of course, this spot meant that I no longer had a level surface to install on which I was a bit concerned about but it turned out not to be a problem at all (more later).
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Then I pulled down the headliner and that's when I realized it was a bit more complicated than just clearing the A/C vents. Naively I'd assumed that since Chevy had provided that nice flat platform to install a vent on the roof, there'd be no obstructions beneath it. Clearly that was a bad assumption. In my van (I can't speak for other models), there's a roof reinforcing rib that runs directly under the area I wanted to install the vent (it's the one at the top of the pic below)
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One way or another to install the vent was going to mean cutting through one of these ribs. My alternative was to install the vent much further forward in the middle of the van or directly inline with the sliding door. In both these areas the ribs are wide enough apart to accommodate the vent between them. However for my purposes I really wanted it in the rear so after sleeping on it I resolved to cut through one of the ribs. I decided to seat the vent just past the rear most rib so that I just had to cut through one (the 2nd one from the rear). The other advantage was that I knew that position was sure to put it well forward of the A/C vents. I made a cardboard template of the vent and taped it to the roof and then enlisted my brother for the heavy lifting.

After a few deep breaths -- and then a few more -- we drilled a hole in opposite corners of the 'cut zone'. It's true what they say - the first cut cuts the deepest. Ouch.
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Then it was just a matter of cutting out the rest of the square using the jig saw.
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Of course, the roof ribs required a bit more fire power and out came the Saw Zaw.
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Finally we got the hole opened up but a test fit of the fan showed that we still had some work to do and the jig saw came back out for a few trim cuts.
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Finally we were able to get the vent unit to sit comfortably in the hole.
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Up till now we'd been working in 95 degree heat with the sun baking onto the exposed roof. Unfortunately we don't have a garage. When the sky clouded over it seemed a blessed relief. Then we realized the clouds weren't going away and had turned an ominous grey color not unlike my Astro. I just had enough time to get a cover over the loosely-installed vent and anchored it with whatever was heavy and handy. Within 15 mins a huge summer storm rolled in and dumped an inch of rain.
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Miraculously my impromptu rain cover worked and all was perfectly dry inside. The next day I set to work installing the fan. Fantastic Vent provides a foam gasket that they recommend you use between the vent flange and the top of the roof and then use a silicone sealant. My unit didn't seem to come with the gasket and after a fairly exhaustive and confusing search of the web I decided to use a different method. Much of the advice I found online was specific to installing a vent in an RV which typically has a fiberglass roof. When I narrowed my search to vans it seemed like many people were having good luck using "putty tape" which is essentially plumber's putty in the form of a rolled tape. Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone local who carried it so I had to order it online. I found a Universal Vent Installation kit on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Camco-25003-Universal-Installation-Putty/dp/B000EDOSKQ) that included a roll of the tape and a bunch of sheet metal screws. I made sure to get the one with Putty Tape (for metal roofs) not Butyl Tape (for Fiberglass).

After filing down the rough edges and painting the exposed metal, I cleaned the roof thoroughly. I then dry-fit the vent kit again and marked all the screw holes. I removed the vent and pre-drilled all the holes through the roof. If I had to do it over again I'd have pre-drilled the holes with the vent in place but I didn't have I drill bit long enough to clear the dome and anyway I was afraid of fouling the bit by drilling through the putty. (Inevitably some of the holes didn't line up later and I had a hard time getting some of the screws in straight.) With the holes predrilled I then layed the putty tape around the cut opening using a double layer in the front to build it up to the same level as the rest. There was just enough tape in the kit to manage this.
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Next I lifted the headliner temporarily in place so I could draw an outline of the roof opening on it as a cut-out guide. After cutting a hole in the roof, cutting a great gash in the headliner didn't really even require a second thought.
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Finally I replaced the vent unit (remembering to face the hinge forward!) and worked in each of the screws starting with the four corners and gently tightening on opposite sides until I had a snug but not over-tightened fit. I stopped tightening when I saw the putty tape start to ooze out from under the flange. The kit was a few screws short so I had to scrounge a few up at the last minute. Once the putty tape had a cured a bit I was able to clean up the edges.
Image

The fan comes with a trim kit that provides a nice clean install around the fan unit on the interior. The trim is just fairly thin plastic and needs to be cut down to the thickness of your roof. Ironically this flimsy bit of plastic was more of a pain to cut through than the roof! Finally we got it down to size and it fit snug up into the vent unit and screwed in to the headliner from below. I'm not sure if the screws in the headliner will hold up to the long term but they seem fairly solid for now. There's a slight bow in the headliner so I needed to find some longer screws to pull it into shape (the final screw is tbd on the photo below but went in fine with a flush fit).
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I still need to run a bead of sealant around the edge and over the screw holes but in the few days since the install it's been through daily thunderstorms and has been drenched three times without a sign of any leaks. I'm tempted to just leave it the way it is. There's a lot of conflicting information about the best sealant to use. Fantastic Vent recommends silicone but I've read that can fail over time and also can corrode a metal roof. Some swear by Lap Sealant or stuff for roof repair. In the end I bought Sikaflex 291 (http://www.westmarine.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?productId=19114&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&storeId=11151&storeNum=10104&subdeptNum=10325&classNum=10327) which seemed to be a well-regarded alternative and had the benefit of being available at my local West Marine. I'll post pics once I've finished the sealant.

Overall I'm happy with the install. It was relatively painless and although I'm not thrilled about cutting out the roof reinforcement it was a clean install overall. Of course, I still have to hook up my aux batteries and see if it actually works :shock:
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby LEVE » July 27th 2010, 12:46pm

Thanks the time to
  • Do it right
  • Take pictures
  • Show the aftermath
I'll be looking forward to more of your documented projects as this van becomes more camper than van. :clap:
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby astroturf » July 27th 2010, 1:23pm

Great Write Up

Great Pix

Thanks, Jim
My Cup is neither half empty nor half full... But has a hole in it. Holy Cup Holders Batman. LOLz, Jim
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby webcat » July 28th 2010, 12:30am

I'm doing mine next month ,, my old van i cut a huge 26" x 37" hole in the roof and then used treated lumber to build a frame that had a top section that opened with hinges and had a piece of plexiglass mounted to it .
This time i'm gonna put a 22" x 22" non fan escape hatch (picture below ) , This time its fibre glass i'll be cutting through .
Yours should get rid of the heat pretty good with that fan , you might want to put something up to block the sunrays from coming in because the lid that came with it will let some rays in when you open it. Mayby like a 40" umbrella or something simular would block the rays , also if your vans insulated that would help alot.

also they make a 14"x14" Maxair roof vent cover that would fit your setup (picture below)
Lets you keep your lid open rain or shine!!! all year round!!
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby Greylin [OP] » July 28th 2010, 12:37am

Good point about the sun getting in through the roof. I'll have to see how bad that is once I get on the road.

I have Reflectix radiant barrier on the floor, ceiling and walls then 1/2" foam insulation board on the floor and walls (wouldn't fit in the ceiling). I'll be making removable insulation panels that I can use on the windows when necessary. It's nice having the 360 view but it does make for a sunny little hot box in the summer.

The fan should keep a nice steady flow of air through the van that should help a lot.
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby webcat » July 28th 2010, 12:45am

Greylin wrote:Good point about the sun getting in through the roof. I'll have to see how bad that is once I get on the road.

I have Reflectix radiant barrier on the floor, ceiling and walls then 1/2" foam insulation board on the floor and walls (wouldn't fit in the ceiling). I'll be making removable insulation panels that I can use on the windows when necessary. It's nice having the 360 view but it does make for a sunny little hot box in the summer.

The fan should keep a nice steady flow of air through the van that should help a lot.


Yep , thats the key , let the hot air out and keep the hot air from coming in , another thing you could do is cut a 14"x14" hole in the floor with a cover that you could take off when parked , put a fan over it to pull up some fresh cool air .
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby kennyj » July 28th 2010, 1:28am

This is a really cool project. Thanks for documenting it so well.

I've been thinking of doing something similar, I had one weekend trip sleeping in the van and realized the need for venting heat out the roof. My problem is I can't have anything too much above the roof line because I need to be able to load lumber etc on my racks. Anyway, you've got me thinking about it now!

Great job! :thumbup:
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby webcat » July 28th 2010, 2:36am

I just notice , you have the same saw that i have , Homedepot Black n decker :thumbup:
Good write up , i was just thinking more people need to start doing mods like this
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby webcat » July 28th 2010, 3:18am

Greylin wrote ,,,Much of the advice I found online was specific to installing a vent in an RV which typically has a fiberglass roof.

Did they show actually cutting the fibreglass roof ?,, if so could you post a link ,Thanks.
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby tedanderson » July 28th 2010, 4:06am

That's a nice mod. I've been contemplating a similar idea being that a van that's been painted black tends to draw 400% more interior heat on a sunny day. Not so much for habitation purposes but I need a way to exhaust the heat when my van has been sitting in the sun for a few hours.
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby 95-1ton » July 30th 2010, 6:31pm

who has done this mod on a van that has pop-out windows...? i've got 4 on my '00 (2 big ones on the sides, and the 2 back doors) but have also considered a roof-vent... i insulated my floor with reflectix, and am planning to do the walls, as well as make some window covers that are still functional with the pop-outs... i'm also considering painting the roof of my van white... it's all dark blue now, and makes it pretty warm when sitting with all of the windows closed... i had a '95 G30 a few years ago that was dark blue... i painted the roof white, and the rest of the van black, and found an old '70's roof pop-out window that i put in it... it felt a lot better after that (it was a cargo van with no side windows, and the rear doors had fixed glass...)
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby cowboydan » August 1st 2010, 12:40am

i like the idea of plumbers putty. i have a question though? is the putty tape you used uv rated?
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby Black89cs » August 1st 2010, 2:00am

That's freakin' fantastic... errrr. Looks good. :thumbup:
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Re: Fantastic Fan Roof Vent Install

Postby AstroWill » November 13th 2010, 6:41am

Great writeup and pictures! My van is identical except I don't have the cladding at the bottom.
How thick is the headliner at that section?
I am looking at the 6600r with a low profile base and the smoke flat lid w/ grey interior but was wondering if the low profile base would fit. http://www.rvvent.com/images/hplpbases.jpg

I also wonder how much difference the insulated dome would make, it's an extra $19.50 and adds some height over the flat lids.

I also noticed on the westmarine Silkaflex link it says "Material Incompatibilities: Acrylics ABS, Lexan. Not for deck seams", is that going to cause any issues? From searching around it says that the base is made from Luran "Luran® S is the brand name for BASF’s styrene acrylonitrile copolymers that have been impact-modified with acrylic ester rubber."
http://www.westmarine.com/webapp/wcs/st ... sNum=10327
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