Updated: Feb 22
After a few roasting hot days here in the UK and seeing lots of posts about how to keep cool in your van I have decided to write this post for you. Being in the back of a panel van in the summer is like being in an oven and can be quite unbearable during the day and sometimes even at night.
If you think it is bad for us then imagine how bad it could be for all the van life dogs out there who have to wear their thick coat all year round.
Unlike heating your van in winter where all you have to do is insulate your van and buy a diesel heater cooling your van is a little bit more complicated however it does also start with making sure your van in well insulated. For more info on the best way to insulate your van please take a look at this post.
Once you have insulated the panels of your van it is time to tackle any windows that you might have. Glass in summer = unbearable heat... think about a greenhouse.
The best thing to do is get some kind of reflective window shades for your windows to reflect the heat away from your van. You can buy these ready made or you can buy some SuperFoil and make some yourself for a budget solution, however these will stop all natural light from getting into your van so it is best to only use these when you are not in your van, at night or when it is to hot to handle. It is also better to open any opening windows than to insulate them so maybe only use these on non opening windows when you are in your van. As an amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases
Maypole MP6608 Thermal Blind
Universal fit for van based Motorhomes, E. G. Peugeot Boxer, Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, etc
Maypole MP6610 Internal Thermal Blind Set
Suitable for Volkswagen T5 and T6 CAMPER vans.
SuperFOIL General Purpose Foil Insulation (1m x 7m) - 4mm Double Layer Heat Reflector
BUDGET DIY OPTION
Another layer of protection against the heat your windows will produce in your van is some thermal curtains, they are just as good as keeping the heat out in the summer as they are at keeping the heat in in the winter.
There are so many choices to choose from especially if you are good with a sewing machine or know somebody that is, don't worry if not you can get something pre made!
Viceroybedding BLACKOUT THERMAL CURTAIN LINING FABRIC MATERIAL 3 PASS INSULATED SOLD PER 1 METRE
CHOICE OF COLOURS
For Universal pre made curtains or curtains made for specific vans please follow these links
So now you have done pretty much everything you can during your build to keep the heat out of your van, what can you do to keep the heat out of your van when you are living, staying or traveling in your van?
The first thing you should do and probably the most obvious of all is to park in the shade as much as possible, this will make a huge difference although it is not ideal for anybody who relies on solar attached to their roof for power. Ok so it's not exactly Sophie's choice but it is a hard trade off, park in the shade and get next to no charge in your batteries or park in sun where your batteries will be fully charged but your van will be an oven...
First off if it is a really sunny day and you are parked in the sun your solar panels will perform exceptionally well and you batteries will charge up quickly so you could probably park your van in the sun for a few hours and then move it to the shade when your batteries are topped up and not have to worry about it.
But if the heat is just way to much to handle but you still need solar to put some charge back into your batteries you could always get yourself a folding Solar panel and some long cables so you can keep your van in the shade but place your solar in direct sunlight (and even move to follow the sun throughout the day.
ECO-WORTHY 12 Volt 200w 200 Watt Portable Foldable Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit:2pcs 100w Solar Panels with 15A Charger Controller for Battery Charging charger for Car Caravan
To be able set this solar panel up far from your van in the sun you will need some decent sized cables. Obviously this will need 15amp cable at least but the longer the run of cable it is the thicker the cable needs to be to account for any voltage drops so I suggest extending the cable with this cable that is capable of carrying 30 amps
TUOFENG 12 Gauge Silicone Wire 21 Meter [10.5 m Black and 10.5 m Red] 12 AWG Electrical Wire Hook Up Wire Cable Soft and Flexible of Tinned Copper Wire High Temperature Resistance
Another simple way to stay cool in your van is to create a cross breeze through your van, this is very simple but very effective.
This works best if you don't have a bulkhead or anything separating your your cab from the back of your van but will work without.
The first thing you will need is a a powered roof fan in your roof close to the front of your van if you don't have a bulkhead or near the middle of the van if you do. The best one on the market is the MAXXAIR its has both intake and exhaust mode (it sucks and blows), it as a built in black out blind, comes with a remote control and has a thermostat so you can set your ideal temp. It is a little bit pricey but well worth the money, however there are some cheaper options.
Maxxair Maxxfan Deluxe 400 × 400 Rooflight Clear Tint Remote Control Rooflight
BEST OPTION ON THE MARKET
MAXXAIR MAXXFAN DELUXE MODEL WHITE 350x350 mm. ROOF VENT FANREMOTE CONTROL
KKTECT RV Roof Vent Fan,12V Motorhome vent Fan w/ 3 Speed Intake & Exhaust – Electric Crank Lift & Smoke Lid – Includes Screws & Garnish
Fiamma Turbo Vent Crystal Crank Roof Hood Polar Control with Thermostat 40 x 40 cm Includes Dekalin Sealant
The next thing you will need is as many opening points on your van as possible. This is why it works best with no bulkhead in your van, without one it already gives you the driver and the passenger windows that can open.
How it works is once the fan is turned on in exhaust mode (sucking not blowing) it will pull fresh air in through any open window, sky light, vent etc through your van and back out of the roof fan, anywhere in between the open window, sky light, vent etc and the fan set to exhaust mode will get a nice cool breeze.
The more opening points you add to your van the better the breeze inside your van will be.
To be able to leave your driver and passengers windows open when you are asleep or not in the van it is a good idea to install some wind deflectors, these are awesome things that go over the tops of your windows that allow you to keep your windows open a few inches in all weather conditions without worrying about wind and rain getting in your van, they also stop people being able to reach into you van to unlock it or steal stuff.
I won't list links to all makes and models but here are a few of the popular ones
2x Wind Deflectors Compatible with RENAULT Master NISSAN NV400 OPEL VAUXHALL Movano 2010–present
iSpeed WIND Deflectors For Vauxhall Vivaro mk1 2001-2014
STX TRANSIT MK8 2013 ON INTERNAL WIND DEFLECTORS
AC WOW 2x Wind Deflectors Compatible V W Crafter 2006-2017 MERCEDES Sprinter 2006-2018
Wind Deflector FIAT Ducato 06r/C.Jumper III/P.Boxer
Another good thing to add to let some fresh air into the van is a non powered sky light at the opposite end of your van to your powered fan. If you have the fan at the front and the skylight at the back then you will get a nice cool breeze all the way down the middle of your van.
There are lots of options on the market but here are a few good ones, obviously the bigger it is the more fresh air you can pull through it.
Fiamma Vent 28 Rooflight Crystal
BUDGET OPTION 28CM X 28CM
Maxxair SkyMaxx Rooflight
MID RANGE MID SIZE 40CM X 40CM
DOMETIC SEITZ MIDI HEKI 700 x 500 SKYLIGHT ROOF WINDOW W/O VENTILATION
If you do not have a bulk head or another solid structure between your cab and sleeping area of your van with the items above you will now have 3 opening points on your van that your extractor fan can pull fresh cool air through. If you do have a bulkhead then you will only have the skylight so adding some more opening points will help, even if you don't have a bulkhead adding more will make a huge difference to the air flow in your van and the more angles the fresh cool air can come from the better.
So the next thing I am going to suggest is some opening bonded windows. Again I am not going to post links to all makes and models but you will find what you are looking for by following the link below.
If you have a low budget and are looking for cheap easy solutions for letting fresh air into your van then you could take advantage of the doors. This isn't a perfect solution for everybody for example stealth campers or anybody concerned with privacy however it is an awesome, cheap and safe way to leave your van doors open a little even as you sleep.
They come in a few sizes and just connect to your barn door or to your tailgate if you have a smaller van or people carrier
They are designed to keep dogs cool in your car/van when you are not in it and are intended to be used in conjunction with leaving the windows open too to create airflow so they fit in perfectly with our opening points and extractor fan plan.
Cool Dog Tailgate Lock
X-Small, 4-Inch - https://amzn.to/3gCsITz
Small, 9-Inch - https://amzn.to/2DlaZ52
Medium, 12-Inch - https://amzn.to/30DFGex
Large, 21-Inch - https://amzn.to/3ijFya0
So that should give you a few good options for creating an amazingly cool cross breeze on the hottest of days, the more options you add and the more power the extracting fan the cooler it will keep you. If you don't mind cutting holes in the side of your van you could even place some vents down low so you have a cool breeze coming from the top of the van from your skylight, the bottom from your vents and the middle from your windows.
These ones can be opened and shut but if you always leave them open slightly you will always have fresh air and won't have to worry about mould or condensation.
2X Adjustable Sliding 9" x 3" Aluminium Vents
So that is a cross breeze sorted... what are your other options for keeping cool?
You could get yourself some USB powered fans to create a breeze, these are not the most powerful things in the world and if the van is hot in the first place they will probably just blow the hot air around but with a few windows or vents open it will add to the breeze and can be aimed directly at you no matter where you are in the van.
USB Fan, TedGem USB Desk Fan, Portable Mini USB Fan
LaHuko 8 Inch Desk Fan Ultra Silent USB Fan Rechargeable Personal Fan Portable Fan 360° Adjustable 3 Modes Lightweight Strong Wind
Fancii Small Personal USB Fan - Portable Mini Table Desk Fan with Twin Turbo Blades
Invero 6-Inch USB Tilting Desktop Cooling Fan with Metal Shell and Aluminium Blades
ELUTO Car Fan 12V/24V Cigarette Lighter Electric Auto Cooling Fan 3 Speed 360 Degree Rotatable Dual Head
Another take on a USB powered fan would be an evaporative cooler, it basically works in the same way as a USB fan but you put cold water or ice into it and even if you have no open windows or vents etc it will blow cool air out.
These have a few draw backs as if you are in a hot van the water in the cooler will heat up quickly or the ice will melt just as quick as you can put it in. Also you would need to keep stopping to get ice or would need somewhere to store it keep it frozen. They are good for a quick cool down when needed though and if you do have a decent ice box or a freezer in your van these are a nice luxury to have when nothing else is working.
They do work as humidifiers too so if you use these make sure your van is ventilated
Bteng Personal Air Cooler, 4-in-1 Portable Mini Air Conditioner Evaporative Air Cooler Humidifier Purifier Desktop Cooling Fan USB with 7 Colors LED 3 Wind Speeds for Home Bedroom Office
Ttkgyoe Personal Air Cooler
As I said above these are only really handy if you have somewhere to keep your ice frozen... But thats not a bad idea either.
Having somewhere to keep cold drinks or ice creams to cool you down is a must have for most people and it doesn't have to cost the earth either. If you are day tripper, weekend warrior or even just going away for a week at a time all you need is a decent cool box. Some can keep your food frozen for up to 5 days or cold for up to 10 days with one set of freezer blocks . To check out some awesome cool boxes please follow the link below.
If you are a full time van lifer or you go away for long periods at a time then you would benefit more from a decent low powered fridge freezer.
If you have a small van or space is at a premium in your build then you might want to consider a 12v compressor fridge. They are very low powered with some using only 16ah a day and nice and compact to fit into small spaces.
Some can be used as a fridge or a freezer, some have separate fridge and freezer compartments and some even have built in ice makers. For more info please check out the post below.
If you have a bigger van and are looking for a decent, budget, low powered fridge set up then there is a really good option you could go for. All you need is a chest freezer, and inkbird thermometer and an inverter and you are good to go. It is all explained in the post below so check it out if you think it might suit your needs.
If you are struggling through the heat at the moment and are looking for an instant fix that wont cost the world to just get you through to the end of the heat then check out these bits and pieces.
JML Chillmax: Pillow Gel Inlay, Natural Cooling & Maximum Comfort For Any Pillow
WISFORBEST Magic Cooling Gel Cool Pad Mat, self cooling Mattress Topper
Vivo Instant Cooling Towel Sports Gym Towel Drying Sweat Pets Baby Absorb Dry & Case
3 X Xbc INSTANT Cooling Face And Body Mist 150ml
The last thing I am going suggest for keeping your van cool probably seems like an obvious solution to most people but it really isn't that simple so that's why it is more of an afterthought for this post.
Air conditioning is the perfect way to keep your van cab cool when your engine is running and nothing will really beat it, when it comes to the back of your van and not having your engine running it becomes a whole new kettle of fish.
However if you do have a VERY deep pockets and MASSIVE battery banks or a EHU it can be done, I know next to nothing about them so can't recommend anything or even tell you how they work but I can point you in the right direction as a jumping off point for you.
EUROM AC2401 Air Conditioner
Dometic 9102900165 Air Conditioner
Truma FRE72833 Air Conditioning Aventa Compact
Before I finish this post there is one more thing I want to cover because it is a very important thing
DOGS DIE IN HOT CARS... and hot vans, hot caravans, hot buses, hot coaches, hot lorries, hot campers etc etc.
If you do have a dog in your van with you full time or not you really do need to be very careful on hot days, never leave your dog unattended in your van on hot days, always have fresh water available and if possible have a nice shaded area outside the van when you are parked up that the do go escape to.
The ideas above will help a lot but you still need to be very careful.
PLEASE CHECK OUT THESE LINKS BELOW TO SEE HOW THE HEAT EFFECTS YOUR DOG AND IDEAL TEMPS.
If you are going away soon and you are worried about keeping your dog cool and need a quick fix the tailgate lock mentioned above is your first stop.
The next thing you should think about is a pet cooling mat. With some kind of magic cooling gel in them they are always 10-15℃ cooler than the environment, Put one of these down and your dog will be very grateful.
PawPride The Self-Cooling Pet Mat Pad - Pressure-Activated Cool Gel Technology - Help Your Dog Stay Cool On Summer Days and Prevent Overheating and Dehydration – Perfect for Home and Travel
Lauva Dog Cool Mat Bed, Self Cooling Non-Toxic Gel Ice Mat Pads for People Adults Pillow Sofas, Pets Summer Sleeping Mattress Large for Cats Puppy Rabbit Crates and Kennels -- (26" x 20" (65*50 cm))
Ok so thats about it from me for now, I hope you all enjoyed it and found it useful
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