It can get stuffy sleeping in any van, nevermind a minivan! The best way to improve ventilation is with some window screens.
However, depending on what you drive for a van, it can be hard to find custom-fit screens. After I bought my Honda Odyssey, I was pressed for time to get everything together for a scheduled trip. So although there are a few store-bought options available like Skeeter Beater, I didn’t have enough time to wait for delivery. Plus, the premade kind are a bit pricey.
Back In the 70s, when there wasn’t a pre-packaged solution for every problem under the sun, my Dad and I made curtains for our Chevy Van using the method below. Basically, you will cut the rough shape of your window out of screen material (check out what I use) and use magnets to hold it in place while you trim it. Be sure to read through all the steps and the notes at the end, before you start cutting…
I used these small ceramic magnets to hold things in place, both while cutting and then afterward, to attach the screens.
I bought the magnets at JoAnns fabrics, but they are also available at Lowes, Home Depot, or on Amazon. These are pretty strong, but if you can find “rare earth” magnets, they will work even better.
For the screen itself, I used Solar Control (Sun Guard) Insect Screen. This type of screen is popular in Florida, because it provides shade and protection against very tiny insects. However, there is a tradeoff; reduced flow. If you are planning to be where the sun is strong during the day but it’s cool at night, this is a good material. However, if the nights are hot, I would use regular fabric window screen (not the metal kind) for better circulation.
The solar screen can be found at Home Depot. Here is the size and type I purchased. You can find it near the doors and windows.
The shorter width screen would also have worked and saved me a few bucks, but it was out of stock.
So here are the step-by-step instructions. Plan on spending 2 hours on this, the first time you make a pair. After they are made, installation only takes about 5 min.
Step 1) Pull a length of screen out of the roll and attach it to the door frame, using the magnets. Do not cut the screen yet, just lay the roll on the ground. You’ll want the window up for these steps.
Step 2) Trim Across the bottom of the window first, leaving an overlap of about 1.5″. When trimming so close to your paint, it’s a good idea to wrap a bit of tape around the point of the scissors that will be closest to the vehicle. Then trim around the top of the door, leaving about 1.5″ beyond the edge of the door frame.
Step 3) Here, I am marking the screen closest to the side mirror, so I can pull it back and trim along the line. On the Odyssey, the black part around the mirror is not magnetic, so leave some screen to overlap, like the photo below. When the magnets are in place, you can pull this part taut, which will keep the bugs out.
Step 4) With the side door open, trim the screen to the rear of the window so that it completely overlaps the black part of the door and goes about 3 inches into the sliding door opening.
Step 5) Now comes the fun part (because it’s easy, yay!) Unroll a yard of screen material on the floor or a big table. Pull your screen off the window and lay it on top of the unrolled screen. Use a couple magnets on each side of the two layers of screen to hold them together.
Step 6) Trace the screen you fit to the window, onto the uncut screen using a black Sharpie or another method (although the black marker will not be as noticeable if you don’t cut perfectly along the line). You now have a matching screen for the other side. If one of your $3 screens gets damaged, you can use the other one to trace out a new screen.
To install, attach the top part of the screen to the window frame and align the bottom edge. On the Odyssey, the crease in the door just under the window makes a good alignment guide. If you are OK leaving the front doors closed (I enter through the rear sliders) you can get a more secure attachment by folding the top edge of the screen under the top edge of the door, as you close it (keep the magnets in place). Watch your fingers and when you get to the end, push the door closed. Then tuck the rear part into the sliding door opening, stick in place with a magnet (although it will generally stay in place), and close the slider. You should be able to open and close the slider without issue.
You can now roll down the front windows from inside, to the point you feel comfortable, balancing circulation and security. If you get very strong winds, keep the windows rolled 3/4 of the way up. I’ve used these in 40MPH+ winds and they stay in place. You can also roll the windows up if it rains, although the screen will keep a lot of the rain from blowing in, should you forget.
Use caution removing the magnets, because they will want to jump from your hand, onto your paint. The screens can be rolled up and tucked behind the seats when not in use.
Note: This design is easily improved upon by sewing a loop for the magnets and then stitching around them so they stay in place. If you plan to do this, leave at least 3″ extra screen at the top and bottom of the window. If you put a loop in for the magnets AND use solar screen, I strongly suggest using the stronger rare earth magnets. Otherwise, the combination of the lay of the fabric and the stitching may overcome the strength of the magnet.
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You can find all of my technical and minivan camper conversion DIYs, linked here.