How-To: Installing Our Roof Fan
Things we used
- Maxxair Smoke Standard Remote Fan Lid
- Painter's tape (marking out fan on roof)
- Duct tape
- 3M Marine Adhesive Sealant
- Rags + isopropyl alcohol (for cleaning your cut area before you press the fan in)
- Butyle tape (for underside of roof vent for maximum staying power)
- Spray paint (white/other)
- Measuring tape
- Sharpie/dry erase marker
- Dewalt Top Handle Jig-Saw
- Center hole punch (for marking pilot hole locations)
- File (for smoothing edges after cut)
- Latex Gloves (protection)
- Goggles/sunglasses/any eye protectors
- Ear protectors/ear plugs
- Makita Lithium-Ion Cordless 1/2" Hammer Driver-Drill Kit (3.0Ah)
- Remember to order the adapter well beforehand! Ford Transit roofs have a bunch of channels in the sheet metal and it would be nearly impossible to install this without some sort of adapter. We didn't take this seriously enough, didn't order the adapter and ended up waiting a few days to get it. But, the shop who makes them are awesome and super helpful and got it to us very fast!
- We recommend buy longer screws or nuts and bolts to attach the fan to the van. They are a bit too short and barely bite in a couple spots, so better to have more hardware.
- When you get on your roof (pretty necessary), make sure to stay over the cross beams. We taped off where they were and always tried to keep the weight only at the cross beams. If you move off of them, you risk denting or damaging your roof. The sheet metal is thin and not meant to handle a humans weight.
Before you begin
Do your research.
What type of fan/vent do you want to have in there?
Do you want a low profile?
Do you want to keep it open in the rain?
How much are you willing to spend?
Choosing your fan
There are many different kinds of roof fans, but here's the one we went with.
It costs $188, but is a lot fancier than our previous one. We went with this one because we want to be able to not worry about rain, but also keep a low profile.
There is an option (below) to add a cover to it later (an additional $30), but not sure we want to do that.
And below is the fan we have in our first van, which is also great and slightly cheaper and costs around $130. The differences are that this one doesn't have the rain sensor or a remote. Neither are really necessary. Totally up to you how fancy you want your fan to be!
Mark out the position for the fan on the roof, front to back
For our van, we've ordered a roof rack with a vent hole cutout included. Because of this we had to be a bit more careful about where we installed the fan. In general you can use the roof vent adapter to get the fan centered (see below) and choose whichever long dimension you would like, making sure to miss all the cross beam supports! We ended up cutting ours from the top, so we couldn't see the cross supports, but we made sure we didn't hit them.
Trace the inside of the roof vent adapter where you want the fan to go
Once the adapter is in the position you want it, trace with a marker. The inner hole of the adapter is a perfect 14"x14" square. In this picture you can see the knees on the blue masking tape marking out the cross beam in order to prevent denting or damaging the roof.
Tape off the area and drill your pilot holes
We taped around the edges of the cut line to make sure we don't scratch the paint when we use the jigsaw. No need to do the inside as that will be scrap metal soon, just the outside around the sharpied line where the fan will go.
Next we measured out where to drill the holes for the corners. Our final hole will be 3/8". We weren't super exact as this is all getting covered up, but we just put the 3/8" bit up to the corner, made a scratch when the widest part lined up with the edge. It's nice to use a center hole punch or an awl and hammer to start your hole. It's easy for the bit to wander and a little starter makes a huge difference.
To drill the holes, start small and work your way up. Smaller bits wander less and it's also a good little warm up for you to get used to cutting holes in your van. We jumped straight for 1/16" to 3/8", but you can have a couple in betweens too. You'll use these holes to start each side.
Jigsaw out your hole for the fan
Luckily, this wasn't the first hole we cut in a van (not even the first hole in this van!), so the normal feelings of doubt and fear didn't creep in too much. But don't worry, those feelings are normal!
Just be sure to measure MORE THAN ONCE. Sanity checks are never a bad thing. A good rule is "measure twice, cut once" but feel free to modify it to "measure x times" if you feel nervous. It's better to be absolutely sure before you're cutting a giant hole in your new home.
To line up our cut, we used the four marked out points that we made with the drill (pilot holes). Having the jigsaw at max speed and moving slowly helps keep it going straight. But slow down a little bit when approaching your corners just in case.
Apply duct tape as you cut each side of the square (pictured below) to make sure that the piece doesn't fall into your van and damage something (though it may only be the subfloor). It's just good to practice safe methods like this one.
File down the edges of your cut
We had a few rough edges and burrs after cutting, so we used a file to knock off those burrs and clean up the edges.
We also used some medium grit sandpaper at the end to make it really smooth. Don't get too crazy with it though as you may file away too much metal (though you'd have to be really into sanding to get to that point).
Vacuum all the little bits of metal
Jigsaws are great multipurpose tools, but one issue with cutting steel with a jigsaw is that you create tiny pieces of steel that act as rust promoters. These little rust promoters go everywhere! Make sure you clean up all the little bits. We vacuumed multiple times and at the end still found little metal bits in very odd places.
Delicately apply paint to prevent rust
We sprayed some of our rustoleum spray paint in a plastic container and used a q-tip to apply the paint. If you have a dauber, that would work better! Or a tiny paintbrush. Another option is to spray directly on the edge, but it's more of a pain to make sure periphery spray paint doesn't land on all your clean stuff.
Check the fit of the vent adapter
At this point we just wanted to make sure that everything fits. We put in the adapter and set the fan on top of that to make sure the hole was big enough and that everything is going to plan.
Apply Butyle tape to top of the adapter
This is for the seal between the adapter and the fan. This was both the suggestion from the adapter and fan manufacturers. Make sure to have no gaps in the tape as this could let water in. After the tape is applied, carefully lay it on the bottom of the fan.
In the picture below, I flipped the adapter and set it in the exact position. Another thing to be careful of here is the grooves. The hinged portion of the fan should face forward, so make sure the grooves are properly aligned with the hinge to make this possible.
Drill pilot holes where they're marked on the fan
The manufacturers instructions don't say to drill pilot holes, but it's very hard to drill the screws they include without pilot holes and it's just good practice. Just drill them.
There were a couple tough angles with this particular fan, so be careful.
Clean away any metal mess from drilling
Get all those rust promoters away! Clean, vacuum, do everything possible to clean up every one of them! They're not your friends.
Apply marine adhesive sealant to bottom-side edges of fan
We love marine adhesive sealant. It's very strong for a sealant. It's very sealing for an adhesive. It does well in UV exposure. It's just pretty badass.
We plan on having the adapter in long term and expect it to stay if we ever need to replace the fan, so we're comfortable using it here. It is pretty permanent, depending on the surface you apply it to. It's very hard to remove. Use it with caution.
That said, we put on about 1/8" bead of marine adhesive sealant to the bottom of the adapter. This was just enough to squeeze out when the fan got screwed down.
Place fan and drill in from above!
Line up your placement and place the fan in. We used the screws that came with the fan and some of them were just barely long enough to pierce the roof. Make sure to put your drill on the correct settings to not overdrive the screws into the sheet metal.
Remove excess sealant
When you screw in the fan, you should have excess sealant coming out the sides. We did. We used a rubber squeegee thingy from Lowe's to scrape away the excess material and have a clean edge. If there are edges that don't have any adhesive coming out you can add a bit now as long as you're sure that it's sealed inside as well.
Apply marine adhesive to screws
To complete the seal, put some marine adhesive sealant on the top of the screws. You can use other types of sealants as well, but as stated above, we love this stuff! Most people choose lap sealant here, but it looks hard to control and ends up being a big pile of sealant. We also added marine adhesive to the screws on the inside to seal it up even more and prevent any rust that could start there.
Our fan, which you can buy here, came with it's own set of installation tips. You'll want to make sure you follow these carefully once your done with the steps above!