Maxxair 6200K Fan Installation on Sprinter Van

Maxxair 6200k Fan Sprinter Van Roof

One of the first projects that we completed in the van was installing a fan for adequate ventilation. What better way to kick off a relationship with your newly acquired vehicle than to cut a big hole in its roof?  The installation was a bit unnerving at first, but as soon as we knew we had the right size cutout it was a breeze. Here is how we approached it:

Materials Used:

  1. Maxxair 6200K Fan
  2. Dicor Butyl Seal Tape
  3. Dicor 501LSG Lap Sealant
  4. 3/4″ Plywood or piece of wood
  5. 1″ aluminum bar
  6. Nuts, bolts & washers
  7. POR 15 Rust proof paint

The Maxxair 6200k was picked over a similar model Fantastic Vent fan because it is designed with the option to be open during driving and when it rains, and the latter was definitely a key point for us. After doing research on and various blogs, we knew we wanted to install the fan using a sandwich method. What it entails is having a solid base to screw the fan into, instead of only the roof’s sheet metal. The sandwich that you end up creating consists of lap sealant, aluminum bars, fan flange, butyl tape, van roof, and 3/4″ plywood in order from top to bottom. All of that is held together using bolts and securing with nuts from the bottom.

If you are installing a Maxxair 6200k fan on your vehicle, the first step you’ll want to complete is cut out your wood (3/4″ is a solid base to use) to a 16.5″ by 16.5″ square. Then you’ll want to cut the dimension of the fan flange to fit into that piece of plywood, which is 14″ by 14″. Once you jigsaw that piece from the 16.5″ plywood piece, not only will you have the bottom most layer of your sandwich, but also a square template to make sure that the vent cutout is centered and avoids the ribs on Sprinter roofs. As our Sprinter is a 2007, we were lucky enough not to have a circular rib in the back of the van as most of the newer model years do, and had the option of installing our fan on the anywhere that best fit our layout. Due to our planned roof setup of solar panels and Thule carrier box, we decided to install the vent in the back of the van towards the driver side.

Using the previously cut out 14″ template, we used Gorilla tape to temporarily mount it to the roof once we had our ideal location determined. We drilled a center hole into the roof using a 1/8″ drill bit and mounted the template with a nut and bolt to align it properly and to outline the edges of it with a sharpie. With the template unmounted, we drilled each corner of the marked square using a 3/4 Countersink drill bit. Some folks opt to leave the template in to have a good base to cut around, but we had a few jigsaw blades designed for cutting metal and weren’t concerned about it slipping away. We cut the square hole following the black sharpie lines from corner to corner, and soon enough had a 14″ hole in the roof of our van.

The jigsaw blade for metal worked well, but we had to file some of the jagged edges. Once that was done, we mounted the fan flange into the hole to determine where to drill holes in the roof for securing the entire sandwich. We drilled holes in the roof as well as the plywood template, and then used some of the leftover POR-15 rust proofing paint on the hole edges to prevent it from rusting. Once that coat tried, original paint was applied over it. It took another 30 minutes to dry and by that time we were ready to apply butyl tape on top of the roof. The Dicor tape is just about the right width for the fan flange and after putting two layers of it on top of the roof, we pressed the fan flange against it. While the paint was drying the aluminum bars were also cut to size and pre-drilled, so they were ready to be mounted above the fan flange.

Once the plywood, flange and aluminum bars were all secured with bolts, the next step was to apply lap sealant over the flange to prevent leaks. The stuff is very messy, so we took our time here. It takes a bit to dry, but does spread evenly. Once the lap sealant dried, we were done!


Sprinter Van Floor Installation: Part 1

After applying two coats of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating to the cargo floor and letting it cure, the next step was to install a wooden floor with sound and thermal insulation underneath it. Having done a bit of research before hand, and picking up tips on and from a few other van conversion blogs, we felt ready to tackle this install. Heat and sound insulation were of upmost importance to us. We ended up picking the following materials for the floor, listed from top to bottom layer:

  • HPVA Oak Plywood harvested from sustainable sources, no added formaldehyde adhesive
  • L200 MiniCell Foam
  • Noico 50mil Sound Deadener

The sound deadener from Noico has great reviews on Amazon, some comparing it as a close competitor to the much more expensive Dynamat. It does not have a strong odor such as Fatmat, or other tar based sound deadeners. Noico offers both a 50mil and 80mil versions of its product, and we opted to use the thinner deadener for the floor, as a few more layers of other material were going on top it. Beginning at the seats and working our way back, the entire cargo floor and the wheel wells were covered with the deadener. Roughly 65 square feet of the product was required for a 144″ wheelbase van. It was easier to apply the product side to side instead of front to back of the van, due to the direction of the floor ridges. A roller tool helped with removing any air bubbles, and we would definitely recommend using gloves to help avoid hand cuts from the thin sheet metal layer found on Noico.

Noico Installed on floor
Noico sound deadening material installed on floor

After that step was completed, we began cutting the minicell foam into thin strips to fit into the ridges of the floor. Some of these were 1″ wide, others closers to 2″. It took a while to cut all the required pieces, and after we were done cutting and arranging them out in the ridges, we numbered the pieces from 1 to about 60. The reason for this was to know which piece goes exactly where, as we did not want to glue the strips before putting down another layer of foam. The next step was to trace a paper template for the large pieces of foam and plywood, and the small foam pieces were taken out of the van.

We had some studio photography background paper left over, and used it for the paper template. Next we traced and cut the three separate templates precisely, and paper made this process easier as its inherently more flexible than material such as cardboard. With the paper templates ready and traced, the next step of cutting the minicell foam was easy, and both the ridge strips and the full foam layers were ready to be installed. 3M 77 Spray adhesive was used to glue the 60 strips to the cargo floor ridges, and then the process was repeated for the entire three sheets of minicell foam which were glued on top of the strips layer.

After applying both the Noico and L200 MiniCell foam, the plywood was ready to go in. We taped the same paper template used for the foam to the plywood, and marked the outline. Using a jigsaw, the contour was cut out, and then a drill was used to get to the bolt holes. After a few corrections to get everything right, the three plywood pieces finally fit in like a jigsaw puzzle and were left in the van overnight to let the underlying foam adhesive to cure.

The next steps of bolting down the plywood, applying adhesive, and gluing a vinyl floor on top are covered in Floor Installation Part 2.

Finding Balance

Kyuri on Finding Balance

We paved a new path for our lives and we didn’t know what to expect when we decided to move forward on this venture.  Szymon brought it up in passing at the beginning of the relationship on a couple occasions and told me it was a dream of his to do a bike packing road trip from the US to Patagonia. I looked at him in surprise and admiration for wanting to take on such a feat, but in my head I was thinking “What!? Thats crazy! There is no way I can do that”.  Then it happened. After some idle chatting back and forth and some research on his end, Szymon began searching for a van. A van because now I have come into his life and in order to convince me to go with him, he figured a van would get me on board rather than a bike.  It was very surreal at first. We were both really excited and all we could do was talk about this “trip of a lifetime”.  That’s when we found Gaia, a 2007 Dodge sprinter from Indiana and that was the first step in making this trip a reality.

As we began planning, we came up with lists of things we needed to do; we went over preferences on what we both wanted out of this trip, how long we would go, which routes we would take, start calculating the costs a bit and the list went on and on.  That was our first holy shit moment. This was going to take everything we had if we want to make this happen. We can’t half ass this, we had to be committed and all in, not only financially, but committed to leaving everything behind and starting over in uncharted territory. We knew that it was exactly what we both wanted. We wanted to see the world, experience different lives, reconnect with nature and the communities beyond our neighborhoods.  We wanted to change lives, helping people along the way, by giving our time and energy serving the greater good and traveling with purpose.

We started to put money away (a lot of money… nearly a third of both our incomes), began buying materials that we needed to start working on the van, worked on the van nearly every weekend we could (weather issues) after we brought her down from Chicago in November and so began the journey towards imbalance. It was fine at first, like most times you begin a new project, you get so hyped about it, you just push forth and get to work with lots of enthusiasm, but when you’re already working 40 hour weeks (Szymon) and teaching nearly 15 classes a week (me) all over Los Angeles and Orange County, it started to catch up with us.  We worked so we could save, we saved so we could build, we began building so we could live, but all the essentials that we needed in order to be sane were beginning to wane.  We haven’t had the time to spend “quality time” with each other, let alone our friends.  We were so keen on saving, we stopped going out, eating out and splurging on anything unnecessary. We didn’t talk much about anything outside the van and we didn’t give enough attention to self care.

We had to devise a new strategy. We told each other that it would really suck to lose each other because of the stress that came along with this project.  I mean what would be the point of getting all of this done if our relationship doesn’t survive it?  So, we sat down and decided to make a conscious decision about the way we restructured our lives for this project.  We put together a timeline on when certain portions of the build should be finished, in order for us to make our deadline (Last week of May 2017).  It seemed like we would be able to get it all done as long as we stuck to the timeline, but we quickly realized that life doesn’t work that way.

In the same way, I reflected on the planning of my own life.  When I was young, I told myself that I would graduate High School with honors, I would get into UCLA or UCSD and graduate and become a successful business woman, meet the love of my life, get married and have 2 dogs, a horse and a house just outside the city by age 25.  If you know anything about me or my life, that is not what happened.  Life happened instead. I graduated high school, went to college for a while with an undecided major and I think my soul was dying because I did not know who I was and I was tired of doing things that were getting me no where.  The endless hours at a job that didn’t inspire or challenge me had me wondering “What am I doing all this for?”. My life had no purpose and I had no happiness in it because I felt like I was stuck in a constant loop and there was no end in sight. That is where my journey began into who I have become. I am not an UCLA or UCSD graduate, I am not married and I don’t own a house, but found my calling as a Yoga Teacher who encourages and helps people become healthy, happy and confident. I am more self aware today than I ever was before,  I have hobbies and activities that motivate me to get stronger and I no longer live in the fear of “I need security in order to be happy”.  Quitting my job almost 3 years ago has been the best thing that I have ever done, and even though it was terrifying at the time, it was worth everything because it led me back to myself.

This brings us back to the now.  Yes, we are still saving, we are still spending countless hours on building and planning, and we are still making it a priority, but not at the expense of our health and well being.  We knew we needed to reinstate balance back into our lives and relationship in order for this to flourish.  We starting conversing about things outside the van, Szymon decided to take a weekend off with the boys, I made an effort to reach out to the people I missed spending time with, we both caught up on some reading and we decided to take a weekend off for Valentine’s Day. Giving up a few weekends in order to recharge, reconnect and revitalize ourselves has been the best thing for us and even though that pushes our dead line by about a month or so, I would much rather make this happen with us intact than in pieces, wouldn’t you agree?

Joshua Tree National Park

Shortly after driving Gaia the van across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles, an opportunity to go to Joshua Tree National Park came up. A friend of Kyuri’s extended an invite to go climb the boulders & rock formations at the national park, and to camp overnight with his group of his friends. A short distance drive from Los Angeles, the iconic Joshua Tree made famous by the U2 album cover is located in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California. The park is very popular with rock climbers, with thousands of climbing routes available at various levels of difficulty. It didn’t take long to convince me. Climbing gear, sleeping bags, and food supplies were packed, and both Kyuri and I headed out for a short weekend of climbing and van camping.

I’ve done a small amount of indoor climbing, but this was to be my first time rock climbing the outdoors. Climbing is a sport I’ve picked up as an internal physical and mental challenge to myself, especially since I fall into the not so great with heights camp. I’ve gotten more comfortable climbing the 50-70 feet tall walls at indoor gyms, but was really looking forward to getting that first outdoor climb off my bucketlist. Through gym practice I’ve gotten familiar with tying the figure 8 follow through-knot, and belaying, but was told by friends that outdoors poses different challenges.

As our group settled on a climbing spot and got the gear ready, I had the opportunity to watch some of the more experienced climbers lead climb their way up to set up a top rope for the remainder of us. The sight of the 100+ foot wall in front of me was making me a little anxious, but eventually it was my turn to try my hands at a 5.9 route. I began my way up and the first thing I noticed was how much more grippier the rock was compared to gym holds, and then when further up how much more abrasive the rock is on one’s hands. The approach is also a bit different in that there are no color coordinated holds, and one has to find their own way up. I immediately enjoyed that aspect of outdoor climbing. After getting up halfway through the approach, I made the rookie mistake of looking down (for someone with a fear of heights). My first reaction was to get back down and get more comfortable with a few more attempts, but some encouragement from the group & belayer below spurred me to take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and proceed up.

Halfway up the second climb looking down.

The climb was going well, and I got about 7/8’s of the way up before a more challenging section got the better of me and I ended up getting belayed down. Despite not making it all the way up, I was glad I gave it a try. It could have been easy to back out and not make the move up when I was halfway up, but it’s amazing what a small change of mindset and internal pep talk can do. Not only in relation to climbing, but in all walks of life. I ended up trying a 5.11 approach that required a different technique, and also made it a decent way up. That one also felt good, and I can’t wait to do some more outdoor climbing.

Our group left the climbing spot right around sunset, and we headed out to our camp spot right outside the park. There were a couple of children amongst the group, and one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me was when one of them asked me why I pronounce Theo as “Teo”. The TH sound is almost non-existent in Poland, so I naturally pronounce TH as T. Let me tell you, getting taught proper pronunciation by a five year old can be a trip!

Part 2 of Tear Down: Rust Removal & Painting Floor on Sprinter Van

After tearing down the inside of the cargo area and cleaning it up, it was time to remove the small amount of rust that had formed inside the van’s cargo floor. After a quick run to Home Depot to pick up some metal brush bits and 3m dust masks, I began to chip away at the rust with a drill bit. It was a slow process, and at first I used a portable drill, but quickly ran out of battery. Modern rust proofing paint applications make it possible to apply it over the affected areas without removing the rust, but as Gaia will be a home for an extended period of time, I wanted to remove all the corrosion that had developed inside the cargo floor and then apply the rust preventative paint. Using a corded drill, it wasn’t until late into the evening that I got to a point where I was happy with the result.

The cleanup process also exposed the areas where drywall screws held the factory wooden floor in place. It didn’t take long to remove the screws and clean them up. I mixed together some JB weld and applied it over all the little holes, mostly located in the back of the cargo floor, and let it cure overnight. The next morning I cleaned the entire cargo floor and the bottom of the side walls with acetone, and then with a POR 15 degreaser. Painter’s tape was applied to the side walls and to the bolt holes in the floor.

The floor was finally ready for a rust proof paint application. Having done a bit of research beforehand, I opted to use a can of POR-15 Rust Preventative Coating. A quart was more than enough to cover the entire cargo floor and wheel wells of a 144″ Sprinter van, and there was still plenty left for a second application. I used a 1.5″ wide nylon brush to be able to get into the smallest floor ridges, and painted the entire floor with it. The paint is thin and spreads very easily, making it a breeze to apply. It does take a bit of time to get through the whole floor, and I had to apply a second coat as the paint had trouble sticking in some areas of the floor. After the second coat dried, the van was ready for a brand new floor installation. A bit of a warning to those attempting to do any POR-15 rust preventative coatings – make sure you are covered head to toe in clothing and wear proper gloves, as the paint does not come off for weeks if it dries on your skin, and don’t forget your eye protection. If you do end up painting any areas of your vehicle with POR-15, please share any additional input you may have in the comments section!

Part 1 of Tear Down: Floor Clean Up on Sprinter Van

After driving Gaia (the Sprinter van) across the country, it was time to strip the cargo area to the barebones and begin the buildout process. Gaia’s previous owner used it for weekend mountain biking trips, so it was already fairly empty inside in the back of the van. We removed the floor trimming, wall panels and the old insulation that had been put in by the previous owner. It started raining while we were working on the van, which is a rare occurrence here in Los Angeles nowadays, but we managed to stay inside and continued with the teardown. After removing all the floor hooks, it started to get dark and we needed to make a run to a car parts store to pick up a torx bit (there are many of those bolts in the Sprinter) in order to remove the rails that held the original wooden floor panel down.

When we finally removed the wooden floor panels, we discovered a lot of dust, sand, bolts, and what had a distinct asphalt or tar smell to it in places. My guess was that it might have been Fatmat, or some adhesive used to get the factory wooden floor to stick to the base of the cargo floor. It had deteriorated over time, and was now just and old gunky mess. Cleaning the inside of the van took hours, and we first tackled the dust, sand and all the loose bits. A previously used bottle of Goo Gone helped us get the tar substance off. In hindsight, something like Unique’s Degreaser and Oil & Tar Remover would have been a more environmentally friendly option, but we were not aware of it at the time. After getting the tar off, we filled a mop bucket with one gallon of water plus 1 cup of bleach and proceeded to mop the floor. Now that the floor was much cleaner, we had a much better idea of where the handful of little holes from drywall screws used to hold down the wooden floor were located. The cleanup process also revealed that the floor corroded over time in places, and rust began to form. We tackled that task a different day, and wrote about in in Part 2 of the teardown, which covers rust removal, JB welding the floor holes, and painting cargo floor with rust preventative paint.

The Adventure Begins

The #Vanlife adventure begins

Meet Gaia. She is a 2007 Sprinter 2500, last having roamed the roads of Indianapolis, where her previous owner used her as a mountain bike weekend camper. I had flown to take a look at the van in early September, and after the it checked out, put down a deposit. In November, Kyuri and I flew to Chicago to pick up the van, and we drove it across the country to Los Angeles to begin the process of a custom build conversion. We’ve set up a blog and can’t wait to share our build out updates, trials, tips, upcoming trips, and all things “Two Four Explore”. In the meantime, check out some photos from our trip driving the van across the United States in three days. 

After many weekends of building out the custom van conversion, we finally started our trip on August 15, 2016. We headed to Denver, Colorado to see family, and our first overnight stop was at the magical hot springs in Monroe, Utah.