We had been using Roadies to cover our passenger side windows and they were great - they provided bug protection, had an awning to keep the rain out, and gave us privacy. But they also had two downsides. The first is that they aren't very stealthy. When we put them up, everyone knows we're sleeping in our vehicle. It's fine at a campsite but not always what we want depending on where we are. The second is that if it's raining or even just a dewy morning, we end up having to pack them up wet. And drying out roadies or any other camping equipment when you live in an apartment is no fun.
We'd looked online for other options but there were so many specific features we wanted that we decided to build out the screens ourselves. Our new screens would need to provide privacy and keep the rain and bugs out of the car just like the roadies. Additionally, they needed to be stealthy. And then we added in one other key feature: that they provide better ventilation by allowing us to setup our fans next to the windows.
A link to our products page, which includes links to the materials used to make our window screens, can be found here.
Step 1: Design the Screens
The plan for our new screens was to have them tension fit into place around the existing rear passenger car window frames. The screen frames would be made from plywood and we would then attach mesh to keep out the bugs and canvas to provide privacy. We would also provide a spot to hold the fan. The screens need to be easily removed and safely stored for driving, and put into place in the window when we are parked at camp.
Step 2: Create the Outline
To create a screen that would hold itself in place using tension, we needed to get the exact shape of the window. We first created the general window shape using a piece of cardboard, then kept cutting it until it was pretty close to the shape of the window, with all its strange angles and curves. We then traced the cardboard shape onto a scrap piece of plywood and cut out a prototype. From there we continued to refine the shape until it was an excellent fit in the window frame. This involved many trips between the car and the workshop. As we would be putting some foam weather stripping between the wooden screen frame and the car window frame, we left a bit of room for that too.
Step 3: Create the Inside Shape
Once we had the outside shape set and fitting well into the window, we planned for the inside shape of the cutout. We got a bit creative here, with an oddly shaped section for the area that the mesh and canvas would cover and another circular cutout for the fan. We already had a USB-powered computer fan that we had been using in the camper that we wanted to attach to the screen frame, so we used it to provide the size of the circle.
Step 4: Cut the Plywood
When we were happy with the shape of the prototype, we traced the pattern onto the real piece of 1/2" plywood and cut out the actual screen frame.
Step 5: Sand and Paint
We sanded the entire frame and painted in a dark gray.
Step 6: Install the Fan
Depending on the weather, we may want the fan acting as an air intake or as an outtake, so we used snap screws to hold the USB-powered computer fan to the frame. This will allow us to flip the fan and thus its direction as needed. In most situations, we'll have one window with the fan as an intake and the other window with a fan as the outtake.
Step 7: Install Foam Weather Stripping
We put the foam weather stripping around the entire wooden frame and checked to make sure it would tension hold in the car's window frame. It did!!
Step 8: Create the Canvas Privacy Shield
We bought 14 oz black canvas fabric and cut it to the same shape as the frame cutout. We double layered the fabric and sewed it together to provide maximum blackout privacy - this will allow us to have the lights on inside the vehicle without anyone passing by to see any light coming through.
We also wanted to be able to raise and lower the canvas fabric to look outside and to allow for ventilation. We thought about using velcro or strip magnets, but in the end we decided on small circular neodymium magnets. We drilled holes for the magnets on the frame and sewed another set of magnets into the canvas. To ensure the magnet holes were the perfect depth for the magnets we used a makeshift plastic "blocker" around the drill bit to ensure the drill would not go further into the plywood than we wanted it to. We secured the canvas to the bottom of the frame using screws - there were a lot of options here but we liked the industrial look of the screws.
Step 9: Sew the Fan CoverIn addition to covering the main part of the frame with canvas for privacy, we also wanted covers for the fans. Without the covers, the gaps between the fan blades will allow light through and allow a line of site directly into our vehicle. So if we are changing or just want more privacy, we can turn off the fans and cover them with the black-out canvas. And at other times when the fans are running, we can take the covers off. To make the fan covers we simply sewed a 5-sided cube-type-shape out of doubled up 14 oz canvas.
Step 10: Add the Mesh
Our last step was to add the bug protection. Using super glue, we attached no-see-um mesh to the opposite side of the plywood plank as the canvas. Once the mesh was in place and trimmed, we added hockey tape to finish the edges.
Step 11: Try it Out!
With the screens complete, it was time to go camping and test it out!
You can see a listing of all of our microcamper projects here.