Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In the shop: new window covers for the van

My van has 5 large windows, only one of which can be fit with a traditional window shade, (RV'ers out there will be familiar with the popular day/night shade system.) the other windows, well I need to be able to see out of them to drive! They're nice and big which makes driving easier, but they're nice and big which makes keeping the sun, and prying eyes, out of the van a little problematic.

The solution is removable window covers that roll up and fit neatly into the overhead compartment when not - well - covering windows. But life in a window can be harsh and after 4 years of Texas sun the original covers started coming apart. Every time I rolled or unrolled the covers a shower of little bits of white plastic was left behind for me to clean up.

Time for new covers.

I stopped by one of the big box stores and picked up a 25' roll of 48" wide Reflectix. That's a foil bubble radiant barrier insulation often used in buildings and - well - window covers. Back at the barn, way up on a high shelf, I had stored yards and yards of a nice heavy, dark grey fabric we picked up off the bargain table somewhere for a dollar a yard. This is the same fabric I used to make the privacy curtain between the driving compartment and the living quarters for when I'm stealth camping, like at a handy Walmart or in a truckstop parking lot. And digging through my wife's sewing stuff (I'm counting on y'all not to tell on me!) I found a spool of UV resistant thread.

With supplies in hand I went to work and in two days (Well give me a break!! I had other things to take care of too! Like tending the garden and - and - well - reading a magazine and checking my email and  watching the birds and - Hey! after all I'm supposed to be retired here!!!) the new covers were completed and installed.

Years in the sun have taken their toll on the original covers

And every time I handled them these little bits of white plastic got left behind

Using the original covers as templates, I marked and cut the Reflectix, making sure to keep track of the fabric or inner side of each one.

Then I ironed up a bit of fabric (It has been stored in a garbage bag for quite a while and was pretty wrinkly, even more wrinkly than me!) After laying the fabric out smoothly over the bubble stuff I pealed it back on one side and shot one strip of spray adhesive across the bubbles then very carefully draped the fabric down into the adhesive, trying my best to avoid wrinkles. After all I just spent too long at the ironing board getting the wrinkles out! Repeating this process I gradually got the fabric stuck, more or less neatly, to the bubbles.

Then I flipped the whole thing over and trimmed off some of the excess to make the next step easier, but I was careful to leave plenty of fabric around the edges because the finished product will have about 1 inch of additional fabric all the way around the edges. The original covers didn't have this and were held in place with little tabs of self-adhesive Velcro stuck around the window frames with the matching half sewn onto the cover. That worked really well for about a week, then the sun started baking the Velcro patches loose from the window frames. My first attempt at fixing this involved sticking the sticky little buggers back on with epoxy, but that was only partially successful. In the end extra fabric and magnets solved the issue nicely.

So these covers will have an extra 'flap' of fabric all the way around. You can't see it but the edge of the bubble stuff is lined up with the right edge of the sewing machine foot and the blue tape marks a point 1 inch away from that. This leaves a 1 inch tube of fabric around the edges of the cover

I keep a stock of rare earth magnets around. (I just throw them at the metal cover plate for one of the quad-outlets at my fixed workbench. That way I know right where to find them when I need one.) In my forced experiments trying to keep the original covers where they belonged, I found that a combination of a fabric tube & these magnets worked best. 
As I was sewing around the cover, at strategic points I had previously marked, I would make a triangular detour out to the edge and trap one of the magnets into the fabric tube. It doesn't show much here but if you look close at the next photo you can see the outline of the magnet.
Once I completed the circuit all the way around each cover I flipped it over and cut away the excess fabric. The exposed bubble side will face outward and the nice dark, calming grey is what I'll see from the inside. (I'm sure my mother is cringing at my crude sewing skills but I don't have her hours of experience and will likely - OK - definitely, never get there.)
The point of no return!!  This mangled mess is the original cover for the windshield. The magnet trick won't work for this cover which uses battens to keep it stiff and the van's sunshades to hold it in place. Rather than cut my own battens from whatever scraps I have laying around I decided it would be easier to reuse the battens from the old cover. (Reduce, reuse, recycle. Aren't I quite the responsible consumer!!?)

Before I mangled it I used the original cover to carefully mark the position and ends of the various battens onto the new cover.

Then I spayed the back of each batten with adhesive and stuck it in place

Before draping and gluing the fabric down.

Then is was simply a matter of folding the fabric over the edge of the bubbles and sewing.

And trimming.

So now the van has nice new window covers that don't shed little bits of plastic that I have to try and clean up!

She even got a little extra bling out of the deal!

I could have ordered the bubbles with a white coating, which would match the original covers as well as the paint color, but the silver stuff was right there at hand and might even be a bit more effective at keeping some of the solar radiation from turning into heat inside the van. Time will tell.

And FYI, the reason the windshield wiper arms are sticking out is that when parked for more than a few days I remove the windshield wipers and throw them on the driver's seat. It only takes a few seconds and the wipers seem to last much longer when they aren't sitting out in the sun quite so much.

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