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Keep it Cool by Blocking the Sun’s Heat
Photographer and cyclist and Mac expert and software engineer Lloyd Chambers is available for consulting on general Sprinter considerations at his usual consulting rates via phone, or in person in the Palo Alto, CA area. Save yourself hours and mistakes by discussing issues up-front. More about Lloyd....
My upfitter of choice is ADF Sprinters of San Fernando, California. The “hard” work I had done there; this page details DIY work.
This page shows the Mercedes Sprinter van and inexpensive ways to keep it cool from heat caused by sunlight.
The material shown in several tips is Reflectix, which is good for reflecting/blocking both heat and light.
Tip #0: use a sunshade in the windshield
A foldable made-to-fit sunshade is a must-have for many conditions and the first place to begin, since time and conditions might not allow the use of Reflectix over the windshield as shown in Tip #2, which is even more effective.
The particular sunshade shown below is made to fit and fits very snugly (a little space around the mirror is left open). It works very well, but the materials are less than top grade (for example, the stiff material can crack when mishandled). But at about $56, it was well worth the money. It has an insulating layer as well as a reflective layer, which is useful: in winter, turn the insulating layer out and it will absorb quite a lot of heat, and a good amount will make it into the interior.
Tip #1: Make your own shade by blocking the sun in key areas
The most effective way to keep sunlight-borne heat out of the van is by never letting it hit the van at all, that is, by making your own shade. Even if the van has an auxiliary air conditioner, this technique can greatly reduce the electrical load. The key areas to cover are the huge windshield and the side window(s) because any sunlight that makes it through the glass will significant considerable heat, even if there is reflective material against the glass.
Where the sunlight is blocked as shown, it is more effective than anything else in preventing the ingress of heat from sunlight—even more effective than insulation in the van walls, probably around R100 as I can detect zero ingress of heat through the windshield when mounted as shown below. As shown, the Reflectix itself reflects 95% or so of the sunlight (visible and infrared and UV) away from the van. Second, the Reflectix is itself an insulator. Finally, mounted as shown with the Reflectix abutting the antenna, an air gap allows any hot air to escape.
Even with an interior reflective sunshade inside against the windshield, this approach is far more effective. This is easily felt and/or can be measured with a thermometer; it’s obvious either way.
The key to mounting the Reflectix is the use of high strength magnets, preferably sphere magnets. Moderate-strength magnets are no good—even a mild wind will drag them around slightly (possibly scratching the paint if there is dirt on it), and probably rip the shield off entirely.
As shown below: over the windshield, four 1-inch N52-grade nickel-coated sphere magnets from KJMagnetics.com hold the Reflectix in place. On the side I’ve used 3 magnets instead of four; use four of them if windy. The N52 sphere magnets are extremely powerful, and if the material is stretched snugly, it will take a strong wind to dislodge it.
Note that as a bonus, there is complete privacy, day or night. Photographers like myself also need light blacked-out to properly assess images on the computer screen.
Tip #2: make inexpensive side and rear window sunshades
This is less good than blocking the sun from entering the van, but it is still highly effective. I use this technique on the front side windows as well as the rear windows.
As a bonus, in cold weather this is a good way to greatly reduce heat loss through the windows since the Reflectix insulates both by reflecting heat (keeping it in or out), and by its air bubbles which are R3 or so. For really cold conditions, use gaffer’s tape for a double layer.
As shown, these shades simply press into place. I used a marker to trace the shape on the Reflectix, then simply cut to fit. The door lock is useful as a retaining clip and cut a little large as shown, the material presses into place and stays there (unless the door is opened and some wind pops it off).
For the rear windows, I traced the material with a marker, then cut to fit and taped into place. The Reflectix keeps heat/cold and light in or out, summer or winter. I found that I never used the rear windows, so blocked them out. In retrospect, I should not have put them in at all. But perhaps my approach might change in the future.