DIY: Magnetic blackout window covers

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Like we mentioned in an earlier post, the van remained empty for about two months after we received it from the dealership. We were still planning out what we wanted to build. In the meantime, we were using it on the weekends for climbing trips. The first DIY project we tackled was to make insulated “blackout” window covers so that we could have some privacy inside the car wherever we were parked for the night.

Our window covers are made of Reflectix insulation covered with fabric and secured to the windows with magnets.


Cost: ~$75

Difficulty: Beginner
This was our first sewing project ever, so it is definitely something that anybody with access to a sewing machine can tackle.

Tools: Sewing machine



  1. Cut Reflectix
    1. Create a stencil out of newspaper, poster board, or anything that allows you to trace the contour of the window accurately.
    2. Use the stencil to transfer the window shape onto a piece of Reflectix.
      • Due to the varying widths of the windows, it is preferable to use a 48-in wide roll of Reflectix. If the roll of Reflectix you have is not wide enough, use aluminum tape to join two pieces of Reflectix to form a wider piece.
    3. Cut it out with scissors.
  2. Cut fabric
    1. Lay the shaped piece of Reflectix on top of your outward facing fabric, and cut a square/rectangular piece that leaves about 2 inches of excess on the sides. (This excess is where you will sew the magnets into later on.)
    2. Use this cutout to cut an exact copy out of your inward facing fabric.
  3. Glue Reflectix and fabric together
    1. Lay the fabric cutout on smooth surface face down. (The side that you will see faces down.)
    2. Make sure to work out as many of the wrinkles in the fabric as you can. We used an iron.
    3. Note the application directions on the 3M adhesive spray bottle.
    4. Spray the adhesive onto one side of your Reflectix cutout. (Wait a bit, per adhesive application instructions)
    5. Carefully raise the Reflectix cutout above your sheet of fabric (adhesive facing down), lower, drop, and press.
    6. Repeat steps 1-5 for the other piece of fabric, taking care to try to match up the square corners of the fabric.
  4. Trim excess fabric
    1. Trim the excess fabric to contour the Reflectix. (Maintain the ~2 inch excess for the magnets!)
    2. Too much is better than too little. This involved a little bit of trial and error. We just continued trimming the fabric off until the ideal window shape was obtained.
  5. Determine magnet placement
    1. Use duct tape to temporarily attach magnets to the corners of your cover.
    2. Test the covers, and adjust the magnet positions until you get the right amount of contact to the sheet metal around the windows.
      • Again, some trial and error is involved here.

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  1. Sew magnets
    1. Hand sew a tight circle around each of the magnets.
    2. For extra support, we also hand sewed buttons in the center of the magnets to further ensure they held their place.
  2. Sew seam bindings
    1. Check out this helpful Youtube video.
  3. Spray fabric protector (Optional)
    1. We used a fabric protector spray to protect against moisture since these covers will come in contact with a lot of condensation as you travel.


It’s been more than one year since we’ve made these window covers. Here are some thoughts:

  • These window covers provide privacy and keep the van much better insulated than without.
  • The window covers (especially the ones you interact with often) will lose their shape over time. We’ve recently taped magnets to the sheet metal around the affected windows so the magnets in the covers have a stronger attachment. Checkout the picture gallery for examples.
  • Even with the fabric protector spray, the color of the window covers will fade over time from the UV exposure. You may consider reapplying the spray every once in a while.

1 year

Planning our van build was tedious. It was our first time building anything from scratch, so not only did we have to decide what we wanted to build, we had to learn how to build it, from square one.

To give you an idea of how time consuming the process was for us, we ordered our van from the dealership in October 2015, and picked it up in February 2016. The van stayed empty until May 2016. All the while, we were constantly researching. Constantly.

How much water do we need? Where should we mount the water tank? Will it freeze? What insulation should we use? Do we need a heater? How do we want to cook? How many batteries should we get? Where do we mount them? Do we want solar? How many solar panels will we need to charge those batteries? Hardwood, vinyl, or laminate floors? Do we need a toilet?

Endless questions.

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of everything involved. As intimidated as we were feeling, we finally decided that we had learned, and planned, enough. We needed to get started, with anything, really.

We spent almost every weekend from May to December executing our plan. We were both working full time jobs at the time, and our weeks looked something like this:

Monday – Wednesday (noon): “What are we building this coming weekend?” “What do we need to order online?” Order everything by Wednesday at noon, so that we have it by the weekend.

Thursday – Friday: Review how we are building it.

Friday – Sunday (night, usually Monday in the A.M.): Build, eat, build, eat, build, sleep.

On November 30, 2016, we ended the lease at our apartment, and on December 1, we began living in the van full time.

Today is our one year van life anniversary!

With that year of experience, we feel like we’ve gathered enough test results from our build to share with you all what works, what doesn’t, and what we might do differently.

We’ll be breaking down small parts of our van in as much detail as we can in blog posts in the “Van Build” category on this blog.

We learned so much from the rest of the community, and are excited to give back.

Either subscribe here, or follow us on Instagram to get updates!