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Having a bug screen on your van is necessary if you intend to stay sane in bug-infested areas. It’s hard to escape bugs no matter where you are so it’s likely that you’ll end up in many places where bugs are a problem. With a bug screen installed on your sliding door, you can help to ward off these pesky creatures and not allow them into your van.
There are several pre-made bug screens that you can purchase and these will probably do a great job. However, they are very pricey with some being priced at nearly $500! Although it is nice to have a product like this that is custom made to fit your van, the price is a dealbreaker for many (including me).
I looked at various bug screens on the market and decided I would attempt to create one on my own. After custom building an entire camper van, I decided that a small project like this couldn’t be very difficult.
Instead of purchasing an expensive bug screen, I chose to purchase a $34 one and customize it to fit my van sliding door area. My van is a RAM Promaster 159″ 2500 high roof but the same process will apply to any van. You will just need to purchase a bug screen that is wide enough for your doorway and you can cut it as needed to make it fit nice and neat.
Products & Tools You’ll Need
You’ll need some type of screen material to start with. There are plenty of magnetic screens that are made for houses that you can choose from. This is what I chose to do. You can find these in various sizes so you’ll want to make sure that you buy one that is a little larger than your door opening.
For the RAM Promaster, you’ll need something around 54 inches wide and 72 inches tall.
I purchased this bug screen. It measures 62 inches wide and 87 inches tall. This is much larger than needed but it is as close as I could find.
This screen comes with all the hook & loop material that you will need to install it. It has a magnetic closure on it so that the screen closes on its own when you go in and out of the door.
You will also need some magnets to hold it closed at the bottom (if you want it to do this). You can use some of the magnets that come with the screen or you can purchase additional ones that can easily be sewn or glued into the material.
I used these magnets that I had leftover from another project along with the ones that come with the screen (in the excess material that I cut off). However, the ones I used are very strong so you may want to go with something smaller like these magnets.
Other products and tools you may need:
The fabric glue is a good choice if you decide not to sew the trim onto the bug screen. Sewing isn’t completely necessary but it does give it a nice finished look that will hold up over time, especially if you will be removing and re-installing the screen at various times throughout the year.
The supplies needed for this project are minimal and should cost only a fraction of what you would pay for a pre-made bug screen. It helps to be able to sew or know someone who can sew it for you but as mentioned above, it isn’t totally necessary to end up with a nice-looking, custom fitting bug screen by just using fabric glue.
My wife sewed ours with her sewing machine and was able to get it done fairly quickly. I wouldn’t suggest hand sewing it. If hand sewing is your only option, you will be better off using fabric glue only.
Measuring & Cutting
Step 1 – Temporarily install the screen
The first step is to install the screen in your van so that you can mark it for cutting. I started by installing the hook and loop tape at the top of the door frame all the way across. Once installed, you can connect your bug net at the top while leaving the side undone. I chose to line mine up perfectly on one side so that I would only have to cut off the excess on the other side and on the bottom.
However, my kitchen takes up part of the doorway so this worked fine in my case. If you have a full, open doorframe, you may want the entrance lined up in the center. In this case, you’ll need to center the bug screen and then trim each side of it to line up.
As you can see from the picture, I installed the screen so that it fit perfectly on one side. I tucked the screen into the weatherstripping on my kitchen side and had about a foot of excess on the other side. I was able to make the screen stick to the hook and loop strip and hold it into place long enough for me to mark it. I marked it using blue painter’s tape. The only tricky part is the corners where you will have to be extra careful that you mark it correctly. Make sure the other areas are pulled tightly and into place before marking the corners.
It’s also important to note that I removed the foam block that is installed in the Promaster. You don’t have to do this and you can choose to run the bug screen right over the top of it but I didn’t want that. I wanted it to sit flush on the door frame.
I took the foam out and sawed off a couple of inches of it and then re-installed the foam. Be careful if you decide to do this because there is an airbag located near it. You don’t want to damage any of this in the process.
The foam is held in by one push clip but you’ll have to remove a few of them in the headliner to get to it. You’ll probably need to use some kind of removal tool made for this. I used this auto trim removal kit and it’s the same kit I used to take off other panels in my van during my van build.
Step 2 – Cut the screen to size
Now that you have the screen marked with tape, you’ll need to cut the screen at this point. I used a good sharp pair of scissors to do this. Any scissors should work just fine. Once cut, you should have a screen that will fit perfectly within your door frame. If you have already installed the hook and loop strip around the door frame, the screen will stick to it (sort-of) so that you can see what it will look like.
Next, you’ll need to take off the trim piece from the part(s) you cut off and then sew or glue it back onto your new cut edge. To remove the trim, you can use a pair of scissors or a seam ripper. I used a seam ripper and it made quick work of the job. If you are having someone sew the trim for you, they probably have a seam ripper and can easily do this for you.
Once the side is cut, you’ll have a screen that lines up perfectly within your door frame. You’ll also be left with a lot of excess hanging down at the bottom of the door. You’ll want to tape this off in the same way that you did the side and then cut. I lined mine up to where it would meet with the metal of the van. This is because I will have magnets sewn into this bottom part and this will give the magnets a nice metal strip to cling to.
Once you have the bottom cut, you will be able to see exactly how your screen is going to fit. It should fit perfectly within your door frame, assuming you measured and cut it correctly.
The only thing left to do is to sew the trim back onto the newly cut sections.
Sewing OR Gluing The Trim Back On
Sewing the trim back together is the most challenging part of this process, in my opinion. Just the size of the bug screen makes it difficult to work with. Once you have removed the trim from the cut sides, you can now place it on the newly cut areas.
We used pins to hold the trim into place and then took them out as the trim was being sewn. You won’t have to worry about doing this if you are simply gluing the trim back on. Just make sure the net is all the way inside the trim and glue it down using good fabric glue.
For the bottom of the net, I chose to install magnets that will pull the screen tight to the van when closed. This really helps in keeping the screen totally sealed so that no bugs can find their way in. Without it, you’ll have a gap at the bottom that will blow in the wind when it’s closed. This will create an air gap for bugs to fly right up into your van.
The best way to avoid this is to seal off the bottom and it’s easy to do with magnets. I was able to use some of the magnets that came out of the extra length that I cut from the net. I also added other neodymium bar magnets that are really strong. I would suggest something a bit smaller than the ones I used. The ones I chose are a little too strong and make the screen cling a little too tightly.
These magnets would probably work perfectly in this scenario.
I glued the magnets into the trim and after it dried, sewed the trim onto the net just as I had done on the other sections. Once finished, you have a nice trimmed bottom with magnets in it that will latch onto the van and give you a sealed bug screen all the way around.
Installing & Using
Installing the screen is as simple as connecting it back to the hook and loop tape that you have already installed, only this time it will be a finished product. It should fit perfectly in your door opening and look like it was custom made for your van.
You should be able to go in and out easily and the magnets should close the screen back together when you are through it. The magnets will also pull the screen snug to the van at the bottom so that all areas are held tightly in place and will do a good job at keeping those pesky creatures out. You’ll be able to close your sliding door with no problems as long as you have measured it correctly.
I spent less than $50 on this project and ended up with a screen for my van that has worked out very well. I would consider this to be a simple DIY project that can save you a lot of money when you compare it to the ready-made screens on the market.