There are some laws you can’t break—especially the laws of physics. So, what does this have to do with keeping heat out of your RV. Keep reading to find out?
Window coverings, known generically as sunscreens, are primarily used to cover your windshield and occasionally coach windows (usually when parked for a few days). When used correctly, sunscreens do two major things:
- help block direct sunlight from entering the coach
- offer some, but not total, privacy.
Privacy first… Sunscreens block the view from the outside during the daytime. The brighter it is outside, the better. You can see out, but people cannot see inside so you can keep your front privacy curtains open. Yes, you can even run around in your underwear!
People can see inside at night and during really dismal, overcast days, especially when there is a light on inside the coach. Be sure to close your interior privacy curtains when the sun goes down.
Two common sunscreen colors are black and pale beige but other colors are available. Black sunscreens provide the best visibility for looking out. Visibility through the lighter colors may be diminished because the shade is illuminated by the outside light. Your sight is drawn to the shade rather than what is outside.
Block sunlight… Sunscreens must be attached on the outside of the RV to be most efficient. There are sunscreens designed for indoor usage. You should know that when light rays enter through the glass windshield and hit any surface (for example, an interior sun screen) they change wavelength and become heat rays. Heat rays cannot escape back through the glass (the laws of physics). Therefore, the heat is retained inside.
I would never ever use the reflective, folding screens as these tend to accumulate heat around the windshield and forward dash area. I am not aware of any data that show how potentially detrimental these are to the seals around the windshield.
While interior sunscreens are easy to hang (no ladder and no going outside), they cannot be as efficient at keeping heat out of the coach. When interior sunscreens are in place, you instantly feel cooler but that’s because the heat is retained between the sunscreen and the glass. It’s like standing outside in the sun and then moving into the shade—of course you feel cooler.
You can easily test the heat retention by placing a thermometer between the windshield and interior sunscreen. You can also test this process by going outside, checking the temperature in direct sunlight, and then checking the temperature in the shade. Inside your RV, your air conditioner(s) will work more to overcome this heat as it slowly disperses into the main living area of the coach. It has been suggested that in hot climates, the increased buildup of heat at the windshield gasket (that surrounds the glass) may potentially be a negative. I have seen no evidence of this.
Both interior and exterior sunscreens help block UV rays to prevent or slow down fabric fading and wood from drying out. Make sure interior screens do not hang where they allow portions of the vinyl (covering the dash area) to be exposed to the sun. Fabric-rot will result much more rapidly in these unprotected areas.
Sunscreens are Custom Made
Sunscreens always have to be custom made—sometimes on site and sometimes you order them—from a mesh material (polyester/nylon) that is designed for outdoor usage. You may find vendors at rallies and in campsites ready to make a set for your coach. All coaches have to be measured to ensure the screen fits the windshield (and other windows, too). Sunscreen companies can get correct measurements from the coach manufacturer.
Sunscreens are attached to the outside of the coach with snaps, clips, or other devices. Your coach may be drilled and fitted with multiple fasteners around the windows. Then, whenever you attach the sunscreens, they must be snapped into place. This always requires a ladder to allow you to easily reach above the windshield on your coach.
If you have a snap-on type of screen and find it is difficult to stretch it enough (to get the snaps attached), then the screen fabric may be too cold. Unroll it and put it in the sunshine for a few minutes. It will actually become a bit more “stretchy” and easier to handle. Try unrolling it across the hood or roof of your car or picnic table to keep it off the ground. Take it inside during winter. Lay the rolled-up sunscreen on the dash of your motorhome. It will warm up quickly.
Some RVers carry sunscreens propped up in their shower when driving during cold weather. They will go on easily if you work quickly.
What I Use
Some brands of exterior sunscreens are attached without the use of a ladder (i.e., you standing on the ground) and there are no “snaps” drilled into the coach.
We used this type of sunscreen on two different coaches. It was manufactured by Prompt RV Sunscreen, Winter Haven, FL. On front-entry coaches, this screen is held on with an industrial-strength suction cup plus an elastic urethane strap and for mid-entry, a strap on each side. It will withstand high (40+ mph) wind gusts.
I was told by one sunscreen company that the wiper and mirror covers don’t really do anything—but they look good to some. I don’t use them.
The popular alternative today is the “pull-down” shade. Made in both the “daytime” and “privacy” model, they are like the old “window shade” you used to find in homes. Each window in the RV requires two of the “roller shades” with one for daytime (you can see out but people cannot see in during daylight) and one for privacy (a solid material used for privacy at night). These shades can be either manual or motorized.
Shades on the windows are relatively easy to manufacture and each window must be measured for accuracy. So, this means that these shades are actually custom made for an RV. The giant front window (especially in a motorhome) is the challenge. Windshields are set in at an angle, the tops of the dash are uneven, the A-pillar (the corner area on either side of the windshield) is used for tracking front shades and some manufacturers build in a “track” and some do not. There are no built-in tracks on older motorhomes. Sometimes visors have to be removed.
The front shade is nearly always motorized. Some manufacturers require you to have the ignition key “OFF” to move the shade. Other brands are different. The ability to lower the front shade a bit while driving into the sun is wonderful. Expect to pay about $1,000 for a custom front shade.
Buying a wrong or hard-to-use RV accessory is not like buying that wrong coffeepot. You can always give the pot to Aunt Ethel. But unless she has the same model, year, and brand of RV that you do, your custom-made set of sunscreens likely won’t fit. As with all RV accessories, visit the vendors at RV rallies and shows, talk with several RVers, search online, and drive through a campground to see the various style on the parked rigs. Research any future purchase carefully because you don’t know what you don’t know.