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RV living is the best life, in my opinion, but sometimes it seems like you’re living and traveling in a greenhouse. The sun beats down, raising interior temperatures and stressing your on-board air conditioners. Trips through the desert Southwest get put off until winter. You promise yourself, repeatedly, that you won’t drive west at sunset.
Tinting your RV windows can offer a solution to these – and other – problems. Many, if not most, motorhomes and trailers now come standard with tinted glass windows already installed. However, if your rig lacks them, or you’d like to improve insulation and safety, you can apply tinted film to your windows.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to tint your windows, the different options available, and some mistakes to avoid.
What is Window Tinting?
Tinted windows are the result of two different processes.
Factory Tint – Windows are tinted at the factory by an electrical process called “deep dipping” which applies a dark tint inside the glass. The main benefit achieved by factory tinted windows is privacy, as this tinted glass does not usually block UV radiation or provide insulation. Factory tinted windows are typically darker for windows in the rear of vehicles, in compliance with Federal laws. Colors range from grey, bronze, and green to a reflective mirror tint.
Window Tinting Film – A thin polyester material is applied to the inside of windows. This film typically incorporates several layers, each of which provides different benefits, such as protection from UV rays, heat rejection, glare control, and privacy. Films are available in a number of different shades, including clear, and are rated by their Visible Light Transmission (VLT) factor. The VLT number indicates the amount of light that the film allows through. For example, film with a VLT of 30 allows only 30 percent of the visible light through. The lower the number, the less light gets through.
What are the Benefits of RV or Camper Window Tinting?
Insulation – Window tint film can block up to 70 percent of the infrared (solar) heat that comes through glass windows. RVers will see the result in better gas mileage since air conditioners eat up fuel at a fast rate. In cold conditions, window film slows heat loss through the exposed glass, leading to savings on propane and/or electricity.
Privacy – One of the top reasons to tint your windows is the increased privacy you’ll enjoy when passers-by can’t look in and see your RV or Camper interior, or if you’re “at home.” It’s a safety measure as well, preventing potential thieves from “shopping” your belongings, no matter where you park.
Sun Damage Protection – This works two ways, protecting both you and your RV, Camper Trailer or 5th Wheel. Window film can block up to 99 percent of harmful Ultraviolet (UV) rays, the nasty ingredient in sunlight that can cause skin cancer and cataracts and accelerate the wrinkles of age. Turns out UV light has a similar effect on RV interiors, dashboards and upholstery, causing them to fade, crack and warp in short order. Tinted windows are especially important if you have leather – or leatherette – upholstery. Some films have UV protection equivalent to SPF 285, to keep you and your RV looking good.
Safety – Window tint film will prevent the glass from shattering if you’re in an accident or if someone breaks out your window. The film bonds to the glass, holding the broken pieces in place, keeping you safe and speeding clean-up.
Glare Control – Glare is the enemy of safe driving, as you can be nearly blinded by the sun, reflections from snow, and even other vehicles’ headlights. Federal regulations and some states allow the top portion of the windshield to be tinted to give some relief from sunrises and sunsets. A more universal solution is to apply one of the new clear ceramic films. These are virtually clear, but block UV and solar heat rays, while reducing glare by up to 96 percent.
Appearance – Let’s face it… your RV looks cooler with tinted windows.
Types of RV Glass Tinting Film – Pros & Cons
Dyed Window Film – The least expensive, and least functional, type of window tinting involves film with a layer of dye next to the adhesive. The dye is heat-absorbing to deflect heat away from the interior of the vehicle and usually bonded with a UV blocking layer.
While dyed film has varying amounts of glare, UV and infrared protection, it is usually selected for its opaque black appearance, allowing excellent visibility for those inside, but blocking views from outside into the vehicle.
One drawback of dyed film is its tendency to fade over time, or even turn purple. Look for a color-stable film that will maintain its dark color for many years.
Metalized Window Film – Tiny particles of metal are embedded in the window film during manufacture, usually through a complicated process called sputtering. Windows covered with the metalized film are more highly reflective and stronger than those covered with dyed film. And they are more resistant to scratches. Depending on the metal used in the sputtering process, the metalized film is able to block a wide range of different radiation, providing excellent heat and UV protection.
A metalized layer is often laminated to dyed film, creating what is called a hybrid or high-performance film.
A major drawback of metalized window film is the possibility that it will interfere with your GPS, radio, cellphone and other electronic devices that depend on receiving signals from outside your RV.
Carbon Window Film – A relatively new form of tinting film, this carbon-based option is fade-resistant, provides excellent protection from heat and UV radiation, and gives windows an opaque, black matte appearance. Because no metal is involved, this film won’t interfere with your electronics, either.
Ceramic Window Film – The newest (and most expensive) film is made from tiny nano-particles of ceramic, so small they are invisible to the human eye. Since it doesn’t contain dye, metal or carbon, this film can be completely clear, while still providing superior protection, blocking 99 percent of UV rays and 45 up to 70 percent of infrared heat, depending on the brand. Since it contains no metal, this type of film doesn’t interfere with cellphone reception or GPS operation. The ceramic particles actually absorb light, reducing glare without reducing clarity, making it the ideal choice for windshields.
Specialty Films – If you’re looking to give your RV or trailer a unique look, window tinting films are available in a number of colors including red, also with holographic effects or a silver mirror appearance. Note that these may be illegal on some windows in some states, and are probably best reserved for trailers.
Photochromatic or Photochromic Films – These are the newest options in window tinting film. These products contain special pigments that make windows darken in sunlight, then turn (almost) clear at night.
Things To Be Aware Of When Choosing a Window Tint
Darker is not necessarily better. Windows covered with extremely dark film, with a VLT rating of 20% or less, may make the interior of your RV gloomy even on the brightest day. Also, it makes it harder to see out, distorting the colors of the scenery you are traveling to see.
While darkened windows offer increased privacy during the day, the opposite is true at night. Once the sun goes down and you turn on your internal lights, you are completely visible to those outside, like an actor on a lighted stage in a dark theater. Pull your shades!
Are There RV Window Tinting Laws?
It’s a question that always comes up when discussing window tinting: Is it legal?
While there are no Federal regulations specifically concerning window tinting on RVs. The general regulations for motor vehicles are assumed to apply. These, found in FMVSS No. 205, require that the driver’s forward field of vision, defined as the windshield and the driver and passenger side windows, and in some instances the rearmost window if used for driving visibility, must allow 70 percent or more of visible light to get through (a minimum of VLT 70), improving the driver’s ability to see clearly. If your windshield already has a factory tint, be sure to have your VLT calculated before and after adding an additional tint.
The entire front windshield is covered by this regulation except for the shade ban area and the area where the rearview mirror is mounted to the windshield, which can have a darker shade. If you are worried about being stopped, it’s a good idea to carry proof with you in your RV from the manufacturer or installer that the tinting or glazing is in compliance with FMVSS205.
Beyond the Federal regulations, each state (and country if traveling beyond the U.S. borders) has its own laws regarding tinting. A couple of useful websites to check the current state-by-state regulations include the TintLaws.com and the AAA website. Generally, if you are in compliance with the laws in the state where your RV is registered, you should be ok with the police anywhere. It’s not a bad idea to print the appropriate regulations for your state and carry them with you.
How Much Does Tinting RV Windows Cost?
The cost of getting your RV windows tinted depends on several factors, including the type of window film you choose and the number and type of windows in your RV. Your cost also varies drastically depending on whether you decide to do the installation yourself or have a professional installer do the job.
Professional installation costs vary widely, depending on what kind of film you want and the size of your RV, as well as the region of the country where you have the work done. On an average, installers charge $25 to $50 per window, but usually, offer discounts for tinting the entire vehicle.
Some of the advantages of having the work done at a professional tint shop include the quality of the work, the certainty that the tinting will be within the legal limits, and the possibility that your window tinting will come with a guarantee. It’s a good idea to shop around and compare several different tint shops. Talk with them about your options, get a quote, explore references, and look at jobs they have completed, before you settle on an installer.
Don’t forget to get a firm commitment on when the work will be completed. Most jobs shouldn’t take too long.
DIY RV Window Tinting – Pros and Cons
You can save a considerable amount of money if you decide to go the DIY route and install your own window tint on your RV. Rolls of film with various VLT percentages start as low as $10, again depending on the kind of film you choose. The price can range up to a couple of hundred dollars for 100 feet of a premium film. Some DIY tint kits come with pre-cut window shapes for various car models, but these are unlikely to fit the windows on your RV unless you have a conversion van.
Tools you’ll need include a special application solution fluid made specifically for window tint film, a lint-free cleaning cloth, a razor knife, a scraper blade, several sizes of felt squeegees, and a heat gun. Plus you will need gloves and lots of non-ammonia window cleaner. Magnets to hold the film in place while you smooth out the bubbles are a good idea as well. You should work in a dust-free area, perhaps a garage, out of hot, humid or sunny conditions, all of which can affect the success of the installation.
You’ll also need steady hands, skill with a knife, and an obsessive interest in accurate measuring. Measure before you buy the film to be sure you buy enough. Measure again to get the most exact dimensions for your windows, then measure again. Cut the film into your window shape with 2 inches extra all the way around, so you can cut off the excess and have the tint reach all the way to the edges.
One of the unique challenges facing anyone installing window tint film on an RV (and one of the factors that drive up prices at tint shops) is the many shapes of the windows found on a typical RV. In addition to the fairly standard windshield and front door windows, you may have four or even more styles of windows on a single RV, including louvers, slides that open to the side or vertically, unique door and bathroom windows, and whatever else the RV designers came up with. Each style requires separate strategies to apply window tint film.
Another easier option is to use a static cling film. These also come in rolls with various VLT ratings. Their advantage is that they stick easily to the windows, then come off just as easily when you need to replace them to see better, or if you just change your mind. Plus the pieces can be reused or repurposed. On the minus side, they don’t typically give a professional or polished appearance and don’t provide the longevity or protection of regular window tint films.
One easy DIY project for your RV is the installation of a windshield visor strip along the top of the windshield. You can use either a regular window tint film or a strip of static cling film. A VLT of 20 percent is usually recommended and generally legal.
Brands of RV Window Tint Film To Consider
Gila Window Tint – The Gila company is dedicated to DIYers and aims to make weekend projects as easy and successful as possible. It is manufactured by Eastman Chemicals, a company descended from Eastman Kodak founded in 1920, and long a world leader in film for photography. Gila offers basic dyed films, heat shield films, and static cling films. They are all available in a range of VLT ratings, all the way up to the Xtreme Limo Black tint, offering complete privacy with a 2.5% VLT. Special kits are available for back windows. Gila sells application tool kits, as well, and each film purchase comes with a Gila Complete Application Kit and instructions to guide you through installation.
Eastman Chemicals also produces many other brands of window tint films suitable for RV use, including LLumar, FormulaOne High Performance Auto Tint, Vista, SunTek, Huper Optik & Design, IQue, and V-KOOL.
Crystalline Window Tint – A technology breakthrough from the respected 3M Corporation, a leader in sunblock film since 1966, Crystalline is considered the best of the best by some experts. This is due to its superior ability to block UV (99.9%) and Infrared (up to 97%) radiation as well as solar heat (up to 60% deflection). It’s SPF protection is estimated to be more than 1,000. All these features are available even in the nearly transparent versions, the VLT 70 and VLT 90, making Crystalline suitable for windows where darker tints can’t legally be used.
3M makes Crystalline using proprietary nano-technology that joins together over 200 layers, creating a film that, according to the company website, is thinner than a Post-It Note. Plus it comes with a 3M Lifetime Warranty. While it can be successfully installed by DIYers with extensive experience and skills, the high price of Crystalline makes professional installation a better, and safer, option.
RV Window Tinting – Is It Worth It?
The decision to apply window tinting film to your RV windows is one that involves many decisions, and will likely involve considerable cost. If you decide to go the DIY route, it will also require a commitment of time, both to study the application process and to do the job itself.
Before you get started, think about why you want to tint your windows, what you hope to get out of applying window tint, and how much you want to spend. Research the many options in window tinting films out there, and then make your choices accordingly.
Despite the challenges involved, RV window tinting is worth the effort to preserve your RV’s interior and to increase both the comfort and the safety of your RV.
If you want to keep your RV cool but don’t want to invest in tinting your RV windows check out this RV Windshield Cover we use. Not only does it block the sun and keep the heat out of our RV but is also has driver and passenger window screens that allow us to open the front windows for more air flow – without bugs flying into our RV!
For more info about Protecting Your RV check out some of our other helpful articles too:
- 25 Essential Tips for Storing an RV in Hot Weather
- Can I Run the RV A/C While Driving?
- Can I Run The RV Generator While Driving?
- How Long Does an RV Propane Tank Last (Heat, Fridge, Water)
Do you have tinted windows in your RV? Please share your experience with us in the comments below!
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