New Make-up Air Vent for our Aluminum Home

Full-timing allows us to experiment with strategies for heating, cooling, venting, cooking in our RV. We thought for years about installing a make-up air vent.  We guardedly use an unvented 6,000 btu catalytic heater, and use the windows and roof vents to properly add oxygen and remove products of combustion. Safety concerns prevent us from using the heater when we’re asleep or without adequate ventilation.

Otherwise, we enjoy the soft warm glow and heating without any electricity. These benefits are especially nice when we are dry-camping and want to make our batteries last longer. Full-timers might have more opportunities to use this convenient heater, but it would work for anyone.

The heater has explicit recommendations for 24 square inches minimum each for fresh air intake and exhaust. No matter which window we use we seem to have a draft. Rain can limit which window we open. An intake located near the heater would serve the heater as well as the oven and stove.

We’ve read and heard that Wally Byam, Airstream Company’s founder, had gravity floor vents in his own Airstream trailers. Without air conditioning, the best place to find cool air is under the trailer. Jim proposed numerous times installing a gravity floor vent near the oven or catalytic heater. But management would not approve the project.

Jim found an approvable solution recently while we were at Alumapalooza at the Airstream Factory. Airstream Company (and others, too) installs Salem vents in the Eddie Bauer version of their trailers to vent flammable gases from motorcycles or gas cans in the trailer. Easy to install and operate, weatherproof, and durable, these are neat vents.

The vents can be a little difficult to source using the patent name, Salem vent. Just today, Jim found an easier name for search — 2-way hingeless vent. Several sources list these for under $30. Ours came with an abs plastic trim ring for the interior.

Here are pictures of the install:

Protect the aluminum before marking the cut lines

Protect the aluminum before marking the cut lines

Cut completed and pilot holes drilled to inside

Cut completed and pilot holes drilled to inside

Small holes for locating, large hole for starting saw blade

Small holes for locating, large hole for starting saw blade from indoors

Interior cut, fortunately it's above the 110vac wiring for receptacle

Interior cut, fortunately it’s above the 110vac wiring for receptacle

Vent sealed and riveted.  When caulk skins, we'll cut the Olympic rivets pins

Vent sealed and riveted. When the caulk skins, we’ll cut the Olympic rivets pins

This page cross-references with our web page about catalytic heater venting and about Salem Vent.



See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

9 responses to “New Make-up Air Vent for our Aluminum Home

  1. Wow I know who to get when I need professional antenna holes drilled in my RV.

    • Big big hole — I think it is 6″ X 12″, and through both exterior aluminum wall and interior aluminum wall. Our #1 concern, once we agreed upon location at the forward side of the doorway, was cutting 12vdc or 110vac wires concealed inside the wall. The adjacent 110vac receptacle allowed me a peek inside. I found, disturbingly, the Romex travels horizontally at the level of the intended vent.

      Shades of our solar panel install, when I accidentally drilled into the main 12vdc wiring (, search “solar”). Who knew the wiring was going to be right there? In that incident, I made a hole to locate and repair the wires.

      No such problems this time. In fact, maybe no problems at all except my dremel tool’s battery vacated sooner than I was ready. It was time to quit anyway, I just didn’t know it.

  2. Good job on venting for the catalytic heater. Have you thought any more of the Wally idea of a vent in the floor of the Airstream to provide for some natural air cooling in warmer weather? I remember your writing about the concept earlier.

    • I think it would be pretty simple to do, but management is so firmly against a floor vent I abandoned it.

      Admittedly there are challenges with a new floor vent: keeping road caca and water out of the trailer, keeping the insulation dry, making the inside look good, and more.

  3. can you guys please tell me where you got your vent? I bought one from Mill supply, but it doesnt come with interior trim piece. Worthless! Thank you!

    • We’ll update this on our web site later. There are two places to buy this. Airstream Company sells them as a Ram Vent. They keep them in the production building and will sell them. If you purchase Airstream Company’s kit, I strongly suspect it will finish off nicely with no gaps.

      Here’s the contact information where we bought ours:
      Randy at Rance Aluminum, (574) 266-9028, in Elkhart Indiana.

      These three pieces in the package: a welded aluminum backing frame to install on the inside of exterior trailer wall; the Salem Vent (two-way hingeless vent or, as Airstream terms it “Ram Vent”); and a one piece white plastic trim ring. The trim ring does not quite meet the vent, so a 3/4″ gap remains between the trim ring and the vent. We cobbled up a finish strip from 60mil epdm shower pan. It is a nice neutral gray so doesn’t show up, but fits well.

      Finally, before you install one of these vents in your trailer you should install bug screen in it. We thought of it ahead of time but didn’t realize the greater difficulty of doing it later. I found the screen installation difficult because I did it lying on the trailer floor, trying to fit the glue in the right places. Would have been much much easier on the workbench.

      Still, we like the vent and think it will be just the trick when we are cool-wx camping.

  4. Having a Wave 6 installed as we speak. We need a good source of air since the only (poor) choices are roof vents and windows next to our beds (2004 international 19 ft.) How has this vent been working out for you? Any more thoughs now that you have used it for a while? Thanks

    • Larry,
      We wonder what we would do if disaster struck our 2005 25′ trailer — Airstream no longer produces this floor plan but the size and layout suit us to a “T”. One of the downfalls of many new floor plans is nowhere to put a catalytic heater like our WAVE6. We rely on our catalytic heater to provide quiet, inexpensive, effective warmth where and when we want it. But there’s a caveat, as you suggest — ventilation is a MUST!

      It took us awhile, but we finally found what we think is the right solution — the Salem, or “Ram”, vent. We open the vent when we back the trailer into our site. The vent stays open continuously until we hitch up for driving day again. We vary the degree of open according to whether we are running the catalytic heater or if we are expecting hard rain.

      When we light the catalytic heater, we open the Salem vent fully and open the rear roof fan vent (without fan running) two inches. These vents comply with the catalytic heater’s minimum requirement for 24 sq inches free air space in and out. This has worked for us much better than using a window plus the rear roof fan vent. As you suggest, the window creates a draft we were uncomfortable with. The Salem vent is located low (several inches above the interior floor) and near the catalytic heater (immediately beside the front door, near the sofa), so fresh air draft will go directly to the catalytic heater.

      Our catalytic heater has worked great for years now, and we enjoy it more knowing we are getting the recommended fresh air without creating a cool draft on our shoulders and necks. Too, with the Salem vent we now have draft-free and rain-free ventilation full-time in our trailer — even better for our health, comfort, and house maintenance.

      Larry, thanks for your question, and good luck with your new heater.

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