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I'm looking to build a very large custom roof hatch/vent on my van. I was going to make to top out of Lexan, but then I realized I might want a large solar panel on the roof as well. I was looking at the aluminum structure of solar panels and read the edges are water tight. Any reason I can't use the solar panel itself as my hatch top? Structurally I think it will work, and I know panels get hot just like my metal roof gets hot, but wonder if there are any chemical reactions or gases that will enter the van as a result of the back side of the solar panel working. I also know solar panels need ventilation underneath, but then again, so does my van inside during a hot day.

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wonder if there are any chemical reactions or gases that will enter the van as a result of the back side of the solar panel working

No. Solar panels are inert.

I also know solar panels need ventilation underneath

Yes. A solar panel has a low albedo, probably much lower than the white roof of your van. So the panel radiates a lot of heat.

Roof hatches on campervans are usually transparent. This has the advantage of bringing natural light into the living space, which makes the cabin feel pleasant and roomy. An opaque hatch only admits light when it's open, and only through the opening, i.e. light falls in from the side, not the top.

If you go camping in colder weather, you'll want insulation under the solar panel, to prevent the panel forming a cold bridge. Campervan roof hatches are double-pane to provide insulation.

One more consideration: if you use a solar panel as a hatch, make sure the panel can withstand the aerodynamic loads.

  • during driving, the roof shape, ventilation etc. may create a pressure difference between inside and outside
  • when stationary, opening the door while the hatch is closed may create a pressure difference between inside and outside, esp when the door is facing the wind direction and it's storming.
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  • My biggest concern would be sealing around the closed hatch. I know I get standing water on the roof of my camper behind the hatches, which is fine with the design of the manufactured hatches fitted, but would be harder to overcome DIYing something. The watertight edges protect the panel. They may even seal to a perfectly flat surface, but a vehicle roof isn't perfectly flat, and it's not like you can fill the gap with sealant if you want it to open – Chris H Feb 26 at 16:24
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You probably could do this and by biggest concern would be the solar panel breaking from opening and closing the hatch

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