Ideal Roof Storage Building Material

anothervanman

New member
I am building a roof rack storage for my 2017 Ford Transit Connect. The idea is to build a rectangular box with a lid that I can screw my 3 solar panels on. Off of one side I am also going to build an awning eventually.
I have 3 possible ideas:
  1. Aluminum Extrusion frame and lid with a wood panels to seal it all up. The huge problem with this is that it seems very expensive, heavy, and the connectors for aluminum extrusions are as expensive as the extrusions which seems insane to me.
  2. Aluminum Tubing where I braze (weak welding) the entire structure together. Then use wood seal all of it. It seems like it will be lighter but I am not sure how strong it will be.
  3. I can use aluminum diamond plates and score it will an angle grinder and then bend it into a box. this seems like the worst idea.
I am looking for advice between the first two options or any other options anyone has found. I have seen a lot of videos about using extrusions but nothing with aluminum tubing.
 

NatersXJ6

Explorer
What are you storing and what level of weather resistance do you want?

Honestly, my first reaction is that all of your suggestions below will turn out to be total hack jobs and consume a lot of $ for little return. I wouldn’t be excited about driving down the highway with solar panels mounted on a brazed aluminum tube frame (nor driving behind you for that matter)

In my opinion, you would be better off with:

1) Buy a commercial storage box of some type and mount your solar panels to it. Pelican, Apache, Zarges, Even Thule or Yakima.

2) Build a metal space-frame type of rack for the panels and out stuff in heavy canvas or PVC / Canvas bags under it.
 

anothervanman

New member
What are you storing and what level of weather resistance do you want?

Honestly, my first reaction is that all of your suggestions below will turn out to be total hack jobs and consume a lot of $ for little return. I wouldn’t be excited about driving down the highway with solar panels mounted on a brazed aluminum tube frame (nor driving behind you for that matter)

In my opinion, you would be better off with:

1) Buy a commercial storage box of some type and mount your solar panels to it. Pelican, Apache, Zarges, Even Thule or Yakima.

2) Build a metal space-frame type of rack for the panels and out stuff in heavy canvas or PVC / Canvas bags under it.
I looked into storage boxes and none fit the solar panels. What exactly is a metal space frame type rack?

This idea didn't come out of a void, there are a few van builders on youtube who show how to build a roof rack or roof storage solution using aluminum extrusion. The only thing that none of them seem to include is a wind deflector which seems crazy to me.

My biggest fear is that it would somehow rip off or over time would become unstable.
 

NatersXJ6

Explorer
It’s your van, do what you want, but I think you are right to be concerned about the amount of force on aluminum tubing when wind is forced under solar panels.

I said “space frame” as a generic term for any sort of open frame without the “box” bit that you are contemplating. Personally, I would probably start with a basket and add some risers to it, with the panels on top of the basket. You would easily be able to put things in through the sides and not have to worry about the strength of hinges or mounting pins or anything else, but much of that depends on what you are storing and in what weather.

Using extrusions probably works out fine for what you’ve described, as you said, others have done it. However, bending aluminum tube is difficult and involves a lot of annealing cycles (I’ve done it without, and when it fails it fails violently). Bending any sort of plate by scoring isn’t really gaining much over getting a proper brake to bend with, and brazing aluminum is really tough to get a solid joint without contamination and associated random failure... or worse: melting. If you want to do any of those methods, overbuy at least 50% to account for learning mistakes.

Have you considered buying an aluminum or steel truck toolbox to use as the base for your build?
 

anothervanman

New member
Well the overall skepticism over my idea here made me realize my idea is way too unnecessary. I might have been in a diy-for-diy-sake bubble. I just contacted some metal shops and I am betting they are going to be able to deliver my idea faster and produce a better product.
 

thebmrust

Member
Well the overall skepticism over my idea here made me realize my idea is way too unnecessary. I might have been in a diy-for-diy-sake bubble. I just contacted some metal shops and I am betting they are going to be able to deliver my idea faster and produce a better product.
What did you come up with?
 
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