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Posted on Last updated: July 2, Camper van conversion guide. By: Author Angela and Graham. We enjoy boondocking and living off-grid in our campervan as much as we can. Living in our van full-time, it allows us to get away from it all and enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature.
But we still want to run our fridge, charge our cameras and laptops, turn on our LED lights and in the winter, run our heating. Our camper solar panel setup allows us to have the best of both worlds without relying too much on shore power hook up facilitiesgenerators or even driving too much. Installing solar panels on a camper van conversion is one of the best things you can do for an independent lifestyle and it helps keep van life costs down too. This post is one part in our DIY campervan solar system series.
Here, we provide a step by step guide on how to install solar panels on RVs, campervans and motorhomes. Planning a DIY campervan conversion is a big job in itself and doing some tasks in the right order will help avoid re-work and unnecessary cost. If the calculation in a system too big for your vehicle, it will help you reassess what is important or look for alternative solutions to reduce your electric demands.
You can check out our complete set of electrical calculators for RVs and campervan conversions to help size your entire solar setup. Aim to buy the correct size solar charge controller for your full system but fewer panels and batteries. You can scale up your battery bank and panels when you have the money without replacing the expensive controller. If you have to work around roof vents and aerials, you may have a bit of a puzzle to work out. Or perhaps you want a portable solar panel instead or as well.
Choosing the best solar setup for you not only affects the components needed but how efficiently you can squeeze every last drop of juice from the panels. Check out our complete guide to wiring your solar panels in series or parallel. It covers mixed panels too and includes an interactive calculator to find the most efficient setup for your array. Or use one of our 12v solar panel wiring diagrams.
Check out our complete guide for how to use a digital multimeter in your camper. The step by step instructions on how to install solar panels on a camper van conversion below lists all the tools Hook up solar panels to rv. Avoid installing the campervan insulationlining and possibly the floor covering until the solar installation is complete. A camper solar setup needs a few parts and components to the whole system together. Solar panels harvest sunlight, converting it to electricity.
Solar charge controllers regulate the current from the panels to a safe level so it can charge and protect the batteries. Check out our complete guide on how to select the right solar charge controller for your setup. And if you need to know what size to get, use our interactive solar charge controller calculator. Deep cycle batteries are sized in amp hours or Ah.
The higher the amp hours, the more energy can be stored. Different types of batteries perform in different ways so ah of one type of battery is not equal to ah of a different type. You can detail about them in our post on campervan batteries and see why we recommend choosing Gel or Lithium-ion.
Solar panel mounting brackets allow you to fit the solar panel to your van without needing to drill holes in the roof. Our wiring diagrams show what is needed for each size and for series and parallel wiring setups. Solar panel cables or solar wires are rated to handle the current from the panels, connecting them to the charge controller. By using bigger cables, you can minimise voltage loss between the solar panel and the charge controller. Choosing the correct campervan wiring sizes is critical for safety and efficient performance of a solar power system.
A solar panel gland seal is a weather proof seal to plug the hole needed to run the solar cables into the RV. Fuse holder sits between the solar charge controller and the battery cut off switch, holding the fuse to protect the battery. Battery cut off switches or battery isolators are safety mechanisms allowing the battery to be isolated.
Choose a cut off switch plenty big enough to cope with the entire amp hour capacity of the batteries with wriggle room for future expansion. Wire Lugs or battery terminal eyes allow you to connect the solar panel cable to the battery. Solar kits are pre-packaged configurations including most of the components need to install an RV solar panel system. When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more info, please check our disclosure. This section provides more information about parts of that guide so useful for background information before you get to the instructions.
You can skip these steps if you already have your deep cycle, house batteries and cut off switches installed. When fitting the battery, make sure to completely secure it. Grounding the battery is also critical early on. It helps create an efficient campervan electrical system and protect you and your van in the event of any shorts in the circuits. Fit the fuse holders early too but make sure the fuses are out. We want a system ready to commission but not one we could do so accidentally. With no fuses and the cut off switches in their off positions, the battery is safe and ready for connection later on.
We encourage you to check, check and check again as you progress through the installation of the solar panels. Double check all the panels will fit where you expect them to. Their cardboard packaging make ideal templates for this. When marking the hole Hook up solar panels to rv feed the cables through, make sure you locate it in a position clear of the panels. Our Sprinter van roof has ribs running along the length of the van. Mark the position of the mounts on the cardboard templates so you can attach the mounts on the ground.
If you have a flat roof, you can be more flexible in where you attach the solar panel mounts. Before fitting the solar panels or attaching the mounts, test them. Hook up solar panels to rv each in good sunlight and using a multimetertest the voltage at the end of the cables.
Doing this before attaching the mounts means you can return them in the unlikely event you find any faults. Drill the hole for the cables in your roof now too, cover and seal with the cable gland. Make sure to remove the cable gland collars. Finish the hole by sanding the edges, clean any debris away with a dry cloth before priming and painting it to protect it from corrosion.
Solar panels come with about a metre of positive and negative cable, each with a connector already fitted. Most camper van solar panel installations will need to extend that cable to reach the solar charge controller. While keeping the cable lengths as short as possible is important to reduce voltage loss, try to keep this length of cable intact on the outside of the van.
The multimeter comes in handy again here so you can check the connectivity and voltage output of the solar panel array. Remember, wiring in series will give a higher voltage than wiring in parallel. If they differ in any way to ours, they trump us and you should follow their advice. You may need to install a battery temperature monitoring sensor to the battery bank, though usually only for lithium batteries. The only thing left to do is close the circuit to allow the solar power to charge the batteries. Firing up your newly installed camper solar set up is as easy as inserting the fuse into the battery input fuse holder and switching on the battery input cut off switch.
If there are, turn your battery cut off switch to the off position and remove the fuses before testing everything again until you find the fault. Check the voltage going into the battery is the same as the solar charge controller reading states using the multimeter. Or maybe finish the rest of your campervan conversion first! This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Hey there! Measure your roof…. A PWM charge controller is a low cost, budget friendly option. Note if you have a PWM charger the solar panels must be wired in parallel.
However, it is far more effective at charging the batteriesespecially on larger setups. It comes in 3 parts: the gland cover that sits on the roof, a bolt to keep it attached to the roof and a couple of gland collars to thread the cables through with a weather proof seal.
Learn More. Buy Now. Tools Drill Wire cutter Wire stripper Soldering iron Wire crimper MC4 connector tool pliers will work just as well Sealant applicator gun A selection of screwdrivers and spanners Multimeter. Instructions Fix battery input and output cut off switches to their operating positions and turn them to off Fit the battery.
Once the paint is dry, seal and bond the cable gland in place Let all the sealant and bonding set for 24 hours Connect the cables in series or in parallel, depending on your wiring de Assess if the cables need to be extended to reach the location of the charge controller.
If they are too short, extend them using the appropriate connectors Attach the cable gland collars to the cables to be inserted into the cable gland Test the connectivity and voltage output of the solar panel array with a multimeter to check its providing the voltage you expected.
Remember series will give a higher voltage than wiring in parallel Double check the cabling connections and your multimeter readings are as per your wiring diagram and de Tidy all the cables on the roof. Secure excess cable with gaffer tape beneath the solar panels and use P-clips and cable ties to key the wires tidy and secure. If there are, turn your battery cut off switch to the off position and remove the fuses before testing everything again until you find the fault Check the solar charge controller display is reading as you would expect given the time of day and available sunlight on your solar panels Confirm the voltage going into the battery is the same as the charge controller reading states using the multimeter Well done!
You now have a working camper solar system! Notes Measure the roof of your campervan before buying solar panels to ensure they fit. Where possible, use an existing hole in the roof to feed the solar panel cables through. If you need to drill a new hole in the roof you will need access to the inside of the roof.
So try to do this job before you fit your campervan insulation. We don't recommend drilling holes to fix your solar panels to the roof but if you choose to, you'll need access to those areas of the inside of the van too. It's worth marking the positive solar cables with red tape. Aim to make your cable runs as short as possible to minimise energy loss. Solar panels come with about 1 metre of cable. This is often not long enough to reach the charge controller so you may need to extend them. The cable needs to be big enough to accommodate the total amps from the solar panel array so more if you're wired in parallel plus a surge capacity You need enough cable to reach from the charge controller to the battery too If you're converting a campervan and installing the entire electrical systemit's frugal to buy a whole metre drum of cable.
Hook up solar panels to rv will use it! Solar panels come with a male connector attached to the black negative cable and a female connector attached to the red positive cable. See our 12v solar panel wiring diagrams to work out how many connectors you need for your set up Don't bond solar panels directly to the roof. It'll be a messy job if you ever need to change one.Hook up solar panels to rv
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