Part 2 of our custom van build we'll be going over our solar system install and general electrical layout. Our goal with our van conversion was to have a solar system that would run all of our basic electrical items for days at a time. Some of the items we were accounting for would be our LED lighting, MaxxAir MaxxFan, fridge, water pump, electrical outlets for charging laptops, phones, etc. Other than these few items we wouldn't need to power much else. We're camping so just having the ability to power these things is by far a vast improvement from traditional camping. So we'll forego espresso machines, TV's and the like.
There's plenty of pre-packaged kits you can purchase from manufacturers like Renogy, WindyNation, etc. We didn't purchase a pre-packaged kit, but we are using mostly Renogy equipment. Including the panels, batteries, inverter and charge controller. Our system is a 200 Watt 12 volt system, 2 x 100 Watt Renogy Solar panels. We have 2 x 100Ah Renogy Deep Cycle AGM 12 volt batteries for our battery bank.
Now for the disclaimer, we're not electricians and we spent a substantial amount of time building out our system in our heads and on paper before ever purchasing anything. Anyone aspiring to build their own camper van should do the same. There's tons of resources far more detailed than ours. This is merely a blog meant to document our process and adventure. We aren't going to talk about how to properly size your wire or the details of battery charging, discharging, etc. That's far more detailed than any of us have the patience for. We much rather be mountain biking instead. So with that said... we hope this is enjoyable and perhaps informative in some manner, but make sure to do your own research and hire a professional if you're unsure.
Parts List (not affiliate links):
These are the main components of our system. For the cabling and tools we're just going to provide a summarized rundown of the different items we needed without links to the specific products. If you want to know more details on the specific items we purchased, please shoot us an email and we'll be happy to share.
Cabling and Connectors:
That pretty much sums up the major parts and pieces to get everything connected. There's obviously some tools and parts we're missing here, but this is a solid base of what you'll need for a similar setup.
Now onto the install itself. Screwing anything into the bare metal roof of your vehicle can be pretty intimidating and it certainly was for us. We went back and forth on whether we should or not. There are some people that have simply used industrial strength double-sided 3M tape, but we didn't want to bet our panels on tape alone. We ended up deciding on the use of 3M tape on each Renogy Z bracket and screwing the provided screws into our roof. We would then seal it all up with Dicor Self-Leveling Lap Sealant.
*Note: We do have an issue with the two outside brackets leaking a very small amount of water into the van. We're still trying to rework that to completely seal it. With our van we really only had one place to mount the panels and as a result the two outside brackets at the front of the van are oddly placed resulting in leaking at the screw holes.
*Also note: Originally we used silicone caulking to seal the brackets and screw heads. That wasn't a good solution. Water would actually get in under the silicone on the bracket and started to rust the screw heads. We later peeled all that off and used the Dicor Lap Sealant which is a far better solution.
3. We then took our panels to the roof to dry fit them. With the length of our van and shape of the roof we mounted them towards the front of the van. This unfortunately causes the front outer brackets on both sides to bump up to a weird shape on the roof. This is what's caused the leaking we mentioned above.
4. Once we had decided on the final location we drilled two holes in the roof where our solar panel cables would enter the van. We placed the Renogy Cable Entry Housing just to the front and centered between the two panels.
5. We ran our cables through the entry housing and through the holes in the roof into the van. We then used Liquid Nails Fuze It adhesive to glue the housing to the roof of the van and seal it. This hasn't had any leaks or issues so we didn't use Lap Sealant or anything else to further seal it.
6. Our final step in mounting our panels was to actually screw each bracket into the roof and then seal the brackets. We first peeled the other side of our double-sided tape and stuck our brackets in place. We drilled pilot holes using the holes on each bracket with the panels in their place. This made getting the screws in a lot easier. Once the panels were adhered to the roof, and screwed in, we sealed them with lap sealant.
4. Now we'll connect our batteries to our Charge Controller. We did install a 20A ANL inline fuse and a heavy duty on/off switch between them. So the setup is, battery positive terminal to one side of our ANL fuse, fuse to switch and finally switch to the positive terminal of our Charge Controller. Next we ran a cable from our negative battery terminal directly to the negative terminal on our Charge Controller. Make sure to connect your batteries to your Charge Controller before connecting your solar panels.
5. With the batteries now wired to our Charge Controller we went ahead and connected our 1000w power inverter and Fuse Block. We didn't want to connect our panels until we were done connecting and disconnecting things to our batteries. We ran 4 AWG wire from the positive terminal of our battery to one side of our heavy duty switch, then switch to our ANL 100A inline fuse, fuse to positive terminal of our inverter. We also ran 4 AWG wire from the negative terminal of our battery to the negative terminal of our inverter. We are also grounding our inverter to the vans chassis from our inverters negative terminal.
6. Our fuse block is also wired to the positive and negative terminals of our batteries. Our fuse block has an integrated negative bus so it's also grounded directly to the vans chassis.
7. Our last step is to connect our panels to the Charge Controller. We do have a ANL 20A inline fuse between our panels and Charge Controller. We cut the positive cable of our Renogy supplied cables, place a ring terminal and connected it to one side of our fuse. We then placed a ring terminal on the other end, connected it to our fuse and then the positive terminal of our Charge Controller. Our negative panel wire runs directly to the negative terminal of the Charge Controller.
This pretty much sums up the overall solar system install. Our electrical components lights, switches, fridge, fan, etc are just simply ran to our fuse block. We aren't covering that here as it's pretty straightforward and we don't have the van ready for the install of all of those just yet.
Our next blog in the series will cover our MaxxAir MaxxFan Deluxe install and then we'll get into the build of our pull-out bike rack and framing. Thanks for reading and we'll see you on the road!