Living in an RV is a fun and liberating experience. You get to drive across the country and enjoy every sight, without paying rent. However, no matter how far away you run, electricity is something you can’t escape. While some RV owners prefer using a generator, more and more people are switching to solar energy. Whether you want to save the environment or some money, follow our guide to learn how to install solar panels on RV.
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The first thing you should do is to buy the components. You are going to need solar panels, a charge controller, two batteries, MC4 connectors, and a bunch of solar connection cables. Although you could buy everything on its own, it’s easier to buy a pre-configured kit. But always check if the kit has everything you need as some don’t include batteries or cable entry housing.
Most people prefer buying a preconfigured kit and so, we will assume you are using one too. However, the overall instructions also apply to individual components. First of all, you must read the instructions of the solar panel kit. The installation process depends on factors like the type of RV you have or how big the roof is. For simplicity’s sake, the following How to install solar panels on RV guide will be more general and won’t go into detail.
Before you start fiddling with the RV’s electrical systems, it’s important to know the safety measures:
Avoid installing the panels in bad weather conditions.
During installation, cover the panels with a cloth or similar material to prevent them from charging.
Don’t ever sit on the solar panels, as they are fragile.
Read all safety instructions included in the panels kit before installing.
Equip gloves before touching any electrical component.
Mounting the Solar Panels
The mounting process will depend on what types of panels you have bought. You can use screws for mounting rigid panels and adhesive or screws for flexible ones. If you go for adhesive, the type you will need depends on the type of roof membrane. Ask around the store and see what works best for your roof.
Next, you should lay down the solar panels and see if everything fits as it needs to. If you want to bolt the panels, you need to install the mounting system that came with the kit. Proceed to secure the panel on the roof by using the brackets or items included. Make sure to apply a sealant under each bracket before mounting to make them waterproof. After everything is set, you can screw the panel to the roof, but take care to avoid damaging it.
Knowing how to install solar panels on RV implies knowing how to wire them too. There are a few different ways to do that and only one requires additional drilling:
Using the refrigerator vent as it’s usually wide enough to fit a couple of wires.
Using the plumbing pipe is a bit harder as it requires you to apply sealant around the hole which the wires go through. Always be careful not to disrupt the pipe system as it might cause a leak later on.
Drilling is a bit harder as you need to watch out where you make the hole. Just make a hole near a cabinet or close to the controller. Don’t forget to seal it afterward so water doesn’t leak in when it rains.
The controller must be mounted on the wall, as close as possible to the batteries to avoid line loss. Before connecting the cables, always read the controller instructions. Some controllers need a battery connection first, while other controllers require connecting it after the panel is set-up.
Tip: If your wires are not marked with the specific polarity, you can buy a multimeter and test each wire.
Most home appliances require an AC connection while your batteries output DC. Before breaking your microwave or fridge because of a faulty connection, make sure to use an inverter. Some kits come with one included, but if not, you should buy an inverter yourself.
When installing, avoid placing the inverter near heat sources or corrosive elements. Proceed by connecting the negative and positive wires from the battery to your inverter. Then connect the wires to the RV’s electrical system. It’s very important that you connect the negative side first to avoid short-circuiting the system.
Conclusion: Watts Next?
The next step is to take your brand new energy system for a spin and power up the RV. Enjoy the ride without worrying about buying new batteries or charging up the old ones. While it may seem overwhelming at first, the whole installing process is as simple as following the instructions. You don’t need to be a mechanic when it comes to upgrading your home. With a bit of research, anyone can learn how to install solar panels on RV.