Are you fascinated by the idea of RVing off the grid? Shopping for a new or used RV with solar panel prep has probably already crossed your mind. Check out our RV tips for solar panel installation so you can DIY this project and start enjoying camping trips without having to rely on an electrical hookup.
As a friendly reminder, the following tips are just to be considered a general guide. Safety is your #1 priority, and our RV service department is ready to take your call if you need help or have questions.
1. Safety First, Second, and Third
The first thing you need to do is read the safety instructions in your solar kit. The second thing you need to do is read them again. We can’t stress this enough: anytime you’re dealing with electrically active components, you need to use the utmost care. Don’t install the panels in the rain, and don’t touch any active components – like terminals – while the solar panels are exposed to light. Cover your solar panels with a drop cloth during installation to prevent exposure. And, of course, don’t sit on or step on your solar panels.
2. Know What You’re Doing – and What You’re Handling
Next, take a look at the solar kit you have. Are the panels rigid or flexible? And what kind of RV roof do you have, including size and type (fiberglass, rubber, curved, flat, etc). You’ll also want to locate the battery bank.
Rigid solar panels are only ever mounted with screws, while flexible solar panels may be mounted with either adhesive or screws. Quick tip: your roof material determines which kind of adhesive to use, so if you get a solar kit with flexible panels, it may not automatically include the adhesive.
The next step is to lay out your solar panels (making sure they fit!), and to mark those spots on the roof. Avoid placing panels where a shadow might be directly cast, like from air conditioners or roof vents.
Then, you need to install the hardware or adhesive to the solar panel frame. It’s essential to attach the hardware to the frame because if you send a screw through the panel itself, it’ll be ruined – and you’ll need to buy it again. Once you have the hardware attached to the frame, attach the panel to the roof.
3. Wiring Time!
Now it’s time to run the power cable from the solar panel down into the RV and to the charge controller. Many people use the refrigerator vent, or – if your fridge vent is in a slide out – the plumbing pipe. If you can, try to avoid drilling an extra hole in your new or used RV, but if it’s absolutely unavoidable, use a sealant or weatherproof entry port to protect against leaks.
Next, you’ll want to mount the charge controller, and as close as possible to your batteries. You’ll bring in the wires from the solar panels – and, safety first!! – use a multimeter to test the wire polarity. Use electrical tape to mark and identify the wires. Mishandling the wires could result in electrocution, and that will ruin your day. Refer to your solar kit instructions to connect to the batteries and solar panels.
4. Inverter Installation (Optional)
Depending on your appliances, and if you want to use AC appliances, then you will need to use an inverter to convert that DC power running from the solar panels into AC. We recommend installing the inverter near the batteries, but away from potentially damaging elements, such as heat sources. You’ll want to connect the negative and positive wires to the inverter first. Then, connect to the RV’s electrical system, connecting negative side first.
5. Pat Yourself on the Back
Look at you, DIY pro! That wasn’t so hard! DIY solar panel installation isn’t difficult or impossible, but it can be complicated. If you decide you don’t want to risk it and would rather have professional installation, our RV service department is just a phone call away. Contact us today and we can help get your new or used RV ready for off-grid and self-reliant camping trips!