If you’re wanting to reduce your carbon footprint and eliminate the amount of electricity you use, installing solar panels on your RV is a great way to go! While initially it can be a little pricey to outfit your RV with solar panels, the amount of money you’ll save in the long run is worth it. Solar energy is renewable, sustainable, and completely inexhaustible, so why not channel the power of the sun to power your RV? Many RVs come equipped with a solar prep package too, so why not take advantage of it? Even though every RV and every solar panel kit is a bit different, here’s a general DIY RV solar panel installation guide to help make the install process a bit easier.
When you get your solar panel kit, open it up and visually inspect it to make sure all the pieces are there and that nothing is broken. A standard panel kit normally includes the following items: solar panel, controller, mounting hardware, nuts, bolts, screws, 30 feet of UV-rated wire, additional hardware, install instructions, and an owner’s manual. Items like tilting arms and a digital controller can usually be added to enhance the basic package. Additional tools may be needed for your install as it varies based on the solar panel kit you pick and your RV.
Head on up to the roof and visually inspect that as well. If it needs to be cleaned or fixed in any way, do this before getting started on the panel install. While you’re up there, measure the surface area of the roof so you can sketch a drawing that shows where you want to put each panel. When creating the sketch, include the A/C unit so that you don’t install a panel where it will be obstructed by it. If you’re a visual person, do this: Take the panels out of their boxes, head up to the roof with the empty boxes, and lay them on the roof where you’d like to mount them. They’re easy to move around until you get the configuration right. Then sketch out this configuration so you have it as a reference later on.
The beginning step of wiring your solar panels is choosing where you’ll mount your charge controller. You’ll want it close to the battery bank so that the cables can be as short as possible (to avoid power loss). Since the inverter is usually close to the battery and there are easy access points for cable, near the inverter is a great choice.
Now choose where you’ll put the cable entry plate on the roof of your RV. Running the wires behind the RV’s fridge is a great spot since it’s easily accessible by pulling out the fridge and there’s enough open space back there. So putting the entry plate above it on the roof is a good choice. Once you drill a hole through the roof, run the cables through it and down behind the fridge. Then run them out through a cabinet to the solar controller. When you set the cable entry plate in place on the roof, apply a waterproof sealant around the perimeter of the entry plate to keep water out. Also cover the screw holes with sealant for added protection. Bundle the wires behind fridge with wire ties to keep them neat and tidy.
Cut the connector cable and attach it to the solar breaker. The breaker goes between the cable entry plate and the solar charge controller. Make sure it’s easily accessible in case you need to cut power to it.
Mount the charge controller monitor panel somewhere easily accessible inside your RV. Mount the DC fuse block between the battery and charge controller using heavy duty 4-gauge battery cable.
Since it’s best to do most of the work on the ground (instead of on the roof of your RV), attach the mounting hardware onto the panels before you take them up to the roof.
Since the panels will start producing electricity as soon as they’re exposed to light, you’ll want to cover them before mounting them. Tape cardboard over the panels to eliminate the risk of shock when installing them.
Referencing your sketch, drill holes for the mounting hardware where you’re going to install the panels and attach the panels to the roof. Connect the panels to each other in succession. The first and last panels will have wires hanging on each end, so use an extension cable to plug those into the cable entry plate.
Your solar panel installation is done! Simply turn on the breakers and your panels will start generating electricity from the sun! Look how green you are!
If you need help installing solar panels on your RV, contact the Service Department at RV World today for a complete solar panel install. Or if you need solar panel parts, our Sales Department can help with that too!
Have you installed solar panels on an RV? Do you have any advice to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!