How to solar power an RV (or home) DIY

DIY solar power on your RV!

The framework

We wanted to be able to camp anywhere and in order to that we needed electricity. We have an on-board generator, but it is noisy to us and to those around us. We decided to look into solar energy. Could we make enough power to suit our needs? Could we store that power overnight? Would this be enough power for 8 people using it on a daily basis? After MANY hours of research we decided it was our goal to go solar! We did not have much knowledge of solar or how it worked going into this project. Anytime my husband, Ricky, has his heart set on doing something, you better believe it will be done!

Panels are attached to the framework

First Ricky had to look at our “real estate”, which was the area we had to install our solar panels on. This is limited to the surface area you have on top of your RV to place your panels. Keep in mind there are obstructions on an RV roof such as your vents, A/C units, skylights etc. These can cast shadows on your solar panels. The smallest of shadows can greatly decrease the efficiency. They can also get in the way of installing the solar panels. Therefore you need to take time surveying your roof to figure out the best way to locate your panels.

We decided to utilize every sq feet we had available to mount solar panels. Based on the real estate we had available we were able to fit (12) 100 watt panels.  Ricky mounted our panels to an aluminum framework consisting of 2 inch screen enclosure posts. They overhang the RV, known as cantilevering, to distribute weight on the hinges. This also makes them easier to tilt. He applied silicone under a 2 inch post which was the entire length of the RV. He used 3 inch self taping screws attaching it to the frame of the RV.   He installed the framework for the panels to this post using aluminum hinges every 18 inches on center. The panels are attached to the framework in sets of 3. This makes them easier to tilt, one set at a time.

Next we had to wire the panels together and combine them in a combiner box. Ricky was able to make our own combiner box to save us money. He wired each set in series of 3 panels, 16 volts per panel, which equals 48 volts per string. Each string is combined and fused inside the combiner box. He used water tight conduit from the panels to the box. This keeps any water from entering the system. It also keeps the wires protected from the sunlight. In the combiner box, each string has its own 10 amp fuse. (rated for these panels) We decided to use a car audio DC fuse block for combining the positive and negative sides of our strings. The positive side only had to be fused in this application. A ground wire also connects all the panels together and enters the combiner box into a bus bar.

Out of the combiner box, a ¾ inch water tight conduit carries (2) 4 awg wires and (1) 10 awg wire to the junction box in a storage compartment. This junction box houses our disconnect switch from the panels to the charge controller. The positive wire from the charge controller runs to another disconnect switch that disconnects the feed from the controller to the positive side of the batteries. Also attached to this disconnect is the positive wire to the inverter. Doing this saves an extra wire from the positive on the battery to the inverter.  The negative from the charge controller runs straight to the negative side of the battery bank. These disconnect switches are recommended for installation for the purpose of safety, killing power to the item you are working on.

Charge controller and inverter
Charge controller and inverter

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After we wired the charge controller and the inverter, it was time to build our battery bank. Our battery bank is a 24 volt system. We used 6 volt Trojan T105-RE batteries. We have wired them in series of 4 (positive to negative) and then paralleled the 2 sets (positive to positive and negative to negative). This makes our battery bank 24 volts with 500 amp hours. We used 4 awg oxygen free welding cable. We did not use solder on our ring clips. We crimped the ends and used heat shrink to seal the wire. The reason we did not use solder was because it has acid which can corrode the wire causing inefficient connection. We installed the battery monitor and shunt to accurately show us how much power we are using and able to store.  This unit effectively shows us in detail exactly what we use on a daily basis. We highly recommend you getting this unit! The batteries have a battery temperature sensor, one goes to the charge controller and one goes to the inverter. They measure the temperatures at which the batteries are charging and discharging.

Trojan T-105 RE batteries (8)

Our inverter, the battery monitor and charge controller are all synced with a network cable that connects them to an ARC-50 monitor. This is on the inside of our RV so that we can monitor each component. We can see exactly what is going on without having to exit our RV.  We have not only loved the Magnum products we have also appreciate their technical support located here in the United States. They are always more than willing to help us with troubleshooting our system.

Arc-50

We have such a huge gratification knowing we are making our own power! We have more than enough power to provide for our family of 8. We do not have to even think about our usage each day due to a VERY efficient state-of-the-art system! Magnum has even invited us to their headquarters in Everett, Washington so they can check out what we have done. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Ricky would be more than happy to help guide you in building your own solar panel system. Plus if we are driving through your town, we could always stop to give a hand in building your system! Rickyfay2012@gmail.com

Jeff (Jumbo) Marrero and my husband Ricky

SPECIAL THANKS to Jeff Marrero for helping us with wiring our system! If anyone is in the Orlando area, you must have Jeff come and assist you. He is a certified electronic installer. (201) 914-4074

Our solar powered RV!
Our solar powered RV!

Products used to make our solar panel system:

Magnum MS4024PAE Inverter-$1,300 (We were able to get it used, it normally costs around $1,700)

 

Magnum ARC-50 version 4.0-$200

Magnum ME-BMK (bank monitor with shunt)-$175.00

Magnum Energy ME-AGS-N Automatic Generator Start

Magnum PT100 MPPT 100 amp Charge Controller-$800

SunWize Solar Panels- $1,200.00

Follow our journey as we travel America with our 6 kids! https://www.facebook.com/SimpleLifeFullHearts/

Here is a recent video on how we set up our RV with solar panels!

24 thoughts on “How to solar power an RV (or home) DIY

  1. Very nice work! I have a 1968 BlueBird Wanderlodge (project) that I hope to outfit with panels soon, if not panels then a Tesla Powerwall!

  2. What types of things can you run on your solar system? And how long does the batteries last if you don’t have any sunlight?

    • Hi Jim! We can run everything except the A/C which is fine because we are going to travel in a way that keeps us in the cooler areas at the right times. The panels still collect sun even on cloudy days, obviously not as much. We have not had an issue yet and we have had a few cloudy days. We never had to think about usage even on those days. We seem to always have enough stored power!

  3. We too have Solar on our RV. We love it. Been able to boondock out in the dessert and other places and be totally self-sufficient. We are very happy with our Solar power

  4. This is great info–thank you for taking the time to explain. I think our two husbands would get along 🙂 I am going to share this with my husband–you have definitely opened our eyes to the idea of avoiding the RV campgrounds!

  5. For us, we’ll be fulltimers In 3 years. We want a set-up like that but using lithium batteries. Also, there must be am existing electric motor to tilt the panels either by a remote or a switch. This would avoid getting up there every time. Anybody have done that?

    • Hi Claude! Yes lithium batteries are a lot lighter, but we just could not afford them at the time. We do plan on installing an electric motor to lift the panels. For now we are manually doing it, but we are looking forward to being able to push a button to have them go up and down! 🙂

  6. When my husband was several years younger…..he would have been all over this!!!! Know, not so much! We are planning to but a fifth wheel and full time travel with our family of 6. (3 of those 6 are our grandchildren.)
    We are super excited yet I’m feeling a little over whelmed because I know this is going to be “me” figuring it all out and my husband saying……ok :/
    I resurch every little detail and am a “let’s do this” kind of person.
    Have fun and be safe.

  7. Great job! I see that you use a Magnum PT-100 charge controller. Can you tell us what your typical bulk charging amperage is? I’d also like to see a few pictures of the panels on the roof when they are tilted. What do you use for support and how do you secure them when they are flat?

    Thanks much for the inspiration!

  8. Hey Krista,

    My name is Tayloe and my husband John and our son Leo just set off on a year of full timing! I just wanted to drop by and THANK YOU for recommending Jeff on your blog! We were living in Orlando when I read this post, and we called Jeff immediately to have him help us with our solar set up! He was a great guy, very knowledgeable and did great work! Thanks for the tip!!!

  9. What was the total cost of the solar project? Have you had any issues since installing the or would you have done something different?

  10. Three things important to note:
    1. All circuit protection must be located at the source of power. That means your fuses (all branch circuits) must be located at the battery. Any wire connected to the battery positive and leaving that compartment is unprotected. If it shorts to ground, you may have a fire. This violates NEC rules.
    2. The Trojan RE series is not warranted if used in any mobile application.
    3. The Magnum MS4024PAE is not a mobile inverter. It may be dangerous to use because the neutral leg is not switched. This aso violates NEC rules. Magnum makes a 24 volt moblie inverter, model MSH4024M.

    I did not see the inverter fuse. It should also be at the battery. It’s hard to see how you ran the negative but it looks like the shunt is also miswired.

    I have over designed and installed over 33000 RV power systems and am willing to help.

    Larry, 928-342-9103

    • Larry-
      I want you to know that I am VERY thankful for the info you provided! Not only have you given valuable information to readers, your observations & expert advice will prevent the family from dealing with a fire or other dangerous situation, that could cost lives besides their home!
      I personally am FED UP with having to pay for electricity! I would be THRILLED to not only produce my own electricity, but to GET MONEY from the power company for spare power that I have! I will be looking into getting a system for the house in the very near future… since the Magnum system is American made, I will be looking at that company to do the setup- I want the jobs to remain in our country.
      There may be some details that I will want to do myself (if possible), but I will be SURE toconsult with a professional FIRST, to make sure that all codes/rules are followed. The last thing I want to do is risk losing my home or my life. Codes are in place (& even change) because of findings after a tragedy- ensuring the highest level of safety standards are in place.
      I am not sure why it wasn’t mentioned to Ricky & his wife that the Magnum system is not warranted in mobile applications- if they run into problems, they will have to pay out of pocket for replacements… and that may put them over budget & prevent them from continuing their excursions.
      At one time, I lived on a sailboat for over 4.5 years. I did not have solar power or a wind generator- instead, I had to run the diesel engine for several hours every week… as a result, once a month I had to go to the fuel dock to fill the tank with fuel. That was back in the early 90’s. But it was still expensive. I wanted so much to live OFF THE GRID- to sail to the Bahamas & drop anchor there… before leaving St Augustine, Florida, I ended up with barnacle cuts on my hand while cleaning the growth off the propeller. Five weeks later, I had lost a total of 25 pounds & my health was in serious trouble. I ended up in the hospital for nearly two weeks with several very serious infections that took seven powerful IV antibiotics & another two months of oral antibiotics to destroy. Because of that & other serious health issues, I am permanently stuck on land. It IS less stress on my health & safer for me this way (being on blood thinners & living on a sailboat do not mix!) so I will not complain… it was a FANTASTIC living/learning experience & I will be better prepared if I lose power or need to come up with solutions to problems. Improvising became a life skill during my time aboard & the excitement of it all made it feel like a never-ending camping trip!
      Living on the east coast during hurricane season is full of worries- when Matthew came roaring by St Augustine, Florida, I stayed with a friend who lived 60 miles away. I have been a storm chaser/ weather spotter going on 38 years now & I GO THE OTHER WAY when hurricanes are involved! My ULTIMATE living arrangement would be to have a motor home- that way, if a hurricane was to make landfall close to my area, I could simply start the engine & leave…
      Hurricane Matthew should have been a wake up call for EVERYONE living in NE Florida- the weather patterns will likely continue, fueling more dangerous storms. We got off the hook for many years, but that may not be the case anymore! I have lived by this saying for years & will continue- I would rather be prepared, than be caught off guard!
      Again, thank you for taking the time to give advice- your observations & recommendations will help to prevent the loss of property & lives…I have put your name in my phone along with information about the Magnum Solar System. I hope to go solar before the the end of 2017!

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