Bringing Solar Power Safely Through Your Roof and Distributing It to Your RV’s Many Appliances
You may not think so, but placing solar panels on your RV’s roof Link to solar panel installation article is the easy part of installing an RV solar power system.
Now it’s time to complete your wiring. And mistakes in the wiring process can have serious ramifications.
You’ll eventually get water leaks if you get careless as you run your wires through your roof. But, If you accidentally lose track of which wire goes where the best result you can hope for is that nothing happens. As for the worst – well, we hope you’re insured.
While this article can be used as a guide to decide if you want to do this on your own, it is NOT a replacement for the installation instructions that come with the various components of your solar system.
RV Solar System Components
We’ll assume that some of the items you will power are standard household electronics, meaning your new solar power system consists of four main components, as shown below.
These four components are essential to creating a functional and dependable solar power system for your RV.
Your solar panels use sunlight to create electrical power, which gets transferred via wires into your RV.
Your charge controller accepts the energy from your panels and distributes it to your DC appliances while controlling the charge to your batteries. Without this device, your batteries could easily overcharge, damaging your RV or even causing a fire.
Solar power is only produced during daylight hours. So to keep the energy flowing throughout the night or during less-than-ideal light conditions, excess capacity is directed to your batteries during the day.
With the right-sized system Link to calculating solar needs article, you can enjoy nightlights, some early morning coffee, and even a bit of streaming without running out of power.
You need to convert your DC power to household power if you plan to use standard household appliances such as phone chargers, printers, coffee makers, TVs, and the like.
Standard homes use 120V AC power for almost all appliances.
Your power inverter takes the 12V DC provided by your batteries or charge controller and turns it into 120V AC. This power inversion allows you to place standard household power throughout your RV.
Believe The Manufacturers – Always
We can’t tell you precisely how to wire your system because we don’t know what RV solar system you’re using. But we do know who has all the information you need – the manufacturer.
Every component in your solar energy system comes with detailed instructions that you MUST follow. These instructions are based on years of experimentation and a deep understanding of the limitations of each component.
Don’t think that you know better. We can all but guarantee that you don’t. We strongly recommend that you read and follow every word of the manuals that come with each part of your solar system.
And if you don’t understand part of the instructions, most manufacturers offer tech support (unless they insist on professional installation). If, after talking to support, you still aren’t sure of the instructions, do not guess your way through.
If you want to know why you shouldn’t guess about electronics, just google the latest EV fire and give it a good watch.
Fundamental Installation Truths You Need To Know
While much of what you’ll find below will likely be in the manufacturer’s instructions, certain facts hold true no matter what type of solar system you install on your RV.
Many systems have weatherproof methods to bring your wires through your RV’s roof – but not all.
If you’re sending your wires through your RV’s roof without the benefit of a coupling system (like that shown at the top of this page), you need to take extreme care.
DO NOT run your wires through a low point of your roof. Standing water will defeat almost any waterproofing method, given enough time.
DO pick a high point to run your wires through your roof. Water will naturally flow away from the penetration point and make waterproofing possible.
DO NOT skimp on materials when it comes to keeping water from running along your wires. Spray foam may seem like a great idea, but far better products are available, like polyurethane caulk.
DO take a moment to explore how quality roofers handle roof penetrations.
DO learn about flashing, ice and water shield, and high-grade caulk to ensure you create a perfect, water-tight hole that prevents water from using your wires to get into your RV. Design concept – if articles exist within this site on roof penetrations, flashing, ice and water shield, or even high-grade caulking in the roofing field, please include appropriate links anchored to the relevant phrases.
RVs are famously cramped, so you might be tempted to pick different spots for each component in an effort to conserve space.
Resist the temptation. The last thing you want to do is build in the potential for mystery troubles in your solar system.
DO NOT create a system with long runs of wire between each component. Long runs generate more opportunities for trouble – like power shorts from wear.
DO pick a spot on your RV that can accommodate all your solar system components in a relatively small space. This method will allow for short wire runs easily secured with wiring straps.
Once you move away from the main components of your RV’s solar power system, long runs are inevitable, especially if you’re creating new 120V AC access points.
So, here are a few rules to follow when making long wiring runs.
DO NOT ignore the wire-gauge requirements of your components. Using a different gauge of wire from what the manufacturer recommends can damage your solar system or even cause a fire.
DO NOT allow your wires to float in open space. Unsecured wires always find a way to wear down and cause shorts.
DO secure your wires as often as possible to an unmoving surface. Chassis points and the frames of permanent fixtures offer solid and stable anchors for your wires.
DO NOT use zip ties to secure your wires. Zip ties put stress on the insulating cover of the wire and will, through micro-motion, eventually dig through to the copper wire.
DO use proper stand-off style wiring straps. These straps hold your wires securely away from all surfaces and won’t damage the insulating cover of the wires.
DO NOT use standoffs that use double-sided tape to keep them in place, as they don’t do well in environments with lots of motion.
DO make liberal use of grommets whenever your wires run through any solid object, like walls or frames. The grommets protect your wires from chaffing where they penetrate, ensuring you won’t experience shorts in those spots.
Remember To Never Guess
Electricity has made modern life comfortable, and cost-effective solar energy lets you take that comfort with you wherever you go. But always remember that electricity must be treated with respect.
So, follow manufacturer recommendations and ensure that the system you build is the right one for your RV and your needs.
Then, once your new RV solar system is complete, take the time to test it in a safe place. Spend a couple of days using your RV as though you were boondocking in the desert.
It’s a far simpler task to solve problems in your driveway than to try to create a fix when you’re 100 miles from the closest store.