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HomeTips & GuidesCamper Wiring – Steps For Designing and Installing Your Camper Power

Camper Wiring – Steps For Designing and Installing Your Camper Power

About Camper Wiring: As a camper, you want to be able to use all the appliances you use at your house. For instance, you want to enjoy your big-screen TV, warm your food using a microwave, or use your fridge.

However, it’s not always possible to enjoy these luxuries with your mere 12-volt battery, especially when you are off-grid.

Luckily, I will teach you DIY camper wiring steps, including designing and installing, to help you get enough camper electricity.

Determine the Amount of Power You Need for Your Camper Electricals

How to calculate the battery size of your camper

First, check the wattage capacity of each of your appliances. The manufacturer inscribes this figure on each device. From there, multiply each device’s wattage by the hours you expect to use it daily.

For example, assume your appliance has a 20-watt rating, and you will power it for 10 hours a day. If you multiply 20 watts by 10 hours, you will get 200 watt-hours (Wh), the device’s daily consumption.

Now, do this for every device and add up the consumptions to get the total consumption of your van appliances. After adding the watt-hours for all your van devices, you get 1200 Wh.

As you may know, many manufacturers give the battery capacity in ampere-hours (Ah). To convert your watt-hours to ampere-hours, you will now divide your total power consumption by your system voltage. In this case, you will divide 1200 Wh by 12 volts of the normal camper battery to get 100 Amp-hour.

Hypothetically, this figure is your battery capacity to power your camper devices. But in reality, you will need your battery capacity to be at least double your total power needs.

In this example, the battery capacity to buy should be 200 amp-hours or more. Doing so ensures your battery does not drain below 50%, which might damage and reduce lifespan.

Portal solar panel for a camper

Portal solar panel for a camper

Designing Your Camper Device’s Charging System

While I recommend the solar panel to charge your batteries, you can also use other methods. Here, I will discuss the solar panel, split charge, and generator or mains as your power generation and charging means.

Solar panels

As indicated above, solar is the easiest yet most efficient method to power your camper appliances. It involves getting power from the sun via solar panels and storing it in deep-cycle batteries.

The best thing about this method is that it can power your devices when packed or in motion. In addition, it allows you to stay off the grid for a long period, and you can use it in any camper.

Again, the energy is free, environmentally friendly, and easy to install. However, it can be painful on rainy or cloudy days and you buy the panels, battery, and inverter separately.

Split charging system

You use this method while driving your camper, and the engine is running. The method charges the leisure( auxiliary battery) and your primary vehicle battery.

However, the priority is the main battery and once it gets full, your power goes to the auxiliary battery.

Ensure you use this method only if you plan to drive for a long period since the power comes only when you run the engine.

An advantage of this method is that it is cheap, easy to install, and convenient. However, the engine has to keep running, which does not give you fuel economy.

In addition, you cannot camp, which may be inefficient since your primary battery has to get charging priority.

Mains power or generator

Another method to power your devices or charge your battery is to use the 230V electricity mains. However, for this method to work, you must install the main power inlet on your camper. In addition, you will also need a charger to charge your 12v battery from the 230/240V mains.

Alternatively, you can buy a diesel power generator, which is noisy, bulky, and costly. You can use this method if you have devices that use much power like microwaves and air conditioners.

What I like about this method is the ability to power power-hungry devices, but it doesn’t allow off-grid camping.

A camper using a generator

A camper using a generator

How to know how many solar panels you need?

Remember you are off-grid and not driving your camper. Therefore, no electricity or alternator will charge your battery, which powers your devices.

For this reason, you will require some solar panels to keep your batteries charged daily. Here, we will use the hypothetical 1200 Wh figure we established above.

To know the number of solar panels wattage you need, divide the total consumption by hours of proper sunlight daily. In most places, you get only 6 hours of sunlight daily.

Therefore, dividing 1200 watts-hour by 6 hours daily gives you 200 watts of sun energy. With all factors constant, this is the solar panel rating you need to charge your batteries daily. 

However, we all know sometimes it’s cloudy or the camping area may be shaded, hence failing to provide 6-hour sunlight. For this reason, I recommend using a bigger wattage solar panel (20% more) than your calculation requirements.

For example, in our case of 200 calculation requirements, a 240-watt solar panel may be the ideal choice.

A man installing solar panels

A man installing solar panels

Designing a Battery System for Your Camper Appliances

You may know that batteries can get destroyed easily after frequent charging, discharging, and usage. Luckily, you can arrange your batteries to help enhance their lifespan. Hoping you now know the batteries or battery capacity you require, let me show you how to arrange them properly.

For instance, assume you need 12 volts for all your camper appliances. While buying a single 12-volt battery can work fine, it may not be efficient enough.

Instead, I recommend using two 6-volt batteries and wiring them in a series to attain the 12-volts you need. Such an arrangement gives your battery a deep discharge time, typically enhancing battery life.

Again, when buying a battery, don’t go for the normal 12V battery that you use in cars, motorcycles, and boats. Instead, look for the one designated for motorhomes and camper vans. Ensure you ask for a 12V leisure battery that is a deep-cycle battery. A deep cycle simply means it can offer your appliance a steady current flow for a long time.

Installing Solar Power System In Your Camper

This section will discuss camper solar power installation instead of mains or split charging.

Plan

First, plan your installation to prevent mistakes and accidents. Then, develop a diagram of the installation process to know how and where to install it.

Once you make the drawing, go buy all the materials and tools you need. Some materials you need include solar panels, fuses, batteries, wiring harnesses, solar regulators, battery regulators, and inverters.

Choose an appropriate wire gauge and fuse.

As you may know, if you use a thin wire, there will be electrical resistance, which can burn the insulator and cause a fire. On the other hand, a very thick wire may be hard to route.

For this reason, you need the right wire gauge depending on the total appliance current it will carry.

Then, ensure the wire is long enough to reach your battery from the solar panels. From there you need to buy an appropriate rated fuse depending on your current.

As you may know, fuses blow when the current exceeds the limit to protect the wiring.

While on the fuse, I recommend installing it near the battery to minimize the wire length of the dangerous current.

Crimp the wires

In this section, use your crimping tool to join your wires with the correct connectors of the right gauge. For those using 8 AWG wire and above, ensure you buy it with installed connectors. You can also install them during buying, lest you buy special crimper for bigger terminals. 

Wire the batteries, solar regulator, and invertor.

For your battery wiring, it must be in parallel, where you connect positives and then negatives. Then ground the negative terminal properly to your camper chassis with good washers and screws to ensure a tight grounding. From there, mount your solar regulator to your camper’s inner wall and ensure enough ventilation space.

After that, install your inverter in a place with good ventilation, as it also generates heat. Finally, in this step, connect both devices directly to your battery and remember to include an inline fuse for each.

Mount solar panels on your camper roof.

You need to install the solar panels on the roof ceiling without metal frames for easy drilling. Now, place your panels on the roof and check to ensure the brackets sit in a place with no frame.

From there, install the brackets on the solar panels. Then use a drill to make pilot holes and the correct holes for the bolts that secure the panels.

Put silicon sealant around the holes to prevent water and insect entrance. Finally, fix the solar panels utilizing their bolts, brackets, and nuts as the manual requires.

Mounting solar panels on a camper roof

Mounting solar panels on a camper roof

Wire panels

After the mounting on the roof, now wire your panels such that positive is to positive and negative to negative. Such parallel wiring ensures you can easily add another panel while keeping each panel’s power independent. Independent panel power means if one fails, the other will still work well.

From there, feed the panel wires through the hole on the van roof to the regulator and connect their positive terminals. Hoping you connected the regulator to the battery and the panel to the regulator negative. Remember to add an inline fuse between the panels and the regulator. From there, just connect your extension to the battery, plug in your devices, and enjoy.

Wrap up

With the above research, I hope you can now connect wire your camper solar panes and enjoy more appliances.

I am Lillian Yang, having been a sales manager for over 10 years.

I have received many positive reviews from customers. They have praised our excellent service, on-time delivery, and high-quality cable assemblies.

For your projects, please provide cable assembly files/images/smples, etc., so that I can send you a quotation within 24 hours.

Contact me now and let’s get started on building your wire harnesses!

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