Archive: Electrical (V2018 rev A)

Electrical System

Archive: Electrical (V2018 rev A)

Our autonomy and comfort depend a lot on the electrical system of our DIY camper van conversion. No power means no fridge, no lights, no smartphone = no Instagram & no #vanlife as we know it! Therefore, we want our electrical system to be reliable and to work from the first time; trial-and-error is not acceptable here!

After more than a year on the road, we’re happy to report that our system works as we planned. Nice! Designing the electrical system was one of the most intimidating task of the conversion process and if you’re reading this it might be your case too…

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We’re here to help. Here is how it goes:

  • PART A is where YOU grab a drink, relax and read on.
  • PART B is where WE relax and YOU do the work!

 

 

Note: This is the new and improved article published on April 2018. If you like to live in the past follow this link: faroutride.com/ford-transit-camper-van/conversion-planning/electrical-system-2017/

 

 


DISCLOSURE:

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PART A: THEORY

1- What Do We Expect From Our Electrical System?

  • Power all of our “fixed” loads (fan, lights, fridge, water pump, etc) and power our “external” loads as well (phones, laptop, cameras, etc)
  • Charge from solar, van alternator and from shore power
  • Have an inverter for occasional and modest use of 120V
  • Be completely autonomous in full-sun condition and have a few days autonomy in absence of solar power and driving (no charge source)

 

2- Power Consumption

Our power consumption will dictate the “size” of our components (solar panel, battery, inverter, etc). Let’s make a list of our loads and calculate how much Ah (ampere hour) we will draw in total each day.

 

Summer Analysis
Predicted Daily Power Consumption
 LoadDescriptionMeasured Instantaneous Consumption

(A)

Calculation Assumptions Calculation Daily Consumption (Ah)
 FridgeNovakool R58104.0A24h per day @ 35% duty cycle 4.0A * 35%*24h= 34Ah
 Lights 3W LED1.3A (total 10 lights @ 100% intensity)4h per day @ 80% intensity 1.3A*80%*4h= 4Ah
 Fan Maxxfan 6200K

(10 speed settings)

0.2A@1, 0.4A@2, 0.5A@3, 0.8A@4, 1.1A@5, 1.5A@6, 2.0A@7, 2.6A@8, 3.3A@9, 4.4A@1024h per day @ 3 average 0.5A*24h= 12Ah
 Water Pump Guesstimate… 1Ah
 Sound System Guesstimate… 1Ah
 Phones Guesstimate… 1Ah
 Laptop Guesstimate… 2Ah
TOTAL55Ah

 

Measured-Daily-Power-Consumption-VanLife-(Summer Time)
*Here, because it’s summer and there’s way more solar than we need, we can safely assume our daily yield (measured by the Victron MPPT Charger) = our daily consumption.

 

Our summer prediction was 55Ah and we are actually consuming 59Ah on average. Pretty close! The temperatures were quite hot during the period we measured our consumption; the fridge and all the fans are working hard! It will be interesting to make more measurements in Autumn when temperatures are milder…

 

Winter Analysis

We predict that our daily consumption is similar for summer & winter because in winter the fridge draws less power, but it is balanced by the Webasto air heater that needs some electrical power.

LoadDescriptionMeasured Instantaneous Consumption (A)Calculation Assumptions Calculation Daily Consumption (Ah)
 FridgeNovakool R58104.0A24h per day @ 20% duty cycle 4.0A * 20%*24h= 20Ah
 Lights3W LED1.3A (total 10 lights @ 100% intensity)8h per day @ 70% intensity 1.3A*70%*8h= 7Ah
 FanMaxxfan 6200K

(10 speed settings)

0.2A@1, 0.4A@2, 0.5A@3, 0.8A@4, 1.1A@5, 1.5A@6, 2.0A@7, 2.6A@8, 3.3A@9, 4.4A@1012h per day @ 2 average 0.4A*12h= 4Ah
 Air HeaterWebasto Air Top 2000 STC Guesstimate… 20Ah
 Sound System Guesstimate… 1Ah
 Phones Guesstimate… 1Ah
 Laptop Guesstimate… 2Ah
TOTAL55Ah

We don’t have the actual measurements for winter yet; wait for it!

 

3- Battery Bank

We just determined that we will draw about 55Ah daily. Does it mean that, to have 4 days autonomy, we need a 55Ah*4days = 220Ah battery bank? No! There are more variables to take account of… keep reading the whole page and we will size the battery bank afterward…

 

3.1- Temperature de-rate of the battery bank

If you know someone that owns an electric car, you probably know that his/her car will do about half the mileage in winter than in summer (it might not be that bad in California, but it is in Quebec… yep, it’s cold up here!). Batteries are much less efficient in cold weather. The exact loss will, of course, depend on the battery temperature, but we will assume 30% less efficient as a general rule. For example, a 210Ah battery bank will actually deliver 210Ah*70% = 147Ah. Or, we could say that our daily consumption of 55Ah is in fact 55Ah*1.3 = 72Ah. We have to keep that in mind.

 

3.2- Charging a frozen battery

First of all, unlike water, a battery will not freeze at 32F (0°C). The freezing temperature of the battery depends on the depth of discharge. As the state of charge in a battery decreases, the electrolyte becomes more like water and the freezing temperature increases.  It is very important to make sure your battery stays fully charged in extreme cold weather. If a battery freezes, it can damage the plates and container leading to a potential explosion. A frozen battery must NOT be charged! Consult your battery manual.

As a guideline, this is extracted from our Rolls Battery Manual:

Specific Gravity

(SG)

Depth of Discharge 

approx (%)

Freezing Temperature

C (F)

1.280100-69C (-92F)
1.26592-57.4C (-72.3F)
1.25085-52.2C (-62F)
1.20060-26.7C (-16F)
1.15040-15C (5F)
1.10020-7C (19F)

 

 

 

3.3- Depth of Discharge

The cycle life of a battery is directly affected by the depth of discharge. What is the depth of discharge? It is how deeply the battery was discharge during one cycle. Let’s say that a fully charge battery is 100% and a fully discharged battery is 0%. If we draw 30% of available capacity (from a fully charged battery), the depth of discharge is 70% (there is 70% of Ah remaining before the battery is 0%).

For AGM batteries, it is recommended not to go below 50% depth of discharge to maximize the battery life (it might be different for different type of batteries).

Cycle life vs Depth of discharge
Cycle life vs Depth of discharge

 

So, if one’s consumption is 55Ah daily and has a 100Ah battery bank, it means that at the end of the day the depth of discharge is 45Ah/100Ah = 45%? Well, not exactly… because the battery bank will get charged throughout the day by solar or by driving the van or by getting power from shore power. In fact, we observe our minimal depth of discharge in the morning just before the sunrise. Indeed, we dont have any charge source during the night. What we experienced so far is a depth of discharge of about 75-95% in the morning cause by the loads that run overnight (fan, fridge, air heater and some lights).

 

3.4- About battery types

There are many types of battery available. Let’s play PROS and CONS :

 

Flooded lead-acid

PROS

  • Cheapest battery type available

CONS

  • High maintenance (needs to be filled periodically with water and kept in a vented compartment)

 

Gel-cell

PROS

  • Similar to Flooded lead-acid but the gel wont spill as easily

CONS

  • Similar to Flooded lead-acid
  • Must be charged at low rate

 

AGM

PROS

  • Low maintenance, good low-temperature performance

CONS

  • Expensive to buy (but good value in the long run)

 

Lithium-ion

PROS

  • Light Weight, low maintenance, low self discharged, can be discharged deeper without affecting battery life

CONS

  • Expensive
  • Cannot be charged when frozen

 

4- Charge Sources

If we had no charge sources at all, we would require a 220Ah battery bank to hold 4 days @ 55Ah daily consumption (in summer). In fact, we would require 440Ah if we dont want to go below 50% depth of discharge! Fortunately, there are multiple ways of recharging the battery to minimize the battery bank.

 

4.1- Solar Power

Harvesting power from the sun feels a bit like cheating to us; this is the exciting part of the electrical system! It is free to use, but it is not exactly cheap to setup at first.

 

4.1.1- The Panels

How many watts?

As a general rule of thumb, a 100W solar panel can generate about 5A/hr at peak power, that’s about 25Ah per day (sunny, summer day, best-case scenario).

We calculated previously that we will draw about 55Ah per day; it would be nice if the solar panel could provide at least that amount of power… We need 55Ah\25Ah*100W = 220W solar panel(s) to compensate exactly for our loads draw. Well, a bit more actually if we account for cold temperature de-rate & cloudy weather. However, solar power is not our only power source! When driving the van we will get some power from that as well; we have to keep that in mind…

 

Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?

We read quite a bit about that and came to the conclusion that, these days, the quality of the solar panel (manufacturer) is more important than the type of the panel. If you want to learn more about that, Google is your friend! To start, here is a good article.

 

Should we use 1 large panel, or 2 smaller panels?

At the time of our research, we could buy one 300W or two, let’s say, 160W panels for 320W total. The cost of the 300W is generally higher than two smaller one, but is it really if you account that you need additional hardware to connect the two panels together (cables, connectors, junction box, etc…)?

One larger panel instead of two smaller ones:

PROS

  • Simple to install (no junction box and connectors)
  • Higher working voltage = lower amperage = minimize loss

CONS

  • Large physical size
  • Higher working voltage = use of MPPT charge controller recommended

 

Partial Shading is Evil!

When locating your panel(s) on the roof, ensure that no partial shading will be induced by any others component (fan, roof rack, etc). Shading of just one cell could completely “block” the output of the panel! Many panels now come with bypass diodes that will allow the current to flow “around” the shaded cell(s) and therefore minimize the effect of partial shading.

 

Panel Orientation

A panel will deliver more current if oriented directly towards the sun. On large commercial solar plant, the panels are mounted on a motor-driven device that will optimized the orientation of the panel automatically throughout the day. Obviously, there is no such device for a van roof (until when?) BUT it is possible to add a tilt kit similar to this one:

Solar Panel Tilt Kit
Solar Panel Tilt Kit. Buy from Amazon

 

Adding a tilt kit will obviously add weight and slightly raise the panel(s). If we were to park for extended period of time at the same place, we might consider a tilt kit. But knowing that we will move pretty much everyday, we don’t feel like it’s worth the hassle.

 

Our Pick

We chose to install two panels of 160W each, for a total of 320W. This is quite a lot of power, but we’re not messing around here!

grape-solar-160w
160W Solar Panel, Buy from Amazon

 

Note: Two solar panels increase the complexity of the installation (more parts, more time, more connections, more $). We also considered a single 300W solar panel. Note that this panel is 24V, so a MPPT charge controller should be used:

Renogy 280W Mono Solar Paneljpg
Renogy 300W Mono Solar Panel 24V. Buy from Amazon.

 

You might be interested in:

Solar Panels Installation on our Camper Van Conversion

 

From now on, we will use 320W solar power in our calculationThis should provide 320W\100W*25A (remember, each 100W gives about 25A per day) = 80Ah of charge per day during summer, 30 Ah of charge per day during winter (guesstimate, time will tell for winter).

 

4.1.2- The Charge Controller

How many amps?

Charge controllers are rated based on the amount of amperage they can process from the solar panels.

Solar Panel Max. Watts / Solar Panel Max. Voltage = 320W / 18.5V = 17.30A

AMPS x Surge factor = 17.30A x 25% = 21.62A

Therefore a charge controller of at least 22A is required.

 

PWM or MPPT?

MPPT are the latest thing in solar charge controllers. They are more efficient than PWM in cold temperature, partially sunny day and if the voltage of your solar panels are superior to the voltage of your battery bank. However they consume a small amount of power for themselves (it’s almost nothing really) and are more expensive than PWM. The debate rage about the MPPT efficiency over PWM, but it is believed to be around 10%-20% more efficient depending on the conditions.

MPPT VS PWM, What Others Have to Say:

  • See Bogart Engineering take on MPPT vs PWM charge controller debate here (see FAQ “C1″)
  • MorningStar MPPT vs PWM comparison.
  • Victron MPPT vs PWM: Which solar charger to choose?
  • Side-to-side, real world testing of MPPT vs PWM charge controller here.

 

MPPT VS PWM, What We Have to Say:

  • We first installed a PWM charge controller (Bogart Engineering) and then upgraded to a MPPT (Victron SmartSolar).
  • While we can’t exactly quantify the improvement, we immediately noticed more charging current; we observed 24A with the Victron while the most we got with the Bogart was 16A.
  • We also noticed more power earlier in the morning and during overcast weather.
  • OK we’re sold to the Victron!!

 

Our Pick:
Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/30:

Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100_30
Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/30. Buy from Amazon.
The Victron SmartSolar is sweet because it can be setup and monitored from an iPhone or an Android phone! It’s also possible to see day-to-day historical data about the system performance, love it!

victron-monitoring

 

 

Here you will find our review about the Victron MPPT SmartSolar Charger, Battery Monitor and VictronConnect App. We also go through the installation, initial setup and operation process. We have a bunch of cool screenshots and things to say about the Victron so go read the article 🙂

 

4.2- Charging while driving

 

4.2.1- Battery-to-Battery charger (B2B)

This option is quite popular these days as it provide many advantages:

  1. It’s a Smart Charger, meaning it provides a multi-stages charge adapted to the battery type (Gel, AGM, etc). That’s important, because it will keep your house battery healthy and maximize it’s lifespan ($$).
  2. It’s plug-and-forget. The B2B will automatically activate/deactivate when driving to keep the house battery topped up.

Inconvenient:

  1. It’s not cheap, but since it extends the lifespan of the house battery, it can be considered as a long-term investment!

 

Sterling B2B 1260
Sterling BB1260 B2B charger. Buy from Amazon.

 

4.2.2- Automatic Charging Relay (ACR)

An ACR parallels (combines) the van & the house batteries during charging (alternator or solar).

Advantage:

  1. Simple and compact
  2. Cheap!

 

Inconvenients:

  1. The house battery will get whatever charging profile the alternator provides; it works, but it’s not ideal for the house battery health in the long run.

 

Blue Sea ACR 7622
Blue Sea ACR with Manual Control (up to 500 amps alternator). Buy from Amazon.

 

4.3- Shore Power
4.3.1- Battery Charger / Converter

A smart Battery Charger / Converter will:

  1. Charge the house battery from a 120V source by providing a multi-stages charging profile adapted to the battery type (Gel, AGM, etc).
  2. Provide power to 12V loads. This means using 12V loads (refrigerator, lights, etc) won’t discharge the battery when the charger/converter is plugged in.
Our Pick:
Samlex SEC-1250A 12V Smart Battery Charger / Converter on Amazon

 

4.3.2- Inverter / Charger

An inverter / Charger is a battery charger AND an inverter combined into one device. It is quite convenient because it simplify the installation (one device instead of two), but it’s more expensive (between 1000$-2000$ for high-quality ones) than installing a separate inverter and a battery charger…

Magnum-MMS-1012 Inverter Charger 1000W
Best Quality: Magnum-MMS-1012 Inverter Charger 1000W on Amazon
Renogy Inverter Charger 1000W
Best Value: Renogy 1000W Pure Sine Inverter Charger (Buy from Amazon)

 

5- System Monitor

A system monitor is not mandatory, but we strongly recommend it. Depending on your model, it will display the house and van battery voltage, amperage coming in/out of the house battery,  % battery left, amperage used since last charge, etc, etc. You will learn a lot from the monitor on: 1- the impact of shade on solar (and help you choose the right parking spot) 2- the impact of your load(s). This will help you better manage your energy. A popular option out-there is the Bogart Engineering Trimetric TM-2030; this is what we installed first, but we then upgraded for the Victron BMV-712 because the Bogart is not exactly user friendly to setup and operate and because it looks like it’s 1968…

Our Pick:
Victron BMV-712 System Monitor:

Victron BMV-712
Victron BMV-712 Bluetooth System Monitor. Buy from Amazon.
The Victron BMV-712 has bluetooth inside and current status (and historical data) can be displayed on an iPhone or Android phone!

Victron BMV-712 Monitoring

 

 

Here you will find our review about the Victron MPPT SmartSolar Charger, Battery Monitor and VictronConnect App. We also go through the installation, initial setup and operation process. We have a bunch of cool screenshots and things to say about the Victron so go read the article 🙂

 

6- Battery Bank Sizing

Back on the battery topic. We now understand that if the charge sources were properly chosen and sized, the battery should (normally) get a full charge everyday (by solar and/or driving and/or shore power). So what dictate the size of the battery then? I would say overnight discharge + cloudy days + rough buffer + the price you are willing to pay…

We finally went for a 210Ah AGM battery. In summer, at sunrise, the battery will be 80%-90% capacity depending on what happened the night before (driving late generally means a full charge when we go to bed). At noon, the battery is generally fully charged from solar depending on the weather. For winter, we were able to keep the battery above 50% SOC at all time, but it’s definitely more challenging than in summer.

The concept here is that there are a lot of variables to take account. We went on the safe side by choosing a medium-large battery bank (some people go up to 300-400Ah).

 

Our Pick:
Rolls S12-230 AGM Battery
Rolls S12-230 AGM Battery SPEC SHEET
 We also considered:
Highest Quality:

lifeline-12v-210-ah-agm-gpl-4dl
Marine Lifeline 255Ah AGM Battery. Buy from Amazon.
Quality/Price:

Renogy AGM Deep Cycle 200 ah
Renogy 12v 200ah AGM. Buy on Amazon.

 

7- Electrical Wire

7.1- Wire Diameter (AWG)

Selecting the correct electrical wire diameter is crucial for the system performance and safety. The maximum current and the voltage drop need to be taken into account to select to appropriate diameter.

7.1.1- Maximum Current (capacity)

For a certain wire diameter, there is a maximum current carrying capacity of a wire. Going over that capacity would create a safety issue (i.e. bigger current requires bigger wire diameter).

7.1.2- Voltage Drop

There is a loss of energy (voltage drop) as current moves through passive elements (wires, terminals, etc) of an electrical system. The wires are a big contributor to the voltage drop and this should be taken into account when designing the electrical system. How? By selecting the appropriate diameter; the bigger the diameter, the smaller the voltage drop. Generally, wire diameter should be selected to provide a maximum of 3% voltage drop for critical loads (panel main feeder, inverter, electronic) and 10% maximum voltage drop for non-critical loads (lightning, fan, etc).

7.1.3- Selecting the correct wire diameter

Now, really, how do you selected the correct wire diameter? Let’s keep it simple and use the BlueSea Calculator (circuitwizard.bluesea.com):

Blue Sea Calculator
Blue Sea Circuit Wizard, use it! circuitwizard.bluesea.com

 

The inputs are:

  1. Nominal Circuit Voltage (hint: it’s 12V)
  2. Average Current (it’s normally written in the owner manual of the load)
  3. Length of Wire (hint: you need to add the positive AND negative wires! For example, a load located 10 feet away from the battery would require 20 feet length of wire)
  4. Allowable Voltage Drop % (critical VS non-critical loads, see section 7.1.2)

The outputs are:

  1. Recommended wire diameter
  2. Maximum current capacity of the wire (for reference)

 

7.1.4- Example

Let’s select the correct wire diameter for the Maxxair Fan.

What we know:

 

We head to circuitwizard.bluesea.com and enter the following inputs:

DC Wire Selection Example

Justification:

  • Circuit Voltage: It’s always 12V…
  • Load Current: For simplicity sake, we use the fuse capacity instead of the average load. By doing so our system will have slightly oversized wires, but it’s actually a good thing: there is less voltage drop and the wires are more robust. (if you decide to use the average current that’s OK, just make sure the wire capacity is greater than the fuse selected)
  • Length of Conductor: We measured 16 feet of duplex wire, but for calculation it’s always the positive wire + negative wire that must be used. So 16 feet of positive + 16 feet of negative = 32 feet

 

Result:

  • The calculator recommends: AWG 18.
  • AWG 18 is capable of taking current up to 20 amps (read the small prints below the Recommended Wire) which is greater than the 5 amps fuse we’re using; we’re safe!
  • BUT, AWG 18 wire is really small and fragile. Vibration and sharp edges will damage it in the long run; for this reason anything smaller than AWG 16 is not recommended.
  • We could use AWG 16 but, to save cash, we bought a big roll of AWG 14 wire; therefore we will use AWG 14! It’s OK to use bigger wire (but it’s NOT OK to use smaller wire).

 

 

Don’t cheap out on electrical wire. We highly recommend to select marine grade wire such as:

Ancor Marine Duplex Wire 14AWG
Ancor Marine Grade Duplex Wire. Buy from Amazon (many length and diameter available; make sure to select the appropriate wire for YOUR application!)

 

7.2- Wire Crimping (connecting wire)

There are many ways to connect wires together. We will go straight to the point here, the best way to do it is crimping. Crimping will deform the connector into the wire and ensure a solid permanent mechanical connection with low resistance. To crimp, you need good tool and good connectors (heat shrink recommended):

Ancor Crimp Tool
Ancor Crimp Tool. Buy from Amazon
Hydraulic Crimp Tool
Hydraulic Crimp Tool for large wires (­>AWG 8). Buy from Amazon, or have them crimped by a professional at your local shop.

 

Irwin Wire Stripper
Wire Stripper Tool. Buy from Amazon.
Heat Gun
Heat Gun for heat shrink. Buy from Amazon

 

Ancor Terminal Rings
Ancor Heat Shrink Terminal Rings. Buy from Amazon
Ancor Heat Shrink Butt Connectors
Ancor Heat Shrink Butt Connectors. Buy from Amazon.

 

Electrical System Installation Van Conversion (4)
You shall crimp with grace

 

Do not use pliers for crimping! Do not use cheap connectors! You will get poor connections that will not last in time and could create safety issues.

 

7.3- Wire Installation

For safety sake, the wires should not be installed loose and unprotected; as opposed to a house, there is a lot of vibration and movements that will damage the wires in the long run.

The wires should be routed through Split Loom Tubing (make sure to buy several diameters) attached with zip ties:

Split Loom Tubing
Split Loom Tubing. Buy from Amazon.
Zip Ties
Zip Ties. Buy from Amazon

 

The Split Cable Loom should be secured with Nylon Cable Clamps on wood:

Nylon Cable Clamps Kit
Nylon Cable Clamp. Buy from Amazon
The Split Cable Loom can be secured with Zip Ties Mount Adhesive on metal. Make sure the surface is cleaned (isopropyl alcohol works great) and warm enough.

Zip Tie Adhesive Mount
Zip Tie Mount Adhesive. Buy from Amazon

 

8- Fuses and Breakers

Fuses and breakers are essential in any electrical system! It will protect the circuit wires and the components against over current and ultimately fire. If you blow a fuse during your system installation (we did a few times), it means that you just avoided a potential failure or fire! Nice!

Each load should be fused according to it’s current maximum normal draw. Consult the owner manual of the load. This is achieve through a fuse box such as:

Blue Sea Fuse Box
Blue Sea fuse box. Buy from Amazon

 

The fuse will drive the wire diameter selection. For example, if wiring a load that draw 5A and a fuse of 15A is used, you should choose a wire capable of (more than) 15A! This is safety matters.

 

Breakers are similar to fuses, except that if it blows it is possible to reset it without replacing it. Fuses generally blow faster than breakers and therefore fuses are preferred for sensible electronics. We added a few 40 amp breakers in our system. Why? First, to avoid having to use big electrical wires. Indeed, our fuse block is capable of 100A; even if we know that we will never draw 100A, we need to size our wires for 100A ($$$). By adding 40A breakers, we can size our wires for 40A. We can also turn off portion of the system by switching a breaker off (for example, turn off solar panels to display on our system monitor the draw that the loads are pulling. Or the opposite to display the charge that the solar panels are providing).

 

Here is a more complete article about this topic: http://www.12voltplanet.co.uk/fuses-guide-uses.html

 

9- Loads

9.1- 12V Loads

These are all the 12V loads that we installed:

 

Maxxair 6200K Roof Fan

Installation: faroutride.com/fan-installation

Review: faroutride.com/maxxfan-review

00-6401k-6200k-7500k_maxxfan-deluxe_smoke_open
Maxxfan Roof Fan. Buy from Amazon.
LED Light (Dimmable)

Installation and wiring: faroutride.com/led

acegoo Recessed Ceiling Light LED 12V 3W, Warm White (Silver)
Warm White, Silver Finish. Buy from Amazon.

 

12V Socket

We decided to install 12V sockets all over the van instead of USB chargers. Why? Because this is the most universal plug (we can charge everything: phone, laptop, camera, etc.) and it’s not likely to evolve in the future (as opposed to USB standards). We went for a high quality, marine-grade Blue Sea 12V socket (15A capable):

Blue Sea Systems 12 Volt Dash Socket
Blue Sea Systems 12 Volt Dash Socket. Buy from Amazon.
Most appliances plug directly into the 12V socket, but for phones or other USB gear we use this:

USB Car Charger
Buy from Amazon.

 

Shurflo Revolution Water Pump, 3 GPM

Installation: faroutride.com/pressurized-water-system

Water 12V Pump
Shurflo Revolution Water Pump. Buy from Amazon.
Novakool R5810 Fridge 12V

Installation: faroutride.com/fridge-electricity-cabinet

NovaKool 12V Refrigerator
Novakool R5810 12V Fridge. Manufacturer Website.

 

Webasto Air Top 2000 STC Gasoline Heater

Installation: faroutride.com/air-heater-installation

Webasto Air Top 2000STC. Gasoline Model or Diesel Model
Propex HS2000 Propane Heater

Installation: faroutride.com/propex-install

Propex HS2000 (300x252)
Propex HS2000 Propane Heater. Buy from Amazon.

 

Sirocco ii Gimbal Fan, 12V

Review: faroutride.com/sirocco-fan-review

Sirocco 3-axis Gimbal Fan 12V Black
Sirocco 3-axis Gimbal Fan. Buy from Amazon.
Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

Installation: faroutride.com/composting-toilet-installation

Review: faroutride.com/natures-head-review

Nature's Head Composting Toilet Standard Handle
Nature’s Head Composting Toilet. Buy from Amazon.

 

 

9.2- 120V Loads
9.2.1- Inverter

The role of the inverter is to convert the voltage from 12V DC to 120V AC. Just remember that there is a loss of around 15% efficiency during the conversion from DC to AC, so it is better to reduce the use of an inverter. For example, get a universal 12V power adapter to power your laptop if possible:

zozo-90w-12-v-adapter
90W 12V adapter on Amazon.com. (make sure it’s compatible with your laptop)

 

Or instead of charging your phone, cameras, etc., using a 120V charger, use a 12V charger:

USB Car Charger
Buy from Amazon. (make sure it’s compatible with your gear)

 

Now there are some appliance that must use 120V AC such as microwave, gaming laptop, milk frother, blender, coffee machine, etc. In that case, you will need an inverter. You should size your inverter according to your most demanding appliance; check the owner manual or check online to find out how much Watt an appliance draw. If you can’t find the info, you can use a Kill-a-watt. The Kill A Watt is plugged into the 120V outlet (of your house), then the appliance is plugged into the Kill A Watt and then the consumption will be displayed.

Kill A Watt. Buy on Amazon

 

And remember that a microwave rated for 1500W will most likely draw more than 1500W… so get a 2000W inverter.

 

9.2.2- Modified VS Pure Sine Inverter

There are two types of inverter: modified and pure sine inverter. There is a good explanation here. This is a must-read if you need to choose between the two. Did you read it? Yes? Good, then we all agree that a pure sine inverter is the way to go!

 

Our Pick

You will find same very cheap inverter on Amazon or ebay; stay away from them if you don’t want to toast your 120V appliances and for safety sake. We like Samlex; they make good quality products and are reasonably priced:

samlex-pst-1000-inverter

  • Samlex 1000W Pure Sine Inverter, Buy on Amazon.
  • Samlex 300W, 600W, 1500W or 2000W Pure Sine Inverter, Buy on Amazon (make your selection in the Amazon store).

 

10- Our Electrical System

Before going any further, we draw a logical diagram and a wiring diagram. We did not want to waste time on that at first, but we are so glad we did it. When doing the actual physical installation of our system in the van, we realized how important it was to prevent messing up. Things will not clarify during the installation… the physical installation is quite overwhelming and referring to the diagram gave us a lot of confidence. When we first turned the switches on, we were not afraid to blow everything up 🙂 To this day, we printed a copy and leave it in the van at all time.

 

You will find our logical and wiring diagrams “as installed” here: Electrical System 2017. However, we recommend to use the diagrams presented in section 11 below.

 

11- If we had to start over

We’re very proud to introduce our new Wiring Diagram! What’s wrong we the previous one? Nothing, it passed the test of time and it works exactly as it should! Then why change it? Here’s why:

We realized many people are just replicating it (which we think is great!), so we wanted to make it

  1. easier to understand (see our new Interactive Diagram AND new tutorial “From Blank Page to Wiring Diagram in 15 Steps”)
  2. easier to install (more intuitive design and less components to install)
  3. easier to use (Plug-and-forget, monitoring via Android or iPhone)
  4. easier to adapt to anyone’s need (many features can be deleted/modified for different needs/budget. See our suggestions.)

It’s the result of the ultimate question: “If you had to start over, what would you change?”. Answer: we deleted some features we never used in the real world and we updated some components because we like to stay up-to-date with the latest technology.

 

11.1- Logical DiagramFaroutride Logical Diagram V2 (800px)

 

11.2- Wiring Diagram
Faroutride Wiring Diagram (V2018, rev A) (800px)
Wiring Diagram

 

11.2.2- High-Resolution Wiring Diagram

Download a high-resolution, printable, pdf file of our wiring diagram. You will get two things:

1- High-Resolution Wiring Diagram (printable pdf):

 

Faroutride Wiring Diagram (V2018, rev A) (800px)

2- “From Blank Page to Wiring Diagram in 15 Steps”. It’s a tutorial we made to help you read and understand our diagram 🙂 :

From-Blank-to-Wiring-Diagram-Animated-GIF

 

NAME YOUR PRICE! Yep, you pay whatever you think our help is worth to you. That means you can get both the wiring diagram and the tutorial for 0$(minimum) or for 100,000,000,000$ (recommended) 😉

 

Name a price of 10$ and up and we’ll send you a free sticker!

Faroutride Sticker (Front and Back with title)
Free sticker!

 

11.3- Material List

To replicate the electrical system presented in section 11.2, click on any product in the wiring diagram above, check out our Amazon Wish List (amazon.com/shop/faroutride), or use the table below:

 

ComponentDescriptionQuantityBuy Link
MAIN
Lifeline AGM Battery 255Ah – GPL-8DL255Ah AGM Battery.1amzn.to/2qMYxRh
Blue Sea Terminal Fuse150A or 175A or 200A or 250A (see LOADS 120V on wiring diagram)1Fuse: amzn.to/2J81TWc

Holder: amzn.to/2vyADhS

Blue Sea Battery SwitchThis is to isolate the battery from the system. Mandatory! For safety and if you have some work to do on the system.1amzn.to/2vry15e
Blue Sea Bus BarThis is to make multiple connections to the battery positive and negative. 250 Amps Max.2amzn.to/2qGvMWj
Blue Sea Fuse BlocksThis is to connect all the 12V loads to the system with appropriate fuse.1amzn.to/2HLQNGU
Fuse AssortmentFuse kit (2A 3A 5A 7.5A 10A 15A 20A 25A 30A 35A).1amzn.to/2J5348W
Blue Sea 40A Breaker1amzn.to/2JU8Knw
    SYSTEM MONITORING
Victron BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor with built-in BluetoothNote: shunt is included.1amzn.to/2J3N0Ez
    SOLAR CHARGING
160W Solar PanelTo harvest the sun!2amzn.to/2K6VEHl
Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controller 100V 30A with built-in BluetoothSolar Battery Charger.1amzn.to/2J4Z7kK
15′ Extension Cable with MC4 ConnectorsSolar Panel cables are not long enough to reach the charge controller1amzn.to/2Hj4y2Y
Right Angle Cable GlandsTo route the solar panels wire through the roof.1amzn.to/2HesyAt
Blue Sea 40A BreakerTo isolate and protect the solar controller. Useful during the system installation and after for reworks. 2amzn.to/2JU8Knw
ALTERNATOR CHARGING    
Sterling 1260 B2B Charger, 12V, 60ABattery-to-battery charger.1amzn.to/2EXvHme
Blue Sea 70A FuseAs per Sterling manual.2amzn.to/2HcQIek
Blue Sea Fuse BlockTo hold the fuse.2amzn.to/2J6tQxD
SHORE CHARGING    
Samlex Solar SEC-1250UL Battery Charger 50ASmart Battery Charger.1amzn.to/2vt0FmC
Blue Sea 60A Breaker1amzn.to/2K02lY9
120V LOADS  
Samlex Solar PST-1500-12 Pure Sine Inverter, 1500WTo convert 12V DC to 120V AC. 1amzn.to/2JVp6fD
12V LOADS    
Maxxair 6200K Roof Fan faroutride.com/fan-installation/ 1amzn.to/2qJCbA1
LED Ceiling Lights faroutride.com/led/ 2 or 3 packamzn.to/2vpyyVs
Blue Sea 12V SocketWe installed 12V sockets because it’s a “neutral” standard; it won’t change with time (as opposed to USB standard) and we can charge any device with it. To charge our phones, we use this: amzn.to/2EXgktX4amzn.to/2JVPypv
Shurflo Revolution Water Pump, 3 GPMfaroutride.com/pressurized-water-system/1amzn.to/2J9NqZQ
Webasto Air Top 2000 STC Gasoline Heaterfaroutride.com/air-heater-installation/ Choose one (Fuel or Propane) Gasoline Model or Diesel Model
Propex HS2000 Propane Heaterfaroutride.com/propex-install/Buy from ebay
Novakool R5810 Fridge, 12V onlyWe recommend a fridge that have a Danfoss compressor. They’re the most efficient.1We went for a front-loading Novakool R5810, but some people prefer top-loading.
Sirocco ii Gimbal Fan, 12VA sweet wall fan mounted on a 3D gimbal! faroutride.com/sirocco-fan-review/1amzn.to/2HKy7HR
Nature’s Head Composting ToiletThere’s an exhaust fan that pulls a tiny amount of current (0.01A).1amzn.to/2qJOsEA
MISC    
Note: wires, connectors, etc. varies a lot with each system, so it’s not possible to make an exhaustive list of all the material and quantities…
Ancor Marine Grade Duplex Wireamzn.to/2BS42le
Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Terminal Ringsamzn.to/2gGZ3Ju
Ancor  Marine Grade Heat Shrink Butt Connectorsamzn.to/2J4trfh
Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Disconnects (male and female)amzn.to/2JXwN56
Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Adhesive Tubingamzn.to/2HBYJwS

 

 

PART B: YOUR TURN TO SHINE!

12- Your Electrical System

Enough blabla, you have an electrical system to build! You can use the Logical and Wiring diagrams above (section 11) as a starting point and customize it to your needs/budget. Here are a few modifications you can do:

 

Charge Sources

  • Not planning on using shore power? Just delete it from the diagram! You can always add it later, providing you got extra space in your electrical cabinet.
  • Not planning on using alternator charging? Yep, delete it from the diagram! (we highly recommend it though)
  • You can go for more (or less) solar power, just remember to choose your solar controller accordingly (see section 4.1.2). Just select the appropriate solar controller here: amzn.to/2HdHToU

 

120V Loads

  • Don’t have any 120V load to power? Just delete the inverter (and adjust the terminal fuse capacity accordingly) from the diagram! It can be added later.
  • We listed a 1500W inverter, but choose one that suits your need depending on your loads. Remember that a microwave advertised as 1500W will most likely draw more than 1500W, so get a 2000W inverter… Here is a Samlex Pure Sine 1000W (amzn.to/2qIW3UF) or 2000W (amzn.to/2qKRNDh) inverter.

 

On a budget?

  • Battery: We listed a Lifeline battery, but you can get a Renogy for about half the price (amzn.to/2EXz5NH) or check out your local RV store.
  • System Monitoring: This can be deleted, you will be able to monitor the battery voltage using your phone via the Victron SmartSolar built-in Bluetooth. You won’t have the % SOC and all the cool stuff though…
  • Alternator charging: You can use a Blue Sea ACR (amzn.to/2HPUxK9) instead of the Sterling B2B, as long as you adjust the wire/fuse capacity accordingly as the Blue Sea ACR can charge with much more current than the Sterling B2B!
  • Shore Charging: This can be added later.
  • An inverter can be added later too, but install the appropriate wire gauge (AWG) from the start to avoid having to re-wire! (according to the inverter size you plan on installing)
  • We don’t recommend cheaping out on components (wires, connectors, cheap Chinese charge controller, etc) for safety sake!

 

Example of customization

As a demonstration purpose here is what your diagram would look like if you decided to delete the Shore & Alternator charging, the inverter and the system monitoring:

Faroutride Wiring Diagram no shore no alternator no inverter (V2018, rev A)

 

 

13- The Easy Way

Complete Solar Kit

Selecting and matching every single component can be an overwhelming task, but fortunately it is possible to buy high quality complete solar kit. Renogy is an established brand in solar system and has a very good reputation so we don’t hesitate to recommend the kit below. Note that the price is right: it’s similar to what we paid for our DIY electrical system, nice!

Renogy 300W Solar Kit

Buy from Amazon

  • 3x 100W Solar Panel (once in Amazon store, you can choose to expend up to 800W solar!)
  • 200Ah Battery (note: this is a gel battery and requires venting, see our write-up above)
  • 1000W Pure-Sine Inverter (note: it’s a pure-sine, but it’s not a charger. Inverter only.)
  • 30A PWM Solar Charger
  • Hardware for mounting and electrical connection of the system
300W Solar Kit. Buy from Amazon.

 

Plug and Play

Still overwhelmed by all of this? There is an easy way out! Goal Zero have a line of high-quality products that will get you powered with minimal effort; it’s basically “plug-and-play”… just expect to pay the PREMIUM price for a PREMIUM product! They have an outstanding reputation in term of quality and customer service, so you can buy with confidence.

Here is a 400Wh battery (33Ah at 12V) station that includes 300W pure-sine inverter, 2 USB ports, 1 12V ports and 40W foldable solar panels. It’s not a lot of power, but it’s perfect to power a laptop and charge phones/cameras:

Goal Zero Yeti 400 with nomad 20
Goal Zero Yeti 400 with 2 x Nomad 20 Foldable Solar Panels. Buy from Amazon.

 

And this is a 1250Wh battery (100Ah at 12V) station that includes 1200W pure-sine inverter, 4 USB ports, 2 12V ports and 100W solar panels:

Goal Zero Yeti 1250 with 100W panels
Goal Zero Yeti 1250 kit with Boulder 100. Buy from Amazon.

 

14- Conclusion

The design of the electrical system is not an easy task; it takes time. Make sure to clearly define your own requirements and design your system accordingly!

There is a lot more to what we covered here, but we hope this will get you started!

Did we missed anything??

 

electrical-system-installation-van-conversion-1
We did it! Yay!

 

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT…

October 2017 Update: 

(The following text is extracted from faroutride.com/first-month/)

No surprises here, it’s going as planned. The battery state-of-charge (SOC) normally doesn’t get below 80% and is getting charged almost exclusively by our solar panels, except when there are a few days of bad weather then we top up the battery via the alternator. As we mentioned a few times, we would install a Sterling Battery-to-Battery charger (http://amzn.to/2xmHZ6W) if we had to do it over (so we don’t have to think of charging the battery from the alternator, it’s all automatic with the Sterling charger). Winter will be the real test for our electrical system, so more to come…

March 2018 Update:

We just went through our first (cold) winter as full-timer and we never went out of energy! To learn more about the challenges we faced and how we mitigated them, read our Winter Vanlife article here:  faroutride.com/winter-vanlife

June 2018 Update:

We just upgraded from the Bogart Engineering PWM to Victron SmartSolar MPPT and we immediately noticed more current coming in (24A for the Victron compared to 16A for the Bogart), nice. The SmartPhone app is really cool too, we like seeing historical data about our system performance 🙂

 

 

(Very) Related Article:

 

 

 

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ABOUT US

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

 

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