How to Install Solar Panels on a Camper Van Conversion with 3M VHB Tape (no holes!)

Solar Panels Installation

How to Install Solar Panels on a Camper Van Conversion with 3M VHB Tape (no holes!)

Solar Panels are a key element for off-the-grid vanlife; if you say freedom, we say solar power! The electrical system of our campervan is designed to power our appliances (fan, lights, 12V fridge, etc) and can be charged with solar power, alternator or shore. The present article only covers the installation of the solar panels; if you are wondering “How many watts of solar panels do I need on my van?”, then we have a very comprehensive Electrical System Design Guide for you here:

 

 

TIME SPENT ON THE JOB: 6 hours

 

TOTAL COST : 570$ USD

 


DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc), we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait


 

 

MATERIAL:

  • 2 x 160W (or 175W) 12 volts panels (Buy from Amazon)
  • 3M VHB double-sided tape 1″ width  (Buy from Amazon)
  • 2 x Renogy Z mounting brackets (Buy from Amazon)
  • MC-4 Multibranch Connector pair (Buy from Amazon) (This is to wire the panels in parallel if using a PWM charge controller. If using an MPPT charge controller, do not buy this as you’ll most likely wire the panels in series)
  • Right angle cable gland 3/8″ (Buy from Amazon)
  • 15′ Extension Cable Pair with MC-4 Connectors 8AWG (Buy from Amazon)
  • Dicor 551 LSG-1 Lap Sealant (Buy from Amazon)
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Primer, Paint & Clearcoat

Solar Panels installation, material

 

TOOLS:

  • Drill
  • Caulking gun
  • File and sandpaper

 

HOW WE INSTALLED THE SOLAR PANELS ON OUR VAN

 

1- Test the setup before the installation

Right when we finished installing everything, we realized that we did not test any of the components! If any item was defective (panel, connector, wire), we would have to disassemble everything… Fortunately, things always work for the best so we did not have to undo our work!

To test, we could have just connect the panels to the MC4 parallel connector, then connect to the extension cable, and finally check the voltage at the end of the extension cables. We did that at the very end of our installation.

 

2- Pre-install brackets on the solar panels (4 brackets for each panel)

It’s easier to do this on the ground…

Solar Panel Installation, fastener stackup

 

3- Relocate the brackets in the inside edge

This is to minimize the gap between the panels, so they are installed toward the middle of the roof and are less visible from the ground. A minimum gap should be left to account for thermal expansion and for installation access.

Solar Panel Installation, relocating bracket

 

4- Install 3M VHB tape on brackets

We selected 3M VHB tape to minimize drilling through the roof. AM Solar have been doing it for a long time and reported to never have lost a panel. Where a screw will grip through the sheet metal, the tape rely solely on the paint to hold; therefore, we don’t recommend to use tape on rusted, damaged or used paint. In other words, we trust the tape method because the van is NEW. Also, we check our panels installation regularly.

 

Per manufacturer recommendation, the minimum application temperature for 4991 tape is 60F.

Solar Panel Installation, apply 3M VHB to brackets

 

5- Cut the 30′ extension cable in half and pass it through the glands. Leave about 12 inches between connectors and gland.

It required a lot of force to pass the cable through the gland thanks to the right angle. It’s better to do this on the ground.

 

6- Pre-fit solar panels on the roof to define location of cable glands

This extension cable is not very flexible. We found it easier to work with if we install the glands at approximately 12 inches from the panels.

Mark the location of the solar panel to avoid having the measure again afterward.

 

7- Remove solar panels and drill holes for the glands

We pre-drilled and then use a hole saw.

Solar Panel Installation, drill roof

Solar Panel Installation, saw roof

 

8- Break the sharp edges with a file and smooth the surfaces with a fine sandpaper

To prepare the surface for touch-up.

Solar Panel Installation, file and sand

 

 

9- Apply Primer, Paint & Clearcoat on drilled holes

This is an important step to prevent corrosion in the future.

TIP: You can have your exact van color prepared for you in almost any auto-parts store. Just give them your color-code (printed on the driver’s door frame), year of production and make.

Solar Panel Installation, edge touch up

 

10- Think and prepare cable routing on solar panels

This is to prevent cable chafing on the roof and damaging the paint. We also installed a protective tape on the roof afterward just in case.

Now that we look at the picture below, we’re not sure it will pass the test of time. You might come up with a better idea!

Solar Panel Installation, cable routing

 

11- Fit solar panels on the roof and connect all the cables

See previous picture.

 

12- Pass wire through the roof without securing the glands yet

Solar Panel Installation, cable interior routing

 

 

13- Clean roof with isopropyl alcohol, peel off 3M VHB tape and press firmly to adhere

No picture here. We had to act fast and it turned out more complicated than anticipated: you get no access to the center of the roof, the cables must be neatly fitted and you get one chance only to stick the 3M tape at the right place…

 

14- Fasten the glands to the roof

 

15- Seal all the brackets and the glands with Dicor Lap Sealant

The bracket are sealed to prevent water contamination with the tape; it should help in the long run. We could not seal the inner edge of each bracket because we had no access.

Solar Panels Installation, sealing the brackets

 

 

16- Final Test

We don’t have the charge controller installed yet, but we can ensure there is voltage coming from the panels.

It works!

Solar Panel InstallationSolar Panel Installation, testing the voltage, testing the voltage

 

17- Have a pint of fresh Double I.P.A

We deserved it!

Solar Panel Installation, double IPA

 

18- Have a Poutine

We know what you are thinking; but we also know that you would love it if you try. This is Quebec fine cuisine. 

Solar Panel Installation, Poutine

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT…

2 years later and we’re still super happy with the solar panels! We did upgrade our PWM solar charge controller for a MPPT solar charge controller, but we updated our Electrical System article and Wiring Diagram accordingly. We also reviewed the Victron MPPT charger and the Victron system monitor:

Victron Review

 

 

INSPIRATION OF THE MOMENT

Drive Nacho DriveDid you ever have this wild dream of quitting your job and travel the world in a van? These guys had this dream, and went after it… very motivating reading!

Download the eBook from Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WANT MORE?

Check out our Build Journal, learn everything about The Van, read our VanLife Guides, or if you’re new to this start by reading Our Story.

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

CONNECT

Join our Facebook group to connect with other passionate DIY campervan builders like you!

 

 

CHEERS!

 

 

49 thoughts on “How to Install Solar Panels on a Camper Van Conversion with 3M VHB Tape (no holes!)”

  1. Hi guys!
    I’ve been working on my camper for the last couple of weeks and have been putting off the solar panel install since I can’t quite bring myself to cut my brand new cables in two. Did you guys just snip them, and then crimp them back together on the inside?
    Thanks!
    Noah

    Reply
    • Don’t cut the panel’s cables. Leave them on and connect them to the extension cables. Cut the other end of the extension cables; discard the MC4 connector on the end that you just cutted as you don’t need them (the solar charger connections require bare wire). Route the extension cables through the roof and connect them to the solar charger.

      Hope that makes sense.

      Reply
  2. I’m thinking about getting solar panels so that I don’t have to spend that much on power anymore. Knowing I won’t have to take time out of my day to clean them off and maintain them makes this decision so much easier.

    Reply
  3. Thanks so much for all your notes. I followed your instruction for my solar panel installation exactly.

    I found a bolt loose lying on my roof near one of my solar panels. It obviously came from one of the brackets but because of the tape and the dicor, I can’t get access to find the problem. It worries me that one of the brackets will no longer hold the panel securely. Have you ever had loose bolts and how did you fix it?

    Reply
  4. Okay. Did the solar panels today, finally.

    Different from you guys, but I did incorporate some of your crazy ideas!

    Same panels (I didn’t know they were Canadian! You guys are shameless!) Same fittings.

    Turns out, if you drill a hole in the middle of the 4 mounting holes in the fitting, for a M8 bolt, and use the FORD roof anchor holes, the panels end up about 8 mm apart in the middle. So I got a 3/4″ box aluminum rail from Lowes, set it in lapping sealant to be under the inside edges of the panels, and used two 1/16″ lines of your VHB tape to glue the panels to the box rails. (So I DID use one of your ideas! So there!)

    I do plan to attach the panels together front and back with aluminum straps.

    In the end, I am about 1/2″ lower than your setup (because the roof over the bolt holes is recessed), so better gas milage I guess. But poorer cooling, esp since air can’t get through the middle of the panels via convection. Should be okay, but we will see.

    For the wires, I was a little worried, what with having done the ceiling of the van last summer, and not really wanting to rip it down. But now, I am going thru one of the access holes in the back and covering it with a Go Power Plate. Wires about 5 ft longer than yours, but okay I think.

    So, I was happy. The Panels are bolted to the roof. And I did not drill a single new hole in the roof of the van. Now, I may be need to buy a 1K$ battery…there goes my stimulus check…

    One Q: why did you cover your VHB attachments with lapping sealant? Is it because water degrades the VHB attachment? If true, I might haf to put a bead of sealant in the “V” between the panels, over the aluminum box.

    Cheers in lockdown,

    Don

    PS Good time to rotate your tires…

    Reply

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