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Saturday, March 24, 2018

MOTORHOME MODIFICATIONS - *S* is Solar Panel Installation on our Motorhome

I am going to start off the new year with posting some of our motorhome modifications, a few at a time. I will post repairs, modifications, or neato things we have found for RVing.  I have lots of pics in my files so I will do them in alphabetical order.

Underneath that stuff, I will post my regular daily stuff..... kinda sorta fun, eh?

So here it goes, we are up to the letter S now!


Solar Panel Installation:

 We installed solar panels and equipment in April 2010


On our Safari motorhome, we originally had two OEM solar panels… one 75 watt for the big coach batteries and a smaller 10 watt one for maintaining the chassis batteries.  There wasn't even a controller unit.  We bought a small controller and set it up ourselves.  We were learning all about using solar. This setup was enough to top off our four 6 volt golf cart batteries. With frugal usage we could go many days with just the one panel.  

But we decided to “Solar Up” with more panels…   and be more livable and downright extravagant once we are done!  LOL Steve found a good deal from a guy changing out his array at his home in Montana, and he sold us his four used 100 watt panels and a bigger solar controller. 

We removed the old 75 watt panel, as it’s never good idea to mix sizes.  All panels should be the same wattage. We listed and sold the old one with the little controller on Ebay.

We purchased four 100 watt Siemens panels,  a Blue Sky MPPT (MAXIMUM POWER POINT TRACKING) solar controller, a Trimetric gauge, and all the various cords and accessories to go along with it.  We already have four 6 volt golf cart batteries installed.

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Steve made the mounting brackets out of heavy aluminum, and made them so supplementary metal arm rods can be wingnutted onto them to tilt them in the winter months if needed. 

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The panels will ride flat the rest of the year, and we will only add the tilting rods if we deem it necessary.

(on edit: Now, 8 years later, 
we find we never have to tilt them,
up on the arms to get better sunlight, 
and we have plenty of charging power 
as they lay flat on the roof) 

He pre-fitted the brackets while the panels were still on the ground, rather than waiting until they were up on the roof.

Now here is some more of the equipment that we had to install before the panels went up:

used to monitor the power levels from inside the motorhome:

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needed to control how much power is coming into the batteries 
and how the levels are charging or being used at that time.
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to make sure the batteries are not getting overcharged
works hand in hand with the solar controller

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a resistor that helps monitor the flow of current
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used to cut the current quickly to the batteries
or to keep something from backfeeding and harming the panels
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Steve had to get some areas of the motorhome ready for the components to be installed. We chose which compartment got the main set-up devices that was close to the batteries and close to the area where the cables were coming down from the roof.

The location of the solar controller is very important.  The closest spot located to the batteries is the most desirable.  But it also needs to be in a protected compartment.  This one is the closest, just on the other side of the wheel well.  Once the controller is mounted here upright, the main heavy 4 ga. cable will go around the wheel well and connect to the shunt and the batteries right behind the wheel well.

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Steve made this great wooden panel to mount this stuff
that was originally located on the wall where he was putting 
the solar controller. 

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Then he mounted the panel at an angle
in that compartment for easy access:

Steve is using 8 gauge wire for each pair of panels coming down from the roof to the controller. From the controller over to the batteries he is using 4 gauge wire.

We chose a location on the roof for the panels that would not have them shadowed by any objects on the rooftop, such as roof vents and air conditioners. The slightest shadow can hamper the panel's output.  We plan to face the front of the rig east as much as possible when choosing parking spots, so the panels are running lengthwise along our south side (passenger side) of the rig.  We already try to park this way in the hot summer to keep our fridge on the north side cooler by being in the shade.

On the passenger side of the rig is a perfect spot to run the wires down through a hole Steve will drill in the roof, through an access panel in the closet that reveals a chase for other wiring and the plumbing vent from our washer/dryer unit.   Directly below this closet is the basement compartment where the solar controller will be located.

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(I just love the gritted teeth in this pic) 
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Okay.. here he ran the 8 ga. cables in the open space,
which we covered up later with the panel again. 
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He got the solar controller mounted, wires and ground all hooked up too.

(this next photo added later .. now it's correctly wired and labelled and marked)

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Now it’s time to get on the roof and drill down, and pull up through the heavy 8 gauge wires for the panels.  Steve carries along this ladder in our rig, an Xmas present from moi.
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Let’s all sing together that James Taylor favorite:  Up On A Roof…

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And I gingerly crawled up the ladder to assist.  I HATE heights….ack!  But I needed to be up there to help, and to learn. First step was to hook the four panels together into pairs of two.

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Now they had to be wired up together and then joined to the two 8 gauge cords
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Next comes the time to flip all four of the panels over and install the brackets to the roof… ohhh drilling holes in a roof can be VERY SCARY!    Once a hole is drilled, you can’t  UNdrill it!

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Now is the time to start the drilling.  Steve had it all figured out, but I was nervous about this next step. I have to learn to trust in him.  He knows what he is doing.

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We used some rather unique fasteners.   Before you get too excited seeing “plastic”, calm down.  It’s only temporary nylon guides that hold the metal toggle into place … read on:

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(on edit: Now, 8 years later, 
we find we never have to tilt them
up on the arms to get better sunlight, 
and we have plenty of charging power 
as they lay flat on the roof) 

solar up part 236

solar up part 218

Ahhhhh  now look at that !  (about four hours later)
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Well, not quite.  

We cut out a section of wall and installed the Trimetric Monitor gauge and the 500amp shunt used to monitor the battery condition.




The gauge is mounted in our kitchen, and the shunt is mounted under the bed close to the batteries on the negative line.  Special wires come back to the wall panel.



Now Steveio had to hook up the wires in the solar controller and 30 amp fuse box.  Then hook the Trimetric gauge back up to the shunt and it *should* work…..

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Voila! It works!  
This is like “Command Central” 
for seeing how many volts you have in your batteries, 
how many amps are being used, how much is being charged etc.

Weeeeeheeeeeee it all works!   
And even in cloudy afternoon sky in April we are pulling 20 amps.
The batteries are at 13.3 volts.  
Ain’t that something?


P.S.  We find our solar panels give us ample power to do most everything we wish when boondocking (other than run the microwave or vacuum cleaner)   We run the tv's, my curling iron, coffee maker, recharge our cell phones and cameras, run our laptops or tablets, my sewing machine, and use any of the lights and water pump etc. as needed.  We have to remember to start up our on board Onan generator once a month to exercise it, because we don't often need it now that we are solared up.

Three helpful links we found when exploring all our solar options were: 

About a year afterwards: 

Steve had the chance to buy one more solar panel that matched our other ones.  (we already have four 100 watts Siemens panels on the roof)    Here is the panel and he got right up there and ready to work!!!

Next, he had to tilt up the set of panels to access the connector box underneath.  Our four panels are tiltable with brackets that can hold up at any angle to collect the sun's rays in the winter, if need be.  But we have never had to do that. The newest panel that he is installing is on a fixed bracket that will lay flat. That bracket is from the old panel and needed a bit of alteration, but he made it work.

There... all done!   Wasn't that easy?  LOL ...  

You can also see the little 10 watt solar panel that is used to maintain the two driving (chassis) batteries. 

While up on the roof, Steveio also checked over all the seams and edges and vents, looking for any potential problem spots for leaks or damage over the winter.   


We removed the old 75 watt solar panel and controller, sold them on Ebay for $262  

We already owned four 6 volt marine batteries @ $87.50 EACH  $369

4 100 WATT SIEMENS SOLAR PANELS, (used total $894






TOTAL: $1,792.00 after subtracting the sale of the old OEM panel and controller

Quiet, renewable, reliable energy
being able to boondock in comfort
.... priceless!

1 comment:

  1. Can we borrow your Hubby. Would love to learn Solar better. My hubby is 6’ 7” can’t get on roof. But he hates electrical. How does your sewing machine plug in? Right now only DC power runs on electrical, generator is great but too much variation; worried even with a power surger. Thank you.


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