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Thursday, January 7, 2016

REDUX - MOTORHOME MODIFICATION - Installation of our Solar Panels

Since it's the boring winter months, and we are not travelling yet, I thought I would do some repeats of my most-read blog posts on RV repairs.  This one had over 2,500 views when I first posted it. We installed solar panels and equipment in April 2010

MOTORHOME MODIFICATION - Installation of our Solar Panels


On our Safari motorhome, we originally had two OEM solar panels… one 75 watt for the big coach batteries and a smaller one for maintaining the chassis batteries.   This setup was enough to top off our four golf cart batteries, with frugal usage we could go many days with it.  But we decided to “Solar Up” with more…   and be more livable and downright extravagant once we are done!  LOL

We removed the old panels, as it’s never good idea to mix sizes.  All panels should be the same wattage. Sold the old ones off on Ebay.

We purchased four 100 watt Siemens panels,  a Blue Sky MPPT solar controller, a Trimetric gauge, and all the various cords and accessories to go along with it.  We already have four 6volt golf cart batteries installed.
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Steve made the mounting brackets out of heavy aluminum, and made them so supplementary metal rods can be wingnutted onto them to tilt them in the winter months if needed.  The panels will ride flat the rest of the year, and only add the tilting rods if we deem it necessary. He pre-fitted the brackets while the panels were still on the ground, rather than waiting till they were up on the roof.

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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 welding cable will go around the wheel well and connect to the shunt and the batteries right behind the wheel well.

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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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 through the heavy gauge wires for the panels.  Steve carries along this ladder in our rig, an Xmas present from moi.
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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.

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.

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!  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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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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Ahhhhh  now look at that !  (about four hours later)
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Well, not quite.   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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Weeeeeheeeeeee it all works!   
And even in cloudy afternoon sky in April we are pulling 20 amps.  
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, recharge our cell phones and cameras, run the Galaxy Tablet, and 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: 



  1. Looks good! As always with Steve great workmanship!

  2. Karen,
    About how much did the 4 panel setup cost in parts? I think my son in law (Ben the Wonder Fixer) could do this for me, but I need to get an idea of how much it is going to cost me and start saving.
    Thanks again for a very helpful post!
    Mush & Teena

    1. Boy. it's pretty hard to put a price tag on it.. a lot of it Steve bought used or made himself. Note--- we went through the trouble to make the panels tiltable, but really we have never needed to tilt them in 6 years. We are usually fully recharged by 10 or 11 am even in the winter months in the desert.

      100 watt Panels were used @ $250 each
      Blue Sky MPPT controller was used @ $350 (about $600 new)
      Trimetric gauge was $115 new
      fusable link and heat sensor wire about $20
      fusebox about $30
      wireing was some scrap used, very heavy wire like welding wire
      brackets were handmade
      tube of Dicor $11

      and best to start out with brand new batteries, so we put in four 6v golf cart batteries to run our system, so we were never drawing down too low. (wears out batteries much much faster if you drain too low each time, best to only draw down 25% of the power and recharge than drawing down below 50%)
      I think if you contact Solar Mike at the Slabs (Niland CA) he would set you up with a good system. He knows his stuff. www.thesunworks.com we bought a bunch of our parts at the AltE store online.

      Of course installing it ourselves saved a lot money...


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