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Solar How-To - Steps For Installing Solar Panels on an RV


By Sean Burton

Thousands of recreational vehicle owners have joined the movement toward a greener earth. Thanks to solar how-to technology, RV owners have more options when it comes to travel. More of them than ever are harnessing the energy of the sun instead of relying on non-renewable energy sources. Using solar energy to power a camper or fifth-wheel is both environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.

RV solar kits make converting to solar power convenient and economical. Do-it-yourselfers with advanced handyman skills can save even more money installing their own solar panels. It's important to note that installing solar panels may not be a job for a novice. Incorrect installation could lead to poor performance or damage to the vehicle. Self-installation may sometimes nullify a warranty. Be sure to clarify this before beginning.

The first thing the advanced do-it-yourselfer should do is assess his power needs. This can be considered a "pre-step" in the installation process. Determining power needs will reveal how many solar panels are needed to deliver the correct amount of energy. Those panels must actually be able to fit on top of the vehicle and still meet those needs.

The panels will need to be installed in a place that doesn't disrupt the function of the vehicle's roof components. It helps to find a place where wiring can be run easily, such as close to a vent. Solar panels must be approximately six to eight inches from the edges of the roof.

1) Start by disconnecting all power sources in the vehicle. This includes the battery.

2) Cover the solar panels. Simply leave the wrapper on if the panels come wrapped in paper or cardboard. Otherwise, cover them with something non-transparent. The panels will begin to generate a charge prematurely if not covered.

3) Prepare the installation location by marking the perimeters of the panels on the roof. A laser sight can help ensure that the panels line up.

4) Drill holes where needed for the mounting hardware. Make sure to locate and avoid any interior wiring before drilling.

5) Insert the mounting hardware into the holes and secure. Fill extra space around holes with sealant if needed.

6) Place the solar panels into the mounting hardware. Secure or tighten according the directions on the packaging. Different types of panels have different hardware so follow instructions carefully to avoid damage.

7) Install the regulator in the interior of the vehicle. It's usually best to mount it within a wall.

8) Guide wiring from the panel(s) on the roof to the regulator inside the vehicle and connect. Follow instructions carefully to avoid injury and ensure optimal performance.

9) Connect wires from the regulator to the battery. Again, follow instructions carefully. Polarity must be correct.

10) Reconnect the battery.

11) Uncover the solar panels. Power should begin generating right away if the sun is shining even partially.

The guiding principles behind all types of solar kits are the same. The variations are found in the mounting hardware. Do-it-yourselfers should have a thorough understanding of how the hardware works before beginning. Proper installation is critical to the performance of the system. Human error may result in damage to the system itself or injury to people. Improperly secured panels may loosen during travel or break away altogether, leading to an accident.

Solar kits can be expanded as needs change as long as there is space atop the roof to install another panel. Simply add another when power demands increase. RV solar kits typically cost between one and five thousand dollars. This may sound like a great deal of money at first. However, frequent travelers almost always find that the kit pays for itself within several months to a few years.

Besides saving money, solar-powered RV travel is not reliant upon finding places to camp that have electrical outlet access. Even remote camping becomes a viable possibility for those with the desire for an extreme experience. Solar how-to technology opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to enjoying the environment. It also helps to ensure that the environment is there for long-term appreciation.

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