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Having USB ports for charging cell phones and other devices is critical in this day and age and almost every small electronic device you buy charges via USB. If you are wanting convenience built into your van, having USB ports is a must! Adding USB charging ports is a pretty simple process and there are a few different ways that you can go about it.
This article will look at some of the best ways to add USB ports and provide a simple installation guide for those looking to add them to their van.
I have always had USB ports in my van but have upgraded over time as I discovered better ways of doing it or better placement. When I first installed the electrical system in my van, I used a temporary solution that initially worked well for me. However, over the years I wanted a better system than what I had originally installed.
Choosing USB Charging Outlets
My original system included pre-wired outlets with USB ports built into them. These outlets provided 120V AC plugs as well as two USB ports. However, the AC plugs were only rated for 12A rather than the typical 15A plugs that you often find in homes.
To fix this, I did a complete re-wire of my electrical system and upgraded it to include proper 15A electrical outlets. I took this time to also upgrade my system with USB outlets where needed. There are three main types of USB outlets that work well in a van. Let’s look at those below.
Electrical Outlet / USB combo. – These are standard 120-volt electrical outlets that have integrated USB ports in them. They can be purchased at any home improvement store and can be installed just like any other electrical outlet. Once installed, you can simply plug your USB devices into the port to charge. You’ll have to have your inverter turned on for these to function.
12V USB charging ports. These will tie into a standard 12V system and allow you to have a charging port for your USB devices. These are handy because they are cheap, simple to install and do the job well. They are great for van conversions or other RVs because 12V is the primary electrical source. They often have covers that can be flipped down over the USB port(s) so that moisture or dirt and debris do not enter the USB receptacles. They don’t require an inverter.
Solar Generator USB ports. If you travel in a van, a portable solar generator is a good idea to have. Most of these have USB ports built in and are convenient to use without having to install anything. They can be moved from place to place as needed. Examples include the Goal Zero Portable Power Stations or the Jackery Portable Power Stations.
I use a combination of all of these throughout my van. All of the outlets tie into my Goal Zero Yeti 1400 when I am boondocked and they use shore power as needed when I am parked in a place that allows me to plug in. I installed these in locations where it would be handy to charge my phone, iPad, camera batteries, or even run a USB fan as needed.
Installing 12 Volt USB Charging Outlets
As with all of the 12-volt electronics in my van, I used 14-gauge primary wire. This wire is probably overkill but it’s better to be safe than sorry. In my opinion, it’s best to use a wire gauge that is bigger than what you need. It is also important that you remember to use the right fuse for the items that you are installing via 12V.
The manufacturer will sometimes include information on the proper fuse size but not always. Unfortunately, the USB charging ports I used didn’t include this information. However, it’s easy to determine this for yourself.
Since the USB charging ports I used are 4.2 Amps in total, a 5 Amp fuse is sufficient.
There are a variety of different charging ports like this that you can purchase. However, if you are like me and have white walls, you’ll have a hard time finding outlets that will match.
I have found that they are mostly available in black. The white ones I found on the market just wouldn’t work for my needs or they had tacky lights on them that shine at all times. I’m not a fan of night lights and prefer my van to be completely dark at night.
It would be great to have them in white so that they would match my walls. Many van conversions include white walls since white usually opens up the space and makes it seem larger. It would be nice to see more manufactures offer both white and black. Either way, black looks fine and does the job.
If you are set on having a white USB charging port, the Blue Sea Systems charging port may work well for you. However, if you are installing this into a shallow wall space it won’t work very well. It’s super long and sticks way out into the wall with blade connectors that make it go even further. I tried one like this in the beginning but found that I just didn’t have enough room to feel comfortable with it being inside the wall.
As you can see from the picture above, it extends into the wall about 1 3/4 inches. However, you’ll have to add an additional amount onto this once you add spade connectors onto your wire. You’ll need a total wall space of about 2 1/2 inches for these to work. It butted up against the outside wall of my van and I had to bend the end terminals for it to work. Beyond that, these get a little warm when in use so I didn’t want this warmth to be inside my walls. I felt better with a solution that would be surface mounted rather than hidden inside the wall.
I opted for USB charging ports that are flush-mounted as you see below and these have worked great other than sticking out like a sore thumb with their black color on my white walls. They do have a blue light that shines at all times but it’s dim and can be covered up when not in use.
Positioning your USB charging outlets
The best places to install your USB charging outlets are in locations where you would generally need to charge an item. Locations beside your bed are the optimal places since you will likely have your phone nearby and it can charge while you sleep. In reality, since a van is so small, you can place these nearly anywhere and be satisfied with them as everything is only an arms reach away inside a small van.
It still helps to install them in the most convenient place that you possibly can. One of my USB outlets is in my dining area on my blackboard. I built a custom phone holder/charging port that features one of the same surface-mounted USB charging ports as mentioned above and also includes a custom-built shelf where you can set your phone or tablet out of the way while it charges.
I can charge my phone and have it nearby but out of the way while eating or doing work in my dining area.
I also used the same feature in the back of my van but used an electrical outlet / USB Combo rather than just a 12 V USB charging outlet. Both of these work fantastic and are in the place where I would need my phone and other charging accessories.
It may take some time for you to realize where exactly the best locations for ports like this may be. If you are converting a van, you may want to leave room in walls and plan for possible changes in the future. You’ll want to have a way to run wires to different locations and retrofit outlets like this after the fact since you may not know exactly how you will use your van and living space.
It’s always best to be flexible and have a way to move or add additional charging ports where you may need them more.
Having a few USB charging ports in your van is going to make life more convenient. Our phones, tablets, and computers need constant charging so having plenty of USB ports available will make it easier on you. Of course, you can always use the brick charger that comes with your accessories but you may not have it with you at all times or may just want the convenience of plugging straight into a USB port.
Besides that, many accessories don’t even come with a charging brick, only a USB cable. In this case, you’ll need to have a different solution.
Whatever the case, adding USB charging ports to your van is a good idea and should be considered from the beginning of any van build. Make sure you plan and position your ports where they make the most sense and will be convenient for you to plug stuff in as needed.