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When I decided to build a conversion van, an electrical system was one of the things that scared me the most. I am not an electrician.
Although I do have a background in low-voltage wiring and electronics, I do not have very much knowledge of high-voltage systems and I am not qualified to install a full-blown electrical system in a van, house or any other type of structure.
At first, I considered hiring this out to an electrician but being the perfectionist that I am, I find it difficult to relinquish tasks to others, especially on a project like this when I didn’t have a solid plan yet on what I wanted.
If I were to hire an electrician to come in and do it for me, I would probably end up getting it done the way that they wanted to do it since I was not very concrete in my ideas to begin with.
I knew there had to be a simple way to add electricity to the van since so many people are building camper vans nowadays. Some people do not use a full-fledged electrical system and only use portable power or generators.
I wanted a system that would be fully installed in my van and would be ready to use at any given time. I also wanted it to be a solar system because I want to be able to rely solely on the sun for the majority of my energy usage.
I’m a big proponent of solar power and with today’s better systems, it’s easy to generate more power from the sun than it ever has been. A simple, small conversion van should have no problems whatsoever having a solar system that runs everything within the rig.
I decided to look for a ready-made solar system that was one unit and had everything already done for me and provided standard 120 volt AC outlets as well as USB ports and a 12-volt connection for all of my 12-volt accessories.
This is when I discovered Goal Zero. I came across this company during my research and was intrigued by their offerings. I thought their Yeti 1400 portable solar power generator would be the perfect solution for what I was looking for. This generator offers 1400 watt-hours of electrical energy.
All of this running off of a lithium battery bank. Lithium has many advantages over the deep cycle AGM batteries that many people use.
- Lithium batteries are not as heavy as AGM.
- Lithium batteries are smaller and more compact.
- Lithium batteries last longer.
- Lithium can be drained fully with no problem. AGM batteries shouldn’t be drained past about 50% or so.
I liked the idea of having lithium batteries in my van.
Although they are more expensive than AGM batteries, I believe it to be worth the cost for use in my van conversion.
I planned to use the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 and then to utilize installed power outlets that would connect directly to the Goal Zero unit. The Goal Zero would be connected to solar panels on top of my roof and would be charged using the energy from the sun.
I decided that 200 watts of flexible solar panels would be plenty to keep my battery charged.
Goal Zero Yeti 1400
The first order of business was to purchase the portable solar generator. I was fortunate to find it on sale around the holidays so I got a good deal on it and went ahead and ordered it.
I had picked the perfect spot under my bed that it would sit and be strapped in out of the way and would allow me to have energy flowing throughout my van without even seeing the unit.
As you can see in the picture, I built a box over the wheel well and a padded spot on top of the box where the goal zero would rest. I padded this area so that it would work as a shock absorber of sorts as the van drives down the road.
I also built a bumper area around the whole thing so that it would stay put more easily. The front part is hinged so it’s easy to remove the Yeti 1400. Since this unit is portable, it can also serve purposes in other places as needed.
I have used the unit inside my house during power outages and also in places around my property where extension cords would not reach. It’s handy having a portable solar generator that can be installed in your van but can also be removed when you need power elsewhere.
It’s easy to disconnect everything and then pull it out of the van and use it where needed. Once I’m done with it, I can simply put it back where it goes and easily plug everything back in and I’m ready to go.
This made my electrical system install so much easier than it would’ve been if I had tried to build a custom electrical system or pay someone else to do it for me.
In this way, I purchased the portable solar generator and the engineers at Goal Zero had already done the work for me. There was no guesswork and no safety concerns of me building some kind of homemade electrical system on my own.
To me, this type of system is ideal for conversion vans since it makes the process so easy and allows you to use it in other ways besides just in your conversion van.
The system is strapped down tightly by its handles using heavy-duty hooks that I installed on each side of it. It’s held in tight with ratcheting straps so that it doesn’t move while driving.
Installing A 12 Volt DC Fuse Block
For all of my 12-volt accessories, I installed a fuse block that they would connect to. The fuse block that I used is the Blue Sea Systems Fuse Block that allows up to 12 circuits; more than I will need.
This fuse block has a negative side and a positive side making it easy to connect 12-volt circuits. This was used for accessories such as my ceiling LED lights, ceiling max air fan, water pump, and garage lights.
All of these accessories attach to the fuse block and then the fuse block connects to the Goal Zero 12 volt Anderson port using a special cable. This allows 12 volts to flow to all of the devices connected to the fuse block.
All of those circuits will be protected with a fuse that is installed in the fuse block. If there were a short in the system, then a fuse would blow instead of causing further damage.
This is the first line of defense since the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 itself has built-in fuse technology as well.
My refrigerator is also 12 V but I did not connect this using the fuse block. I connected my refrigerator using the 12 V “cigarette lighter” type connection and it connected directly to the Yeti 1400.
12 Volt DC Accessory Wiring
There wasn’t a lot of wiring to my simple electrical system. The only accessories that needed wiring throughout the van were the LED lights and switches, the Maxxair fan and the water pump.
For these, I used 14 gauge stranded wire. There were also a few runs that I used 14/2 wiring designed for outdoor lighting. The main thing is to use a wire that is stranded instead of solid.
This is basic wire with a positive and a negative side and the connections were very simple as all circuits were connected in parallel and at the fuse block, the red wire was attached to the positive circuit and the black wire was attached to the negative circuit.
I had three different circuits for my lights throughout the van. Each light circuit in the van connected to other lights in the van in parallel. In layman terms, all lights connected red/red and black/black.
That left me with one positive and negative wire from each light circuit that ran to a switch. From the switch, one positive and one negative wire ran to the fuse block.
For the Maxxair fan, a positive and negative wire was run from the fan to the fuse block.
The water pump required the same wiring; one positive and negative wire.
All of these devices were easy to connect by just connecting the positive to the positive circuit and the negative to the negative circuit.
In total, I used six circuits on my fuse block and the fridge connected directly to the Yeti 1400 so there were 7 12-volt circuits when all was said and done.
To connect these to the fuse block, I used Fork Spade Wire Connectors. These help to make installing the wires more secure and it neatens up the area as well.
These were also capped off with heat shrink tubing to protect the wires from moisture and to make my wiring layout neat.
Since the terminal ends were blue, I wanted to make them red and black so that it would be easy to see what is what. The heat shrink tubing allowed me to do this. Some of the wiring I used was all the same color, making it difficult to tell positive from negative. The colored heat shrinks help to set them apart.
120 Volts AC
For the 120 volt AC plugs in my van, I used a version that made it simple for my system.
Essentially, they are extension cords with outlets at the end of them. I only installed two of these in my van. One of them in my kitchen and one of them in my dining area.
Both of them were installed and the wire was run to the location of the solar generator. They were plugged in directly to the AC ports that the Yeti 1400 provides.
This was simple and I didn’t have to do any wiring for my AC system. It was all pre-done for me and the system was already wired for it in a safe way that I didn’t have to worry about.
It made the whole process much simpler and I can sleep well at night knowing that I used items that were done by people who know what they are doing versus me who has no qualifications to install something like this from scratch.
I could have hired someone to do this for me but I didn’t want to do that because there would have been a cost to doing that and I probably wouldn’t have ended up with it done the exact way I wanted it.
The only problem of doing it this way is that the outlets that I chose are only rated for 12 amp instead of the normal 15 amps. This isn’t a problem for me because I am not plugging very much stuff into it other than a space heater and a very small portable air conditioner.
These items by themselves are within the amp rating of the plugs so I should be safe to use these.
After the Yeti 1400 was installed and all of the wire runs were connected using the fuse block, as well as the AC power plugs, the next thing to do was to add solar panels to keep the Yeti 1400 charged.
Solar seems complicated at first when you begin looking into how it all works but it is very simple. I needed to have solar panels on top of my roof with wires that come down from the solar panels and plug directly into the yeti so that it can charge using the sun’s energy.
The problem with this was figuring out exactly what cables I needed and what connections I needed for it to work between the Renogy solar panels I used and the Goal Zero unit that I used.
Fortunately, this was easy to accomplish because there are cables and connectors that you can use to easily accomplish this.
It took a little bit of research and ordering the wrong thing a time or two but I finally understood what I needed and the process ended up being much simpler then I thought it would be.
I was able to install the flexible solar panels on the roof without drilling through the roof. I used a combination of sticky products. The first one was double-sided Gorilla tape that I used to stick the panels to the roof. The second way I secured them was with Everbond tape.
I used 4-inch tape that was run around the perimeter of the panels. Everbond is very sticky and the panels are secured tightly.
The solar panels that I used have very short leads coming off of them. For some reason, on the Renogy panels, one side is shorter than the other so I had to purchase an extender to go on the short side so that I could neatly route both sides together.
From there, I used branch connectors to connect the solar panels in parallel to each other. The negatives connected together and the positives connected together and then I was left with one positive wire and one negative wire from both panels that would run down to my Goal Zero unit.
I accomplished this with two 15 ft 10AWG extension cables. One for positive and one for negative.
These two wires entered my van through the rear camera housing instead of the roof. This was a genius solution that I had found somewhere else online and utilized it myself. It kept me from drilling holes in the roof to bring the wires through.
Once the wires were inside the van, I routed them down to where they needed to be through the dead space in the wall until they came out exactly to where I needed them to be.
From there, I would need another part that connected these MC4 connectors to the Anderson connector on the Yeti. I used an MC4 to Anderson adapter to accomplish this and it worked perfectly.
Once that was done, I had input wattage coming in from the sun.
The only task left to do was to neaten up the wires, label them and make sure everything was tight and installed to where they wouldn’t move. I used cable ties and wire loom split tubing to protect wires where they entered or came out of the wall.
I neatly routed them to where the wires would be easy to plug and unplug so that the wires would stay in place when I wanted to remove the portable solar unit.
At this point, I had a full electrical system installed in my van and it was simple to do considering the options available. I didn’t have to wire anything myself and I didn’t have to do any guesswork with high powered electrical equipment.
The system I used worked perfectly for my needs.
Simple Shore Power Socket
In keeping with the simple electrical system that I had already built, I wanted to add a simple shore power solution to my van as well. There are times when I may need a little more electrical power when I am camped in RV Parks or other places that offer hook-ups.
An added benefit of this is that it gives me another way to charge my solar battery bank when the sun isn’t cooperating.
I chose to use a 15-amp socket instead of the larger 30-amp socket that many larger motorhomes have. I don’t foresee using this very often but it is nice to have the option of plugging into electrical power if needed.
The solution that I came up with was to use a part that would essentially allow an extension cord to pass through the wall of my van. The extension cord would come from the power pole at a campground and plug into the socket on the outside of my van.
Inside my van, I could then unplug my AC outlets from the Yeti 1400 and plug them into this socket instead. This would allow my wall outlets to harness the energy of shore power instead of pulling from my solar battery bank.
The specific product that I used has dual extensions coming off the back of it so you have two cords in which you can connect to. This was perfect for my case because I have two outlets in my van that will need electrical power.
This type of product is very simple to install. It only requires that you drill a 2-inch hole in the side of your van where you want the device installed and three small holes for the screws. Mine was installed on the rear passenger side behind where my solar generator sits.
It has a gasket but it did leak a little bit after I first installed it. I chose to take it back off and add a little silicone around the hole and screws holes. This stopped all the leaking and it hasn’t leaked since.
The extension cords coming off the rear of the socket are in a position that makes it easy for me to unplug from the Yeti 1400 and plug into these extensions instead.
I think the portable solar generator that I used pairs very well with a camper van conversion. It allows you to have the best of both worlds.
On one hand, you have a fully working electrical system in your van and on the other hand, you can remove it at any time and use it elsewhere whether you are using it tent camping or using it around your house to provide power during a power outage.
The choices are endless with the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 as you can use it anywhere you wish since it is a portable unit. Portable solar units work great if you are like me and don’t want to fool with a custom electrical system.
It still allows you to do things yourself but without the risks associated with designing and building an electrical system.
This system was simple to install and it has provided me with enough power to power all of my devices while the solar panels keep my battery charged at near 100% at all times.
The lowest I have let it drain to thus far has been 74% but this was during periods of low sun and when the sun comes back out, it charges up rather quickly and it’s back up to 100% in a very short time.
I’m glad I went with this type of electrical system in my van and hope this information helps you if you are looking to add a simple electrical system to your camper van conversion.
Products Used In My Electrical System
- Goal Zero Yeti 1400 – my solar powered generator that provides electrical power throughout my van.
- Renogy 100 watt Solar panels – flexible solar panels that I have mounted to the roof.
- Solar panel extension cable – extension for one of the short leads on the flexible solar panel.
- Branch connectors (2) – these connectors allow you to connect multiple solar panels together.
- 15 ft 10AWG Solar Extension Cable (2) – cables that run from the branch connectors to the solar generator.
- Cable gland joints – I used these to pass my solar wires through the rear backup camera so there would be no leaks.
- MC4 to Anderson adapter – connect the incoming solar wires to the Yeti 1400.
- Acegoo LED lights – I chose these for my lights throughout my ceiling.
- 14 AWG wire – the wire I used to wire most of my 12 volt accessories.
- Light switches with dimmer – simple light switches I used for two of my light circuits. I used the large version on one circuit and the small version on the other.
- Light switches – simple light switch without a dimmer for my shower area.
- Wire crimps – this is what I used to connect wires at each ceiling light and other areas where splices were required.
- Heat shrinks – I added these to the ends of the wires where they attached to the fuse block.
- Wire loom split tubing – this helps to protect wires where they may touch metal areas.
- Fork spade wire connectors – used these to connect wires to the fuse block.
- Zip ties – I made my wires neat and tidy with zip ties.
- Yeti cable to fuse block – this connects the fuse block to the Yeti 1400 using the Anderson port.
- Blue Sea Systems Fuse Block – this allows you to connect multiple 12 volt circuits easily to the Yeti 1400.
- Fuses – make sure and add the proper sized fuse to each circuit for it to perform properly.
- 15 Amp Shore power socket – this is an easy way to add shore power to your conversion van.
- 30 Amp to 15 Amp adapter – you may need this in an RV part to connect to a 30 Amp circuit.