How to mount solar panels to RV is a lot easier than it sounds. But first, you’ll need to consider what size of setup you need based on the size of your RV and, of course, your power needs. There are several factors that will determine what type of system you need and how you should mount it. Additionally, you may even need to purchase a separate kit if you want to mount your solar panel system in a specific or special way, such as tilting the panels in order to encourage improved sunlight absorption. Ultimately, how the solar panels are mounted is totally up to you and should also be based on your skill level and budget.
Key Takeaway: There are many ways to mount solar panels on your RV. Ultimately, the best method will depend on the size of your RV, the amount of space you have to work with, and the size of your solar panel system. Before you get started it will be important to take careful measurements of the space available and determine the type of mounting option you go with, whether it will be the standard mounting procedure, or the popular tilting option.
Continue reading to learn more about the different options available that can make the entire installation process so much easier.
As we mentioned, there are many factors that will determine how much power you need and how much power a system can store, create and turn into energy. Ultimately, how many solar panels do I need for my RV will be based on your family’s daily power usage, the RV’s size, and your budget.
Solar panels are available in a huge variety of capacities and sizes designed to harness the sun’s power. You’ll need a panel system that will be able to charge the batteries fully on a daily basis. If you’re not able to charge the batteries before each use, you’ll run out of stored power at some point because you’ll end up using the power faster than the panels and batteries are able to generate it.
A single car battery has the ability to run almost any type of household appliance. But for how long? The number of batteries you’ll need for your setup will determine the length of runtime.
Stored battery power comes in DC form, so it must be converted to AC in order to run devices and appliances. This is where the inverter comes in. The inverter’s size determines how much AC power your system is able to use. Some models only have the ability to invert enough power to charge a laptop, while other models are powerful enough to run an entire home.
A larger system will allow you to charge several devices at the same time. But while it’s certainly possible to run several basic electronics at the same time, there are some that tend to zap power at a much faster rate. This includes devices that cool down and heat up, such as coffee pots, tea kettles, heating pads, toasters, air conditioners, hair dryers, stoves, and fridges.
Once you’ve determined what your power needs are based on how many appliances you plan to use and how often you plan to use them, you’re ready to buy the best RV solar panels for your new RV.
Now, it’s time to get started with the installation.
Solar Panel Installation
So, is installing solar panels easy? Is this a job anyone can do or is a professional required? These days, solar panel systems are incredibly easy to install. Every solar panel installation will be different, depending on your setup, but the basic concept is the same. Now, let’s go through the steps for a basic install.
Your first step is deciding on the location for the solar panels. Ideally, the panels will be mounted on a flat surface, so they can get the most sun exposure. Most RV roofs are flat, so you’ll have plenty of space to choose from. Pros recommend the back center, where you’ll usually find the vent pipes and skylight.
A solar panel is held in place with four bolts. This means that you’ll need to create four holes in the RV’s roof, which also means a higher risk for leaks. You need to ensure the bolts are running through something fixed and solid, not just the thin plywood and aluminum roof. Simply drilling some holes and bolting down the panel won’t cut it. You need to find the best option in order to prevent leaks.
Many pros recommend cutting a half inch plywood into six-inch strips and screwing them down to the roof where the bolts will be going. Next, they should be wrapped in rubber and aluminum tape, then painted using an aluminum paint that’s approved for roofs. Doing this creates a type of platform that will prevent the solar panel’s brackets from digging into the roof. This will also create an extra water barrier that will prevent leaks. Make sure you mark the strips to indicate where the bolts should go.
Once the paint has had time to dry, lay the solar panel down, lined up neatly with the bolt marks. Use a ½-inch drill bit when drilling the holes. You don’t want to leave bolt ends sticking up, so run the bolts from the inside of the RV, leaving the threads exposed on the roof. Next, take some silicone caulking and run it around the bolt and bracket. Last of all, cover the bolt and bracket with some thin strips of aluminum tape and rubber, then add some aluminum paint.
Once the panel is in place it’s time to run the negative and positive wires that are attached to each panel. Your panel kit, such as the Go Power Weekender, will come with connections and wires that are long enough to run down through the roof and into the cabinet.
You’ll need to determine where to create a new hole in the roof to run the wires. Most people choose the vent pipe since there’s plenty of room to run wire and it’s watertight and covered. You can drill a couple of holes at the base of the pipe and run the wires through it. Then, connect the wires to the solar panel, sealing off the holes with aluminum tape and caulking.
You’ll need to follow these steps for each panel in the solar panel kit. If you’ve taken careful measurements and done a dry run in terms of laying out the solar panels before hooking them up, then this process should take no more than one to two hours, depending on the size of your setup.
Really, the biggest appeal that comes with tilting solar panels with a basic RV setup is the panel’s adjustability. If you typically use your RV several times throughout the year or you often change location, then you may not end up at the best location during the winter months. The ability to adjust the solar panels allows you to ensure they’re tilted in the perfect position for optimal sunlight absorption. This, in turn, increases the system’s amp efficiency from twenty percent up to fifty percent.
Of course, it can be tricky to determine the best angle to use during certain altitude levels and times of the year. However, you can easily download an app that can tell you the best angles to use based on your location.
Another big plus that comes with using a tilted solar panel mounting system is that it will provide improved RV roof access so you can easily clean and maintain your solar panels. This will be especially important with polycrystalline systems.
However, this type of mounting option isn’t without its drawbacks. Raising the panels can make them more susceptible to inclement weather conditions, which can lead to damaged panels if the conditions are extreme. Additionally, you’ll need to ensure the panels are placed in a flat position before traveling in order to prevent them from getting ripped off the roof.
There are drawbacks for both tilted and horizontal mounting options, meaning the right option for you will mainly depend on personal preference. Your traveling destination can also play a major factor when you’re trying to determine which option to go with.
Just keep in mind that with the tilt mounting option you’ll need to purchase a tilting kit. Some of these kits are fairly simple to use, however, the process itself can be much more time consuming compared to a basic horizontal installation process. You’ll also need to factor in the extra expense of the kit, which can run from forty dollars up to one hundred dollars, depending on the size of your solar panel setup.