Cruising in a recreational vehicle is a great way to see the country in style and comfort. When you install solar panels for RV roofs, you also add the freedom of a power source that’s not dependent on a hook-up so you can really get away from it all. The experts at The Inverter Store have put together a guide on RV solar panel installation to help get you powered up for the long haul.
How to Install Solar Panels on RVs
- Choose the right solar panels – Most RVers prefer flexible monocrystalline solar panels because they are lightweight, very efficient and virtually invisible from street level once installed. If you want to be able to tilt your panels, a better choice would be polycrystalline panels with an aluminum frame.
- Decide whether you want to drill holes in your RV roof – Anytime you drill holes in your RV, you risk creating a leak to the interior. Mounting monocrystalline solar panels on RVs can easily be done without drilling by using Eternabond tape.
- Prep your roof – Regardless of which method you prefer, clean the roof surface with grease-cutting dish soap and let it dry completely overnight.
If you choose to drill-mount, follow these steps:
- Attach mounting hardware to your polycrystalline solar panels.
- Find your RV’s rafters with a stud finder.
- Drill pilot holes.
- Apply butyl tape or lap sealant between the roof and solar panel brackets for a more water-tight seal.
- Drill your screws through the bracket and sealant slowly, only until the tape begins to squish or the sealant puddles up.
- Seal around the drill holes and the edges of the solar panels with lap sealant.
- Let that dry completely in the sun.
For non-drilling RV solar panel installation, follow these steps instead:
- Pull back the edges of the clear protective coating on the monocrystalline solar panels just enough to expose the half-inch border around the cells. This will make removing that coating much easier when you’re done installing.
- Cut a strip of Eternabond tape to the length of one long edge of the panel plus about two inches for overhang.
- Peel back a few inches of the clear plastic coating over the tape and apply the sticky side so it just covers the half-inch border on the panel. Make sure not to cover the actual solar cells with tape. Work your way down the length of the panel, pulling away the clear coating with one hand and applying pressure to the tape over the panel edge and RV roof with your other hand. Go slowly and smooth the tape down firmly along the entire side.
- Repeat on the other three sides.
- Use a small pressure roller to make sure the tape is firmly pressed down.
- For an extra safe seal, apply a two-inch strip of Eternabond tape diagonally across the corners, being careful to avoid the solar cells.
How to Hook Up Solar Panels to RV Batteries:
- Connect the battery to the charge controller first.
- Tips for choosing a charge controller: A Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) charge controller might cost a bit more than a Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) controller, but it really maximizes your power potential. An MPPT controller converts excess voltage from your panels into amps while minimizing power loss through your cables. A 60-Amp MPPT charge controller is an excellent choice if you plan to expand your RV’s solar capacity in the future.
- You may want to add an inline inverter fuse between the battery and controller to protect against overheating.
- After the battery is connected to the charge controller, connect the panels to the charge controller.
- Add a quick disconnect switch between the controller and the panels for easy power cutting whenever it might be needed.
Don’t hesitate to contact The Inverter Store if you need advice on choosing an inverter battery or any other aspect of mounting solar panels on your RV.