We added solar to the roof of our class A motorhome, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. There are many benefits to adding a solar array to your RV. Can every RVer benefit from solar? Should everyone take the plunge? We don’t think so. We will talk about why we added solar to our RV, the pros and cons of adding solar, and who could benefit from a solar upgrade.
Why We Added Solar to the RV
We Love to Boondock
We spent 66 days during 2019 completely unplugged from hookups. Those days included staying at Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome, BLM land, driveway surfing, rallies, lot surfing (Walmart, Cracker Barrel), and the US Forest Service. As you can see, we stayed at many different types of locations without hookups. We plan to increase that number to at least 100 days in 2020.
Electric Fees at Campgrounds
At least twice a year, we sit at a campground for a month or longer while we take care of medical appointments. Most campgrounds charge for electricity when you stay for a month or longer. We have paid 10-14 cents per kWh.
We Love the Freedom
Having the ability to park the RV anywhere without worrying about resources is very freeing. Electricity is no longer a consideration for us when choosing our next destination. We know we can create our own power, and on cloudy days the generator is always there as a backup.
The investment tax credit, otherwise known as the federal solar tax credit will allow us to deduct 30% of the cost of installing a solar energy system from our federal taxes. Next year the deduction will decrease to 26%.
Pros of Adding Solar to the RV
While the generator has been a lifeline for us while we were unplugged, it is not tranquil. There is nothing worse than turning on the generator to ruin a peaceful day and scare away the birds!
Harnessing power from the sun will reduce our costs. That generator sucks down diesel and that fuel adds up quickly. Also, the expense of changing the generator oil and filter every 150 hours is another cost that adds up quickly. Every time we skip the campground and choose to stay on free land we save money and our solar makes cutting the cord even more enticing!
Solar panels do not have moving parts. They just sit up there on the roof, basking in the sunshine. Without moving parts, there is no wear and tear. The only required maintenance is occasional cleaning of the panels.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
One of the reasons I love solar is because it is so clean! Solar panels do not burn fuel and they don’t produce waste. Because we are using less fuel we will reduce our carbon footprint.
Cons of Adding Solar to the RV
Solar power can be expensive! It doesn’t matter the size of your rig, a good solar setup is an investment. Solar systems can start as low as $1000 and go up from there. Our solar installation cost us $3037, and that did not include labor costs.
It takes time to recoup your investment. Skipping the campground is the only way to reduce your fees and get a return on your solar investment. We will need to boondock at least 100 days in 2020 to recoup our solar costs.
Solar is Confusing
Understanding solar and all the components that are required can be very complicated. Before the install even happens, you have to know how much power you consume, which can be confusing all by itself! We are both still learning about our system every day. Well, mainly Phil, but I am learning a bit.
Without sunshine, you can’t make power. So at night and on cloudy days, your solar system won’t have much benefit. If you are in an area with a lot of shade from trees, your ability to harvest from the sun will be very limited at best.
Is Solar Right for You?
The real question is, do you prefer to stay in campgrounds with hookups or do you prefer to unplug?
If your RVing style is mostly campgrounds, then it will be near impossible for you to recoup the cost of the solar install. It will also limit your opportunity to use the solar system. Not everyone likes to unplug, and that’s ok. There is more than one way to RV.
If you love to unplug, then solar might be beneficial to your RVing lifestyle. You can start by adding up how many days you unplugged last year and how many days you plan to unplug next year. If the only time you unplugged was during that last rally you attended then solar might not be save you much money long term. But if you spend a significant amount of time away from the power pedestal then solar might be right for you!
Our RV Solar Install
Let’s talk a little about our specific solar install. The preparation started months before the install with Phil measuring our roof to see what size panels would fit and how many we needed. This process included taping off exactly where the panels would sit to make sure he ordered exactly what we needed. Returns and exchanges were not something we had time to work around.
Dropping the Wire
Next, Phil had to figure out how to get the wiring from the solar panels on the roof to the solar controller in the basement. Our RV was not prewired for solar, so this was a tough one. Thankfully, he found the perfect place to drop the wires! Be sure to check out our solar video to see this ideal location!
A supply list was the next thing on the to-do list. Phil measured, calculated, and priced out all the parts for the solar install. It was not an easy job, but thankfully he had great help. Chris (Run Away with the Clarks) and Scott (Our Epic Field Trip) were always a phone call away if assistance was needed.
If you are interested in Phil’s spreadsheet with the supply list and prices, you can download it for yourself. It might help you get started with your own solar install!
RV Solar Installation
After all the parts were delivered it was time for the install! Luckily, for us, we had a lot of hands on deck. Phil, with the help of Chris and Scott, knocked out the install in three days! It was a much faster process than I expected. Phil spent another day with touch-ups to make it all neat and clean.
Testing the RV Solar
As I am writing this blog we are flexing our solar for the first time. We have been unplugged for 57 hours without using the generator. Those were 57 cloudy, rainy hours I might add. Our generator just started via the auto generator start when our batteries dropped to 25%.
Our solar installation is the perfect addition to the Battle Born lithium batteries we installed back in May. We couldn’t have done it without help from Lance from Wheelin‘ with the Wendes. If you haven’t seen the install check it out!
We can’t wait to see what the combo of our solar system and Battle Born Batteries will do for us in 2020. I see more boondocking days in our future!
Author: Stacy, You, Me & the RV, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, 2019
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