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Boondocking,  Preparing to RV,  Setup

Adding Solar to RV: Why We Cut the Power Cord

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.


Dry Camping at a Harvest Host
Unplugged at a Harvest Host in New York

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.

Tax Credit

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%.


Dry Camping at a Boondockers Welcome
Boondockers Welcome, Fort Wayne, IN

Pros of Adding Solar to the RV

Less Noise

No noise with solar

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!

Less Cost

solar saves money

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!

Low Maintenance

solar is low maintenance

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

solar reduces 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.


Dry camping at a Boondockers Welcome
Boondockers Welcome in New Hampshire with Life Beyond the Burbs

Cons of Adding Solar to the RV

Initial Cost

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.

Time

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.

There are many ways to unplug from the campground. You can choose to spend time on BLM land or at a Boondockers Welcome. These are two great options to unplug.

Solar is Confusing

solar can be 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.

Shade

Solar can not make power in shade
Shade Blocks the Solar Panels

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.


Boondocking in Quartzsite, AZ
Boondocking in Quartzsite, AZ

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!


Boondocking in the Sonoran Desert
Our backyard while boondocking in the Sonoran Desert, AZ

Our RV Solar Install

Solar install roof layout
Panel Layout

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

Wire drop from solar panels
Perfect Wire Drop Location

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!

Supply List

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!

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully, we will see you on the road someday.

Phil & Stacy

Author: Stacy, You, Me & the RV, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, 2019

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25 Comments

  • Avatar

    Kevin Hirsch

    I thought that you had mentioned a solar supplier in Tampa area that you had used for your panels, what was the name of that business? Thanks, Kevin

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      It wasn’t a solar place it was an electrical place. The electrical place is called Louis Pryor Electrical. We purchased our solar through Continuous Resource.

    • Avatar

      Diane Jungert

      Hi Guys,
      We saw on your Battleborn install that you had a app on your phone to monitor state of charge. Can you please let us know what app is that. We also have a Magnasine inverter. Thanks so much. You guys are the best.
      Diane & Mitch Jungert

  • Avatar

    Murray

    After watching your video . I wonder why you needed so many panels. I have two 100 watts. This works for me mine was under 500.00 dollars. One thing I didn’t,t do was dill holes in my roof. I glued mine . it hash,t came off yet. Been 5 years.but great job guys.

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      We need the panels to in order to harvest enough to replenish everything we use. We live like we are in a house so I use the instant pot, hairdryer, tvs, microwave, and residential fridge.

  • Avatar

    Nicholas Marshall

    Great video guys. I would be interested in what settings you used for your ARC50? Did you use the CC/CV settings or Custom?
    Thanks
    Nick
    727-512-4321

  • Avatar

    Greg Berryman

    I too fear holes in the roof. Each panel is attached with four corner tabs. How are these brackets attached to the roof. I don’t see any screws ???

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      The brackets had VHB tape on the bottom of them for our fiberglass roof. I added eternabond tape to each bracket and a dab of dicor for peace of mind.

  • Avatar

    Brian Collins

    Hello – I’m wondering if you have a concern about damage due to weather (i.e. hail or heavy rain) or other issues like stones kicked up by trucks or other vehicles passing you? We’re looking at going full-time within the next few years and your videos have been extremely helpful while we research this so thanks very much!!

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      Hail is an issue for an RV with or without solar panels so we have to be cautious if that is in the forecast. Not worried much about rocks but we will need to watch for low hanging tree branches.

  • Avatar

    Al Lewis

    What are you doing for power to the AC units? I have an inverter/charger. Though it is fine for the fridge and TV’s it is not able to power an AC unit. Here in Florida (where I have sticks and bricks) I need AC most of the year. My concern is the expense and still having to run the genset to power AC. Anna and I have two small dogs to keep cool! Love those Battle Born batteries!

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      If we need the A/C we will have to run the generator (which we have done in the past). Although we could use our lithium to power the A/C it would suck down an entire 100 amp hour battery in only 1 hour. So it would kill them in no time.

  • Avatar

    Don New

    Looking forward to seeing how your solar install progresses. I will be doing a solar and Battle Born install within the next few months. I have a Tiffin Phaeton so I am very interested what wire channel you have found. My Phaeton is all electric (no gas cooking or heat). Thanks for sharing.

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      We will be doing updates on how it is performing and if we the panels are enough to keep up with our usage. Good luck with your upgrade.

  • Avatar

    Tim

    Thanks for the video – I saw in the video a frame with a bit of what appeared to be a Magnum Hybrid Inverter. Just curious if that was OEM installed on your coach or if you installed it? How has the load sharing performed for you?
    Thanks

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      We installed the Magnum 3000 inverter back in May when we did our Battle Born battery install. The rig came with a 2000 watt. The load sharing has been fine. No problems. It works just as advertised.

  • Avatar

    Chuck Halva

    Great video and information! Just curious if you hadn’t already upgraded your battery bank to Battle Born batteries, would that have been an additional expense?

    Chuck

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      It is not necessary to upgrade to lithium when adding solar to the roof. Many people never upgrade to lithium. Solar works great with any type of battery. I hope this is what you were asking.

  • Avatar

    Mia Rosario

    Awesome video thank you guys I’m learning a lot I have been following you for the last 2 and a 1/2 years. I’m 60 years old but I can’t retire just yet I’m counting the days!! I currently have a 2017 Forest River Surveyor LE That I do my weekend camping in. So, I am living by Kerry asli through your adventures so thank you for everything.

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      Mia we are so glad you are here with us! We appreciate all of your support! Enjoy those weekends and maybe we will see ya out there one day.

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