How to Install a Solar  System on Your RV? An Ultimate Guideline

The decision to rely on solar power to power your RV is but one step is making the transition. The next question is which solar panels you want to buy and the related equipment you need, such as inverters.

Installation is a challenge for many, but if you perform it yourself, you’ll learn a lot that makes troubleshooting problems much simpler in the future. 

We’ll explain how to install a solar power system on your RV, providing a general overview. Recognize that specific details related to your particular setup and the hardware you purchased may not be addressed here. 

Is the solar system easy to install on RV?

This is a question you should have asked when you were shopping for the best solar power systems. Some solar power systems come with everything you need, such as supportive frames, mounting hardware and all the associated cables.

Other solar power systems provide solar panels and a control box but leave you to find compatible cables, connectors and mounting hardware. In general, the less that comes with the solar panels, the harder it will be to install. 

What do you need to start installation? 


Its another important question that "What do you need to install a solar power system?". The main components are the solar panel (or panels), solar batteries, inverter, and the associated items you need to make everything work. 

01. Solar Panel 

The solar panels are the core of the solar power system. You need enough solar panels with the right level of efficiency to provide the power that you need.

For example, 200 watt solar panels will never be able to power a 1000 watt refrigerator. Instead, select solar panels that will survive the operating conditions you’ll be using them in and, in unison, deliver enough power to meet your needs. 

Note that both the solar panels and solar batteries need to be rated for the conditions you’ll be operating them in. Whether the temperatures are near zero or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, your solar power system goes down whether the battery or solar panels stop working at those temperatures. 

The same is true for harsh environments. If you’re going to try to generate solar power in harsh conditions, it doesn’t matter if the solar batteries or solar panel wiring fails on exposure to the waves or rain. You’re left in the dark either way. 

02. Solar Batteries 

Solar batteries receive the direct current power from the solar panels and store it for later use. You probably want a separate set of batteries for receiving solar power and storing it for use in the RV than using solar panels to directly charge your house batteries, though the house batteries could be recharged via the solar panels, too.

Solar batteries are made to handle the daily recharge and discharge that comes with solar cycles, and they’re generally plug-and-play with solar controllers. 

Solar batteries may come with a charge controller, especially if you buy a solar power kit that contains several solar panels and battery as one set. However, even in this case, you want to buy your own inverter. 

03. Power Inverter 

You need an inverter for several reasons. The first is that only an inverter will turn the direct current power from solar batteries into alternative current you need to run conventional appliances.

The second is that inverters can have the necessary protective measures in them to prevent shorts and fluctuations in power upstream from shorting out equipment downstream. You don’t want a lightning strike hitting your solar panels and shorting out everything connected to your power system. 

The third reason to have a good power inverter is that power inverters often deliver the stable power needed to safely power and recharge laptops and smart phones. 

Not all inverters have the less than three percent total harmonic distortion that makes it safe to charge or power your electronics, but you can’t safely do this at all from the variable DC power from the typical solar power system. 

Inverters may be able to double as a backup power source, whether it can act as an emergency light when the power goes out or can provide 15 minutes of power after the batteries die. 

04. Additional Items 

You’re probably going to need a rigid handheld power drill to construct the frames that will protect the solar panels and hold them in place on the top of your vehicle.

I. Rigid hand held power drill

You’re probably going to need a rigid handheld power drill to construct the frames that will protect the solar panels and hold them in place on the top of your vehicle.

The drill is likely going to be used to mount the panels permanently in place on the RV, as well. You need a drill bit kit to go with the drill, since this is what allows you to drill a variety of precise holes through a variety of materials. 

Don’t try to push screws through the top of the RV, when you could damage the screw and be left with connecting hardware that won’t stay securely in place. 

II. Aluminum roof paint 

Aluminum roof paint is an under-appreciated item when you’re installing a solar panel for RV use. However, that black surface is designed to absorb sunlight, and it will absorb heat, too.

Aluminum roof paint forms a shiny, tough and reflective surface underneath the solar panels. You should paint the roof of the RV with aluminum roof paint to prevent the RV from heating up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

In fact, you could see the same benefits by painting the top of your RV with that paint even if you aren’t installing solar panels.

III. Aluminum/rubber tape

Aluminum/rubber tape is a very sticky rubber adhesive that sticks to otherwise difficult to adhere to surfaces. This includes the curved roof edge of your RV and the edge of a solar panel.

You shouldn’t try to tape solar panels into place, but this type of tape can cover screw-in points, help you pick up a loose screw and seal the edges of a frame against the elements.

We recommend aluminum/rubber tape in addition to the electrical tape you should have on hand to cover up gaps in the wire or secure exposed wires. 

IV.Wire cutters

Wire cutters are something you should use with reservation. Once you cut a wire, you cannot safely add it back. However, if you have very long stretches of wiring, you may appreciate the ability to trip wires so that you don’t have to fit an extra foot of wire in your utility cabinet.

A good cable cutter, though, will create the clean breaks that are easy to solder or attach in the junction box, whereas frayed wires are harder to attach and are prone to shorting. 

Here are the 10 steps to install a solar system


At this point, you should have all of the necessary components to create a solar power system for your RV. The next question is: How do you install a solar system? After all, there is far more work needed than setting an RV solar panel in the sun and plugging it into the electrical system. 

1st Step: Collect Everything 

Your solar kit probably includes the solar panels, the inverter and electrical hardware. Verify that you have essentials like brackets, screws, and the solar cable connectors for your panels.

Sealants and adhesives probably aren’t included in the solar panel kit, and we’ve already mentioned that you need to get the solar and heat reflective paint.

Go ahead and pick up extra electrical tape and duct tape, because you don’t want to find your installation process on hold because you’re missing a key component.

Decide now if you want to tilt the solar panels to be mounted flat or if you want to be able to tilt them to get as much sun as possible. If the latter, then you need to buy the appropriate tilt kits now, before you start installing the RV solar panel array. 

2nd Step: Verify Your Overall Plan

Measure your roof and panels and determine where you want the solar panels installed. Verify that the solar panels in their frames can be mounted the way you want them attached to the vehicle. If they extend past the roof of the RV, you may want to mount them on a frame whose struts could be connected to the RV.

Make sure that all of the solar panels fit the way you expect them to fit, since it is easier to revise plans on the drawing board than try to alter your installation plan after you’ve screwed the first few items down. 

Keep your solar panels away from vent fan covers, satellite antennas and A/C vents. Verify the distance from the solar panels to the battery bank; you want this distance to be less than 25 feet. Decide now if you’ll wire the panels in series or in parallel.

Determine where you’re going to locate solar controllers, batteries and inverters. These need to be kept inside and protected from the elements, while batteries also need to be somewhere with good ventilation. This is double true if you’re using lead acid batteries.

The fuses for the inverters should be readily accessible for when they need to be replaced. You want to have the remote display and charge controller somewhere you can easily see it but don’t have the light shining in your face at night. 

3rd Step: Do the Prep Work

If you’re going to mount the solar panels on the top or sides of the vehicle, first clean the roof of the RV. Then apply the solar reflective paint to the outside of your vehicle and let it dry before you try to mount anything.

Assemble the solar panel frames if they aren’t already around the solar panels.

4th Step: Install Your Batteries 

The solar batteries should ideally be stored in a water-proof storage bay. The ideal location is a dedicated battery bay that some RVs have; these bays will have vents on the doors. 

Given their value and the danger they pose if damaged, you’ll either want to store them in a small bay that doesn’t leave them room to shift or glue them into place.

We recommend installing the batteries before you start drilling holes in the roof of the RV, because if the batteries don’t fit, you either have to replace them or find a new home for them, and this could alter the layout of the solar panels. 

5th Step: Begin Mounting Hardware 

Once you’ve decided where you want everything to be located and ensured that your key components are within acceptable distance of each other and far enough away from potential problems, you can begin mounting hardware.

Determine where you want everything to be, and mark the locations with pencil so you don’t forget. Then begin drilling the holes in the roof of the RV and attaching the solar panels’ mounting hardware.

At this point, you should be screwing the solar panel frames to the top of the RV. 

6th Step: Run the Wires to the Inside

Once the solar panels are installed, you need to run the power cables to the interior of the RV. A common way of doing this is through the roof vent or through the refrigerator, if the RV is not prewired for solar from the factory.

If you will have a junction box on the roof that the solar panels will be connected to, the junction box may be mounted on the roof and surrounded by waterproof sealant as long as the junction box is rated for exposure to the elements. 

7th Step: Seal the Holes

Once the solar panels are securely in place, cover each of the feet and screw holes with self-leveling sealer. Cover the screw heads. This prevents the screws from rusting on exposure to the elements, and it ensures that water can’t seep into the RV through the holes. 

8th Step: Wire Up the Interior

The wires from the roof may be run directly to your solar batteries, connected to a solar power controller that lets you direct power to the batteries or RV electrical system, or run through an inverter that doubles as a controller.

We recommend wiring the solar panels to the controller and/or inverter inside of the RV. You can mount the controller on a plastic board before you install it to minimize the odds of electrical grounding problems. 

9th Step: Connect the Internal Systems to the Batteries 

The wires from the solar panels to the controller or inverter inside the RV need to be connected to the batteries. You can use plastic grommets in the holes you drill from the interior of the RV to the storage bay so that the metal won’t tear into the wire, something that could cause shorts.

Hook the wires to the batteries with ring connectors. 

10th Step: Test It

Once you think you have everything connected, the final step is to plug in the solar panels and test how the system works. Are the solar panels delivering power to the controller? How much are you generating? How much is reaching the batteries? 

What if you aren’t getting power? Check for shorts or loose connections. If you’re blowing fuses, you may need to change your wiring, alter how you’re connecting things, or consult with a power systems technician.

If you’re not getting enough power from the solar panels, it may be due to the positioning of the solar panels, your wiring, or another issue. 

Conclusion 

Installing a solar power system allows you to save money over pre-built solar panel systems, and it is a good way to create your own solar power system.

We’ve provided a high-level overview of how to install a solar power system in your RV. 


You May Also Like_