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Old 10-19-2009, 10:02 AM   #1
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DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

In planning my DIY homebuild, one thing kind of scares me:

The electrical system.

I admit that I'm not a hardcore handyman at all. Yes, I'll be able to build my own furniture for inside my van (I do have experience in building furniture), and I think I'll be able to figure out the fresh water (and gray) system. BUT, an electrician I am most definitely NOT....

That said, I'm planning many electrical items for my DIY build:

- At least 2 solar panels
- solar controller
- either 2 AGM batteries or one huge battery
- battery isolator
- inverter
- shore power (AC) input
- charger
- water pump
- LED lughting
- 1 or 2 AC outlets
- DC outlets
- heat (furnace or hydronic, still need blower fans)
- cooling (no air conditioner - just portable fans)

I think that's it. LOL. I plan on boondocking 90% of the time, but I want the ability to plug into shore power and recharge if I want to. I'm not planning on any air conditioning, but I do plan on camping year-round, so a heating system is necessary. I'd love to go a step above a forced air heater and do something with hydronics, but we'll see. I want solar panels to recharge my batteries, and an isolator to protect them all. I can get AGM batteries at a really good price locally (at a battery warehouse), as well as other items at my local West Marine store....

I'm not planning on having a TV or DVD player, as my netbook/laptop will be our entertainment system. All I'd need is a way to recharge the battery in that. And I'm planning on LED lighting, and a small water pump for a sink only (no marine toilet). And a few fans (either for circulation/cooling or blowing hot air in a heating system), and a plug-in type of portable refrigerator (super-efficient top-load type). I think that's it. Otherwise, the camper will be for resting and sleeping, as we'll be hiking or biking or cooking outside during daytime hours.

My question is: does anyone know of an easy "RV electrical systems for Idiots" type of resource (book, online, etc) that could teach me how to wire my RV all by myself, or would you recommend that I pay a professional to just do it for me? I'd love to learn and do it myself, but overall, my safety is more important than getting educated or doing something wrong and I have no battery power at all.

Also, am I forgetting something important in my parts list? Or am I including something that I might not need?

Thanks for everyone's input in this!
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Old 10-19-2009, 10:40 AM   #2
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

Two recommendations:

First: Managing 12 Volts is a great book for gaining an understanding of all that's involved. It's a bit dated when it comes to discussing batteries, but everything else is timeless. You'll come away from it with a solid understanding of 12V electrics.

Second: don't buy your stuff at West Marine They'll charge you an arm and a leg. Shop online for all of your big-ticket items: www.google.com/products is your friend! (Or support local, if there's a mom-and-pop shop nearby.)

The most important thing is to plan it carefully before you start. Everything should be drawn out - not just what you'll have in your system, but where it will be placed. Then it's easy to figure out wire gauges, routing, fuses, etc.

Good luck!
Mike.
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Old 10-19-2009, 11:50 AM   #3
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

Drawing out the wiring before hand always helps me, so in addition to where everything will be placed, plan and draw your wiring too.
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Old 10-19-2009, 03:28 PM   #4
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

Quote:
Originally Posted by dave_in_delaware
Also, am I forgetting something important in my parts list? Or am I including something that I might not need?

Thanks for everyone's input in this!
You asked, so I will chime in. I know I am in the very small minority here, but you might consider dropping the AC system. I just have a small 700 w modified sign-wave inverter with a single outlet (point of use) and have not regretted it, and have only used that inverter maybe three times. You can buy a power brick for your laptop to plug it into DC. (Itís more efficient that way instead of going through the inverter anyway.) The 12v charger still allows you to plug into 110v shore power. (I do that to pre-charge the refrigerator before trips.) No feeder, breaker panel, or circuit wiring. You didnít mention it in your list, but if you have a refrigerator (the biggest energy hog of all) you can get a 12v only type.
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Old 10-20-2009, 02:35 AM   #5
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

Hi,

I sort of agree with charlie56

I am not planning a 230v (for you 110v in the US) system however...
The only thing I will have just in case I need to plug into shore power on a campground is a mains connector and fused single outlet in the van. I will also be able to feed this with my generator if needed when no shore power is available...

I my case the biggest energy use is lighting... I will be acquiring a fridge with 12v/230v/gas(butane) so as soon as I stop I switch to the butane bottles... I reckon in getting about 10-15 hours continuous with about 2kg of butane...

If you're interested I will be soon posting photos of my setup in my build thread...

Good luck with the installation
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Old 10-20-2009, 08:22 AM   #6
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

Dave,
If you undertake the 12 volts install yourself you will need to invest in some tools. One of the most important areas (other then the already mentioned lay-out) is the connections. You should make sure that you have a very good crimping tools, as the connections can be one of the biggest problem.

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Old 10-20-2009, 08:52 AM   #7
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

And one of these:


Make sure it's metal bodied, but once you get familiar with it it's the bomb for stripping countless wires, which is what you'll be faced with. You'll be stripping and crimping until your brain is numb... fun stuff though!
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Old 10-20-2009, 09:36 AM   #8
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

I agree with the quality wire stripper. I'd also recommend quality wire terminals and connectors. It definitely takes more time to do it right, but it takes less time to do it right ONCE, than troubleshoot it over and over again. I'd recommend quality terminals and connectors like these, which you crimp and the insulator is made of heat shrink material.

http://order.waytekwire.com/productdeta ... 6-14%20GA/


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Old 10-20-2009, 01:38 PM   #9
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

Quote:
Originally Posted by saabman
Hi,

I sort of agree with charlie56

I am not planning a 230v (for you 110v in the US) system however...
The only thing I will have just in case I need to plug into shore power on a campground is a mains connector and fused single outlet in the van. I will also be able to feed this with my generator if needed when no shore power is available...
mon
I hired my 12V work done -- in my case, this was the best solution in the time-knowledge-tools-money trade-fff equation.

I did not have a 110V system put in: when I owned a "real" SMB, I never used 110V. All my toys (laptop, camera, etc) have 12V chargers.

However, I would like add what Saabman is planning: a shore power connector which feeds directly to a single 110V outlet, so that I have the option of running a space heater if necessary. But this wouldn't need to be connected to the 12V system in any way.

--GreyDawg
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Old 10-30-2009, 01:51 PM   #10
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Re: DIY Electrical System: Resources? Suggestions?

i have started a similar project allthought not quite as extensive

1 AGM battery (2nd one optional)
battery separator
shore power
charger/converter
fridge
...

i have all the pieces here and figured out all the wiring and had it set up in the house for testing and all works fine. Am planning to get started putting it in the van as soon as i have some time

it took a while to figure out all the pieces needed and find the parts and tools to do all of it.

I will try to get all the information together and post a followup here with it
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