Currently Wandering » Outdoor Family, Adventure Travel, Simple Living - Family of 5 Traveling the United States in an Airstream.

Power Upgrade – What I don’t know about Installing Solar

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When I mentioned a power upgrade on Instagram, I received plenty of recommendations, and an overwhelming vote of confidence from those convinced I could do the install myself. I had been planning on having a professional installer do the work, and I thought I’d enumerate my reservations about doing a self-install here, for enlightenment, humor, and surely rebuttal.

I don’t know where to run the wires.

This is my largest issue. I’ve been up on the roof enough to be comfortable arranging, mounting, and sealing the panels to the roof. I can even run wires to a combiner box. What I don’t know is a good way to get those wires from the roof to the relevant places inside the Airstream.

One option is the fridge vent. I’ve done that before, having run my external antenna wires that route. The trouble is getting from behind the fridge over to where the solar charge controller lives, which is surely either in the front under the bed or in the galley floor panel. Either path is difficult to make work.

The other option is to drop the wires down through a hole above the pantry, but I would still need to run wire forward to the battery, and I’m not loving the external pipe route that I’ve seen on the AirForums.

In addition to the panels-to-controller box, I have the wires to run to the remote control and monitor panels. I can mount the box easy enough, but I’m not sure where the wires would need to make the trip from.

I have Zero DC Experience.

I could probably work past this one if I needed, by following diagrams and asking lots of questions. My biggest worry here is screwing something up, and either causing lots of damage or having to pay somebody serious $ to sort it all out.

I don’t travel with many tools.

I’m a pretty handy guy, but I’m not traveling with many tools. The custom work I have done I did before I sold the house (and the tools) or with the help of friends and family. I only have a basic set of tools with me, which does not include even an electric drill or screwdriver.

I can work past this one as well, enlisting the help of similarly handy friends.

Solar Rebate

Right now, I can get 30% back on a solar purchase as a tax credit, and that includes the cost of the installation. This brings the effective cost down quite a bit, and I don’t have to worry about all the complex issues. Call me lazy, but it is tempting.

Hybrid Approach?

At the moment, I’m leaning towards a hybrid install: part professional, part DIY. The portions of the install I’m least familiar with are the base system and monitor installation. A battery upgrade/replacement is doable, as is adding adding panels and wiring it to the combiner box. I’ve even already ordered a new multi-stage converter/charger that I plan to self install over the next week or so. (I ordered the Progressive Dynamics (PD4655V) 55 Amp Converter/Charger that installs as a drop in replacement for the single stage Parallax 7355 Converter Charger original to our Airstream.)

So there you have it: my concerns about self-installing solar. If you have information or guidance, please do share!

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