When we first started thinking about our vanlife electrical system and buying our components, we had a lot of questions. We researched online, read other van build blogs and forum posts, and watched Youtube videos. Some were very helpful, but many left us with a swirl of even more questions.

We were learning a lot about circuits and electrical systems, but we were also overwhelmed by all the new knowledge coming at us from all directions. Electrical is such a vital part of any van build, and we wanted to get it right.

We longed for a resource that told us: Buy this. Connect it like this. Here’s a diagram.

This post is an attempt to make such a resource.

In this post, we go over exactly what we bought, exactly how we connected everything, and we even have pictures and diagrams (yay)!

For those of you interested in further reading, we also include links to blog posts and other resources that helped us out along the way.

We want this post to be as accurate and helpful as possible, so if we get something wrong or you want us to clear something up, let us know in the comments!

Obligatory Disclaimer: This post describes what we did with our own system based on our own research, and we hope you’ll find it helpful. That said, we are NOT ELECTRICIANS. Working with electricity in any form can be dangerous. It’s always a good idea to read the manuals for all of your components and consult with a licensed electrician before performing any electrical work.

Mega List of Everything We Used in Our Electrical Install

all the electrical components for our van build
All of our components laid out. The Renogy charge controller looks a bit different than the current model, but the function and installation are the same.

Main Components

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow"><img class ="ais75" src="https://gnomadhome.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Renogy-400W-Premium-Solar-Kit-600px-meta-stripped.jpg"></a>
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 400-Watt MPPT Solar Kit</b></a><br /><i>Enter coupon code <b>GnomadHome</b> for 10% off at Renogy.com</i>
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/3dTllq0" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
VMAX SLR155 AGM 12V 155ah Deep Cycle SLA Rechargeable Battery for Solar and Golf, Pv Solar Panels, Smart Chargers, Wind Turbine and Inverters
<a href="http://amzn.to/2ptORdJ" rel="nofollow"><b>VMAX 155-Ah AGM Battery (1-pack)</b></a><br>OR buy the <a href="https://amzn.to/2XbJXEn" rel="nofollow"><b>2-pack instead</b></a>
<a href="http://amzn.to/2ptORdJ" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">1-Pack</a><a href="https://amzn.to/2XbJXEn" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">2-Pack</a>
Xantrex Technology Inc, 806-1210 Inverter Prowatt Sw 1000
<a href="http://amzn.to/2GNumAJ" rel="nofollow"><b>Xantrex PROwatt SW 1000-Watt Inverter</b></a>
<a href="http://amzn.to/2GNumAJ" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Xantrex Technology Inc, 808-9001 Remote Panel for Prowatt Sw
<a href="http://amzn.to/2GS8aW4" rel="nofollow"><b>Xantrex PROwatt SW Remote Switch</b></a>
<a href="http://amzn.to/2GS8aW4" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Blue Sea Systems ST Blade Fuse Block - 12 Circuits with Negative Bus & Cover
<a href="https://amzn.to/39ZueLz" rel="nofollow"><b>Blue Sea Systems Blade Fuse Box with Negative Bus</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/39ZueLz" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Upgrade Pick
Battle Born 100Ah LiFePO4 12V Battery

Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries are THE best choice for modern camper vans.

Although they have a higher upfront cost than lead acid batteries, they last much longer, charge faster, and can be fully discharged without damage (which means just one of these batteries is the equivalent of two 100ah lead acid batteries).

Battle Born batteries are made in the US, and designed specifically for mobile living and off-grid dwellings.

Our #1 recommended battery choice.

View on Amazon Learn More
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Lights, Dimmers, and Outlets

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
acegoo RV Boat Recessed Ceiling Light 4 Pack Super Slim LED Panel Light DC 12V 3W Full Aluminum Downlights, Warm White (Silver)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2HuWOI3" rel="nofollow"><b>Acegoo RV LED Ceiling Light 4-Pack</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2HuWOI3" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
12 Volt DC Dimmer for LED, Halogen, Incandescent - RV, Auto, Truck, Marine, and Strip Lighting - Short Shaft - Silver
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qpgZix" rel="nofollow"><b>12 Volt DC LED Dimmer Switch</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qpgZix" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
BANDC Waterproof Marine Motorcycle ATV Rv Lighter Socket Power Outlet Socket Receptacle 12v Plug
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qpd993" rel="nofollow"><b>BANDC 12V Lighter Socket Outlet</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qpd993" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

Wiring and Connectors

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
Camco 47444 Black 5/16' Stud 24' Long 4-Gauge Marine Battery Cable and Lug Assembly Tinned
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EDOW44" rel="nofollow"><b>Camco Marine Battery Cable (2 & 4 AWG, various lengths)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EDOW44" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
WNI 8 AWG 8 Gauge 15 Feet Black + 15 Feet Red Battery Welding Pure Copper Ultra Flexible Cable + 5pcs of 5/16' & 5pcs 3/8' Copper Cable Lug Terminal Connectors + 3 Feet Heat Shrink Tubing
<a href="https://amzn.to/3aKePQy" rel="nofollow"><b>8 AWG Wiring (Red & Black) with Ring Terminals</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/3aKePQy" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
RGBSIGHT 40FT 18 Gauge Single Color LED Strip Extension Cable 18AWG 2pin 2 Color Red Black Stand Wire Conductor for LED Ribbon Lamp Tape Lighting (40 Feet per Spool)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2GS9hIS" rel="nofollow"><b>18 AWG Red/Black Strand Wire (40ft)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2GS9hIS" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Ancor Marine Grade Primary Wire and Battery Cable (Red, 100 Feet, 14 AWG)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qr68EP" rel="nofollow"><b>Ancor Marine Grade 14 AWG Wire, Red (100ft)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qr68EP" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Ancor Marine Grade Primary Wire and Battery Cable (Black, 100 Feet, 14 AWG)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2v8l400" rel="nofollow"><b>Ancor Marine Grade 14 AWG Wire, Black (100ft)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2v8l400" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Gardner Bender 10-104 100PK Ring Terminal, 100 Pack, Blue
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qsq2iu" rel="nofollow"><b>16-14 Ring Terminals (100-pack)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qsq2iu" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Ginsco 110pcs Female Blue 16-14 Gauge Nylon Fully-Insulated Quick Disconnects Wiring Spade Wire Crimp Terminal
<a href="https://amzn.to/2RchLOd" rel="nofollow"><b>16-14 Female Quick Disconnects (100-pack)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2RchLOd" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
220PCS Heat Shrink Butt Connectors - Sopoby Electrical Connectors - Waterproof Wire Connectors Terminals - Insulated Marine Automotive Copper Connector Kit (3 Colors/3 Sizes)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2XaTFqU" rel="nofollow"><b>Heat Shrink Butt Connectors Kit</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2XaTFqU" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

Fuses and Cutoff Switches

If you buy a premium solar kit from Renogy, it should come with two 30A/40A ANL fuses/holders, as well as the MC4 inline fuse/holder. You may still need additional ANL fuses for components that require a larger fuse, like your inverter or battery isolator.

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
Renogy 30A Male and Female Connector Waterproof in-Line Fuse Holder, 30A, Black
<a href="https://amzn.to/3aVnQGg" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 30A MC4 Inline Fuse Holder & Fuse</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/3aVnQGg" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Renogy 30A Set w Holder ANL Fuse
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EEjkLw" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 30A ANL Fuse Holder with Fuse</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EEjkLw" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Absolute ANL100-2, 2 Pack ANL Fuses 100 Amp Gold Plated
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EFvwvA" rel="nofollow"><b>100-Amp ANL Fuses, 2-pack</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EFvwvA" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
130PCS Standard Blade Car Fuse Assortment, SIM&NAT 1A 2A 3A 4A 5A 7.5A 10A 15A 20A 25A 30A 35A 40A Auto Medium Blade Fuses Kit - ATC/APR/ATO/ATS Automotive Fuse Assortment
<a href="https://amzn.to/34io9Zy" rel="nofollow"><b>Assorted Blade Fuses (130 pieces)</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/34io9Zy" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
BEP 701 Battery Switches - On-Off
<a href="https://amzn.to/2JFM0HJ" rel="nofollow"><b>BEP Battery On/Off Switch</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2JFM0HJ" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

Essential Tools

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
IRWIN VISE-GRIP Wire Stripping Tool / Wire Cutter, 8-Inch (2078309)
1<a href="https://amzn.to/2v4BnuN" rel="nofollow"><b>Irwin Electrician's Multitool</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2v4BnuN" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Klein Tools 3005CR Wire Crimper Tool, Ratcheting Insulated Terminal Crimper for 10 to 22 AWG Wire
<a href="https://amzn.to/3aJRTRb" rel="nofollow"><b>Klein Ratcheting Wire Crimping Tool</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/3aJRTRb" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
TEMCo Hammer Lug Crimper Tool 5 Year Warranty
1<a href="https://amzn.to/2wsTZpX" rel="nofollow"><b>TEMco Hammer Lug Crimper Tool
<a href="https://amzn.to/2wsTZpX" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Klein Tools 32500 Multi-Bit Screwdriver / Nut Driver 11-in-1 Multi Tool, 8 Industrial Strength Bits, 3 Nut Driver Sizes, Cushion Grip Handle
1<a href="https://amzn.to/2EEBtc7" rel="nofollow"><b>Klein Ratcheting Screwdriver</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EEBtc7" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Cordless Drill / Driver, 3/8-Inch (LDX120C)
1<a href="https://amzn.to/2V0o5JK" rel="nofollow"><b>Black & Decker 20V Cordless Drill</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2V0o5JK" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
RENOGY Solar Panel Connector Assembly Tool
1<a href="https://amzn.to/2HtpQrw" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy MC4 Assembly Tool</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2HtpQrw" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Duck Brand 299019 Professional Grade Electrical Tape, 3/4-Inch by 66 Feet, Single Roll, Black
1<a href="https://amzn.to/2EEOgeH" rel="nofollow"><b>Electrical Tape</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EEOgeH" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

Why You Need a Smart Battery Isolator

There’s one more component that we’ve discovered is vital to have on the road: a smart battery isolator.

We have the Keyline Chargers 140-Amp Smart Isolator in our van, and it has worked flawlessly for us.

Note: If you have a newer vehicle or are trying to charge a LiFePO4 battery bank, you will need a DC-DC battery charger like this one from Renogy (make sure to use the coupon code GnomadHome at checkout for 10% off your purchase).

A smart battery isolator allows you to charge your auxiliary batteries from your vehicle’s alternator while driving. This is a great supplement to solar panels, especially if you’re spending time in overcast or heavily forested environments where you don’t get as much sun.

Budget Note

If you only have a few hundred dollars to spend on your electrical system, we recommend starting with a good battery, a smart isolator, and an inverter. You can always add solar later.

Check out this detailed post for more information on battery isolators, what kind to get, and how to install one.

What Does All This Stuff Do?

That’s a pretty intense list. But don’t worry, it’s really not all that complicated. Let’s break it down from a bird’s eye view.

how solar power works for van life

The Sun
It all starts with the sun. The sun not only gives us life, it also constantly beams energy to us here on Earth. Using science, we can convert this energy into electricity to power vanlife!

Solar Panels
Solar panels absorb light from the sun, convert it into electricity, and send it on to the charge controller.

Charge Controller
The charge controller regulates the flow of electricity from the solar panels and uses it to charge your batteries.

The batteries we use store electricity at 12-Volt DC (direct current), which can power your lights, exhaust fan, fridge, USB/cigarette lighter outlets, and anything else that runs on DC. In our system, the electricity is fed from the batteries back to the charge controller, which then distributes it outward.

If you want to power something like a computer or other complex electronics that require a 3-pronged wall outlet, you’ll also need an inverter, which converts 12-Volt DC to 110-Volt AC (alternating current). This is connected directly to the battery.

That’s basically what’s going on in a 12-Volt van solar power electrical system. Everything else just connects the dots.

How Much Electricity Do You Need?

It’s a good idea to think about how much electricity you’ll use when deciding how many solar panels you need and how big your batteries should be. This can get a bit complicated, especially since there’s a lot you just don’t know about your usage if you’ve never lived in a van before.

But, if you want to make sure you have enough electricity to meet your daily usage while also not paying for more than you need, then going through the exercise of sizing your system is the best thing to do.

How to Size Your System in 3 Easy Steps

Step 1: Calculate the amount of electricity you plan on using in Watt-hours (Wh).

This sounds a bit scary, but it’s actually pretty easy.

First, list out all of the devices/appliances/components you plan on using, along with the amount of Watts each of them draws (this information should be easily available in the component’s instruction manual, or on the internet).

Next, calculate how many hours you plan on using each component. Multiple the Watts by the hours and you have Watt-hours!

Watts x Hours = Wh

So, if your lights use 5 watts and you have them on for 5 hours each day, their power consumption is 25 Wh per day (5W x 5h = 25Wh).

Step 2: Determine the amount of battery capacity you need.

For this example, let’s pretend all your electrical components use 1200 Wh each day.

Battery capacity is measured in amp-hours (ah), so to figure out how big your battery needs to be, convert the 1200 Wh of power consumption into ah by dividing by the system voltage (12V).

1200 Wh / 12V = 100ah.

Based on this calculation, you would need 100ah of battery. But this also depends on the type of battery that you have.

You see, most types of batteries shouldn’t be depleted below about 50% (this goes for regular flooded-lead-acid, AGM, and gel batteries). If these batteries below about 50% you risk shortening its lifespan and/or damaging them. So in reality, the usable capacity of these types of batteries is about half (i.e. 100ah battery = 50ah of usable capacity).

The exception here is LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) batteries. These batteries are more expensive than regular batteries, but you can deplete them 100% (they’re also lighter, safer, and last longer than regular batteries).

So how much battery capacity do you need to accommodate 100ah of usage per day?

  • Regular batteries (FLA, AGM, or Gel): 200ah of battery capacity will cover 100ah of usage, since you never want to deplete these batteries below 50%.
  • LiFePO4 batteries (lithium iron phosphate): 100ah of battery capacity will cover 100ah of usage, since these batteries can be depleted 100%.

Of course, these above numbers assume that you’re dealing with perfect charging conditions and that you never go over 100ah of usage. Reality always ends up a bit different, so if you have the budget it’s a good idea to add in some cushion.

Step 3: Figure out how many solar panels you need to fully charge your batteries each day.

Solar panels are in watts, so we’ll again use our 1200 watts of power consumption. Let’s divide that by the average amount of full sunlight per day (say, 5 hours) to get the amount of solar panels we need.

1200 Wh / 5 hours = 240 Watts. So, 240 Watts of solar panels should, in theory, fully charge your batteries each day and accommodate your power consumption.

Except that it never works that way. There’s shade, and clouds, and less sun in winter, and days where you consume more power than others. Something like three 100-watt panels would be a much safer bet.

Budget-Based System Sizing

Sizing your system appropriately can be challenging, especially if you’ve never lived in a van before. There’s just a lot you won’t know about your real-world usage, and a lot you won’t be able to foresee before you hit the road.

Another method is taking a budget-based approach to your electrical system, and adding capacity as-needed.

If you have a barebones budget, you don’t need a huge, expensive solar setup. But if you can afford it, having a large system will make your life easier and means fewer compromises in your electrical usage.

Here are the main components we recommend for different budget levels:

Barebones Budget

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
Vmaxtanks VMAXSLR125 AGM 12V 125Ah SLA Rechargeable Deep Cycle Battery for Use with Pv Solar Panels Smart chargers, Wind Turbines and Inverters and Backup Power (12 Volt 125Ah Group 31 AGM)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2v8XikE" rel="nofollow"><b>VMAX 125Ah Solar AGM Battery</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2v8XikE" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Xantrex Technology Inc, 806-1206 Inverter Prowatt Sw 600
<a href="https://amzn.to/2GUmb9m" rel="nofollow"><b>Xantrex PROwatt SW 600-watt Inverter</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2GUmb9m" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
12V 140 Amp Dual Battery Smart Isolator by KeyLine - VSR - Voltage Sensitive Relay Specially Designed for ATV, UTV, Boats, RV's, Campers 5th Wheels Off Road Vehicles Rhino Polaris Artic Cat ETC
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qq2LxK" rel="nofollow"><b>Keyline Chargers Smart Battery Isolator</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qq2LxK" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

If you have a tight budget, starting off with a good inverter, a battery, and a battery isolator should meet very basic electrical needs (charging phones/computers, some lights). You can always add on solar capabilities later if you need to.

Midrange Budget

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-200w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow"><img class="ais75" src="https://gnomadhome.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Renogy-200W-Premium-Solar-Kit-600px-meta-stripped.jpg"></a>
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-200w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 200-watt Solar Kit</b></a><br /><i>Enter coupon code <b>GnomadHome</b> for 10% off at Renogy.com</i>
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-200w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/2V5Tvyj" rel="nofollow" class ="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Vmaxtanks VMAXSLR125 AGM 12V 125Ah SLA Rechargeable Deep Cycle Battery for Use with Pv Solar Panels Smart chargers, Wind Turbines and Inverters and Backup Power (12 Volt 125Ah Group 31 AGM)
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EDS3ZO" rel="nofollow"><b>VMAX 125Ah Solar AGM Batteries</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EDS3ZO" rel="nofollow" class ="amazon-table-button" >Amazon</a>
Xantrex Technology Inc, 806-1210 Inverter Prowatt Sw 1000
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EDAbhF" rel="nofollow"><b>Xantrex PROwatt SW 1000-watt Inverter</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2EDAbhF" rel="nofollow" class ="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
12V 140 Amp Dual Battery Smart Isolator by KeyLine - VSR - Voltage Sensitive Relay Specially Designed for ATV, UTV, Boats, RV's, Campers 5th Wheels Off Road Vehicles Rhino Polaris Artic Cat ETC
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qq2LxK" rel="nofollow"><b>Keyline Chargers Smart Battery Isolator</b></a>
<a href="https://amzn.to/2qq2LxK" rel="nofollow" class ="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

This midrange setup gets you started on the right foot, with more battery capacity and 200-watts of solar. This setup is completely expandable, so you can add more panels later if you need to.

Higher Budget

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
1Renogy 400-Watt MPPT Solar Kit
Enter coupon code GnomadHome for 10% off at Renogy.com
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/2Xb4uJy" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
VMAX SLR155 AGM 12V 155ah Deep Cycle SLA Rechargeable Battery for Solar and Golf, Pv Solar Panels, Smart Chargers, Wind Turbine and Inverters2VMAX 155-Ah AGM Battery (1-pack)
OR buy the 2-pack instead
<a href="https://amzn.to/3dYqQnh" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">1-Pack</a><a href="hhttps://amzn.to/2yrZXb5" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">2-Pack</a>
Xantrex 806-1220 PROwatt SW 2000 Inverter - 1800W, True Sine Wave1Xantrex PROwatt SW 2000-watt Inverter<a href="https://amzn.to/3dPOFhf" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
1Renogy 60A DC-DC Charger
Enter coupon code GnomadHome for 10% off at Renogy.com
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-60a-dc-dc-charger/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/3aJNnSZ" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

If your budget allows, a system this size should cover most electrical needs (unless you’re trying to run an AC or electric heater). Over 300Ah of battery capacity, DC-DC battery charger, 2000W inverter, and 400-watts of solar mean you’ll never have to worry about plugging in!

Highest Budget

ImageQty.ComponentCheck Price
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow"><img class ="ais75" src="https://gnomadhome.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Renogy-400W-Premium-Solar-Kit-600px-meta-stripped.jpg"></a>1<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 400-Watt MPPT Solar Kit</b></a><br /><i>Enter coupon code <b>GnomadHome</b> for 10% off at Renogy.com</i><a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-400w-premium-solar-kit/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/2Xb4uJy" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
Battle Born LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Battery - 100Ah 12v with Built-in BMS - 3000-5000 Deep Cycle Rechargeable Battery - Perfect for RV/Camper, Marine, Overland/Van, and Off Grid Applications2<a href="https://amzn.to/2XgK69X" rel="nofollow"><b>Battleborn 100ah LiFePO4 Battery</b></a><a href="https://amzn.to/2XgK69X" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-2000w-12v-pure-sine-inverter-charger/" rel="nofollow"><img class ="ais75" src="https://gnomadhome.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Renogy-2000W-Inverter-Charger-600px-meta-stripped.jpg"></a>1<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-2000w-12v-pure-sine-inverter-charger/" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 2000W Pure Sine Inverter Charger</b></a><br /><i>Enter coupon code <b>GnomadHome</b> for 10% off at Renogy.com</i><a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-2000w-12v-pure-sine-inverter-charger/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/2V2qXFR" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>
<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-60a-dc-dc-charger/" rel="nofollow"><img class ="ais75" src="https://gnomadhome.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Renogy-60A-DC-DC-Battery-Charger-600px-meta-stripped.jpg"></a>1<a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-60a-dc-dc-charger/" rel="nofollow"><b>Renogy 60A DC-DC Charger</b></a><br /><i>Enter coupon code <b>GnomadHome</b> for 10% off at Renogy.com</i><a href="https://gnomadhome.com/renogy-60a-dc-dc-charger/" rel="nofollow" class="renogy-table-button">Renogy</a><a href="https://amzn.to/3aJNnSZ" rel="nofollow" class="amazon-table-button">Amazon</a>

Top of the line (and better-performing) LiFePO4 batteries add a serious upgrade here, and the 2000W inverter charger allows you to plug in as needed (which can come in handy in a pinch).

Choosing Solar Panels and Batteries

Now that you know what size system you need, it’s time to select the actual components.

What We Went With

We decided to go with Renogy’s 400-watt solar kit with 40A MPPT charge controller, and paired it with two VMAX 155ah batteries (for 310ah of total capacity).

Just about everything you need to set up solar in your van, including wiring and fuses.

Enter coupon code GnomadHome at checkout for 10% off at Renogy.com

VMAX SLR155 AGM 12V 155ah Deep Cycle SLA Rechargeable Battery for Solar and Golf, Pv Solar Panels, Smart Chargers, Wind Turbine and Inverters

If you're not ready to make the jump to LiFePO4, then these heavy duty AGM batteries are the ones to get.

Since we didn’t know enough about what our electricity needs would be, we had a tough time calculating the exact size that our system needed to be. From watching Youtube videos and reading blogs, it seemed like many vandwellers just barely scrape by with two 100-watt solar panels, so we decided to go with the biggest system we could afford.

We were only able to fit three of the panels on our van’s roof, but we’ve got the fourth stashed under the bed.

We built a foldout PVC frame for this “extra” panel so we can prop it up and plug it in when needed. This lets us park in the shade on really hot days while still charging our batteries from the sun.

Is our system too big? We don’t think so.

Having this much solar allows us to be 100% off-grid, and we rarely have to worry too much about our power consumption. We’ve met people on the road with smaller systems that regularly worry about making sure they have enough juice to keep their fridge running.

And even with a system this big, we have run low on juice in certain scenarios. If we’re in overcast climates or heavily forested areas (or both) for more than five days or so, and if we’re staying in one place and not driving much, then our batteries start to get down to the 12.0V-12.2V range in the morning. But because of our system size, we can boondock longer in the same spot, in all weather and environments, and still do everything we need to do.

Can you get by with less? Absolutely.

If you’re tighter on funds, Renogy’s 200-watt kit paired with a smart battery isolator is a great place to start. You can always add more panels later.

Whatever you go with, we recommend getting an MPPT charge controller instead of a PWM controller. MPPT controllers are able to squeeze higher efficiency from your solar panels. They’re supposedly up to 25-30% more efficient than PWM controllers. MPPT controllers are more expensive up front, but they’ll allow you to stretch your system much further.

Basic Circuitry: What You Need to Know

Going too deep into basic electronics is beyond the scope of this post, but it definitely helps to visualize how a simple circuit looks when designing your system.

Here’s a diagram of a basic DC circuit:

DC circuit-diagram

Closing the switch completes the circuit and allows electricity to flow between the battery and the lights. One common analogy used here is that of a water pipe. If there’s a break in the pipe, water won’t be able to flow.

A fuse is an intentional weak point in a circuit. It’s there for safety. If too much current flows through the circuit, the fuse will “blow” and break the circuit.

“Grounding” in van life electrical is a connection to the vehicle’s chassis. This is also for safety. In our install, we grounded the battery and the inverter.

For further reading about how electrical systems work in the context of a van, we highly recommend checking out Van Dog Traveler’s ebook. It’s packed with detailed information on electrical (and other aspects of a van build).

Designing Our System (With an Awesome Wiring Diagram!)

In designing our system, we leaned heavily on wiring diagrams we found on the internet, particularly the one in this post by Van Dog Traveller (his ebook has even more detailed diagrams. Seriously, get it).

But all the diagrams we found gave us a lot of partial information or only halfway applied to our system, and led to some confusion on our part.

After all of our research, we couldn’t find an all-encompassing diagram that showed us exactly how everything in our system fit together. So we made one.


We highly recommend diagramming your system so you know exactly how everything is supposed to connect. Just drawing it out really helps you think it through and get it straight in your head.

Making Sure You Have the Right Size Wires and Fuses

This can be a bit confusing if you’re new to electrical work. But it’s important to get it right if you don’t want to deal with any electrical or safety issues down the road.

Below, we break down exactly how to calculate the wire sizes you need, and give you some tips on selecting the right fuses for your circuits.

Choosing the Correct Wire Sizes

Ancor Marine Grade Primary Wire and Battery Cable (Red, 100 Feet, 14 AWG)

Choosing proper wire sizes is an important step in any electrical install. If your wires are too thin, it can be a significant safety hazard. If your wires are too thick, you’ll be spending more than you need and your wiring will be harder to work with.

Note: In the United States, wire size is measured in American Wire Gauge (or AWG). AWG gauges may be different than wire gauges used in other countries. Since we are in the US, we used wires measured in AWG for our electrical install.

The size wire that you choose should be based on the amount of current going through the wire and the length of the wire run. You want to use a wire size that’s thick enough to safely handle the electrical current without experiencing too much voltage drop.

How do you figure out the max current that will be going through your wires?

Your lights, appliances, and other electronics should have their max current available in their technical specifications.

For DC appliances this should be listed in amps (max amperage). If your component specs lists this in watts, divide that number by the system voltage (so divide by 12 for a 12V DC system).

How do you figure out the length of your wire run?

First, you’ll need to measure the distance the wiring is going to travel. Then double it.

What?! Double it?! Yup. When calculating wire sizing for DC systems, the wire length refers to the total length of both the positive and negative wire.

So, if you’re wiring an outlet that will be 5 feet from your fuse box, your wire length is actually 10 feet – 5 for the positive wire, and another 5 for the negative wire to complete the circuit.

Okay, so now that I know my max current and wire length, how do I figure out what wire size I need?

Blue Sea Systems has an awesome “Circuit Wizard” calculator on their website that can help you determine the proper wire size for what you need.

Simply enter the system voltage, the max current, and the total wire length. The calculator will spit out the recommended wire gauge for you:

blue sea systems circuit wizard
Blue Sea Systems Circuit Wizard wire sizing calculator

We also found this helpful automotive wire sizing calculator from Wire Barn that shows you more detail on what gauges will or won’t work, as well as other pieces of information like voltage drop for each.

Here’s an example of choosing the correct wire size using our Acegoo 12V LED lights

acegoo RV Boat Recessed Ceiling Light 4 Pack Super Slim LED Panel Light DC 12V 3W Full Aluminum Downlights, Warm White (Silver)

We have a 12V electrical system, so we’ll use that as our system voltage.

System voltage = 12V

Per the tech specs on our Acegoo 12V recessed LED lights, they have a max current of 3W per light. To convert that to amperage, we divide by the system volume (3W / 12V = 0.25A).

Each light is wired individually to the switch, so we need wire that can handle 0.25A of current.

Max current = 0.25A

We planned on installing each light no more than 6-10 feet from the switch (we’ll assume 10 feet to be on the safe side). To get our total wire length, we’ll multiple 10 feet by 2 to account for both the positive and negative wire.

Wire length = 20 feet

Plugging all these numbers into the Circuit Wizard spits out a recommend wire thickness of 22 AWG. (We ended up using 18 AWG to be extra safe).

But that’s not all. We also need to wire the dimmer switch down to the fuse box. Since we have sic LED lights wired to one dimmer, we need to multiply the light current by 6 to get our max current:

Max current = 1.5A

The distance between the dimmer and fuze box is about 4 feet. Double that to get the total wire length:

Wire length = 8 feet

Plugging these numbers into the Circuit Wizard gives us a recommended wire gauge of 18 AWG. (We ended up using 14 AWG here, again to be safe, and so we could use the same wiring for our dimmer switches and outlets).

You’ll want to run this same calculation to get the proper wire sizes for all your components. In general, the wiring for things like lights, outlets, fan, fridge, and other DC components will be probably between 12 AWG and 18 AWG.

You’ll need much thicker wiring for your batteries, inverter, and ground cables. Again, you’ll want to calculate this yourself based on max current, length, and manufacturer recommendations. We used mostly 4 AWG battery cable for the batteries, and thicker 2 AWG cable for the inverter and ground connections.

Choosing the Correct Fuse Sizes

130PCS Standard Blade Car Fuse Assortment, SIM&NAT 1A 2A 3A 4A 5A 7.5A 10A 15A 20A 25A 30A 35A 40A Auto Medium Blade Fuses Kit - ATC/APR/ATO/ATS Automotive Fuse Assortment

Choosing the right fuse sizes for your circuits is very important for safety. A fuse is an intentional weak point in a circuit. If the current in the circuit ever gets dangerously high, the fuse will “blow,” breaking the circuit and saving you from some major electrical problems.

For your electrical loads (lights, outlets, fan, fridge, etc.), we recommend wiring everything into an automotive blade fuse box and picking up a set of blade fuses.

As a general rule, choose fuses that are above the max current of your circuit load, but below the amperage rating of your wiring.

Going back to our LED light example – the total max current of our light circuit is 1.5A. So, we fused this circuit with a 2A fuse. This is above the max current of our lights, but well below the amperage rating of the 14 AWG wiring we used.

For larger items like your batteries and inverter, you’ll want to use a different type of fuse. We used ANL fuse holders with the proper fuses for our batteries and inverter, and an inline MC4 fuse holder to fuse our solar panels.

Make sure to check the manuals for your solar charge controller, inverter, and batteries for manufacturer-recommended fuse sizes.

Note: Renogy’s premium solar kits include ANL fuses/holders, as well as an MC4 inline fuse holder. Then you’ll just need some larger ANL fuses for your inverter. And, if you use the coupon code GnomadHome at checkout, you’ll get 10% off your purchase!

Cutting and Crimping Wires

IRWIN VISE-GRIP Wire Stripping Tool / Wire Cutter, 8-Inch (2078309)

How do all these wires connect to each other and your components? With crimp connectors!

We used three kinds of crimp connectors for the thinner gauge wiring (22-10 AWG) in our van build: ring terminals, 1/4″ female quick disconnects, and butt splice connectors.

Pick up a basic electrician’s multi-tool and you’ll be crimping wires in no time. If you want to get a little more serious, you can pick up a ratcheting crimp tool for no-nonsense crimps that you know are strong.

Read more: Check out this article for a tutorial on crimping wires.

Crimping Battery Cable

TEMCo Hammer Lug Crimper Tool 5 Year Warranty

Crimping terminals onto battery cable (8 AWG and thicker) is a little more difficult, and requires specialized crimping tools.

The most basic type of crimper for battery cable is a hammer-style crimp tool (we used one of these for our build). This type of crimper is inexpensive, portable, and fairly easy to use, but it’s also easier to crimp improperly. There are also mechanical crimp tools and hydraulic crimp tools. Hydraulic crimp tools should give you best results, but they’re also bulky and expensive – which means it might not make sense if you’re only using it for one build.

If you don’t feel like messing with crimping your own battery cable, you can buy pre-made battery cables in various sizes with ring terminals already attached. The downside is that you’ll lose some flexibility in the placement of your electrical components, and the cost can add up quickly. Yet another option is to order custom-length cables.

Connecting the Dots: Step-by-Step Installation of Our Electrical System

Here’s the part where we go through how we installed all the pieces of our electrical system. Between cutting and crimping wires, arranging and organizing components, making mistakes and figuring things out as we went, this whole process took us a few days.

Mount and Wire the Solar Panels

installing solar panels

Important: DO NOT hook up your solar panels to the charge controller until the batteries are connected.

The first thing we did was mount our solar panels to our van’s roof and wire them together in parallel using a Signstek Y-branch wiring connector.

For parallel wiring, all the positive wires go together and all the negative wires go together.

We decided to wire our panels in parallel for a few reasons:

  • Parallel allows us to hook up the three panels on our roof and connect our fourth panel whenever we want.
  • With panels wired in series, if some shade gets on one of the panels the electrical output of the entire system will be affected. With panels wired in parallel, shade will only affect that one panel.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both parallel and series. Renogy has an awesome guide on the differences.

After we mounted our panels, we fed the wires inside the van and ran them through some conduit down to where we planned to put all of our electrical components.

Mount the Charge Controller

mounted charge controller_800x500

Next, we mounted our charge controller to the wall inside our van. Renogy recommends leaving a few inches of space all around for ventilation.

Wire Batteries Together in Parallel

wiring batteries together in parallel

If you have more than one 12V battery, wiring them in parallel is the way to go for a van system. To do this, connect the positive terminals together, then connect the negative terminals. We used 4 gauge battery cable for this.

Ground Batteries to Chassis

Next, we grounded our batteries to the vehicle chassis. We used 2 gauge wire for the ground connection. We screwed the ring terminal directly to the vehicle frame using 1-⅝” self-tapping screws and shake proof lock washers. The connection is rock solid.

grounding wires

How to Properly Wire Your Batteries

When you connect everything to your batteries, make sure you do it on opposite sides of your battery bank. What does that mean exactly?

Attach all of your positive wires to the positive post of one battery, and connect all of your negative wires to the negative post of the other battery. This allows your batteries to charge and discharge at the same rate and will help keep them healthy.

wires on opposite battery terminals

Check out this page for helpful diagrams showing how to wire together different sized battery banks in both parallel and series.

Wire Charge Controller to Batteries

For this step, we used the leftover 8 AWG wire that came with Renogy’s kit, crimping on ring terminals as needed. First, we ran 8 AWG wire from the positive battery terminal on the charge controller to one side of a heavy duty on/off switch. This will let us kill the connection to the battery if we ever need to.

Note: DO NOT disconnect the battery while the solar panels are hooked up to the charge controller. Whenever we need to cut off power to work on the system, we always make sure to disconnect our solar panels first. In fact, it may be a good idea to install a second cut off switch for the solar panels.

close up of battery switch mounted

Next, we ran more 8 AWG wire from the other side of the switch and connected it to one side of an inline fuse holder. The fuse should match the current rating of the charge controller (i.e. a 20A fuse for a 20A charge controller. We used a 30A fuse). Then, we ran 8 AWG wire from the other side of the fuse holder to the positive post on our battery.

anl fuse holder

Now that we had the positive connected, we ran a wire from the negative battery post and connected it to the negative battery terminal on the charge controller.

screwing batteries into charge controller

As soon as we made the connection, the charge controller turned on. Exciting!

Make Sure to Fuse Your Solar Panels

Renogy recommends adding a fuse in between your solar panels and your charge controller. The easiest way to do this is using Renogy’s inline MC4 fuse/holder, but any type of 40A inline fuse should also work.

Note: Renogy’s premium solar kits include all fuses that you need for wiring up your solar, including an inline MC4 fuse/holder and two ANL fuses/holders.

Use the coupon code GnomadHome at checkout for 10% off solar kits and more at Renogy.com!

Wire Solar Panels to Charge Controller

connecting solar panels to charge controller

This was simple enough. We inserted the positive wire from the solar panels into the positive solar terminal on the charge controller, then did the same with the negative wire. Now the solar panels were charging the batteries!

Wire the Load Terminals to the Charge Controller

charge controller wires

We ran 8 AWG wire from the positive load terminal on the charge controller to the positive terminal on our blade fuse block.

Next, we ran another 8 AWG wire from the negative load terminal on the charge controller and connected it to the negative terminal on our fuse block.,

To get your 8 AWG wire, you can use leftover wiring from the solar panels and crimp a ring terminal onto one end.

close up of grounding bus and fuse box

Installing the outlets was much simpler.

We first drilled holes and mounted them in place.

outlets in bench

Then we crimped quick disconnects onto both red and black wires and connected them to the back of the outlets.

fridge outlet from behind

We attached the other side of the positive wire to the blade fuse box using a quick disconnect, while the negative wire attached to the negative bus with a ring terminal.

The fan was the simplest.

Using butt connectors, we crimped additional wire onto the positive/negative wires coming to the fan. We then attached the positive wire to the fuse box using a quick disconnect, and attached the negative wire to the common bus bar using a ring terminal.

Wire Lights, Dimmer Switches, and Fan

Next, we connected our LED ceiling lights, vent fan, and outlets to the system. We used 18 AWG wire for the LED lights and 14 AWG wire for the outlets and fan.

Before we hung the ceiling we had attached wires to the lights and fan using twist connectors, and wrapped  it with electrical tape to prevent the connection from vibrating loose.

light hanging by wire

Then we labeled the wires and ran them through conduit down to the electrical area. So all we had to do now was connect everything together.

We hooked up the lights to dimmer switches.

We rigged up one dimmer switch in the front controlling a set of six lights, and another dimmer in the “bedroom” controlling two lights.

The awesome dimmer switch we used comes with three wires: a positive, a negative, and a ground.

front lights switch

Using a twist connector, we twisted together the positive light wires, the positive wire from the switch, and another wire that ran down to the blade fuse box.

We then twisted together the negative light wires and the negative switch wire.

We spliced the “ground” wire from the switch to a separate wire that connects to the negative bus bar.

Insert Blade Fuses into Fuse block

fuse box - horizontal

Adding fuses into the fuse block completes the circuit and makes sure your system is protected. When designing your system, you’ll want to base your fuse sizes on the max amperage of the circuit.

For example, if your fan circuit draws 3A, you’ll want to use a fuse as close to 3A as possible without going under it.

Hit the Switch Aaaaannnndd……

This is when things should turn on. But for us, nothing happened. We tried turning on the fan, turning on the lights – nothing.

It turned out that we had our charge controller set to cut off power to the load. If you get to this point and nothing turns on, check your charge controller settings!

Once we got the settings correct everything worked beautifully. The lights dimmed on and off, the fan turned on, the outlets charged our phones.

lights and fan on

Wiring the Inverter to the Battery

We mounted our inverter to the outside of the partition that separates the electrical enclosure from the storage area under the bench.

view from countertop with inverter
The inverter connects directly to the battery.

First, we ran wire from the positive battery post to a heavy duty on/off switch so that we can cut the power to the inverter if needed.

inverter switch and fuses

Next, we ran wire from the switch to an inline fuse holder with a 100A fuse. We used one of Renogy’s ANL fuse holders and replaced the 30A fuse it came with. From there, we connected a wire from the fuse holder to the positive terminal on the back of the inverter.

behind inverter

The negative wire goes directly from the negative battery post to the negative terminal on the back of the inverter.

Finally, we grounded the inverter to the van’s chassis using self-tapping screws and shake proof lock washers.

The inverter has regular 3-pronged outlets on the front. You can plug your AC devices directly into these outlets, or run an extension cord to a power strip or AC outlet elsewhere.

If you prefer to have hardwired outlets, you can cut off one end of an extension cord and wire it to a standard wall outlet (positive, negative, and ground), which you can then mount in an outlet box and attach anywhere you want. The intact end of the extension cord plugs into the inverter to draw power.

Tip: Keep Things Organized!

Trust us, your life will be so much easier (and safer) if there isn’t a jumble of live wires spewed all over the floor of your van.

We concealed all of our electrical components in a compartment under the seat of our flip top bench.

van life electrical neat and tidy

We used ½” metal wire straps (wrapped in electrical tape) from Home Depot to organize the thick battery cables, and smaller wire clips and zip ties to hold down the smaller wires.

This keeps the wires out of the way, and also takes tension away from the electrical connections so they’re less likely to come loose while driving.

Awesome Resources for Further Reading


That’s just about everything we did for our electrical install. We tried to answer all the questions we had when we started out, and some questions that we had right up to the installation. If there’s something we didn’t cover, or you have a question, or we got something wrong, let us know in the comments!

We’re supremely pumped to have power in our van – it definitely makes those late night van build sessions a lot easier!

Stay tuned for more build updates as we go into building our awesome furniture. And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @gnomad_home and on Facebook at Gnomad Home.