Beginners Guide to Installing Electricity in a Van

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So, you want to learn about electricity? It’s all very intimidating at first, but I promise after you read a few articles here and there, it will begin to make sense. Here is a basic overview of electrical components if you’re looking to get plugged in while on the road. So, let’s begin! 

Basic electrical components include:

  • Solar Panels – sun rays hit the panels, and convert that energy into electricity 
  • Solar Charge controller – controls the flow of electricity going from your solar panels to your batteries 
  • Battery – stores the electricity so you can use it whenever for example: on cloudy days 
  • Optional: Inverter/Charger – Converts DC to AC power and allows you to charge the battery with shore power – at a campground. (Can be bought as separate components if you are on a budget).
  • Optional: DC-DC Battery Charger or Isolator – Charge house battery from car battery

A basic overview of the electrical lingo you need to know:

Alternative Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC)

There are two types of electricity that we need to know: DC and AC. DC is a linear form of electrical current, anything you connect to your battery will receive direct current. If you have a 12-volt battery, you can connect any 12-volt appliance (LED lights, fans, fridge) directly to the battery and you are good to go! Alternative Current, 120v, on the other hand, periodically changes direction. It is mostly used in houses and you’re everyday outlets. This is needed for larger appliances such as microwaves, laptop chargers, air-fryers, etc. To convert DC to AC power, you will need an inverter.

Fuse/Switches/Circuit Breakers 

These are all safety devices to protect your system from exploding and causing a fire or in more eloquent words, provide overcurrent protection of an electrical circuit. Fuses and circuit breakers are the same types of protection devices, the main difference being that a fuse is a small metal that literally melts when too much current runs through it while a circuit breaker is reusable as it switches off if an overflow of electricity is detected. A switch is a safety feature used to shut off and on all power. 

Fuse Box/Breaker Box

A fuse box is an electrical panel that contains fuses to distribute electricity from the battery to all the appliances installed. This is a protection device and organizes all the wires so into one place before connecting it to the battery. Meanwhile, a breaker box is essentially the same device but contains the circuit breakers that switch off if there is an overload on the circuit. 

Wire

An electrical wire is a conductor material that allows “power” to flow from the battery to distinct appliances around the van. There are two types of wire that you’ll need to know about: Stranded and solid. The differences between the two are pretty straightforward stranded wire is made of a quantity of thinner wire that are twisted together and solid wire consists of a solid metal core. 

Stranded Wire Pros:

  • Flexible
  • Malleable
  • Will not split (For this reason it is most recommended for moving van)

Solid Wire

  • More rigid and durable
  • Anti-corrosive
  • Low Cost

There are different sizes or “gauge” wires the smaller gauge, the larger the physical wire, the larger the gauge the smaller the physical wire. When selecting which wire size for each appliance depends on the distance traveled to the battery or fuse box and the amount of amperage the appliance needs.  A lower gauge wire will be more expensive and harder to bend as well as more difficult to attach wire nuts or switches. Other than that, it will not impact energy consumption. On the other end, if you install “too small of a wire” or a higher gauge wire is used than required for the electrical load, when the electricity meets the resistance in the wire it will create intense heat and could cause a potential fire. Soo, it’s very important to select the correct wire and hire a professional electrician if needed. Anyways, that’s all, for now, thanks for reading! If you have any questions/comments/concerns, write them below! 

-Nat and Lil 

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