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4-Step Guide to Installing RV Solar Power

When it comes to installing solar power on your RV or trailer, you have two options—you can bring your rig to the pros, or you can bite the bullet and DIY. We're not going to lie—installing a solar system can seem overwhelming, and unless you're willing to dig into the particulars of your system, do the research, and diligently read the instructions that come with your solar kit, you probably shouldn't attempt it at home. However, we do think the typical handy person is up to the task. To get an idea of what a solar panel installation involves, we've simplified the process into a 4-step guide. As always, we highly recommend reading all instructional material included with your solar kit prior to installing.
GoPower Image - Solar Panels on Roof

Getting Started with RV Solar

Before we start, it's important to note that the specifics of your setup will depend on your rig and solar kit—what type of panels you have (flexible, rigid, etc.), your roof size and type (flat, curved, fiberglass, rubber, etc.), whether you have an RV or a trailer, where your battery bank is located, etc. Be sure to consult the instructions provided with any kit prior to installing. The following should be used as a general guide only.

Solar Install Safety Tips

  • Always review any safety instructions included with your solar kit before beginning installation
  • Avoid touching electrically active components, such as terminals, when the panel is exposed to light (even indoors)
  • Don't install your panels in inclement weather if installing outdoors
  • Cover panels with a cloth or other material, such as the boxes the panels came in, to prevent them becoming charged during installation
  • Don't sit or step on your panels
How Solar Power Wiring and Components are Connected

Step 1: Mount Your Solar Panels

The first step in installing a solar kit is mounting your RV panels. The process will differ depending on what type of panels you have. Rigid panels typically must be affixed to the roof with screws. Flexible panels can be mounted with screws but can also generally be mounted with adhesive. Note that your roof membrane material will determine the type of adhesive required. (Because of this, many kits only supply the mounting hardware, not adhesive.)Lay out your rigid or flexible panels the way you want them and make sure everything fits. Mark the panel locations when you have them the way you want. If you are bolting the panel on the roof, install the mounting hardware included with your kit to the solar panel frame.
Pro Tip: Avoid locations in which an air conditioner, vent, etc. might cast shade over the panels.
Secure the panel to the roof. If using brackets, apply a sealant under each bracket to create a water-tight seal. The proper sealant depends on your roof material, so if you're not sure which type you need, check with your RV dealer or manufacturer first. Screw the panel to the roof.
Warning: Aim for the frame, not the panel itself. Accidentally shooting a stray screw into your panel is a costly mistake you won't want to make.
Step 1 - Mount Your Solar Panels

Step 2: Run Your Wiring

The power cable must be run from the solar panels down into the RV to the charge controller. A few common ways to run the wiring:
  • Refrigerator vent: This is usually the simplest method (and the most common). Why put extra holes in your RV if you don't have to?
  • Plumbing pipe: Perhaps your fridge vent is located in a slide out, or it's located a long way from the battery compartment, near which you'll install the charge controller. In this case, it may be worth running the wire through or beside the plumbing pipe and applying sealant around any holes you make.
  • Drilling: If nothing else, you can always drill a new hole where you need it. Try to drill near a cabinet or interior wall so you can hide the wire inside the RV. Make sure to use sealant or a weatherproof entry port.
Step 2 - Run Your Wiring

Step 3: Connect Your Charge Controller

Choose a mounting location as close as possible to your batteries to minimize line loss. Once your charge controller is mounted to the wall, it's time to make your connections to the power wires you dropped through the fridge vent (or other location) in step 2.
Important: Carefully read the instructions that came with your kit to determine the recommended wiring procedure. Some kits require that the charge controller be connected to the battery first, then the panel wire. Others recommend connecting to the solar panel first.
Use a multimeter to test your wire polarity and mark each wire appropriately with tape or other indicator. Then make your connections to your solar panels and batteries as recommended by the manufacturer of your kit.
Step 3 - Connect Your Charge Controller

Step 4: Install your Inverter (Optional)

If you want to use your AC appliances like your microwave, laptop, etc., you'll need an inverter to convert your solar panels' DC power into AC. Your inverter should be installed in a location near the batteries, away from heat, corrosive battery gasses, and other damaging elements. Be sure to follow any instructions included with your product.Connect your positive and negative wires to your inverter. Then make the connections to your RV electrical system. When connecting the inverter to your house battery posts, be sure to connect the negative side first.
Note: Make sure to use the proper wiring gauge when making connections.
Step 4 - Install Your Inverter
Related ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated on: 2/18/19

Jimmy S.

6/21/2022

We purchased a smaller 6w solar panel to maintain the battery on our travel trailer. Looking for mounting ideas other than the roof, since this a relatively small solar panel. Ideas?

David B.

6/21/2022

If you got something like this # 34273836, you can basically mount it where ever you want because it is so small. The only cavoite to that is you need sunlight, it is so small it won't have a large area to absorb sunlight so you need to make sure it will be in an area that will get as much direct sunlight as possible. Example: you mount it on the top rear of the RV but you have to park it facing south. You won't get good absorption time. The roof is going to be your best bet.

Jimmy S.

6/21/2022

@DavidB yes the one we have is just like that. What we are struggling with is all we can find on the internet is about folks who have mounted it to the roof or a pole. We were just hoping that maybe there might be another solution. Appreciate the feedback though. Sincerely, Jimmy Smith

David B.

6/22/2022

What are your thoughts Jimmy? Is there a particular reason mounting it to the roof won't work for you? As long as it is getting direct sunlight it doesn't matter where it is mounted(as long as the cords/wires reach). It's just that the roof is the best location for a permanent install because it's always facing up lol.

David B.

3/10/2022

can i run the leads to the aux battery?thanks

Les D.

3/11/2022

@DavidB I do not have enough information yet to answer your question. If you mean the wires coming from the solar panels, those will go to the charge controller. Be sure to review the instructions that come with the controller.

William

2/21/2022

Two questions: Can you use 3M VHB tape to mount the rigid solar panels instead of drilling holes? If you have an inverter already installed in your RV, do you hook the wires from the solar panels directly to the inverter, not the coach battery?

Les D.

2/21/2022

We would not use tape to mount rigid panels on the roof of a trailer. RV roofs are rarely level so rigid panels would not mount well. Further, the leverage wind would apply to the panels could pull them off. Regarding wiring, the power in cables should go to some sort of controller first before going to a battery. or larger controller with inputs for several sources. An RV specialist can design a solar system for your trailer and perform as much of the install as you may like - like the roof panels.

Paul T.

11/30/2021

I am trying to find whether the panel brackets can be screwed into the roof and luan at any location on the roof or should only be screwed in where there is underlying framing (which would limit panel location options)? I have an E-Pro E19FBS and unfortunately it looks like the framing only goes around the edge and down the center lengthwise so don't see how I can attach both sides of the panel at framing locations. Contacted the factory but they just sent a brochure which didn't really answer that question. I bought 2 go power 190w expansion kits from etrailer which is what I would like to add.

Les D.

11/30/2021

@PaulT you should use the brackets and hardware that come with your solar panel. Use the recommended sealant for your roof style. Follow any guidelines provided by the panel manufacturer. Where to fasten and how to fasten will be based on your roof type and construction. Regular screws are find where you find construction cross members. For other areas you might consider a well nut. I would start by figuring out how thick your roof is. It is probably thinner than you think that it is.

Mark T.

3/26/2021

i have a 2006 rv with gen and converter and auto transfer relay wired to fuse panel. i installed 4 solar panel kit. i plan on installing 2000 watt inverter\charger with built in auto transfer switch, but i do not know where to hook the wires from the inverter to rv exactly so it does not interfere with the converter or shore power

Etrailer Expert

Kef G.

3/30/2021

This is something that you will definitely want to consult with your RV's manufacturer about. Though there are some standards, each manufacturer has their own way of doing things, so it's best to contact them to know what the proper method is.


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