Category Archives: RV Articles

Articles written about RVs.

Solar Cells and RVs

I did a little research into Solar Cells and RVing.  This is a non bias review of the issue.  I am not involved with sales, installation, boondocking, dry camping, Green Peace or any other environmental cause.  I am looking at it from a purely financial and beneficial stand point.

Let start with the size in amps that would be needed for an off the grid RV.  If you are frugal with your electric use, leaving the lights off, using propane for heating water and air, limiting your tv and computer time you can probably get by with about 20-30 AMP/H.  You have to remember that you have a lot of equipment in the RV that uses electricity even if you aren’t.  You smoke, CO2 and Propane detectors, the converter/inverter, the refrigerator (even on gas uses 12 VDC) and water heater all use DC all the time.  Then you have fans, lights, electronics that also use AC all of the time.  So just to keep the system running I figure you will need from 500 to 600 Watts. Then on top of that you have your entertainment and living wattage. So figure you will need from 800-1000 watts of consistent solar power to meet your needs as a minimum. Now solar panels are only about 6% effiecent.  That means that to create that kind of power you will need 15 sq yards of space on the roof or about 6-8 panels, depending on the part of the country and the weather.

Equipment needed is the next area.  You need the panels, charge controller, batteries, converter/inverter, monitoring unit, wiring, mounting hardware and the available weight on the RV.  So lets talk about weight first.  The solar panels are going to weight around 40-50 lbs each with hardware and wiring.  The batteries will weigh about 50 lbs each.  You will probably have 4-8 6 volt batteries.  The controler will weigh in at about 15 lbs. The monitor is 5 lbs. Total added weight to the RV for 8 panels would be about 900 lbs.

Cost for all of this is the real kicker.  There are all kinds of prices out there from $200 set up to $6000 or more.  Basically you will get what you pay for.  A trickle charger setup will not work for boondocking. It is designed to kept the battery charged when not in use.  Basically the first panel will run from $800-$1000 plus installation. Each additional panel will be from $600-$750.  So you can see that an 8 panel full time off the grid system will probably cost you from $5000 to $6250.

All of this assumes you are living in the desert with no bad weather, that you always have a clear shot of the southern sky and that the panels are mounted to be able to track the sun during most of the day. Which means you will also need a supplemental energy source as well, IE a generator.

I don’t know how long you plan on boondocking, but for the heck of it lets do some math.  First off the resale value of a used solar system is non-exsistent. So you won’t recover any of your investment that way.  The good news is it should last 20-25 years.  The added holes in your roof will probably mean more maintenance and sealant over the years and will affect the resale value of your rig.  So unless the buyer is also looking to boondock and wants to take the solar system as well, you will lose money on the RV when you trade it in.
Solar vs Generator?  There is no doubt that solar over the long haul will reduce your energy expenses, but by how much?  A generator run about a gallon of fuel an hour.  If you are using gas that means it cost about $3 an hour to run and you will run it about 3-4 hours a day to keep the batteries charged, so $12 a day.  So for the first 416 days or so of boondocking you it will be cheaper to use a generator than installing a $5000 solar system in perfect sunlight.  Call it two years before you will see a benefit of using solar over generator as a full time boondocker.  If you hook up at a campground at all, then the time extends out even more.

Since we plan on only boondocking a week or so a year once we head West, it was pretty easy for me to see that this wasn’t worth it.  You need to decide if it is for you.

Tip of the Day … Exterior Inspection Part 3 – Undercarriage

Tip of the Day … Exterior Inspection Part 3 – Undercarriage. This is the final part of the external inspection. Lets start with the rock guards. These are the plastic pieces around the tires. Are they there and in good condition?

Although not actually under the carriage, check all of the lights. These include the brakes, running lights, backup lights, exterior lights and entrance lights. Are all bulbs working? Some of the new lights are LED and made up of multiple sets of LED. If all are lit then good, if the majority are lit, then I would pass it with a note. If less than half are missing then I would require them to be replaced.

If the RV has a trailer hitch, you want to make sure that it is working and has all the parts are there. See if there is documentation or a sticker on the capacity of the hitch. You want to make sure that you do not exceed the hitch rating regardless of the capabilities of the unit.

Check the jacks/leveler for operation. Make sure they perform as required. Manual jacks are not met to raise or lower the unit only to stabilize or reduce the movement of the unit when extended. Hydraulic jacks found on motor homes will literally raise the unit off the tires, but this is not recommended for long term use. For safety reasons, do not used levelers to change tires. Prior to operating any hydraulic unit, make sure that the pump has enough oil/fluid.

Tip of the Day … Exterior Inspection Part 2 – Side Walls

Tip of the Day … Exterior Inspection Part 2 – Side Walls. This is an area where most people make a cursory inspection.  Things to look for here that are major areas of concern will be delamination.  Delamination is caused by water getting between the outside material and the wood backing, causing the materials to separate.  You will also want to look for damage due to accidents.  Besides the side walls you will want to check the storage doors.  Open all of the doors and check for rust, damage, operation etc.

Entry Step and Door are next.  You want to make sure that the steps operator properly.  If they are electric, there will be a lock out switch somewhere inside the unit.  Test to make sure that it operates properly, preventing the stairs from extending.  Check for excessive signs of rust. Check to make sure the stairs retract fully.

For the door, make sure that the keys work.  Check around the window for any signs of leaking.

Check under the slide outs.  Here you are looking for damage, both by water and accidents.  Check for excessive rust. If the slide has a topper (awning), check the material and connections.  Check for rusty or corroded screws and bolts.  With a ladder, check the top of all the windows.  See if they need caulking and for water damage.

Check all the appliance doors. These include the hot water heater, refrigerator and heaters.  Make sure they all operate as required.

Check all of the awnings.  Look for pin holes in the awning material.  Operate the awning(s) to make sure it(they) retract(s) completely.  Check that the metal components are in good shape and work normally.

Finally check the seals.  There are two seals for each slide.  One on the lip of the slide, which is the one to check while doing the exterior inspection.  This seal is used to seal the slide when it is retracted.  Its purpose is to keep water out of the unit when driving down the road.  We will check this again, prior to the road trip.