Overview of Campervan Electrics
Building campervan electrical systems can be complicated. Here at Vunked, we are on a mission to make it as simple as possible. Are you ready to gain a solid introduction to campervan electrics? Let’s go.
Firstly, in this blog we will look at the initial three steps you should consider before choosing a campervan electrics system. In addition, we will introduce you to our five main campervan electrical systems and explain their importance.
Step 1 - Campervan Electrical Components
As well as knowing how to install campervan electrics, it is equally important to know why each component is necessary. In this section of our introduction to campervan electrics, we will look at the key components involved in your system.
Step 2 - Campervan Electrics Terminology Explained
If you are anything like we were when first converting a van, you might feel somewhat overwhelmed by all of the lingo and jargon that is flying around on the internet about campervan electrics. To help with this introduction to campervan electrics, we have created a helpful guide to explain the wild and wonderful terminology.
Remember though, if you have any questions at all – feel free to contact our expert team to help you.
230V or volts is essentially mains household power. Typical household appliances such as TVs and fridges require 230V to run.
Direct current (DC-power) can come from multiple sources, including leisure batteries like the ones you will have in your van.
12V or volts is the power you get when running appliances off a 12v battery. Most campervan electrical systems use 12V batteries which we will go into more detail about later on.
‘Off-grid’ refers to a system that doesn’t rely on any electrical hook up from mains power. Essentially, it’s when you are out in the wild and away from campsites.
‘Hook-up’ refers to a system that allows you to power your electrics using mains power. For example, when you’re at a campsite with the facilities available to do so.
The key units used for measuring the power of a device or appliance.
Watt Hours (Wh) and Amp Hours (Ah)
The units used to measure electric charge used over time
Step 3 - Electrical Requirements Research
It is important to say that there is no one size fits all regarding campervan electrics.
That is why we have created a helpful free tool to allow you to enter your appliances and calculate your campervan’s electrical needs.
Here are some answers to key questions that we would encourage you to think about when choosing a campervan electrical system. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is designed to complement this introduction to campervan electrics and get your brain ticking!
What appliances will you be powering?
This will determine how much battery power you need and moreover, how powerful your electrical system needs to be. For example, are you planning to keep things simple by just charging your phone or do you want to kick back and enjoy video games from the comfort of your home on wheels?
How much time will you spend in your van?
For example, do you plan to spend weekends exploring or do you plan to live in your van for long periods of time? This is worth considering to ensure you have enough power to meet your van life needs.
Do you want to have an off-grid set up?
If the answer is yes, you will likely need some kind of solar power system.
Will you have access to hook-up power?
If you plan to access hook-up power, you will need to install an AC power system.
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Campervan Battery System
The campervan battery is the heart of your system. The leisure battery is where you store your energy to be used throughout the day.
Battery systems are made up of batteries, busbars and monitoring. A simple battery system is shown in the diagram below.
Key facts about your campervan battery system
- The campervan battery system is where everything will come together. For example. whether it’s your charging systems (solar, B2B or shore) or 12V/230V outputs – everything will be wired to the battery system to complete the circuit.
- It’s important to note that things can get messy quickly when you have many circuits attached to the battery. This is why it is common to use busbars (or combi fuse holders) to keep systems safer and tidier.
- The battery system is also where your battery monitoring will be connected. This will allow you to keep track of your battery’s state of charge and never worry about running out of power again!
Campervan Solar System
Solar energy charges your leisure battery when the sun is shining. The sun is the giant ball of fire in the sky that can occasionally be seen in the United Kingdom. If you’re reading this from warmer climes, you’ll be well acquainted by now. Lucky you!
In the diagram below, we have demonstrated how a simple solar system would come together in a campervan. At Vunked, our solar systems are designed to meet your specific needs. As you can imagine, there are lots to choose from, but we’re here to help!
Key facts about your campervan solar system
- Solar panels are an easy way to generate electricity while enjoying off-grid adventures in a campervan. In fact, by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells, the solar panels can produce DC power which can be used to power appliances inside your van. It can also charge your leisure battery or both at the same time if there is enough sunlight.
- Depending on your off-grid usage and the type of van you have – you might choose to use two solar panels to generate more power. Don’t worry about figuring that out for yourself – consider filling out our handy online form to get a free system summary straight into your inbox.
- You will also have to consider whether you’d like to use rigid or flexible solar panels.
Read our Introduction To Campervan Solar blog, to learn everything you need to know about solar panels for campervans
Campervan Battery To Battery System
Firstly, battery-to-battery charging or split charging in your campervan allows you to charge your leisure battery while running the engine. This is perfect if you are planning long road trips or as a backup when the sun isn’t shining (*cough* – Scotland in January).
In the diagram below, you can see an example of what a DC-DC isolated charger system would look like in your van.
Key facts about your campervan battery to battery system
- Above all, the main thing to think about when installing a battery to battery charger is whether you have a traditional alternator or a smart alternator. This will dictate which type of battery to battery charger you will be able to install in your vehicle.
- You can read our ‘What is a smart alternator’ blog to quickly find out what’s best for you.
Campervan 230V Systems
Firstly, if you are hoping to use electrical items that require 230V while in your van (such as kettles or toasters), you will need to consider your 230V system, similarly, you will need to choose the correct system depending on whether you’d like only to use 230V when connected to shore power or if you’d like to use all your 230V appliances while off-grid.
An overview of different 230V systems are listed below.
Battery Charging System
A 230V shore hook-up allows you to charge your leisure battery when you are at a campsite or plug it in before you go on your adventure while it is sitting in the driveway.
A simple example of what a battery charger system looks like is demonstrated in the diagram below.
In contrast, if you are planning on spending all of your time at a campsite, you could skip the battery charger altogether. This would mean you couldn’t charge your leisure battery while at a campsite, but you would still be able to use all your 230V appliances when hooked up.
An inverter will allow you to use 230V while off-grid by converting your 12V battery voltage to 230V.
It is worth noting that increasing your off-grid wattage will significantly increase your overall system cost. We recommend trying to use 12V appliances wherever possible.
To illustrate how this works, look at a simple wiring diagram of an inverter system in the diagram below.
With this in mind, ideally you should always purchase a Pure Sine Wave Inverter. These will be slightly more expensive but will look after your 230V appliances in the long run.
Read our blog post ‘What Inverter Size Do I Need?’ to figure out what inverter size you need.
Inverter Charger System
Without a doubt, inverter chargers are excellent components. If you’re looking to charge your leisure battery while connected to shore power, while also being able to use an inverter off-grid – this is definitely for you.
As the name suggests, this device will act as a battery charger and an inverter. Handy, right?
These systems also have the added benefit of allowing you to use the same sockets off/on grid throughout your van. Most inverters/chargers will intelligently switch between battery power and shore power when available.
Of course, last but not least is your 12V system. This simple system will allow you to connect all your 12V appliances in one place.
Therefore, whether it’s your roof fan or some simple lights – all 12V appliances can be connected to your 12V fuse box.
We recommend using 12V appliances as much as possible throughout your van conversion, as it will help reduce your overall daily output and keep your electrical system simple and cheaper.
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