DIY RV Solar Installation vs Hiring a Professional

Safety First, Second, and Third

repairman handyman service professional. Pop art retro vector illustration kitsch vintageA lot of people see themselves as DIY experts on everything they own.  I admit that I’ve held that belief from time-to-time too.  I’ve started on numerous projects believing that I knew or at least I would learn what I needed to know as I got the job done.  That’s fine putting up crown molding in the spare bedroom, but a DIY RV solar installation should not be one of those things you learn as you go.

sign reading High Risk!You should have a thorough knowledge of electricity and how to be safe with it before you begin designing, building, or installing anything.  In the case of electricity, what you don’t know can severely injure or kill you or cause a catastrophic fire.  One hazard many RVers forget about is how to prevent a fall from the roof of their RV.  This article,  Three Dangerous Attitudes that Lead to Fatal Falls, was eye-opening.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25% of fatal workplace falls in 2013 were from less than 10 feet, and 43% were from less than 15 feet((Bureau of Labor Statistics:  The roof of our RV is 12 foot 6 inches.

Danger! Danger! Danger!

When I was a young boy, electricity killed a neighbor while working for the power company on powerlines in front of his very own home.  Several years later, my brother, who had an electrician’s license, was injured in an electrical fire while working in an electrical box at his workplace.  He suffered 3rd-degree electrical burns on his left hand, and fortunately, he made a full recovery.

As I stated in my previous blog post, RV Solar 20 Questions,

As you get started in this process, the first thing you need to consider is how knowledgeable you are about electricity and electrical design?  If you’re don’t have a high level of knowledge about them, then your answer to the first question above, “Do you want to hire a professional for the design and installation of your solar system or do-it-yourself?” should be fairly straightforward: I’m going to hire a professional.

If you want to learn more, you can always ask the professional if you can shadow them or assist in any way.

Isn’t 12 Volt Safe for DIY RV Solar Installation?

A few people will read this and say, “Well, I’m only going to use 12-volt batteries and 12-volt solar panels, so I don’t have to be concerned about safety.”  While a 12-volt system may be safer, a 12-volt battery can start a fire if it is shorted, and many 12-volt batteries can burn you if the electrolyte leaks.

  • It is true, technically speaking, that a 12-volt system is safer than a 24-volt system, which in turn, is safer than a 48-volt system.  As voltage increases, so does the potential of any accident being lethal.  But consider this first:

Did you know that a solar panel starts generating electricity as soon as you take it out of the box?  There is no off switch.  In fact, the HQST 100 Watt 12-Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel I mentioned in DIY RV Solar Panel Tilting and How To Mount Them can generate 21.3 volts and 5.83 amps the moment light hits it. Yes, 21.3 volts, not 12 volts, but more on that later.

FYI, some lithium-ion batteries can violently explode in a huge ball of gas and fire if they are overcharged or shorted.  That’s not to say all lithium battery technologies will explode, but certain ones can, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I say these things because I want you to be sure that you understand what you are doing before attempting to DIY your RV solar design and installation.  It can be done safely.  I’ve done it, and I have lots of friends who have done it, but we have studied electricity and solar power for years.

Final Thoughts on DIY RV Solar Installation

I’m not trying to convince you that you can’t DIY an RV solar installation.  I don’t know your level of expertise.  Deciding to design and install your own RV solar system is wholly your responsibility.  Regardless of whether you decide to DIY your RV solar installation or hire a professional, I hope to provide you with some useful information you might not have thought of on your own.  In closing, here is an excellent article by The Heartford Insurance regarding Solar Energy Risks.  This and other articles on RV Solar can be found on our Trusted Resources page.

Remember, it’s Safety First, Second, and Third!

P.S. I’m not a professional solar installer or reseller, so I have nothing to lose or gain if you install your own RV solar system.

RV Solar 20 Questions

So You’re Interested in Adding Solar to Your RV

That’s fantastic! RV solar solutions come in all shapes and sizes.  You can buy a solar system as a kit or buy individual components on an a la carte basis.  You can even pay someone to design, build, and install the entire system for you, but more information on that later.

An RV solar system will make the time you spend in your RV so much more enjoyable.  Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a fulltimer, there is a unique RV solar solution for you.

I hope that I can help you through the process, which can be a little overwhelming. It can also be a lot of fun.  You should know that besides this website, there are numerous other places on the internet to find good and accurate information about RV solar solutions.  Our Trusted Resources page has links for some other resources.

Where Do You Begin?

To get the best solar system that meets your needs, you need to answer A LOT of questions.  That’s true whether you hire a professional or you do the design and installation yourself.  The design of your solar system should be based on these answers.   Just know that these questions are intended to help you install an RV solar system that best meets your needs and can help make the process that much more enjoyable as you progress.

Below I’ve outlined 20 of the most important questions to answer BEFORE installing your RV solar system.  There are many more than 20 questions that need to be answered. Your system design and the equipment you buy will be affected by these answers, and everyone’s answers should be based on their individual needs.  There isn’t one or even a dozen RV solar system designs that will meet everyone’s needs.  I will discuss and link to each of these questions in further detail in subsequent posts.

RV Solar 20 Questions

  1. Do you want to hire a professional for the design and installation of your solar system or do-it-yourself?
  2. What type of RVer are you?
    1. Are you a full-timer or the occasional weekend warrior?
    2. Where do you RV?  Desert or forest?  Up north or down south?
    3. Are you a boondocker (aka dry or off-grid camper)?
    4. Do you stay in a new RV park every week?
    5. Do you stay in one location for an entire season or even longer?
  3. What is your expected budget?
  4. How much power do you need?
  5. What do you want to run on your solar?
  6. How much power do you need to store?
  7. What solar equipment do you need?
  8. Where and how are you going to purchase the solar equipment?
  9. Are you going to pay upfront or finance your purchases, and are there any tax benefits?
  10. How many and what size solar panels should and can you use? (dimensions, voltage, and wattage)
  11. How many and what size batteries should you use? (voltage and amp-hours)
  12. What type of solar panels should you use?
    1. Monocrystalline
    2. Polycrystalline
    3. Flexible or Thin Film
  13. How do you mount solar panels, and should they be tilted?
  14. Is your RV prewired for solar, and is that sufficient?
  15. Where and how will you secure your batteries?
  16. What battery type works best for you?
    1. Lead Acid Batteries
    2. Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) Batteries
    3. Lithium Batteries
  17. Should batteries and solar panels be wired in Series or Parallel?
  18. Will you build your system all-at-once or over time?
  19. Do you want to connect a generator?
  20. Are you going to use shore power to charge your batteries?



You are probably saying, “OMG, that’s a lot to think about!”  Yes, it is, but I’m going to help simplify the process for you and help you find the answers you need.

As you get started in this process, the first thing you need to consider is how knowledgeable are you about electricity and electrical design?  If you’re not knowledgeable about them, then your answer to the first question above, “Do you want to hire a professional for the design and installation of your solar system or do-it-yourself?” should be fairly straightforward: I’m going to hire a professional.

I hope that I can help you along in this process.  I will try my best to publish one or more articles a week and answer as many questions as possible.

DIY RV Solar Panel Tilting and How To Mount Them

I received a question on Twitter today, so I made it into a blog post.  Thanks Navigator!  Her question referred to DIY Tilting of RV Solar panels, what types of mounts to use, and can you glue panels down.  I’m in favor of tilting RV Solar panels, so let’s get her mounting questions answered.

What’s your opinion on roof brackets. Tilting vs flat and I’ve seen some glued not screwed. Is that a thing?

Unfortunately, some people glue or even tape down (with very high bond tape) their solar panels.  These are both terrible ideas. Never, ever do it!   I’d also avoid flexible panels if possible.  Many only last about a year, while glass monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels can last 20 or more years.  I just bought another Newpowa 12-Volt 200W Monocrystalline Solar Panel yesterday on Amazon.  FYI, I’ve found that many less expensive panels are about as good as the more expensive ones.  I also have several HQST 12-Volt 100W Monocrystalline Solar Panels that I like very much.  They are useful for small sections of your roof.   In the future, I’ll have a blog post about mixing and matching different wattages and voltages of solar panels.  Improperly matched solar panels will reduce your solar energy capture drastically.

I think roof brackets are the only way to go. They can be permanent or tilting. I’ve heard good things about Renogy’s Z Solar Panel Mounting Bracket, and they might even work on other solar panel brands.  It’s important for air to get underneath the solar panel.  It’s a bit counterintuitive, but a cooler solar panel is more efficient than a hot one, so you need airflow underneath it.

There are many solar mounting brackets on Amazon so make sure the ones you select will fit your panels.  You will likely find some universal ones.

I don’t know what kind of roof you have, but Adventurous Way has a great section (Step 4) on mounting panels on a membrane over a plywood roof.  This is exactly how I mount solar panels.  Verify what type of roof and what type of sealant you should use with your RV manufacturer.  I use Dicor 10.3 Oz Tube of 501LSW-1 Self-Leveling Lap Sealant liberally underneath the brackets and on top of the screw head and bracket. 

I like tilted panels very much, but you should consider where you travel to, when you travel, how much solar you have, and how much energy storage you have.  An excellent example of a mount for tilted solar panels is Renogy’s Adjustable Tilt Mount Brackets for 100W solar panels sold on Amazon.

If you are in wide-open spaces with no shade, such as the desert, tilting may not be required unless your batteries normally don’t get fully charged.  If you only travel during the summer, there are more sunlight hours then, so tilting may not be necessary either.  I always prefer having the option to tilt them, even if I have to do it manually.  I’m not a big fan of a motorized system.  Avoid the “Automatic” follow the sun motorized units.  They don’t work.

A good rule of thumb is for every degree of latitude you are at, you should tilt your solar panels by the same amount.  If you RV in the northern environs, tilting might be required, especially in the winter.  FYI, I typically lay the solar panels on the roof without affixing them to see what level of charge I’m getting before affixing them; that way, I can determine if they need tilting.  Only test them this way if your RV will be stationary and heavy winds aren’t expected.  Tilting panels can greatly increase your energy capture in many circumstances.  There are a lot of tilt mounting options on Amazon too.  Here’s a great video about tilting solar panels.  RV Solar Panel Tilting for Maximum Boondocking Power || Off-Grid RV Solar Power!

Navigator, that was a great question.  Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or via my Contact Me page or drop a comment below.



Misinformation on the Internet

This site is dedicated to providing accurate and up-to-date information but before I present any information, I’d like to offer a word of caution.

Every article, post, and video on the internet, including this website and associated content, should be taken with a grain of salt and verified as true before you begin any project or task.  There are many self professed experts posting on every topic imaginable, including RVs and solar power, that are spouting crap.

In the case of solar power and electricity, incorrect or incomplete information can get you or someone else hurt or killed. So before you take mine or anyone else’s words as being true, do plenty of research and homework.  If you find any information on this website or associated content that you believe is in error, please use the comments section or the Contact Us page on this website to let us know of such error.


A New Beginning

Goodbye 2020 Hello 20212020 is finally over!

That said, the first few months of 2021 will be even more challenging than last year, but I hope and believe things will start getting better in the next few months.  I don’t want to minimize the numerous tragedies, losses, and unrest we have experienced over the last year, but this first article of 2021 will focus on the positives of 2020 and 2021.

I want to point out a couple of the many positive stories of 2020.  While final results won’t be known for some time, CO2 emissions are believed to have declined by 7% in 2020.1  This is mostly due to the pandemic and partly because renewable energy costs from wind and solar have dropped in the last year.2

The RV industry also had a good year, even with a two-month shutdown from late March through early May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.3  The RV industry is projected to have its best year ever in 2021.((ibid))

What I’m Working On

As you may note, this is not only my first post of 2021, but it is also my first post ever, at least for this blog!  You can find blog posts, podcasts, helpful resources, photos, and videos related to the RV solar industry on this site in the coming months.

My goal is to help you design, build, or purchase the best possible solar system for your RV solar needs and budget.  When I conceived of the idea for this site, I was more concerned about the content and less concerned with the aesthetics.  This will always be true, but you can expect a few graphic and design improvements. [Editor’s Note 02/01/2021: I’m quite proud of the graphic improvements I’ve made on the site in the last month.]

I will cover RV solar system design, best practices, product reviews, and installation tips.  I sincerely hope you will benefit from my posts and continue supporting me in the years to come.

  1.  Covid pandemic drove a record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020 []
  2. Washington Post:  20 Good Things That Happened In 2020 []
  3. RV Industry Association:  RV Shipments Project To Climb By Nearly 20 Percent In 2021, Eclipse 500,000 Units []