Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Hey everybody, since writing my blog posts a couple of weeks ago about budget 12v systems, I have had quite a few requests from people asking me to write a post about a system suitable for off grid living all year round. So today that is exactly what I am going to do but I have gone one step further!
This is not going to be one of my budget posts where I try and keep everything to a bare minimum but as usual I will try my hardest to keep the costs as low as possible and everything as simple as possible, although I will add luxuries as most people want them.
I will include everything you need from start to finish including all devices, accessories, cables, fuses, switches, outlets, batteries, chargers, lights, pipes, tubes, etc.
So here is my Awesome Fully Off Grid System For Your Van - Electrics, Gas, Water & Entertainment
The first thing you are going to need to be fully off grid all year round is a decent amount of power storage. Basically the more storage you have the longer you can stay off grid for, this is essential in the winter when there isn't enough daylight hours to keep your batteries topped up. For this I recommend getting 4 x 120AH batteries. As an amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases
4 X 120AH SuperBatt
With a bank like this you will have 480AH of battery storage but that will only give you 240AH of useable power, it is very important you don't discharge these batteries below 50% or they will not last you long at all. If they go below 11.3v you WILL cause some permanent damage to your batteries.
The next thing you will need is some battery terminals so you can connect things to your battery and your batteries to each other in parallel. You will need to connect a few different cables to your battery so I suggest getting one pair of these so you have a few different connection options for your fuse boxes, B2B charger, solar charge controller and inverter.
12V 3Way Battery Terminals
You will also need one set of these for each additional battery that you have, so if you have four leisure batteries you will need three sets of these (with the set above that makes four)
KKmoon Terminal Clamp Clip Connector
Wiring your leisure batteries together couldn't be simpler. All you need to do is connect each battery terminal to the next one positive to positive and negative to negative. You then run all of your positive cables to the first battery in the series and all the negative cables to the last battery in the series then your batteries will charge and discharge evenly.
For this you will need some cable and connectors. It is best to keep your cables as short as possible for efficiency and to keep your costs down. There is enough cable here to join all 4 of your leisure batteries together. You will need one of the black cables and one of the red cables.
1M Metre Black Battery Starter 50Mm Cable
1M Metre Red Battery Starter 50Mm Cable
You will also need some connectors (lugs) to connect the cables above to the battery terminals. So for four leisure batteries you will need twelve. It is best to have a few spare though so here are links to a pack of 10 and a pack of 5
50MM² CABLE x 10MM HOLE
The next thing you will need to do before you do anything else is earth/ground your battery. For that you will need a nice thick cable that wont melt. The cable below is both cheap and perfect and will never give you any problems. Also if you buy this pre-made cable you will not need to spend money on the connectors too.
Spartan Power Black 4 AWG 30cm
Once you have earthed your leisure battery you can now install a few things to keep your battery bank charged. The first thing you should get is a B2B charger, this will charge your leisure batteries when your vans engine is running.
Sterling Power 12v 30amp Battery to Battery Charger
To connect you B2B charger to your starter battery and leisure batteries you will need a few more things, the first thing is cables. As the Starter battery and leisure batteries are likely to be some distance apart we need to size the cable higher. 70 amp cable will be perfect for this it will not overheat and there will be minimal power lost. You will need 5M of red and 5M of black.
70 AMP Rated Single Core Stranded Copper Cable 5M
RED - POSITIVE https://amzn.to/2LUKUdE
BLACK - NEGATIVE https://amzn.to/2ZCNPzy
You will also need to add some inline fuses. One needs to be as close to the starter battery as possible and then another in between theB2B charger and your leisure batteries as close to the B2B charger as possible. For this you will need two inline fuse holders and two 40AMP fuses
2 X Midi Fuse Holder
2 X 40 Amp Midi Fuse
Then you will need some connectors (lugs) to connect everything together. You will need six for the positive cable and two for the negative cable. Again it is best to have a few spare incase you make a mistake so here is a pack of ten.
Cable Lug 10mm2 M8 10x Cable Shoe
Another thing you will need to connect your cables to your Sterling B2B charger is some cable end Lugs. You put these on the ends of the cables that are going into and coming out of your B2B charger for a good solid connection.
Cable End Crimp Sleeve (10mm² - 8 AWG) Insulated Collar - Pack of 4
So that is everything you will need for your B2B charger, now we can move on to the solar set up ☀️☀️ ☀️ ☀️☀️
For this I am going to suggest a 300w set up, firstly because it is a decent amount of solar for a van and secondly most people only have a van big enough for 300w when they have roof vents, aerials and other bits and pieces.
You can buy 3 or the smaller 100w panels but that means extra cables, fuses, connectors and brackets. I recommend getting one larger panel like this one
300W Photonic Universe monocrystalline solar panel
To attach the solar panel to the roof you will need some brackets. This set comes with a waterproof cable entry to stop any leaks in your roof. These are no drill so can be fixed to your roof with a strong adhesive.
7 Piece Solar Panel Mounting Bracket
The next thing you will need to install is an inline fuse on your positive cable between your solar panel and your solar charge controller, as close to the solar panel as possible. As the solar panels come with short cables attached with connectors on the ends already this is the best place for you to install it.
Renogy® 30A MC4 Waterproof In-Line Fuse Holder w/Fuse
You will then need some solar extension cables to wire your panel to your solar charge controller. As the solar panel is 300W it will come with 30amp cables attached and we need to match that. so what you will need is 10 AWG cables. To stick to the colour system and not confuse anybody I suggest getting these.
A Pair of HQST 20Ft 10AWG MC4 Solar Extension Cables
Now you have the cables to attach the solar panel to the solar charge controller, its time to get a solar charge controller.
To work out what size solar charge controller you need it is very easy you need to take the number of watts of the solar panel and divide it by the number of volts of your battery.
300w solar panel divided by 12v battery = 25amps.
As it is best to go a little bit over (as I did above with the cables and fuses) this means you need a 30amp solar charge controller. I recommend this one, preferably with the LCD screen but its much cheaper without.
NEVER WIRE THE SOLAR PANELS TO THE SOLAR CHARGE CONTROLLER BEFORE THE SOLAR CHARGE CONTROLLER IS WIRED TO YOUR BATTERIES
EPEVER MPPT 30A Solar Charge Controller
With LCD https://amzn.to/2X3K9VN
As I said above you should never wire your solar panels to your solar charge controller before you have wired your solar charge controller to your batteries. If you do there is nowhere for the power to go and you will start smelling smoke coming form the charger. Trust me I have done it before its not fun.
For this you will need some more cable and another inline fuse.
You could cut the required amount off of the solar cable above as there will be more than enough left over and fuse it with a 40amp fuse and that would be good enough but as I always like to go a little bit higher with cable sizes than needed for safety and efficiency I like to go for 40amp cable with a 40amp fuse.
Superworm 8 Gauge Silicone Wire Super Flexible
1 X Strip Link & Midi Fuse Holder
All Trade Direct 2 X 40 Amp Midi Fuse
You will also need a few more lugs to connect all of these bits together. When installing it you need to keep the inline fuse as close to the solar charge controller as possible. This is a pack of twenty 8AWG lugs. You will need more later in the installation so you might as well get a pack.
20PCS Tin Plated Pure Copper Battery Cable Ends Lugs Ring Terminals Connectors (8AWG 8MM)
So that is everything you will need to store power (batteries) and charge your batteries, Now we can move onto everything else.
The next things you are going to need is two12 way blade fuse boxes. One for all your accessories, sockets, etc and one for all of your lights.
12v couldn't be any simpler really, All of your sockets, accessories, pumps, fans etc will have 2 wires one positive (usually red or brown) and one negative (usually black or blue). You just wire the positive cable to a positive terminal, insert the correct fuse, and wire the negative cable to any negative terminal on the fuse box.
12 Way Blade Fuse Box Fuses Included LED Warning Indicator
To keep things simple, neat and safe we will wire the the blade fuse boxes to bus bars instead of wiring them directly to the batteries. This will also help us keep the costs down by allowing us to use shorter cables. You will need two of these. one for a positive bus and negative bus.
Gloaso 100A BusBar Stud Terminal
To connect the bus bars to the battery we need to use a nice thick cable so it can handle pretty much everything that we hooked up to the blade fuse box all running at the same time. As you might want to add more accessories in the future I recommend using 4AWG cable. This set comes with four lugs. The Black cable goes to the negative bus bar and to the negative terminal on your battery, the Red cable goes to the positive bus bar, then to the circuit breaker below and from the circuit breaker to the positive battery terminal.
Pure Copper Flexible Wire 4AWG
You should also fit some kind of circuit breaker between the battery and positive bus bar. If you get one with a switch you can use it to shut off all power to anything running off of the fuse boxes when you are not using the van or in an emergency. Something very simple like this will do.
100Amp Circuit Breaker
To wire your blade fuse boxes to your bus bars you will need 2 cables per fuse box, one red cable to go from the positive bus bar to the positive terminal on the fuse box, and one black cable to go from negative bus bar to the negative terminal on the fuse box. It is best to use thicker cable than you need just to be safe and incase you want to add anything else to your set up at a later date.
I recommend using 8 AWG cable. You could get away with a much smaller cable for the lights but you will have some left over 8 AWG cable and lugs so its pointless buying more cables and lugs just for the short distance. There is enough here for both fuse boxes
Boladge 2 X 1 Meter Pure Silicone Wire 8AWG Power Cable Neg & Pos
You will also need eight 8AWG lugs to connect these to your bus bars and fuse box. You should have some left over from the pack of 20 I linked to earlier in the post.
Now thats all done you are pretty much ready to add whatever you like to your system and each thing you add will be very simple.
First things first you will need some lights.
Most people like to have some down lights and it is up to you how many you have, I find that six is enough for me in a LWB but most people have 8. These ones are very easy to install as they are touch on/off so all you need to do is run each one to a positive terminal and a negative terminal on your fuse box and you are good to go.
12V LED TOUCH SENSITIVE ON OFF LIGHT BOAT CARAVAN MOTORHOME BRUSHED COOL
Another popular kind of lighting is reading lights. A lot of people like to install these for reading in bed or around their seating areas, another popular place to install them is in the kitchen. Again these are really simple to install as the switches are built in.
MASO 12V LED Spot Reading Light
If you want for the 8x down lights and the 4x reading lights that will be all the terminals on your light fuse box filled. If you wanted to add more lights you could just piggy back a few of the down lights at the fuse box. If you only went for 6x down lights and or 2x reading lights you will still have some spare terminals...
If you fancy making things a little bit funky you could add some RGB LED strip lights. These are the multi colour/colour changing ones that a lot of people have in their vans. You can pretty much set it any colour you want and it will cleverly match it with its Red, Green & Blue (RGB) bulbs. You can set them to change to music and can even download an app to control them from your phone.
WOWLED 2M USB 5050 RGB 60 LEDs Flexible Smart Strip Light Waterproof Tape Light 5V Alexa iOS Android APP Wireless WiFi IR Remote Control
The lights above are only 2M long so you if you want to join a couple together or even have a couple run off of the same power supply in a few different places then you will need a kit like this. It even has little clips for attaching your lights to surfaces.
5050 4Pin LED Strip Connector Kit with 2 Way RGB Splitter Cable, 6.6ft RGB Extension Cable, Strip to RGB Controller Jumper, LED Strip to Strip Jumper, L Shape Connectors, Gapless Connectors
For wiring all of your lights to your fuse box you should use this cable. To stick to the colour system we should choose red and black instead of blue and brown. This is a roll of 30M and is rated at 11 AMPS. for the fuses in the fuse box always go one size above the cable to protect both your van and the accessory from power surges. So with 11amp cable I would go for a 15 amp fuse.
11 AMP Rated* 0.5mm2 Thin Wall 2 Twin Core Cable Wire Car LED Lights (30M Roll)
Another necessity in most vans is some ventilation. A good idea is to go for one powered extracting fan on your roof at one end and an opening skylight at the other end. This way with the skylight open and the fan on it will suck air through your van creating a cross breeze. If you don't have space for skylight or its just not in your budget you can create the same effect by having the fan at the back of your van and opening your vans front windows.
You will need a really good fan on the summer, this is probably the best on the market and the one most people choose. You can use the 11AMP cable above to wire this to your fuse box with a 15 amp blade fuse in your fuse box.
Maxxair 00-07500K MaxxFan Deluxe with Remote - Smoke
I know its not electric but if you can fit a skylight or your roof too these are really good. The bigger the better in my opinion
Dometic Midi Heki 70 x 50
Dometic Mini Heki 40 x 40
Next you will need some sockets for powering and charging all of your accessories. Most modern 12v accessories either use a USB, USB C or Cigarette lighter socket, so I suggest installing at least one of each to cover each eventuality.
First of all I think you should install one of these near your TV. 12V TV's pretty much always use a lighter socket plug for power and 12V accessories for TV'S like sound bars, Amazon Fire sticks, Now TV box, DVD players etc use USB so this is a perfect. The USB socket is also 3.0 Quick charge.
Power Outlet with LED Light Waterproof Cigarette Lighter Socket Quick Charge 3.0
As the lighter socket if for your 12V TV and they pull about 5 or 6 amps and the dual USB socket has to ports each at 3 amps that adds up to 12 amp so we will need so thicker cable.
For this I recommend at least 16.5 amp cable with a 20 amp fuse
Wire4u 12V 24V AUTOMOTIVE THIN WALL RED/BLACK CAR CABLE WIRE (Round 2 Core 1.0mm² 16.5Amps, 5 Metres)
I always like to install some power sockets near the kitchen too, they come in useful for 12v blenders, coffee machines, kettles and other kitchen gadgets. This one below comes with more than everything you will need.
EEEKit Car Charger Switch Panel, 12V Dual USB Charger Socket + Cigarette Lighter Adapter + Blue LED Voltmeter + ON/OF Toggle Switch
As I said above it comes with more than enough, I meant something specific by this. First of all I think that a voltmeter that is just a voltmeter is pretty pointless. I always like to remove the original voltmeter from the panel above and replace it with the socket below. It has both USB C & USB 3.0 Quick charge and also has a voltmeter like the useless thing you have just removed. In a few years time USB with be obsolete and everything will be powered with USB C. Until then you are going to need the option for both as we are in limbo at the moment with some things using USB and some USB C
GemCoo PD Type C Car USB Socket 46W and QC 3.0 18W 12V/24V
If we do the maths for this whole panel...
We need about 6 amps for the lighter socket, 4.2 amps for the dual USB socket and 7 amps for the USB C & USB QC socket. That is 17.2 amps so the 16.5 amp cable above will not be thick enough. For this I would use 20 amp cable which is 14 AWG with a 20 amp blade fuse in your fuse box.
TUOFENG 14 AWG Wire,Soft and Flexible Silicone Insulated Wire 20 m [10 m Black And 10 m Red ]
If you don't have many gadgets this might already be enough sockets for you, however most people also like to install some sockets next to their beds or seating areas too just for convenience.
What you install depends on your requirements etc as there are loads of choices, you could go for the same system as above again swapping out the voltmeter for a USB C & USB QC socket again to cover all options again using 20 amp cable
You could go for something simple like a USB C & USB QC socket each side of your bed/seating area, you could use 11 amp cable for this but it would take up two terminals on your fuse box.
I personally have this set up next to the side of my bed, I got the blank face plate from ebay for about £3 and just customised it for what I wanted. For this set up I have used 11amp cable from each socket to 3 separate terminals on my fuse box. If I wanted to wire them all together I could have but would have needed to use 20 amp cable. (by now I assume you are all understanding the maths) For the 11amp cable I can use 15 amp fuses if it was 20 amp cable I would have had to use A 25 amp fuse.
And finally one last socket I suggest to everybody would be a decent lighter socket near your back/side door or near your garage area as most 12v accessories that you will use outside for example 12v tyre pumps always come with a lighter plug on the end. For this I would go with a 30 amp socket with 30 amp cable with an inline fuse and wire them to you positive and negative bus bars.
YCIND Female Cigarette Lighter Socket Power Outlet Heavy Duty 30A Fuse 12V 12AWG Cord 10Ft
Once you have all of your sockets installed there are still a few bits that need to be wired to your fuse box. These are all optional but as I am posting a full system I am going to include everything.
The first thing pretty much all full time van lifers need is a kitchen, weirdly even your kitchen tap uses 12v electricity and a 12v water pump to work so I will start there.
Again there are lots of options for this, you could choose whatever you like if you know the basics its very easy.
The easiest way is a microswitched tap with a water pump, when you switch the tap on the pump powers up and you have water.
Another way is a water pump, your choice of faucet (without a tap eg copper pipe) and an independent switch. With this you just have to run a food grade water hose or solid pipes between your water pump and and faucet, when you switch your independent switch on the water will flow (probably quite fast).
So as I like to keep things simple I like to go for the switched tap and water pump option. This is the tap and sink set up I have in my van but there are many more options out there. I like to go for just a cold tap in the kitchen and heat water on my hob if needed to save all the hassle of a water heater. That being said I will write a side post to show you how to add hot water in your kitchen with this specific set up, it only takes a few extra bits and pieces.
Comet London Cold Water Tap Single Lever 12V Microswitch
Voilamart Steel Stainless Kitchen Sink Bowl
When it comes down to water pumps I would go for something like this. You can get submersible pumps really cheap but this one will let you have your water tank pretty much anywhere you choose, all you have to do is attach one pipe to your tap and one to your water supply.
To wire this to your tap and pump you should use 11 amp cable and 15 amp fuse