Vanlife Wiring: Understanding Campervan Wiring & Electricity
So, you’ve purchased a van, decided on the layout, and picked out all the major design elements. Nice work – you’re getting closer to a completed van conversion. The next thing you need to do is start the wiring process.
The process of installing a conversion van electrical system varies depending on how many components (such as batteries, inverters and power sources) you need to manage. And, since you’re dealing with living in a small space, there are always safety risks. Fortunately, you can reduce the likelihood of electrical problems by carefully following instructions. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to wire your campervan.
Wiring 101: How To Connect Two Electrical Components Together
One of the first things you need to know when wiring a campervan is how to connect two electrical components together. For example, say you have a strip of 12 volt overhead lights – before you can turn them on, you must connect them to a power source (such as a battery). This process (called “splicing”) can be accomplished by following these steps:
- Turn off the power: Make sure all items are powered off (otherwise, you risk electrical shock).
- Locate wires: Take a wire from both electrical components.
- Strip the wires: Using a wire stripper tool, remove the plastic covering or insulation from the wire ends.
- Attach the wires together: You can connect the wires by crimping them (which requires using a crimping tool to secure a connector to your wires) or by soldering them (which uses heat to bring two wires together).
Congratulations – you’ve now created an electrical current that runs straight through one wire to the other! That’s wiring.
What Van Electrical Components Need to Be Wired Together?
Now, to wire a campervans electrical system involves much more than just a couple of wires. Here are the main components found in a van electrical system:
- Power source: The power source (generally solar power, alternator or shore power) supplies electrical power throughout your vehicle.
- Battery: The battery works with your power source to transfer electric currents to your devices.
- Positive/negative busbar: The busbar is used to distribute power from the battery.
- Fuse box: A fuse box helps prevent electrical circuits from overloading (which consequently lowers the risk of fire).
- Inverter: An inverter can convert alternating current (AC) electricity to direct current (DC) electricity and vice versa.
- Socket: Your vehicle should have sockets (where you can plug in electrical devices).
Start by wiring the power source to the battery – this will charge the battery, which in turn is wired to the positive and negative bus bars. These bus bars are connected to the fuse box, which distributes power to all your AC powered devices (such as lights, campervan tv’s, fans, roof mounted AC’s, satellite internet devices, and refrigerators).
At the same time, the battery is (separately) wired to an inverter which converts AC power to DC power. This inverter is connected to a socket that’s used to power any DC appliances (such as mobile phones).
What Wiring Components Do You Need to Wire Your Van?
Before you can complete your van wiring, you must purchase all the necessary supplies. While some materials will be more or less the same for every van owner, others vary depending on the appliances being used. Below is a list of everything you’ll need.
Wire Size and Wire Type for Van Wiring
It goes without saying that you’ll need wires for your camper van wiring project. When selecting wires, you must consider both size and type.
Wire Size (AWG)
If you want a safe, efficient and functional wiring system, it’s essential to select the right wire size, or the AWG (American Wire Gauge). Not only will incorrectly sized wires cause your lights and appliances to malfunction, but they’ll also increase the risk of electrical fire. To choose the perfect wire size, gather the following information:
- Wire length
- Load current (maximum current that an electrical machine can operate)
- Fuse breaker current (minimum current at which the fuse melts and disconnects the circuit)
Once you have these details, enter them into an online wire size calculator to determine what AWG you need.
Wire Type: Solid vs. Stranded
There are two types of wires you may come across during the campervan wiring process: solid and stranded wires.
Solid wires are heavy, anti-corrosive wires known for their durability and weather-resistant properties. Since they require a high current, they’re generally used for outdoor applications or large projects (such as wiring building infrastructures).
Stranded wires are flexible, delicate wires that typically come in bundled form. Most will need to be bent or twisted into shape before powering items. You’ll usually find stranded wires used in indoor applications (such as in circuit boards).
What Wire Type Should I Use?
While solid wires are helpful for outdoor projects, stranded wires are the way to go when it comes to campervan wiring. Their flexible nature makes them easier to connect, and they’re less prone to wear and tear from the van’s vibrations.
Connectors for Van Wiring
As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to connect wires together to power your various electrical components. While there are many ways to connect wires, the most recommended method is crimping.
This method involves using a “crimping tool” to adjust the wire shape so that it can be attached to a wire connector (which enables the two wires to connect and fosters an electrical current from one to the other). Like wires, connectors come in different sizes – make sure that the one you choose is designed for the AWG of your wires.
What Tools Do You Need to Wire Your Van?
Once you’ve assembled your wiring components, the next step is to gather the right tools. Most wiring can be done with the following items:
- Wire Crimper: This tool (which resembles a pair of pliers) is used to deform metal and wires, letting you merge wires or attach a connector to the end of a cable. Ideally, the wire crimper should have a built-in ratchet (which facilitates ease-of-use).
- Wire Cutter and Stripper: Wire stripper-cutters allow you to cut wires down to the desired length and strip off the protective casing or insulation.
- Digital Multimeter: This tool measures electrical values like voltage, currents/amps and resistance. You can use it to check the status of your electrical devices and troubleshoot circuits.
Now that you have all your materials, you may move on to the most important step: the installation.
Installation: How Your Campervan Wiring All Fits Together
You’ve gathered all your AC and DC powered devices, calculated the right wire size and bought your wires and tools. The only thing left to do is bring all your wiring together into one comprehensive, functional system. Below is a general outline on how to wire your camper van.
1) Connect Wires to Electronics
Start by double-checking that you have the right-sized wires (if they’re incorrectly sized, you’ll have to redo this part). Once you’re sure you have the correct wires, connect them to your electronic devices and fuse box. The fuse box (which will cut off electricity if the circuits ever overload) should be connected to your power source and battery.
2) Connect the Wires Together
After you’ve connected wires to your devices and fuse box, it’s time to bring them together. First, gather your connectors and crimping tool. Then, do the following:
- Strip the wire: Strip off the insulation so that the wire is exposed.
- Twist the wire: Using your hands, twist the wire to make it denser.
- Add the connector: Slide the wire into the connector.
- Attach the wire to the crimping tool: Your crimping tool should have slots – place the wire into the slot that matches its gauge and insulation color.
- Crimp the wire: Squeeze the crimping tool to mold the wire into the right shape. As mentioned earlier, make sure the crimping tool has a built-in ratchet (as this will make the process go by more smoothly).
- Solder the wire (optional): If you’re worried the connector isn’t securely attached, use a soldering gun to gently apply heat until the connector and wire are fused together.
- Seal the wire: Finish the crimping by sealing the wire with the attached connector (also known as a crimp terminal). You can do this with electrical tape.
Now that you have a secure connector, you may use it to attach two wires together (resulting in a continuous electrical current from your fuse box to your device).
3) Use the Digital Multimeter to Check Wires
To ensure current is running through the wires, test them using your digital multimeter. On the multimeter, you’ll see separate ports for red and black probes. Attach the respective colored wires to their designated ports, then see what the multimeter says. During this process, keep the following in mind:
- Safety: Avoid touching live wires with your bare hands – instead, use an insulating glove for protection.
- Mode: Depending on the appliances you’re checking, you must put the multimeter into either AC or DC mode.
- Current: You should test the wires on the highest current possible. Most multimeters can measure voltage between 200 mV and 600 V (AC or DC).
If the multimeter reads your current, you can proceed to the next (and final) step. Conversely, if there’s an error, go back to the previous step and make sure all wires are connected properly.
4) Attach Protective Covering
Finish off your campervan wiring by attaching a protective covering. Take your wires, then carefully route them through plastic tubing. This will make the wires safer to handle and help prevent wear and tear. Once you’re done, kick back and enjoy your newfound electricity!
Conclusion: Campervan Wiring
Wiring a campervan is no easy feat, especially if you don’t have much experience with electricity. So, if you’ve made it through all these steps, give yourself a pat on the back – you’ve earned it!
Although campervan wiring is just one part of a van’s electrical system, it’s extremely important. You can have the highest quality power sources and appliances, but if the wires aren’t sized or connected properly, you won’t have electricity. Thus, it’s essential to put time and effort into setting up your electrical connections. If you have any questions about campervan wiring, don’t hesitate to reach out – our team is always happy to help!