how are people sorting out power in there van?

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  • Some of you may of seen my newbie thread, im going to be going off grid and buying a bus or big van to live in! Im very much in the planning stage but the one thing that confuses me in electrics. how are you powering everything? I will be in a permanent spot (when I find somewhere) but I wont have a power source ie hook up. how are you doing it/whats the best way? thanks in advanced, conor

  • A power source will depend on your personal needs, what are you planning to run?
    If you are planning to run anything that will draw a lot of power like a fridge then you will need 240 hook up or get a gas one.
    If you are just wanting to charge phone / tablet, have some lights, a small tv / radio, pump for water etc then a decent solar set up should be enough.

  • I don't have much in the way of power going on in mine. I have a wall light that's run from two AA batteries, a set of 200 fairy lights that have their own small solar panel, and I used to charge stuff like my phone from the cigarette lighter but something went wrong and now it won't stop busting fuses so for now I've just disconnected it! Those little dash solar panels are quite good for charging lights and phones etc, so I've heard.

  • I use Maplins small solar panels in the dash/windscreen.

    One charges a small battery/light, sold as suitable for a shed or garage.
    One charges the driving battery.
    One charges a leisure battery which has a triple cigarette lighter socket clipped on powers anything else I want/need.


  • thanks for the replies :) I don't plan to run too much, but a fridge will be on the list, lights, laptop, small tv and phone charger. do solar panels cope with charging a battery bank okay?

  • I use 2x220W solar panels, 300Ah battery bank, 40A MPPT charge controller. Does me fine, with the inverter I can run drills and grinders. It's OK as long as I don't have to weld or use other really heavy tools. The whole rig cost me 540£ + some wiring and little bits like fuse boxes that I have lying around anyway.
    I reckon something similar will do you, probably only one panel if you don't intend to use TV and laptop a lot. LED TVs are good, they draw some 20-30W. Laptops really depends, a 17" Mac book pro draws considerably more than a 10" netbook. Solar panels do alright at charging battery banks, get somebody who knows their low Volt DC to help, there is lots of pitfalls that can make 12V setups inefficient. Some of the most common ones are badly mounted or directed panels, inefficient charge controllers and wrong cable sizes.

  • ive got a 60a mppt outback controller hooked up to 400ah of batteries and a 1500w inverter but i have alot of solar input and im running at 24v. ive not ran out of power yet and it runs my laptop and sound just about constantly

  • So its not that hard to sort out some reliable power then :) its more a want than a need for a fridge, only be a tiny one, but defiantly will have something to keep drinks cold

  • with a decent solar set up and reasonable battery bank you should be able to use a good quality 12v / 24v compressor fridge they are pretty efficient these days (if you don't fancy a gas one). everything else can be sorted pretty easily. I only have a 150 watt panel and around 180amp deep cycle battery bank we managed a long weekend a few weeks back with no hookup, all though we had the fridge and boiler on gas, didn't use the TV but we were using a diesel blown air heater quite a bit, also have a small inverter genny if really desperate.

  • So its not that hard to sort out some reliable power then :) its more a want than a need for a fridge, only be a tiny one, but defiantly will have something to keep drinks cold

    Nature's the most efficient fridge leave your bevvies in a bucket o water overnight that'll chill em

  • So kinda van living(big static) 2 grown ups and four little'un.
    Not grid tied.
    Varies LED lights some sensor, which I love. All battery either AA/AAA .Charge once a week to 10 days tho getting longer with the lighter days.
    Fridge is a large coolbox on north side of van. Bag or two of frozen ice weekley. Tried metal box and marble slab kept getting mold on everything.
    Heat is wood burner
    Cooking gas
    Hot water/showering on demand again gas.ive connected to the main water supply so no pumps..
    All electronic devices 3 phones,3 tablets and wifi charged in family vehicle at different times.
    Suitcase Jenny goes on once a week for charging battery's .
    You really don't need lots of power!
    Apart from the washing machine!!! So we do visit the laundrette.....

  • I agree tbf, was just intrigued to what set up people have..most seem to have solar panels :)

    Solar is a good bet, even in England! The people on this forum have some brilliant set ups and excellent ideas. You're in the right place to figure it all out! :)

  • I lived on a 12 ton sailing yacht for twenty (? I think...) years - fridges and small seagoing boats don't mix. I never even entertained the idea. Eat veggie, use dried milk, cheese keeps for days even in summer (week or more in winter in a cool box on deck) in any case it tastes better if it has learned to walk a little... I had no electricity at all on board, and no engine - sailed everywhere, or anchored, or used the tide, and a sweep (or two when I had a crew).

    When I sold the yacht I bought a ruin and some land, met someone and rebuilt and extended (considerably!) the ruin. We had a fridge for several years - our house was off the grid. It was a 'Dometic'. We ran it on butane - a 14kilo bottle would last about five weeks - not cheap (say £5 per week, £260pa now?) but we had a kid... looking at the rating it would have been silly to run it on 12v or 240 via inverter.

    Contrast this with the cost of cooking on butane. On the yacht for a while I had a double burner hob and grill and a 14kilo bottle used to last a year or so. Today's cost about £25? Maybe about 8% of the consumption of a small fridge - which is going 24/7, don't forget.

    I started our Lister genny (hand start) whenever we wanted hoover, cement mixer, welder, angle grinder and if not twice a week to charge a couple of 110ah leisure batteries which we ran through an inverter for food mixer, odd use of electric drill etc. A friendly farmer sold us red diesel at cost. We would have 12 gallons every three weeks, maybe. But it all depends what you are doing... obviously you will use less if you are not using cement mixers and stuff.

    We had two lighting systems - 240v with low energy bulbs (from the inverter) and 12v. Partly belt and braces, partly because if you can see well enough with 12v it is more efficient and saves battery power. LEDs are useful, too - more choice now than even a few years ago.

    When I finally get my equity sorted and get a biggish van I'll be taking the same fridge (it has followed me around) but I don't know how much it will be used as such. A lot of the time it will probably be used just as a well insulated food locker - apart from veggie sausages, milk, and cheese I have little use for it... might get rid of it! But if I find somewhere to park up for any length of time with a hookup it would be practical...

    I guess I'll have a couple of 110ah leisure batteries and an inverter. Solar panels will be a new toy for me - they sound good if the price is right, and will help keep the batteries topped up. Preventing lead acid batteries from getting too low on charge is worth doing - more bang for your buck from a battery which is up to voltage. Lower state of charge, lower voltage and it takes a lot more out of the battery for any given amount of work - diminishing returns... worth looking up this sort of stuff on the internet!

  • Two 100 watt angled solar panels feeding two 110 a/h deep cycle batteries using an informative regulator. Blown air heating is useless for winter off grid living because uses too much juice; when circulating after heating two fans are being fed and (ours) puts out 5-6 amps at this stage before decreasing to 1.35-1.80 amps during tickover. This could be sustained with continually sunny days but how often do we get this in the winter, certainly rarely in wet West Wales which is our home manor. Hence the need for as much solar wattage as possible, to make the most of that sunlight when it does grace us with it's presence, this despite what so many so-called experts say about 100 watts being ample - it is not in GB. Keep on truckin', Toby

  • do people hook up their altenators to their battery banks with associated charge controllers etc?

    seems to be the best way to keep batteries toped up and devices running or charging whilst the engine is running ....

  • Solar panels are great if you have decent quality ones and enough watts. I've found though, that what batteries you have makes a big difference. Standard leisure ones are pretty crap really. They do some sort of job but are very inefficient, and don't last any time at all if you work them hard.
    If you have a big bank of them so you don't drain them as quickly, they cost loads and are still disappointing. I've recently got some good quality used gel batteries that came off a stand-by telecom system, and although they are probably 5 years old the difference is amazing. They seem to take far less power to charge, and hold their voltage under load vastly better. You do need to not over charge them, ie: watch that the charging voltage is less than 14v (it says on them the exact voltage needed)

    I have 500 watts of solar now and that supplied all my power virtually all winter, even on dull days it was nearly always enough. Only started the genny a couple of time when I'd been using the blown-air heater a lot. On a sunny day it only takes about an hour to top the batteries back up after a evening's use.

    Oh, I forgot to say I don't have a fridge. In the winter you don't need one if you have a decent coolbox that's kept somewhere near outside temperature. In fact I bought a 4 pint of (organic)milk that was reduced to 16p on it's sell by date, it lasted me 3 days, and I used it all up before it went off.
    In the summer when it's warm I buy a bag of ice (£1) when I buy milk, 2 or 3 times a week and that's all I need. Probably only used about 20 bags of ice all last year.

    ' When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place '

    The post was edited 1 time, last by greenvanman ().

  • Never thought of gel batteries before but I know they use them in race cars etc cuz there ment to be safer. it was the main thing I was trying to get my head round was the issue of power but think I have worked it out :) really need to find somewhere to park up so I can crack on and get on with a build and be in by the summer but if proving very hard:(

  • We also have gel deep cycle batteries in our bank, and I've just fitted a new XANTREX charger to keep them in good condition. As for our heating set up it's a mixture of electric tubular heaters and a couple of 400 watt frost protector type heaters we use these most of the time as we are nearly all ways on small CS / CL type sites with electric hook up, when we are not on these sites we tend to use the Diesel blown air heater at the moment we have MIKUNI MY 30, to use less power we try and keep the heater at a setting so after the initial start up which uses quite a bit of current for a short amount of time it just ticks over on the low setting obviously good insulation helps here, ther are plenty of diesel heater options available I like the MY30 as it's easy to service when needed, and I had a new one in stock with loads of spares, I have also used Eberspacher D4 & D2 heaters extensively in emergency service vehicles these are also pretty reliable as long as they are used and not left standing again these are also pretty easy to work on. As for fitting they are all pretty much the same normally fitted on the vehicle floor via a metal plate with the combustion air intake and the exhaust both being under the vehicle floor, the heated air in the van interior is recirculated through the heater, fuel either taken from the vehicle fuel tank via a standpipe that comes with the heater or via a separate tank enabling red diesel or heating oil to be used.
    Webasto is another manufacturer of this type of heater all though I have little experience of using these the newer current models seem to be pretty efficient and I think use less current to start up and run, The MV Airo 2kw heater is also worth looking at for a smaller vehicle. There are also gas powered blown air heaters available from Propex

  • The range of heaters seem to be really good, I was reading up on a few the other day. defiantly seem to be a good range to choose from anyway :) I will be looking into getting one when I sort out a bus/truck and site to park on