The Electrical System
This is probably on one of the most asked about questions regarding our van build and is generally one of the most intimidating parts of any setup for a home builder. Do any basic search online and you will find countless forum threads with people asking, “How do I setup my solar and what should I buy?” I hope that this list of components we use will aid those researching for a new build or a revamp of your current van electrical build.
Batteries can be considered the heart of any electrical system and a quality battery designed for heavy duty use can save the worry associated with dead batteries in the middle of off-the-grid camping.
Mambo is outfitted with two Lifeline GPL-8DL AGM Deep Cycle Batteries providing a total capacity of 510 Ah. Providing plenty of house power.
Starting duties is handled by and Odyssey 45R-PC1500T providing 68Ah and 850 CCA.
When planning a battery bank layout, understand that AGM batteries can safely be discharged down to 50 percent of the actual capacity before damaging the internal cells. Because of this, it is recommended that you calculate your requirements before purchasing any batteries to ensure your systems is adequate for your needs. Most electronics such as refrigerators provide an Ah listing within their product details.
Here is a good little calculator that can be used.
Our batteries are charged via two sources, a 300 watt solar setup as well as the engine alternator which charges the batteries when we are on the move.
This setup allows us to run all of our appliances for a virtually unlimited amount of time. The ARB fridge with insulation jacket takes minimal power combined with LED lighting within the cab makes for a power sipping combo, although there are two items that will drain the battery quickly if ran for extended periods of time. First, the Microwave oven. We rarely use it, but it is great when heating up leftovers or boiling water quickly for a cup of coffee. The second item is the Air Conditioner / Heater unit by Dometic, which we will talk about later, but quickly uses up battery power if in heat mode, but if in sunny conditions will generously drink the batteries power, but the solar keeps it topped off pretty well.
One item that is generally overlooked is the factory alternator, typically designed for low to medium duty applications, these units are often overworked by DIY van builders. When choosing the size of your battery bank, you must also consider the charge rate of your alternator combined with the amount of time needed to charge your drained batteries. The larger the amperage output, the faster the charge of your batteries. Mambo has been outfitted with an American Power Systems 270 Amp High Output alternator.
Typically, we do not need 120 volt power, but it is nice to have for charging those electronic devices such as laptops, and powering typical household items. We actually enjoy having the ability to use a toaster while on the road. We employ the Pro Combi S – 12V Combined Inverter Charger / PURE sinewave 2500W / 55A unit that handles virtually any load we may throw at it including hairdryers, microwave ovens, and toasters.
One thing we really like about this inverter is that it handles the duties of our shore power as well. With a flick of the control switch, it will begin charging your batteries and provide shore power for use while camping in RV friendly locations.
Hope this information helps you with your build or upgrade of current setup. If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out via the comments, or shoot us an email via our “Contact Us” form. Safe travels!