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Old 08-05-2018, 05:51 PM   #1
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Solar 300 watt upgrade DIY

I finally finished my 300 watt three panel solar upgrade along with a new Victron Solar charger as well as the Victron MPPT and battery monitor. I can see why Lew charges as much as he does-this is a very labor intensive project if you do it correctly and not take any short cuts. And when dealing with power issues, no short cuts are allowed.

I sourced the parts from AMSolar who also helped with the few questions I had.

First, though, I had to prep the roof. Both the MaxFann vent and black tank vent sealer needed removed and replaced, so I did that first. Then I removed the antenna, and the original 50 watt panel that came with the van. Although these original feet could have been used, I decided against it because it would have required a higher mounting position since it would have to clear the bath vent in the raised position. I wanted a lower profile for the panel, so I did not use them. However, unlike the front and rear panel, that I can tilt front to back or vice-versa if I wanted to, the mounting feet on the center panel had to go on the side, not the end, so it cannot be tilted. But it can be removed or placed aside to clean underneath at least. I also removed the mounting brackets and the bolts that held them to the roof. When all the hardware was removed, I carefully removed all the old Sika from all the various holes. I also removed the solar cable entry plastic 1/2 port (held in place by only Sika), pulled the old wire out from the inside and cut it off. I plugged the hole with a plastic knock-out from the AMSolar combiner box which fit perfectly.

After all the Sika was removed and the roof as clean as it could be with alcohol, I then replaced the bolts where the old panel's mounting feet were attached to so the hole would be plugged, as well as the screws that held the old feet of the antenna. I then used a new tube of Sika 221 over all the mounting points and the entry point for the solar cable no longer needed.

In the process, I removed the cable entry box that I had installed that ran into the van above the instrument panel that provided the entry for the awning and rear view camera. The area underneath had some rust where the screw holes had been drilled by Airstream, and I happen to have a can of silver paint matching the Airstream from an earlier project, so I taped off the area, primed it, painted it, and the applied several clear coats.

After it was dry, I then pulled 6-2 up into the roof. This was not easy, and I only managed to do it by splitting the 6-2 and pulling each one separately. I then attached it to the combiner box, which I mounted over the hole.

After the roof was complete and ready, I attached the AMSolar 10-2 wire to each panel, and cut each to length to reach the combiner box.

Once finished outside, I removed the old charge controller, and tried to figure out where to mount the charge controller, and 40 amp breaker and found a good place just opposite in front of the existing battery box (which I will later remove anyway). It wasn't easy to mount it here because of the limited space to work, but that's the best place. I also mounted a matching switch under the existing battery disconnect switch so I can disconnect the solar if I want to do so (which, if I upgrade to lithium, I just may). I then mounted the Victron battery monitor and MPPT controller in the place of the Atkinson remote.

Overall, I have to admit this was a much bigger job that I had originally anticipated, but I'm glad I did it myself because I have a very good idea how this all works together. And finally, I don't have to worry about running the batteries low when no shore power is available.

Next is Part II: Battery and inverter/charger upgrade. Stay tuned...
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Old 08-05-2018, 08:46 PM   #2
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Nice work! Very impressive. We have the same model so I'm following your upgrade threads closely. Couple of questions: are those the AM Solar SP100 panels? (Every time I visit their website those are sold out). Where are you locating the new tv antenna?
Thanks
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Old 08-05-2018, 09:23 PM   #3
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I like the way the panels are installed. It has a little gap. Hopefully that helps keep some heat off the roof.
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Old 08-05-2018, 10:27 PM   #4
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Nice work! Very impressive. We have the same model so I'm following your upgrade threads closely. Couple of questions: are those the AM Solar SP100 panels? (Every time I visit their website those are sold out). Where are you locating the new tv antenna?
Thanks
Thanks! Yes, they are AMSolar's SP100's. Guess I must have caught them at the right time. For a good substitute, try these, which I almost bought instead. They actually are a bit smaller form factor an similar output. I opted for the SP100's because AMsolar pre-drills the panels and when you add the cost for the tilt-feet, they are about the same. I ended up having the drill holes for the brackets for the middle panel anyway.

I ended up buying the panels, the Victron BMV-712 Battery Monitor Kit, and the combiner box, plus a couple of extra watertight connectors for the combiner box to run the awning and rear camera cable through. I added the MPPT controller later but before I started the installation. But, you could do away with the MPPT controller as the charger can use a smart phone app with bluetooth. But I like to be able to quickly see the state of charge and how the panels are doing on the panel.

I also had to buy a crimper that could crimp 6 or higher gauge wire, and assorted connectors and lugs, plus a half dozen feet of 6 awg wire to hook it all up.

I figured I saved $4500-5000 in labor costs doing it myself. Plus, I didn't take any short cuts in the process, so I know it's done correctly as how long it took was not an issue. But I have to be honest-it was a LOT of work.
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Old 08-05-2018, 10:39 PM   #5
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I like the way the panels are installed. It has a little gap. Hopefully that helps keep some heat off the roof.
That was one reason I did not want flex panels. The hotter the panels get, the less efficient they are, plus that heat will be directly or indirectly transferred to the roof, which will then could make the interior hotter as well.

The advantage to having a open space under the panel not only allows some air movement that will naturally cool the panel, it also shades the roof from direct sunlight, which is an added benefit. And if I want to I can tilt the front and back panels for added output while stationary.

AMSolar's tilt-mount feet allow three different levels. If you notice, I tilted the front panel a bit lower in the front.
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Old 08-06-2018, 04:19 AM   #6
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Did yours have the standard crank up tv antenna? How did you go about removing that? How big was the hole?
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Old 08-06-2018, 07:07 AM   #7
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Nicely done!!
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Old 08-06-2018, 07:39 AM   #8
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Did yours have the standard crank up tv antenna? How did you go about removing that? How big was the hole?
It did not. It had a large, ugly round UFO looking black antenna on the rear that was mounted with three legs. I removed it and did not replace it because we used an over the air antenna only one time in all the years we've owed a Class B (over 11 years). I left the option open to add it later by using the existing entry hole where the solar wires entered the roof, or by using the existing combiner box. There is plenty of room to mount a new antenna behind the middle antenna if we decide we need one.

We pretty much either stream or take downloaded media using Playon for any TV entertainment.

I know from my previous RV (Roadtrek) that the crank up type entry hole isn't that big-maybe 1 to 1.5" and would not be difficult to cover with Sika 221, though, if that helps. It seems like it is removed from the inside if I recall. It shouldn't be that hard to do.
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Old 08-06-2018, 07:39 AM   #9
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Nicely done!!
Thanks!
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Old 08-06-2018, 07:54 AM   #10
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Great job! Lew did my upgrade a couple years ago and you are so right. Itís a lot of work! He more than earned his fees! Besides.....wife and I spent that week in the ďKeysĒ..
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Old 08-06-2018, 04:20 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by gmillerok1 View Post
Overall, I have to admit this was a much bigger job that I had originally anticipated, but I'm glad I did it myself because I have a very good idea how this all works together. And finally, I don't have to worry about running the batteries low when no shore power is available.

Next is Part II: Battery and inverter/charger upgrade. Stay tuned...
Nice work. Weíve found that the only way we can get the quality and timely service we expect at a cost we can afford is by doing it ourselves. As you noted, there it also comes with a deeper understandin of and and apreciation for your vanís systems which can be invaluable on the road when things enevitably fail.
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Old 08-06-2018, 08:20 PM   #12
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Nice work. Weíve found that the only way we can get the quality and timely service we expect at a cost we can afford is by doing it ourselves. As you noted, there it also comes with a deeper understandin of and and apreciation for your vanís systems which can be invaluable on the road when things enevitably fail.
So true. Sometimes you get what you donít pay for.
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Old 08-07-2018, 12:54 AM   #13
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Impressive!
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Old 08-07-2018, 08:54 AM   #14
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Thanks for posting this...fine work!
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Old 08-07-2018, 04:02 PM   #15
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So true. Sometimes you get what you donít pay for.
GMILLEROK1 - Excellent job you did there. A lot of your own work, a lot of knowledge & wisdom that you gain.
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Old 08-07-2018, 05:11 PM   #16
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GMILLEROK1 - Excellent job you did there. A lot of your own work, a lot of knowledge & wisdom that you gain.
Thanks. Of course one thing I learned is not to do a project like this during the hottest part of the summer, among other things!
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Old 08-07-2018, 05:19 PM   #17
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Thanks. Of course one thing I learned is not to do a project like this during the hottest part of the summer, among other things!
GMILLEROK1 - tell me about it. Simple oil/filter change (and other stuff I will post later) before our So. Cal. trip in this heat, even starting early morning caused me a major migraine attack. Needed to recover a full day before trip
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Old 08-13-2018, 08:50 PM   #18
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gmillerok1, your install looks remarkably similar to the 300 w install that Lewster just did for me. I included the tv antenna, because we occasionally use broadcast signal. Iím very pleased with the results. I was not confident in dealing with the roof penetrations, and we are currently engaged in a remodeling project at home, limiting the time I had available.

Lew removed the battery box, and reinstalled my 220ah pair of one year old 6v Lifelines. When the time comes for new house batteries, we will have room to install the 300ah Lifelines. Overall I am well pleased.
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Old 08-13-2018, 09:47 PM   #19
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It does, indeed. As far as roof penetrations go, actually none were needed as VHB tape plus Sika 221 is used for the panels. But using that can be pretty challenging too. I used the existing entry where the awning wires came in on my unit, which is near the curbside rear of the AC unit. Because of that it would the location of the rear panel is a bit farther back on my install. However it looks like he also did not use the existing panel mounts for the middle panel on yours as he has on other installs which I much prefer.

I plan on removing the battery box on part 2 of my upgrade as well.
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Old 08-13-2018, 10:12 PM   #20
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I did away with the plastic vent from the former battery box because the plastic slats were brittle and all broke out. Since it is an Airstream, I thought a bit of aluminum would be appropriate.
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