Upgrading Your Travel Trailer with a Solar Power System

I’ve recently installed solar on my own trailer, let me walk you through the process and share some lessons I learned along the way.

Determining Your Power Needs

The first step is figuring out how much power you’ll need. After all, solar panels and related gear can get pricey, so you don’t want to buy more than necessary. Take some time to monitor your electrical usage. How much are you typically running your lights, fridge, gadgets, and other devices? AMSolar’s handy System Sizing tool can help calculate your needs based on actual usage patterns.

For me, it was easy to go overboard planning for a giant system before realizing I didn’t truly need that much power. Don’t forget, you’ll likely be conserving more while off-grid. I ended up getting by just fine with a modest 400 watt system. The fridge running on propane helped a lot too. But your needs may vary, especially if you love blasting the AC or cooking elaborate meals in the microwave.

My pal Reggie went in the complete opposite direction. He refused to even run basic lighting in the evening to avoid draining his battery, instead choosing to sit in the dark like a weirdo. Don’t be like Reggie. Size your system based on the lifestyle you want, not austerity.

Choosing Solar Panels

Once you’ve determined your power requirements, it’s shopping time! There are a few main options when it comes to solar panels:

Monocrystalline – The most efficient but most expensive panels. I splurged on these for my compact trailer roof.

Polycrystalline – Slightly lower efficiency but much more affordable. Great choice if you need more watts but have limited budget.

Thin Film – The least efficient but cheapest per watt. Can be a good option for a large ground-mount system. Just need more space.

Beyond the panel technology itself, make sure to check reviews and verify the product has a good warranty. I cheaped out on some no-name panels once and they barely lasted a year before going kaput. What a headache. Stick with reputable brands like Renogy or Go Power.

Mounting and Placement

Okay, you’ve got your shiny new panels – now where to put them?

Roof Mount – Attaching solar panels to your trailer roof is convenient for capturing maximum sunlight. Just be sure to use proper mounts, sealants, and wiring conduits to avoid leaks or damage. Adding panels on the roof will also raise your clearance height, something to factor on forest roads.

Ground Mount – For larger solar arrays, setting up panels on the ground is often easier than bolting them onto the roof. You can angle and orient portable ground mounts to follow the sun. Just find a level spot with lots of unshaded sunlight.

Portable – Small foldable solar panels can also supplement your main array. These movable units are great for recharging devices, batteries, or topping up the trailer’s house battery bank. Easy to position for optimum sun.

My trailer has 300 watts of fixed monocrystalline panels on the roof, plus another 100 watt portable panel that I flexibly set up as needed. This gives me solid daily charging, but I can also take the portable panel on week-long backpacking trips to keep my satellite communicator and camera batteries juiced up!


Connecting all the solar components together with wiring is critical. Do it wrong and you’ll end up with power losses and epic headaches trying to troubleshoot issues.

  • Use the appropriate wire gauge for your system size and DC voltage. Oversizing is better than undersizing when it comes to wire.
  • Pay attention to polarity – don’t mix up your positive and negative connections!
  • Use high quality copper wiring and weatherproof connectors.
  • Add fuses or breakers to protect your wiring from shorts. Safety first!

Take your time wiring everything neatly, and don’t cut corners here. You want to get it right the first time. Label both ends of each cable so you can keep things straight.

I made the mistake of routing cables messily once and it became a tangled spider web of confusion when I needed to add more gear later on. Not my finest moment. Now I take the time to route and label everything nicely right from the start.

Charge Controller

The charge controller is the brains of the operation, managing power from the solar panels to your batteries. Don’t skip the charge controller (as I foolishly did once) or you’ll fry your batteries in no time!

There are two main types:

PWM – Pulse width modulation charge controllers are more affordable but less sophisticated. They get the job done.

MPPT – Maximum power point tracking controllers are more expensive but also more efficient. Worth it if you have the budget.

No matter which you choose, make sure your controller can handle the combined wattage of all panels in your array, as well as your battery bank capacity. Undersizing your controller will lead to problems. I learned that lesson too.


If you plan to run any standard 120-volt AC appliances or outlets in your trailer, you’ll need an inverter to transform your DC battery power into AC. Make sure the inverter is powerful enough for the devices you plan to run.

Some key factors when selecting an inverter:

  • Continuous and surge wattage ratings
  • Output voltage and waveform (pure vs modified sine wave)
  • Efficiency rating (90% or better is good)
  • Safety certifications

I opted not to get an inverter since I don’t have any must-have AC appliances. But my buddy Reggie swears by his 1500 watt inverter that lets him run a portable induction cooktop. Different strokes!

Budgeting and Planning

Okay, lets recap some key cost considerations:

  • Solar panels – Expect to pay around $1/watt for decent quality panels
  • Charge controller – $100-$200 for a PWM, $200-$500+ for an MPPT
  • Inverter – $100+ for a small inverter, $1000+ for a large pure sine wave model
  • Batteries – $150+ per 100 amp-hours for AGM or lithium batteries
  • Wiring, connectors, fuses, etc – Budget at least $100-200
  • Racks, mounts, conduit – Varies a lot, figure $200+

It adds up fast, so prepare your wallet! Prioritizing your needs is key to avoid spending too much. My $1,000 starter system handles the basics, while Reggie dropped over $5k on his souped-up off-grid palace. Know your must-haves and budget accordingly.

Installation Day

Finally, it’s time to install your solar system! Make sure to have your manuals, component diagrams, tools, fasteners, and of course, coffee on hand. I prefer to assemble the entire system and test it before doing any permanent mounting to avoid drilling extra holes.

My pal didn’t follow this advice. Eager beaver that he is, Reggie immediately drilled 10 gaping holes in his roof to mount the panels… only to then discover his charge controller was faulty. So he had to dismount the whole array and patch the holes before waiting weeks for a replacement part. Don’t be like Reggie!

I’m also obligated to remind you that solar system installation involves working with electricity, heights, and power tools. Be careful up there! Safety has to come first. Take your time and don’t rush through it.

Enjoying Off-Grid Bliss

That’s a high-level overview of the major steps for upgrading your trailer with solar. Once it’s all dialed in, get out there and enjoy living easy with renewable power!

No more worrying about battery life or limiting use of devices and lights. Solar freedom is a great feeling. Switching to off-grid solar is one of the best upgrades I’ve made to my trailer. The ability to boondock for days or weeks without generator noise or exhaust is a real game changer.

Yeah, the install process takes some time and effort. But the benefits are so worth it in the long run. Solar just clicks with the trailer lifestyle. And there’s something satisfying about generating your own power from the sun.

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