Building a campervan electrical system is an exciting endeavour that requires careful planning and attention to detail. An efficient and reliable electrical system is essential for powering appliances, charging devices, and providing a comfortable living space on the road.
We have put together some common mistakes that you should be avoiding. These are mistakes we see being made time and time again and by mitigating these issues you can not only save yourself time and money but also keep your investment and yourself safe.
Under or over sizing your system
An undersized electrical system occurs when the components, such as batteries, solar panels, and inverters, are insufficient to meet the power demands of your campervan. The most apparent danger of an undersized system is running out of power prematurely, leaving you without essential amenities during your adventures.
Beyond inconveniences, an undersized system can damage your batteries due to excessive discharge cycles. Lead-acid batteries, commonly used in campervans, are sensitive to deep discharges, which can drastically shorten their lifespan and lead to costly replacements.
An oversized system can also cost more upfront, which might not be justifiable for the actual power requirements of your campervan. Over investment in unnecessary components can divert resources from other essential aspects of your tiny build, such as gas systems, water systems or cabinetry.
Poor Planning Of Your Installation
The most crucial stage of your entire electrical build is the planning and preparation.
Before diving into the installation process, you need to assess your power requirements. By contacting us at Tiny Build Electrics we will assess your power requirements and supply you with a wiring diagram (schematic) tailored to your individual needs.
Installing a system that has not been designed correctly could not only be dangerous, but is certainly not cost effective. You could potentially find yourself with a undersized or oversized system.
A consultation with a qualified and competent person with years of experience designing and installing electrical systems in camper vans can set you on the right track.
Not Adjusting Parameters & Settings Within Devices
An all too common mistake we see made is the incorrect setup of electrical equipment once installed in a campervan. Installing the equipment is only half of the job, the other half involves programming and setting the correct parameters for the equipment. Remember, when the equipment leaves the factory its set to work in multiple ways over many different types of installations. We need to tell the equipment exactly what it needs to be doing specific to our installation.
Victron Energy electrical equipment, such as battery chargers, inverters, and solar charge controllers, rely on accurate charge parameters to regulate the charging and discharging of batteries. These parameters determine the voltage levels, charging algorithms, and charging currents used to maintain the batteries health and maximise their lifespan.
By programming the correct charge parameters, campervan owners can ensure that the electrical system operates within safe and efficient limits. This includes preventing overcharging, undercharging, or mismatched charging currents, which can lead to various problems, such as reduced battery capacity, premature battery failure, and decreased overall system performance.
Detrimental Effects of Incorrect Charge Parameters
Correct charge parameter programming plays a vital role in maximising the efficiency and lifespan of all batteries. By precisely controlling the charging process, batteries can operate within their optimal ranges, minimising stress and wear. Properly programmed charge parameters prevent overcharging, undercharging, or charging at improper temperatures, all of which can degrade battery performance over time. Optimised charging leads to prolonged battery life, increased system efficiency, and enhanced overall reliability.
Reduced Battery Life
Charging batteries with incorrect parameters can significantly reduce their lifespan. Batteries that are consistently overcharged or undercharged experience increased stress, resulting in a shorter service life. This can lead to frequent battery replacements, incurring additional expenses and inconvenience for campervan owners.
Inefficient Power Management
Programming incorrect charge parameters may lead to inefficient power management within the campervan’s electrical system. Improper charging algorithms and current limits can result in reduced energy conversion efficiency, leading to higher energy consumption and decreased overall system performance. This can impact the availability of power for running appliances and devices, disrupting your experience in your campervan.
Require assistance with your programming your electrical equipment? We can help you through this complicated phase.
Not Implementing A Battery Management System
Using the correct battery management system (BMS) in a campervan is crucial for several reasons. A BMS is responsible for monitoring and controlling the charging, discharging, and overall management of the batteries in the campervan’s electrical system.
Battery Health and Longevity
A BMS ensures that the batteries are charged and discharged within safe limits, preventing overcharging and over-discharging. Overcharging can lead to excessive heat generation and damage the battery cells, while over-discharging can cause irreversible capacity loss. By maintaining optimal charging levels, a BMS helps extend the battery’s lifespan and overall health.
Batteries, especially lithium-ion batteries commonly used in campervans, can be hazardous if not properly managed. A BMS monitors the battery’s temperature, voltage, and current, preventing dangerous situations such as thermal runaway, overcurrent, and short circuits. It ensures that the battery operates within safe parameters, minimising the risk of fire, explosions, or other safety hazards.
A BMS optimises the charging process to maximise the battery’s performance. It ensures that the batteries receive the appropriate charging current and voltage, preventing undercharging and optimising the charging efficiency. Proper charging and maintenance significantly enhance the battery’s capacity and overall performance.
Not Using Compliant Accessories, Cables and Fuses!
Cables form the backbone of electrical systems, carrying power and ensuring efficient distribution throughout your campervan. Using the right type of cable, with appropriate size and insulation, is paramount in maintaining electrical safety.
IET British Standard 7671 provides guidelines for cable selection based on factors such as current-carrying capacity, voltage drop, and environmental conditions.
Non-compliant or substandard cables may overheat, fail to handle the intended load, or be prone to insulation failure, putting lives and your campervan at risk.
Fuses play a vital role in safeguarding electrical circuits by preventing excessive current flow. They act as protective devices that interrupt the current in the event of a fault or overload. By using the correct types of fuses specified by BS7671, the risk of electrical fires and equipment damage can be minimised significantly.
Selecting fuses that are non-compliant or incorrectly rated can compromise the entire electrical system, leading to potential hazards.
Risks Associated with Non-compliant Products
Failure to adhere to BS7671 regulations by choosing non-compliant fuses and cables can have severe consequences. Some of the risks involved include:
Fire Hazards: Non-compliant fuses and cables may fail to interrupt the circuit during an overload or short-circuit, leading to excessive heat generation and potentially causing fires.
Electrical Faults: Incorrectly sized or poorly insulated cables can result in electrical faults, including short circuits and electric shocks, endangering the safety of individuals and damaging electrical equipment.
Equipment Damage: Non-compliant fuses and cables can put significant strain on electrical devices and appliances, leading to their premature failure or malfunction.
Legal Consequences: Failure to comply with BS7671 regulations has the potential to result in legal liabilities, including fines, penalties, and possible litigation in the event of accidents or injuries.
Example Photo Below: Contact plates taken from a failed, non-compliant Isolator.
This isolator prematurely failed due to being cheap and non-compliant. Although the manufacturer stated this isolator could withstand 200a (amps) for 15 minutes, it clearly could not and disintegrated causing a premature system failure. This failure occurred with a load of only 62a, maximum load ever put through the isolator was 166a for very short periods, not even close to the stated 200a.
This is an example of using cheap accessories. Luckily the fault was found and rectified before it got serious. This could have easily caused a fire.
Not Using Expert Guidance
Attempting to navigate the intricacies of a campervan’s electrical system without expert help may appear to save money initially, but it can lead to long-term inefficiencies and headaches. Using professional guidance not only ensures a safer and more reliable electrical setup but also grants campervan builders peace of mind.
Not using expert guidance can lead to a haphazard integration of various components, creating a convoluted mess of cables and circuits. This tangled web not only confuses owners but also makes it incredibly challenging to troubleshoot and diagnose problems, wasting precious time that could be spent enjoying the journey.
Safety concerns are another significant issue that arises from not seeking professional advice. Campervan electrical systems deal with potentially hazardous components like batteries and inverters. Incorrect installations can lead to short circuits, fires, or electrical shocks, jeopardising both campervan owners and their beloved tiny homes.
Tiny Build Electrics ensures that every aspect of your campervan’s electrical system is meticulously designed to suit your unique needs. From efficient power distribution to reliable charging solutions and smart energy management, we’ve got you covered.
Not Adhering To Regulations & Guidance Notes
The primary reason to implement regulations and guidance notes when building a campervan electrical system is to prioritise the safety of its occupants.
A campervan is essentially a small mobile dwelling, and just like a traditional home, the electrical system must be designed and installed with utmost care. By following established standards, such as the IET BS7671, campervan builders can mitigate potential electrical hazards, reducing the risk of fire, electric shocks, and other accidents.
Converting a van into a campervan is a considerable investment of time, effort, and money. By following electrical regulations during the wiring process, you safeguard your investment from costly damages caused by electrical issues or non-compliance. Furthermore, a well-designed and correctly wired electrical system can increase the resale value of your campervan should you decide to upgrade or sell it in the future.
Not Prioritising Safety
Safety should be a top priority when building your campervan electrical system. Install the correct RCD’s and MCB’s to help keep your 230V system safe. Use insulated connectors and secure all connections to avoid accidental short circuits. It’s advisable to have a qualified professional inspect your electrical work to ensure compliance with safety
Incorporate circuit protection devices like fuses and circuit breakers throughout the electrical system. These safety measures help prevent overloads and short circuits, safeguarding the system and its occupants from potential electrical hazards. Install fuses with the correct amperage for each circuit, ensuring they offer optimal protection without compromising performance.
Isolation and Disconnects
Include isolation and disconnect switches to control the flow of electricity in the campervan’s electrical system. These switches allow you to disconnect specific circuits when they are not in use or during maintenance, reducing the risk of accidental electrical issues. Additionally, an emergency cutoff switch can be installed to disconnect the entire electrical system in case of an emergency.
Grounding and Bonding
Grounding and bonding are essential safety measures to protect against electrical shocks and fires. Ensure all metal components, such as the chassis, are appropriately grounded. Bonding, on the other hand, connects all metallic surfaces in the campervan together, reducing the risk of electrical potential differences. This prevents accidental shocks and reduces the chance of electrical damage to sensitive equipment.
Regularly inspect and maintain your campervan’s electrical system. Clean solar panels, check battery connections, and monitor charge levels. Keep an eye out for any signs of wear or damage and address them promptly. Proper maintenance ensures the longevity and reliability of your electrical system.
To ensure your campervan’s electrical system is in top condition, follow these maintenance tips:
Regular Inspections: Schedule periodic inspections of your campervan’s electrical system. Look for signs of wear, loose connections, or any visible damage to wires and components.
Battery Care: Check the battery’s water levels (if applicable) and keep the terminals clean and corrosion-free. Consider investing in a battery monitor to keep track of its health and charge status.
Inverter Maintenance: Test the inverter regularly to ensure it’s functioning correctly and providing the required power output.
Wiring Checks: Inspect all wiring for signs of wear, chafing, or damage. Replace any damaged wires promptly and secure all connections tightly.
Solar Panel Examination: If your campervan has solar panels, clean them regularly and ensure they are free from dirt and debris that might hinder their performance. Check all MC4 connectors on the roof as well as the cable entry point to ensure the cables are being managed correctly upon their entry into the vehicle.
Fuse and Circuit Breaker Testing: Regularly test and replace faulty fuses or circuit breakers as needed to maintain a reliable electrical system. Check out our basic testing guide here!
Seek Professional Assistance: For complex electrical issues or if you’re unsure about handling certain tasks, consult a qualified professional, such as Tiny Build Electrics, who specialise in campervan electrical systems.
Building a campervan electrical system requires careful planning and adherence to best practices. By ensuring you don’t make the common mistakes outlined above, you can create a safe, efficient, and reliable electrical system for your campervan adventures.
Remember to prioritise power needs, avoid overloading, invest in quality components, and prioritise safety. With a well-designed electrical system, you can enjoy the comforts of modern living while exploring the great outdoors.
If you require any further help with the design, installation or commissioning of your electrical system please contact us and we will be happy to help.