Charlie & Tasha from weboughtavan give us their top tips on fitting a reliable electrical system as well as working nomadically from your campervan!
We are Charlie and Tasha and in 2019 we built our tiny home on wheels, a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter that we designed with the full intention of living and working from.
We knew right at the start of our van build that the van was going to be used for full time living as well as maintaining our careers so a strong off-grid electrical system was going to be key.
I, Charlie, by trade am an electrician so assumed the electrical installation would be a fairly straight forward and whilst the fundamentals are the same, the ever-growing world of campervan electrical systems can be a minefield!
Luckily for me, Tom from Tiny Build Electrics supplied me with an incredibly detailed wiring diagram (schematic) that enabled me to simplify the installation process.
The Foundation: Choosing the Right Van for Full Time Vanlife
Before diving into the nitty-gritty of design, our first step was finding the right van for us and our needs.
After extensive research, we settled on a spacious and reliable Mercedes Sprinter due to its ample interior space and reliable engine. We had previously owned a Volkswagen Crafter, which shares the same body as the sprinter, and although we loved that van, we didn’t particularly like the engine. We found a sprinter locally within our budget and there started our journey into full time van life.
Multi-Functional Lounge Area in our campervan
A key component of our campervan’s design was a versatile lounge area that would serve as both a workspace and a place to unwind. Our ‘horseshoe’ layout allows us to have a work and dining area by day and by night a queen size bed, with plenty of room for us both and, occasionally, Winnie, our cocker spaniel!
Layout is key to comfortably living in your van full time and everyone’s views and opinions on layouts differ. All you can do is what is best for you and what feels right. It’s you and you only that will be spending the majority of the time in the space so it may as well be tailored to your exact needs.
Electric Hot Water System in our Campervan
When designing a hot water system for a campervan the common practice, from our research, was to install a Truma Combi, a system that uses both gas and electricity to heat the hot water. We wanted to steer away from gas as we knew prices may soar in the future (they did!) and thought with my knowledge as an electrician it would be interesting to try something a little different!
So we opted for a unvented (pressurised) hot water cylinder, primarily used in the marine industry on yachts, to supply us with our hot water. The 16 litre tank is heated by a 750w heating element. We set about doing some calculations and realised it was feasible, we would require an inverter that could comfortably power our hot water system.
Originally we used a switched fused spur to turn the hot water on and off manually, and that was great, until one day we forgot to turn it off and the Victron Energy low voltage alarms started screaming at us!
So we sought a solution where by we could put a timer in place of the switch and once said timer was satisfied it would automatically disconnect the supply. We found a 16amp controller which has three timed settings. 15 minutes, 30 minutes & 60 minutes. We knew that our system could run our hot water for 60 minutes and therefore would be safe when controlled by the controller.
30 minutes gives us enough hot water for two showers and some washing up, using around 25% of our battery’s capacity in order to achieve this.
Victron Energy Multiplus Inverter Charger 2000w in our campervan
Our Victron Energy Multiplus has been a game changer for living full time in our tiny home on wheels. The system allows us to be independent from the grid whilst feeling like we’re connected to it. From charging our laptops to our aforementioned hot water system this really has been a ‘fit and forget’ item.
We had a very small space in which to install the system. This is one of the reason we opted for the compact version as well has two reasonably sized batteries. It enabled us to fit everything under one bench seat, away from any water or anything that could potentially damage the system (paddle board paddles, snorkels, fins etc).
Reliable Off-Grid Electrical System in our campervan
A dependable off-grid electrical system was key to us living and working off the grid. We would both be using laptops, phones and a wifi system in our campervan, all of this needed to be powered by a reliable electrical system that had been meticulously designed.
Solar Panels: We installed two 270 watt monochrystaline solar panels on our van’s roof. After much discussion with Tom we decided to wire the solar array in series, which gives us a combined wattage of 540watts and would for us all year round, even in the winter months with shorter days.
Campervan’s Lithium Ion Batteries: We opted for two 100ah lithium ion batteries connected in parallel. Since installing these batteries we haven’t looked back, they are a ‘fit and forget’ item. High performance from such a lightweight item is staggering. Both batteries weigh 11kg which was great for our weight conscious build and fuel efficiency!
Campervan Inverter: The inverter we opted for is a Victron Energy Multiplus inverter charger which comfortably keeps up with our 230V requirements. We opted for an electric hot water system, a hot water tank with a 750w element within, designed for boats. Our multiplus combined with our 200ah of lithium batteries gives us more hot water than we know what to do with! And better still, its all heated by a form of renewable energy, our solar panels!
Campervan’s Energy-Efficient Appliances: We opted for as many energy-efficient appliances and LED lamps as our budget would allow, mainly to reduce power consumption and extend the longevity of our battery system. One item in particular was a compressor fridge. We have now been on the road full time for two years and our little fridge has been a lifesaver, especially in 42 degrees celsius!
By investing in a well-designed off-grid electrical system, we never have think about our power consumption. Knowing that Tom from Tiny Build Electrics took care of all the calculations means we can sleep at night knowing in the morning we’ll wake up to cold milk and enough hot water for two showers!
If you’re at the planning stage of your tiny build then you have certainly come to the right place. With our experience living and travelling in vans as well as our extensive knowledge with electrical installations, regulations and industry experience Tiny Build Electrics are here and ready to help.
Find a slot below to book in for a consultation with Tom
Nomadic Work: Working from our campervan to fund our Nomadic Lifestyle
Ultimately, we all need some sort of income to survive but leaving behind a conventional job doesn’t mean leaving behind financial stability. This is one of our most commonly asked questions while on the road.
How do you work from your campervan and make money?
Tasha’s line of work enabled her to easily take it on the road. It was simply a case of asking her employer and within a few weeks she was working from the van. She said that since working from the van she felt a lot more efficient due to removing the distractions that come with working in a busy office.
I, Charlie, found my electrical skills combined with the experience of building three vans, one of which we now live in, could be some what useful and that it did. An email to Tom at Tiny Build Electrics and I was brought onboard as a technical writer, writing articles, like the one you’re currently reading, for the website as well as assisting Tom with various projects throughout his company.
With the advent of remote working in the past few years, due to a virus we will not dare to mention, remote work opportunities have surged, making it easier than ever to earn a living while on the road. If you’re thinking of living a nomadic life these are a few popular choices for remote working:
Digital Nomad Jobs: If you possess skills in web development, graphic design, writing, or online marketing, you can find a vast amount of remote job opportunities on freelance platforms and remote job boards.
Online Teaching: If you have a background in education, platforms that facilitate online language tutoring or subject-specific teaching can provide a stable income stream.
Virtual Assistance: Offer your organisational and administrative skills to entrepreneurs and businesses seeking remote support.
Content Creation: Embrace your creativity and start a YouTube channel, blog, or social media presence. With dedication and engaging content, you can monetise your platform through ads, sponsorships, and merchandise.