diy camper electricity

Doing your own electrical systems for your homemade camper isn't as difficult as it might sound -- especially if you commit to keeping it extremely simple!

You can think of an RV or camper electrical system as made up of just three components:

  1. The Battery (a.k.a. the "House Battery", as distinguished from your "starting battery"
  2. The DC Circuits (direct current)
  3. The AC Circuits (alternating current)

Keeping things simple...

I'm sure you know what a lead-acid car battery is, right? OK! You'll need one of those. (There are matters of the best battery type for a camper, but that can wait...)

The DC circuits are those wired to run 12V devices that can run off a car battery, i.e. from your car's cigarette lighter. These circuits are connected directly to the battery, just as your cigarette lighter is wired directly to the battery.

inverterThe AC circuits are those wired to run standard household plug-in devices. If it has a standard plug, then it is an AC device, and it requires an "Inverter" to be placed between it and the battery. The inverter turns standard "flat" direct current into the special"rippling" AC current that household appliances require.

Camper electricity revolves around Battery Powered DC Wiring. While it's in many ways easier for a beginner to implement, it's different enough from standard household wiring that it can be very confusing at first, even for electrical engineers! To help wrap your head around it, a crucial point to "get" is that...

An Inverter Is A DC Device!

(That is used to run AC Devices)


It might be easiest to think of camper wiring as implemented in layers:

First you have DC layer, which at it's simplest is a lot like wiring your speaker system together, or more accurately, like wiring a high-end car audio system. 

  • You first connect a set of cables from the battery to a hub, i.e. set of "distribution blocks." 
  • From there you branch off wires to DC devices like DC fans, LED lights, cigarette lighter outlets for plugging in your phone, AND... an Inverter.

Once you have an inverter connected (to a branch of the DC circuit), you can then plug your AC household appliances (portable fan, clock, heater, coffee maker, mini-refrigerator, etc.) into the inverter. Simple right?

That's really as complicated as it gets, ie. not very complicated at all! 

build a truck camper

It might seem difficult to believe that I was literally able to build a truck camper and get off the grid in JUST 3 DAYS, but that's exactly what I did! 

  • Of course it took some planning to get there. (About a week to draw up the plans.)
  • And it took quite a bit of research to decide which approach would best suit my needs. (About a month of web surfing.)
  • But that's all! It didn't take six months. It didn't take a year. It didn't take a decade. It took just one month.

The precise reason I was able to do it so quickly is because I decided early on that the most important thing I could do is Keep It Stupidly Simple.

The excerpt below explains how I did it. 

Please enjoy this excerpt from my book
"How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap", on sale September 4, 2014.

To get the special launch price, make sure you join my mailing list.


Keep it stupidly simple - Excerpt from Mobile Rik's book - How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap
bigfoot is off the grid

If you're anything at all like me, then "getting off the grid" has been an ambition of yours for a very long time!

And chances are, your idea what what it means to get off the grid is very personal to you. Maybe your dream is to live in a cob house with a windmill. Or an Earthship with a huge array of solar panels. Or a Tiny House in the forest with a wood stove and lots of animal friends. Or maybe you don't even care... You're just wanting to untether yourself from all those "unnecessary" monthly utility bills!

The fact that there are so many visions in people's heads of what it really means to be "off the grid" can lead to some interesting disagreements. But that phrase does in fact have a particular definition. And the real question, as I see it, is "how far off the grid do you really want to be?"

Please enjoy another excerpt from my book "How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap", released September 4, 2014.

To get the special launch price, make sure you join my mailing list.


How off the grid do you really want to be? Mobile Rik book excerpt. MobileRik.com
How off the grid do you really want to be? Mobile Rik book excerpt. MobileRik.com

make a pop can alcohol stove

(Yep! It's Yet Another Article + Video About The Iconic 'Pop-Can Stove'!)

Since I first learned about backpackers making lightweight cooking stoves out of aluminum cans, I was hooked. And probably like other "stovies," the one that really caught my attention was the "Pepsi Can Stove."

No doubt the appeal is that it's not only ridiculously cool to be able to fit together a couple of recycled cans that way, but because the end result is so compact, lightweight, and burns exactly like the burner on your home stovetop!

While not one of the simplest alcohol stoves to assemble -- that honor will go to simpler open-flame stoves and the "SuperCat" Cat Food Can side-burning style -- it's also not one of the most complicated. Depending on which one of the several-dozen methods you choose, it's possible to have one made in 20-30 minutes.

In fact, this video could have been a lot shorter had I chosen the popular and dependable "crimping" method to fit the two halves together.

But I was interested to try a few methods I'd seen in videos that allowed you to very elegantly fit the two sides together perfectly, one inside the other, without any glue/epoxy and avoiding the slightly tedious task of crimping one of the halves neatly all the way around the sides so that it could fit into the other half. In the end, I eventually succeeded, but it took some experimenting with different fitting methods to make it work.

Conceptually, it's pretty easy to make and use a "Pop Can Stove."

Construction:

  1. Cut the bottoms off of two aluminum cans (about 3/4")
  2. Drill a small hole in the center of the "top" for refilling with alcohol
  3. Fit them together tightly
  4. Make tiny holes around the upper ledge

Lighting It Up:

  1. Fill with alcohol and plug the fill-hole firmly (ex. a screw or "penny")
  2. Prime the can by dripping extra fuel onto the top and bottom (using a priming pan or wick) and light the priming fuel
  3. Once the can is hot enough to boil the alcohol inside, the side burners will light themselves, and it will behave like a familiar stove burner.

From a birds-eye perspective, it's not too complex. But each of those steps has quite a few variations you could experiment with.

build an energy efficient camper fridge

Campers & RVers: Do you know how much of your valuable energy reserves are being consumed by your refrigerator?

Even if you happen to have a very efficient refrigerator, chances are that you are draining tons more than you really need to be.

Consider these questions:

  • Is your refrigerator running most of the day?

Especially if you're in a hot climate, it's probably running almost full time. Assuming you turn off the lights at night, and use the AC/Heating only when you need it, your refrigerator is the most energy consuming appliance in your RV, because it's intermittently consuming energy 24/7.

Camping Refrigerator

Wastefully Empty Refrigerator

  • Is your refrigerator packed completely full most of the time or is it half empty most of the time?

If you're like a lot campers, you fill your fridge with what you need when you leave and gradually empty it out until you're back in civilization to restock, when you'll find it either completely empty or half full of stuff you never touched. In other words, you're probably cooling tons more air than is really necessary.

  • Is your refrigerator front-opening or top-opening?

Duh. Of course your refrigerator is probably front opening like every other manufactured refrigerator. And like every other refrigerator, you dump out all that cold air every time you open the door. What a humongous waste!

Non Energy Efficient Refrigerator

Familiar family photo of cold air invisibly dumping out of a typical refrigerator when the door is opened. 🙂

What if you could make your own DIY custom RV refrigerator that fixes all of these problems? Sure it might not be among the easiest projects you've done, and may even be among the most difficult. But what if you could?

Let's start with the most wasteful part -- by stopping all the cold air from dumping out. The easiest way to keep the air inside -- even when you open the door -- is to create a refrigerator that operates "on it's back," like chest freezer. Since cold air is denser and wants to go down, a top-opening refrigerator can be opened up over and over without spilling out the air. This helps it stay cool for most of the day without needing to run the power.

It's so obvious that you have to wonder why they don't all do this already! It's because the front-opening refrigerator/freezer is way more convenient in your everyday household for just grabbing what you need off the shelf instead of digging around for it like you do with an ice chest style freezer.

But how about for an RV? Even though you're starved for space, a couple of things make a small top-loader really convenient. Think about this -- Do you already use a camping cooler in your RV to store your drinks and stuff?

If you don't find that inconvenient to use, then small top-loading refrigerator (or a few of them) should be just as convenient. For a permanent installation, a good place might be under the fold-down "sofa" seats. You could even make a sofa out of the refrigerator! While it may seem a hassle to tell your buddy to get off the couch so you can check the fridge... honestly, how many times do you have to tell someone to get off the cooler so you can get a drink. Same thing, right?

Maybe you're wondering if a little fridge under the flip-down couch seats will give you enough fridge space. Well, how much space do you actually use? A good experiment might be to see how many coolers you need in order to store all the food you need for the next trip. Maybe you're camping with a family, and you find that a few coolers isn't enough, no matter how well you pack it... So you're kinda "stuck" with the big one you already have. But with some creativity maybe you can think up a handy way to keep the cold in when you open it -- maybe some kind of insulated "chest of drawers" design or even some of those clear plastic strips like they have in the back of the grocery store.

pot-in-pot refrigerator

Zeer Pot (Pot-in-Pot Evaporative Refrigerator)

But consider this: There are actually great ways to keep your food cool that don't require any non-renewable power at all. There's even an evaporative cooling device called a Zeer Pot that can chill food down near normal refrigeration temperatures in dry climates using nothing but water. Or if you're not living near the desert, maybe you can just use a modified camp cooler to handle the less critical stuff. Though making ice takes electricity, simply replacing a reusable blue ice pack in a super-insulated cooler every few days could really cut your energy costs.

So the question becomes...Is it possible that much of your fridge space is taken up foods that require only minimal cooling rather than full refrigeration?

While meats, dairy products, and cooked and processed foods will typically need full refrigeration below the FDA's easy-to-remember upper limit of 40°F (4°C), many raw fruits and vegetables don't require more than light refrigeration to stay crisp. (Just remember to wash them thoroughly as usual.) Many condiments, jam, salted butter, oils, and hard cheeses can also do fine with light "cooling." Check out this article for inspiration: 7 Foods That Can Survive Outside The Fridge.

Once you've (hopefully) downsized your full-refrigeration needs and moved some of it to a simple cooler, you can think about designing a more efficient refrigerator.