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True cost of solar installation?

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We just posted a blog asking anyone for help to learn the true cost of RV installation. We're not technically savvy enough to install panels ourselves, yet we don't want to pay someone as much for installation as we paid for our entire solar system. We have a decent amount of money budgeted for this process, but we want as much of it as possible to go into our solar needs—and not an installer's pocket. Does anyone have any firsthand knowledge of how much this might cost us? Thanks for your help, boondockers. We hope to join you starting Feb. 29.

 

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We're not technically savvy enough to install panels ourselves, yet we don't want to pay someone as much for installation as we paid for our entire solar system. We have a decent amount of money budgeted for this process, but we want as much of it as possible to go into our solar needs—and not an installer's pocket. Does anyone have any firsthand knowledge of how much this might cost us? Thanks for your help, boondockers. We hope to join you starting Feb. 29.

 

 

It's really not as difficult as you might think. It "can" be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, but the more you understand the individual components and approach the planning and in organized and step by step basis, it all really start to fall into place. That being said... it really depends on you. If you want solar capability up and running as quickly as possible then an installer might be the better route to take, but as you've already guessed, you'll likely pay about double or more for a quality installation. If you are semi handy with a few basic tools and enjoy the "process" as much as the result then you really can save quite a bundle by doing it yourself and will have a much deeper understanding of how to fine tune your system for peak efficiency, be able to diagnose and repair as needed, and have a much greater sense of satisfaction.

 

From the photo it looks like you have a fair amount of real estate for an array. If you haven't already, I would encourage you to start by reading through Jack Mayers RV electrical and solar pages. Even if you plan on using an installer, you should understand the components, how to determine your power needs, and how to size/balance a solar system that will fit your particular style of camping.

 

As far as cost... that is a very loaded question with too many factors to consider to really give a decent estimate without having some idea of what it is you really need. Ie., a solar controller could run anywhere from $40-$500. A single 100watt panel could run $90-$300. A single 6v deep cycle battery could cost anywhere from $75-$350.

 

There are any number of solar savy folks around this forum that will be more than happy to help and answer any questions you might have, but first, you need to do your homework before you can really start to determine what you really need/want out of your system.

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As far as cost... that is a very loaded question with too many factors to consider to really give a decent estimate without having some idea of what it is you really need. Ie., a solar controller could run anywhere from $40-$500. A single 100watt panel could run $90-$300. A single 6v deep cycle battery could cost anywhere from $75-$350.

 

Thanks for the detailed response. To address this one key point (glad you mentioned): we are aiming for 2 to 4 panels running 100w each. We already have two 6v deep-cycle batteries, so that just means we would need a charge controller, an inverter, wiring and mounts. Hope that helps.

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What are your goals for the system? This is posted under boondocking. What would you want to run and for how long? Would you also be using a generator. Where you want to end up makes a big difference in costs.

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Still not enough info. Do you have Cadillac tastes? Or lean more to Chevy? What part of the country you're in will dictate differing labour rates, as does time of year. Installation is the easy part, once you've decided what equipment to install, but the labour can be expensive. Once you know what you want, and have it ready to install, grab a small assortment of hand tools, a power drill, and have at it. At some point, your budget will be dealt a death blow, unless you can learn how to do basic repairs and troubleshooting.

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Thanks for the detailed response. To address this one key point (glad you mentioned): we are aiming for 2 to 4 panels running 100w each. We already have two 6v deep-cycle batteries, so that just means we would need a charge controller, an inverter, wiring and mounts. Hope that helps.

 

Not being facetious, but what type of panels? Mono's/Poly's/low voltage/high voltage/high efficiency/flat/with or without bypass diode? Are you planning to run them in a parallel/series/combined? The same can applies to batteries... hybrid deep cycle/true deep cycle/flooded/agm/capacity? Will 2 - 6v batteries meet your power requirements? Will you be supplementing with a generator? See what I mean? ;)

 

So.. for someone to recommend a solar controller, and subsequent costs, we would need to know the type, voltage, array assembly... do you want the capability to expand your array in the future? Are you looking for a PWM or MPPT controller (but that might depend on how you plan to wire your array)? Single stage or multi stage "smart" controller? Will you be using it for 2-3 day excursions a few times a year or do you need more reliability for extended boondocking stays? What do you want to be able to run on your inverter? Distances and current level would need to be known to suggest the proper wire gauge, fuses, switches, etc.

 

Then the almighty... what is your planned budget?

 

It might seem like a lot, but as you peruse though the link I suggested you'll naturally come out with a much better understanding of what you're actually looking for.

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From the photo it looks like you have a fair amount of real estate for an array. If you haven't already, I would encourage you to start by reading through Jack Mayers RV electrical and solar pages. Even if you plan on using an installer, you should understand the components, how to determine your power needs, and how to size/balance a solar system that will fit your particular style of camping.

 

Thanks for this link... I will make sure to use this moving forward. Looks very useful at first glance.

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What are your goals for the system? This is posted under boondocking. What would you want to run and for how long? Would you also be using a generator. Where you want to end up makes a big difference in costs.

The post under boondocking was intentional. We intend to take our RV west immediately where there is a lot of boondock-friendly land. But we also intend to work during our fulltiming experience, meaning we need enough juice to run our laptops and cell phones as well as (ideally) enough juice leftover to recharge our electric bicycles. So a lot of demand, but I only have rough estimates so far of how many amp hours we exactly need. There is a generator we plan to use that can power our air conditioner and recharge our batteries, when need be.

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Still not enough info. Do you have Cadillac tastes? Or lean more to Chevy? What part of the country you're in will dictate differing labour rates, as does time of year. Installation is the easy part, once you've decided what equipment to install, but the labour can be expensive. Once you know what you want, and have it ready to install, grab a small assortment of hand tools, a power drill, and have at it. At some point, your budget will be dealt a death blow, unless you can learn how to do basic repairs and troubleshooting.

We lean more Chevy than Cadillac as we are minimalists-in-training. We are willing to put this upfront investment in hopes of long-term savings. I'm generally very willing to become a "handyman," but the idea of drilling my own holes into the roof kind of terrifies me. I won't rule it out as I keep researching.

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Not being facetious, but what type of panels? Mono's/Poly's/low voltage/high voltage/high efficiency/flat/with or without bypass diode? Are you planning to run them in a parallel/series/combined? The same can applies to batteries... hybrid deep cycle/true deep cycle/flooded/agm/capacity? Will 2 - 6v batteries meet your power requirements? Will you be supplementing with a generator? See what I mean? ;)

 

So.. for someone to recommend a solar controller, and subsequent costs, we would need to know the type, voltage, array assembly... do you want the capability to expand your array in the future? Are you looking for a PWM or MPPT controller (but that might depend on how you plan to wire your array)? Single stage or multi stage "smart" controller? Will you be using it for 2-3 day excursions a few times a year or do you need more reliability for extended boondocking stays? What do you want to be able to run on your inverter? Distances and current level would need to be known to suggest the proper wire gauge, fuses, switches, etc.

 

Then the almighty... what is your planned budget?

 

It might seem like a lot, but as you peruse though the link I suggested you'll naturally come out with a much better understanding of what you're actually looking for.

All good questions, thanks for following up.

 

The plan was mono panels (but I can be convinced otherwise) run in parallel to charge two true deep-cycle batteries (already own those). Frankly, I'm not sure if that's enough to meet our needs, but I'm not willing to immediately upgrade my # of batteries until I get a better idea of my usage (I've read several other folks who similarly held off on increasing their battery bank). I also don't have room immediately available for another battery in my bank, so I would have to get creative.

 

We do have a generator that we will use for air conditioning and to occasionally charge our batteries.

 

I won't pretend to know the difference between the different controllers you mentioned, so I'll have to read up on that. I do know we plan on using our solar system as often as possible to prevent us from having to regularly rely on campgrounds. The fewer campground stays=the more successful we'll consider this trip. Our RV is 26-feet long, so any wiring distances would hopefully be kept to a minimum.

 

And the question everyone really wants to know: Our budget is between $2,000 and $2,500 for solar upgrades. So the more money we potentially invest in labor, the less extensive our system will be. Hope that helps. But if not, thanks for the feedback anyway.

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but I'm not willing to immediately upgrade my # of batteries until I get a better idea of my usage (I've read several other folks who similarly held off on increasing their battery bank).

 

Our budget is between $2,000 and $2,500 for solar upgrades.

 

Personally.. I would highly recommend flip-flopping that. Determine what your usage will be with a healthy safety margin and size your battery bank accordingly from the get go. That is the core/backbone of your entire electrical system when boondocking and isn't an area you want to skimp on. How you replace the energy used from your batteries is secondary and can be added to or balanced between multiple input sources with no detrimental affect.

 

You also really want all of your batteries to be of the same type, capacity and AGE. Mixing new batteries with old can also have a detrimental affect on your battery array, decrease overall capacity, and impact lifecycles.

 

You're correct that a lot of folks do take that approach, however, that doesn't make it "wise". ;) Especially if you are a full-timer with the intent to boondock as much as possible.

 

That's a decent budget. If you're able to do most of the work yourself you can put together a pretty substantial system.

 

As far as beginning steps to take.. my recommend (just my opinion) would be to A. Learn as much as you can about your RV's electrical system with special attention to the 12v systems. B. Learn as much as you can about the various components and options available in a solar system. C. Do a comprehensive energy audit to determine what your daily energy requirements will be. Don't forget to account for overhead loads (parasitic draws), wiring and component inefficiencies, etc. D. Design and diagram out your entire intended power system.

 

Now you're ready to go buy batteries. ;):D:lol:

Edited by Yarome

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FWIW Youngfulltimers, we haven't a single hands on cell in our bodies or hair on our heads when it comes to anything remotely connected to the mechanics and other intricacies of electronics, tech or otherwise! Give me a business plan/idea and we're talking (LOL) ..... Through folks here, we've replaced our old tube TV's, our defunct 12 year old Nevercold with a residential fridge and so on and so forth.

 

Anyway's, we were quoted over US$12000 for supply and install of our 1000w 800ah solar system from an outfit in the pacific NW. With unbelievable thanks to Jack Mayer, Howard Payne (write ups) Chad (so many thanks to you for your patience and drawing assessment) and numerous others here like Stanley and more we manged to buy our whole set up and install for under C$7,000. We ironically had a defunct midnight solar that caused damage to our brand new batteries by boiling them, that again we needed guidance with when it occurred and everyone said it wasn't faulty but it was and got replaced under warranty within the first month.

 

I spent months and months, studying, restudying and asking tons of questions and if we had to do the design and install again today I'd probably need to ask many of the questions again (with it being a one off done), but taking our time and asking many good souls here we got there at the end of the day. I also found Solar Bob's write ups useful as well and was prepared to go to his place to do the install with his guidance (he insists on folks doing hands on with his guidance to understand the system). If we are ever near his place in Montana for sure we would ask him to scout over our set up, as I'm pretty confident there's some things that need altering somehow as it'll be far from perfect but .......

 

Anyway FWIW, that's our two cents and good luck. We are so very passionate about being in the wilds boondocking and the pleasure it's given us the past year and half has been immeasurable against the cost :)

 

FTW.

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Great stuff here.

Also Youtube has lots of info on Solar and Solar installation.

 

 

FWIW Youngfulltimers, we haven't a single hands on cell in our bodies or hair on our heads when it comes to anything remotely connected to the mechanics and other intricacies of electronics, tech or otherwise! Give me a business plan/idea and we're talking (LOL) ..... Through folks here, we've replaced our old tube TV's, our defunct 12 year old Nevercold with a residential fridge and so on and so forth.

 

Anyway's, we were quoted over US$12000 for supply and install of our 1000w 800ah solar system from an outfit in the pacific NW. With unbelievable thanks to Jack Mayer, Howard Payne (write ups) Chad (so many thanks to you for your patience and drawing assessment) and numerous others here like Stanley and more we manged to buy our whole set up and install for under C$7,000. We ironically had a defunct midnight solar that caused damage to our brand new batteries by boiling them, that again we needed guidance with when it occurred and everyone said it wasn't faulty but it was and got replaced under warranty within the first month.

 

I spent months and months, studying, restudying and asking tons of questions and if we had to do the design and install again today I'd probably need to ask many of the questions again (with it being a one off done), but taking our time and asking many good souls here we got there at the end of the day. I also found Solar Bob's write ups useful as well and was prepared to go to his place to do the install with his guidance (he insists on folks doing hands on with his guidance to understand the system). If we are ever near his place in Montana for sure we would ask him to scout over our set up, as I'm pretty confident there's some things that need altering somehow as it'll be far from perfect but .......

 

Anyway FWIW, that's our two cents and good luck. We are so very passionate about being in the wilds boondocking and the pleasure it's given us the past year and half has been immeasurable against the cost :)

 

FTW.

Great stuff here, indeed. Thanks for the advice and for sharing your own personal experiences, full time wannabe. I am sure I will have more followups once I do some assigned reading!

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Very good information provided in the responses. Not much to add to the discussion other than my own personal experience. Since you will be dealing with limited real estate, "your roof top on the RV". Consider buying four panels, or more, with greater/more than 100 watt output. There are some really good panels in the 350+ watt range. Also consider 24 volt or more panels. There have been so many improvements in the panels over the years, it might be an opportunity to take advantage of the improvements. Buying Solar it is important to remember you get what you pay for, and sometimes a low price can be a waste of money. Good luck!

 

Safe Travels!

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Not much to add, but I will build on the advice others have given.

 

I can't really tell how much room you have for panels, but it appears you will need to balance a space limitation with your budget limitations. I moved sat dish and OTA antenna to make room. In general, I believe the cost per watt will increase as you get panels producing more watts per square foot. It would be more expensive to use your real estate to install 100 watt panels and then later switch them out for better panels. That same logic will apply to some other components as well. Best to do it right the first time. By doing an energy audit to estimate your actual power needs you then can make a better decision on what to buy.

 

I was looking to build a pretty robust system, and my real estate limitation was just as critical for me as cost. I went with four 265 watt panels that I could get through Home Depot with free ship to store. I lucked out and after researching panels and putting them on my short list, they went on sale. If I recall correctly, they were normally around $1,500 and I got them on sale for around $1,200. (Currently selling for $1400) Besides the high cost of shipping from most sources, the reason I went with free ship to store was that I had seen some reviews from people who had received damaged panels and had to ship them back. I could have had them delivered free to "home", and returned them to a local HD if needed, but I did not want to deal with that. If you went to a professional installer, damaged panels would not be an issue.

 

Jim

Edited by Cathy & Jim

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As an installer, I highly recommend Handy Bob if you are in his neighborhood. You should understand your system well when you are done with his help.

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As an installer, I highly recommend Handy Bob if you are in his neighborhood. You should understand your system well when you are done with his help.

 

X2. Just a tip: If you go to his place.. go in LATE fall. I'm not sure if he's completely finished with his barn and workshop yet, but if he hasn't shut down the project in preparation for winter he WILL put you to work. :P:lol:

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X2. Just a tip: If you go to his place.. go in LATE fall. I'm not sure if he's completely finished with his barn and workshop yet, but if he hasn't shut down the project in preparation for winter he WILL put you to work. :P:lol:

Good looking out!! Thanks everyone so much for the feedback. We are definitely going to audit our energy the first few weeks before committing to any system. I'm still undecided about doing the install ourselves, but I'll read up and learn how to--just in case!

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From my point of view whether you diy or have it done you still need to have some idea of how many amps you will use each day. The next decision is also yours how many average hours of sun do you expect to have. The amps you can easily calculate just by taking an audit of what you are now doing.

 

From this information you can size your batteries and your panels. At the end of each charging cycle passing through the adsorption phase and into the float mode would be ideal. This will help insure maximum life of your batteries. If you use 40 amps per day then you need to restore those 40 amps in a short enough time period to allow your system to reach float by day's end.

 

I have 2 360 Ah Trojan 6 v wet cells. I have 3 160 watt panels. Good sun 27 amps 480 watts. 2 g wiring. By 3 pm we usually have reached float. Our inverter is MSW 3000 watts wired through its own transfer switch and sub panel, 30 amp coach. This design leaves us with enough leeway for partially shady sites or that rare cloudy day.

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Bob (Handy Bob) tells me he is not doing RV installations any more. You can contact him if you like, but he did ask me to remove him from my list of recommended installers.

 

Like me, he has found dealing with RV solar installations to not be worthwhile. For many reasons.

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Bob (Handy Bob) tells me he is not doing RV installations any more. You can contact him if you like, but he did ask me to remove him from my list of recommended installers.

 

Like me, he has found dealing with RV solar installations to not be worthwhile. For many reasons.

 

True. It's probably been well over 3 years since he quit doing out and out installs, but if you ask nicely.. and he doesn't have any other projects going on, he's been known to help walk a person through their own install at his place and help fine tune it. You must be "hands-on" yourself every step of the way, provide all necessary equipment, and be willing to learn. Still an incredible resource for a DIYer that just needs a little hand holding.

 

Agreed. Life's too short any more. B)

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True. It's probably been well over 3 years since he quit doing out and out installs, but if you ask nicely.. and he doesn't have any other projects going on, he's been known to help walk a person through their own install at his place and help fine tune it. You must be "hands-on" yourself every step of the way, provide all necessary equipment, and be willing to learn. Still an incredible resource for a DIYer that just needs a little hand holding.

 

Agreed. Life's too short any more. B)

Sounds like what we did at the "Solar Rally" last winter in Mayo. :)

 

Motivated people that are even a little handy can do the job. I've even guided women through it - I only mention women because they are not typically as handy as "most" men. But in at least one case she did a fine job on her own with a little of my remote guidance. So I think motivation is the biggest ingredient. Understanding the design principles is critical. And not rushing the job is key to success.

 

I quit doing installs because it was too difficult to deal with many of the owners. MANY want to take shortcuts with costs and that typically results in a compromised system. Which I will not participate in. Also, most do not want to pay what the work is worth.... While many people are fine to deal with, in my experience it is simply not worth the pain, on balance. Bob has discovered the same thing. .

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