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12v vs 24v Camper Electrical System: Which Is Better For You?

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When assembling an electrical system for your camper van, you will have the option to build either a 12-volt or a 24-volt system. But what are the major differences between these two systems and, most importantly, which voltage system is better for your camper?

In this post, we discuss the benefits of 12V and 24V systems and in which scenarios you would want to pick one over the other. Hint: The choice largely depends on the size of your camper’s electrical system,

Lastly, we talk about why we think building a 12V system is the best option for MOST camper van conversions.

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    Benefits Of A 12V System

    The biggest benefit of selecting a 12V system for your camper van’s electrics is that it is a much easier system to build. And keeping things simple is especially important if this is the first time you are building a camper electrical system.

    Let’s look at four ways a 12V system is easier.

    1. Less Voltages To Take Into Account

    In most cases, you will already need to account for two different voltages in your camper’s electrical system; 12V for your DC devices and 120V for your AC devices. So choosing a 12V battery bank  ensures you still only have two voltages to account for and aren’t introducing a third voltage into the mix.

    2. No Need For Voltage Converters

    Because you will likely have 12V devices in your camper van (lights, fridge, vehicle battery), your 12V battery system will provide the perfect voltage to and/or from these devices. There is no need to install a voltage converter, unlike if you were to have a 24V system.

    3. Easier To Charge Camper Batteries While Driving

    Your vehicle will likely have a 12V starting battery. This makes connecting the starting battery to your camper batteries easy and can be done with a simple 12V DC-DC charger. If you decided on a 24V system, you would need to install another voltage converter between your vehicle’s starting battery and your camper’s battery bank.

    4. Much More 12V Devices To Choose From Than 24V Devices

    Though you can opt to purchase 24V electrical devices to avoid purchasing a voltage converter, there are significantly more 12V devices and options available on the market today versus 24V devices. This includes LED lights, fridges, vent fans, and more.

    Drawbacks Of A 12V System

    Below are 3 biggest drawbacks of a 12V system. We discuss these drawbacks in more detail when talking about the benefits of a 24V system.

    1. Solar array size limited to 1450W.
    2. Larger (& more expensive) solar charge controller required.
    3. Larger (& more expensive) electrical wire required.

    Benefits Of A 24V System

    There are several key benefits if choosing a 24V electrical system. We list four of the biggest benefits below.

    1. Larger Solar Array

    With a 24V system you can install a much larger solar array on your camper van. With a 12V system, you are limited to a maximum of 1450-watts of solar. But with a 24V system, you can go as high as 2900-watts. We know this because it is written in the datasheets of Victron Energy’s largest solar charge controller (the 250/100)

    2. Smaller Solar Charge Controller

    With a 24V system, you are able to use a smaller (and cheaper) solar charge controller. That is because a higher voltage system is able to transfer less amps to the batteries, and the max amperage is typically the limitation for each charge controller.

    For example: A 400W solar array requires a Victron 100/30 charge controller when hooked to a 12V system. But the same solar array  only needs a Victron 75/15 controller.

    3. Smaller Wires

    In a 24V system, less current (amps) is passing through your wires (due to the higher voltage). This means you can use thinner wires in various areas of your electrical build, which can save you money.

    For example: If using the Victron 2000W inverter/charger, Victron recommends 2/0AWG wire (70mm²) for a 12V system, but only 2AWG wire (35mm²) for a 24V system.

    4. Larger Inverter

    Because a 24V system can use thinner wire, it can be connected to a larger inverter than a 12V system can. While the largest inverter a 12V system can realistically use is 3000W, a 24V system can go as high as a 5000W inverter.

    Drawbacks Of A 24V System

    The three drawbacks we list below are directly related to the benefits of using a 12V system.

    1. Need Converters: If you are installing any 12V devices, you will need either individual ‘step down’ voltage converters for each 12V device, or a master converter installed in-line right after your 24V batteries. This increases build complexity and cost.
    2. Complicated To Vehicle Charge: Your vehicle likely has a 12V starting battery, which makes charging your 24V battery bank challenging and a high amperage ‘step up’ converter will be required.

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Is It Cheaper To Build A 24V System?

    Below we put together a table comparing the different wiring components needed to build a 12V and 24V system for a camper electric system. This comparison assumes a 400W solar array and a 2000W inverter/charger.

    For simplicity, we eliminate all components that are used in both systems and only focus on the differences.

    Product

    12V

    24V

    Solar Charge Controller

    Solar Wire x2 (To Batteries)

    Battery Wire (To Inverter)

    Voltage Converter (Step Up)

    N/A

    Voltage Converter (Step Down)

    N/A

    Total Cost

    ~$493

    ~$503

    Based on the above table, in reality, there isn’t much of a cost difference between a 12V and a 24V system for the majority of DIY camper conversions.

    But if you are building a system for a much larger camper (RV or trailer), the differences in cost may be more substantial. You will need to do your own item-by-item product comparison for your own unique build.

    When To Choose A 12V or 24V System

    In summary, to choose between a 12V and 24V system, refer to the below table to help you decide.

    12V

    24V

    • Prioritize simplicity

    • Solar array <1450W

    • Inverter <3000W

    • Small/medium camper (shorter wire runs)

    • Solar array >1450W

    • Inverter >3000W

    • Large camper (longer wire runs)

    In our opinion, if you are converting a small to medium sized camper van, we do not see the benefit of building a 24V system. This is because the size of your solar array and inverter won’t be limited by a 12V system. It’s more beneficial to keep your electrical system as simple and straightforward as possible.

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Enjoyed reading? Check out our “DIY Camper Electrical System” category page for more similar content.

    In Conclusion

    We hope you learned about the major differences between installing a 12V and a 24V electrical system in your camper van conversion. While there are a number of different factors to consider, we still believe that if you are building a modest-sized camper van, then a 12V is best for you. If you are planning to build a much larger electrical system, consider going with 24V.

    If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments section below.

    Happy building!

    Go Back: DIY Camper Van Conversion Guide

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