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Campervan Wiring: Laying The Electrical Ground Work

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Electrical-Wiring-for-Campervan

Laying electrical wires in a camper van is one of the first major steps that transforms a van from a plain, metal box into a livable, comfortable home. But campervan wiring is more than just blindly taping random size wires to your van’s walls and calling it a day.

To put together a proper electrical system in your camper, it’s critical to have a basic understanding on the different wire sizes that you’ll be using for different parts of your electric build.

So in this post, we will talk about campervan wiring best practices. This includes recommended wire sizes, layout planning advice, and how to lay the wires throughout the van (aka NOT how we did it!).

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

 

Article Contents

Best Wire Sizes

Get our 4 different wire size recommendations here.

Wire Planning

What to think about when planning your campervan wire placement.

Laying The Wires

Advise when laying our your camper wires throughout the van.

Speed Up Your Electrical Install Process With Our Free Diagrams

Best Wire Sizes For Your Camper Electrics

Different parts of your electric system require wires of different thicknesses because of the different amounts of electrical current flowing through those wires. If too much current is forced through too thin of a wire, the wire overheats and becomes a dangerous fire hazard. So selecting the appropriate thickness wire is critical.

Though you can find online calculators to help you find the PERFECT wire sizes you need, we generally like to keep things simple and recommend these four different wire sizes for your entire electric system build (listed from thickest to thinnest).

2/0 AWG Wire

2/0 AWG wires are the thickest wires we use in our camper electric system and are used in places that we expect to handle the greatest amount of electrical current.

We use these in the following areas:

  • Connecting multiple batteries together
  • From our batteries to our bus bars
  • Connecting the bus bars to the 12v panel
  • From bus bars to the power inverter
  • From the (+) bus bar to vehicle battery

Best 2/0 AWG Wire

To learn more about each of the above connections, check out our other posts:

10 AWG Wire

10-gauge wire is recommended for all solar wire connections. This includes:

  • Solar panels to charge controller
  • Charger controller to batteries

Important: 10 AWG wire works for most solar situations. But if you're planning a larger solar array, read our post below.

Best 10 AWG Wire

12 AWG Wire

We use 12-gauge wire to distribute 120v AC power throughout the camper. This includes connecting:

  • Inverter to all sockets
  • Inverter to power inlet

We then use an extension cord to connect the power inlet to shore power where there is an exterior electrical socket nearby (such as in an RV campground).

Most 12 AWG wire come included with a ground wire (green jacket). So you will need search where in your vehicle to ground your system.

Best 12 AWG Wire

14 AWG Wire

Lastly, we use 14-gauge wire to connect all our 12v devices to the 12v distribution panel.

Whether it’s to connect the fan, the fridge, water pump, or even a diesel heater, 14 AWG wire will be adequate to carry the required current to each device.

Best 14 AWG Wire

Helpful Electric Wire Terminology

American Wire Gauge (AWG): Standardized wire sizing system here in the USA. The smaller the number, the thicker the wire.

14/2: If there are multiple wires packed within a single wire jacket, you will see a number like this. The first number represents the AWG of the wires inside. The second number represents the number of wires inside the outer jacket.

Stranded vs Solid: Copper wires come in either of these two styles. Solid wire means there is a solid copper wire inside the jacket. Stranded wire is made up of many thinner individual copper strands inside the jacket.

For camper builds, get stranded wires. Stranded wires are more flexible, so they’re easier to bend and are also more resistant to long term vibration from being inside a constantly moving vehicle.   

Planning Your Electrical Layout

Birds Eye View Of Camper Van Floor Plan

The next step when wiring a campervan is to plan ahead. The more you plan now the less headaches you’ll have when it comes time to laying electrical wire throughout your camper.

Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Which electrical devices do you want to install?
  2. Where in the camper will these devices be located?
  3. How many solar panels will you have?
  4. Will you install an inverter?
  5. If you’ll have an inverter, will you install your own sockets? If so, where will the sockets be located?
  6. Where in the camper will your central electrical system be located?

To get a good idea regarding which type of electrical devices are popular to install in a camper, check out our camper 12v system post.

We also talk about how to create a digital layout plan of your camper in our floor plan & layout post. Here you can see how we planned the location of each device in our camper, which makes it easier to lay the electrical in the next step of this post.

Our Own Electrical Device List

In the beginning stages of our own campervan build, we only had modest dreams for our electric system. But the more we planned, the more devices we wanted to install.

Below is the final tally of every electrical device & socket in our camper.

Laying Electrical Wire In A Campervan

When laying electrical wire around your camper, it’s a good idea to keep in mind these four points.

1. Decide A Wire Origination Point

Before laying out all your electrical wires, decide where in the camper you will build the center of your electrical system. This will be the location of your batteries, 12v distribution panel, inverter, and all other electrical components. All electrical wires should originate from this region of the camper.

Campervan Wiring Origination
All 14 AWG wires originating from single spot above passenger-side wheel well

In Our Camper Van: Our electrical system center is located above the rear, passenger-side wheel.

2. Lay out 14 AWG Wires From Origination Point To Each Device Location

Let’s start with your 14 AWG wires.

By now you should have a rough idea where your 12v distribution panel will be located. All 14-gauge wires will originate from here.

Run your 14 AWG wire along the walls and ceiling until each wire reaches its end destination; where that 12v device will be located. Remember, if you will be installing any kind of switches (for your LED ceiling lights, for example), you will need to account for the location of those switches when running your wires.

Don’t be stingy with your wires. Leave a generous length of wire once you’re ready to cut them at their destination. Too often I tried to cut the exact length of wire needed only to have to extend my wires (through butt connectors) an extra foot or two later. That was a major pain!​

Campervan Wiring Pro Tip: Don’t wire your camper like we did, which was running naked wire along the ceiling and walls. Thread your wires through plastic conduits for added wire protection. This will help protect your wire’s jackets against friction while you’re driving.

Split Wire Loom - Conduit

3. Plan to have sockets? Lay out 12 AWG wire to where your sockets will be.

If you plan to install 120v AC power sockets throughout your camper, you’ll also need to lay 12-gauge wire around the van.

Your 12 AWG wires should originate from the location of your inverter and extend towards the planned location of your AC power sockets.

4. Laying Your Solar Wiring

Even if you don’t plan to install solar panels on your camper’s roof right now, it’s critical to lay your solar wires at this stage. That’s because the solar wires will need to be threaded through the campervan’s metal roof and you won’t be able to do it once you’ve installed the ceiling.

From the location where you plan to install your solar charge controller, lay out your solar wire and thread the wires through the van’s roof. It’s best to leave about 3-5 feet of wire on top of the van to connect to your future solar panels.

For more information on how to thread wires through a van roof, check out our post: Installing Solar Panels On A Camper Roof

How To Ground Your Camper Electrical System

Like all electrical systems in general, you will need to ground your camper’s electric system. But instead of connecting to an actual ‘ground’ point, you simply need to connect to a designated spot on your vehicle’s chassis.

For information on your specific vehicle’s chassis ground points it’s best to search for these points either in your vehicle’s handbook or by searching on the Internet.

If you have a Ford Transit, like we do, we’re posting an image of all the chassis ground points below. In our electric build, we grounded our system by connecting a piece of 12 AWG wire from our bus bars to point #31 in the below image.

Ford Transit Ground Points

Our Finished Campervan Wiring Result!

This is the result of a few hours of laying out all 350-feet of electrical wires throughout our camper. 

Now it was time to work on the walls and ceiling to hide all our insulation and electrical wires.

Want to build a camper van? Check out our
DIY Camper Van Build Guide

Speed Up Your Electrical Install Process With Our Free Diagrams

Final Thoughts: Campervan Wiring Is Just The Beginning!

Thank you for making it this far in our campervan wiring post! We hope you learned a thing, or two, about wire placement in your own van.

But buying the right wires and laying them in your van is just the first step. This blog has so many more posts to get your campervan electrics up and running. Check out these posts below for more information.

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