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Wiring Your Campervan: Laying The Electrical Ground Work

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Electrical-Wiring-for-Campervan

Introduction

Setting up your electrical wires; this is one of the major steps that truly transforms the van from a plain, metal box into a livable, comfortable home. But unless you want your wires hanging in plain sight all throughout your living space, it’s essential to plan ahead and lay out your wires before installing the walls and ceiling.

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

Planning, planning, planning

When thinking about electrical wires, we were confronted with a multitude of questions.

  1. How many electrical devices did we want to install?
  2. Where will these devices we located?
  3. How many wires did we want running across our van?
  4. What is the total length of wires we need?
  5. What wire thicknesses do we need?

So unlike when we installed our windows, fan, and insulation, setting up our electrical wires required a substantial amount of design and layout planning.

But Don't Plan Too Far Ahead

Luckily at this stage, it’s not necessary to overload the brain with electrical science, like volts, amps, and watts.

It’s not even necessary to begin thinking about what kind of batteries you want. Or what size inverter and solar panels to buy. Or even to clog your garage with accessories like monitors, fuses, breakers, and wire connectors.

Now is only the time to decide just how luxurious (and complicated 😅) we wanted our campervan to be and lay out the wires accordingly.

Installation Steps

Planning

Do you want just a simple & modest setup? Or a next-generation mobile command center?

Buying Wires

We like to keep it simple and only suggest purchasing three different wire sizes for your electrical needs.

Preparing Wires

Before laying out the wire, we needed to decide where in the van we wanted the center of our electrical system to be located.

Planning Our List of Electrical Devices

I really loved this part of the planning stage for our campervan build. What guy doesn’t love technology? I was practically drooling thinking about all the different kind of electrical and technological devices I wanted to install in our van!

This is where we got to decide what kind of home we wanted to live in.

Modest plans, initially...

We loved the idea of living in a van and one of the key reasons for this was the idea of ‘minimalist’ living.

Minimal possessions, minimal expenses, and minimal energy use.

So initially, we only had plans for a modest electrical setup. Just a few lights, a ventilation fan, a USB socket and a 110v socket to charge our phones, laptops and other plug-in devices.

...But an electrical behemoth was born!

But the more we planned, the more we wanted. We got really greedy.

Once our plans were finished, our total wish list looked like this.

What A List!

It was a bit of a mind boggle to look back on this list and figure out how each of these was eventually going to be installed.

In our estimation, we would need over 350 feet of individual wire to deliver power to all these devices and sockets.

And to lay out each wire exactly where we wanted them was going to be a challenge.

It was time to get organized.

Buying Wires

Online and at the hardware store, there are so many different size and colored electrical wires. But which ones did we need?

But first, wire terminology you should know

American Wire Gauge (AWG): Standardized wire sizing system. 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 these two types. 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.

We made sure all the wires in our van were “stranded wires”, as opposed to “solid wire”. Stranded wires are more flexible, so easier to bend and are also more resistant to long term vibration from being inside a constantly moving vehicle. We don’t want a solid copper wire snapping behind our walls where we can no longer access them.

Which wires for which devices?

10 AWG Wire - To Our Solar Panels

For our two future solar panels, we would need 10 AWG wire. We went with the more expensive and sturdy “marine grade” wires because part of our wires would be on the van’s roof and exposed to the elements 24/7.

We went with a larger 10 AWG wire to minimize electricity loss across the 15 feet of wire that we would lay.

12/3 AWG Wire - To Connect Our 125v Sockets

To connect our 125v sockets, standard 12 AWG wires would be sufficient.

We would also need a grounding wire as well, so that is the reason we purchased bulk 12/3 wire, which includes a green ground wire in the main jacket.

14/2 - For Everything Else (All 12v Products)

Note: For some of our wires, we actually did not buy the 14/2 wire that we linked. We actually bought  individual right and black 14 AWG wires that had super flexible silicone jackets.

In hindsight, we would not use these silicone wires again because the silicone jackets are too delicate and vulnerable against vibration and friction against the van.

 

Everything in our van that is not a 125v socket or a solar panel is a 12-volt device.

Our lights, our fan, our water pump, even our fridge would all run on 12-volts.

For these 12v devices, a 14/2 AWG wire will be sufficient to power them.

We like these 14/2 AWG stranded wires instead of the silicone jacketed wires we mostly used because these red and black wires are packaged together with an extra protective jacket that covers both wires.

Preparing Wires

1. Purchasing the wires from Home Depot and Amazon was the easy part. Measuring our the correct lengths, splitting the wires, crimping and connecting the wires required a careful and concerted effort.

2. With all the wires measured out and prepared, I labeled the wires and laid them on the floor roughly in accordance to where they would be in the van.

3. Put all together and that’s 350 feet worth of individual wires! It was time to start laying the wires in the van

Deciding Where The Wires Start From

Before laying out all our electrical wires, we needed to decide where in the van we wanted the center of our electrical system to be located. All our wire would emanate from this spot.

This would be where we would install our future batteries, 12v distribution/fuse block and other minor electrical components.

And after some deliberation we decided to place our electricity storage and distribution center above the rear, passenger side wheel.

Putting Up Our Electrical Wires

From there, we began to lay out the wires all throughout the van. For every one of our wires, we would lay one end next to where our central electrical system would be, then we would tape the wires to the insulation and metal van frame along the walls and ceiling all throughout the van until the wires got to their designated end destination.

Important Note: 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 an exact length of wire only to have to extend my wires (through butt connectors) an extra foot or two later. That was a major pain!

1. This is right above the rear, passenger side wheel. All the wires that we laid throughout the van begin here and will all be attached to a 12v distribution/fuse block.

2. Behind the sliding door and next to the small window we installed, I planned to put in two light switches. These are the wires we laid out for the eventual switches. In the lower part of the photo, you can see where all our wires congregate, which is where our batteries and 12v fuse panel will be to accept these wire ends.

3. On the opposite side, behind the driver’s seat, we planned to install one light switch on the left side, by the small window, and a light switch and 120v socket on the right side.

4. On the ceiling, we laid out the wires to where we planned to install our LED lights.

I absolutely did not leave enough wire to be able to attach these wires to my future LED lights. Leave at least a foot or two of additional wire at the end.

A Proud Moment!

These were the first ring connectors I’ve ever added to wire ends. Can’t lie, I was pretty proud of myself.

Each of our five light switches required a ground wire. And in a van, you can ground to the chassis of your vehicle.

So ring connectors were needed to attach the ground wires to the bolts on our van’s chassis.

Attaching these ring connectors to the wires took a lot of time to figure out and do well. The process included stripping the wires, crimping ring connectors onto the wires, adding heat shrink, and finally adding a couple rounds of electrical tape.

In the end, it got quite meditative to work on this part of the electrical.

The Finished Product

This is the result of a few hours of laying out all our electrical wires. If I tried hard, I could almost visualize all the electrical devices attached to each of the wire ends.

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

Wrong Electrical Wires - Most regretful camper van conversion mistake

The end result of 350 feet of individual wire crisscrossing throughout the van.

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