Mounting solar panels on a camper van roof can feel like the most daunting process of a van conversion build. Mostly because it involves drilling through the van’s roof.
But if you follow this step-by-step guide, and are careful, we’re confident you can install your panels without incident. To this day, our solar panels remain firmly bonded to our camper van’s roof and have been leak free since the beginning.
So if you’re ready, let’s get started!
Attach Z-Brackets To Solar Panels
Assuming you’ve already checked that your panels aren’t defective, you’re ready to begin.
As they come, solar panels cannot be mounted onto a camper van’s roof. So to do this, you must purchase one set of mounting brackets (Z-brackets) for every panel you have. Each set of Z-bracket mounts comes with the bolts & nuts needed to attach to a rigid solar panel’s aluminum frame.
Standard mounting brackets for solar panels. These Renogy brackets are made from lightweight aluminum and come with all the components required to attach the brackets to the solar panel and to the van's roof. Each solar panel requires one set (four brackets).
From the solar panels, to charge controller, to the batteries, and everything in-between, this eBook has you covered. 12+ pages of detailed diagrams, product recommendations, and links to additional resources.
Adhere VHP & Butyl Tape To Z-Bracket Feet
If you simply screw the solar mounts directly onto the van’s roof, the chance of having leaks is high. This method also creates low pull-out resistance and the panels could easily fly away when driving at high speeds.
You can eliminate both these problems by applying a combination of VHB and Butyl Tape to the underside of the z-bracket feet. Refer to diagram below. This is the side that will be placed directly onto the van’s roof.
This way, the butyl tape will act as a waterproof seal around the screw holes and the VHB tape in the middle will provide additional adherence between the solar panels and the roof.
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Mount Solar Panels On Van Roof
Because both the VHB and Butyl Tape are on the Z-brackets, you’ll want to place the solar panels in the exact spot you want them located. Once you place the panels down on the roof, it will be difficult and messy to re-locate them again.
Screw Solar Panels To Van Roof
The Z-bracket mounts come supplied with screws.
When you drill the screws through the roof, you’ll notice that the Butyl tape compresses and begins to get squeezed out the sides of the Z-bracket feet. This is a good sign and tells you that a water-tight seal is being formed around the screw hole.
Cover Z-Brackets With Lap Sealant
Once the panels are screwed down, extrude Dicor Lap Sealant over each z-bracket foot, with a caulking gun, for an additional layer of water-proof protection.
We really like this particular waterproof sealant because it’s quite viscous and flows well, which makes it easy to apply onto surfaces and easily smothers all the gaps and crevices to create a tight, leak-free seal.
Whether you are sealing the vent fan, solar brackets, or roof rack, Dicor's lap sealant is the go-to brand for vans and RVs. This viscous sealant is self-leveling, meaning it spreads out evenly to easily cover all gaps and cracks to prevent water from entering. UV resistant.
Let Everything Dry & Cure
As a last step, we covered our roof with a tarp for 48 hours to allow the VHB tape, Butyl Tape, and the Lap Sealant to fully cure.
Congratulations! You’re finished securing solar panels to your RVs roof.
Download our FREE PDF to help build your van's electrical system; from batteries, to solar, to inverter, and more. 38+ pages of detailed diagrams, product recommendations, and links to additional resources.
How To Wire Your Solar Panel System
Now that your solar panels are mounted on your van’s roof, you might be ready to wire your solar system to your batteries.
Check out our resources below that will help get you going:
Mounting Flexible Solar Panels On An RV Roof
We don’t have flexible panels on our roof, but if we did, we would use the below video as our guide.
Flexible solar panels often suffer damage from excess heat because these panels cannot easily dissipate the heat beneath them, unlike rigid panels. But ‘RV With Tito’ seems to have found a solution to this problem while simultaneously not drilling ANY holes on his RV roof. Enjoy!
Final Thoughts: Mounting Solar Panels Isn't So Bad!
We hope you’ve found this guide to mount solar panels to your RV roof useful.
After you’ve successfully attached your solar panels, you’re ready to wire them to your batteries so that you can begin the solar charging process. Check out our other articles below for more van life solar resources.
Appendix: Test Solar Panels For Functionality
Realizing you have a defective solar panel AFTER mounting it on your RV roof is big headache. So make sure your solar panels function properly once you get them out of their shipping box.
Testing the functionality of your solar panels is quick and easy to do. It’s best to use a digital multimeter.
- Accuracy: With 3/s Sampling Speed, this multimeter can accurately measure AC/DC Voltage, DC current...
- Widely Used: This meter is capable of testing Household Outlets, Batteries (including 12V Automotive...
- Multi-Feature: Large Backlight LCD Display with 3 ½ digits (1999 count) delivers your results...
Steps To Test Your Panels Before Mounting
Place solar panels under direct sunlight to begin electricity production.
Locate your panel’s ‘Pmax voltage’.
- You can find this on the instruction manual or even the product page on Amazon.
- Your panels should get a reading close to it’s Pmax under ideal situations (clear sunny day & pointed directly at the sun).
Set your multimeter to read the appropriate voltage range.
- Note: In most cases it should be set to 200 volts.
Attach the ends of the supplied red and black wires to the multimeter device and the other ends (the probes) to the solar panel’s wires.
- Note: Each panel will come with MC4 connectors attached to their supplied wires. So you’ll likely you’ll have to search for the metal conductors inside the MC4 connectors to touch the probes to.
Compare the panel’s voltage reading to the panel’s theoretical voltage Pmax.
The goal should not be to 100% match the Pmax voltage, but to get close. Real world data never quite matches data from a lab.
For more, HandToolsForFun has a good post on using a multimeter to test your panels.