AsoboLife

How To Mount Solar Panels On A Camper Van Roof (or RV)

Want to mount solar panels on your RV? Our post below provides step-by-step instructions how to create a super strong, leak-free bond between your RV roof and solar panels.

This site contains affiliate links to products. More info in our disclaimer.

Installing-Solar-Panels-On-A-Camper-Van

This post will discuss how to mount solar panels on a camper van roof. This post is also relevant for RV roofs, too. And we know…the process of securing panels on a vehicle’s roof can feel like the most daunting, dread-inducing part of building your own camper solar system.

But if you follow this step-by-step guide, and are careful, we’re confident you can mount 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.

Rigid Panels Only: This guide is intended for mounting rigid solar panels on a van roof. For those with flexible panels, refer to this YouTube video.

So if you’re ready, let’s get started!

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Not what you need? Check out our van life “Solar System” category page for more similar content.

    Required Materials To Mount Solar Panels To RV Roof

    Before we get started, below is a summary table of all the tools & materials we will use to mount solar panels on a camper van roof. We will refer to all these products further down in our post.

    Table 1.1 - Tools & Materials List

    Product

    Purpose

    Buy

    Tools

    Digital Multimeter

    Checks solar panels for proper functionality.

    Power Drill

    Drill screws into RV roof to affix panels.

    Caulking Gun

    Applies sealant onto solar bracket feet.

    Materials

    Solar Panels

    Duh...

    Z-Bracket Mounts

    Allows solar panels to be mounted to RV roof.

    Butyl Tape

    Creates water-tight seal under Z-bracket mounts.

    VHB Tape

    Creates strong bond between Z-bracket mounts and RV roof.

    Lap Sealant

    Creates final, water-tight seal.

    Step 1:

    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.

    Digital Multimeter

    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.

    Step 2:

    Attach Z-Brackets To Solar Panels

    As they come, solar panels cannot be mounted onto a camper van’s roof. So to do this, you’ll need to pick up one set of mounting brackets (Z-brackets) for every panel you have. Each set of Z-bracket mounts comes with bolts & nuts, to attach to a rigid solar panel’s aluminum frame.

    These mounts also come with self-tapping screws, which you will use to secure the brackets to your camper van’s roof. We talk about this in Step 5.

    Materials List

    Z-Bracket Mounts

    To attach, simply affix the Z-brackets, using the small bolts (with washer and nut), to the existing holes on the solar panel’s aluminum frame.

    Attaching Z-mounting bracket to rigid solar panel frame

    Z-Bracket Installation Tip: If you plan to install multiple solar panels side-by-side, stagger the placement of your Z-brackets so that they don't butt up against each other when the panels are placed on your roof. (Refer to picture in Step 4)

    Step 3:

    Adhere VHB & Butyl Tape To Z-Bracket Feet

    When attaching solar panels to the vehicle’s roof, most people would simply place the bare Z-bracket feet directly onto the RV’s roof and start drilling screws in.

    We are NOT going to do that  because we want to:

    1. Create a MUCH stronger bond to the roof than with only screws,
    2. Form a waterproof seal to prevent leaks

    Did You Know? Because sheet metal and fiberglass is so thin, there isn't much for the screw to grip on to. So the pull-out resistance of simply using screws to secure your solar panels is dangerously low.

    Therefore, in order to create a strong & waterproof bond between the solar panels and the RV’s roof, we adhered a combination of VHB tape and butyl tape to the bottom of the Z-brackets.

    Z-Bracket Feet Diagram

    Below is a diagram we created to show how the underside of each Z-bracket foot should look. This is the side of the Z-bracket that will adhere to the vehicle’s roof.

    Applying butyl and VHB tape to feet of z-bracket mount
    Applying Butyl and VHB tape to feet of z-bracket mount

    For a super strong bond to the van’s roof, we placed 3M VHB Tape in the middle of each foot (red region).

    For a water-tight seal, we placed Butyl Tape around the prefabricated screw holes on both ends of the Z-bracket feet (grey region).

    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.

    Installation Tip: Do a practice run and place the solar panels on your camper van's roof without the VHB and butyl tape. This way, you can move the panels around and plan exactly where you want your solar panels to sit before adding the tape.

    Now that you’ve applied both VHB and Butyl tape, you’re ready to mount the solar panels on your RVs roof.

    Step 4:

    Mount Solar Panels On RV Roof

    Installing Solar Panels On Our Camper Van
    Taking A Break Just Before Screwing The Solar Panels Onto The Camper Roof

    The panels are now ready to be hoisted and mounted onto your RV roof for installation.

    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, it will be difficult and messy to re-locate them again.

    Installation Tip: Ensure the red & black solar wires (attached to panels) are brought out from under the panels. You don't want any wires trapped under the panels after the VHB tape bonds the panels to the roof.

    Step 5:

    Drill & Secure Solar Panels To RV Roof With Screws

    How-To-Install-Solar-Panels-On-A-Camper-Van-Roof
    Installing Two Solar Panels On Our Camper

    The Z-bracket mounts come supplied with screws. Eight screws are supplied per pack, so two screws per mounting Z-bracket.

    The screws are ‘self-tapping’, which means, with a power drill, the screws should dig through your camper van’s roof without the need to first drill pilot holes. But we drilled pilot holes anyway to make the process easier.

    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.

    Step 6:

    Cover Z-Brackets With Lap Sealant

    Once the panels were screwed down, we extruded 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, which makes it easy to apply onto surfaces and easily smothers all the gaps and crevices to create a tight, leak-free seal.

    Dicor Lap Sealant

    Step 7:

    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. Give yourself a quick pat on the back because now you’re ready to wire your panels to your batteries.

    To learn how to wire a camper van solar system together, check out our van life solar installation guide.

    Useful Video: Mounting Solar Panels

    A Similar Process To Ours

    Vanessa and Adam’s YouTube channel is one of our favorite places for camper build information. The quality of their build videos are some of the best we’ve seen.

    Their solar panel mounting process differs slightly from ours, but the idea is the same. It’s worth a watch.

    Video of the mounting process starts at 9:45.

    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.

    Was This Solar Article Helpful? We have other posts dedicated to help you install a camper van solar system. Check out our guide for more great RV solar content!

    Scroll to Top
    SOLAR WIRING GUIDE eBOOK