Cables, wires and more cables…
When you travel around in a campervan, it is nice if you can charge your laptop, have some lights inside and you can pull out a cold beer from the fridge at the end of the day.
We wanted all of the above (and a few other ‘nice-to-have’ things). I guess we are getting old and like our creature comforts? Or we just like to travel in style! So, to accommodate our desire for comfort, we had to install an electrical system in Lara.
Where to start….
The first thing we thought of was the battery. We knew we needed a second battery (also called house battery, but I guess in our case it will be called the palace battery). We knew that from our white Defender 110 that was converted to an overland vehicle extraordinaire. It means you can leave your fridge on when you are parked up for the night, or even when you go out for a hike in the middle of the day. And when the fridge can stay on, your beer stays cold (and cheese, don’t forget the all-important cheese). And when beer and cheese are cold, you’ve got two happy campers.
But then that battery needs to be kept topped up. How to do that? There are several options. You can run a generator, hook her up to the mains power (inside a caravan park for example), run the engine of the car, or hook her up to some solar panels, either fixed on the roof, or loose and placed on the ground nearby.
We don’t want to run a generator, are rarely (if ever) parked up in a caravan park (although we do plan to visit friends and family where we might be able to plug her into mains) so those two were out for the general day-to-day charging. That left us with solar and the engine as the main ways of charging. After much deliberation, we opted to add both.
We also wanted to be able to charge our laptops in the palace, have a few lights hard-wired in (not too many), and of course have a fridge. We also needed things like a water pump and wanted the luxury of hot showers again. We had that option in the white Defender 110, and we definitely wanted that again. We looked into cooking with an induction plate, but at the moment these are still too power hungry in our opinion and for our needs. We don’t want to end up in the situation we can’t have a cuppa because our batteries are running low! All those decisions had to be made before you can even attempt to calculate the needs for your electrical system.
Jude spent lots of time reading websites and books, and talking to lots of people about electrical systems to find out what could work for us and what we wanted. And it was our friends who provided us with all the information we needed to come up with a plan. (special thanks go to Roland as always, John M, Mark H and Ingo for all their time explaining things time and time again). We picked components, and after weeks and weeks of drawing up our wiring diagram, we finally came to one that we could use to place our order.
Surprisingly when we placed our order with Jared, he managed to get pretty much everything we needed in a week or so. The only thing that took a bit longer was our battery, but we had already decided on that much earlier so it arrived around the same time. It was nice to not have to wait for something for months for a change!
Once we had our blue components (we picked Victron as our supplier, a Dutch company that seems to be available worldwide), we needed to start the real work. No longer was Jude drawing lines on a piece of paper, it was time to get the drill out and put some things inside the palace and run some cables between those blue boxes.
John M kicked us into action, which was very much needed as we were not quite sure how to get it all started. We had a few areas in mind where we could mount things, now was the time to see where it would all actually fit. We ended up mounting it all in the area in between the spare wheel and the seat inside the palace, all on the driver’s side. John and Ann came to visit us one Monday afternoon, and John spent it with us trying to work out the best location for all the blue boxes. They spent the night in Esk (in their 4wd truck called the Boomer) and the next morning we continued the work.
John then invited us to visit their place on the weekend so he could continue helping us. It was just what we needed (a kick up the bum basically and a lot of hand-holding when we drilled the first holes to lay the cables, ran our first bits of ducting and crimped our first cables to put the correct lugs on them). We would drive over in Lara, join them for a cuppa, start work and then Ann had lunch ready, made cups of tea for the breaks and even cooked us dinner several times!
Every time we got together the next piece of the puzzle became much clearer, and every time a new shopping list was created with the next pieces we needed. Even on a Sunday we were able to drive to the shops and get what we needed to progress as John and Ann only live 5 minutes away from Pickering St, the place where we seem to hang out a lot these days….
John showed Jon how to drill the holes through the fiberglass and into the conduit for things like our rear video camera and the external lights, set us up with tools and even loads of cables and lugs so we could do more work during the week.
We certainly haven’t finished yet, but we have run most of the cables to their required location. And most of them have already been connected to the switchboard near the entrance door. It’s now a question of connecting the remaining wires before we drop it off with Jared who will connect and program it all (a lot of the Victron gear is smart so we can monitor the status of our system easily, but it does require some programming).
So whilst we can’t show you working lights yet, we are well on our way to a luxury palace complete with lights, hot water, a heater, fans, oven and of course a fridge.
If you want more detailed information about our electrical system, or you would like to know how or why we have done certain things, you can check out the separate post we wrote called ‘Electrical overview and wiring diagram‘. It has our wiring diagram as well as an overview of all the Victron components and our electrical equipment.