Adding a solar power and battery system to your RV can be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. It can significantly improve your sustainability and off-grid comfort capabilities. But there’s one issue that often confounds new solar converts–what’s the secret to mounting solar panels on an RV roof?
There’s no mystery here, just some common sense principles and basic assembly techniques. Let’s shine a light on this sometimes confounding issue!
What Kinds of Solar Panels Can You Mount on an RV Roof?
Mounting solar panels on an RV roof is a relatively straightforward process. You can do it with just about any panel, whether large or small, rigid or flexible. Dont think that you need a special mobile solar panel, residential panels are cheap and work well too, they are just much larger and may not fit. Of course, you must appropriately secure any type you choose, and the methods for doing this will vary depending on your particular panels.
Before you try and mount anything we recommend you know how much solar you will be installing. To figure that out read our in-depth article about figuring out how much solar you need for your RV.
Can You Mount Solar Panels on Any RV Roof?
Yes! No matter what type of motorhome, van, trailer, fifth wheel, or other rig you have, you can put together some kind of mobile mounted solar panels. However, the exact nature of your panels and mounting system may vary, sometimes significantly, depending on your particular RV. Certain styles or models (like the ultra-curvy Airstream) can present more difficult mounting scenarios, but you can do them with a bit of knowledge and planning.
Choosing the Solar Panel Mounting Method That’s Best for Your RV
When designing your solar power system and figuring out the right strategy for mounting solar panels on your RV roof, there are a few key factors you’ll need to consider. Here’s a rundown of the most important and how they should shape your decision-making.
Pro Tip: If you’re ready to switch to solar, find out How To Use Portable Solar Panels On Your RV.
Type & Amount of Solar Panels
The two primary types of solar panel construction are traditional rigid panels and flexible. Your choice between these two construction methods will determine how to mount your panels. Also, consider how many panels you need for your purposes. Are you satisfied with a few hundred extra watts for your batteries from a single panel? Or do you want a more extensive array for a fully off-grid rig? This will also play a major role in your mounting strategy.
Weight of Mounting Hardware
Certain solar panels can weigh quite a bit, and securing them isn’t as simple as other, lighter panels. You’ll need more substantial mounting hardware to make sure they don’t go anywhere, and this hardware itself can be quite heavy!
Between the weight of this hardware and your panels themselves, be mindful of your overall RV weight. You never want to overload your rig!
There are several places you can mount your solar panels to your RV. However, some are better than others, particularly when it comes to the wind load they’ll have to withstand while you’re driving.
Are your panels lying flat, like flexible models? Can an air conditioner or other rooftop feature shield them? Or will they face the full force of the 50-60mph winds of highway driving?
Depending on the answer to this question, the nature of your mounting may change somewhat substantially.
Ability to Tilt Solar Panels
As you might expect, solar panels are most efficient when receiving direct sunlight. On a home or other stationary object, that’s easy–the sun rises and falls in the same directions daily.
But with an RV or other mobile system, you may not get great sunlight on your panels, depending on where you park. That’s where tiltable solar panel mounting technology comes in. This mounting hardware lets you shift your panels into the best sunlight, creating the most energy possible. However, you’ll need to locate this hardware and carefully plan your mounting to account for the movement of the panels.
Best Ways for Mounting Solar Panels on Your RV Roof
So you’ve bought your panels, considered your installation situation, and now, it’s time to mount them. But what’s the best equipment for mounting solar panels on your RV roof? Here are some of the most common choices.
Use a Solar Roof Rack
One of the easiest ways to mount panels is use a pre-built rack or mounts. You’ll find various mounting racks specifically designed to secure solar panels to an RV roof. Look for the right size for your panels and one that you can safely connect to your RV.
These are typically screwed directly into your RV. This method ensures a secure mount, but it also opens you up to potential issues from drilling holes in your rig’s exterior, like water damage or rust. Most racks are built of aluminum to keep weight down.
- ECO-WORTHY Multi-Panels Mount has the capability to fit 1-4pcs...
- Galvanized Steel construction, sturdy and durable. You can put...
- It’s ideal for larger installations, such as ground, flat roof,...
Many racking systems are also tiltable. The advantage of using a roof rack is that you get maximum sun exposure. Many models are also adjustable, so you can climb up to the roof to adjust the panels for better sun exposure.
- Adjustable solar panel mounting brackets designed for off-grid...
- Quick assembly with stainless steel fasteners and precise hole...
- Great addition for use on top of an RV or other flat surface.
If however, you cannot find a rack to fit your size panels or situation going custom is what a lot of people do. By purchasing stock aluminum angle or c channel and some bolts you can build almost anything you need.
Check out the build of our first solar system where we built our own brackets.
ABS or Plastic Mounts
ABS (short for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a type of plastic with sturdy construction and easy manufacturing ability. It’s a popular type of mounting hardware for RV solar panels, where it usually takes the form of side mounts that hold your panel in place from the edges. Other plastic mounts are available in various price ranges and styles.
- Ideal for bonding to the roof - no need for drilling
- Strong side support for small and large solar panels
- Great for motorhomes, campervans, caravans, lorries, buses, boats...
Use a Z-Bracket
Z brackets take their name from their shape, an angular z-style design. These metal pieces of mounting hardware include holes drilled in several different faces, offering various ways to attach your panels to your RV. Z-brackets are also noteworthy as some of the most affordable solar panel mounting options, costing just a few bucks each.
- 【High Quality, light weight】KLLsmDesign Solar mounting z...
- 【Wide-Application】It easy to mount solar panels to...
- 【Easy to install】The mounting z brackets is uniquely designed...
VHB is a special double-sided foam tape known for its powerful, weatherproof bonds and ultra-simple installation process. Just apply the tape to the back of your panels and then press them securely onto the roof surface. But this convenience comes with a few restrictions and drawbacks. For example, you shouldn’t use VHB on rubber RV roofs, and while the bond is strong, it’s only sufficient to secure lightweight, flexible panels, not larger rigid ones.
Other Adhesives as Recommended
There’s also various lightweight, flexible panels that you can mount with various glues or tapes. The proper adhesive will depend on the particular panel you’re installing, so only go this route if your panel specifically notes this securing method. The good news is that this is one of the simplest mounting methods and one of the least damaging to your rig long-term.
Electric Tilt Rack Mount
Looking for a premium mounting experience? Use an electric tilt rack mount. You can shift and tilt your panels to take full advantage of maximum sunlight, allowing more efficient energy production.
The best part? These mounts move at the touch of a button through the help of an electric tilting mechanism. While they require more of an upfront investment, the increased efficiency makes it worthwhile for most.
Can You Attach Solar Panels Without Drilling Holes?
In some cases, you can absolutely mount solar panels on your RV roof without drilling a single hole in your precious rig. While it’s typically not a major issue, some RVers discover water leaks from the drill holes. These can be among the most expensive and challenging issues to resolve in a motorhome or trailer.
If this is a priority, purchase lightweight, flexible panels that you can safely mount using tape or other adhesives that don’t require drilling. While this may limit your choices or increase your costs somewhat, it’s a surefire way to avoid one source of potential water damage down the line.
Pro Tip: Before you install your solar panels, this is What You Should Know About Flexible Solar Panel Performance.
Should You DIY Your Solar Panel Mount?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Those comfortable with building and assembling things, as well as the basics of solar system electrical wiring, can mount panels on their own. This is especially easy in cases where you can simply glue or tape flexible panels to your rig.
However, those who aren’t completely confident with installation may find it worthwhile to hire a professional. For one, solar panels are an expensive investment; you don’t want them coming off on the road! And that’s not to mention the serious safety issue an improperly mounted panel could pose. There’s no price on peace of mind, so when in doubt, play it safe.
Ultimately, mounting solar panels on your RV roof may seem intimidating, but it’s a surprisingly simple process overall. True, you’ll need to do some planning for your panels and travel circumstances and avoid common pitfalls. But it’s well within reach for RVers seeking a green, sustainable element to their energy system.
Do you use solar panels? How did you mount them? Drop a comment below!
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