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DIY Solar Electric Install on a 1976 Airstream Argosy

DIY Solar Electric Install on a 1976 Airstream Argosy

This blog post is going to show you step-by-step how to install solar, lithium batteries, an inverter, and all of the wiring on a ground up renovation of a 1976 Airstream Argosy. This camper is a project of Andy Rawls, an incredibly talented woodworker and YouTuber out of the Hill Country in Texas.

This is an in-progress project and this blog post will change and evolve as the project nears completion and will change based on ‘things we could have done better’ after the project is complete. The goal of this blog post and all of the wiring diagrams within are going to be a ‘here’s what we should have done’ and not necessarily ‘here is what we did’. So if something in this blog post seems ‘off’ compared to the videos found on this page; it’s because I’ve found a better way or better/newer parts have come on the market.

Click Here to Expand the Changes made to this blog post:

August 7, Blog Post Published.

Airstream Solar Wiring Diagram

The core of this Airstream electrical install will revolve around 400Ah of Battle Born Lithium Batteries, a 3000W Victron Multiplus Inverter/Charger, and 800w of Solar. The system will be able to charge via solar at a rate of approximately 66 amps under peak conditions or from 120V 30A shore power/generator providing up to 70 amps (at 12V). Andy DOES, indeed, plan on using his air conditioner but understands the system limitations mean that if extended air conditioner usage is wanted, shore power or a gas generator will be necessary.

Airstream Solar Wiring Shopping List

This shopping list is the comprehensive list of all parts used in this build. It includes all components, wires, lugs, heat shrink, etc. The only thing that is missing is small items like wood screws, zip ties, and such that you will likely have laying around if you are DIYing a project like this.

For the ‘Quantities’ in the below shopping list, each singular component is listed a quanty per each, wire is listed a quantity of feet, and heat shrink is listed as qty 1 = 2.25″.

For Example:

Qty 1 – Inverter Charger means you need to purchase 1 Inverter Charger

Qty 3 – 4/0 Wire means you need 3 feet of 4/0 wire. This may mean you need to buy 5ft from the product page

Qty 5 heat shrink means you need 5 pieces of 2.25″ heat shrink. This means you’ll need 5 x 2.25″ pieces of heat shrink for a total of 11.25″ of heat shrink.

ProductQtyLink
1/2" Black Heat Shrink8
1/2" Red Heat Shrink2
1/4" Black Heat Shrink9
1/4" Red Heat Shrink3
10 AWG Black Wire50
10 AWG Ferrule12
10 AWG Red Wire50
100 Amp MEGA Fuse1
100Ah Battle Born Lithium Batteries4
2 AWG Black Wire4
2 AWG Ferrule2
2 AWG Red Wire2
2 AWG x 1/4" Wire Lug1
2 AWG x 5/16" Wire Lug3
2-to-1 MC4 Combiner1
3/4" Black Heat Shrink18
3/4" Red Heat Shrink14
4/0 Black Wire25
4/0 Red Wire15
4/0 x 3/8" Wire Lug2
4/0 x 5/16" Wire Lug24
400 Amp ANL Fuse1
400 Amp MEGA Fuse1
50A Square D HOM AC Breaker1
6 AWG Black Wire10
6 AWG Ferrule8
6 AWG Red Wire10
6 AWG x 5/16" Wire Lug2
Heavy Duty ANL Fuse Holder1
Lynx Adapter2
Master Disconnect1
Victron BMV-712 Battery Monitor1
Victron VE.Bus Smart Dongle1
WFCO AC-DC Distribution Panel1
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Airstream Solar Wiring Parts List

This list is the detailed breakdown of each of the items from the shopping list above that shows you where, in the system, each part actually goes. If you are purchasing parts to mirror this system, buying the parts from the consolidated list above is the most accurate way to get correct quantities.

Column AColumn BColumn C

Battery Bank Wiring

This section contains all of the parts necessary to wire the battery bank together. These products include the batteries as well as the related wiring parts that you will need to make the battery to battery connections.
ProductQtyLink
100Ah Battle Born Lithium Batteries4
4/0 Red Wire5
4/0 Black Wire5
4/0 x 5/16" Wire Lug12
3/4" Red Heat Shrink6
3/4" Black Heat Shrink6

Battery Bank to Busbars

This section contains all of the parts necessary to wire the battery bank to the Lynx Distributor. The Lynx Distributor itself as well as the shunt for the battery monitor and fuse mounted to the Lynx Distributor protecting the positive wire from overcurrent can be found in this section. The Lynx Distributor is essentially an extension of the battery terminals and allows you to deliver power where it needs to go and houses the fuses necessary to protect the wires leaving the Lynx Distributor. The Battery monitor allows you to know how full your batteries are, know how much power you are actively gaining or losing, and see the historical data of your power usage.
ProductQtyLink
Lynx Distributor1
Victron BMV-712 Battery Monitor1
4/0 Red Wire5
4/0 Black Wire5
4/0 x 5/16" Wire Lug4
4/0 x 3/8" Wire Lug2
3/4" Red Heat Shrink4
3/4" Black Heat Shrink2
400 Amp ANL Fuse1
Heavy Duty ANL Fuse Holder1
Lynx Adapter2
Master Disconnect1

Busbar to Inverter/Charger

This section contains the Inverter Charger and all of the parts necessary to wire the Inverter Charger to the Positive and Negative busbars. The Inverter Charger allows you to re-charge your batteries from 'shore power' and also converts the 12v DC power stored in your batteries to 120V AC power like you'd find in your standard household wall outlet.
ProductQtyLink
MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50 120V VE.Bus1
4/0 Red Wire5
4/0 Black Wire5
4/0 Black Wire5
4/0 x 5/16" Wire Lug6
3/4" Red Heat Shrink2
3/4" Black Heat Shrink4
400 Amp MEGA Fuse1
Victron VE.Bus Smart Dongle1
This section contains all of the parts necessary to wire 8x100w solar panels into your camper electrical system. This solar array is managed by the Victron SmartSolar MPPT 150|70 and remaining products include the wires, solar disconnect breaker, solar disconnect breaker box, lugs, ferrules, heat shrink and everything else needed to make the full solar panel array to busbar assembly. This parts list does not include means to attach the solar panels to the roof as that veries GREATLY from install to install.
ProductQtyLink
100w NewPowa Solar Panels4
Victron SmartSolar MPPT 150|701
10 AWG Red Wire50
10 AWG Black Wire50
MC4 Connectors6
2-to-1 MC4 Combiner1
Roof Entry Gland1
Solar Disconnect Breaker1
Din Rail Breaker Box1
10 AWG Ferrule6
2 AWG Ferrule2
2 AWG Red Wire2
2 AWG Black Wire4
2 AWG x 5/16" Wire Lug3
2 AWG x 1/4" Wire Lug1
1/4" Red Heat Shrink3
1/4" Black Heat Shrink3
3/4" Red Heat Shrink2
3/4" Black Heat Shrink4
150 Amp MEGA Fuse1

Busbar to DC Fuse Block

This section contains the DC fuse block (which is inside of the AC-DC distribution panel) as well as the wires to connect it to the main DC distribution busbars. This will allow you to deliver power to the DC Fuse block for small branch circuits such as lights, fans, usb outlets, etc..
ProductQtyLink
WFCO AC-DC Distribution Panel1
6 AWG Red Wire10
6 AWG Black Wire10
6 AWG x 5/16" Wire Lug2
6 AWG Ferrule2
1/2" Red Heat Shrink2
1/2" Black Heat Shrink2
100 Amp MEGA Fuse1

Busbar to Chassis Ground

This section includes the parts necessary to allow you to ground your negative busbar to the chassis ground. The chassis ground will be connected to the negative busbar on one side and the other side can go to a factory chassis ground or simply anywhere good metal to metal contact can be made between the wire lug and the bare metal of the body or frame of the camper.
ProductQtyLink
4/0 Black Wire5
4/0 x 5/16" Wire Lug2
3/4" Black Heat Shrink2

Shore Power to Inverter/Charger

This section includes the exterior shore power outlet and shore power cord that allows you to plug your camper into shore power as well as all of the wiring that allows you to connect the exterior shore power cord to your inverter charger. This will allow you to not only use shore power for powering your devices but also allow you to charge your batteries from shore power. Note: 10/3 w/ ground wire you will find at your local hardware store will very likely have 4 wires in it, which is unnecessary. The link for 10 AWG Triplex Wire below has 3 wires inside, which is correct for the application.
ProductQtyLink
30A Shore Power Inlet1
10 AWG Triplex Wire10
10 AWG Ferrule6
1/4" Black Heat Shrink6
30A Shore Power Cord1

Inverter Charger to AC Distribution

This section includes the wiring necessary to connect the inverter charger to the AC side of the AC-DC power distribution panel listed in an earlier section. A quick note... 6/3 stranded wire is used here because although our shore power is 30A max, which 10 gauge wire is adequate for, the PowerAssist function of the Victron Multiplus Inverter Charger can add up to 3000w of battery power to shore power in the event that more power than the shore power can provide is needed. This much power coming from the Inverter/Charger requires 6 gauge wire feeding a 50A main breaker in the AC distribution panel. Also... the 6/3 w/ ground wire you will find at your local hardware store will very likely have 4 wires in it, which is unnecessary. The link for 6 AWG Triplex Wire below has 3 wires inside, which is correct for the application.
ProductQtyLink
6 AWG Triplex Wire10
6 AWG Ferrule6
1/2" Black Heat Shrink6
50A Square D HOM AC Breaker1

Airstream Solar Setup

Completely recharging a 400Ah battery bank in a single day generally takes 800w of solar. Andy took some measurements of his roof and sent them over. I got to work in Sketchup making a to-scale model of the roof to determine which panels would fit out needs the best and came out with the following. The three squares in the middle of the roof are a roof vent, air conditioner, and roof vent, respectively. The four rectangles on each of the sides are 100W Newpowa Solar panels measuring 44.49 x 19.88 inches (1130 x 505mm). These panels will be wired in a series parallel configuration and connected to a Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/75. The wiring method can be seen in the diagram above.

How to Install 12V Lights in a DIY Airstream Renovation

This section of the blog post will map out how Andy ran the lights and switches within his Airstream. Andy provided me with a diagram of where he wanted the lights and I came up with a plan for how to run the wires. There are 8 zones of 12v lights in this airstream broken up over 4 branch circuits:

  • Bedroom
  • Under Bed Utility
  • Sleeping Bunk
  • Kitchen
  • Living Area
  • Bathroom
  • Dining
  • Outside

Here is a diagram of approximately how his Airstream will be laid out in regards to floorplan:

12V Lights & Switches Wiring Diagram

Here is the diagram that shows how the various lights and switches are wired around the camper:

All of the individual rooms have their own zone of lights. These lights are powered by 4 separate circuits coming from the DC fuse box.

The lighting circuit in the middle of the bedroom are simply utility lights underneath the bed that are activated by a cabinet switch that turns the lights on when the bed is raised and turns them off when the bed is lowered.

Airstream 12V Appliances Wiring Diagram:

This Airstream has 7 main DC powered appliances:

Each appliance will have it’s own dedicated circuit with the exception of the roof fans. The roof fans will share a single circuit. The water pump will have a switch in-line to turn the water pump off when not in use or in the event that the water tank runs empty.


Ryan

Tuesday 12th of October 2021

Hello Nate!

Thank you very much for all of your content! Man, you do a great job! My wife and I would like to build this system. About how much would this system cost? We're going to use it for off-grid back up at our home. To get a total cost I started to populate the Amazon cart but it looks like this is going to take some time. Can you provide a ballpark price for all the materials here? We're going to do the labor : )

Mark Horton

Wednesday 6th of October 2021

What was the (what looked like aluminum) channel did you use to mount the solar panels to the roof of the RV? I liked that setup and would like to explore it.

Alan Rubenstein

Thursday 19th of August 2021

Great explanation for DIY RV solar.

Lorraine

Tuesday 17th of August 2021

The 150/75 charge controller is not available. For this setup, which other would you choose? 150/85 or 150/70?

Michael

Wednesday 11th of August 2021

Hi Nate, First, Thank you for all the advice and help. Researching and watching your channel has been a huge help. I keep going through the parts list for the Airstream Wiring Diagram and I'm not finding the shunt that you used? Victron is also now offering the 500A smartshunt which seems like it could work in this layout and replace the BMV-712. Does that sound right?