How-to Choose an Inverter for a DIY Camper Van Electrical System

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An inverter converts the 12v power of your batteries into the 110v power necessary to run electrical devices that normally plug into your standard household outlet.

Quick note before we get started.  This is just one part of an overarching “How to Install a DIY Camper Van Electrical System” series.  If you’ve just stumbled on this article directly without seeing that, there are likely some things we’ve already covered.  If you want to check out that step by step guide, you can do that here: https://www.explorist.life/diy-campervan-solar

Also, we have interactive solar wiring diagrams that are a complete, A to Z solution for teaching you exactly what parts go where, what size wires to use, fuse size recommendations, wire lug sizes, and all kind of other stuff to help save you time and frustration.  You can check that out here: https://www.explorist.life/solarwiringdiagrams/

What size of Inverter is Best for my DIY Camper?

This is a question with a VERY straightforward answer. Your inverter should be slightly bigger than the most power hungry electrical device you plan to power.

For example. Want to power something that uses 1800 watts? Round up and get a 2000 watt inverter.

If you’ve performed a power audit, you’ll remember that the calculator will actually recommend an inverter size for you based on your inputs.

If you haven’t done that yet, you should really consider checking that out here: https://www.explorist.life/what-size-of-solar-system-is-needed-to-power-a-camper/

For normal household outlet operation for powering items such as household coffee makers, coffee pots, toasters, blow dryers, and other power-hungry, but common household devices; I recommend a 2000 watt inverter.

A 2000w inverter will handle 15ish amps continuous AC power which makes it very similar to your normal 15 amp circuit in your house.

What’s the best type of Inverter?

You’ll be looking for a Pure Sine Wave Inverter. This inverter does the best job of mimicking the power that is ACTUALLY coming through a standard plug you can find in any on-the-grid wall.  Square Wave and Modified Sine Wave aren’t recommended, because, the power they ‘Make’ isn’t a ‘clean’ power and can damage certain electronics and I can’t recommend those because I don’t like recommending products that have an inherent risk of damaging other equipment. If you want to save some money and go with a modified sine wave inverter but please do your due diligence and make sure the electrical devices you want to power are compatible with that modified sine wave inverter if that’s the direction you choose to go.

Cheap vs Expensive inverters

Cheap and expensive are pretty relative terms, but lets talk about these two inverters:

These are both good-quality pure sine wave inverters that I DO recommend in our wiring diagrams, but the Victron inverter is quite a bit more expensive than the Aims inverter. As of the making of this video, we personally have the Aims inverter in our van. Last year, we installed the Victron unit into my mom’s truck camper, so we have a bit of hands on experience with both.

The #1, biggest difference in the two is in regards to efficiency. For example:

On our Aims inverter, when it is simply on and not actually powering anything, it uses about 5 amps of power. Just being on… That means, that any time we are not using it, we have to be pretty diligent about turning it off.

If we had something we needed to run on 110v, say, overnight; during those 10 hours, the Aims inverter would use 50 amp hours out of your battery bank PLUS whatever electrical device you were actually using. So, if you had a 200 amp hour battery bank, the inverter would take 25% of your entire battery bank to be on overnight.

The Victron inverter on the other hand uses less than 1 amp to just be on. This means that It can be left on all the time with minimal negative effects on battery capacity.

Also, the Victron Inverter can be wired into a central monitoring hub. This will give you information about your system from your phone or even remotely via internet. This also allows remote access for troubleshooting. If you’re having issues with your Victron Inverter, a tech rep can log into your inverter, remotely, and change settings or help troubleshoot the device as needed.

Also, Victron is always making software improvements to their products and this remote access allows for firmware updates.

To recap: Both inverters I talked about are indeed good inverters, but the premium price you’ll pay for one over the other is for performance efficiency, more features, and potentially better customer service.

Inverter Chargers

If you plan on making a shore power inlet (which you should) so you can recharge from a campground power pedestal or just a wall outlet at home, you should consider an Inverter Charger.

An Inverter Charger will not only invert your 12v battery power to 110v power, but will also charge your 12v batteries from a normal wall outlet AND will run any electrical devices from that 110v normal wall outlet once the batteries are charged. This is nice for power hungry devices like electric space heaters or air conditioners.

Now that you’ve learned all about the inverter function of your Inverter/Charger, Lets dive a little deeper into the ‘charger’ function and learn how to add shore power to a DIY Camper Van.  Check that out here: https://www.explorist.life/how-to-add-shore-power-to-a-diy-camper/

Everything that you are learning here is put to use in our FREE Interactive Solar Wiring Diagrams.  If you haven’t yet, check them out as they are a complete solution for a camper van electrical system.  Check them out here: https://www.explorist.life/solarwiringdiagrams/

Remember, this is just one part of a full camper van electrical educational series.  To see all of the individual guides, click here: https://www.explorist.life/diy-campervan-solar

Finally, If you found this guide helpful, It’d truly mean the world to us if you’d share it with somebody who can use it, pin it to pinterest for later reference, or share it to a facebook group when somebody has a question about this subject.  Click the bubble in the lower right corner to subscribe to be notified of future updates and as always, leave any questions you’ve got in the comments below.

29 thoughts on “How-to Choose an Inverter for a DIY Camper Van Electrical System”

  1. You both have done a great job building your website, packed full of great information.

    We are planning to start our build. Looking to install a 12volt system, with on shore power hook up.
    Can you tell us if the AIMS inverter / charger work with all lithium batteries?

      1. I’ve been looking into both the AIMS and the Victron I/Cs you mention . . . curious to understand how you’re arriving at the statement that the AIMS using 5 amps while just on. The specs on their site indicate only 28 watts of idle consumption and 12.7 when in “power saver mode.”
        Here’s the link to the specs: https://www.aimscorp.net/2000-Watt-Pure-Sine-Inverter-Charger.html

        So, only 1 amp, or 2.4 if not in power save mode. Has the AIMS been upgraded since you wrote this post maybe?

        1. That stat was based on me having both inverters and side by side testing them through a shunt. Maybe my Inverter is faulty, or they have upgraded, but it definitely uses more than 28w at idle.

  2. thanks Nate — your series on electrical solar shore and alternator power is proving incredibly valuable as I design and start to put together my system.

  3. Hey! Found your site while I’ve been wrestling with different products for my solar electric system… Wish I’d of found it sooner!

    While I’d love to include a Victron, they’re unfortunately way out of my price range. I’m debating between the AIMS 2000W and their green 2500W model. Wondering if you can give me any advice.

    Obviously there are some differences, I just don’t know how crucial those are for vanlife. The price of the green makes it appealing of course. I know it has a larger idle draw and doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles of the other.

    Any info you may be able to provide to help me sort this decision out would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    1. The AIMS inverters are definitely good as well. Unfortunately, without really diving in, I don’t know the differences between the two models you mention.

  4. Hey Nate, I couldn’t find the correct place to ask this question I hope you’ll comment. The Blue Sea ACR, I think you installed something like this on your build. Do you remember how it installed? The directions are a little vague. Does it need a wire to the ignition somehow? Next question would be with your overkill system (lol) did you ever use it? I have plenty of solar and have been thinking of installing one of these for the winter months. I know you did a lot of winter sports so I thought I would ask. Thanks. Really enjoy your build videos.

    1. The directions are indeed super vague, but we never made a tutorial over how to wire in the Blue Sea ACR. Sorry about that! It will, indeed, need a wire to the ignition though. We don’t always charge via the alternator but it’s VERY nice to have when we do need it. Also, during those winter months when the starting battery needs to be jumped, we can combine our house and starting batteries through the isolator to ‘jump’ ourselves with the push of a button. Pretty sweet.

  5. My dad already has a PowerDrive 3000 Watt Power Inverter. Can I use this as an alternative and switch to a pure sine wave inverter in the future when my budget is more felxible? I’m planning on running a system that consists of 4 lithium batteries & 3 x 280w Solar Panels. Also wondering if I can use a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery instead of Lithium Ion?

    1. At the risk of sounding snarky, which I’m not trying to be… You can do whatever you like. I know that’s not much help; but I’m not sure of a more thorough way to respond.

  6. Hi Nate,
    I was wondering if theres any downside to have an Inverter/Charger combo. Let’s say I am plugged into shore power, and I want to charge my batteries and run my DC stuff but not my AC, is there a way to say “only use the charger and not the inverter”? I’m mostly concerned about noise.

  7. Thanks for all the info Nate. I was gifted two 300w 24 V panels and trying to determine the type of inverter I would need to use. Will it also need to be a 24 V to match the panels… And can I use these with two 12 V batteries in parallel

  8. Is there a downside to having a 3000 watt invertor vs a 2000 watt, if I only need to power an induction stove and a Vitamix? Also, a lot of vanlifers claim that their 2000watt wasn’t strong enough to handle their Vitamix and had to upgrade their invertor. Thanks.

    1. A 3000w Inverter will just be more expensive and require larger wiring; but if you need it, you need it. A 2000 watt Victron Multiplus like shown on all of our diagrams could handle a vitamix by itself no problem, but would have little wiggle room for powering other items at the same time.

  9. Would your wiring kit “3000w – 150v – 600Ah Camper Solar Wiring Kit” work with a 3000w victron inverter charger, 340amph lithium batteries and 340w solar panels and 100 mppt charge controller, without charging from an alternator? Do you sell custom wiring kits? Thanks!

    1. Apologies, but I do not sell custom wiring kits. There are a few sizes of wires in my kit that would not work for your setup (the wire I include from the charge controller to the batteries is 2 AWG which would not fit in the 100V MPPT charge controllers.

  10. Hi! Your blog and this series are super helpful while we prepare for our own van life! My question – for shore power, can you still use your AC and DC electric while your batteries are charging via shore power? And is the input from your panels switched off in the inverter, or are you using solar and shore power to charge your batteries? Finally, does it make sense to run a separate AC distribution for appliances like air conditioning that might only be run while hooked to shore? Thanks 🙂 (Sorry if you’ve already addressed this and I haven’t got there yet…)

    1. When connected to shore power, shore power will first go to power any AC devices in your camper. The left-over will go to charge your batteries, which are simultaneously allowing you to use your DC appliances.

      I don’t like the idea of a separate AC distribution for appliances like the air conditioner. It adds complexity to the system when that ‘problem’ could be solved by simply not turning on the air conditioner when not onshore power.

  11. Hi
    I’m planning on living in a tag along 22ft camper full time. I want to use solar power. There is a microwave and the biggest thing I would be using is a sewing machine plus a television. What would your recommendations be for that type of usage? I have no clue whatsoever and need all the help I can get.
    Thanks
    Penny

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