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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:
- Aims 2000 Watt Inverter/Charger
- Victron 2000 Watt Inverter/Charger
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
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.
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
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