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How to Wire 120V AC Circuits in a DIY Camper Van

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How to Wire 120V AC Circuits in a DIY Camper Van

This blog post will teach you everything you need to know to hard-wire 120V AC outlets and appliances into your camper van.

What is an AC Outlet?

An AC (Alternating Current) outlet is the standard household outlet that you will find around nearly every house in the world. It supplies power to your various household appliances and gets it’s power from a breaker box. The breaker box in a camper gets its power from the Inverter by means of either the batteries or shore power.

What is the Difference Between a 110V and 120V AC Circuits?

The terms 120V and 110V in regards to an AC outlet are pretty much the same and can, for our purposes be used interchangeably. In houses, power is delivered to the house at 120V plus/minus about 5% depending on transmission losses in the wires on the power poles. By the time the power actually ends up at the plug, it could be as low as 110 volts depending on the aforementioned losses as well as various voltage drop. But… for our purposes… the terms 110V and 120V can be used interchangeably and understanding the difference is not that important.

How to Wire a 120V Outlet

When looking at the front of the outlet, there are two screws on the right and 3 screws on the left.

  • The 2 gold screws on the right are for the ‘hot’ wires (black).
  • The 2 silver screws on the left are for the ‘neutral’ wires (white).
  • The 1 green screw on the left is for the ‘ground’ wires (green or bare copper).

How to Wire Multiple 120V Outlets on the Same Circuit

Wiring multiple 120V outlets on the same circuit is as simple as wiring the outlets in parallel.

  • Connect incoming ‘hot’ wire (black) to one of the ‘hot’ screws (gold screw on the right).
  • Connect outgoing ‘hot’ wire (black) to the other ‘hot’ screw (gold screw on the right).
  • Connect incoming ‘neutral’ wire (white) to one of the ‘neutral’ screws (silver screw on the left).
  • Connect outgoing ‘neutral’ wire (white) to the other ‘neutral’ screw (silver screw on the left).
  • Connect the incoming, outgoing, and short jumper of ground wire with a lever nut (https://amzn.to/3idGMnv) and connect the jumper wire to the ground screw (green) on the bottom left.
  • *optional* Since stranded wire is recommended on mobile applications, ring or spade terminals to connect wires to screws are permitted.

How Many 120V Outlets can be on the Same Circuit?

There can be as many outlets as you like on a single circuit. The number of outlets does not matter. What matters is the total wattage of devices plugged into ALL of the outlets on the circuit.

Think of this like your house. In your bedroom, all of your outlets are very likely on one circuit. If you plug your phone into one, your TV into one, an air purifier into one, and a computer into another, everything is likely going to work just fine. BUT… if you plugged a space heater into two seperate outlets and turned them both on high; it will very likely trip the breaker in your breaker box. This is because you overloaded the circuit. This is, for the most part, the EXACT same concept in a camper van.

How Many 120V Circuits Can Be Installed In a DIY Camper Van

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE THE HIGH RESOLUTION PDF VERSION OF THIS DIAGRAM

There can be as many 120V circuits in your camper as your breaker box allows. If you are using the breaker box that is in the wiring diagrams here on EXPLORIST.life, you can have up to 6 individual branch circuits. Typically, I’ll see individual branch circuits planned like this (just as an example):

What Size of Wire is Needed for 120v outlets?

Unlike with 12V DC wiring runs, voltage drop is less of an issue and circuit amperage is limited to a max of 20A for the most part; so a full-on wire sizing calculator is generally not necessary.If a wire size is recommended by the manufacturer of a particular item (common for hot water heaters and air conditioners) use the manufacturer recommended wire and breaker size. Otherwise: use 12 gauge wire (12/3 Wire: ) protected by a 20A breaker.

WHAT Type OF WIRE IS NEEDED FOR 120V OUTLETS In a Camper?

ALL wire in a camper must be stranded wire. This includes circuits for 120V outlets. Wires in a camper must be stranded wire (Like this: https://amzn.to/3im3aer) because solid core wire (like the Romex used in the walls of your house) will, when subjected to the vibrations of rattling down the road, will work harden and break over time. For this reason, solid core wire like Romex is EXPLICITLY forbidden in marine applications (boats) by ABYC E-11.

How to Wire 120V Outlets to the Camper Van Breaker Box

The 120V outlets in your camper van need to get their power from a breaker box. Here is how to wire the 120V circuits to the camper breaker box:

  • Connect the ‘Hot’ (Black) wire to the breaker
  • Connect the ‘Neutral’ (White) wire to the Neutral Busbar
  • Connect the ‘Ground’ (Green) wire to the Ground Busbar.

This concept is covered in much greater depth in the following blog post and video: https://www.explorist.life/how-to-wire-a-power-distribution-panel/

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Calvin

Friday 8th of January 2021

Hi Nate,

When wiring in the van sink area (or other areas "close to water" - what's not "close" in a van?!), do I use a GFI outlet still? I know how to do it in a house and have it protect other circuits and assume it would be same in a van if one was required.

Thanks!

Nate Yarbrough

Saturday 9th of January 2021

Correct. Use a GFCI outlet in 'wet' areas and it would also protect the outlets downstream of it.

Jared Bednar

Sunday 20th of December 2020

Hi Nate! I love how in-depth you go with your articles and how-to videos. You may think I'm a little crazy, but I am doing a complete camper conversion for my 2012 jeep patriot. I have prior maritime electrician knowledge, but I've never set up an off-grid solar power set up before. Do you do consultations? One more thing, since I couldn't find anything online for what I am attempting to do, I was hoping that you might want to do a collab - and help my audience base as well.

Love the content!

Jared

Nate Yarbrough

Tuesday 22nd of December 2020

Super cool project! That's not crazy at all. :) I do indeed offer consultations. Info here: https://www.explorist.life/consulting

I'm always open to hearing pitches for collaborations; send me an email with your pitch to Nate@explorist.life

Rodrigo Reinert

Wednesday 9th of December 2020

Can I use y consulting services to set up my electrical system. 80% Will run out off 12v & Ithe other 20% using to 220v (EU system) 600w solar panels 200amp lithium batteries I was told I couldn't do 300amp with 600w

Are y able to help me w that?

Nate Yarbrough

Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

You can definitely do 600w of solar with a 200 or 300 amp hour battery bank. Here is a diagram for that: https://www.explorist.life/2000w-inverter-200-400ah-lithium-200-to-700w-solar-camper-wiring-diagram/

Stacy

Saturday 28th of November 2020

Hi Nate, Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of information! I'm building out a Sprinter van using your diagrams and instructions for a 3000W inverter, 1000W solar, and 6 100Ah lithium batteries combination,50A AC/DC distribution panel,etc. Can I use 120V 20A outlets (with 30A fuses) in the van for the cooktop and oven? Or am I limited to 15A outlets (with 20A fuses) for some reason? Thanks!

Nate Yarbrough

Sunday 29th of November 2020

Multiple 15A Outlets on the same circuit Protected by a 15A Breaker fed by 14 gauge wire

Multiple 15A Outlets on the same circuit Protected by a 20A Breaker fed by 12 gauge wire

Dedicated 20A Outlet on it's own circuit protected by a 20A Breaker fed by 12 gauge wire.

Those are the three options available for sub-20A loads.

Matt

Thursday 1st of October 2020

Good after noon Nate,

First off, I want to thank you for your website, I used all your wiring diagrams for my cargo trailer build and utilized a lot of your info to successfully complete my electrical, it was a huge help and you’re insanely smart. So thanks! I used mostly Renogy equipment as it was readily available. That being said, I have 3-100ah AGM gel deep cycle batteries, 3000watt inverter/charger, 400 watts in solar, with a 40 amp mppt charge controller.

So, again. Thank you a ton!

But the question is, and I can’t seem to find a solid answer anywhere. Is should I out of your recommendation, disconnect my positive going into the charge controller when not in use for extended periods (weeks to months). The reason I ask you, is Renogy says yes, other things say no, if it’s a gel then leg it trickle, if it’s lithium, turn them off. As you know, when it goes into float, it’s essentially a trickle charger, should I just let it do it’s thing and limit it to 12.8v or so?

Here’s some build pics. Bed is done now, just gotta frame it up.

Thank you so much, I owe you some beers if I ever meet you.

Nate Yarbrough

Friday 2nd of October 2020

For AGM, I would recommend just letting them continue to charge via solar when in storage. Like you said, it's essentially a trickle charge at that point.