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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

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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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Patrick

Thursday 15th of April 2021

That's a super helpful video. Do you have a link to the power distribution panel? I've looked *everywhere* and cannot find one!

Barb

Tuesday 13th of April 2021

You don't offer the $79 plan anymore?

Carson

Tuesday 6th of April 2021

Hi Nate,

I am currently in the middle of a cargo trailer conversion. At this point, I will use it mostly for camping when we have shore power. However, in the coming years I am planning to have it completely outfitted for boondocking. My electrical plan as of now is to have 30 amp shore power running into a 12v/120 distribution panel. 30 amp shore power will supply my 110 outlets, my refrigerator and my a/c. I'll have a 200ah battery bank with about 450 watts of solar power charging them. These will power my 12v lights, fans, pumps etc. My long term plan is to invest in a Victron Multiplus to tie the two systems together. In the mean time, since I'll be hooking up to shore power exclusively for the next year or two, can I just run a trickle charger from my 110 outlet to keep the batteries topped off?

Maggie

Thursday 4th of March 2021

Hey Nate! Do you have a recommended shopping list you share for this article / setting up 120V systems? I have been struggling to track down if I am looking at the correct 20A breakers, DC fuses, etc. Your recommendations around wire size was super helpful! Thank you very much!

Jeff

Sunday 28th of February 2021

Hi Nate,

So much helpful information here, thank you. Is it possible to wire two separate switched outlets on 1 120V circuit? I’m using a Goal Zero 3000x but wring my 120V outlets through my van walls. I know that I can only run 1 circuit off the Goal Zero but want to have the ability to turn off the outlet my Bosch electric water heater is plugged into as well as the outlet that my fridge is plugged into independently without losing the ability to use the other 120V outlets on the circuit while these outlets are switched off. Is this possible? Thank you.