Power Center – Shore Power – Camper Van Build 6

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What is the most important part of a van build? Is it having a comfortable bed? Would it be having ample storage? Maybe stealth is what is most important to you? Well, all these things are important, but having power to run your gadgets, lights and fans is a real luxury in DYI camper build. My shore power, batteries and power center have worked flawlessly for a number of months and I’m now happy to share with you how we built this system.

** Important – I am not an electrician. I had A LOT of help on this part of the build from my Dad (retired electrical engineer), so please get assistance from someone who knows what they are doing. Dealing with power like this can get you electrocuted and bad wiring could cause a fire. **

Update: Build 6 Video Added:

When building your van interior, you should always be thinking a few steps ahead of your current build phase. For instance, when we were installing the ceiling and wall insulation, we were thinking about where to run the wires for the future power center. We had an idea of where we would need power, so we pre-ran wiring from the lights to the proposed location of the power center.

wires to power center

Pre-wiring for the lights to the future power center

Power Center Mock Up and Batteries

My van (1998 Astro van) has a very small interior space. This means we have to try to use every square inch of the van wisely. After sitting in the van for a while, my Dad and I finally came up with a plan to utilize the space around the wheel well as our main power location. The plan was to run all the wiring to this one location and to fit all of the electronics into this small space.

Before spending money on any of the parts involved, we wanted to build a mock set up with the power center and batteries to make sure it would work out the way we expected it to. Check out our cardboard mock up:

cardboard power center & batteries

Power center & batteries cardboard mock up

A couple weeks later, our supplies arrived for the electrical build and we were ready to tackle this important part of the project. First we positioned the batteries in the back passenger corner of the van. Incidentally, we had to relocated the jack and had to pry the jack mount from the van floor in order to have a flat surface for the batteries to fit. And what a perfect fit they were:

AGM battery fit

Our AGM Batteries fit nicely

I bought 2 – 6 Volt AGM batteries with 210 amp hrs from MetroPlex Battery Inc. in Dallas, Texas. They have trucks running on delivery routes to Austin & Houston. We chose to have the batteries delivered to my Dad’s house. We ordered them and they were delivered, free shipping, two days later. Well, when you spend $500 on batteries, you should get free shipping. 😉

You can go to US Battery’s website to find a distributor near you : US Battery

usagm2000 batteries

We chose USAGM 2000 batteries for his project

Power Center Build

The idea of our power center was to build a rectangular box which extends out a bit around the wheel well. We used the space around the wheel well and extended the box outward to add more room to house all of our electrical build components. With the batteries on hand, we built a base power center structure and measured the interior area, so we could verify that all of our electrical components would fit inside.

Here are a few pictures of the interior of the box, so you get an idea of the room inside and how the box was constructed:

Power Center

Length of Power Center about 31 inches

power center depth

Depth of the power center is just about 11 inches

power center back depth

Power center depth towards the back of the van is about 13 inches

Once the box was fitted to the wall and wheel well, we pulled the box out and began installing components for the electrical system. Let me correct myself. I went back to Houston and my Dad installed the electrical components in the power center over the next two weeks during his spare time. Thanks Dad!!

Here are some pictures my Dad took during construction:

Electrical Setup

Dad working on Electrical Setup outside of van

My Dad’s original sketch of the electrical design:

Electronics Layout

Electronics Layout for the Power Center (Click to Enlarge)

The electrical layout changed slightly during the build, but this drawing gives you an idea of where it all started.

The front of the power center was fitted with a sheet of aluminum which acts as an access door. Take a look at these next couple of pictures as he adds components to the power center.

power center build

Wiring the components together in the power center

Here is a look from the inside with the access door closed:

Back of power center

View from the back of the power center with access door closed – locked

With part of the box and electrical complete, we decided to move it all in the van and make sure it all fits well.

Power center test fit

Checking to see it everything fits as planned before completing the power center build

We finished the build of the power center but were lacking a black outlet plate, so we settled on a white one until we could track down a black one. Now that the power center was complete, it was time to move on to setting up shore power.

Power center complete

The power center was 99% complete (just needed a black outlet plate) and needs to be tested.

Shore Power Setup

This van will eventually have shore power (plug into a standard outlet to charge batteries), solar power (panels on the roof to charge batteries) and a battery isolator (alternator charges battery while driving). For now, I knew shore power would be the best way to charge the batteries while I wrap up business in Houston. Later this summer, I hope to install the solar panels and battery isolator.

For the shore power hookup, we needed to cut a hole in the side of the van to install the shore power inlet. We used a Marinco 15 amp on-board charger inlet which comes in black or white. This inlet allows you to plug a regular 15 amp extension cord into the wall, then the other end into the inlet to allow power to be drawn from the wall outlet.

marinco 15 amp inlet 2

Our 15 amp shore power inlet used to charge the AGM batteries.

We followed the instructions and traced out a hole in the side of the van, then proceeded to cut a hole in a perfectly good van. 😉

Hole in van for shore power inlet

The traced hole for the shore power inlet.

Next, my Dad began cutting away at the van. This is always the scary part, but it all worked out well.

Cutting shore power inlet hole

Dad cutting the shore power inlet hole.

Now that we have a hole, it’s time to feed the inlet through the hole and secure it in place. Here is what the shore power inlet looks like opposite the plug side.

Shore power inlet

An inside look at the shore power inlet.

How does it all Work?

Now that you have seen the basic construction of the power center, shore power and the batteries I chose, let me show you how this system works. ** Reminder – I’m not an electrician, but I will do my best to explain. **

First off, let’s take a look at the final power build and then I’ll go over how it works.

power center complete

Here is a look at the power center complete and operational in the van.

power center with access door open

Here is a look at the power center with the access door open.

First, let me list some of the components used in this power center build, so you will have an idea of the cost and complexity of the build. I will not go into how to connect each one of the components because I think it isn’t suited for a novice to even attempt, and it’s hard for a novice like me to explain. 🙂

Main Power Center Build Components

  1. Heavy Duty outdoor 12-16 gauge extension cord (wall to shore power inlet)
  2. Marinco 15 amp Shore Power Inlet
  3. US Battery AGM2000
  4. Vmaxtanks 15 amp 7 Stage Heavy Duty Smart Battery Charger
  5. Whistler XP200i – 200 Watt Power Inverter
  6. WindyNation P30L Solar Panel Charge Controller

The components above are part of what we used in this build. There were also plenty of wires, breakers, fuses, busbars and circuit breakers as well.

Steps for Using this System

  1. Plug the extension cord into a wall outlet
  2. Plug the other end into the Shore Power inlet on the outside of the van
  3. Flip the power switch on the Power Center
  4. Flip the charging switch on the Power – Starts charging the batteries

While charging, I can plug my laptop or other gadgets into the outlet on the power center to use the electricity coming in from the shore power. When charging is complete, I can use the lights or the 12 volt cigarette lighter plug on the power center to power items. I can also flip on the 200 watt inverter to power low watt devices with either the outlet or USB ports.

Pros and Cons of Building a Wheel Well Power Center

When I took my first trip in the van to Big Bend NP, I was amazed at how nice the pine wall and ceiling paneling looked, but I soon realized that the Power Center was my new favorite part of the van. My Dad did an excellent job putting it together, but still there were issues.

Pros –

  • Everything is neatly in one location
  • Short wire runs to the battery means less power loss
  • The access door will allow repairs to be made even if storage is built on top
  • Takes up very little room in the van

Cons –

  • The Power Center is on the floor which means bending over to access it
  • The WindyNation P30L Solar Charge Controller doesn’t have a backlight – hard to see
  • Hard to read displays from a distance

I plan to replace the WindyNation P30L Charge Controller when we add the solar panels. I want something with a backlight that I can see while laying in bed. This model was very inexpensive compared to others and was a good starter model, but I look forward to upgrading down the road.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. Thank you for visiting my blog. Please leave comments below. I really appreciate your feedback.

NEXT UP: The Roof Rack and Solar Panel Install


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16 Responses to Power Center – Shore Power – Camper Van Build 6

  1. Eric Redekop April 22, 2016 at 10:22 AM #

    I have an electronically-minded buddy who looked over your blog post and was very impressed. The one thing he said would be helpful (to you, as well as to your readers) would be a wiring diagram. This could be copied, laminated and stored in or affixed to your power center to show folks (e.g. an electrician) what’s what.

    • Troy Wiedeman April 22, 2016 at 2:19 PM #

      Hi Eric. Making a wiring diagram is a great idea. I actually held off for the longest time making this post because I wanted to first complete all three phases of my electrical setup. Unfortunately, there has been a delay and I don’t expect to complete it until this summer, so I decided to make a partial post for now.

      When I complete the Solar and Battery Isolator phases of the build, I will get my Dad to draw up a wiring diagram of the whole setup for my use (like you said) and for others to reference. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate you checking out the site. 🙂

  2. Dj April 22, 2016 at 2:38 PM #

    I just love ur stuff, so plain and concisely put! My one brain cell can…almost understand it! Thank goodness Tank is already wired and can have things upgraded with the same layout, easier for my son!

    • Troy Wiedeman April 22, 2016 at 2:48 PM #

      Cool, thanks for checking out the post. I plan to make a YT video covering this post as well. Some folks like to read while others like to watch. 🙂 It’s great to see Tank is coming along!

  3. Don Thrash July 11, 2016 at 3:35 PM #

    Troy,

    Where did you buy the main breaker? Also did you think about using GFCI outlet?

    I really like the power center.

    Thanks

    • Troy Wiedeman July 12, 2016 at 7:47 AM #

      Hi Don. The main breaker we used is a Blue Sea System Series A Double Pole 15A Circuit Breaker and we bought it from Amazon – http://amzn.to/29Bie78

      My Dad designed the power center and didn’t include a GFCI outlet, but as the build is coming to a conclusion, I see where the GFCI would have been appropriate. We may want to upgrade this later.

      Thanks for the kind words and checking out the blog.

  4. Sansak July 25, 2016 at 12:07 AM #

    There is significant cost to building out a DIY RV, but it would be what meets your needs.
    Buying a used RV is not for the faint of heart. They are complex and you can bet it will cost you some change getting it up to speed after the purchase. A class B or small class C RV would be a good rig for a single person. Oh, you also must learn to live with the least amount of stuff.
    Just my opinions.

    • Troy Wiedeman July 29, 2016 at 6:38 AM #

      Hi Sansak. I completely agree with your statements. Building your own is RV is a lot of work, but buying a used Class B or C might require some work as well for upgrades and repairs. The main cost of the DIY build would be the base vehicle you start with. My Astro cost about $4000 and it was on the high side. A large, newer base vehicle could cost more that $20,000 just for the vehicle.

  5. Saff1K October 4, 2016 at 9:40 AM #

    Great post, thanks Troy! I’m planning my system but it will only be 12v with isolator and shore power, no solar at present. Do I need a busbar?

    • Troy Wiedeman October 4, 2016 at 10:57 AM #

      Hi there, Saff1K. First let me say that I used shore power for close to a year and I had plans to add an isolator, but once I added solar to my setup, I have not used shore power since (4 or 5 months).

      In my setup, we use the busbar to make shorter wiring runs which saves money on wiring and makes the current running through it more efficient with less loss. For instance, we have a ground wire going from the frame of the van to the negative busbar. Then, every component we add just needs the negative to go to the bus bar, instead of finding a place to ground each wire.

      I am absolutely not an expert, so please do further research, but I hope this answers your question.

      • Saff1K October 4, 2016 at 3:37 PM #

        Thanks Troy! My system will be very basic, just to run a fan, electric blankie and cooler, so probably I think I should be able to ground these fairly easily without the busbar. I certainly will do more research, just wanted to get your opinion!

        Another thing, is there a reason you used aluminum for the power center “drop down” door and not wood?

        • Troy Wiedeman October 5, 2016 at 7:48 AM #

          The Aluminum door on the power center was used for two reasons. 1) We thought it would look cool. 🙂 and 2) We felt like it would hold up better than wood as we secured the components to the inside of the door.

          My Dad lived on his sailboat for over 12 years, so my van has a bit of a sailboat interior look to it and the power center access door is something similar to what my Dad had on his boat.

          Thanks for checking out the site and commenting. Good luck on your build. What type of build are you doing? Van? Which van?

          • Saff1K October 6, 2016 at 10:14 PM #

            I have to agree, the aluminum door looks great! My build is a GMC Safari AWD. Just got done with the floor, bed and ceiling…that took a while…and now looking at electrics and window coverings. (In retrospect, I realized I should have installed the battery and wiring first, but well, life goes on). I’m determined to do everything myself…the power supply is the next big challenge. Thanks for all your inspirational videos!

  6. Saff1K October 6, 2016 at 10:21 PM #

    Heh, I thought my first comment did not go through. You got a twofer 🙂

    • Troy Wiedeman October 7, 2016 at 8:55 AM #

      Oh, that’s great that you got a Safari AWD! I was wanting an AWD when I first started looking, but realized there aren’t many in my area and I would have to travel across the country to get one in decent shape.

      What a great accomplishment it will be knowing that you built the whole thing yourself. When we first started my build, I didn’t have any power tools, so it was nice getting my Dad’s help and access to his assortment of tools. Also, watching him work, learning how he did things and applying the things I learned to the van was really cool. I will be much more prepared for my next van build. 😉

      For me, the power setup was the most difficult part of the van build. Learning about woodwork, insulation and flooring isn’t too difficult or dangerous, but messing with the electrical components can be a bit scary. Even with a computer consulting background where I built many computers, this power build proved to be way more complicated. I’m glad my Dad knew what he was doing. LOL!

  7. Saff1K October 7, 2016 at 9:08 AM #

    Well, I did the electrics on my house remodel and nothing has blown up yet – so I’m hoping to carry over my “expertise” (FWIW) to the van. Can I borrow your dad? 🙂

    The AWD is cool but can get expensive. The parts are getting rarer. Can’t wait to take the van up north for some XC ski-ing this winter though!

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