Welcome to the tale of the SPM (solar project monster)

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Dec 11, 2020
And so it begins….

Prologue: This first post was started late into the project so there is a lot to catch up on and I do expect to get a few "TL;DR's". That said, I have added a lot of pics and tried to inject a bit or humor to make this elephant-sized post a bit easier to consume.

This project is in mid proses to my intention is to continue to update this thread week by week as I make headway. The goal is to share my project in the hopes of inspiring others and to get feedback and inspiration from the community.

So with that out of the way, I hope you enjoy.

Hello all!

Sooo… this has been a long time coming but I am finally getting around to "breaking ground" on my first solar system. I'm not going to lie, Its both very exciting and freaking me out. It's odd, I have already done a lot of work in the form of planning which has felt like a hill to hike (more on that later). Additionally I have already spent a lot of money getting all the [I hope right] parts and pieces which was another hummock to crest. That said, now it's time to start building and fitting and programing what not. While I was anticipating this being another rise to summit, it's still intimidating.

Before I dive into the details, I want to first set the stage with a little background on me and the environment that this project is being inserted into.

After a "Life event" I transitioned to 1986 26' motor home named Oatmeal and while I loved him to death and had big plans for him, that fact was that he was a project and not one I could do while living in him, which seems funny when I think about all the plans I have for my current motor home (that’s called foreshadowing). Speaking of… after finding a good home for Oatmeal around April, I transitioned into my current home which is a 2014 Sunseeker 3170DS.

This is of minor relevance to the project but I picked the 3170DS because A) as a full time home, I wanted as much floor space as I could get and B) I have 4 kids that visit and being that this model has bunk beds, I have enough bed space for all 4 of them at once. That said. It also gives me a lot of space to play with and modify.

Finally, my living situation is that I do work full time in an office (I am one of not even a handful that needed to stay behind in house to support remote staff) so while I cannot travel [yet], I also cannot afford renting a "parking space" for my RV so I am 100% urban camper/street sleeper/stealth camper (if you can call parking a 31 foot class c motorhome "stealth").

OK, so here I am getting settled into my new digs and new way of life with the intention of spending a good loooooooong time in it, getting to know it, and taking time to really think about what I may want to do in the future…. 2 months later my mind is hatching all manner of plans for mods, updates, changes and more but through all that, what became abundantly clear very quickly was that my power situation was not going to work out. My RV comes with 2 flooded lead acid batteries and a Onan 4000 genny to charge them. The issue is that I am a digital-life kind a guy (hey I work in IT what can I say) so the batteries get drained fast and as a result I have logged a lot of hours on my genny to keep them charged up (over 4000 hours logged in 8 months).

"So a dude you going to get to the build any time soon?"

Yeah, yeah I'm getting there. OK, the stage is set the goal is solar now we just need to figure out where to cram all the solar hardware. Now I'm sure the thought that is going to cross many people's minds is "just shove it in a storage bay" and that’s not a bad plan but I am not one to give up storage space and I have a bad habit of making things hard on myself.

So lets take bets, what is the most effective way to not eat up a bunch of storage AND make this build more complicated than it needs to be?... Well, if you said rip out the refrigerator and cabinet that houses it then 10 points to Gryffindor!

New photo by WarpedJester

Now lets take a moment to take this in. that is a floor to ceiling cabinet that houses not only the fridge, but also the heater, and the "convenience center" panel. Now if that not enough to make you question my sanity, did I mention that this cabinet also houses 90% of all the wires that run through the RV?

New photo by WarpedJester

Yeahhhhh… I don’t recall if I was questioning my decisions at this point but I'm pretty sure my friend was (that’s her in the corner of the pic… LOVE YOU DANA!!!

Ok so.. We got everything ripped out lets take a step back and assess the situation… I now have a lot of room… wires coming from 5 different ways including the middle of the ceiling, and a giant hole in my wall where you used to access the back of the fridge. Ok.. Im not panicking… yet. I have a plan which I am sure will work.. Maybe… I hope… DANA!!!!!!!!!!

Where do we go from here? Deep breath.. Ok, so now its time for a game plan which I have at least half though out. I need to put the heater back where it was. I also want to build in more counter space since this model of RV is woefully lacking in that department.. And ya know.. If I make that hole in the wall a bit bigger…. Hang on I need to pull up Sketchup and do some thunk'n…

oK, here we go… I did some measuring and counting, I even had to take my shoes off for some of the counting, and I think I got a game plan. If I make a cabinet just a tad deeper then what was there, say 25 inches, I can fit my trash and recycling can under it!

New photo by WarpedJester

Im liking this so far but wait. I was trying to solve a problem….. OH yeah.. A place for solar stuff!!! Well I got ya covered because if we look at the back side, which will be accessible through that hole in the wall….

New photo by WarpedJester

BAM! Now that’s what im talking about. And with a mockup of the outside wall with the hatch opening just for effect.

New photo by WarpedJester

OK ok, I can make this work. Oh, BTW, the side of the cabinet that will face the door will house the breakers, cut off switched and fuse box

New photo by WarpedJester

Wait, fuse box??? What??, but the fuse box is in the back under the bed.. Why are we dragging that into the mix???? Did I mention I like making my life hard?

Well we got a game plan, we have a sketch up plan.. Its all smooth sailing from here!! And if you believe that then please PM me because I have a killer deal on a bridge for sale.

This will be easy. All we need to do is build the frame, skin it then bring it in and bolt it down.. Yeah.. Umm remember I said 25 inches? Anyone wanna make a guess at how wide the door is? If you guessed 24.5 inches then you get a cookie. To add to that, we had to build this thing around all the wires and gas lines from the heater and fridge.

Ok.. Umm plan B.. We will just build it bit by bit into the space..

New photo by WarpedJester

Umm.. Ok, im seeing now that we are going to need to do something about all then wires .. Umm. Shoot well, hmm.. OH wait, what if we build a upper cabinet and route all the wires from the ceiling down through the upper cabinet, into the wall and down? Sure but I really don’t want to have to build another cabinet.. Hmm… well what about that one on the other side of the door?..

Umm… sure, I guess.. I mean, its like twice as big as it needs to be and it has a bunch more wires running through it already, and the TV is partially supported by it.. Yeah.. This is clearly the right way to go about this…


At what point do you classify a project as "beyond scope"?

New photo by WarpedJester

Little nip here, little tuck there….

New photo by WarpedJester

Hot damn!.. Wait.. Crap.. Those wires are nowhere close to the cabinet.. I need to take a quick break and look up the definition of a fruitless endeavor..

Ok.. So we drill a hole here, cut some wires and fish them through there.. No no, Dana.. Through there.. THERE.. ACK!! Gees… its ok, ill heal.. Ok… not that’s looking better..

New photo by WarpedJester

I think we are finally making some headway.. Now we just need to cut the floor panel that will separate the heater compartment from the rest of the cabinet.. Then cut it again because measure once and cut twice. Now we can change the plans in the middle of the build.. And cut the panel a third time…. And… perfect on the first try! (of the third time)

New photo by WarpedJester

So far so good. Wires are everywhere, the RV looks like a cyclone moved in for the weekend and my nerves are about as frazzled as the wiring at this point. Let's press on and get the front frame back on and while we are at it, let's toss on a temporary top so I have some more useable space to cover in crap.

New photo by WarpedJester

Umm… Holy crap! I think we are getting somewhere. I mean, the wire monster is still there but most of the convenience center works and I have a clean counter for a moment. Spoiler alert, that won't last.

Damn, all we need to do now is make some cabinet doors.. Umm.. Dana, you know how to make cabinet doors?.. Well yeah but I would like something that matches the rest of the cabinets.. Yeah we do have the ones we ripped out but they are all the wrong sizes. Wait! Hold on.. I'm having another bad idea.. What if we cut them all up and glue them back together smaller??!!!

New photo by WarpedJester

For the record, Dana said that worked better than it had any right to. Also for the record, I agree.

Ok, so here we are with a half-finished cabinet what else should we do while we are at it? Well this is totally unrelated but lets move the TV…

New photo by WarpedJester

This does nothing toward our goal of solar but with the cabinets gone I had to fill the space.. Now that I look at it, I think I need a bigger TV. Ill add that to the list..

Back to the cabinet.. It would be nice to have all the light switches in easy access regardless if you are in the RV or outside at the door.

New photo by WarpedJester

Ok sorted.

"Hey Dude. This was a post about a solar install" Yeah.. That reminds me, you know what the best part about A.D.D. is?... Wanna go ride bikes?.. Wait.. Oh yeah sorry ok.. Solar.

Well I still got to order a door for the solar compartment so let's go play on the roof!

New photo by WarpedJester

And a few hours later and we have 800W of power bolted down.

New photo by WarpedJester

Ok, so now we are all caught up..

"wait what? Umm dude this was a post about a solar build??"

Yeah I know but this is as far as we have gotten. I ordered a custom sized door for the solar compartment and apparently that takes about 8 to 10 weeks so we have some time till that comes. So now its time to do some wire planning and layout in prep for the next steps which will be installing the solar hardware. Now I do have the wiring diagram planned out. Hopefully I have done all my math right but I'll tell you what, everyone can take a look at it and give me some feedback.

New photo by WarpedJester

In the meantime. We will be working on getting some other odds and ends done and I will keep updating this thread with progress.

"Hey Dude, what about the fridge?"

Oh yeah… about that…

New photo by WarpedJester

Did I mention I am going to rip out the entire cabinet that the sink is in and build a chest style cooler into it? Yeah… But that is for another day. For now. I hope you enjoyed this post so far and again, I will be giving updates on the progress as we go.

Jul 27, 2019
Midlothian, VA
RV Year
RV Make
RV Model
Ventana 4037
RV Length
40' 10"
2017 Chevy Colorado
Welcome to RVForums @WarpedJester. Your post above is a bit long and hard to read. I suggest attaching your pictures and inlining them instead of using links as provided which most probably won't view if they have to click and go back and forth.
Oct 12, 2020
Richmond VA
RV Year
RV Make
forest river
RV Model
RV Length
I really enjoyed your post. While reading, I had quite a few ideas/thoughts about modifying my motor home.
My best idea --- 'My motor home is perfect, just the way it is.'
Dec 11, 2020
I really enjoyed your post. While reading, I had quite a few ideas/thoughts about modifying my motor home.
My best idea --- 'My motor home is perfect, just the way it is.'
i completely understand. I have a habit of looking at things and thinking "you know if we just did this, it would be better". Its a blessing and curse =)
Dec 11, 2020
RV solar project update 1

Hey everyone,

Back again with another installment of updates on ..umm installments?

I know the first post here was long so im just going to dive right into this quick update. If you want to know all the details then grab a beer and read the first post here.

Moving on… this weekend's work was a lot of fiddly bits, change of plans mid-build (which never bites me in the arse) and a bit of modding. Oh and the obligatory arguing with Dana because I want to do things the hard way and she wants to do things the logical, sensible, and easy way.

Starting off with the changes in plan. Now I realize that some of this may be hard to wrap your head around since I really have not explained the details of the cabinet so I am going to do that here and now. If you are a "TL;DR" kinda person then feel free to skip down to the next section if you like.

Let's take another look at that cabinet SketchUp and I'll do my best to explain why I designed it the way I did and please bear in mind this is really being built to fit my needs.

This cabinet will be accessible from three side, 2 from inside the RV for "insidy-RV-things" (I just coined that term but I'll put it in open domain so feel free to make it a thing (#IRT! *wink). The back side will be accessed from a storage bay style hatch which is how we will get to most of the solar stuffs.

The Insidy-RV-Things:


2020-11-23 1.png

So this was the original design. Bottom left is the heater cubby with the front grill for intake. Above that on the left is storage for my garbage and recycling cans. Later when I add the countertop I am going to cut in a access hatch that drops strait into the trash for easy clean up from food prep. The tall cabinet opening on the right is where I am going to build in drawers for silverware and what not. I went this route so that I didn’t have to build a bunch of drawer fronts and catches for each drawer. The one door to hold them, one door to rule them all!.. Ehh hmm sorry.

On the side is the access to system services. The bottom box will have the solar system main cutoff switches, 4 in total so I can cut off the batteries, MPPT, solar panels, and Inverter/charger. The top opening will house the new RV breaker box (with some modification but more on that later) and some "service switches" such as the slides, awning, and generator at the top, all of which will be closed up behind the cabinet door.

The outsidy-things:


On the outside of the RV, this cabinet more or less lines up with the original access panel for the old fridge but it’s a bit small so I have ordered a larger baggage door and will cut the access hole bigger once it comes in. this is where most of the solar equipment will be homed, save some fuses, shunt and batteries which will go in a storage bay below this build. Yes I know I said I didn’t want to sacrifice storage but turns out you can't have your cake and eat it too (who knew?). At least I'm only eating up one storage bay and not two (that’s a 50% savings for 300% the work!).

The back of the solar area will have a false wall so that I can run wires behind everything and keep things looking all nice and tidy. The back wall of the trash area is removable so I can access said wiring. That leaves me all of an inch between the two walls for all the wires to run through.

TL;DL READERS, this is where you pick up the story…

Ok, so now that we are all caught up on the details, lets talk about changes that have been made. To start with I have added a 5-gang light switch panel to the side above the cabinet door.


Now, lets get to OMG out of the way… yes these are your standard AC house switches and yes I am all too aware of the potential failings of this decision. I am going save you time and just say I will be dedicating a post on this topic and save you all from a run-on about it here.

so that was my mid-week quicky project and in full disclosure, the only switch I have wired right now is the right-most one which is for the main room lights.

Come the weekend it was back to Dana's house to dive back in head first. Now Dana being the wonderful and delicate sweetheart she is had noted in a prior week that the side of the cabinet just looked odd with one offset cabinet. Well in her words I believe it was something like "…it looks ugly and I don’t like it.." Like I said, she's pretty soft spoken. Love you Dana!!

In fairness, I thought so too but I did not want to admit it because well what can I do? That's the side of the drawer cabinet. I could stick a false cabinet door on there…. GAHH!! No, no I can't. I CAN NOT STAND fake cabinet fronts of any kind. It drives me nuts. Ok then what can I do? there is all of literally an inch of space behind that wall…. Hmmm… ooooooooOOOOOHHHH….. COVID CABINET!!!


Nobody can claim that I am not using ever last inch of space now!

Moving on… the last major thing we did is mod and install a new fuse panel/beaker box. Then we pulled it back out and modded it because again, I like making life hard


First we cut off the bottom lip of the fuse box so we had more room at the top for the aforementioned "service switches" I then pulled out one half of the 120v breaker strip and fabricobled a rail to mount in PV fuse holders and the lighting breaker. Some elec-chicken out there hates me right now for sure.

Egads! My short update post seems to have gotten away from me.. Ok well the rest of the weekend was spent with fiddly bits like cutting the side cabinet doors down to fit and doing a lot of looking at the solar bay and figuring out how to fit everything. And now I see that the light switches are no longer centered over the cabinet door…. DANA!!!!!!!!!!!

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for the next installment of "what the hell is this guy thinking. Also keep an eye out for my post on the house switches.


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Dec 11, 2020

Little late getting this out but none the less here it is!

So what gone done this past week? Well this past weekend was a lot of lay out, staring at things, changing design plans (because again, changing plans in the middle of a project never goes wrong), and moving ever closer to getting things mounted.

Lets start with a couple non-solar cabinet design updates. First thing up is finishing the front of the cabinet with a heater grill. Some off you may have noted that in the past posts the open gap where the heater intake should be.


Now I have had a game plan in my head and finally got a chance to run with it. The frame of the grill is a recycled cabinet door. I wanted to reuse the frame of it so as to keep with the same shape and look of all the cabinet doors but just the frame alone with a flat grill wasn't going to cut it. So using the center plate of the cabinet as a buck, I formed a grill over it, and I think it turned out well.



The last thing I still need to do is install some magnets to hold it in place

cabinet grill test fit.png

My plan is to paint the grill the same color as the cabinets so that it will further blend int the cabinet and make the shape further stand out and match the rest of the cabinets.

OK, so, moving on to Solar. Now, I am going to tell you now that this was one of those days where lots got done but it looks like we have little to show for it. That said, our focus was on starting to do layout and fitment of the solar hardware.

Doing a little layout planning for what will be the back wall off the solar compartment. One alteration that was made early in the design was to switch to a "false wall" design so that we can run all the wires behind and hide them. So once we got all the components laid out, we marked where all the holes will go and will be mounting the hardware to the wall with T-nuts and some nice cap screws. Total side note here. I would have loved to use black chrome hardware for the "pretty" factor but a 1" size 8 screw cost over $4 so that idea went out the window right quick and in a hurry. So we are just going with good old black coated hardware.

Adding to the superficial topic, we decided that we are going to wrap all the compartment panels in felt and add some LED lighting for effect, but I am going to hold off on showing pics of that for now as I want to wait till that process is more complete for effect so look forward to that.

Anyways. This post is late getting up and I am already day 2 into the next project weekend so I want to get this posted now. As always, more to come soon.
Dec 11, 2020
Wires wires everywhere!

Happy holidays everyone.

This weekend was a long weekend and that was a good thing because I needed to take care of todo list items like oil change for the genny which is my lifeline until I get solar up and running as well as addressing a flat tire (always fun). We also had an opportunity to fix a cosmetic issue that was causing us mental anxiety and last but not least we dived into major rewiring this. So with that said, lets dive in

On the cosmetic front:

After altering the plans of the side cabinets to include a second cabinet door, the 5 gang light switch was no longer centered over the left cabinet door and that was going to drive me, and likely Dana, mad so that was going to need to get fixed.

PSA: Changing plans in the middle of a project will never cause you issues of more work

Dana dived in to that project. Pulling the cabinet doors back off she removing the 1/4 ply skin with no issues at all… *snicker*… I mean no issues other than every single brad nail pulling through and staying with the cabinet. On the bright side, Dana got to enjoy her podcasts while she pulled out each of the [way too many] brads that I had fired into it. In my defense, I didn't think we would be replacing it any time soon. And more in my defense, it was Dana's idea to add the second cabinet that resulted in the light switch being offset so really, she did this to herself. So really, when you think about it, this was in no way on me at all… Once that was over, she got a new sheet of 1/4 ply* cut for it and followed in on her heals with router in hand and knocked out all the holes for cabinet.

*Pro tip: a 4'x4' sheet of ply does NOT fit into an early model Hyundai sedan. I'm pretty sure Dana is not going to let me forget that one for a while.

Last but not least we made the call to split the 5 gang panel into two 3 gang panels. This worked out well as it breaks up and "defines" the switch sets. The left set operates exterior light which are porch, awning, and one extra for another project later (flood lights). The right set of three are for interior lights which are the main living room light, the light over the cabinet and the last will be counter accent lighting (again, another project for later).

*Waiting on a new 3 gang to come in so in the interim I just went all Frankenstein on the 5gang I had.

On the solar front:

We decided it was about time we sat down and started thinking about how we wanted to set up the lower compartment where the batteries, fuses and transfer switch would live. Now I will say that this was the first time we really sat down to take a look at this and while I have had a general idea for how to fit thing, I have not done some serious planning on it so this was going to be more of an exploratory venture, stuffing batteries in, moving them around, moving them again, and again, then thinking of all the possible options we had to modify the compartment to make our lives harder. After that the only real work on that area we did was to drill a 5" hole from the living area strait down into the battery area which will act as the output vent. I'll give more details on this when I figure them out.


Ok with everything else out of the way, including tire and oil change it was time for the main event which was pulling all the house 12v wire from the stock rear fuse panel to the new one we installed in the new cabinet. And when I say all the wire… I mean ALLL the wire

we systematically chased, followed, pulled, fished, cut, extended, rerouted, retied, and reconnected ever single 12v wire to the new fuse box. I can now say that I have gotten so deep into of ever hole, nook, and corner of my rig, even a proctologist would blush. We even got to play with Dana's new endoscope. Dana also got to spend some quality time with her hand stuck up the RV's back side de-constipating the wiring by pulling spray insulation out from around the wires so we could see and manage runs. That took a while but once again... Podcasts for the win.

Ill spare you from most of the many MANY pics of wires everywhere


but I will say that


Dana and I


spent the weekend


with our heads suck up my asset.

I won't lie, the work flow was sometimes constipated


but it all worked out in the end.


We do still need to pull all the AC lines over but even with 4 days we were running short on time.


… What could possibly go wrong?

There are still a few DC wires I need to run and I want to add new runs of heavier gauge wires to new power ports but again… project for another day. At this point we are getting scary close to being ready to start wiring in solar gear and getting them set up and that scares the crap out of me. I have not done this before, so I am going into this with limited learning and know experience.

SO that’s the update this week. Be on the lookout for a few other independent posts regarding solar system prep/programing as well a chat on 12v "lighter socket" plugs and why I hate them so much.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday and happy new year!

Dec 11, 2020
Solar update # ?? i dont know any more... its becoming a blur.. what year is it again?

Rewiring done! (enough

Are we still having fun with wires!!!??? I know I am.. And I think Dana is too!! Another week, and finally the last of the re-wiring. We got the last of the wiring under the cabinet pulled and tied up.


As well as pulled and tied in to the new fuse box and cleaned up


In an odd turn of events, Dana was willing to help out with the wiring this time but I think that was mostly due to the fact that she wanted to play with the new toy, a ferrule crimper.

Not going to lie.. It’s a fun toy.. Err tool. And it makes things look so much better.

With that finally out of the way, we can call the rewiring of the original 12v system done. All 12v wires that went to the rear fuse panel under the bed are now running off the new fuse panel in the cabinet. We still need to pull the AC lines over but that will be a project for another day and I am sure Dana is looking forward to it =).

Now it's time to turn our attentions back to real solar prep. While I was tying up loose ends with the wiring (see what I did there?) Dana finished up the last few details related to mounting for the main solar compartment. And it looks excited.. Or at least surprised to be done!

Next on the solar to-do list was finally running the lines from the solar panels down from the roof and into the fuse box.

While we were at it, I also ran the lines for the wife/4g system (on the left). Not going to lie, I may have gotten a little overzealous with the Dicor sause. Since we no longer have a RV fridge, we also went ahead and removed and patched the vent and corresponding hole (top right).

In case you missed it in a prior post, we "updated" the fuse panel to hold the fuses and lightning arrester or the PV system (those are the white breaker looking items in the middle-left of the box) which is where we ran the wires from the solar panels.

The last thing we did is take a hard look at the lower storage box which will house the batteries, main fuses, and the transfer switch.

This space has a few issues to overcome. First, the bottom is sagging a notable bit so we needed to figure out how to correct that as well as how to hold the batteries. Dana and I had a lot of deliberation on this topic. Additionally, this space is not as big as I had envisioned. When placing the 4 battleborn's into the space they left us with few options for orientation and after a lot of moving, shifting, twisting, looking and A LOT more deliberation, and possibly some cursing, we think we have our plan of action.

But that, is going to be an action item for the next project weekend…