I Learned A Lot About Electricity To Give My 40-Year-Old Trailer Solar Power

Image: Bradley Brownell

A few months back, I purchased this late-1970s Scamp 13' trailer to use as an escape pod from the workaday monotony of living in suburbia hell. A few weeks ago I told you all about the process of making the damn thing look livable again, which took a lot more work than I expected.

Prior to taking on this job, I’d never done anything with electricity beyond upgrading the lighting in our home or swapping in a new car head unit. I knew the basics, but this project took me so far beyond the basics. I’ve never really dealt with power supplies, battery management, fuse panels, or amplifiers.

Advertisement

I have previously chronicled the job that it was to install the trailer’s new LED exterior lighting. This time I’m digging into the task of re-wiring the inside of the new living space. I decided from the outset that I’d be converting everything to 12v, ditching the shore power plugs, and going full solar.

Naturally, the hardest part of this setup was getting the solar panels mounted up. While I was on the roof I ordered and mounted a new MaxxFan to help move air through this big fiberglass egg. All of this mounts directly to the fiberglass, which is kind of pain to hide on the inside, but that’s a problem for a future me.

I ordered a 200W kit from Renogy, which included the panels, connectors, wires, solar controller, and a bluetooth unit which ties to a useful app. All I needed to add to this kit was a pair of 100AH deep cycle AGM batteries, and an inverter.

Advertisement

There will still be a hard-mounted trickle charger which can be plugged in if we’re at a camp site with shore power, and I may eventually wire in the ability to charge directly from our car’s alternator, but after testing how this system works on solar alone, I’m confident it’ll be more than enough power for our needs.

Advertisement

Under the trailer’s front bench is where all of our power hides. I’ve done my best to keep the wires managed, but it’s a lot of stuff in a very small package. Luckily I wired it myself, so I know where everything goes and what it all does. My color code is haphazard, largely based on what wire I had closest to me at the time of wiring that particular circuit, so I pity the poor soul who owns this trailer after I’m dead.

Advertisement

The batteries are wired together, giving me 200 amp hours of 12v power. The inverter is wired to the batteries on its own circuit, as is the fuse panel, plus a third circuit for the stereo system. It’s handy that nothing is farther from the fuse panel than 13 feet, but I upped the gauge of wire for each circuit anyway, as I didn’t want to overload anything, or have too much voltage drop along the way.

Advertisement

No home is complete without home audio, right? In the interest of full disclosure, Clarion gave me all of this marine-rated equipment, including a head unit, a 5-channel amplifier, a pair of 6" speakers, a pair of 6x9 speakers, and a 12" subwoofer, for a project that never came to fruition. I’ve had all of this stuff laying around my house for about a year and decided it was finally time to use it.

Advertisement

In the front bulkhead storage bin I installed the 6" speakers. Here you can also see the vent fan in operation and two of the LED interior lights.

Advertisement

The subwoofer is in the rear dining bench, which folds down into a bed. When pumped all the way up, it shakes the whole Scamp. You can also see two more of my LED lights. There is also an electric water pump under the right bench which provides water to the sink, which is currently not installed.

Just look at that prolifically talented wiring job I’ve done elsewhere in the trailer. The idea is that these wires will all be hidden behind covers and painted when all is said and done. For now, it looks a bit slapdash.

Advertisement

And the final piece of the audio puzzle is a pair of 6x9s mounted on either side of the dining nook/bed platform. One is in the far end of the kitchen counter, the other is its opposite mounted in the side of the closet.

Advertisement

I also purchased this new Vitrofrigo 12v fridge, which coincidentally is already functioning incorrectly. Go figure, something something italian electrical equipment. It’s running too cold, about -2 degrees centigrade on the lowest setting. I’ve ordered a replacement thermistor, hopefully that fixes it.

Advertisement

And the final two of my LED light pucks are wired into the cabinets above the kitchen counter.

Advertisement

All of these lights are operated by this switch panel. The three middle switches operate two lights each. The far left switch is for the water pump. The far right switch is currently not plugged into anything. This panel is directly above the fridge. Just to the right of that is a 2-USB plug which has a readout for battery voltage.

Advertisement

Speaking of USB outlets, above the bed is a small reading lamp which has a USB plug on the bottom of it as well.

Advertisement

There is another USB plug in the front bench. In total we have nine ports for USBs in the trailer, including one on the stereo, two on the inverter, and one on the solar controller. That’s handy for when you need to charge a couple of iPhones, an iPad, a Nintendo Switch, a USB flashlight, and three sets of wireless headphones.

Advertisement

That switch on the right is a remote power switch for the inverter. I plan to have a retractable extension cord mounted in between these two modules, which will plug into the inverter. Plus another power cord going to a waterproof exterior-mount socket. That way I can operate the inverter and get power from it without having to take the seat off of the sofa.

Advertisement

To help you visualize the layout here’s the schematic of our trailer again. The batteries and inverter are under the front sofa, the audio equipment is in the bottom of the closet, and the refrigerator is under where the gas stove used to be.

Advertisement

The final thing I have to wire in is this signal booster for when we’re way off the grid. It’s an omnidirectional booster for both mobile internet and phone calls with gains of up to 50 dB, which is allegedly the most you can get from an omnidirectional system. I’m not really looking forward to this install, as it will require more holes in my fiberglass, but hopefully it allows me to continue blogging uninterrupted from way out in the sticks.

Advertisement

Last time I mentioned that I took the trailer to a friend’s shop to get a trailer tongue box, a trio of new leveling jacks, a new hitch coupler, new safety chains, and some snazzy wheels and tires. It’s not explicitly electrical related, but here’s the result of that trip. I’m so stoked about how it turned out.

While it was there, he also re-packed and re-sealed the bearings, which made the tow home extremely easy. This thing tows like a dream.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Now I have to work on cable management, getting the water system and grey tank sorted, and completely redoing the interior. We’re still looking toward getting on the road in January, but we have a lot of work left to do to get there. Here goes nothin’.

Share This Story

About the author

Bradley Brownell

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.