So it’s time for the solar panel install!
We know how you feel. A bit out of your league. Hoping you don’t burn the bus down. You got this! We were intimidated at first too, but the solar panel install on our skoolie conversion ended up being fairly straightforward.
We did a lot of research, and saw many ways of doing it. This method has worked great for us. We’ve driven 70mph on a windy day, been through 40mph storm gusts, and we’ve had no issues. Here’s our step-by-step tutorial on how we did our solar panel install.
Our Solar Panels
Before we get started, you’re probably curious which panels we used and how it all hooks up. We have (5) 100W Inergy Solar Storm Panels, running directly into an Inergy Kodiak solar generator. Here’s all about how our electrical is set up. We do NOT recommend the Inergy generator/panel system. This system has been one big headache for us (more on that below). We wish we had done a traditional panels + charger + inverter + battery bank system like this. Regardless, the mounting system we used will work for any panels.
Tools & Materials You’ll Need:
- Drill/Impact Driver Combo Kit
- 100% Silicone (buy this in BULK, as you’ll use tons of this stuff on your conversion)
- Optional: Paintable Sealant (more on that below)
- Bolts (1.5 inches or less), washers, and nuts
- A Ratcheting Wrench Set
- A sharpie
- An amazing Italian friend
Why bolts 1.5 inches or less? The distance between the roof of the bus and the ceiling panels is 2 inches. If you secure your panels with anything longer than 1.5 inches, you risk having to spend time cutting off excess bolt length just to make sure your ceiling fits back in place.
Full disclosure guys, some links on here are affiliate links meaning we may get a commission if you buy something or take an action after clicking. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Not much, but something. This is really important – we only link to tools and materials we actually used and highly recommend.
Step 1: Install brackets on the panels
- Drill holes for the bolts in the four corners of each panel.
- Secure the brackets in this order: bolt | bracket | washer | panel | washer | nut. Tightening the nut is a two person job. You’ll need to have one person holding the nut in place with a ratcheting wrench, while the other person tightens with the impact driver.
Step 2: Position panels on roof
- The sheet metal that makes up the roof is strongest where it’s closest to the steel ribbing structure of the bus. For this reason, we position each panel as close to one of those ribs as possible. We also positioned them slightly slanted on both sides, so that we’d always have at least 2 panels getting good sunlight no matter which way the bus is pointed.
- When you’ve determined the position of the panel, have two or more people hold it solid in place while the marking with a sharpie where the bolts will go through.
- Drill your first two holes for the first bracket (doesn’t matter which one you start with), then drop two bolts through (no washers). Now make sure the remaining sharpie marks still match with the remaining brackets. If everything still matches up, go ahead and drill the next set of holes and plop those drills through. Repeat this process for the final two brackets, always checking that the markings still match up before drilling.
The idea here is to make absolutely sure that the holes you drill in the roof of the bus WILL match the brackets. Last thing you want is a hole in your roof that you’ll have to plug up, which could one day leak and cause water damage in your skoolie ceiling.
Step 3: Fasten and seal from underneath
- Apply a big blob of silicone to the base of each bolt, then slide on a washer.
- Screw on a bolt, being careful to thread it correctly (if you don’t, it will snap the bolt in the next step).
- The person inside the bus needs to hold the nut steady with a ratcheting wrench. Then the person above tightens the screw with the impact driver.
- Make sure silicone forms a perfect seal around the washer and into the nut. You should see a ring of silicone around the washer and around the base of the nut.
Step 4: Seal from above
- Seal the brackets from above. This can either be done with:
- A paintable sealant like this one
- The same 100% silicone you used to seal underneath
- Leftover Tropicool from coating your roof. By the way, we 500 bajillion percent recommend coating your roof with Tropicool. We explain why and show you how we did it here.
Word to the wise: Did you know that NOTHING sticks to silicone except more silicone? This means that if you plan to paint your roof with something other than Tropicool or a similar silicone paint, you should use a paintable sealant. If you seal with 100% silicone and then try to paint over it with any other type of paint…aaaaain’t gonna work.
And that is that! If you have any questions while doing your solar panel install, please feel always welcome to get in touch! We like to be helpful! [email protected]
The scoop on our Inergy solar generator/panel set up
Oooookay. So here are the reasons we do not recommend Inergy’s solar generator system:
- Expanding with deep cycle batteries does not provide as much juice as they tell you it does. Inergy’s marketing graphics makes it look like when you expand the generator with deep cycle batteries, you increase the available volts of your bank by exactly the specs of the battery. In truth, you have to drain all the batteries down to a certain voltage to balance them with your generator. And then the charge controller of the generator limits the max voltage the batteries can be recharged to, by quite a bit. So essentially, the charge controller of the generator makes it impossible to access a good portion of the energy that the batteries could store. In summary, you don’t get as much juice from your bank as you think you will.
- We had issues with overcharging and melting cables. Our system worked great for a few months, and then all of a sudden we had cables overheating and even a melting connection into the generator. Inergy’s customer service was top-notch, and they replaced everything under warranty. But we still had the same issue even after replacing a cable and the charge controller in the generator. The problem stopped when we received a newer version of the generator (the Apex), which had a more secure connection between the cables and the generator.
- Simply put – this system is not meant as a power supply for full-time use. It is designed and meant for back-up power. We’re lucky that we often hook up to the grid, so we do not use the solar generator full time.
Thank you to Claudia Cappelletti!
How many people get a rockstar to help them install solar panels?!? Our deepest thanks to our awesome friend, Claudia Cappelletti for joining us for over a month and half to help with the bus conversion! Friends like that are hard to come by. Thank you, Claudia!