Plugging-in the Vanmaison

How do we get power? We plug-in to powered campsites. That’s all. It was the simplest option for us, but not necessarily the cheapest option to install.

Hell no we didn’t attempt that work ourselves. Totally not interested in playing around with sparky sparky invisible death.

We contracted specialist campervan company RV Dreams in Wellington NZ to install a 240v power supply system into our van. In New Zealand, any work like this has to be certified with a Warrant of Electrical Fitness (WoEF). In theory you could do it yourself, but then you’d have to get it checked and certified by a pro.

The materials RV Dreams used for the installation

  • A flush mount caravan inlet plug
  • Residual Current Circuit Breaker – 16A RCBO 1Ph+N 30m A
  • PDL 600 series double vertical socket
  • Enclosure surface mount
  • Mounting block, standard deep
  • 10m caravan lead – IP67
  • Other parts connecters and cables

All of these materials with 4 hours labour and the WoEF certification, totalled $967.60 NZD ($682.53 USD or £478.78 GBP). Here’s the original RV Dreams invoice if you’d like to take a gander at the itemised list of materials and prices. Lesson for next time: you can save a bit of money by sourcing some of the materials yourself.

 

We researched and weighed-up a lot of different options leading up to this decision and eventually decided not to bother with solar panels or the usual house battery (a large, rechargeable battery you keep in your van to run appliances or devices from).

Why no house battery?

Our van is small with no bathroom, so we decided early on to only stay at proper campsites to get access to proper facilities. If you already have a loo (or you’re partial to a bucket or shovel), and if you’re mostly planning to freedom camp or boondock, you’re probably going to need that house battery to get powered. IF you need power, that is.

By the time we got around to installing power we had about 2 months left in our NZ van, and given we would have constant access to power at campsites, we decided to give the house battery expense a miss.

Electricity options in a campervan

Here’s a list of all the viable campervan electricity options I came across while researching what to do for our van:

  • Install a campsite-friendly plug socket that only works when you’re directly connected to a powered campsite hook-up (what we did).
  • Install a house battery and charge it a number of ways:
    • From a powered campsite hook-up
    • Via your vehicle’s running engine
    • Via solar panels
  • Plug directly into your vehicle’s in-built inverter. Our 2008 Toyota Hiace came with an inverter that pumped out 100 watts to a Japanese socket located under the passenger seat glove compartment. I bought a Japanese Apple Mac socket for my laptop, worked a charm, but I never used it other than to test it as it only worked when the vehicle was running.
  • Plug into a cigarette lighter inverter. There’s a ton of cigarette lighter inverters out there, and a few of them convert to the right wattage to charge your laptop or other appliances. We always had a double USB inverter at the ready to charge our phones while we drive.

If you know of other power options (a safe, quiet generator perhaps?), please leave a comment as I’d love to know about it for my next project.

While researching power installation for campervans, I found this great post from a true DIY-er, Vandog Traveller. His article 12V electrics and wiring for my campervan conversion is a solid DIY electrical job with great step-by-step detail in the article too.

Before power

Before we installed the powered campsite plug-in magic, we would charge our laptops and devices outside using a standard campsite lead. Most days we’d work next to the van under the shade of a basic tarp. That wasn’t a problem when the New Zealand weather was magical from January to April.

Safety regulations warn you not to run a regular campsite cable inside a campervan. Lots of people still do this and get away with it, but we wanted to be safe and remain good, model citizens. Hat tip.

After power

It’s so much easier to keep our devices charged and ourselves warm now that we have power installed in the van. The little white fan heater in the picture below was a steal for $20 NZD at a cheap NZ store, The Warehouse. We’ve been through a bunch of freezing days and nights recently and this little beauty keeps us toasty and cosy.

With unlimited power on tap at each campsite we visit, we haven’t had to worry about our usage as much as one would if they were managing charge from a house battery. Perhaps the fan heater sucks a ton of electricity while it keeps us warm? We are blissfully unaware.

Our power solution has been basic and totally liveable for a temporary tour – and if we’d stayed in the North of NZ or travelled only in Summer, we probably would never have needed indoor power.

By the way, our van’s for sale as we’re almost ready to fly back to the UK. Is there anyone out there who wants to adopt a truly loved hunk o’ metal?

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3 thoughts on “Plugging-in the Vanmaison

  1. Firstly, I’m going to miss your updates when you leave! I’ve been watching your Hiace transformaison with interest, as I’ve just bought a 2013 Hiace myself. At some point I’m going to need to address the power issue, and I was thinking of going with the deep-cycle battery since my van has a space under the driver’s seat (accessible from the back) where a second battery can go. With the right connections, would a second battery get recharged just by driving around? The only power we’ll need for a while will just be for lighting and music, maybe a sink pump. Eventually we’ll get a fridge but at that point I think we’ll need to add on a solar array? I think the restriction for using just the plug like you guys did is that you would NEED to stay at a camp site and then pay the extra cost for power. Anyway, good timing on leaving just as winter sets in. Best of luck and I hope you get someone to buy your van. Cheers!

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    1. Hi Jonty! Thanks for the comment, we’re really really missing the Vanmaison :(. She sold pretty quickly and now we’re back in London. It’s warmer than NZ since it’s mid Summer right now, but it’s also loud, stinky and dirty compared to stunning NZ. SAD TIMES!

      If you install an engine alternator that charges the house battery, you should be fine. We spoke to an auto-electrician dude in Wellington about that, and it seemed a straight forward job that can be done in a day. Solar really depends on how much sunshine you expect to drive around in. Most people I’ve chatted to have 2 house batteries and that serves them well without the campsite hook-up. If we did it again, we’d definitely get the house battery installed and a loo so we can be certified self-contained for freedom camping.

      I have a couple of lessons learned / highlights / farewell blog posts to publish soon. Hopefully we’ll be back in a new van – or boat!? – in Europe soon 🙂

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      1. Thanks guys, I was talking to a guy today who knows a bit about electrics and he might be able to help me with getting alternator/battery/inverter installed. So that is definitely a weight off. Looking forward to reading your finale posts 🙂

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