Our Airstream now has full solar power!

48 thoughts on “Our Airstream now has full solar power!”

  1. Nice to read about your setup! We have a small inverter we use for camping, although obviously in a different way than your RV. We plug it into a marine battery and voila – outlets! With power! My husband has some medical equipment he needs to use, and the inverter setup was the least expensive way to accommodate that.

    1. Thanks Liz. Yup, those types of inverters work great too. In fact, those are the most flexible kinds, so long as you have your deep-cycle marine battery handy.

  2. Very cool write-up and video. It sounds like your almost there between this and 1 month of work. Have you decided where you will be boondocking first? What’s the maintenance look like for solar on an airstream?

    1. Hey FTF – our very first boon docking site might be up in southern Utah. Until then, we do have a campsite reserved here in Tucson with full hookups. We may try to boon dock a couple times around the area, but we have nothing definitive planned quite yet!

  3. Welcome to the solar club! I have officially owned panels on my home for a year now and it has been great. They’ve generated more power than my original estimates which helped us save a ton on our energy bills. Most monthly bills were actually $0 with a few in the summer were we used more energy than generated (running the AC).

    And yes, even in cloudy days they pull in some energy!

    All in all I couldn’t be happier with my decision. It is amazing how buying this panels will provide all the energy I will need for the next 25+ years! I look forward to hearing more how you like your panels and how they are working.

    1. Thanks Green Swan, glad to finally be a member. How many watts of solar do you have on your home? Will the local utility company pay YOU if you wind up pushing power back into the grid?

  4. That’s really cool! Amazing you won’t have to worry about power anywhere you go. I’m very interested in installing solar panels on my home sometime in the future. Glad to hear you had a good experience and everything worked out well!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Go F Yourself. Like you, I’ve always been interested in solar power too, but the cost was the primary factor in not really doing anything about it…until now, where the convenience factor has overcome the cost! 🙂

  5. Awesome!! I love the idea of off grid living and love to see you guys actually accomplishing the steps to get there. I can’t wait to meet Charlie at FinCon!! I think may of us will be lined up for a tour. 🙂

    1. Ha! Thanks Miss Mazuma. We haven’t yet worked out the logistics of that one, but we’ll see. We’ll be in the Pacific northwest next summer, so that would be a haul to get down to Texas by then.

  6. Great update, Steve. I applaud your wisdom is having “The Professionals” do the work. I’ve watched a few YouTube videos on solar installation by “Do It Yourselfers”, and felt uneasy about tackling it. You’ve motivated me to hire this out to professionals, when the time comes. I think I’ll avoid the mega-drive, tho. Aren’t there local folks who can do the work around the country? Any comments on how best to choose an installer? (We’ll be buying our 5th Wheel in the Spring, with plans to FIRE in 2018, perhaps something we should go ahead and pay the dealer to do when we but the RV?).

    1. Thanks Fritz. If the dealer will install them, I’d probably have them done there – because they will probably warranty their work. Then, you have somewhere to go if you start having issues with them in the future.

      There are solar installers in my area, but none that have installed panels on Airstreams before. AM Solar, the company that we chose up in Springfield, has done Airstream installs before and they come highly recommended on RV forums. That’s how we first found them – forums. It definitely was a haul to get up there, but it was fun, too. We had never taken a trip like that before, so it was cool to get “out there” with Charlie a little bit and explore the country with our house in tow! 🙂

  7. 15 years ago did you imagine living off of power that was “magically” created? What a plus to find out Charlie could support 800 watts. Not that you needed it, as you said, but that would give me extra confidence. Thanks for taking the time to break down and share all the specifics.

    1. Oh man…15 years ago, I would never have imagined that we’d be in the position that we are right now, ready to hit the road full time. And generating energy from the sun? Totally awesome. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Very cool Steve! I already watched the videos…but I do have one question. Why do this in Oregon?

    There *must* be someone in Arizona that could have done this for you! That’s a long drive…was it substantially cheaper to do this in Oregon?

    1. Hey Mr. Tako – yup, there are solar installers in Oregon. In fact, we also selected a guy about an hour north who could do the work. Ultimately, we traveled all the way to Oregon because these guys are one of the best RV solar installers in the business, and we wanted to get it done right. We were willing to foot the bill for the peace of mind that our system was put together by extremely competent people who actually care about the work that they do. Unfortunately, that’s tough to find these days!

      And the drive was fun. Long, but fun. It gave us an opportunity to finally get out and about with Charlie.

  9. This is AWESOME. I think solar really is the future, and it’s amazing to see that Airstreams can be outfitted for renewable energy. How long would you guys want to be off the grid with your Airstream?

    My dad often goes hunting in the woods for days at a time, and he rigged a small solar charging system to power fans at night and to charge his phone. It is so, so useful, especially if you’re away from civilization. I also think it’s great to have in case of an emergency.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mrs. Picky Pincher. We plan to be off-grid for weeks at a time – though we may be forced into a campground from time to time as the weather requires. We’ll need to dump tanks and take on water, too, occasionally. And yup, solar is super duper useful. Amazing technology.

  10. Congrats on getting your solar power installed successfully! I have to say, I really enjoyed watching your videos. I could totally relate, as it reminded me of many of our cross country road trips with our trailer in tow. Gas stations, city traffic, and rough roads…oh my! We use a truck stop app to help us find gas stations we fit into – if nothing else, the reviews left by truck driver’s are totally entertaining. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Thanks Amanda! Yup, it was quite the experience, but glad that it all worked out okay in the end. We use the All Stays app to find places to stay and truck stops along the way. We’ll be focused on Loves, Pilots and Flying Js as we travel, that’s for sure…especially the ones that have RV lanes.

  11. I’ve been looking forward to this post, and I’m not disappointed. Cool stuff Steve. I’m curious about a few things (pardon my ignorance, I know next to nothing about solar):

    1. How hardy are the panels? If you were out in a hail storm would they be ok?
    2. Do you need to buy extra insurance coverage for the airstream to cover the panels in case of an accident?
    3. What is the expected life span of the battery bank? How often (or not) will it need to be replaced?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mrs. BITA! Regarding your questions:

      1: Hardy. They’ve been tested in hail up to golf ball size I believe. People have scratched up their panels, though, by backing up into tree branches, so we’ll need to be extra careful to ensure that doesn’t happen. There is a piece of plexiglass-type stuff over each panel for protection.

      2: Honestly, we haven’t tackled this one yet. We do have insurance on the structure and a certain value for everything inside. We’ll need to find out the specifics about how our panels affect our insurance coverage.

      3: Several years, but it depends on how you treat them. These AGMs need very little maintenance, so they should be good for four or five years, at least, without them showing signs of deterioration. The idea is to never let them drain their voltage down below about 50% to maximize life expectancy.

  12. Awesome! We’re still in the process of researching an RV to purchase, but I’m very interested in the topic of solar. Seems GREAT – except for the costs, which appear to be dropping into reasonable ranges. I love that you pulled the trigger on this system.

    1. Thanks Coach Brad. Yeah, solar isn’t cheap, but it sure is convenient. If you plan to spend a lot of time around campgrounds, then solar probably won’t be much of a benefit. But, if you do see yourselves getting out into nature a bit more outside of the comfortable bounds of campgrounds, then solar is just super convenient. Generators work too, but they are also loud and require gas. Boo!

  13. I love it! I had no idea you could generate so much power from the top of an Airstream. The amount of power generated from an actual house rooftop must be huge….

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tawcan. The self-sustainability of solar is definitely one of the primary reasons why we chose this route. The ability to generate our own power without the need to run a loud generator is just amazing. And convenient. And eco-friendly. It’s a win-win-win! 🙂

    1. Hi Adam and Jane – it really depends on how much we use inside the RV. With all batteries charged and without ANY power source (including solar), we could probably live a few days. This would require us to be extra careful with the electronics inside, though. No charging computers or cell phones, for example. But we could do it. With solar, however, it extends our sustainability almost indefinitely. Of course we’d need water and tank dumps every once in a while.

  14. This is so freaking cool! I always love hearing how people implement solar. A while back when I was researching the tiny house movement, I came across a few tiny house stories where people were trying to be more off the grid so they powered their house with solar. The cost was around $10,000-13,000. The setups would work good as long as they had a propane powered refrigerator and didn’t use AC too much.

    1. Thanks Colin! Yup, that’s about the gist of it. We don’t plan to use AC much because we plan to “follow the weather” as much as we can. And we have two separate 40-pound propane tanks too to power the fridge and stove. 🙂

  15. So awesome! We don’t have much solar on the roof of our RV but we would like to add more. I do have a question, though, is there a reason you went so far away to get it done? I feel like Arizona would have some solar options but I could be wrong.

    1. Hey Michelle! Good question. There are options here in Arizona, yes, but the place we went to in Oregon specializes in solar for RVs, and they come highly recommended by a large segment of the RV community. Since this is such an important installation, we wanted experienced and reputable folks to do the work. Ultimately, we felt is was worth the trip. And it was fun, too. 🙂

  16. I once mounted two solar panels on my old VW van. I bought them used and they only worked for about 6 months, but they powered my Vitamix blender and my computer so I was happy. I don’t have the van anymore unfortunately, but I miss it everyday. This is Awesome Steve. Congrats on retirement and the solar life!

    1. Thanks Millennial Money! Solar is a serious game-changer, especially if you can get the panels for a reasonable cost. It’s neat being out in the middle of nowhere but still generating power. 🙂

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