Figuring out the electrical setup in our van conversion has been quite a challenge. One of the things we have come across during our research was the idea of using a distribution board to center all wires and fuses in one place, just like you would in a regular house.
Since it was quite a difficult part of the conversion, we thought it would be great to summarize why we included a distribution board, what items we used, how we fixed everything into this small cabinet and what every component does.
We hope this blog post is helpful, and if there are any tips you have regarding organizing the electrical setup, please leave a comment below to help us and some fellow van-lifers!
Why we installed a distribution board
A distribution board, also referred to as a switch board, is not a necessary part of the electrical setup in an off-grid home. It does however have a few advantages that made us decide to include one in our campervan.
Order – everything is neat and tidy and the wires are not tangled up (easy to identify)
Safety – the fuses and wire connections are stored away in this cabinet behind a door (which can even be locked!), and they are protected from water damage and won’t break if items suddenly move around in the van
As you might know from reading our blog post about our electrical setup, we will not be installing a mains hookup. This has consequences for our setup, and makes it all a little easier.
This blog post also explained that we will be connecting our 12V system to a charge controller rather than to the batteries directly. Our 230V system will be connected directly to our batteries via an inverter.
This is explained in depth in our electrical diagram blog post!
Components of our distribution board
Our distribution board holds quite a few components and looks quite intimidating at first, especially to those that have no skills in the subjects (like us). It is actually quite simple to understand though, and we’ll try to explain it all here.
Let’s start with a list of the components that we used in our distribution board and we’ll shortly explain their function.
Distribution cabinet – Holds all items and can be closed to protect the wires, fuses, and terminals
Din rails – Are screwed into the cabinet to hold all other items, such as the bus bar, the terminals, the RCD, and the trips
Red (live) wires – Run up from the power source through terminals and fuses, to connect to the appliances
Black (neutral) wires – Run back down from the appliances through terminals, and are all collected in one area
Bus bar – Collects all 12V neutral wires in one centralized location to form one main neutral cable to run back to our charge controller
Terminals – Connect wires to one another, and enable an easy way to organize all wiring
Blade fuses – Protect the 12V appliances and their cables
Blade fuse holder – Holds up to ten blade fuses, one for each 12V appliance, but also distributes the live wire from one wire into six
Trips – Protect the 230V appliances and their cables
RCD – Protects both the 230V appliances and ourselves, by comparing outgoing and incoming current and switching off when a difference is noted between the two
The left side of our distribution board represents our 12V system. Our 12V appliances include a fridge, two sets of LEDs, a waterpump, a toilet vent, and a fan.
We will have one live wire running up from the charge controller, through the bottom of the cabinet at the left hand side, which will connect to a terminal. This terminal is then connected via a live wire to the blade fuse box.
Terminals are basically an extension of the wires. We can create this entire setup without the use of terminals, but they are an easy way to keep everything organized and fixed in one spot and to make the installation in the van just a tad easier.
The blade fuse box also distributes our live wire into six new live wires, one for each appliance. Each is connected to one blade fuse, and a light will switch on if one of these fuses breaks. We can then simply check what went wrong, fix the error, and replace the blade fuse with a new one.
These six live wires each connect to a terminal at the top left side of our switch cabinet. Six live wires will be connected from the appliances to these terminals.
From each of these appliances, a neutral wire will run back down into the blue bus bar, which connects these six wires back into one neutral wire. This neutral will in-turn run down to a terminal at the bottom left side of this cabinet, next to the live wire terminal that we started with.
This completes the circle.
On the right side of our distribution board, every item is connected to our two 230V plug sockets.
A live wire will run up from our inverter, through the bottom on the right hand side of this cabinet, and will connect to a terminal. This terminal is then connected to our RCD unit via a second live wire.
The RCD will compare the incoming and outgoing currents and will switch off our power supply if any differences are discovered. This protects both us and the appliances from any damage in case there are any leakages.
The RCD is connected to two trips via a copper bridge. The trips are placed upside down, because otherwise we could not use this copper bridge.
These trips have the same function as the blade fuses in our blade fuse holder, they protect the cables and appliances . They switch off the power and after we have fixed the issue, we can flip the switch back to turn the power back on.
These two live wires run from the trips to terminals. They exit the switch cabinet at the top right side, and are then connected to the two plug sockets.
A neutral wire will run back down from each plug socket, into the cabinet, and both wires are connected to two terminals at the top of the cabinet. These two terminals are connected with a small bridge, and one neutral wire is connected between these terminals and runs back down through the RCD.
Let us know how you arranged your electrical system!
We hope that this blog post helped you out in some way. Perhaps it will help you figure out how you’ll design your electrical setup in your own tiny home!
If however this still is not completely clear to you, so we also filmed a video that gives a proper run-through of our electrical diagram as well as our distribution board.
Did you like this blog post and want to read more? Click here to go to our main campervan conversion page! Here, you can find a neatly organized list of all blog posts related to our van conversion project.