DIY solar and cheap roof rack install

  • Hi Guest, you may choose a LIGHT or DARK theme that works best for you with the "Style Chooser" button at the bottom left on this page!

oldmopars

Rank III

Advocate I

778
Selah Wa
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Solomon
When I got my 90 Suburban it had no roof rack. I need a rack to install the solar, move the spare to the roof, and add an awning. All the racks I found are for new trucks, or were stupid expensive.
A couple of weeks ago my father in law was visiting and we stopped into Lowe's to see if there was anything that would work to make a rack out of. I stopped by the Unistrut rack and was thinking through how to make it work, when a helpful employee came by and we started to talk.
As I explained what I wanted to do, he said he had a better idea and walked us back to the plumbing section. There in the middle of everything else, was Structural Pipe. This pipe is not threaded. It has fitting that are held on the ends, or the middle with set screws. There was a ton of different fittings and I found some that would work for me. The best thing is, I got what I needed to get started, and can add as I go with more stuff. Right now I just put a single bar on each side, no cross bars. As I get more money I will go back and add cross bars, ends, more hold downs, etc.
You can see the rack in the pictures. Simple for now, but will grow as I get the money.
Next up is my solar. The system is a bit overkill for my needs, but I had it. A few years ago I build a school bus that my wife, oldest daughter and I lived in. We did this for a little while, then sold it for a 30 ft travel trailer. When I sold it, I pulled the solar system I had install and I saved it. The complete system is 400 watts, with 4 840CCA deep cycle batteries.
For the Suburban I did not need that much, nor the weight. I installed one 100 watt panel on the new rack and one battery. The MPPT controller is a 40 amp and the inverter is 2000 watts. I do have a 800 watt inverter, but it is Modified sine wave, not pure like the 2000. Again, this is overkill, but it is what I have. I will see how I use it, and may go back to the 800 watt if I don't need the pure sine wave.
The main reason for the solar install is that both my wife and I have CPAP machines. We need them and can't go without them. When I travel on my motorcycle I have a spare motorcycle battery that I use the bikes charging system to charge and even the small bike battery will run my CPAP all night. So, this much larger system should be plenty to run 2 CPAP machines all night.
Down the road I will add some lights to the inside and maybe some LED flood lights to the outside running off the battery.
Anyway, I still have some clean up to do, I want to get a solar wire pass through for the roof, but right now the wires just come through the door seal. I also left the wires long for now, I will cut them down when I know I am happy with the system.


 

OverlandBnd

Rank V
Member

Contributor III

1,659
North Carolina
First Name
James
Last Name
Kultala
Member #

1606

When I got my 90 Suburban it had no roof rack. I need a rack to install the solar, move the spare to the roof, and add an awning. All the racks I found are for new trucks, or were stupid expensive.
A couple of weeks ago my father in law was visiting and we stopped into Lowe's to see if there was anything that would work to make a rack out of. I stopped by the Unistrut rack and was thinking through how to make it work, when a helpful employee came by and we started to talk.
As I explained what I wanted to do, he said he had a better idea and walked us back to the plumbing section. There in the middle of everything else, was Structural Pipe. This pipe is not threaded. It has fitting that are held on the ends, or the middle with set screws. There was a ton of different fittings and I found some that would work for me. The best thing is, I got what I needed to get started, and can add as I go with more stuff. Right now I just put a single bar on each side, no cross bars. As I get more money I will go back and add cross bars, ends, more hold downs, etc.
You can see the rack in the pictures. Simple for now, but will grow as I get the money.
Next up is my solar. The system is a bit overkill for my needs, but I had it. A few years ago I build a school bus that my wife, oldest daughter and I lived in. We did this for a little while, then sold it for a 30 ft travel trailer. When I sold it, I pulled the solar system I had install and I saved it. The complete system is 400 watts, with 4 840CCA deep cycle batteries.
For the Suburban I did not need that much, nor the weight. I installed one 100 watt panel on the new rack and one battery. The MPPT controller is a 40 amp and the inverter is 2000 watts. I do have a 800 watt inverter, but it is Modified sine wave, not pure like the 2000. Again, this is overkill, but it is what I have. I will see how I use it, and may go back to the 800 watt if I don't need the pure sine wave.
The main reason for the solar install is that both my wife and I have CPAP machines. We need them and can't go without them. When I travel on my motorcycle I have a spare motorcycle battery that I use the bikes charging system to charge and even the small bike battery will run my CPAP all night. So, this much larger system should be plenty to run 2 CPAP machines all night.
Down the road I will add some lights to the inside and maybe some LED flood lights to the outside running off the battery.
Anyway, I still have some clean up to do, I want to get a solar wire pass through for the roof, but right now the wires just come through the door seal. I also left the wires long for now, I will cut them down when I know I am happy with the system.


Great stuff, DIY is always more fulfilling to me than just buying already made!
 

Brewbud

Rank V
Member

Enthusiast II

1,855
SoCal
Member #

17493

Nice DIY system! Resuing always helps keep that wallet padded. It might be a good idea to make the solar panel removable if it isn't already. It is nice to be able to park in the shade and put the panel in the sun.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Lanlubber

oldmopars

Rank III

Advocate I

778
Selah Wa
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Solomon
Nice DIY system! Resuing always helps keep that wallet padded. It might be a good idea to make the solar panel removable if it isn't already. It is nice to be able to park in the shade and put the panel in the sun.
Not a bad idea. Right now it is secured with 4 screws. I do plan in the future when I finish the rack to make it tilt. However, my demands are very low and I figure that I will spend most of my time driving while it is light out and won't be parked that long before the sun goes down, or is too low to be of any use.
I will keep it in mind though, maybe some pins that allow a quick disconnect. I have tons of connecting cables so that is not an issue.
 

007

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
El Paso, Texas
First Name
Z
Last Name
Varela
Not a bad idea. Right now it is secured with 4 screws. I do plan in the future when I finish the rack to make it tilt. However, my demands are very low and I figure that I will spend most of my time driving while it is light out and won't be parked that long before the sun goes down, or is too low to be of any use.
I will keep it in mind though, maybe some pins that allow a quick disconnect. I have tons of connecting cables so that is not an issue.
When you get ready for a full size rack like a fj80rack.jpg91" x 50.5 " you can make it out of Angle Iron like I have. If you have any question please PM me.
 

Lanlubber

Rank VI
Member

Influencer I

4,000
Mimbres, NM, USA
Member #

16986

Ham Callsign
none - BREAKER BREAKER HAND HELD CB AND WALKIE TALKIE
When you get ready for a full size rack like a View attachment 11467491" x 50.5 " you can make it out of Angle Iron like I have. If you have any question please PM me.
I still want to meet you and discuss your solar set up sometime soon since we have similar rigs. I'll be in Las Cruces after the first of the moth to get my new tires hopefully. Maybe we could meet somewhere in E.P. for lunch-dinner ?
Lanlubber Jim
 

oldmopars

Rank III

Advocate I

778
Selah Wa
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Solomon
When you get ready for a full size rack like a View attachment 11467491" x 50.5 " you can make it out of Angle Iron like I have. If you have any question please PM me.
Someday, when I have the money I plan to make a new rack out of 8020 extruded aluminum. It will give me a lot of flexibility and the ability to mount things anywhere I want. However, I looked into it and for the basic rack I want it will be over $500 and I just don't have that right now. So, this will work till I can afford the other.
 

007

Rank 0

Contributor I

60
El Paso, Texas
First Name
Z
Last Name
Varela
20181109_115145.jpg20181109_115145.jpg
Yes aluminum is way more expensive but if you do it yourself with a basic welder using steel, it will cost you a lot less. A design like this pic will run you about $325 to include the lights and weighs only about 70lbs. You can tie down anywhere the strap hooks will grab and if you want a solar panel, you simply but sliders underneath and whala! you have a solar panel roof rack for about $450. Did I mention you can sleep on it?
 

Lanlubber

Rank VI
Member

Influencer I

4,000
Mimbres, NM, USA
Member #

16986

Ham Callsign
none - BREAKER BREAKER HAND HELD CB AND WALKIE TALKIE
I will be in the CloudCroft area this weekend for labor Day... what are you doing this weekend?
I've spent my wad for the month on a 2" lift kit , I" wheel spacers and everything installed for me (bummer). I also ordered my tires and then they tell me they are out of stock and may be up to a month before they get their supply in. I'll catch you later when the rig is ready. Thanks for the offer.
 

Lanlubber

Rank VI
Member

Influencer I

4,000
Mimbres, NM, USA
Member #

16986

Ham Callsign
none - BREAKER BREAKER HAND HELD CB AND WALKIE TALKIE
View attachment 114742View attachment 114742
Yes aluminum is way more expensive but if you do it yourself with a basic welder using steel, it will cost you a lot less. A design like this pic will run you about $325 to include the lights and weighs only about 70lbs. You can tie down anywhere the strap hooks will grab and if you want a solar panel, you simply but sliders underneath and whala! you have a solar panel roof rack for about $450. Did I mention you can sleep on it?
who's rig is this ?
 

Lanlubber

Rank VI
Member

Influencer I

4,000
Mimbres, NM, USA
Member #

16986

Ham Callsign
none - BREAKER BREAKER HAND HELD CB AND WALKIE TALKIE
This Rig belongs to a fellow in Albuquerque. He asked me to make him a simple rack wo/ solar panels, so I did. We met half way up to Elephant Butt to deliver it to him. It looks pretty nice mounted on his Rig.
You did a good job. I bought a used roof rack 3 weeks ago from a lady in Albuq. It was made specifically for a LRD2 by a welder in Africa. It's really neat and I'll be posting my recent updates before long.
 

oldmopars

Rank III

Advocate I

778
Selah Wa
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Solomon
I would not mind using steel on the rack, welding one up. However I sold my welder a couple years ago, and by the time I buy a welder and the steel, I could build one out of Aluminum. I know I would use the welder for more stuff, but for now the rack I have is working and I can expand it as I need to. I will do a full write-up on it when I finish the whole rack.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Lanlubber

oldmopars

Rank III

Advocate I

778
Selah Wa
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Solomon
I wanted to post an update on my Solar system. I have used it a couple of times now and I do not think I will continue to use it on my rig. My wife and I both use CPAP machines. they suck down a fair bit of power. Mine can be run off 12V no problem, but my wife's is 19V and can't run on 12V, so I have to use an inverter. With one battery I can run both, plus a night light for my wife and charge everything I want. It will be very low in the morning, but everything is still going. The issue comes in that one solar panel is just not enough to recharge it by the time I need it the second night.
So, my plan is to install the whole system, 4 panels and 4 batteries on my travel trailer and just set up one battery in the truck with the normal dual battery system and charge it off the alternator. This way I will get better recovery times and it will be fully charged by the time I need it again at night.
I am not too disappointed, I owned all the stuff and so it did not cost me anything to try it out.
 

Lanlubber

Rank VI
Member

Influencer I

4,000
Mimbres, NM, USA
Member #

16986

Ham Callsign
none - BREAKER BREAKER HAND HELD CB AND WALKIE TALKIE
I wanted to post an update on my Solar system. I have used it a couple of times now and I do not think I will continue to use it on my rig. My wife and I both use CPAP machines. they suck down a fair bit of power. Mine can be run off 12V no problem, but my wife's is 19V and can't run on 12V, so I have to use an inverter. With one battery I can run both, plus a night light for my wife and charge everything I want. It will be very low in the morning, but everything is still going. The issue comes in that one solar panel is just not enough to recharge it by the time I need it the second night.
So, my plan is to install the whole system, 4 panels and 4 batteries on my travel trailer and just set up one battery in the truck with the normal dual battery system and charge it off the alternator. This way I will get better recovery times and it will be fully charged by the time I need it again at night.
I am not too disappointed, I owned all the stuff and so it did not cost me anything to try it out.
Why not just add a second battery ? 100w solar should keep them charged if the sun is out.
 

oldmopars

Rank III

Advocate I

778
Selah Wa
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Solomon
Why not just add a second battery ? 100w solar should keep them charged if the sun is out.
I did that, the recovery rate is still too slow. I used 2 batteries and 2 panels this last weekend and it worked, but the second night the batteries were still very low in the morning. 2 panels is too much to put on the roof, so I had to have it on the ground and aimed at the sun.
In the end, for what I need, I think the dual battery set-up will work better. I spend too much time in and out of the trees to make the solar a good option. Then as fall hits and its cool enough here to get out, the sun is low in the sky and for fewer hours and then if the clouds roll in its all over.
Using the truck alternator is going to be the best option for me, I like to move from spot to spot seeing new things. This will mean the battery is recharged long before I get to camp and it will last all night. Also less "stuff" I need to have mounted to the truck.
I think Solar is better suited for a trailer that can have more panels and be parked in the sun to allow recharging. Or if you demands are low, like just recharging cell phones and iPads.
 

Lanlubber

Rank VI
Member

Influencer I

4,000
Mimbres, NM, USA
Member #

16986

Ham Callsign
none - BREAKER BREAKER HAND HELD CB AND WALKIE TALKIE
I did that, the recovery rate is still too slow. I used 2 batteries and 2 panels this last weekend and it worked, but the second night the batteries were still very low in the morning. 2 panels is too much to put on the roof, so I had to have it on the ground and aimed at the sun.
In the end, for what I need, I think the dual battery set-up will work better. I spend too much time in and out of the trees to make the solar a good option. Then as fall hits and its cool enough here to get out, the sun is low in the sky and for fewer hours and then if the clouds roll in its all over.
Using the truck alternator is going to be the best option for me, I like to move from spot to spot seeing new things. This will mean the battery is recharged long before I get to camp and it will last all night. Also less "stuff" I need to have mounted to the truck.
I think Solar is better suited for a trailer that can have more panels and be parked in the sun to allow recharging. Or if you demands are low, like just recharging cell phones and iPads.
I understand, I keep forgetting that on the N.W. west coast the sunlight is low to nil.