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TAKE THE LEAP

  • Writer's pictureThe Desert Cruisers

DIY Solar Panel Install and Layout with 1310 Watts for a 4x4 Box Truck

Updated: Mar 31


1310 Watts Solar Panel Install Van Life
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This was probably one of the hardest parts of the build, why? Because the top of our roof is over 12 feet from the ground, and figuring out a method to bringing the big panels on and off multiple times while we figure out the layout and mounting points was definitely a chore. We opted in for a box truck, so being that it was so tall, we were lucky enough to have our sprinter van with us with our aluminess roof rack. That definitely helped with the install process. If you don't have that option, good luck! 😂 Just kidding, I'm sure there is a way. There's always a way 😉


What solar panels do we have?

We have two 175W Renogy Solar Panels and two 480W residential panels that is a Q-Cell brand. We reached out to a local solar panel distribution place in Riverside, California area and bought these huge residential solar panels that fit the width perfectly on our roof. Our total wattage for our solar panels are 1310W since we knew we wanted everything electric in our box truck build.

480W and 175W Solar Panels

How to mount the solar panels?

We had a blank canvas and mounting this was completely unique to us because mounting the solar panels to our roof rack on our Sprinter Van was easy, and mounting on our Morgan Box Truck was a very different process!


Corner Brackets

We kept it very simple and bought some corner L-Brackets from Home Depot with some hardware. There's a perfect mounting location that works on the side rails of the box truck itself. We'll get more into detail down below as to how that helped us with mounting the solar panels.


Organizing the layout for solar panels

We knew before starting our Nomadic AC install and our MaxFann Install where our solar panels would fit. So two of the 175W Renogy panels would be around the MaxFann and the two 480W residential panels would go in between the Nomadic AC. The two 175W panels would go onto the smaller solar controller and the two 480W residential panels would go onto a bigger solar controller.


Parts & Tools

Solar Panel Parts and Tools

480W Residential Panels

Corner Brackets

Hardware: washers, lock washers, nuts and bolts Drill & Bits

Clamps


The Mounting Concept: How to mount them and where?

Mounting Points

There's a small channel that runs on the sides of the box that were a perfect solution to mount the solar panels. We used this to our advantage, and as you can see, it's roughly half an inch thick which is a big enough area to use bolts, nuts, washers and lock washers. This is how we mounted almost all of the panels because the 480W panels reached the roof landscape from left to right, but for the 175W panels, we could only do one side each to mount on these mounting points and then the other sides would be bolted through studs through the roof like the picture below.


Bolting through Morgan Box

Installing the 175W Renogy Panels

Now that you have the concept of mounting them. It's time to install our easy 175W solar panels! We kept this simple and bought 3 inch corner brackets for all 6 mounting points. We wanted to bolt through the studs so that it had a strong mounting point rather than the aluminum roof sheet, so we had to measure inside and outside to know exactly where the studs were on the roof.


Once you know where you want it mounted, the process is fairly simple. Drill out the mounting locations on the side of the solar panels so you can bolt the brackets to the sides.


Home Depot L-Brackets

Keep in mind the stud locations for the other side that will go through with the bolt. You don't have to mount it through the stud, but we felt that it would make the mounting points stronger on a steel stud rather than the aluminum sheet on the roof.


For the mounting hardware, we used a 1 inch machine screw, flat washer, put loctite on, took the corner bracket, slide everything through, then on the other side, flat washer, lock washer and then nut on top.



We trimmed the top of the brackets with an angle grinder so it can be at the same height as the solar panels. Use a metal file to make the cut smooth.


Angle Grind L-Brackets

Next bring your solar panel back up to the roof, use some clamps to help it not move, and start drilling through the rain channel! Once you're done drilling, spray with Rust-Oleum and hand tight the bolts on this side, so we can do the other side easily in place.


Then we went to the other side that would be drilling through the box itself. We knew where the stud was by measuring inside and outside, so after drilling the holes, we sprayed them with Rust-Oleum. Because it went through the stud, we used 2 inch bolts with the same hardware. Then we covered the roof screw locations with Dicor self leveling lap sealant.


Installing the 480W Residential Solar Panels

We were lucky because the solar panels pretty much fit the landscape of the roof, meaning we could use standard L-brackets on each side and not mount through the roof at all and simply use the channels on the side. We used 3 L-brackets on each side and simply bolted it to the channel. You definitely can add more L-brackets throughout the whole length of the solar panel into the roof and studs inside, but we didn’t feel that it was necessary. We’ve had them on for almost a year and haven’t had any issues.


One side we used a standard 4 inch brackets and the other we did a 4 inch bracket that we customized into a 3 inch bracket. We also adjusted the holes as needed if they didn't quite fit where we wanted them to on the channels. Totally depends on how long your solar panels are. We custom cut the brackets length and height to fit the sizes we needed.

Van life and DIY EarthRoamer

Then it's the same process, screw through your solar panels, mount the brackets, then drill through the side channels to mount your solar panels! And that's it!


Tip: Do not overly flex the L-brackets to the channel if it doesn’t reach well naturally. If you need to, add a spacer of a leftover trimmed piece of the L-bracket you cut off. Since this is an aluminum box, it does have a bow in the middle and you don't want your solar panels to feel like it's bending too much which could crack your panel. Speaking from experience... 😳


Putting solar panels on our box truck was definitely a huge challenge being that it is so tall, but thankfully, the process is very straightforward. You buy your L-Brackets, customize the length and height if needed. Even customize the holes if they are not in the right place for you, and have the mounting hardware. That's all it takes! Let us know if you have any other questions about this install!




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From 2020 to 2023, we embraced life on the road in our DIY sprinter van, The Desert Cruiser. With no prior building experience, we transformed our van into a home, exploring deserts and rainforests, seeking the best campsites, mountain biking, and living our dream. In June 2022, a new dream emerged — building a 2022 Ford F550 into our DIY Earthroamer. With hopes of future family adventures, we found our dream truck in Texas. We believe anything is possible and aim to inspire others to explore life to the fullest!

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