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Are you looking to replace your batteries in your RV, Camper or Van? Building a new van? Or considering an upgrade to lithium? Here’s a simple guide to what type of battery you need, how to choose the right size battery bank, and how much solar power you would need to be self sufficient and go fully off grid.
What type of battery do I need for my RV?
RVs, Campers, and Vans have two types of batteries. One is a automotive/starter battery that is used to start the engine. The other is a deep cycle battery, also called a house battery, that is used to power your electronics. Your solar panels, if you have them, re-charge your deep cycle / house batteries but do not directly power your electronics. The house batteries are your power source, the rest of your electrical system either gets power to your batteries (charging) or pulls power out (discharging) to run your fridge, lights, etc.
Most RV and Vanlife electronics will operate with any deep cycle 12-volt marine battery. Most stock RVs come with lead acid batteries because they are cheap, and if you are doing a Van build or an RV build it might be tempting to buy a lead acid battery (also called AGM or SLA) because they are cheap. But for the longest run time, most efficient use of solar power, longest lifespan, and best piece of mind we recommend lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. Here’s 8 reasons why:
- Dakota Lithium LiFePO4 batteries will provide double the usable power / run time of lead acid. More power / run time means more time on the road without having to plug in at night. Allows for boondocking or camping off grid with the confidence that your batteries will get your through the night (or with solar panels near indefinitely).
- Dakota Lithium batteries last 4X longer than AGM or lead acid batteries and will need to be replaced less often. Providing piece of mind and greater lifetime value. All backed up by a best in class 11 year warranty.
- Dakota Lithium weighs 60% less than deep cycle lead acid batteries. Less weight means more maneuverability and speed and less wear and tear on your rig. And the batteries are light enough that you can easily install and service them yourself.
- Dakota’s lithium iron phosphate works down to negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius) meaning you can travel in all seasons.
- The self discharge rate of a Dakota Lithium battery (i.e. how much power is lost each month the battery is not being used), is 1/4 that of a lead acid battery, only 1-2% a month. That means if you take a break between adventures your batteries will still have plenty of power the next time you hit the road.
- Dakota Lithium iron phosphate is optimized for solar energy with 50% more efficiency than a lead acid battery.
- You need less batteries when you use a Dakota Lithium. Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) has a flat voltage curve. That means that the voltage does not drop as you use the battery. You get all the juice down to the last drop. Historically if you power your house electronics with a deep cycle lead acid battery you would only be able to use half of the capacity of the battery before the voltage is too low to run anything. That’s why your lights dim when your lead batteries are low. With Dakota Lithium you can use all of the power of the battery, meaning that a 100 Ah battery from Dakota Lithium is equal to 200 Ah in lead acid batteries.
- Dakota Lithium has an 11 year warranty. That means you can install your batteries once, instead of replacing heavy lead acid batteries every few years.
What Size Battery Do I Need?
The drop in replacement battery for most RV house batteries (deep cycle marine) is the Dakota Lithium 100Ah battery [See specs and buy here].
Here’s a simple guide to battery recommendations. These recommendations assume you are either re-charging your battery bank every few days by connecting to shore power, or charging via your alternator in your engine when you drive, or with solar panels (our personal favorite – with the low cost of adding solar panels it is both the most affordable, and the highest performance charging solution).
Size of RV / Van | What Your Looking to Power | Recommended Battery | Recommended Bundle
- 10′-14 ft | Lights, radio, electronics (laptop, cell phones, etc.), small fan | DL+ 12V 60 Ah x 1 or DL+ 135Ah x 1| 100Ah #VanLife Bundle
- 10′-14 ft | Lights, radio, sm. electric cooler, tools, fans, electronics | DL 100 Ah x 1 or DL+ 135Ah x 1| 100Ah #VanLife Bundle
- 15′-20 ft | Lights, radio, stove, med. electric cooler/small fridge, electronics, fans | 1x DL+ 135Ah or 1-2x DL 100 Ah or 1x DL 200 Ah or 1x DL+ 280 Ah | 100Ah #VanLife Bundle or 200Ah Zamp Solar Bundle
- 21′-30 ft | Lights, radio, stove, lg. electric cooler/small fridge, small tv, electronics, fans| 1x DL+ 280 Ah or 2x DL 100 Ah or 1x DL 200 Ah | 200Ah Zamp Solar Bundle
- 31′-40 ft | Lights, radio, stove, medium fridge, large TV, electronics, large fans | 1x DL+ 280 Ah or 2-4x DL 100 Ah or 2x DL 200 Ah
- 40’+ ft | Lights, radio, stove & oven, fridge, TV, electronics, air conditioning* | 2x DL+ 280 Ah, or 4-8x DL 100 Ah or 2-5x DL 200 Ah
*Please note, air conditioning appliances draws a lot of amps (power) and requires a very large battery bank (400Ah+). Not recommended for small RVs or vans. Use of air conditioners is not covered under the warranty of many battery companies, including Dakota Lithium, since it is possible for air conditioning units to pull more power at one time than a single battery is capable of giving. Air conditioning is fine to use when connected to shore power and not pulling power from the house batteries.
The Dakota Lithium 100Ah battery is the drop in replacement battery for most RV house batteries (deep cycle marine)
What Size Solar Panels Do I Need?
Dakota Lithium batteries are the best choice if you are considering adding solar panels to your RV, Van, or trailer because they have the highest efficiency rating for solar power. That means you get more power from each solar panel, and can use more of the power you collect. A deep dive on solar power efficiency is here.
Here’s a size chart for what solar panels you need by size of RV & how many Dakota Lithium batteries you have.
Size of RV | # of Batteries | Recommended Solar Panel Capacity
- 10′-14′ | 1-2x DL 100 Ah | 100-115-Watt Rooftop
- 15′-20′ | 1-2x DL 100 Ah | 150-170-Watt Rooftop
- 21′-30′ | 2x DL 100 Ah | 300 watt rooftop
- 31′-40′ | 2-4x DL 100 Ah | 500-600 watt rooftop
- 40’+ | 4-8x DL 100 Ah | 700-1100 watt rooftop
What Electrical System Upgrades do You Recommend?
Living the dream unshackled from shore power is magical: you have the freedom to go anywhere, and live life on your own terms. Here’s a few upgrades we recommend to build your dream off-the-grid home on wheels.
- Our #1 recommendation for anyone looking to make the lithium upgrade is to make sure that you will be charging your batteries with a lithium compatible charger – it increases performance and saves you time. Dakota Lithium batteries like to be charged at 14.4 volts, which is higher than lead acid. This means that traditional chargers, for shore power, or from solar panels, will work but they will not full charge lithium batteries. For charging off shore power while at home or at RV parks each Dakota Lithium battery will come with a free wall charger that you can plug into any wall socket (or extension cord). For charging via solar panels see if your solar charge controller has a lithium setting (many new ones do) or use a solar charge controller like the Victron Smart Solar MPPT charge controller. Or charge your batteries using the electricity produced by your engine’s alternator using a Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger (more on this in a moment).
- If building a new van, truck, trailer, or RV you will need a way to plug in your household electronics. For that you will need an inverter, like the Victron Phoenix 1200 watt inverter (for small & mid sized RVs) or the Victron Multiplus (for large RVs and Skoolie’s). An inverter allows you to use 12V Dakota Lithium batteries to power household electronics that require 120V AC (the wall plug in your home). Rated at 1200 watts this professional grade Victron inverter takes DC power (the power that comes from batteries or solar panels) and transforms it into AC power. 1200 watts is the perfect size for small to mid sized boats, Sprinter or camper vans, RVs, job sites for charging power tools, or other off grid applications where you need plug and play power. 1200 watts is a good size to run a medium sized TV, stereo, small kitchen appliances, computers, or other home electronics. If your RV or trailer came with wall plugs then an inverter is already built into your system, and that is compatible with Dakota Lithium batteries.
- If you are looking to spend a lot of time on the road then we recommendation the Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger which allows you to charge your deep cycle Dakota Lithium batteries using the alternator in your van, boat, or RV’s engine. The Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger is a professional DC to DC adaptive 3-stage charger with built-in Bluetooth. For use in dual battery systems in vehicles or on boats where the alternator and the starter battery are used to charge the service battery (aka house or deep cycle battery). The unit can be monitored and programmed via Bluetooth and can be remotely controlled via a remote on/off switch. The Orion Tr-Smart charger can be used in 12V systems and is suitable for both lead acid and lithium batteries.
- For battery monitoring our favorite solution is the Victron Smart Shunt 500A/50MV Bluetooth Battery Monitor. It allows you to monitor the performance of your system using the Victron app on your phone. Provides real time data on the performance of your system, including how much energy has gone into your batteries from your solar panels and/or from your engine’s alternator, how much energy you are currently using, and how much power you have left in your batteries. Using a battery monitor provides piece of mind, helping you make decisions on when to camp and for how long. It also provides a overview of the performance of your electrical system, which can be helpful if you or a friend need to troubleshoot problems on the road.
Top 2 Bestselling RV Off Grid Power Systems
For Van builds, small campers, and tucks we recommend the 100Ah #VanLife Bundle. It includes all the electrical components to build a lithium friendly off grid system including a lithium specific charge controller so you can add solar panels of your choice in the future.
For mid-sized RVs, 3rd wheels, camper trailers, and folks living full time in their Van, Truck or Tiny Home we recommend the 200Ah Zamp Solar Bundle. It includes all the electrical components to build a solar powered off grid system including a lithium specific charge controller and easy to install 170 watts of Zamp Solar panels. This is our #1 best selling RV & Vanlife power system.
Live the dream! Live life on your own terms! #PoweredByDakotaLithium
What size solar panel and battery do I need for my RV air conditioner?
Air conditioners are power hungry appliances. If you are running air conditioning in your RV, van, or camper then and you will need a larger solar panel and battery system. To meet the high energy needs of an air conditioner many nomads use a generator to power their air conditioner when off grid or RV camping. The problem, however, is generators run out of gas, are loud, the gas is expensive and you need to carry extra gas cans, and the exhaust is toxic and dangerous if not well ventilated (if using a generator make sure to install a carbon monoxide detector in your living space). To unshackle from shore power and the need to run a generator RV owners and nomads living the #VanLife are increasingly choosing to install solar panels and batteries that are large enough to power an air conditioner without the noise, smell, or health risk of a generators. The result is greater freedom to camp and boondock anywhere, increased health and safety, and more time in your day. You do some work to install the system once and then its maintenance free. No need to buy gas and refill the generator gas tank each day. No need to start an engine. No need to apologize to the neighbors for running your generator all night. Just free power from the sun keeping you nice and cool at night.
Determine the size of the power system you need by the size of the space you are cooling and the size of the air conditioner needed. Air conditioner size is measured in BTUs.
Size of RV | BTUs of Air Conditioner | # of Batteries | Recommended Solar Panel Capacity | Recommended Off-Grid Power System