Adding a 220v mains electrical hookup point to your camper van will greatly enhance your ability to recharge your leisure batteries and run most common household electrical items while on your camping trip. This option is, of course, completely dependent on you camping near a power point to which you can plug in but, of course, mains power outlets are now a standard feature in most campsites.
Most modern camper van conversions incorporate a 220v electrical circuit alongside the standard vehicle 12v circuit, often powered by an inverter run directly off the leisure battery. The 220v circuit allows you to run equipment such as fridges, heaters, water heaters and entertainment systems which can often draw much heavier current loads. The drawback however, is that powering these appliances from an inverter often means running the engine at least periodically to avoid draining the leisure battery. Hooking up to a mains outlet allows you to run 220v appliances efficiently without the noise and disruption of running the van engine.
A mains hookup point is simply an external power point located on the outside of the camper van and connected directly to the circuit breaker or distribution board inside the van. A 220v mains inlet box, such as this one from Kiravans.co.uk is the quickest and simplest way to add a hookup point to your camper van simply by cutting a small hole in a suitable position in a side panel. A 17 amp, 3 core flex is used to connect the inlet point to the circuit breaker.
In my case, I was keen to keep everything on my van as discreet as possible and I decided to be a bit creative with how I added my inlet point. As it happens, there is a very useful space below the fuel filler cap which is just the right size to accommodate the inlet point. You can see from the photos how I fitted the standard in-line socket by drilling a 40mm hole and making a backing plate from a piece of 2mm sheet metal which I slid into place from behind to secure the socket.
Important note: My van is diesel powered. I would not, under any circumstances locate an electrical point anywhere near the fuel filler cap on a petrol engine van due to the risk of a spark when connecting the plug.
Purpose made mains inlet points include a hinged flap to protect the electrical contacts from dirt and moisture and indeed, the location of my hookup point means the hookup is covered by the fuel filler flap when not in use. Even so, I was uncomfortable with the idea of the pins being exposed and so easily accessible when they could be live at any time when the inverter is active and powering the circuit. For peace of mind, I decided to add a safety measure in the form of relay. A relay is essentially an electrically operated switch. By routing the mains hookup through the relay, the external power point is only connected to the mains circuit when power is available from an external point, meaning the exposed pins are completely safe to touch even when the inverter is in use.
If you are unfamiliar with relays, heres a link to a good explanation of what a relay is and how it works.
Relays are also easy to install once you understand how they work. Here’s a wiring diagram for a typical 8 pin 220v relay.
The external hookup is just one aspect of the camper van electrical circuit and I will cover the full 220v electrical system in more detail in another article.
A note on safety: I probably don’t need to say this but I will say it anyway. Unless you happen to be a fully qualified electrician, you should always consult one with regard to the design and installation of any mains electrical circuits you plan to use in your camper van. At the very least, your insurance company may request a certificate or invoice for the work to prove the installation is safe. Unsafe electrical work can, and frequently does end up getting people killed. Don’t take chances in this regard.