How to Add a Microwave to Your Van
When you move into your van to live in it full-time, you give up a lot of things that you had always taken for granted.
- Light at the flip of a switch.
- Human waste going down the drain.
- Heat or Air Conditioning at the turn of a thermostat.
- Instant hot water to wash your hands or take a shower.
- A microwave oven.
- Lots of room to collect more crap!
- Cable Television
Fortunately, there’s a way to solve most of those problems even if it is much less convenient than in a house. And if I can’t find a solution, well, I just consider the mild discomfort from losing it as a minor sacrifice for the far better life I’ve found as a vandweller.
Of those above, however, one thing I really do miss from living in a house is not having a microwave. I’m aware it’s a pure luxury, but boy is it a nice one to have! You’ve got to understand, I moved into a van to be happier, not to prove a point of how uncomfortable I can make my life. I’m more than willing to do without the things I don’t value, but not the things I really enjoy. So I have Direct Satellite TV and now I have a microwave; they make my life easier and happier!
I’ve wanted to have one for a long time and a few years back I tried using one, but it worked badly. I didn’t really have enough solar panels or enough batteries, but the biggest problem was that I was using a cheap Modified Sine Wave (MSW) inverter. It turns out that microwaves are very fussy about the quality of power you feed them and it would barely work on the poor power from my cheap 2000 watt inverter. It did run and heated food a little bit, but it did such a bad job I soon gave it away.
Since then I’ve been steadily upgrading my system to make a microwave work. I found a good quality 2000 watt inverter that was a Pure Sine Wave (PSW) at Amazon and ordered it about 2 years ago and it has worked flawlessly for me ever since. It was surprisingly affordable for a good brand name. You can currently buy it from Amazon for $375 here: Xantrex PROWatt 2000 PSW Inverter,
Last year I found a great deal on a 240 watt solar panel and went ahead and picked it up with a separate controller and a pair of golf cart batteries. That brings my total to 570 watts and six, 6-volt golf cart batteries. That’s more than enough to run a microwave and my satellite TV.
All I was missing was the microwave!
One of the main problems with having a microwave is—where do I put it? Most of us just don’t have enough room to give up that much space. But because I tow a converted cargo trailer with an extended van I have much more room than the average vandweller and, I had built the trailer with a microwave in mind. But it still needed to be as small as possible because I didn’t have that much room. So I’ve been searching for a small, compact one for a while and I finally found the one I thought would work for me. It’s a compact 700 watt cooking power micro made my Whirlpool.
What makes it truly distinctive is that it has rounded back corners so it can tuck back into a corner and use the minimum amount of shelf space. It got great reviews on Amazon and as soon as I saw it I knew it was the one I wanted. The only problem with it was that it cost $150. You can pick up a cheap microwave for $50 or less at Walmart so that made it a lot more expensive than normal. I just wasn’t willing to spend that much money. You can buy it from Amazon here: Whirlpool Compact Microwave
So what happens on the first day of the RTR? I run into a friend who had bought that exact same microwave for all the reasons I listed but decided he didn’t use it enough to keep it. It was practically brand new (he had used it three times) and he wanted to sell it!
So a deal was quickly struck and now I am the owner of my dream microwave. It works exactly like it would if I were plugged into the wall at home and I am having no problem at all powering it off of my solar panels; even in January with its short days.
Why I wanted a microwave.
I must say I’m delighted to have it. In the long run it will save me a little money because I’m cooking with free solar power instead of propane, but cooking with propane is so cheap it will probably never pay for the PSW inverter and the microwave. A bigger advantage is that when it’s hot I don’t have to pump heat into the van with the propane stove.
But it will save me money in the long run if I use it instead of going out to eat fast food or at a restaurant. And I’ll be healthier!
Like many of you, I don’t enjoy cooking so I tend to eat a few things that are easy to prepare over and over again. I soon get sick of them and start craving something that’s tasty, fast and easy, that’s when I find myself at Burger King for a burger and fries because it tastes great and it’s so very fast and convenient! But with a microwave at home I can have great tasting food available instantly. It’s actually even faster and easier than Wendy’s because I don’t have to drive into town and stand in line to get it. I just open the fridge, throw it in the microwave, and a few minutes later it’s ready to eat.
Fortunately, there are now numerous frozen meals and other things that are reasonably priced, good tasting, easily microwavable and are also fairly healthy. That’s a win-win to me and if it can keep me out of MacDonald’s I come out way ahead in both my wallet and my health.
How Much Solar—Doing the Math
You’ve probably heard people say it’s impossible to run a microwave off of solar panels but that just isn’t true. With 400 watts of solar and 4 golf cart batteries you can use a microwave. Let me prove it to you.
First, let’s clear up a common mistake; many people confuse cooking power with the power draw of the microwave and think that since it has 700 watts of cooking power it only draws 700 watts from the inverter, but that’s not true. If you look at my photo of the electrical plate of my microwave, you can see that it clearly lists the two numbers as power input and power output. The input is 1200 watts drawn from the wall plug and output is the 700 watts put into your food. So its draw from the batteries is 1200 watts or 100 amps per hour. Actually, when you consider inverter inefficiency of 20% it’s more like 120 amps an hour.
That’s a lot of amps! Microwaves draw 120 amps an hour out of your battery and that is such a huge number you automatically assume it’s impossible to use. But what people fail to take into account is how little it’s being used. If it’s only on for few minutes a day, we need to find it’s amps per minute, not amps per hour.
120 amps per hour divided by 60 minutes means it only draws 2 amps a minute—which is a very small number! Because I usually only use it 5 minutes a day, and never use it more than 10 minutes a day, it only draws 10-20 amps off my batteries per day. Since I have 6 golf cart batteries I have a total of 700 ah and I can safely draw 350 per day, 20 amps for the microwave is such a drop in the bucket that I don’t even know it’s gone.
There is one more consideration though. When the power draw is that fast it can drop the voltage of the battery so low that the inverter will shut off automatically, that’s why you need at least 4 golf cart batteries and only two may not work. My microwave will work off just two golf carts, but my inverter starts doing a buzzing sound that I don’t like. So I have the two banks of golf cart batteries connected by an On-Off switch and connect them together when the microwave is on.
So if you’ve been wanting a microwave but thought it wasn’t possible, it is. Because most of us are on a tight budget, I recommend you try adding a piece of the system as you can afford it and then after a few years you’ll be in business.
- Step one, add a 200 watt solar kit and batteries. Currently $340 at Amazon: Renogy 200 watt Mono Kit
- Step Two, add a 2000 watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter. Currently $375 at Amazon: Xantrex PROWatt 2000 PSW Inverter
- Step three, add a second 200 watt solar kit and batteries. Because the batteries will be a different age than the other set they can’t tie together permanently or the newer set will be damaged. I connected mine with a 4/0 gauge wire and put an On-Off switch in it. They charge separately and are only together when the microwave is on.
- Step four, buy the microwave. Currently $150 at Amazon: Whirlpool Compact Microwave
Welcome to the modern age of vandwelling!