Solar Panels part 1

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This is 400 watts of solar panels on the rear shell.  Not all of the mounting screws are installed in this photo. The frame is designed to put all of the weight on the side walls rather than than the roof. This will be joined by 3 more panels on the front shell, which brings the system to the maximum 150 volts open-circuit voltage handled by my MPPT solar charger.  No, I don’t expect this to produce 700 watts! Rather, I expect 100 to 200 watts in partial shade, in the typical shaded campsite. The goal is to keep the batteries charged under the load of the electric refrigerator and all of the other typical RV loads. Or I could park this in full sun and run the ham radio at high power, without the generator.

 

Little bits

Besides all of the major customizations I’ve written about here, I’ve installed:

  • Husky 4500 pound Brute electric jack with wireless remote. Takes a lot of the work out of hooking up to the tow vehicle, installing the weight-distributing hitch, and unhooking. Once the tow vehicle is connected, I raise this to max, lifting both the rear of the tow vehicle and the trailer, and it makes it possible (not just easier) to install and remove the weight distributing hitch bars properly.
  • Blue Ox BXW0550 SWAYPRO Weight Distributing Hitch 550lb Tongue Weight for Standard Coupler with Clamp-On Latches. This is a driving safety device, it torques front of the vehicle downward via the hitch receiver, thus moving the center point of the trailer tongue weight between the two axles rather than behind the rear one. Trailmanors don’t get much sway anyway, and the Jeep came with an automatic leveling device, so this just makes the drive a bit easier and safer.
  • Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control. This couples the trailer brakes to the vehicle brake and is mandatory for towing a trailer. The Jeep came with a plug for this to attach to, so it was only necessary to mount it and plug in.
  • Two 6-volt GC2 batteries, case, locking frame. 12 volt 220 amp capacitiy, should keep the ‘fridge, fans, and electric part of the furnace running through the night without a problem.
  • New power converter. This is the electric panel and battery charger. The old one was known for its overvoltage and lack of regulation.
  • Progressive Industries EMS-HW30 power manager, detects shore power issues that could result in a shock hazard or equipment damage, and shuts down the power.
  • New RV stove grommets so that the stove grill won’t bounce off during towing.
  • Oxygenics shower head for the shower, it’s an aerating shower head that makes the shower use less water while remaining effective. At Bullard’s Bar we all took “navy showers” while the trailer wasn’t hooked up and we were hauling water in a 5 gallon can.  Around 3 gallons used per shower, and we all got squeaky clean.
  • Dream Lighting 12Volt LED Panel Light with Switch – 5″ White Shell Ceiling Downlight – Warm White Panel Downlight for Kitchen, Roof, Cabinet and Cabin. Replaces the bathroom florescent light and one kitchen light. Really bright and has a little blue LED so you can see the power switch at night. Powers up in the “off” position, which is right for an RV.
  • A 6 gallon sewage tote, to discharge the gray or black water into while not hooked up and haul it to a toilet. Works for campsites without RV hookups.
  • A 5 gallon fresh water jug, to haul fresh water at campsites that don’t have RV hookups.

A lot of little stuff too, like a sink mat, a water pressure regulator, sewer hoses and fittings, little rubber bumpers to replace ones that rotted.

Keyed-The-Same Locks

One hassle of an RV is that there are a lot of locks, and they aren’t keyed the same, so you end up with a jailkeeper-like keychain for your RV. I decided to get lots of locks all keyed the same. RV stores provide a keyed-the-same kit with a few locks, mostly a hitch-ball lock, one receiver lock, and a hitch-pin lock. I needed a lot more:

  • One ball lock.
  • One hitch-pin lock.
  • 2 receiver locks, one for the receiver and one for the load-equalizing hitch.
  • 3 weather-proof padlocks, for the battery box and the cable through the two gas canisters.
  • 4 small padlocks to go on the roof latches. Mostly to hold them closed in motion rather than to provide security, but you need one to keep unauthorized folks from opening the Trailmanor.

I wanted these to all be keyed the same. With that, the Trailmanor would use three keys in total: one for the door, one for the outside shower and outside storage, and one for all other locks.

The outside shower and outside storage use a cam-lock, and I was not able to get one that was keyed the same with everything else.  This cam-lock is problematical in that it uses the CH751 key which is identical across most RV brands! All of your RV park neighbors have a key to your storage doors.

If you want all of those locks keyed the same, the most locks fit the master K1 keyway. This is not a high-security keyway. It has only 4 pins. I would assume that anyone good at locksport could pick it quickly, but some weak Master locks can be opened with a few taps of a hammer!  See this video.

The weather proof locks I bought have ball bearings and hopefully are a bit harder to thump open. The locks on the roof latches are probably vulnerable to being opened with a few taps of a hammer, but they also have the thinner shanks and aluminum bodies appropriate for hanging on the roof latch.

But of course all of these locks are vulnerable to hacksaws and bolt cutters. A cordless drill with a fiber cutting disk can go through most anything, although it’s a bit noisy and makes sparks. I had a heavy-duty lock jam shut at a storage container, and the site mechanic cut its body in half with a blowtorch in minutes. And the material of the Trailmanor itself is not that sturdy. So, we’re trying for deterrence rather than the ultimate in security.

If you want really heavy-duty padlocks, look on this page at Security Snobs. Prices up to $1800 per padlock. At the same site they have excellent padlocks at acceptable prices, I use Abus discs with an unusual keyway at my storage container, because special equipment is necessary to pick it. The main problem at storage containers is the staff, although the place I use is pretty well managed and well-funded, and remarkably theft-free.

The two pages here at Heartland Locks will allow you to pick almost any lock you need, and Dave at Heartland locks is very helpful. You can reach him via email at sales at heartlandlock dot com . Dave did research into cam locks for me and got my keyed-the-same order out in a day.

Screening the Refrigerator Vents

The refrigerator vents are an entry point for rodents and mud-dauber wasps. Camco makes a mud-dauber screen for various sizes of refrigerator vent, but it’s not effective for rodents. One of my vent covers had some plastic gnawed out to enlarge the opening.

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Here is the Camco mud-dauber screen installed.

IMG_20160504_165738I can see that this might have worked for mud-dauber wasps, but my problem was mice and the Norway Rat, it appeared.

Rodents can get through very narrow openings because they don’t have collar bones. Anything their skull gets through, the rest will get through as well. I have used 1/4 inch mesh, if this fails I’ll have to get 1/8.

You will need gloves and  for this work. Cut steel screening material has sharp ends that will draw blood from your hands. Use a tin-snip (a scissors for sheet metal) to cut the screening.

Form the mesh to fit the inside of the refrigerator vent, and bind the corners together with steel wire. The screen came with several feet of wire.

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Screening with the corner wired so that it won’t come apart.

Shape the screening to tightly fit the protruding portion of the vent, or the vent won’t fit in it’s opening.

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Here’s a nicely-fit screen. The vent fits back in its opening without trouble.IMG_20160504_161800I’m going to end this project by using a hot-melt glue gun to seal the screen to the plastic on all edges.

 

Don't use "Canbus" LEDs in your RV!

RV owners replace their incandescent lights with LEDs so that they’ll get better battery life. LEDs produce the same amount of light while using less power.

“Canbus” LED lamps are built to deliberately waste power like incandescent lamps! Why? Some automobiles that were built to use incandescent lamps have a feature that detects when the lamp is blown out, and indicates it with a trouble light and error code. To do this, the vehicle computer senses the resistance of each lamp, or the current flow through the lamp when it’s lit, and indicates trouble if the current or resistance is not what is expected of an incandescent lamp. So “canbus” LED lamps have a resistor added, in parallel with the LED, to use enough power for the car computer to think there’s an incandescent lamp there instead of an LED.

The house lights in your RV don’t have a computer to detect blown-out lamps. If you put a “canbus” LED lamp in your RV, it will light up just fine, but it will use more power than it should.

In general, “canbus” LED lamps also cost more than lamps without the resistor. Cheap LED lamps are available on eBay for rock-bottom prices and generally work just fine. A “canbus” LED lamp can cost 10 times more!

What’s a “canbus”? Properly referred to as “CAN bus”, the Controller Area Network bus connects microprocessors in the vehicle. You might have met it if you’ve used the ODBII connector under your dashboard to plug in a trouble code reader. The lamps actually aren’t connected to the CAN bus in any way! It’s just that when some cars have LEDs installed and detect them as blown incandescent bulbs, the error code is reported via the CAN bus.

Smallest RV

IMG_20160213_141751This fellow is into making ham radio contacts on UHF and microwave bands. He probably is going for distance records. He’s built what is probably the smallest RV, with just enough room for him to sit and operate the radios, all of his antennas and azimuth-elevation rotators on top, and a ladder for the frequent adjustment and changes of antennas.

I took this photo at the Orlando Hamcation 2016.

Electrical Boxes

The Trailmanor had three electrical-outlet-like things on the side of the refrigerator cabinet on a level with the stereo and above the refrigerator. But none of them were mounted in electrical boxes, they were just screwed into the Masonite of the cabinet side. As I was making the refrigerator cabinet airtight from the inside of the RV (not from the outside where the cooling air for the condenser comes from) I decided to install electrical boxes.

The cabinet sides are made from Masonite, and could be cut with a knife. All of the openings were enlarged to fit the boxes. These boxes have tabs that hold them in the wall, which deploy when you turn the screws in the corners.

You can see the Winegard digital antenna meter on the right of the photo. That turns out not to fit in a regular electrical box. Oops. Having already enlarged the opening to fit the electrical box, I had to modify a data box (one with an open back) by cutting it in half and screwing both halves on the other side of the Masonite from the Winegard meter.

I replaced the center panel, which had a phone jack, with a 6-position data panel. That will have connections for audio, USB, phone, and Ethernet.

I replaced the electrical outlet with one that included both two AC sokcets and two USB charging connectors.IMG_20160315_141849IMG_20160409_142245

Bluetooth Stereo

The Trailmanor didn’t come with a stereo, although it came with speakers, and antenna, and the wiring harness for a stereo. I added a Bluetooth stereo.  We pulled the trailer to Santa Barbara for a week and used the Bluetooth extensively. My Nexus 6 with 110 GB  storage holds an offline copy of our entire music library, so no need for Internet. I listened to a SpaceX launch online while working on the trailer.IMG_20160315_141918I ran a separate low-current fused line bypassing my main battery switch to feed the yellow clock/memory-retention wire of the stereo, since channels and settings are stored in volatile memory and the clock . It doesn’t pull much current, and I keep the trailer on a battery maintainer.

This model is a Pioneer DEHX96000BHS. It has a CD slot behind the front panel, the panel swings down to reach it. There’s an HD radio tuner (some stations still offer HD Radio, although it hasn’t really caught on) and a place to connect a Sirius XM receiver. Besides playing media through Bluetooth, it works as a Bluetooth speakerphone. It has an interface to Pandora (which isn’t really necessary, the interface on your phone works fine) and a custom app called Mixtrax which learns about your music collection and then creates DJ-like segues (pronounced “segway”, it’s when a DJ cross-fades two records) when playing it.

It can pair with 3 Bluetooth devices, which was just enough for our three phones. The three of us all have phones, e-readers and/or tablets, and I brought a laptop, so there were at least 7 Bluetooth devices.

There’s an analog input. There are two USB inputs, and you can plug in a memory stick with your record collection, or it can control the play application on some phones (this may be iPhone-specific).

Replacing the Propane Refrigerator with an Electric Compressor One

Propane refrigerators are a pain. They don’t work very well at their best. They are smaller on the inside than compressor fridges that fit in the same space, due to a lot of space being taken up by the propane apparatus. They require that the RV be carefully leveled when stationary, or they can be damaged! Defective ones have often caused RV fires and there are recall notices on several models. They use lots of propane.

My 400+ Watts of solar panels could support a compressor fridge at less than 25% of the rated wattage (panels in real-life situations and without sun-tracking can be expected to produce 25% of rated power), and I wasn’t satisfied with the operation or the internal size of my propane ‘fridge, I replaced it with a Dometic CR-1110. This fits in the same space, with some slight enlargement of the cabinet opening. The CR-1110 is deeper than the propane ‘fridge but there’s room for it in the cabinet.

The CR-1110 comes with a nice metal bezel that won’t work with the Trailmanor cabinet. It’s easy to remove.

I wanted to deal with some other problems with the cabinet while I replaced the refrigerator. The vent panels were an entry point for rodents and mud daubers. Some of plastic around the openings of the vent panels had been gnawed away and the fiberglass insulation on top of the propane ‘fridge had mouse damage. The refrigerator cabinet coupled outside air to the inside of the trailer and leaked inside heat to the outdoors, as there was a big open air space under the refrigerator and the sides of the cabinet were made of thin masonite.

My new installation would seal the cabinet from the inside of the trailer, insulate part of the cabinet with foam sheets. The installation was both to keep the cabinet from leaking heat and to reduce the number of spaces that rodents could inhabit. The back of the refrigerator, where the motor and condenser are, are still in open air.

Foam sheets were cut to fit on the side and bottom of the refrigerator, to fill up all of the empty space around the ‘fridge and to keep air, warmth, and uninvited guests from passing through there. IMG_20160303_121248I glued the sheets to the sides of the cabinet with silicone, and cut a sheet so that the refrigerator feet would pass through it but it would seal air flow under the refrigerator. IMG_20160303_121450 (1)I just placed the refrigerator on top of that bottom sheet and slid the combination into the cabinet.

The refrigerator cabinet top, with the new insulation showing.
The refrigerator cabinet top, with the new insulation showing.
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The refrigerator, before molding was installed.

 

The cabinet opening around the refrigerator was sealed with silicone caulk, and then wooden molding was placed around the refrigerator opening to cover up the gaps around the ‘fridge.

The cabinet fan provides airflow when the refrigerator is used with the Trailmanor folded up, which obstructs the vent panels. There are two screened openings on the bottom of the cabinet, with a fan in one. The old fan was replaced with a 120mm computer fan, which pushes sufficient air and can’t be heard in the trailer. The duct on the fan was removed, I’m not sure it’s necessary and there isn’t room for the round duct any longer. A rectangular duct would work.

The CR-1110 works on both AC and 12-24VDC. We pulled the trailer to Santa Barbara for a week, and used the trailer with a hookup. It worked excellently. I’ve not finished the solar system yet, but will get to try it out boondocking when I do.