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Posts tagged ‘Upgrades’

12 Volt Twins

Having spent the month of May without full shore power, Kelly and I have been functioning exclusively via solar power.  For the most part, the lack of shore power has been largely a small nuisance, but during this time we’ve come to learn a lot about our power consumption habits and system constraints.

At purchase, our trailer was equipped with an inverter upgrade which allows us to use a subset of electrical outlets since they are powered directly by a pair of house batteries.  Largely, this solution of works well, but does have some gaps – mainly a lack of 12-volt sockets (similar to cigarette outlets, but with greater power capacity) which can be used to efficiently charge various electronics (phones, tablets, etc.) with less power consumption than traditional outlets.

Most annoying is the lack of 12-volt sockets in the bedroom – specifically near the bedside nightstands.  Always looking for a project, today I decided to add a socket to each of the bedroom nightstands.

My first order of business included a trip to NAPA auto parts and Ace Hardware for a few required supplies.

A variety of supplies needed for the project

A variety of supplies needed for the project

Once all parts were organized I began prepping the cable runs.  I wired-in a 15-amp fuse for each of the negative leads, and added heat shrink over each joint.

Positive cables prepped

Positive cables prepped

Initial wiring of the positive and negative cables was straightforward and didn’t take too much time.  When I completed this task, I began thinking about where to locate the sockets.

Kelly’s chief request with this project was that I locate the  sockets discretely, away from plain view.  Our 27′ FB floor-plan situates the bedroom close to the forward storage area … an easy location for tapping into power.  Once I finalized the socket location, I used a hole saw to bore an opening for each socket.  The first image below is taken from the garage (under) bed storage, while the second is taken from inside the trailer after I had completed seating the socket into place.

I repeated this process for Kelly’s side of the bed, then shifted my attention back to the wiring.

One of the holes awaiting the 12volt socket

One of the holes awaiting the 12-volt socket

The socket installed under the bed, next to the nightstand

The socket installed under the bed, next to the nightstand

With the sockets in place, I could then determine how much wire would be needed to reach the buss bars I’d be tapping into for power.  As seen in the picture below, I consolidated the positive and negative wires from my nightstand side of the bed into protective split loom before anchoring the bundle up and out-of-the-way.

Wiring from the far side nightstand

Wiring from the far side nightstand

Kelly’s nightstand is really close the DC (12-volt) electronics bay, negating the need for split loom.  This being the case, I finalized the wire lengths and attached everything remaining into place … doing my best to keep things “tidy” despite the mass of existing wires already in the area.

Then, using my trusty multimeter, I confirmed both sockets were fully powered “hot” at 12.5 volts and ready for use.

Kelly's socket entering the electronics bay.

Kelly’s socket entering the electronics bay.

A spaghetti mix of wires.

A spaghetti mix of wires.

Theoretically, my work was complete at this point – all that remained was to test both sockets.

Power!

Power!

While I forgot to snap a picture of the partition wall which protects the electronics from all the junk I keep in the “garage”, I reinstalled this divider, effectively concluding the project.  Satisfied with my accomplishments, I rewarded myself with a very satisfying beer.

All in, I’m out about $60 in parts, which I suspect will prove to be money well spent.

 

 

 

 

Be Gone Ugly Accordion Dividers

Life on the road isn’t always full of fun and splendor.  Case in point … a few days ago, one of the accordion privacy dividers in the trailer busted, resulting in it hanging limp and pathetic.  Coincidently, I hated the dividers as equipped by Airstream so I was happy to have an excuse to explore a different solution.

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The dragging divider on the floor

For the uninitiated, our coach is equipped with two dividers, each hanging from a ceiling track.  Chiefly, these curtains provide privacy as needed when we find ourselves frolicking about in the nude, but not wanting to display our nakedness in full glory to any passerby onlookers.

(And yes … technically we have window curtains, but the dividers are employed when curtains are not pulled closed)

My beef with the dividers is that they are ugly as shit.  I’m not being dramatic – they are not good-looking whatsoever.  Once the failure occurred, I needed apply only minor arm-twisting to convince Kelly that the only good solution would be to remove the dividers and replace with something better looking.  Henceforth, the search for replacement material commenced.

Once fabric was secured (a fancy looking shower curtain to be specific), we needed to find new track glides.  As fate would have it, Sun City West happens to be home to plenty of RV service and sales businesses, and without any delay we quickly collected the necessary track hardware.

The final step in the planning process was to determine a method of affixing the curtains to the track glides.  Up for the challenge, I went to JoAnn Fabrics (a first for me) and bought a couple of curtain rod slides which, with a little modification, I figured would work nicely.

Hardware purchased for the modification

Close-up of the new ceiling track slides

My plan was to deconstruct the aluminum thingamajig hangers and use one piece to connect into the plastic slide, the other to the curtain fabric.  The idea worked like a charm and I quickly had all the modified pieces completed.

The modified track glide

The newly constructed thingamajig

As purchased, the curtains had a slit which was fished through the open end of the metal hook above.  And with that, I had my solution ready to go.  Easy peasy.   From here, I unscrewed the entire ceiling track assembly and removed the accordion divider.  Once that was done, I threaded the thingamajig into the track and re-installed back to the ceiling.  Then, just like that – bam – I was back in business.

Two accordion dividers retired and replaced with a set that offer a bit less boring and more pop.  So, without any further adieu … I offer the first look at our new divider curtains.

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Solar Panel Installation Completed !!!

In my last post, I mentioned that I had made good progress on the solar installation, but had not yet completed everything.  Well, within this post I am happy to report that I finished the installation.

The first order business was to mount the various electronics which “talk” to the solar panels and the batteries.  Principally, these devices are responsible for determining how much of the power collected from the panels will be sent to the batteries.  Send too much and the batteries will be over-charged, resulting in damage.  Conversely, if there is not enough charge sent to the batteries, the system will not operate efficiently as it is designed.  This hardware, in coordinated fashion with fuses, switches, and other surge protecting devices, will ensure that the overall system reconciles these two scenarios, delivering what should be a harmonious and hassle-free supply of DC (direct current) power to the Airstream.

In order to connect the batteries to the charge controller (i.e. the “brain” of the system), I needed to run three sizable wires from the utility bay, forward into the existing exterior battery box.  Unfortunately, there was no extra room for me to utilize within the existing cable run for this additional wiring.  This being the case, I drilled a new hole through the utility bay floor to the exterior belly of the trailer and a second hole into the battery box.  Utilizing some silicon and a leftover piece of flexible PVC conduit to connect these two holes, I quickly fabricated a weatherproof pathway for the wires (see image below).

New (gray color) flexible PVC conduit routed into the battery box

New (gray color) flexible PVC conduit routed into the battery box

Flex PVC conduit enters the utility bay from the bottom exterior

Flex PVC conduit — with lots of silicone sealant — enters the utility bay from the bottom exterior

Once all the wires were situated, I moved onto the final significant phase of the project – prepping all the wires to be connected.  This process, while very straightforward, took a lot of time … longer than I would have expected, largely because each wire was cut to size, terminated with lugs and heat-shrink insulated, before finally secured into place.  Unlike the employees on the Airstream assembly line, I tried to orient the wires in a neat and orderly manner, which took some time to complete.  Looking at the finished project, I do not regret taking this part slowly and methodically.

Electronics as installed by Airstream

Electronics as installed by Airstream

Wires installed, labeled, and ready for action

Wires installed by me, labeled, and ready for action

Protective partitian reinstalled

Protective partition reinstalled

When it was time to fire-up the system, everything was working fine, less the 12-volt DC system.  This issue had me very perplexed, so much so that I spent a few hours troubleshooting the situation to no avail.  Frustrated and sputtering curse words as if I were a curmudgeonly  sailor, this proved to be one of the low points of the entire project.  I finally accepted defeat and secured a service appointment with a local Airstream dealer in hopes they might identify the problem.

As luck would have, I was thrown a bone today (Tuesday), and was able to quickly solve my problem.  Standing in front of the Airstream after work, I noticed my mistake and I’m embarrassed at what a silly error it was.

Imagine moving a lamp from one room to another, only to wonder why the light will not illuminate.  In your attempt to troubleshoot why the lamp isn’t working you spend hours attempting to solve the issue.  During this time, you change bulb, test and re-test wires for shorts, pour over manuals and scour the internet for added insights … essentially doing everything you can to resolve the problem.  Everything.  Yet despite these attempts, the damn lamp will not illuminate.

Convinced there must be a wiring short someplace deep in the walls of you home, you reluctantly and with a heavy head schedule an  electrician to come inspect your home wiring.  Then, two days later you notice that throughout all of this, the lamp is not plugged into the electric wall outlet.

That’s more or less what I did.

Three consecutive weekends I spent on the project, only to forget a task so basic and simple.  I can be an idiot.

Anyway …

All in all, the process is completed and I can reflect back on what was a super cool and (mostly) fun DIY project.  Also cool is that I managed to learn a fair bit about the onboard electrical systems while saving an estimated $1,200 doing the work myself.  Not too shabby at all.

Remote monitor panel displaying battery usage details

Remote monitor panel displaying battery usage details

Now, as I type this, all systems are working properly and the next time we find ourselves dry-camping (Labor Day weekend), the generator can stay buried in the truck while each of the four 100 watt solar panels atop the roof bask themselves under the warm rays above.  All the while, quietly and without any additional efforts on my part, our batteries will be recharging.   So long as there is a sun above, we have an endless supply of energy to power our rig.

And that my friends, is bad-ass awesome.

Solar Panel Installation (Part 2)

Coming off the heels of last week’s solar panel activity, I was feeling pretty good about my remaining to-do list.  My plan was to haul the Airstream to Santa Cruz early Saturday morning, set-up shop at my buddy Tim’s place and together, he and I would finalize the installation.  Surely we would be clinking beers by Sunday afternoon admiring our accomplishments.

That was the idea anyway.

Around lunchtime Sunday it was abundantly clear that the clinking of beers was not happening as we’d planned, but we remained cautiously optimistic that we’d be complete by dinnertime.

Yeah, that didn’t happen either.

While we did make good progress over the weekend, we found ourselves – both rookies in this world of solar panel installation, slowly prodding along.  Nearly every decision was made only after some amount of extended collaboration.  This approach proved to be a good one, but not particularly expedient.  Further, there were multiple visits to the hardware store.  And finally, I/we under-estimated the time needed to complete certain tasks such as running wires, measuring/fabricating cables, and completing other miscellaneous tasks … those which are simple, but important and painstakingly time-consuming.

Then, before we knew it … POOF … the day’s afternoon was turning to evening.  We had to accept the cruel reality that the installation would not be completed this weekend.

Looking at our watches in a state of panic, we immediately shifted gears – focusing our attention to only those tasks which should be completed before departing Santa Cruz.  More specifically, the plan was to complete anything I could not do by myself next weekend at my home base here in HMB.  In the end, Tim graciously allowed my to borrow some of his hand tools which will prove useful as I finish things solo.

So, if we didn’t finish, what exactly did we accomplish?  A lot actually.  Allow me to explain…

Our first order of business was to route the primary 6/2 wire coming from the roof through refrigerator vent and then to the utility cabinet under the wardrobe, across the hallway into the pantry, and finally into to the bathroom.  Did you get all of that?

Fortunately, Airstream has dedicated a subfloor chase which simplifies this task somewhat, but the process remains a nice sized pain in the ass.  To illustrate my point, within the following pictures, follow the Orange and Black 6/2 cable as it routes from the utility access to the bathroom.

6/2 wire from the from the combiner box into the chase

6/2 wire descending from the combiner box into the subfloor chase beneath the wardrobe

6/2 wire emerges from the chase

6/2 wire emerges from the chase behind the primary power center below the pantry

6/2 wire, RJ11, and 18/2 fished to the bathroom

6/2 wire, (later joined with RJ11 and 18/2 wire) routed through a wall and into the bathroom

The “brain” of our solar solution is the charge controller – an otherwise nondescript, boring looking box of circuitry which will be mounted under the bed near the batteries.  This charge controller captures a lot of useful data which will allow Kelly and me to accurately know what is happening with our batteries in real-time.  Among other things, by way of a realtime remote display panel, we’ll be able to view how much power we are consuming at any moment, how much battery power (i.e. amp hours) remains, how quickly our batteries are recharging,  and how much power we are collecting from the panels.

The question then became where to mount this display panel so that it remains easy to see/access without introducing unsightly aesthetics.  Airstream simplifies the answer to this question as there is dead space in one of the overhead cabinets which makes for an ideal mounting location.  Factor in that this dead space is affixed to the pantry and affords an easy cable run to the primary 6/2 wire, this location is practically begging to be used as a mounting surface.

And that is exactly what I did.

Pantry cabinets removed in order to run wires down to join the primary 6/2 wire

Pantry cabinets removed in order to fish a pair of control panel wires downward to be joined with primary 6/2 wire

Accessing the backside of the mount surface

Accessing the backside of the mount surface

Tim preps the 18/2 wire which powers the remote panel.  Note the square hole for the panel

Tim preps the 18/2 and RJ11 wire which powers the remote panel.  Note the square hole for the panel

The mounted remote panel

The mounted remote panel

All wires in the bathroom, awaiting next steps

All wires in the bathroom, awaiting next steps

Once I had all the wires together in the bathroom, the next task was to get them outside.

I knew from reading other blog posts that behind the water tank pictured above, lies a nice spot to drill through the subfloor.  Coupled with a separate hole cut from the exterior, the wires can be exited from the bathroom through to the exterior.  Such a task is easier said than done as the space is very cramped and maneuvering my hands and the drill into position proved to be hard – too hard.

Finally, after a lot of swearing and only after incurring a few scrapes to my knuckles, the hole was cut.

Through the floor

Through the floor (no I didn’t vacuum the wood shavings

Of course before I could insert the wires, Tim and I had to cut a hole into the underbelly of the rig.  Together the two holes would provide easy passage to the outside.  Following a fair bit of estimate measuring, we finally settled on a location and I cut an access hole.

A bit of nervous laughter before cutting the hole.

A bit of nervous horseplay before cutting the hole.

Then I had to be serious again

Getting serious about the task at hand

Before routing the wires through, I decided to insert a piece of flexible PVC through the hole to act as a protectant against future rub/wear damage to the wires.

Wires routed through the floor

Wires routed through the floor

Obviously, being the underside of the coach, protection from weather is important.  To solve for this, I opted to route all the wires through weatherproof flexible PVC, which was then clamped and screwed to the chassis frame rails.

Wires exiting the coach

The wire bundle exiting the coach

You can see in the picture below how once finished and in place, all the wires are completely protected from the elements and safely secured to the frame chassis.

Wires fully protected from the elements

Wires fully protected from the elements

The floorplan of our Airstream utilizes about a third of the space under the bed as storage, accessed from the outside.  Within this space, a sub-portion is further dedicated as an electrical control panel.  I chose to run the flex PVC into this bay.

What you are looking at below is:  fuse for inverter (top left), the black box below the fuse is the bus for brake lights, running lights, electric brakes, etc,.  Just beneath the wood board in the middle of the picture is the main power relay, and beneath it another positive and negative battery bus.  Finally, the big box on the right is the (600 watt) inverter which converts DC battery power into household AC electric power.  A small partition wall (which I’ve removed) separates this utility area from the main front storage area.

The forward garage/utility area

The forward garage/utility area

Looking at the picture above, it seems clear to me Airstream doesn’t give a damn about securing these components in a clean and orderly fashion.  Sadly, another example of sloppy craftsmanship I sometimes find throughout the coach.  Yes, everything works fine as it should, but for as much as an Airstream costs, details like these could and should be executed far better than they are.

But I digress…

For my installation I will need to fit a variety of items into this space.  Accordingly, far too much time was spent rearranging the placement of items and cutting back unnecessarily long and sloppy factory cable runs.  Once I had things a bit better situated, I proceeded to cut a hole into the floor for the cables to re-enter the trailer through the bay .

Awaiting wires from the bathroom

Awaiting wires from the bathroom

Wire bundle in and awaiting permanent tightening.

Wire bundle in and awaiting permanent tightening.

And that is also about when we starting running out of time.

I figure that I have about half a day remaining, which means in reality, probably one more full day.  I continue to remind myself that doing this work myself is good.  I saved a lot of money (I estimate about $1,200) and learned everything about my particular installation, the latter of which may likely serve me well sometime in the future if/when repairs are needed or if we decide to pursue a system expansion.

In the meantime, I remain committed to completing this project with a smile.

Lastly, I cannot express enough how grateful and thankful I am that Tim and his wife Katie allowed Kelly and me to squat in their front yard all weekend.  I would have been in big trouble without Tim’s knowledge, assistance, and awesome cache of tools.  Thanks again Tim and Katie!

Fingers crossed that phase 3 is the final chapter of this project.