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Friday, February 24, 2012

And The Lord Said..."Let There Be Low Power Light"

L.E.D. lighting is a hot thing for RV's right now. Well, it's a hot thing everywhere really. L.E.D. stands for "Light Emitting Diode" a kind of solid state light source. They generate much less heat than a convention hot filament bulb and use far less current to do it. The perfect thing for RV use.

There are multitudes of regular, old fashioned 12V bulbs in use in any given RV. Wedge bases, Pin bases, Screw in bases, Festoon bases, Bayonet bases...the list goes on and on. There's also the old power consumption champion, the fluorescent bulb. Every one of them can be replaced with a L.E.D. version.

That's where the choices begin, cool white, warm white, day light. Direct bulb replacement or flat plate, stick on style. Lumens, output, power, etc.

    For me, I like the Warm White versions. Their color temperature is between 2700 and 3400 Kelvin. The lower the number the more "orange" in color the light is. The average regular bulb is around 3200K. While they put out slightly less light than the Cool White or Bright White versions I find it's more pleasing to look at. Especially when replacing regular bulbs or halogens. If you want a "bluer" light, more like daylight, then by all means go that way. Many people feel that it's a better task light. I agree it is better to work (and perhaps read) with a daylight (5600-6300k) bulb.

It is much easier now to find an L.E.D. bulb that has the same light output, measured in Lumens, than the original bulb.

Any way you look at it L.E.D. bubs will significantly reduce your power consumption over incandescent versions. They also generate a lot less heat for a given amount of light.

After replacing most of my incandescent bulbs with L.E.D. versions I started to look at my fluorescent fixtures.

ThinLite 732 Fluorescent
Most of these have 2 bulbs per fixture and are of the T5 size. They do vary in length usually from 12 to 21 inches. On the ceiling of my RV are two 14" twin bulb fixtures. They use 1.4 Amps each.
2.8 Amps is a lot of power when the other fixtures with LED's draw less than 1/10 the power! Yes, the fluorescents put out a lot of light (400 Lumens per fixture) but I found a way to have my cake and eat it too!

Waterproof 5050 SMD strips
Enter L.E.D. strips. 5050 SMD L.E.D.s mounted on a flexible strip (waterproof or not).

You can cut and trim these to fit in your fixtures or other locations. They put out A LOT of light: They  have self adhesive peel and stick backing.

I'm still coming up with creative places to install these. It's going to be hard to NOT turn my RV into an old style disco!

I decided to add these strips to my existing fixtures AND leave the fluorescent bulbs in place. I'll add a same-type rocker switch to the other side of the fixture so I can choose which one (or both) to activate.

Cost. Most L.E.D. bulbs do cost more than the existing old style bulb. However, they do last much longer and the benefits in power saving are large. If you are hooked up to shore power that may not be as critical to you as say, the folks that prefer boondocking. For example, the 5 meter (15 ft) roll of 5050 SMD L.E.D.s that I received cost around $28. I used about 10 feet to supplement all my fluorescents. Pretty much on par with the cost of the fluorescent bulbs. Another example, the BA-15R bayonet base led bulb was around 29 dollars, much higher than a regular 1141 bulb if I wanted to match the light output of the existing bulb. MUCH less expensive if I went with a slightly lower output.

Be Seeing You....Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Friday, February 17, 2012

Look Ma No Shades! The Power Of LCD - Part 1

Adhesive Smart Film Being Applied
New technology that's cool is a wonderful thing. I've located a company that is letting me develop a new product with them. If any of you have been in a high end office in the last couple of years you may have come across LCD glass. This stuff allows you to control its opacity with a dial(!) Just like pulling down a shade to dim your RV, except NO SHADES! The "coolness" factor alone make me want them!

Milk White LCD Glass Installed (Left is Opaque, Right is Clear)
As usual, TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). This is going to require some power to operate. When no juice is applied the system is opaque. To keep it clear (or someplace  in betweeen) you have to apply power to it. Right now it's based on 110v. You need 7 Watts per Square Meter. Now, after speaking with a product engineer at the company, I have found out that it actually requires 60-65V to activate.

For example, if you have a 92" x 40" window (This is their test size) you will need  .13amps (about 7.8W) at 60V to make it completely clear. If you convert 60V to 12V the power needed at 12 Volts is .65 amps. Not so bad. Add up all your windows and take an educated guess. Figure around 5-10 amps total for the average sized coach. That is assuming you have all of them completely clear all the time. More likely 2.5-5 amps during the day and essentially nothing at night. Hey, most folks want privacy at night! A small solar charging system would support this easily and when on the move, your alternator can feed the requirement without a problem.
Aero Cruiser Kitchen Window

It is available in four colors, Milk White, Light Gray, Dark Grey and Light Blue. I'm going to try out the Dark Gray version. It block 98 percent+ of harmful UV rays and is a 40% solar reducer.

I apologize for the window photos, it's not very picturesque with the winter cover on! The sun is coming in the North East...soon.

12 V Dimmer (Example)
Remote 12 V Dimmer (Example)
The power supply/dimmer assembly can be one piece or separate. There are small tabs on the adhesive sheets to connect the positive and negative wires. You can have each window separate or all of them on the same dimmer. You can even have it remotely wired.

The panels can be daisy chained so you need only one dimmer, but you give up the flexibility of multiple dimmers. I'm going to have one for every window, but NOT each "side" of my windows.

Aero Cruiser Middle Size Window
Now for a few issues. What happens if there is a failure and your driving down the road? Good question. Everything goes opaque! I would recommend that you only cover windows you don't need to drive. The DOT won't let you tint the windshield so at least you can see out the front! Many states have limits on driver side (and sometimes passenger side) tint levels so that should be OK. It's your choice weather to put this on your rear window (if you have one.) I haven't decided if I am going to or not.

Overall I like this concept. I can get rid of my rattling metal blinds and maybe even the drapes. I doesn't extend inward from the window at all (3mm or less) so it should make the RV more "airy." The current pricing for this technology is around $85.00 per square foot retail. There are likely some OEM manufacturers that will begin offering this as an option and the aftermarket products are on the way. If you measure all your windows and then figure out the square footage (Length x Width = Square Footage) you can estimate the overall cost. Likely prices will come down as the aftermarket begins to release complete kits.

We'll see. Stay tuned.

Be Seeing You....Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) Reports [No Cover Page Needed!]

Kind of puts some fear into you!
We all wonder about safety. I only have 4 tires on my RV, so when I'm on the highway driving at a "high" rate of speed, fully loaded, I wonder if the tires are going to blow, or burst, or decide they'd like to take off into the sunset on their own.

I've been wanting to explore Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) because I believe they are a good idea. Most cars today come standard with some way to monitor usual I wanted a bit more. In my mind, tire pressure is important to prevent problems, but recognizing a problem before something catastrophic happens is critical. Monitoring temperature can really save your nether regions. If one tire temperature rises dramatically in relation to another one on the RV, than it's likely there is a problem and you should stop and investigate.

Only a few systems available today can monitor both pressure and temperature.

Typical Internal Sensor
There are internally installed sensors (usually a metal band holding the sensor to the outside diameter of the wheel, within the tire) or ones that replace your valve cap and hang out on the valve stem. I like the internal ones, but if something goes awry you are going to have to dismount your tire to get to the sensor. Hardly ideal when you're miles from anywhere! The external valve stem types can have replaceable batteries and many of them lock on so they don't vanish at a convenient truck stop dark corner. Being a tinkerer I prefer the ability to work on my own stuff, so I'd opt for the external, lockable, replaceable battery type.
Typical Internal Sensor

These systems are wireless, they use a radio signal to get info to the base unit that you can either power by batteries (not ideal!) a 12V socket or hard wired into your system. Then you have to find/have a place to mount them. They vary in size from tiny to 7" plus wide behemoths and are various shapes.

Typical LCD TPMS Display
They display the tires pressures and temperatures. You can have up MANY sensors running on MANY tires simultaneously. That's great if you're towing or have a rig that's more a millipede on wheels than motorhome.

I spoke with the president of a well know manufacturer. He agreed that tire safety was a serious issue for heavily loaded vehicles such as RVs. I did get the feeling his core business wasn't RVs. We both agree that temperature is a much better indicator of something about to fail. He believes that most folks in older vehicles are riding on outdated tires that have the potential to be very bad for you indeed! I'll admit my tires are more than three years old (more likely six!) I'm a prime candidate for a catastrophic failure.

Since no one offered to send me a test unit and I only received a response from a single manufacturer, I will not be able to review the systems individually.

Rest assured, I WILL be buying one of these systems as soon as I can get real comparison data. I have some likely candidates and will report back when I settle on one. I know, that's a butt weasel, fence post sitting thing to say, but I will ONLY recommend things I personally rely on for my own safety and well being. Okay, maybe entertainment and joy is included there too....

Be Seeing You....Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cozy nights by the fire. . . in an RV? Part One

I've been reading a lot of forum postings and articles about stand-a-lone electric heating for your RV. I've seen plain old electric heaters that work similar to toasters with a red hot element. I've seen ceramic heaters that use a ceramic brick to heat. I've seen infrared heaters. All very useful, though not necessarily nice to look at. But now available are some small electric fireplaces that heat well AND add some ambiance.

Dimplex Mini-Cube
Some of these have multiple settings for heat, but they can use a lot of power, so not good for running on the inverter!! The one shown here draws 1,370 watts of power and puts out around 5000 BTUs, but not for very long if you are running with an inverter. The heat off/flame only setting can be run easily on an inverter and looks pretty cool -- just right for a bit of romantic ambiance. I am expecting one of these for testing in the next couple of weeks and will review it here.

The only issue that I see is that it only comes in bright red, not exactly a decor matching shade. I suggested to the marketing folks that they'd likely sell more to RVers if they'd offer a more neutral shade. White? Black? So far they have no plans to produce any other color. We'll see. I'll wager if the demand is there they will fill it. The price point is around $100, a bit steep for a basic heater, but not bad for something more decorative than you run-of-the-mill space heater.

        Comfort Zone Mini CZFP1

A similar unit is marketed by various vendors, and is about the same size, a bit taller and narrower. It maxes out at 1,200 watts but has a lower setting and a fireplace display only setting as well. It retails for around $60 and appears to be cheaply built. Oddly enough, it's also only available in red. Why? I had hoped to have both of them in hand by now to do a side by side comparison, but the manufacturers are slow to respond.

DuraFlame DFSS550BK
A more "Traditional" style.
I like the idea of being on shore power (or the generator) and having a cozy fireplace that gives off the same amount of heat as an inexpensive super center heater -- something that looks like a fireplace in a size even I can live with. When stored on the tiny lower shelf of my main closet it takes up no more room than a regular 1,200 to 1,500 watt heater. Since they both put out about 5,000 BTUs, they do not product a lot of heat. Still, they should keep a 120 square foot space warm. As soon as I can, I will test these. It's in the 30s here in New York right now, so a good time.

And remember, make sure that your 120-volt outlets and electrical wiring are up to the task. Heaters are notorious for blowing circuit breakers and fuses. Don't try to run more than one heater on a circuit at a time. That is bad!

I have the perfect spot for this type of fireplace heater in front of the dash on the engine cover. We'll see how it all works out. A little champagne and strawberries, a bit of romantic music. . .

Be seeing you. . . down the road.

Rich "The Wanderman"