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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Tidings - With Cool RV Gifts!

Looks Sad And Cold...
    As I begin to write this, it's Christmas eve. Some family will be arriving in a few hours and I've got a ham in the oven. W'ell be having some sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts on the side. I've got my homemade (from scratch, even!) sugar cookie dough chilling in the refrigerator with the egg nog. The weather folks are predicting a light snow. Shaping up to be a post card Christmas. But, to be honest, I went down to check on the RV this morning. Had a bit of a daydream while inside. Wouldn't it be neat to have Christmas IN the RV. Of course there would be less room and cooking would be a bit more difficult due to space, but I'll wager it would be fun!

Christmas Presents By The Fireplace
Meanwhile, back at the house, in front of the fireplace near the tiny tree are a bunch of wrapped gifts. I know what's in the ones I wrapped (and yes, I am absolutely terrible at wrapping!) but have no idea what's in the others. Everyone knows I'm an RV fan. A big one. So There's a good chance I'll have some nifty new items to use next season. When I come back to finish this article, I'll have finished off the dinner (and had lots of leftovers!) distributed and unwrapped all the gifts. I'll let you know what arrived with Santa this year. Who says it's only children who are excited on Christmas eve???

Big Steel Frying Pan
Wow! Santa (and my friends and family!!) really went all out this year. Great stuff, weird stuff, useful stuff and more. Lots for the RV! There's this 21 LED camp lantern. Runs on 3 "D" batteries or an AC adapter. Not really sure why you'd want to run on AC in the RV, but I could if I wanted to. Man is it bright! I'll probably use it to wander from place to place seeking out an honest man. (Yes, that was an ancient Grecian Diogenes reference...I'm a bit of a geek, so sue me!) Next up I finally got steel, non-stick frying pans (3 Sizes! That work GREAT with my induction cooktop. I had one that worked OK, but not great and already had all the regular pots including a big one for pasta. I can't wait to try them out this RV season!

Silicone Multipurpose, Peeler, Garnish Maker and Baconator
Also, some nifty new multipurpose gadgets. A multipurpose silicone trivet/pot holder/lid gripper that has a really cool hexagonal pattern AND matches my interior color. Then there's the peeler. This one slips over a finger and peels with more control. Maybe? I'll have to try this one out and get back to you. There's the flower shaped garnish maker. They say you can cut sandwiches too, but that would make for a VERY small sandwich. Again, we'll find out after I use it. Last is the baconator. I call it that since I've used it to make bacon for YEARS at home in the microwave. It channels all the grease away and makes for perfect bacon every time. A must have if you're a bacon fan. MMMM, fresh roadside produce tomatoes and lettuce on white toast with mayo and unmelted cheddar. Maybe even a few slices of Avocado. Now THAT"S an RV lunch!

You know, it's not all about the STUFF on Christmas, it's the whole "Peace On Earth" mentality it fosters. It sure would be nice if everyone could get along AFTER the holidays are over. After all, we live on the same ball of rock, speeding on its' journey around and around the sun. We should share nicely. How's that for a seasonal wish? Maybe it's the RV traveling? I meet so many kind and interesting folks out there on the road. Very few are disagreeable. I wonder just how to get that concept to spread.

Anyway, the New Year is almost upon us. Just a few months away from RV friendly weather. better get busy! Lots of projects to get done before that glorious day is upon me. I just can't wait till RV season finally arrives.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Even The Simple Things - Micro Storage Boxes

Above The Couch
    Eureka! Wow, that feels good to say. I get to do it so rarely. OK, to be really honest, this wasn't THAT big of a deal, but it solved a problem I've had for a while. I have very little storage on-board my RV. What I have has to be packed, "Tetris-style," to maximize what I can carry in such a small volume. A couple of years ago I started using plastic, locking top boxes. They can be bought in a variety of sizes, have see-through sides and stack perfectly in my (an possibly yours) storage bays and cabinets. The problem was, small items ended up at the bottom of each bin, making you dig or unload an entire box to get to them. That's where micro storage comes in handy.

What are we talking about here? What's so small that it can get lost at the bottom of a plastic storage bin and be a P.I.T.A. to get to? My main one was hardware. You know, screws, nuts, bolts and washers. While I do have most of the new ones in kits, lots of extras I save ended up rattling around at the bottom of a drawer or in one of my storage bins. How about fuses? Coins? Bits of String? Really anything that will fit and is a nuisance at the bottom of a larger container is fair game.

Enter micro boxes. A long time ago my Grandfather used old baby food glass jars to store small items. It's a great idea, but I didn't like the idea of having glass containers bashing together while underway. These micro boxes are plastic, and the lids snap on securely. I bought a 10 pack of them for under $2.00 at a discount store. ($1.99 to be exact) Brilliant! I can fit over a dozen of these in each plastic bin AND still be able to put the lid on securely. Not that I NEED that many, but it's nice to know what's possible. I was pondering using them for food storage as well. Spices, sprinkles, cloves, etc. If it fits, it should work well. I haven't tested their water-tightness yet, so liquids will have to wait.

These come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Some with lids in different colors. You could color code your odds & ends! I'm losing it. Cabin fever, perhaps?

Looks Better Now!
This new storage medium got me thinking about ease of access to the stuff I already carry. So much of it is "one of these and another of those" kind of things, and it can get really difficult to find any particular item. A while back, someone suggested labeling the individual boxes on the outside with exact contacts. That WOULD work, but what a HUGE amount of work to keep it up to date. I do have specific boxes for things like, ELECTRICAL, MECHANICAL, ENTERTAINMENT, BULBS, and the like, but that's just a guideline. Over time they end up somewhat mixed despite my best efforts. I could use a spreadsheet style application and number the boxes, but really is that what I want to spend my leisure time on? Naaaahhhh!

I'll keep looking into it. There HAS to be a better way. I've got all winter to come up with a new solution. Or at least a different one. Of course, I could just stick with what I have and sort through them based on my "Swiss cheese" like memory. Ah well... I've got the whole winter to puzzle it out.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winter Blues - What to Do? Plan!

What Happened To "Global Warming?"
    Here we are again. After talking about Solar power for the last few weeks, it really didn't sink in that winter is here in the Northeast. I'm watching a snowstorm blow through while I write this. Of course, I didn't put my cover on the RV yet. I was too busy tinkering and testing the new solar panels. When I was in the rig yesterday, I noticed a small line of de-lamination on the wall next to my vanity mirror, below the light fixture. I had a small leak at one time that traveled down the curvature of the roof and ended up at the wall. I thought it was already fixed. Must be the cold shrinking the materials and the crack is back. Why do I bring this up now? Simple, it's a good time to plan your repairs and mods for the next season while you are forced to sit around and NOT go someplace in your RV!

Solar Thermal Roll (For HOT Water)
"Idle hands are the devil's hand-maidens." Umm, OK. That may be true, but I get antsy without some projects to keep me going until it warms up and I can get back on the road. What's planned so far? Well, I have the solar thermal hot water heater project that one should be fun AND useful. After that I've always wanted to replace the decals and refresh the paint on the lower 1/3 of my rig. I was looking at changing the curtains inside to gray? I am definitely going to re-visit the Lithium Phosphate battery question. I truly believe that it's the future for RV house batteries. Well, either that or some other new battery chemistry. I'm going to take a closer look at generating electricity from waste heat from the furnace, if it works well, it would be a great economizer, especially since you could extend your cold weather boondocking.

Typical RV Covers
Christmas is coming up! I have to get my list to Santa (and my friends and family!) out soon, I've been wanting a new cover for the RV. (Yes, I am well aware I forgot to put the old one on!) I've been eyeing a couple of welders so I can fabricate some heavier duty brackets and maybe a new battery drawer assembly and make other repairs as they come up. Oh, and an in motion satellite dome. OK that last one isn't all that useful, since I mostly travel alone. Watching TV while driving is  BAD! But they are much better protected than my current crank up dish and far more streamlined. Of course, They are higher than the folded dish, so I'd have to re-examine solar panel shading. You see, it's easy to get excited about projects you haven't even started! The imagination is a powerful tool, my friends.

An "Off The Beaten Path" Aviation Museum Find
Trip planning, is also a great way to pass the winter slow times. I try and seek out new places to explore, maybe even boldly going where I haven't been. Sorry, bit of a geek moment there. The internet is a great place to ferret out new and interesting destinations. I've found some really good ones over the last few years.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's always seem to be hectic without getting much done.  I have a great time (mostly) but feel a bit like I am shirking my responsibilities. Maybe I'm just replacing one set of responsibilities with another, but you get the idea!

Much as I prefer warmer, nicer weather, the snow does look beautiful. Especially on Christmas eve and day. While I may not dream of a white Christmas, it's sure nice when it happens!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Solar - Better Than The Old Solar - PART 6

New Panel!!
    This is it! The last article in a 6 Part series on my renovation of my Solar Charging System. We've covered why the old solar panels failed, why the new ones are lighter, stronger, faster (OK, not faster, but more efficient and generate additional power) and how you can get the system for your very own.

What's left?

Well, I have been receiving lots of mail from folks that are asking the same few questions. I'm going to try and answer them now.

1. Are these new style semi-flexible panels the same as the old, out of business, UNISOLAR rollable type?

NO! Those were amorphous laminated silicon at 6.3% efficiency, the power generating modules inside the panels I am using are exactly like the ones inside regular, glass sandwiched, aluminum framed types. The modules we are using are 17.85% efficent, much better than the 14.6% I was getting from the old China sourced ones. The Unisolar panels were very low efficiency per square foot and you need a panel 216" (~18 FEET!) in length to make 144 watts!

My Installed Energy Monitor
2. How do I figure out if your system would work for me?

The first thing anyone should do before deciding on any solar charging system is try to estimate (as close as you are able) the amount of energy you will consume in an average day. There are a few calculators online and spreadsheets that will help, but it's pretty simple. After that, take a look at Energy Monitors. It's nice to be able to know, at a glance, where you are Power-wise.

Old Incandescent LEFT, New L.E.D. RIGHT
3. How do I figure out how much power I will use?

Easy (mostly.) Take a look at everything you use. I started with my lights. When I first began, I had lots of incandescent lighting in my rig. These are just standard bulbs, where the filament is heated to produce light. VERY power hungry. Each one used 2+ AMPS of power every hour. Yikes! Now I use LED bulbs, each one uses about 1/10th of an AMP every hour. Essentially dropping my consumption by a factor of ten. Since I had about 20 bulbs around my RV, that was a whopping 40 Amps every hour. Since I only have 100 amps to play with, it got eaten up very quickly. Next, look at your TV and entertainment use. Most folks these days are using 120V AC TV's and DVD, Satellite, Media players, etc.

My Solar Charge Controller (Left) And Inverter (Right)
***If you want to run these from your DC power system, you'll need an Inverter. This just takes your 12V DC battery power and "inverts" it into 120V AC power so you can use your AC devices. The conversion costs extra power, figure you should add about 15% extra amps for AC devices (T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L.*). If you use 3 Amps at 120V you will use around 30 amps at 12V PLUS an extra 15% overhead from the conversion. Also remember that inverters can draw VERY high amounts of current (Amps) from the battery in a short time.***

After entertainment draws, take a look at your parasitic use. Parasitic use is things you can't really turn off. Like your CO/LP detector(s), your Fridge 12V control panel and anything else that stay on no matter what switch you flip!

Typical RV Style Propane Heater
Next is figuring out how much you'll need for varying temperature. For example, if it's cold at night and you want to run your heater that's a pretty large draw from your 12V batteries. I use around 7.5 Amps every hour it runs. Depending on how you set your thermostat, it may run almost all the time, or on and off each hour. You need to know how often it runs each hour and do the math accordingly. For example, at a setting of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, my furnace fan runs about 15 minutes every hour, so for each full hour of run time I use around 7.5 amps. In this case 4 hours of actual time equals 1 hour of furnace run time. Figure 8 hours for an overnight and you get 2x7.5 amps = 15Amp/hours out of your batteries.

***Remember, as soon as sunlight begins to stream onto the panels, you will be generating SOME power, more as it gets lighter. So, that will reduce the amount of power you are drawing from the batteries in the AM or even as it is getting into twilight in the evening.***

My Inverter Control (Top) Solar Charge Controller Remote (Bottom)
I KNOW this all sounds complicated, but it doesn't have to be. As long as you have an idea of your overall use in a day, you can figure out whether a given amount of power coming from you solar charging system will fully charge your batteries in a given day of sunlight. I use around 80Amp/hours as a maximum in any given cycle. Since my panels are generating around about 25Amps each hour (average) I will be fully charged in a bit more than 3 hours after full sunrise, given my 2 105AMP/Hour batteries. A little less, a little more... doesn't really matter in the practical world. Remember, for lead acid, you can use 50% of their capacity without adversely affecting their lifespan. In my case thats 2 x 105amp/hours = 215A/hrs, then divide by 2 = 105A/hrs. For 4 batteries it would be 4 x [battery capacity] dived by 2] . Once you're batteries are charged. The full amount of amps coming from the solar charging system is available to run your "stuff." Essentially, free power. In a future article we'll take another look at Lithium Phosphate batteries to increase storage capacity and reduce weight.

Topping Off My Batteries With DISTILLED Water
Behavioral Changes: Since I'm not much of a morning person, shifting my power draws away from early morning to later in the morning isn't much of a chore. By moving my energy use to later in the day, I give the batteries a chance to get charged before I start using power. Be kind to your batteries and they will last a long time! If you use a lot of power when your batteries are at their lowest (after an overnight with heat, for example.) you'll be "kicking then when they're down" and could shorten their life. Especially if it's a high amp draw, like a coffee maker on an inverter (could be as high as 120Amps+ at 12V!!)

All in all, the system I have now, works perfectly for my use. It was designed to be useful and intervention free for most RV folks. Since I KNOW I am raising more questions than I could answer in these short articles, I've set up an email for additional questions and interested parties to contact me about my system. Feel free to email me I'll be happy to help anyway I can. This winter in the Northeast (I'm in NY, south of Kingston off the NYS Thruway - US87). I'll be available to take a look at your rigs, make recommendations and if you're interested putting together my system for you.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

*There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

*See Part - 1
**See Part -2
***See Part - 3
****See Part - 4
*****See Part - 5

See Original Article