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Old 04-25-2016, 05:48 PM   #1
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I'm not an EE and I feel a bit lost

Hello!

I have recently relocated to CO, and am "retrofitting" my 23' TT for boondocking. I'll try to provide some context in hoped that someone can lend some assistance.

1. 2011 Forest River Freedom Express 23BH

2. We have always camped in areas with Electricity, or Full Hookups

3. Last year, we had our first experience with boondock camping, and fell in love with it

4. Fast forward to March 2016. I added a battery to the camper (we never used it, so we removed it originally), replaced ALL my interior lights with LED, added a 1.5w solar trickle charger for when the camper is in storage (I also have the battery disconnected at the negative terminal). I also flipped the axels because my drains were way too close to the ground when we were off-road.

Now, I get in to the 'meat' of it. I apologize in advance, but I am far from an EE and I've zapped myself enough to know not to mess with, or make any assumptions with, electricity. :roll eyes:

I have purchased a 13W "Briefcase" Solar Panel, along with the Charger Controller. I did this to charge the battery during the day, so we can use some power at night.

What I'm trying to figure out is what I can safely expect for power out of the battery. I want to avoid any issues by depleting the battery too much, or causing any issues to the power system of the camper itself.

A. My fridge is 3-Way. I assume there is little to no power draw once started and running on LP?

B. Is the hot water heater out of the question? This would just be in the evening when washing hands, brushing teeth, etc. Then we would shut it down.

C. Is the RV heater itself a no-go? We have a Mr. Buddy Heater, so it's not a major issue, but I'd like to get an idea.

D. (this feels like my dumbest question of all) I see inverters referenced a lot. Do we need an inverter? Is that just so the 120v plugs function? For example, running on battery, can we charge our cell phones on the 120v AC plugs? If so, is that something that goes in-line with the power components? Is it possible I already have one?

E. Is running the water pump for a short period of time (maybe a combined total of 1 hour per day) going to be an issue?

F. What would the introduction of a small LED TV do to the overall calculation? This would also only be for 2 or 3 hours a day, in the evening, to entertain the little ones while we're cooking. Not a necessity.

G. Is it a bad idea to run the built-in stereo and listen to some music during the day (either over the air or piped in via AUX)?

Really, we'd like to be able to have lights & run the fridge on LP. Those a priority #1. Everything else would just add some creature comfort, but are not necessary.

Thanks in advance!
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Old 04-25-2016, 06:43 PM   #2
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All of the items you suggested will deplete your battery rapidly. The 13w panel isn't enough to keep the battery charged. You'll have to start your rig and let the alternator charge your battery. In regard to the cell, you don't need 120 V to charge, buy a 12 volt charger. You may want to read this and when you're done, you'll be mildly disappointed.

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?
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Old 04-25-2016, 06:56 PM   #3
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Double your battery (two) and by a Honda generator.
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Old 04-25-2016, 07:09 PM   #4
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I am a retired EE. LOL :-)

Your current solar is not even close to being useful for boondocking without a generator. Based on your list below, your daily usage including some lighting would be in the 1200 watt hours per day range when furnace is used and less when furnace not needed.

A group 24 deep cycle battery used down to 20% remaining would give you about 700 watt hours so if you have two in parallel and you started out with them fully charged you could go about a day before needing to run generators to charge batteries. Assuming you have a 45 amp output charger in your RV, you could recharge at a rate of about 500 watt-hours per hour until it gets to about 85 % charge then the charger drops down to slower charge rates to finish off the last 15% . A 1000 watt generator would be the minimum to allow the charger in your RV to recharge the batteries as described above. To run a microwave or coffee pot and the 45 amp charger at the same time up this to 2000 watts.

You are going to want the generator anyway because the sun does not shine every day when boondocking. I suggest a a 200 watt solar system, supplemented with some generator use if batteries are not recharged by afternoon.

> My fridge is 3-Way. I assume there is little to no power draw once started and running on LP?

It will use 12 volt power in all modes (control board), about 25 watt-hours per day. If it goes into 12 volt mode, it will use 1000 watt-hours per day, perhaps even more depending on how often door is opened/closed and temperature.
There is a sense lead on the 3-way fridge that can put the fridge into 12 volt mode, I powered my TT 3-way fridge from my tow vehicle charge line to save propane while towing. Other than that, I would run the fridge from 120 V or propane and not size batteries and solar for the fridge in 12 volt mode load.

> Is the hot water heater out of the question? This would just be in the evening when washing hands, brushing teeth, etc. Then we would shut it down.

Hot water heater does not have any 12 volt mode, when switched on it's control board will also use about 25 watt-hours per day.

> Is the RV heater itself a no-go?

RV heater cycling on and off all night will use about 500 watt-hours.

> Do we need an inverter? Is that just so the 120v plugs function? For example, running on battery, can we charge our cell phones on the 120v AC plugs?

Can be handy for chargers, small AC appliances, TVs, Blu-ray DVD players, etc.
Inverter with off switch is best, when left on it does a small drain of about 50 watt-hours per day. Typical inverters are too small to run large appliances like the microwave.

> Is running the water pump for a short period of time (maybe a combined total of 1 hour per day) going to be an issue?

No

> What would the introduction of a small LED TV do to the overall calculation? This would also only be for 2 or 3 hours a day, in the evening, to entertain the little ones while we're cooking. Not a necessity.

200 watt-hours or less.

> Is it a bad idea to run the built-in stereo and listen to some music during the day (either over the air or piped in via AUX)?

No. 100 watt-hours or less.
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Old 04-25-2016, 07:47 PM   #5
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Thank you to everyone who replied!

I do have a generator, but plan on using it only when needed (like, using the aforementioned example, when it's not sunny).

It was said "All of the items you suggested will deplete your battery rapidly". I want to make sure I understand...you are saying if I run some of my LED lightbulbs, that will deplete my battery rapidly? The lights say they draw 2.5w each. I don't plan on running things all the time (only in the evening, and even then not all things). I apologize if my post seemed as though I was planning on running it all. I understand that would absolutely kill the battery. We won't be running any microwaves, coffee pots, hair dryers, irons, etc.

powercat_ras said, in regards to the fridge:
Quote:
It will use 12 volt power in all modes (control board), about 25 watt-hours per day. If it goes into 12 volt mode, it will use 1000 watt-hours per day, perhaps even more depending on how often door is opened/closed and temperature. There is a sense lead on the 3-way fridge that can put the fridge into 12 volt mode, I powered my TT 3-way fridge from my tow vehicle charge line to save propane while towing. Other than that, I would run the fridge from 120 V or propane and not size batteries and solar for the fridge in 12 volt mode load.
I'll apologize in advance, but you lost me. In my original post, I mentioned using LP for the fridge, but it was my understanding that you need *some* power to start the fridge and then run it in LP. Maybe an electric ignitor? I'm not sure. Is the 12v power, 25w per day when running on LP? Now that I think about it more, I may have a 2-way fridge? My switch choices are "Gas" and "Auto". (Sorry, as you can tell I've only done the spots with electric in the past)

Thank you for the clarification on the water heater not being able to run on battery. I'll stick with my JetBoil to heat up water. In addition, I'll also just continue to use the Mr. Buddy Heater and avoid camping in sub-zero temps.

There was also a comment about letting my alternator charge the battery...this is a travel trailer, so no engine. Or did you mean plugging the TT in to the 7 pin on the truck and charging that way? Would a generator accomplish the same thing?

Are there "calculators" out there that allow you to plug in variables like this and see what real world results are?

Thanks again!
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Old 04-25-2016, 07:58 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nococamper View Post
Thank you to everyone who replied!

I do have a generator, but plan on using it only when needed (like, using the aforementioned example, when it's not sunny).

It was said "All of the items you suggested will deplete your battery rapidly". I want to make sure I understand...you are saying if I run some of my LED lightbulbs, that will deplete my battery rapidly? The lights say they draw 2.5w each. I don't plan on running things all the time (only in the evening, and even then not all things). I apologize if my post seemed as though I was planning on running it all. I understand that would absolutely kill the battery. We won't be running any microwaves, coffee pots, hair dryers, irons, etc.

powercat_ras said, in regards to the fridge:


I'll apologize in advance, but you lost me. In my original post, I mentioned using LP for the fridge, but it was my understanding that you need *some* power to start the fridge and then run it in LP. Maybe an electric ignitor? I'm not sure. Is the 12v power, 25w per day when running on LP? Now that I think about it more, I may have a 2-way fridge? My switch choices are "Gas" and "Auto". (Sorry, as you can tell I've only done the spots with electric in the past)

Thank you for the clarification on the water heater not being able to run on battery. I'll stick with my JetBoil to heat up water. In addition, I'll also just continue to use the Mr. Buddy Heater and avoid camping in sub-zero temps.

There was also a comment about letting my alternator charge the battery...this is a travel trailer, so no engine. Or did you mean plugging the TT in to the 7 pin on the truck and charging that way? Would a generator accomplish the same thing?

Are there "calculators" out there that allow you to plug in variables like this and see what real world results are?

Thanks again!
My first RV was a Heartland Edge M21, with 2 Group 24 batteries and a 45 amp charger, and boondocked in Yellowstone for 9 nights in early June. Even with running the furnace some at night, I never used more than 50 % of my battery storage a day. I had one 80 watt portable solar panel that could do about 25 % of my recharge on a sunny day, and made up the rest by running a generator about an hour a day. Also LED lighting but minimal TV and Radio use.

LED Lights: If you have half the LED lights on for an average of 4 hours per day, then you are only looking at about 250 watt-hours per day. Chances are you will use less lights than this unless you are stuck inside on a rainy night. So just lighting alone is not going to rapidly deplete your battery in one day.

Fridge: Assuming it can only run on AC or propane when not plugged into generator or shore power its going to be on propane. It has an "always on" control board that draws 12 volts, only about 25 watt-hours per day.

Water Heater: Your hot water heater runs on propane and maybe on AC if it a dual source (DSI) type, it has a little 12 volt draw from a control board ( 25 watt-hours per day ).

Charging from Tow Vehicle: If you run engine on your tow vehicle, and connect the Tow Vehicle to TT 7-way cable, and it was wired with a 12 volt charge line then you will get some charging to the TT batteries but no where near what the TT 45 amp charger does. At best you will get maybe half the charge rate, so this is not a good way to go, you would be running the engine on your tow vehicle for many hours a day to recharge batteries this way. The generator will use a fraction of the gas and take half as much time.
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Old 04-25-2016, 08:37 PM   #7
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Thanks again!

I've debated running the dual battery setup, and may go that route eventually. I assume running them in parallel? Any benefit running serial?
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Old 04-25-2016, 08:44 PM   #8
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Here's some good bedtime reading about batteries and chargers. If you have room for two batteries the cheapest and best for boondocking is two 6 volt True Deep Cycle, more bang for the buck. As you will see reading the 12 volt side of life marine batteries are not True Deep Cycle batteries and will not last long with contentious draining and recharging as well as True Deep Cycles will. Costco has Interstate GC-2 6V for $83.99 each.

The 12volt Side of Life (Part 1)
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Old 04-25-2016, 08:45 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nococamper View Post
Thanks again!

I've debated running the dual battery setup, and may go that route eventually. I assume running them in parallel? Any benefit running serial?
If your battery is in a battery box on the tongue behind the dual propane tanks like it was on my Edge, then if designed like my Edge there is room for another group 24 battery box right next to it. You buy another group 24 marine deep cycle battery, another battery box, and two short marine battery to marine battery jumper leads with ends already installed. Install a 80 amp in-line fuse in holder into one of the jumper leads. FYI, all of the above is available at Wal-mart.

12 volt batteries must be wired in PARALLEL, + to + and - to -. Your easiest path forward would be to parallel a second 12 V battery as described above.
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Old 04-25-2016, 08:59 PM   #10
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If you don't have a Digital Volt Meter (DVM) get one and learn how to use it to monitor your batteries. If you have a Harbor Freight near you pick up one of the cheap meters. Sometimes they have coupons in the mail to get one free.
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Old 04-25-2016, 09:09 PM   #11
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FWIW use a real deep cycle, not marine deep. The marine deep is a compromise design to still get high current for starting. You will not be starting a trailer motor.

FWIW2 Generator management. You will probably find a couple of periods of high power usage during the day. If you run the generator then you both charge the batteries and supply the peak load. We also charge cell phones and other toys while the generator is running. That avoids needing an inverter as well a draining batteries to charge batteries. Our cycle is about 2 hours in the morning starting before breakfast so we have the microwave if we want it and again starting when getting ready for dinner for the same reason. That also covers the periods of most water pump, refrigerator and TV usage. With a smaller generator you may not be using the microwave but the rest of they cycle stays the same.
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Old 04-25-2016, 10:10 PM   #12
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This has been very informative...I can't thank y'all enough!

I have a 4000W Generator (4000 Peak, 3300 Actual), so I'll be sure to always have it with me when boondocking. I'll have to come up with a creative baffle box to limit the sound a bit.

All in all, I knew I was very limited in what I could run, but for some reason I have this mental block when it comes to K/W/A. I'm a handy, somewhat smart guy, but I can't wrap my mind around it. :face palm:

Forgive me if YT links are not allowed, but basically this is the setup I have in place now: https://youtu.be/lTffSvb-3-A (This guy has some great videos about boondock camping!)

And regarding the meter, yep! I just picked one up a couple of weeks ago.

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Old 04-25-2016, 10:34 PM   #13
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A lot of your questions can be answered by reading the following:

RV Electrical
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Old 04-25-2016, 10:55 PM   #14
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You need to read this, If you have questions, come back and ask them.

Even if you don't read the above link, you need, a bare minimum, no less than about 200 watts of good solar power produced on cloudless sunny days and the panels tilted properly to take full advantage of the sunlight falling on them, and no shade. 200 watts is needed so that you can run your furnace. Even still, wear a sweater or a light jacket and turn the heat down a little to save energy. If you will not use your furnace, a 100 watt set up in god solar energy collecting conditions will run your rig nicely and keep your batteries topped up for when there is poor sunlight to collect energy.
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