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Friday, December 22, 2017

Shore Power For My FWC Fleet

I need to first paint a picture of what my camper shell had for power.  It only had a AGM battery tied to the previous owners truck’s charging system through a charging isolator that FWC uses.  There will be more on this in another post, but I did not have that charging circuit on my Tacoma.

The reason I bring this up was that the camper came to my house and came off my truck and sat in my garage for its conversion into my camper.

This meant I wanted to use the campers ceiling lights but had no good way to charge the AGM battery.  There was also no shore power for running tools or charging things.

Before I installed the solar charge controller for the solar panel, I mounted in the previous post, I needed shore power.  I had a goal to install the items that FWC would use for shore power, so it was time for an email to FWC.  I wanted to know where to put the hole in the outside of the camper to mount the recepticle they supplied me.

They had no guidance other than to tell me to rip open the wall by removing the inside paneling.

The task of finding the location for the power recepticle involved removing the cabinet system First and then wall covering to expose the wall supports.

What I found was the mounting location of the receptacle, but also missing and limited insulation.  My above picture was after the recepticle was installed and 1/2” foil insulation that I added to fill voids.

I applied twist lock power cord ends to make wiring to the camper easier.

Above shows the power cord coming in and cabinet to be put back in place.

After getting the cabinet back where it belongs I added a few circuits.

To the left the two cigarette outlets were tied to the original AGM battery and stay that way for now.  It was used to power the fridge of the previous owners.  I will review later.

To the right of it is a proprietary outlet for the Engel compressor fridge.  This allows the removal of the cigarette plug and screw in the Engel cord for a better connection that will not vibrate out.

Next is a dedicated 12 volt cigarette outlet for my RoadPro hot water pot or my 12 volt rice cooker.

Lastly, I wired in a 120 volt shore outlets.

Inside the cabinet where the 30 amp shore power comes in I put in a circuit breaker box.

Here I am wiring a quad outlet box for 2 duplex outlets to power items inside the cabinet.  This will include powering the 120 volt LiFePo4 10 amp charger from my Prius.  Another breaker powers the outlet on the outside of the cabinet wall in the previous picture.

I would charge the AGM battery all summer with the the multi-chemistry lead acid battery charger I had from my first two years of Prius travels until I converted the AGM circuit over to LiFePo4.

The above allowed me to work on the camper all summer and into early winter by not only running tools but also running an electric heater when it got cold.

A lot more 12 volt circuits will be added which I will cover in later posts.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mounting & WiringThe Solar Panel

Above is the solar panel I decided on getting for my FWC camper and the price was right for about one dollar per watt and no shipping or sales tax.

Next I needed to find the location of the wires that FWC left in the ceiling of the camper for future solar install.  It took a bit to find the wiring box.  Then I needed to decide on the connection I would use to connect the panel.  After talking to FWC I decided on the SAE connector they use when they do the install.

After screwing the SAE connector to the roof location I used Marine adheasive as recommended toseal the mounting.

The solar panel came with MC4 connectors and because I chose to use SAE connector through the roof I needed to change the wiring on the solar panel.

Above I changed over the wiring to the SAE connection after contacting FWC about getting a right angle adapter.  They sold me the right angled connector to hook into the ceiling solar wires they installed at the factory. Note that a straight connector/cable would’ve too tall to put panel over connector. 

Having the panel over the connector protects the cable and connection.

The location I chose for the panel was over the roof connection allowing for a short wire connection.  Above you can see the connector mounted under the panel.

Next I needed to decide on the method of mounting the solar panel to the roof supports.  I found this installation guide online and decided this was the best approach.

I needed to buy the “Z” stand-off brackets.  The first brackets I bought were 2” high stand-off.  I didn’t like the height so I found ones closer to one inch high.  This sets the top of the solar panel close to the top of the roof vents, and a much cleaner roof.

Since my roof supports are only 1” tall and had two offset holes, I redrilled the new shorter brackets with a center hole for mounting one bolt in each panel to the bracket and one hole in the roof for each bracket. Note the roof supports are perpendicular to the length of the panel.

Also predrilled holes on the back of panel did not align to where I needed them so I had to drill all new holes in the panel for the “Z” brackets.

You can see I decided to put 3 brackets on each side for a secure mount.  I did find the recommendation of 6 brackets if solar panel is over 150 watts. You can also see the predrilled holes in the panel I could not use.

Lastly I needed to decide on screwing directly through roof supports and use sheet metal screws or use expansion nuts and bolts.

I decided on expansion nuts and bolts.  I marked the hole locations I neeed to drill on the grid I marked in the roof. 

I drilled a 1/8” hole and used a wire to feel if I was centered in the roof support aluminum tubing.  Then using this information I then enlarged the hole to accept the expansion nut that uses a 10-32 bolt

I chose to buy 10-32 stainless steel hex head bolts as Phillips screw heads could strip on or off if needed.

I did use Marine adheasive to seal under and around expansion nuts.

With the solar panel installed and wired to factory wiring, now I need to wire the panel to asolar charge controller and circuits.

More to come in another blog about the solar install.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Solar - Maximum Wattage To Get / Picking The Location

Wattage relates to size of solar panel and size relates to placement.

At this point I have my 30 Ah LiFePo4 I used in my Prius for a house battery, and I know it will handle my Engel compressor fridge needs, so that is the information I will use for sizing the wattage.  Actually the manufacturer’s output amp rating of the solar panel needs to be 10 amps or less, as this is the max that my Bioenno LiFePo4 can take.

I know 10 amps works as I charged my battery from my Prius 12 volt circuit, through a 400 watt inverter, to a 120 volt LiFePo4 specific 10 amp charger.  I also knew my Engel only uses 12 amps a day, which means I should be good with a 150 watt solar panel.

My searching for a panel actually resulted in the purchase of a  170 watt panel that puts out just under 10 amps. I will discuss my solar panel selection in another post.

Actually, I did have another issue not covered in my prior post.  My Four Wheel Camper (FWC) is a pop up camper and I have to be mindful of increasing the weight, as the current center lifting struts need to handle the increased weight. This too will be another post on how I decided to handle the increased weight.

On to the next issue of finding a location for the solar panel on the roof.

I had seriously considered putting the solar panel on the roof rack at the back of the camper.  I called FWC and they said I could but suggested keeping it lower and that I may want to actually use the rack in the future.

Why was I apprehensive about the roof mounting.

Two reasons.  

1. I didn’t want to put extra holes in the roof that may leak in the future.

2. The roof rafters are aluminum square tubing and I didn’t want to miss drilling into the tubing vs just the thin aluminum roofing.

I overcame my reluctance by laying out where the tubing is from holes made in factory in the roof.  I drew with erasable white-board markers from point to point and using inside measurements where I knew beams were and measuring over from the holes on the roof to find the rest of the beams.

It took hours to do the roof layout, but it paid off.

I will cover my mounting of the panel and getting the wires from the panel inside the camper in my next post.

Thanks for following.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Adding Solar To My Four Wheel Camper

One of the biggest things I loose moving from a Prius to a pick up camper is that driving a Prius is like driving a generator.  Although I used solar last year to keep from idling the Prius to charge my house battery, the cost effectiveness with the Tacoma isn’t there for any idling.

My Engel compressor fridge uses about 12 amp hours a day and I’m not going to idle a 6 cylinder for hours to charge the house battery this coming year.

You would think a guy that worked in electronics for most of his working career would know; how many watts, is my 30 amp hour LiFePo4 battery the right capacity, do I keep the AGM battery that came with the camper.  Well, you get the idea. So many questions needing to be answered before I can get started.

I had to calculate, measure, and contact vendors for answers before buying and installing.

This solar installation is no easy task without the knowledge and some practical experience of others.

As you can probably see this solar discussion is more than one blog post.

So let’s review the issues I faced.

1. Maximum wattage to get
2. Solar technology 
3. Solar company
4. Where to mount on camper roof
5. Mounting method and how many mounts
6. Wiring to/from solar panel
7. Charge controller & technology 
8. Do I connect solar battery to engine charging circuit.
9. Where do I carve out a home for the battery, charge controller, and wiring.
10. Do I make a provision for charging from my 60 watt folding solar panel.
11. What do I use from Prius and what do I buy new.

Can you believe this list and each one takes up time.

Please stay tuned while I break all these down in the hope that someday my detailed posts will help you when you decide to install solar.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Camper Project - Where To Start

In November 2013 in expectation of my retirement as Fire Chief, I found the above 1994 Chevrolet G30 Coachman Class B Campervan.  I was glad to have found this 1 Ton camper in good condition.  

It was mostly ready to go, and that was my goal as I decided to leave in January for 3.5 month solo tour.  I wanted to change my life by reinventing who I was.  

I didn’t know anything about Vandwelling, but this was a great purchase to get me going.

It had what I needed to get going, but I didn’t like; driving it in wind, 10 mpg, and needing to plug in (no solar).

What it do is set the expectation for what I wanted in the future (Prius).

The Prius and my 3 years of modifications provided me so much more over the Class B.  Yes the Prius had it all, including washing and bathroom facilities.

The biggest issue was that I had clearance problems for some places I wanted to go and explore.  The minimal space and clearance was easily overlooked by 50 mpg and stealth. 

With the camper being a shell my focus turned to what I needed to address to sleep, cook, store fresh and gray water, cook, and power the fridge.

Moving to a 18-20 mpg vehicle meant that I needed acost effective way of powering the fridge and small electronics 24x7.  The heavy lead acid house battery charged off the engine would get me 3 days of power before charging, but I wanted power independance, like I had with the Prius and lead acid is just too heavy for a lightweight camper/truck combination.

Therefore, my most important focus for upgrading the camper was to address power and solar demands.  

I also wanted to address sleeping in the camper without raising the roof.  I wanted to sleep without the roof raised so I could park in Walmart or truck stop for the night without looking like I’m camping.

My needs for the camper don’t end with just those two items.  My list will address so much more.

I will focus on all the changes in future posts and then as I travel I will evaluate how well my designs actually work out.  Oh there are changes I will address on the road too.