Sunday, December 30, 2018

FWC Thermal PAC Update for 2019 Travels

Hi All,

This post is an update to this post from my last year’s travels.

On my build of a Thermal PAC for my FWC (Four Wheel Camper), I designed mine from what I saw from others who own FWC campers.

The problem with insulating for all us FWC owners are the ends (front and back), where the folding boards are that hold up the camper top and how to address insulating behind them.  

The key for my initial design, was using the high tech material InsulShine by Warm Company. I had pieces left over to use for this additional modification.

I also use the Nylon material, above.  I needed to go to Joann Fabrics to buy some more for this added modification.

Both materials are non wicking so if moisture collects, as it can, it drys fast, with no problems last year.

So my camper left and right sides were insulated last year with my Thermal PAC but the ends behind the folding plywood wasn’t, until this additional modification.

Rather than trying to add to the already 10 foot sides I designed insulating panels (30”x18”) made of the same material as the sides. Above is the template I made for the pieces to add.  Note that I did not try to have these panels extend fully behind the plywood panels.  This would require designing something to pull the panels across.  The affixed difficulty is that there are straps that hold the ends of the camper to the plywood, making slots behind the plywood splitingvthe space in half. Note that both the left and right sides are mirror images of each other.

The above picture shows the side to the outside with the Mylar reflective surface.  The inside to the camper is the nylon.

With this addition to my Thermal PAC I insulate a good portion behind the plywood and it also keeps the air from coming out from behind it.  I’ve read others who posted about having a string to pull Reflectix through each time they set up.  In my case I can leave mine in and closing top of the camper works fine.

I’m looking forward to having the additional insulation this year.  It works great for heating and keeping the heat out in the summer.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Planning My 2019 Travels Based on Weather

Those that have followed my previous years travels will know I follow the weather and plan my routes and locations to stay with weather in mind.

My go to weather for planning is (above) that gives me surface weather maps 48 hours out.  The problem is that I would like more forward looking weather.  I can get 10 day or more city data but I want a map as temperatures are nice to know but not compelling when driving.

My oldest son of the same name is a meteorologist and I took meteorology in college too.  I can look at a weather map and know about what the weather is like from the information.

I found and although it doesn’t have the common surface weather information as found in intellicast, it has the pressure gradients that I can interpret the same information.  They help with precipitation graphics overlaid. Above is current weather.

Above is the weather map for 1/2/19, the day I’m planning on leaving.  From this I can tell the storm and related precipitation will have moved off shore but I should expect overnight temps to be low enough to have some slippery roads as I drive away first thing in the am.

If you look west across the country you can see it’s clear of precipitation and this is what I’m interested in.

There is a high pressure in the center of the country so I can expect the center of the country to have cold temps deep into Texas.

Above on 1/3/19 the high pressure moves east and this means that temperatures in the middle of the country are moderating  

I’m not too worried about temperatures but as you can see it’s still a clear drive to Arizona.

Now I just need to hope that this forecast remains accurate for when I leave.  I couldn’t ask for a better forecast.


2019 Travels Days Away

More off roading during 2019 Travels requires the Tacoma and FWC Camper

I’ve been prepping for weeks, well a few months, and making a few changes that I’ll share in the road.

First step is to get the camper off the stand.

With the stand out of the way I back under the camper.  People ask if this is hard.

No it’s not hard.  I do it by myself. I open the truck’s rear window and back under it being careful not to rub it.  I stop soon as I’m under it and prep the cord that plugs into the trucks’s 12 volt system.  I back in more and make some alignment changes with the truck to better align with camper side to side.  Finally I take the small sink drain tube and stick it through the side box hole to drain on the ground when permissible.

With the camper aligned on truck’s bed, I lower it tweeting the alignment as it starts to rest on the truck.

I drive the camper out of the garage and climb inside and open the cubby holes inside and reach in and set the turnbuckles.  The forward ones first then the rear.

I made some changes to the turnbuckles this year so I’ll coverbthat in its own blog post.

Now it’s time to pack the camper and truck.  It’s less than a week before I leave to sun and warmth.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Charging FWC Camper’s LiFePo4 Battery From Tacoma

Note: Although this blog post talks about charging my FWC Camper’s LiFePo4 battery, the build below can be applied to any small dwelling vehicle that uses LiFePo4 technology for a house battery.  At the end of the post I will discuss the various ways to charge LiFePo4 house batteries and why I chose this particular design.


I traveled this past year (2018) in the Tacoma/Four Wheel Camper using just 175 watts of solar to charge my 50ah LiFePo4 Lithium battery.  I had wired my Tacoma to charge the LiFePo4 battery from the engine too, but never turned it on.  

I did not use this vehicle charging circuit!

Why you may ask?  The answer; I never needed to, as I had sufficient power using solar.  My solar is good but I figure after 3 days of no sun I would be low on power, so I need to plan for places other than the southwest where there is abundant solar.  I also did not like the lack of ability to control the rate of charge. I’ll discuss this later in my post.

This summer I decided to change how I charge the LiFePo4 battery.  My solar charging is through a Bioenno MPPT 20 amp solar charge controller.  My solar is designed to charge the LiFePo4 battery just under 10 amps.  I plan to charge from the truck at 10 amps, so my total charge rate will be 20 amps when in full sun and driving.

Now for my design/ build.  I contacted Bioenno and asked a number of technical questions, as I have a number of times, to verify the product specifications.  I have no affiliation with Bioenno beyond being a customer who designs using their products, but since I design using their products I do need to ask questions.

I share my design for vehicle dwellers interested in using the LiFePo4 battery technology.  Why I use Bioenno LiFePo4 batteries has been covered in my previous blog posts, when I first started using that technology in my Prius for its house battery.  I traveled for 3 years, 4 months at a time, living in my Prius.  I have posted in my blog extensively on how to live in a Prius in prior years blogs.

My initial design, last year, was to use a battery isolator that only sends power to the camper once the charging circuit reaches 13.7 volts.  This allows the vehicle battery to charge before charging the LiFePo4 house battery.  I continue to use this isolator in my current design.

Above is the isolator I used in my build.

I use waterproof breaker/switch to disconnect circuit when not in use. Isolators draw current low level current and if you don’t run your vehicle it will wear your battery down over time.

Above I have tucked the trolling motor outlet in the drivers side pocket hole in the Tacoma poly bed.

The engine power wire to the trolling motor outlet is routed under the body of the truck inside plastic loom and plastic cable tied.

I used 8 gauge cable to bring the power to the FWC camper through the Tacoma’s side-bed opening using a trolling motor power connector.

I bring in the power from the engine by inserting the trolling motor plug into the receptacle and then the engine voltage goes through another 10 amp breaker/switch, then on to a 12 volt to 24 volt step up transformer. Shown above.

From the recommendation from Bioenno, my LiFePo4 battery manufacturer, I purchased this bulk step down power supply.  They recommended a different model that only delivered 5 amps max charging, but I wanted 10 amps charging to get the 10 amps charging I needed to step up the voltage and then set this power supply to the desired voltage and amperage.  (The other charger uses the engine voltage and can only supply 5 amps.)

The power supply comes as a circuit board and display.  I mounted the circuit board in an aluminum project box, shown above.

Above I am testing the total charge circuit.  You can see I’m charging at 13.99 volts and .34 amps out of a total 8 amps max in my setting.  Bioenno has confirmed that I can charge at 14.2 to 14.4 and my setting will be at 14.2.  I have max amps set at 8 but will test my upper limit of 10 amps later.  Although the power supply will supply 15 amps I am limited by the 12 volt to 24 volt step up transformer of 10 amps.

Above top left is another 10 amp breaker/switch.  So I have one breaker switch before the isolator and one before the 12 volt to 24 volt step up transformer, located top center above.

The power supply in the aluminum box is located in the center.  To the right of the power supply is an inexpensive fuse box.

The switch, bottom left, is the original power switch to turn the power on from the original FWC lead acid battery.  I use the switch to feed the engine power into the FWC circuit to power items and charge LiFePo4 battery.

The previous owner moved the FWC battery from the rear to a cabinet built in the front truck cab wall.  I moved all power to the drivers side cabinet and upgraded to a LiFePo4 battery. (Below)

Above is my Bioenno 50 Ah LiFePo4 battery.  To the right of battery is a Bioenno 10 amp shore power charger. Top right is a 400 watt pure sine wave inverter.  To the top left is a blue seas fuse panel to distribute power to my power circuits in the camper.

Possible LiFePo4 vehicle charging designs.

1. 400 watt pure sine wave inverter tied to 12 volt vehicle battery powering the Bioenno 10 amp charger.

Comment 1: this is a straight forward design that I used in my Prius while driving or in Ready mode.  

There is a belief in the LiFePo4 world that although there are 2000+ charge cycles, that if you don’t fully charge the battery as often it may have up to double the charge cycles.  I don’t keep track of charge cycles so it’s not a big concern.

2. Direct charging LiFePo4 battery through a continuous duty solenoid.  

Comment 2:  I don’t care as much for a design that ties my house battery to the vehicle battery. (My goal is to keep my engine battery so it cannot be drained accidentally.)  Bioenno says it may be done as long as vehicle’s charge circuit is putting out at least 13.7 volts.  Note that voltage loss can exist the longer the wire run to the House battery.

3. Using solar charge controller- Isolator, 12 to 24 volt step up transformer, MPPT LiFePo4 solar charge controller to LiFePo4 battery.  

Comment 3:  I don’t care for the lack of current control of the MTTP LiFePo4 charge controller.  This does manage the voltage very well, although it will go into full battery charge more often.  This is the design I had installed last year in my FWC but never used.  I felt that I would have to be careful running bot solar and vehicle charge at same time.

4. The design I covered above - Isolator, 12 to 24 volt step up transformer, Voltage/amperage controlled power supply to LiFePo4 battery.  

Comment 4.  This is what is closest to what Bioenno recommends, other than step up transformer, but this only conditions the voltage to the power supply.  

This design gives me more control of voltage and current settings and I feel no risk in leaving both the solar charging and vehicle charging on at the same time.  It is also a very small footprint for space and weight considerations.  

For small vehicles the isolator is water resistant as is the step up transformer, so both can go under the hood.  But I recommend not doing this as you may want a good heavy duty 12 volt cigarette outlet for 12 volt cooking.  Therefore, keeping the step up transformer and the power supply close together in the vehicle gives you a high power 12 volt outlet and you LiFePo4 battery charge circuit together.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Camper (FWC) Side Window Curtain Modification

My long side window on my Fleet shell had a one-piece curtain 52” long.  

The problem is that there is too much curtain to bunch up in one direction to allow light in.  The right side as shown below is an escape window that is hinged in top.

The left side has two screened louvered windows, that take up about a third of the total window space.

The curtain isn’t insulated either

The solution is to use the reflective insulation material (InsulShine) I used for my home-made thermal pack to line the curtain.  See my blog post on my thermal pack build

My front window that faces the truck cab, and the rear door window has the InsulShine insulation from last year modification.  I ran out of time and didn’t get to modify the side window curtain.

After measuring where to make the split in the curtain, I wanted to have what I call a flap so the curtains overlap.  I sleep on the lower bunk often and when I move I don’t want the curtain to open or separate and allow cold air in.  So, it was important to integrate a flap into the design,

Abovevthe material was cut and Mylar insulation was added.  Last year I stuffed the InsulShine in the window cavity as it wasn’t yet sewn to the curtain.

In the picture above you will see the flap on the long side .  It has 2” Velcro on the other side of the flap.  On the smaller side I have a 1” opposite Velcro so the curtainand flap can stay positively closed if I want to.

Now the InsulShine instillation is in place.  Visible are the two pieces of the Velcro that keeps the flap together.

Now with curtain completed and installed with flap Velcro’ed together it looks like one curtain again, but now I can open the louvered windows and open just that side to let air to flow in.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Speed Control For Endless Breeze Fan

The Endless Breeze portable 12 volt fan is made by Fan-Tastic Vent.  I use it in my Four Wheel Camper (FWC) to move air around the camper.  It also works good outside the camper on a 12 volt extension cord.  I have Fan-Tastic vents in the ceiling of my camper that I have a also modified with the PWM motor speed control.  Here is that modification post.

As with the Fantastic fan/vent in the ceiling of my FWC, the motor runs at a high speed for me on the low setting.  The Endless Breeze comes with a speed switch that gives 3 speed settings and my modification does not change the 3 speed settings if the PWM is fully on.  As with the roof units the fans can be noisy even on the low setting, thus adding the PWM speed control a nice change for noise when sleeping.

My problem:

When I just want the fan to provide a light breeze In my FWC camper, I want to be able to set the fan speed to what I want for air movement.  I also would like to conserve my solar power LiFePo4 battery system with lower my current draw when running the fan all night.

The answer:

Below is the PWM speed controller that I bought from Amazon.  What Pulse-Width Modulation does in this case is sends 12 v on and off.  The faster the 12 volt pulse the faster the motor spins.  When the pulse is off there is no power draw.  Therefore a 50/50 cycle the motor uses half the current.

Here is what WIKI has on PWM

I tested the current draw of the fan to ensure that the 2 amp PWM will work with it.  I did this by putting the PWM between the fan’s 12 plug and the battery.

Above is the open fan with the 3-position speed switch with a plastic cable tie holding wires from the PWM I added.  

With the PWM fully on the 3-position switch still functions as it was designed.

On the other side of the fan top from the 3-position switch I have installed the PWM

Above you can see the open space opposite the 3-position switch where the PWM fit nicely.

More of my wiring.  The added wiring is run along the fan edge like the wiring that comes with the fan.

Here is how the fan looks now with the PWM added to the top.

My test showed that the PWM would adjust the speed of the fan from full speed to off.  I set the speed to be a constant light breeze and  I was only drawing .49 amps.

Note the PWM has a light on the circuit board that shines through the white plastic so you can see that it is turned on.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Speed Control For Fantastic Fan in FWC

Most of the time my Fantastic fan is too high a speed on low setting.  The Fantastic fan comes with a speed switch that gives 3 speed settings.  I can just open the vent on the Fantastic Fan for natural airflow, but some mechanical draw helps.

Note: I had upgraded my Four Wheel Camper’s Fantastic vents because  the rear one was a vent only and this is where I cook.  The front one over the bed was powered.  Here is my modification on this conversation.

(Above is the upgraded vent only to power vent/fan with temperature control)

My problem:

When I just want some powered exhaust from the vent with my window cracked open below, I don’t need the fan on spinning very fast.  I also would like to conserve my solar power LiFePo4 battery system with lower current draw.  A side benefit of the slower speed is the fan runs much quieter for sleeping.

The answer:

Below is the PWM speed controller that I bought from Amazon.  What Pulse-Width Modulation does in this case is sends 12 v on and off.  The faster the pulse the faster the motor spins.  When the pulse is off there is no power draw.  Therefore a 50/50 cycle the motor uses half the current.

Here is what WIKI has on PWM

I needed to test the current draw to ensure that the 2 amp PWM will work on the Fantastic Fan. 

I dropped the cover of the Fantastic Fan and put my clamp meter on. The inspection showed 2 amp controller would work.

I then temporarily wired in the PWM and tested it.

My test showed that the PWM would adjust the speed of the fan from full speed to off.  I set the speed to be a constant light draw and I was only drawing .59 amps.

This low draw with lower window cracked will provide powered heat extraction cooling the inside of camper and making my Engel compressor fridge run easier.  Since I have the temperature control on the Fantastic Fan when the fan turns on my solar battery system will have no problem providing the power needed.

The spot I was able to fit the PWM was next to the speed switch.

This is the way it looks with PWM installed.  Note the PWM has a light on the circuit board that shines through the white plastic so you can see that it is turned on.

Above is the installed PWM controller ready to adjust the speed to what I want it to be.

It works in both exhaust venting or power fan pushing in air.  As stated I have it set to start on venting on low speed once it gets hot inside the camper by setting the temperature control in the upper right corner in the picture above.