Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29, 2018 Solar Power Installed on the 5th Wheel

We purchased a used 5th wheel to put into use as our winter home when we go south in the fall.  We prefer to "boon-dock" when we travel which means we camp out in the "wild" without electric, water and sewer hookups rather than use campgrounds that charge a nightly fee.

As a result we tend to modify our rigs to be pretty much self-sufficient.  They have water storage, propane for cooking, the furnace and for powering the refrigerator and water heater.  The generator is powered off the propane bottles and wired directly into the wiring system.  It has both 12 volt DC and 120 volt AC systems installed.

One of the most important changes we make is to install solar panels for charging the batteries (and we increased the number of batteries from one to three), which power the 12 volt DC system and also power an inverter to supply 120 volt AC current when we are not running the generator.

In this instance we installed two 160 watt solar panels on the roof of the RV.

One of the first things I do is take a photo of the specification plate on the back of the solar panel(s).  In this case both panels are identical units rated at 160 watts each (320 total).  This should supply far more power than we need even on cloudy days.

I purchased eight "Z" brackets to mount the panels to the roof.  Four for each panel.  You can use more if you desire but four has been adequate in the past and we've weathered some pretty strong winds.

The mounting holes from the factory are larger than needed and placed too far inboard for my tastes.  So, I move the edge of the bracket to the edge of the panel and mark where the new holes need to be drilled. 

NOTE: Do not make the holes so close to the inside edge that you cannot install the bolt that holds the bracket to the panel.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: put some kind of stop spacer on the drill bit to keep it from going so deep that it contacts the solar panel surface.  When the drill bites through the aluminum frame it will bind and try to drive itself through and into the solar panel below.  Obviously you don't want that to happen!  I used a 1/4 inch drive deep socket as a drill stop.  They make special tools just for this purpose (I even have one!) but in my experience this works just as well and it's faster.

First bracket installed!  Seven more to go!

Once I have the brackets bolted to the panels I need to install them on top of the 5th wheel.  (Actually, you should have done some measuring first just to be sure that you have room.)  You want to have the panels clear of any tall objects like the AC unit and/or antennas.  Any amount of shade will decrease the charge rate on a solar panel.  Be sure that the panels can get the maximum amount of sunlight every day.

You can use strip caulk purchased at any hardware or auto parts store for the first layer of leak protection.  I had a vent installation kit with a roll of caulk left from a previous project and elected to use it.

Tear off a section about the size of the "foot" on the "Z" bracket then put it under the bracket.

Now drill hole down through the bracket and install a screw or lag bolt. When you torque it down it will squeeze out some of the caulk.  Trim the excess caulk away before the next step.

I used a caulking gun and sealer to thoroughly cover the bracket and bolt.  Be sure it seals tightly to both the roof and bracket.

One of the biggest challenges can be finding a way to get the solar panel wiring down to the charge controller and batteries.  In this instance I'm utilizing the holding tank vent.  This pipe goes down through the storage compartment which is also where the batteries are.

I ran the cables through the pipe then reinstalled the vent cap.  I'm using a MPPT charge controller so the panels are hooked up in series.  

If I was using a PWM controller I would have to hook the panel wiring up in a parallel circuit using another cable for splicing the two panels together.  The splices are available at any solar power supplier. 

For really big systems you may have to use both parallel and series wiring to get an acceptable combination of voltage and amperage.

The panels and wiring installed on the roof.

This is the vent line from the holding tank.  It's 1 1/2 inch PVC pipe.  I just cut a section out, ran the wires through and measured them, then ran them through the "T" and glued the "T" back into the vent pipe. There should not be anything except the odors from the tank in the line.  I drilled a couple of holes barely larger than the electric cable through the plug.  Ran the wires through the plug then glued it in place.

Next I used sealer to completely seal off the vent and wires.

Next I ran the wires from the batteries to the charge controller.  You want to hook the battery wires up first because many charge controllers sense the battery voltage then automatically select the 12 volt or 24 volt options from their programming.  It you hook the panels to the controller first it can get "confused" about whether your system's battery bank is 12 volt or 24 volt.  The input voltage from our solar panels is about 35 volts.  The charge controller reduces that down to around 13.5 volts (depending what charge "mode" the controller is using at the moment) to keep from overcharging the batteries.  A charge controller's only reason for existing is to properly charge and protect your batteries from over charging or being discharged too deeply (although other systems bear more responsibility for that).

Three batteries should be adequate for our needs. They are hooked together in a parallel circuit.

You can see the charge controller installed to the inside wall near the opposite side in this photo.  You need to leave plenty of clearance for air circulation around it.

You can see the back of the inverter on the left side.  The large black "box" is our inverter which changes the 12 volt DC current to 120 volt AC current.  This one is rated at 1,750 watts.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

June 2018 - Rappelling, Exploring, New Granddaughter, Sedated Grizzly Bear ...

It's been a busy spring here.  Fortunately it began and stayed wetter than last summer so the fire danger has at least been delayed a bit.

This little guy lives in the neighborhood.  He's been spotted several times.  Don't know if mom's around or not.  He is big enough to fend for himself if need be.

We ordered a small battery operated chain saw for trimming up the trees.  It wouldn't be much use for cutting a winter's supply of firewood but it works great for cutting the low-hanging limbs off the trees around the cabin.

We've been thinking about doing some rappelling. These are some climbing cliffs on the highway on the west side of Lake Koocanusa.  This is a "close up" of the person hanging on the cliffs above.

This is taken from the same spot without telephoto.  Yep, that's the cliff way up at the top of the photo. 
This is one of the rock walls near the highway.  There's a climber on it too!  This area is so popular that the highway department or Forest Service or some other organization set up a porta-pot for climbers to use.  A local climbing club installed anchors in the cliffs and at the tops of the most popular climbing cliffs which makes it much easier and ultimately saves the cliffs since people won't be pounding in their own all over the walls.

This was taken at the top of the cliffs in the photos above.  We used the trail to get up there though.  That's Lake Koocanusa below.  It was a windy day and the waves on the lake were impressive.  Normally it's placid and a deep blue in color.

Scott has been wanting to try some rappelling off of cliffs.  (He learned doing it down the side of our camper van.) so we found a location with a little more modest walls to try out first.

And ... over the top he goes!

And he obviously hates it!  Haha!  He climbed back up the wall (barefoot!) three more times before calling it an evening.  I only had to assist him once on the first climb.  (I was on top manning the safety rope.)

What can I say ... it's northwestern Montana!

The batteries in my GPS went dead and really corroded the battery compartment on my unit.  I found out that they clean up well with just soapy water and a toothbrush.  I love my GPS.  It gives me a lot more freedom to roam.  A compass is good and a map is good but our timber is tall and thick.  You can seldom see anything except trees ... no landmarks.  Even climbing to the top seldom helps because the trees are tall and thick there as well.  So I use the GPS to get a compass heading back to home or camp then use the compass to point the way.

There are lots of turkeys this year.  This guy was still trying to impress the hens tagging along.

I parked the car in it's usual spot then I noticed a couple of days later that the tire was flat.

When I got it off I noticed that the inside of the outer tread had been kind of ground off.  I have no idea how that happened.  It isn't alignment nor is it rubbing anywhere on the wheel well.  The good thing is that the new tires seem to be doing well on it.

Scott over playing with his brothers. Sand is always a good "toy" when kids are involved!

Out on our 4-wheelers doing some exploring.  We visited some areas where I used to get a lot of my firewood then we tried out a few more roads.  A lot of the roads are gated most of the year but some are opened up at certain times in the spring and summer.

Our neighborhood is in the valley below. 

An old clear cut. 
We spotted this rig for sale along the highway.  Our motor home is showing it's age so we've been kind of looking around a bit for a replacement.  We never looked at 5th wheels for various reasons, one of which was that we didn't have a truck to pull it with.  This guy was selling the truck and trailer together.  We bought it.  I swore I'd never own a 5th wheel camper or a rig with slide-outs or a diesel pickup.  Now I have all three.  It is a nice rig though and all set up and ready to hit the road.  Getting it home up our "road" was an adventure I hope to never do again!  We're getting it all set up for winter.  (More about that in the July blog.) We'll take it down south with us and leave it there in storage next summer. It's got us antsy to hit the road!

That's our son in the white T-shirt.  This is a grizzly that the FWP trapped and tranquilized at the golf course where he works.  It's getting radio collared and moved to a new location.  Saw a video on You Tube where they tried releasing a different grizzly from a culvert trap.  The bear was a bit angry and went directly for the game warden on top of the trap.  He had to shoot it with his sidearm to stop the attack.  It all happened rather quickly!  Usually they run away ... usually!

Scott holding his new baby sister at the hospital.  She has three older brothers to watch out for her.