Saturday, October 14, 2017

Patience is Tough!

Last spring I placed a cache at one of the local fire stations. The discussion at that time was to place one, and if that proved to be successful, to place others to draw attention to the breadth and scope of their operations. With six months of good experience with the first cache, I attempted to communicate with them about placement of others.

Meanwhile, their organization was going through some significant, yet unclear, struggles. The board bought out the Chief's contract, but I can't find anything suggesting why. My previous, very helpful contact, provided me with the name and e-mail address of the person that should be my contact moving forward.

I immediately e-mailed the new contact but got no response. Figuring he might be on vacation, I waited a week and tried again.

With no response to the second e-mail, I did a bit of spelunking and found a phone number for the new contact. I'd expressly started with e-mail so that I didn't interrupt his work, desiring an appointment at his convenience. With no response from two e-mail attempts, I called but that rolled to voice mail.

I left a voice mail and left my phone number. When I didn't get a call back within the week, I stopped by their main office and asked the receptionist if the individual was on vacation or might be out sick, but her response was that he was 'very busy.' Three days after leaving the note with the receptionist, I finally got a call back.

I understand that the organization is going through some leadership challenges and that they're in the midst of a search for a new leader which means extra work for the remaining leadership team. I also understand that it shouldn't take over three weeks to get any sort of response.

I'm now assured that they'll look into the possibility of additional caches, but it could be awhile. So much for my hope of combining the release of these caches with an event celebrating our local first responders. Patience is so tough to learn!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Vista Solar, Part 1

With a couple years experience using solar in his travel trailer, I didn't have to spend any time discussing the issues related to installing a larger, true sine wave inverter to power the microwave since I knew it wasn't considered essential. Instead, I concentrated on those items that would be used while boondocking.

I was pleased to see that the inverter idle draw was only 10 watts. None the less, the inverter is not likely to be powered except when using one of the TVs.



The big draw will be the large TV which won't be used that much. It's quite likely that 200 watts of panels will be more than enough for their typical use patterns. We selected the same Renogy 100 watt monocrystalline panel that we used on his trailer because of its compact size and high Vmp. One will be configured for portable placement and the other will be roof mounted with tilting capabilities.

I brainstormed a shopping list and shortly thereafter, stuff magically started showing up at my door. Like the other systems I've put together, this one will use 8 AWG cable to reduce the line losses.

I did some of the stuff at home where tools were easily available. Some aluminum angle was used to create legs for the portable panel.



The secret to the legs is the plastic washer and self locking nut. With the plastic washer between the leg and the frame, the self locking nut can be tightened down enough to put some friction on the hinge angle.

The installation is using two different 8 AWG wire styles. The feed wire from the portable panel is 'zip cord' from PowerWerx. The red/black paired cable uses finer wire for more flexibility, which makes it much easier to use with the portable panel. The roof-mounted panel/s will use MC4 Solar cable. It has fewer strands of thicker wire resulting in a stiffer wire, but it also has a UV resistant cover.

The extension cable for the portable panel was permanently connected to the panel leads with waterproof, heat sink butt connectors. They're waterproof and serve as a strain relief across the connection.

The other end of the portable panel cable got an Anderson SB50 Power Pole connector. These connectors have beefy contacts and result in a connector that cannot be inserted with reverse polarity. We used these on Jeff's trailer project a couple years ago and it has served well.

Unlike last time, this time I spec'd the extra Tee handle to make it a bit easier to connect and disconnect the pair of Anderson connectors.

The rood top panel gets fitted with AM Solar's mounting system. This system is fabricated from stainless steel, and allows the panel to tilt in two directions. It's a quick and easy installation on the panel.

Each corner gets a bracket that is retained by one bolt with self-locking nut.

The mounting foot connects to the adapter with a threaded knob. The foot will be attached to the fiberglass roof with 3M Very High Bond tape and then sealed around the edges with 3M 5200 Marine Adhesive.

The Victron controller* and all the system connections have a home in the forward curb-side bay, as close as I could get to the coach batteries.

*We considered the TriMetric TM2030 / SC2030 combination, but the Victron combo got the nod because of the cleaner looking monitor. The MPPT controller is a bit of overkill, but will work nicely with the high Vmp of the Renogy panels.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Initial Mods for the Vista

I promised that I wasn't going to work full time on the mod list for the Vista since I had all winter to get them done. I started by cutting up a couple old 2x10 boards to create some ramps. The RV is low enough that I can't get under it from the sides using a creeper, so I decided to help it grow up.

Driving this rig from Iowa was like trying to herd cats in a rain storm. It wallowed badly and got worse in cross winds. Turns out, lots of other people had already experienced the same thing with this chassis which is essentially unchanged since the early 1990's. The inter web crowds had a cheap fix. I didn't think it would be enough, but decided to try it.  The upper mount remained untouched,

while the lower end of the front sway bar links were moved from the original placement at the outer end of the sway bar arm to the inner, pre-existing hole.

A super quick change that made an incredible improvement. Still not as good as I'd like to to be, but definitely much, much better.

Haven't done the rear ones yet since its reported that it doesn't make as much change, but I expect to do them before the rig heads north. The rear sway bar installation is the same except that it has the extra bracket to put the link bolt into a double shear situation.

The next project was to install the shunt for the Victron battery monitor. I put it in next to the existing fuse for the stock inverter. I needed to get this installed so that I could do an energy audit before determining how many panels would be needed for the solar installation.

With the inverter off, there was still 3 to 4 watts of phantom draw. I think it might be the propane detector, but I haven't taken the time to dig deep enough to temporarily discount it.

In the process of doing the energy audit, I discovered that several lights were still sporting incandescent bulbs. The three lights in the service bays, the porch light, and the two bulbs in the dinette light were all incandescent bulbs that draw about 18 watts each.

The dinette bulbs (with a T5 base) were replaced with LED lamps that draw 3 watts each. The other incandescent bulbs will be changed out in the near future.

I did a pretty complete power audit, but did skip testing the power draw on the furnace - with our temps still running above 90 degrees on average, I'm not really interested in adding more heat to the equation.

Next up will be starting on the solar installation and wiring.