More Power! Tim’s bonus battery bonanza, Part III

~ A special, highly technical, data-driven guest series written by Tim ~

Tim the Tool Man’s “More power” grunt is repeated often around here.
(source: Giphy)

Readers of my electrical system articles likely fall into two groups: those in suspense since February, and those scratching their heads trying to remember the subject of these series.

If you’re in the latter group, Part I of the series covered the planning and design, while Part II discussed research, costs and equipment selections. For Part III, roll up your sleeves!

“I hit my head. It is what I do.”

Installation took longer than expected. No surprise. It also caused me to grimace and repeatedly mutter the above statement. Working extended periods in the belly of The Toad involved contortionism and a couple of bandaids, but the results have been worth it.

The oriented strand board (OSB) used in the RV’s front compartment wall complicated installation of the inverter, as the material does not hold screws well compared to plywood. To address this, I built a back panel from plywood covered by thin metal plates to deflect heat generated by the inverter.

Four t-bolts were used to hang the 40 pound inverter (see Figure 1), while screws were driven in from the basement side (thus gripping into the plywood) to hold the combined weight.

Figure 1

Rough Wiring the Service Feed

Two 240V/50A lines were run from near the circuit panel to the front compartment to complete the new service feed. The Electrical Management System (EMS) (Figure 2) was attached to the floor behind the basement wall after connecting the output side to one of the feed lines. Both cable runs were attached to the basement ceiling using strap hangers.

Lesson learned: pick screws just large enough to hold the cables while still short enough to not poke through the floor. Ouch!

Figure 2

Other Puzzle Pieces

Heavy duty (4/0, “four aught”) cabling connects the batteries and smaller components with the inverter. I made custom-length cables, saving money and weight. To determine the correct lengths, I placed the battery cutout switch, the shunt, and the battery fuse where I wanted them on the RV’s front compartment wall, and then built each cable to fit between them.

Newer Heartland RVs have battery cut-out switches to isolate the batteries from the RV’s electrical system for safety and maintenance. Our 2008 Bighorn lacked this feature, so I added a Blue Sea Systems m-Series switch.

Lesson learned: The m-Series is rated for high-amp circuits, but required modification to fit the large cable; the e-Series switch would have been a better choice.

The fuse block (lower left corner of Figure 3’s right panel) is used to protect the system, while the shunt provides the means to measure performance using the Pentametric monitoring system. One wire from each side of the shunt is connected to the input unit. Additional small gauge wires provide power and temperature readings. The battery interconnects provide a series-parallel configuration. I found Spax screws provide better holding power for components mounted on the OSB.

Figure 3

Custom Cables

Making custom-length cables is as easy as measuring, cutting, stripping and crimping, right? Close. The process is simple, although three special tools and a couple of tricks are helpful.

Because of the 4/0s thickness, bends take extra room and cables should be laid out before cutting; high quality welding cable is a better choice than battery-grade cable because it uses numerous flexible small strands instead of fewer larger conduits.

Before cutting (measure twice!) consider how much cable will go into the end of the lug or other terminals being used (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Lesson learned: I used the saw method of cutting the cable, but then had to use scissors to taper the cable ends to fit into the lugs. Buy cutters suitable for 4/0 cable; they will make the work easier, and keep you from being asked, “What the heck happened to the scissors?”

After cutting,  I used a simple utility knife to strip back the rubber sheath (and then scissored the strands to death). Apply antioxidant to the exposed strands and inside the lug before crimping. I used a regular hammer to strike the crimper (see Figure 5), but a 2 lb mallet makes for easier work.

Figure 5
(source: eBay)

Some Assembly Required

Once the 12V cable runs were completed between the inverter and through the fuse block, shunt, and switch, I connected the two pairs of 240V/50A legs (not live yet) to the inverter. Completing this before installing the battery box gave me more room to work in the front compartment as I worked on my back looking up.

Yes, I hit my head. It is what I do.

The battery box I wanted, which was the one recommended specifically for the quantity and size of batteries I have, would have taken a few days to ship. My goal was to complete the project before we headed to Quartzsite, AZ, for boondocking, so I fashioned one from locally-available options (Full disclosure: I actually fashioned two, the first prototype being an epic failure).

A Durabilt Storage Tote (Figure 6) is large enough to fit the four 6V deep cycle batteries, and has the added benefit of being considerably cheaper than the aforementioned special-purpose box. To keep it sealed and safe (charging flooded batteries releases gasses that must be vented to the outside), I added weather stripping to the top edge of the box, and a vent line to the outside.

Figure 6

Inexpensive straps were fastened to the RV’s steel compartment floor to hold the box firmly in place. Look closely at the picture of the box and you’ll also see a hole, near the bottom, that allows fresh air to be drawn into the box, ensuring proper venting.

Installing the battery box and finalizing the cables up to the inverter was pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to run properly gauged wires from new battery bank to the existing bussbar providing 12V to the RV’s fuse panel.

Lesson learned: Connect these to the output sides of the switch and shunt vice the battery bank terminals to include the draw in system monitoring and safety cut-outs.

Instrumentation lines were run, based on the component instructions, back to the cabinet inside the coach near the existing instrument panel. The cabinet contains all of the monitoring boxes with incorporated displays (Figure 7). Later, I added the Pentametric computer interface module by my desk, using a separate instrumentation line tapped off behind the basement wall.

Figure 7

At this stage it was time to pause and double check all the wiring and installations because the next step involves removing the RV from all shore and 12V power sources, and rewiring the circuit panel (Figure 8) and EMS. ***MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO ELECTRICAL POWER IN THE RV.***

Figure 8

My wiring from the shore power connection was long enough that I could run it to the EMS after disconnecting from the circuit panel. The wiring I ran from the inverter’s output was then connected to the circuit panel.

Testing

Without any fanfare, after days of work, I reconnected shore power and flipped the switch.

The 120V light in the RV was dimmer than a sleazy bar. I was crushed, and I had no idea what was wrong, but I clearly wasn’t getting adequate voltage. I quickly realized the problem could be with the inverter or the EMS, but I didn’t know how to test either one.

In desperation, I killed shore power, followed the reset procedures for the inverter, and tried again. Presto! To this day, I don’t know why the first test failed, and I have only had one incident requiring an inverter reset since then.

The next day we got underway for Quartzsite, AZ, where we parked alongside friends and fellow RVers for 12 days of boondocking. The system worked great as I continued to make tweaks and learn the intricacies of using an inverter to provide 120V power from batteries.

One lesson involved just how many amps were used in charging the battery bank; I am not able to run the generator in econo-mode until the bulk charging stage is complete.

There were other lessons too, but I’ve maxed my word count, and probably your attention span too. Feel free to comment below or contact us via our Facebook Page if you have any specific questions.

Disclaimer: Electricity and electrical systems can be dangerous to living things and electrical equipment if not handled properly. What I write will convey my own experiences. If you or anyone else should choose to use any of the information in this post, you do so at your own risk. If you’re not comfortable handling electrical circuits or equipment, find someone who is knowledgeable about such things to help you.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

 

From My RV Kitchen: Baked Oatmeal Squares

Got a long driving day ahead? The kind that requires departing before dawn, and not enough time to stop for breakfast?

Here’s a tasty and hearty option that you can bake the day before, for eating on the road. It’s even driver’s seat friendly!

Baked Oatmeal Squares

3 cups quick-cooking or regular oats

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup plain, nonfat traditional or Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Optional: add 1 cup of mix-ins such as chopped dried fruit, nuts, and/or flavored baking morsels

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk eggs, milk, butter, vanilla, and yogurt.

Stir into oat mixture until blended. Add mix-ins if using, and stir to blend.

Spoon into a greased 9-in. square baking pan.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until set, and allow to cool completely. Although there is no flour in the recipe, the bars bake to a moist, thick, cake-like consistency.

Cut into 9 squares, then zip into sandwich bags or wrap in plastic for individual servings.

My version is adapted from this original recipe.

Emily’s notes:

My most recent mix-in combo was chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, and chocolate chips. Delicious!

I get perfect results by baking these in my RV’s Half-time Convection Oven at 350 degrees for 22 minutes.

For a filling and fuss-free “Front Seat Breakfast” for driver and passenger/s, serve the bars with hard boiled eggs and bananas.

No need to save them for travel days. If you’re sitting in a non-moving location, you can try serving these squares as originally intended: in a bowl, with milk poured over top. Eat like oatmeal!

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

From My RV Kitchen: Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

We encountered a bump in the road two weeks ago, with a catastrophic fuel pump failure in the BFT, stranding us just south of Dallas. Luckily, we were able to have The Toad towed to a park with hookups, so we could live somewhat normally for the duration.

But after five days of trying to keep my spirits up by making lemonade out of our proverbial lemons, I decided I needed something stronger to soothe my soul.

Chocolate.

There are times when only chocolate will do, and this was one of them.

Beware:  This pie is so sinfully rich and intense that you may want to draw the blinds and turn up the volume on the TV to disguise any embarrassing noises or facial expressions you might make while eating it.

Yes, it’s that good. Remember the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally? That.

Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels, melted

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. instant coffee

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted; set aside. (Alternate: melt over very low heat on stovetop in heavy saucepan, stirring frequently.)

I prefer melting chocolate on my gas stovetop to the microwave method, as I’m less likely to scorch it that way.
You use the method you’re good at.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

It’s gonna look like this.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.

Add chocolate, coffee, and vanilla extract; mix well.

Chocolate going in.

I used my very precious pure Mexican vanilla, purchased in Mexico on a recent vacation.
You can find it in the states too, but read the ingredient list: if it has anything other than water, vanilla bean and alcohol in it, don’t waste your money. You’d basically be buying vanilla-flavored corn syrup.

Stir in flour and chopped walnuts.

I used walnuts.
You use whatever nuts you like, or leave them out.

Pour into pastry shell.

That nice glossy uncooked batter yields a nice glossy top crust after baking. Underneath it?
Gooey fudgy moan-inducing filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pie appears set. (I used my gas oven for this pie. I have not tested it in my convection oven.) Toothpick test is unreliable. It will come out coated with filling, which is exactly what you want. Don’t be fooled into over-baking!

Cool pie on rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

My version is adapted from this original recipe.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Fridge Foibles: Dealing with the Tiny Space within our Tiny Space

Our 2008 Bighorn was built back in the day before residential refrigerators made it into luxury and four-season fifth wheels.

We’ve got one of the old “glorified dorm fridge” units, and its 8 cubic feet of storage is adequate for just the two of us in most cases, including the time we contributed half the dishes to the family Thanksgiving feast.

But there are occasions when that same amount of space can be either a frustrating curse or an unexpected blessing.

When our 19-year-old, 6’2”, 220-lb son lived with us in The Toad for two months over the summer of 2016: definitely a curse.

I had to play Refrigerator Tetris on the daily to make everything fit in there. Adding a third person to the mix — especially one that size — created an entirely new family dynamic, and not just in the kitchen storage department.

Full means full.

However, when we need to empty the fridge for extended non-RV travel or for a week-long service appointment: definitely a blessing.

If we’re willing to eat a few unusual meals (recently we ate ham and cream cheese sandwiches, because we’d already run out of cheese slices), the two of us can strip that baby down to condiments in less than a week!

Oh, and don’t worry about that wine bottle you see in the door.
I’ll make sure it does not go to waste.

Ta-daaaa!
See there? All that’s left is … ummmm… fruit.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

How the boys come home, when home is wherever we roam

Not so very long ago, I wrote about what home now means to us.

Now, I’m delving a little further into that concept — and trying desperately hard not to open the Pandora’s Box of parental guilt — by telling you a little bit about what “going home” now means to our sons, who are out of the nest and impressively independent, but still just barely into adulthood.

Our older son is 22, and has been living in WA for more than 3 years. Our younger son turned 20 at the end of February, and has been living in Austin, TX, for about 18 months — the same amount of time we’ve been living and traveling full time in The Toad.

That’s right. As soon as “the baby” left the house, we did too!

That type of move is not without family precedent. My parents sold my family home right after I left the nest (to relocate to another state and another actual house, not an RV), so I do have some clue as to how my own children might feel about not having the same house to come home to.

The big difference? I lived in the same house from kindergarten through senior year, in a small town, with a graduating class of about 150, so it really was my Home-with-a-capital-H.

Our sons, however, are military brats, because of Tim’s 25-year career as a naval officer. They grew up in three sets of military quarters, two houses we rented, and three that we owned. To them, the place we lived in when they left the nest was not the house, but merely a house.

I stood with the boys in front of my childhood home in 2007, 20 years — and an entirely different color — after I’d left it.

As one son put it when I asked how being a military child prepared him for having nomadic parents, “The idea of moving is such a casual thought, all I care about is which time zone you are in.” Not only did that put my heart at ease, it also reminded me how considerate he is to try not to call or text when we might be sleeping.

Always hug your mama, even when the door you walk through to get to her leads into an RV instead of a house.

For us, the short answer to “How do your kids come home” is that they don’t.

With only a few exceptions, we take home to them.

Last winter, we pulled the RV to western Washington for the holidays, so we got to spend time with our older son and his girlfriend, and even hosted them for a couple of overnights. Our RV is “just a house that is close to a different airport each time,” he explained.

It was crowded in here, and it took a fair amount of discussion to explain the many ways we need to be conservative with water use, but we would not have traded that family time for anything.

Last year, we were able to celebrate both boys’ birthdays right here in our home on wheels — one in WA in January, and the next in TX in February.

And when we’re parked in our home base of San Antonio, TX, for a few weeks every six months, our younger son stays with us in the RV for an occasional weekend home from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s a little more blunt about the issue. “I went to college. I don’t care where my parents live,” he said.

Some things about his visits are different than perhaps we’d all expected. For one thing, he gets the RV couch instead of his old bedroom, and for another, he doesn’t bring home his laundry because he’s got a washer and dryer in his apartment. We parents are the ones schlepping our stinkies to the laundromat every week.

But other things are quite similar to the traditional image of having a child home from college:

  • We let him sleep in.
  • He does his homework at the kitchen table.
  • And we often send him back with food, like homemade cookies and rolls, and once, a gallon of our family famous dutch oven chili.

We joke that he can tell his roommates that he stays in his parents’ food truck for the weekend!

Homework at the kitchen table, just like in a sticks-and-bricks

One exception to taking our home with us to visit our sons was when we recently did the reverse by flying our Texas Longhorn to Nevada to stay with us in The Toad for part of his winter break.

So… what do you do when you’ve got a 19-year-old joining you for the RV park’s holiday ugly sweater party? With all the “old” people?

Well.

We tried to come up with an option that took his feelings into account, so I decorated our three sweaters with the words HO, HO, and NO.

Guess who got NO.

And guess who won the ugly sweater contest!

Christmas spirit for the win!

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. In addition, portions appeared previously here.)