Thursday, March 3, 2016

Getting Solar for the New RV

Tonight we are parked beside the 'Solar' place near the Christian Service Center by the Imperial Dam in Winterhaven, CA.  Apparently we've been boondocking in California all this time.  Who knew?  (I did...kinda).

This is a little ways from our boondock in the LTVA on BLM land by Squaw Lake.  We like this boondock because there is free water with several large bays to pull up to and free dumping at another row of bays a short distance from the free water.

I say 'free' but it's actually included in our $40 14 day permit.  This means a little over $80 for a month of camping.  For February we paid $350 plus an exorbitant $75 for electricity.  Total was $450.  Not cool.

Either Arizona has astronomical electrical rates or this RV park we were at was taking a cut with every kilowatt.  And then they look at me like I have two heads and say '$75 for a whole month of electricity seems pretty cheap to me.'  Um, srsly?  Dude, my house in Pahrump, 1,200 sq ft averaged $120/mo and that was basically because of the high cost of summer use.  I regularly saw a bill of $60 to $80 in the winter.  Whatever...

Boondocking is saving me money, no doubt, but we were relying on our gas generator to charge our weak inefficient 'auxiliary' batteries.  The guys at this solar place say we got the cheapest/weakest 12 volts you can get.  26DC I think, but might have been 24.  At any rate, they were draining fast with a tiny load and freaking us out.

Regarding this Solar place:  I called around Yuma to get solar installed and everyone was booked for weeks out.  This awesome little place was ready to get us in ASAP.  The owner lives on site and I think they're a retiree who just does this in their spare time.  They seem like a nice crew.  It's really cool that they let us move the rig beside their place for the night.  Even cooler: they hooked me up to their shore power.  No struggling with our batteries tonight!

I have a $2,500 quote for solar installation that the moms is paying for with some excess money she took from her retirement account when we were coming up with our down payment for the rig.  I have already robbed her retirement account of $15,000 ($10,000 for the down payment, $5,000 for taxes) and feel like crud.  On the other hand...I just don't have the money to get an extravagant solar set-up for this rig.

My mom likes to watch TV.  She's also a prepper.  So told me before that having solar panels made her feel secure.  She doesn't want to rely on fossil fuels for our electricity.  Gas is cheap now, $1.50/gal in this area, but can and will go up. My mom pushed for solar.

I agree with the decision.  Our batteries were draining way too fast.  The inverter connected to the cigarette lighter was iffy.

We had two scares so far  -

1. I accidentally drained the engine battery because I thought all the batteries were banked and that it didn't matter if I hooked into the cigarette lighters in the cockpit or if I hooked in the one in the back TV.  Well...we drained the engine battery with the TV/receiver.  I had to use the emergency jump button to get the rig started.  (Yeah.  I screwed up.  Sorry.  I'm new to this.)

2.  I accidentally drained the house batteries because I went to sleep when they were reading 3/4th full and thought that would be fine to run the receiver/satellite all night so any programs we had scheduled could be recorded by the built in DVR.  At 7am the inverter alarm went off.  I saw the batteries were drained.  I went to turn on the generator.  It wouldn't start.  I had to turn on the engine for a while until the house batteries were charged enough to turn on the generator.  (Again...I screwed up.  I'm new to this).

So, yeah, I'm majorly screwing up right out of the gate.  Fortunately this RV is backed up one way or the other, so I could save myself and not look like a complete idiot to my mother.  The fact that I even know *this* much is impressive to me, but I'm sure a lot of you are shaking your heads at my stupidity.

If you recall, my solar set-up for the old travel trailer was $1,456 all-in.  It was pretty weak and resulted in beeping batteries by the 2nd night of a boondock.  :/

The old system was two 128 watt panels, a cheapy charge controller, and a 1000 watt pure sine inverter.

What we're getting installed tomorrow:  Two 160 watt panels, a pricier charge controller with a read-out screen, and we're trading in our two piece of crap 12 volt house batteries to get four 6 volt batteries.  6 volts are better than 12.  Everyone seems to know this, even if it seems a little counter intuitive.

What about an inverter?  Well...when I thought we were just going to run off the generator a while I went ahead and bought two inverters from an RV store.  I didn't know what I was getting and I regret it now.  But since we bought them, we're going to try to get by with the larger one.  It's a 600 modified sine wave.  (I also got a 300 watt to use in the back cigarette lighter to run my laptop).

Modified sine is not as good as pure sine and is screwing up our TV picture sometimes.  600 watts is not as good as 1000 watts and means no more coffee maker or toaster.

That said...we had this 600 watt inverter hooked into a cigarette lighter (yeah, I should know better, I had to cut the metal eyelets on the leads just to get the cigarette lighter cord to fit on it's connectors) and it was able to run two laptops, the 26" plasma, and the receiver/satellite.  It works.  We're keeping it.  The only alternative this solar place has in stock is a 2000 watt pure sine for $900.  We're already spending enough!!!

They are upgrading the cables they use to attach the inverter to the batteries (apparently hooking something that huge into the cigarette lighter was a no-no) to big-ass cables so that if I want to upgrade to a better inverter in the future I can just unscrew the cables from the back of this 600 modified sine and get a 1200 pure sine.  We'll see if that's necessary.  As I said, we've been spending enough money lately.

This solar set up will pay for itself in 7 months if we continue to boondock exclusively.  That's the plan...but...after three days of our initial boondock we were out of water and the grey and black tanks were full.

Ugh.  WTF.  I read about other boondockers going for a month without dumping.  With my medical condition I figured the black tank was going to be our biggest problem.  I let it fill up when we were still at the RV park to see how long we could go.  The answer:  5 days.  So I expected to have to dump and take on water ever 5 days.  Not *too* much of a hassle at the BLM LTVA (did I mention this stands for Bureau of Land Management Long Term Vistor's Area?) where the dump station and potable water are included with the permit and easily accessed.

The problem is, we filled up tanks and ran out of water in 3 days.  Closing the slides, battoning down the sunlights and windows, and getting everything tied down for movement is a hassle.  I also want to deal with poo as little as possible.  I am not okay with having to dump/fill every three fricking days.

But here's the twist:  While we're parked here at the solar place my mom and I both took showers.  The grey tank is reading 1/4th full (we dumped right before here).  If we filled it in 3 days without showers I would think two showers would at least get us half full.  Now I'm thinking the readings were wrong because we weren't level.

Now that we are level the fresh water only read 1/2 full!  What's that about?  I filled it until the water was spraying out of the back fill.  Why are we only 1/2 full?  I don't get that.  I think the water level sensor is whacked on this thing.  However, we did literally see the water not come out of the tap when it read empty before.

I'm going to do another dump and fill when we leave here tomorrow.  I'm going to make sure the RV is as level as possible with wheel blocks.  Then I'm going to hope we truly can get *at least* 5 days between dumps with *at least* one shower for each of us.  In between showers we do wash clothe baths.

I don't want to go back to RV parks.  Boondocking full time is going to take some serious forethought.  I must have dump stations within reach where ever we land, and access to water.  We can't stay where we are come April.  This LTVA closes April 15th (more or less) and it's just way too hot to stay here anyway.  We have to go north.

I want to go north where we can camp for free or very little.  I have a huge RV payment.  The rig cost $80,300 *AFTER* the $10,000 deposit.  Ugh.  My goal is to pay it off in 5 years.  That means $1500/month.  I've been hustling hard-core with my writing to get to where I can afford it.

In January I had a great month (hence the decision to buy this at the end of January--we got it delivered in February).  The royalties for January come in April.  December was pretty meh...not bad but not stupendous.  The December royalties were paid to me now, in March.  With them I was able to pay $1000 on this RV.  Next month I will be able to pay $2000.  This averages me out to $1500 and gets me on the right track.  February just closed and I know I will have enough to pay $1500 in May.  So far so good.  First 3 payments average $1500/mo.  If I can keep this up I'll make my goal of paying this off in 5 years.  Right now I'm working to make sure I make enough money for June.  I have to get out a new story, and it has to be a success.  x_x  Time to get to work.

If I get rid of RV park feels paying for this RV becomes much more doable.  I really hope we can stick with that for the long term.  So far I've screwed up quite a bit and I'm running into problems.  I'm determined to figure this out.

Oh, another money saving thing is a little washing machine we bought.  You put the water in it, run it, drain it, then put more water to rinse.  It takes very small loads.  Granted, laundromats were $20/mo tops (I think...this has always been my mother's chore).  The bigger reason for the little washing machine is to prevent us from having to drive into town.  These BLM boondocks tend to be remote.  I want to get stocked up on groceries and then stay parked. does mean doing laundry far more often.  The big machine has to be stored under my mom's bed too, since I can't get it through the openings of any outside storage areas.

Our RV is parked beside this solar energy place.  We left our SUV at the boondock with our satellite chained to it.  The washing machine is sitting next to the car.  Someone can easily steal it. 

It's possible that I might want it to get stolen...I really should have gotten the smaller one without the spin cycle bucket.  This huge machine is a beast to haul in and out.  :/


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