Solar Cells and RVs

I did a little research into Solar Cells and RVing.  This is a non bias review of the issue.  I am not involved with sales, installation, boondocking, dry camping, Green Peace or any other environmental cause.  I am looking at it from a purely financial and beneficial stand point.

Let start with the size in amps that would be needed for an off the grid RV.  If you are frugal with your electric use, leaving the lights off, using propane for heating water and air, limiting your tv and computer time you can probably get by with about 20-30 AMP/H.  You have to remember that you have a lot of equipment in the RV that uses electricity even if you aren’t.  You smoke, CO2 and Propane detectors, the converter/inverter, the refrigerator (even on gas uses 12 VDC) and water heater all use DC all the time.  Then you have fans, lights, electronics that also use AC all of the time.  So just to keep the system running I figure you will need from 500 to 600 Watts. Then on top of that you have your entertainment and living wattage. So figure you will need from 800-1000 watts of consistent solar power to meet your needs as a minimum. Now solar panels are only about 6% effiecent.  That means that to create that kind of power you will need 15 sq yards of space on the roof or about 6-8 panels, depending on the part of the country and the weather.

Equipment needed is the next area.  You need the panels, charge controller, batteries, converter/inverter, monitoring unit, wiring, mounting hardware and the available weight on the RV.  So lets talk about weight first.  The solar panels are going to weight around 40-50 lbs each with hardware and wiring.  The batteries will weigh about 50 lbs each.  You will probably have 4-8 6 volt batteries.  The controler will weigh in at about 15 lbs. The monitor is 5 lbs. Total added weight to the RV for 8 panels would be about 900 lbs.

Cost for all of this is the real kicker.  There are all kinds of prices out there from $200 set up to $6000 or more.  Basically you will get what you pay for.  A trickle charger setup will not work for boondocking. It is designed to kept the battery charged when not in use.  Basically the first panel will run from $800-$1000 plus installation. Each additional panel will be from $600-$750.  So you can see that an 8 panel full time off the grid system will probably cost you from $5000 to $6250.

All of this assumes you are living in the desert with no bad weather, that you always have a clear shot of the southern sky and that the panels are mounted to be able to track the sun during most of the day. Which means you will also need a supplemental energy source as well, IE a generator.

I don’t know how long you plan on boondocking, but for the heck of it lets do some math.  First off the resale value of a used solar system is non-exsistent. So you won’t recover any of your investment that way.  The good news is it should last 20-25 years.  The added holes in your roof will probably mean more maintenance and sealant over the years and will affect the resale value of your rig.  So unless the buyer is also looking to boondock and wants to take the solar system as well, you will lose money on the RV when you trade it in.
Solar vs Generator?  There is no doubt that solar over the long haul will reduce your energy expenses, but by how much?  A generator run about a gallon of fuel an hour.  If you are using gas that means it cost about $3 an hour to run and you will run it about 3-4 hours a day to keep the batteries charged, so $12 a day.  So for the first 416 days or so of boondocking you it will be cheaper to use a generator than installing a $5000 solar system in perfect sunlight.  Call it two years before you will see a benefit of using solar over generator as a full time boondocker.  If you hook up at a campground at all, then the time extends out even more.

Since we plan on only boondocking a week or so a year once we head West, it was pretty easy for me to see that this wasn’t worth it.  You need to decide if it is for you.

Caulking

If you ever have owned a house, you know that every once in a while you need to caulk around the windows and doors, well the RV is even more important.  Imagine as your driving down the road the window and door frames rubbing and shaking as you hit the bumps and dips in the road.  Even while sitting still at the campground the stress that is put on them when leveling the rig.  This movement is normal, but over time it breaks the seal that was installed when the RV was build that prevents water leaking into the RV.  These water leaks may be very evident with wet wall or floors, but it may also be hidden behind the walls.

Caulking is a task that you want to schedule about every 4 years or so.  You will need a couple of days of clear, dry weather to allow the caulking to cure.  This is a simple process and will only take a few hours to do.  You will need a ladder, caulking and some clean rags.  Which caulk is the best?  I don’t know, but since it is exposed to the weather, I would get a good outdoor caulking.  I prefer one that dries clear.

Caulk around the whole frame of each window and door.  If you have a drivable RV you will not need to do the front window as they are sealed with a rubber grommet.  However, if you have an older rig that has some rust around the windows, it won’t hurt to seal that area as well.

I think caulking is an art.  The more you do the better your seals will look, so practice makes perfect.  Best of luck and hopefully we will met on the road.

Videos coming… sooner or later :)

I am currently learning how to make videos for posting to YouTube and this website.  I am going to create a whole series of videos covering the same subjects that are posted on RV Inspection Service’s website (http://rv-inspection-service.com).  Most videos will be short subjects covering all aspects of inspection an RV prior to purchasing.  I hope to have the videos starting this Spring and finished this Summer.

To cover the added cost of producing and hosting the videos I will need to charge, sorry.  I am looking at what I hope is a very reasonable price of $9.50.  That is a flat one time fee.

I am also working on an RV Inspection Book that you can use to inspect the RV with before you purchase.  Hopefully it will be done this Summer.

 

Stabilizer Maintenance

Stabilizer Maintenance
Maintenance of the stabilizers is basically the same for electric or hydraulic.   Keep the springs clean and properly attached.  If they appear to be loose or stretched out, it is time for replacing them.  Some stabilizers have internal springs.  If the stabilizer fails to retract fully then maintenance is required.

The pads should be clean and flat when extended.  You do not want the pads to be sloping or unstable this could cause damage to the stabilizer.  Clean the stabilizer rods with hydraulic oil.  Periodic retracting the stabilizers when in long term use will help keep the rods clean and lubricated.

When using your stabilizers, it is a good idea to use pads, wood or other blocking under the pads.  This will help keep the pad clean, prevent sinking into the ground and spread the weight of the rig over a larger area, providing a more stable set up.

Check the fluid levels of the hydraulic system at least once a month.  Fill with the proper fluid as required.

Read you manual for proper maintenance intervals and operation.  If you don’t have the manual, check online for the manufacturers recommendations.  Always follow the safety instructions when operating your stabilizers.

Slide Maintenance

Slides are probably one of the most important improvements made to recreational vehicles in a long time.  They come in manual, electric and hydraulic.  Each requires is own form of maintenance.

With all slides there are some common maintenance tasks.  First never store anything on top of the slides whether they are in or out.  Second, make sure the top of the slides are clear of any debris before opening or closing the slides.  Debris can tear up the rubber seals causing leaks and eventual replacement. Make sure that all drawers, cabinet doors and chairs are properly stored.

Manual Slides are probably the easiest to maintain.  A simple lubrication once a year with a good quality silicone spray will keep them working for years to come.  While you are at it, clean and treat the seals with a rubber seal spray.

Electric and hydraulic controlled slides should be lubricated annually using a quality silicone spray and the seals cleaned with a good rubber cleaning spray.  In addition, you want to make sure the batteries are in good working order.  Clean the connections at least once a year.  Check under the slide for signs of rubbing.  Keep the slide tracks, equalizer gears clean and properly lubed.  If the slide is going to be extended for a long period of time, a slight coating of hydraulic oil will help prevent the ram from rusting.  It is a good idea to exercise the slides at least once a month to keep the parts working properly.

Check the connections of the ram to the slides to ensure the bolts are tight and adjusted properly.  There are numerous methods for adjusting the slides.  Normally the top of the slide will contact the side of the rv first and then the drive will pull the bottom tight.  If the operation is out of whack you will need to perform the proper adjustment procedure or contact your rv repairman.