By Bob Difley
In last week’s post, Moving forward: Surviving your first night of dry-camping I wrote about how to spend a night or two without hookups. This week I go a bit further by looking at how to extend our camping time–actually getting the maximum out of the batteries that provide our house electricity–prolonging the time when we need to go find a hookup or run our engine/generator for an extended length of time to restore the amps–the power–to the batteries. So let’s take a look at the RV’s electrical operation.
What could be easier to use in an RV than the electrical system? You flip a switch and there is light. Push a button and your coffee maker produces a perfect cup of Java. Nothing to think twice about–as long you keep an electrical wire connected to your house-on-wheels and the utility company’s equipment doesn’t brown out. In your stick house, when these fail, there is not much you can do about it but wait. And wait. Until somebody else fixes it.
But in your RV, it’s a different story. If you practice the cavalier attitude about electrical usage in your rig that you probably do in your house, chances are that your house battery will soon be completely depleted. The reason, of course, is that your wire to your house/RV continuously feeds infinite current, while when boondocking you are using up the finite stored electricity in your house battery.
There are two ways to deal with an RV’s limited source of electrical power. (1) limit or cut back on usage (conserving), the subject of this blog, and the other is to find additional sources (main engine, generator, solar, wind, or chipmunks on a treadmill), which is next Saturday’s subject.
Fortunately, or unfortunately if you are an energy hog, an effective way to improve your electrical usage is to change old energy-wasting habits. Once you’ve allowed those habits to die a well deserved death, you will find your new efficient habits aren’t as draconian as you may have thought. And running a generator for hours every day is NOT an efficient use of power; it is a very slow way to charge your batteries, makes noise (an alien sound in the boonies and annoying to neighbors), uses fossil fuels, requires carrying extra gas cans (if using a portable generator), requires service and maintenance, and will eventually break down requiring repairs or costly replacement.
Try out these ways to conserve the energy you have so you can stay camped out there by that mountain stream for a day or so longer.
- Turn off anything that pulls electricity from your battery–lights, radio, TV, computer–when not in use.
- Turn your porch light off (a particular annoyance to me when I am not so fortunate to be able to camp away from neighbors that leave the light on destroying my night vision).
- Coordinate your generator running time and using power-hungry appliances. Schedule showers (your water pump uses 8 amps), water heater, microwave, coffee grinder, and dishwashing all within the same period of time when you can run your generator to power them, rather than pull juice out of your batteries. This also charges your house battery/ies at the same time.
- Rise and go to bed with the sun. This cuts your light usage down considerably. Florescent lights use about 1 amp each. Better is to install LED lights that are very energy stingy and will last the life of your rig.
- If you read in bed, try using a book light that uses rechargeable batteries that you can use over and over. You can recharge the batteries when you hook up next time or plugged in to your tow vehicle or dingy cigarette lighter that will charge when on exploration trips. You won’t run down your house batteries with your RV’s lights, and you will probably win points from your trying-to-sleep mate by not lighting up the whole bedroom.
- Forget our forced air furnace except when running your generator. It sucks up the juice from your battery and will discharge it in one night if left on thermostat. Pull up an extra blanket or install a propane heater (more on that in a later post). Turn your generator on in the morning to run your furnace to get rid of the morning chill and also to make your coffee if you haven’t yet switched to a French press or Melitta method instead of an electric coffee maker.
- Monitor your house batteries charge with a voltage meter so you don’t run them down too low, which can damage them. Deep cycle batteries are considered fully charged at 12.6 volts and completely discharged at 10.6 volts. Recharge before they get below about 12.0 volts.
Next Saturday’s post will be on how to upgrade your electrical system to appliances that require less power and how to use alternate power sources.
For more RVing articles and tips take a look at my Healthy RV Lifestyle website, where you will also find my ebooks: BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (PDF or Kindle), 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for your RV Lifestyle Buck (PDF or Kindle), and Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (PDF or Kindle), and my newest, The RV Lifestyle: Reflections of Life on the Road (PDF or Kindle reader version). NOTE: Use the Kindle version to read on iPad and iPhone or any device that has the free Kindle reader app.
By Bob Difley
Last week in Part IV we looked at ways to conserve electricity by limiting our actual usage. Today, we will flip in the other direction and look at ways to increase the available electricity and add alternative sources of power.
Lower wattage and Energy Star appliances will take less energy to run, pull fewer amps from your batteries, and run more efficiently–in other words, they’re greener than your older appliances.
However, it is not practical or economical to tear out your old installed appliances and replace with Energy Star (until they need replacement), but you can check before you buy a new RV whether the appliances already installed are in compliance.
You can also vastly improve your electrical system–actually more than doubling your storage capacity–by installing additional or different batteries. Here you have choices. Buy an additional deep cycle flooded lead acid RV battery like the one your rig came with, only don’t add a new battery into a system with older batteries or the older battery will draw energy from the new one. A newer type battery option is the absorbed gas mat (AGM) type, which has no liquid in the cells that must be monitored or refilled. Or you could install two or four 6-volt golf cart batteries. To help you decide as well as learn more than you probably ever wanted to know about batteries go to this text of a presentation by Greg Holder, owner of AMSolar.
I use four Trojan T-105 6-volt golf cart batteries, about which Greg says, “Best bang for the buck is the Trojan T-105 golf cart batteries — if you have space for them. They are considerably taller, and won’t fit in some compartments. 2 6s in series is better than 2 12V batteries. Longer life, more forgiving, will last twice as long. Cost in range of $65-$85.” NOTE: This was the price when Greg gave his seminar. My most recent price check showed a $115 to $160 range per battery.
Just installing more battery capacity will about double your boondocking electrical capability, but by also using alternative, renewable energy sources you can pump amps into those batteries even while you are out in the booniest of boonies. There are four ways to do this: (1) idle your main engine, (2) run your generator, (3) install solar panels,or (4) install a wind turbine.
The problems with (1) and (2) are that they are noisy, smelly, cause wear and tear on the equipment, require maintenance, use increasingly expensive gasoline, and are inefficient requiring hours of running to plump up a depleted battery.
My personal choice, solar, is totally silent, has no moving parts (no wear and tear), requires no maintenance (except a wash off or wipe down occasionally), produces free electricity, and works from dawn’s early light until the sun is over the yardarm without complaint.
The downside with solar is the upfront cost of panels and installation. If you install it yourself you can save some expense. But after that–free energy. If you intend to keep your rig for a while, the cost amortizes out. And it’s so satisfying to look at the control panel and see those amps streaming into your batteries and not have to worry whether you have enough juice left to watch Night of the Living Dead or play Halo 3 after dark.
To figure out what size system you need you have to figure out how much electricity you use on average in a day. You can do this on AMSolar’s system sizing page. Then add a bit for when it is cloudy or rainy or if you estimated a bit low–it’s a good idea to have a margin of error. But, if you are consistently low or your electricity usage grows, you can just add another panel into the system.
If you typically travel where there is no sunshine (Oregon and Washington in the winter come to mind), prefer to camp under the canopy of a deep forest in summer, or like camping on windy unprotected hilltops than you might want to consider a wind turbine. The newer models are less noisy and have less vibration than older models, and when you hoist them up on a long pole above your rig, it takes just a breeze to get it spinning amps into your system. But if there is no wind, no juice. If you don’t mind spending the bucks and like all this tech stuff, you can install both, like Brian Brawdy did on his camper (see turbine blades in upper right corner of photo).
Next Saturday I will dive into the water system (pun intended).
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.
We’re camping at Mammoth Cave in a couple of weeks (July 1-4 to be exact) and it’ll be our first time there for all of us. We’re trying to decide which Mammoth Cave Tours we should take, and we’re hoping we can get advice from others.
We’re thinking one fairly long tour each day. We’re reasonably fit (kids moreso than mom and dad) so we’re open to most anything, but due to the kids the Wild Cave Tour is the only tour that’s not an option.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my most favorite magazines is Midwest Living. Every month, the editors do a fantastic job of covering all the great things about the Midwest — with a heavy dose of all things travel-related (lodging, dining, attractions, etc.). The articles are both informative and enjoyable and the design is attractive, but by far the highlight of each issue is the spectacular photography. The recipes section is extremely good.
The May/June issue recently hit our mailbox, and one of its feature stories is their pick for the top state parks each Midwest state has to offer.
Quick aside: As reference to our ongoing debate on what states constitute the Midwest, it’s interesting to note that, at least for this top state parks list, Midwest Living includes as its Midwest states Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
Beginning with this post, I’ll periodically feature each of their selections (although still debating whether to include those from the Dakotas, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska; what do you think?).
Ludington State Park, Michigan
Midwest Living said Ludington State Park, located 100 miles northwest of Grand Rapids, is “busy enough to warrant a rich lineup of amenities and programming – including boat rentals, lighthouse tours and guided dune walks – but large enough, at 5,300 acres, to escape summer crowding. Lake Michigan beckons, cobalt waves washing onto unruly dunes. Eighteen miles of trails hopscotch over bridges and boardwalks along inland Hamlin Lake. A bike path traces the tranquil Sable River, and a 2-mile hike north through wild sands leads to the lighthouse tower at Big Sable Point.”
Ludington State Park is practically an island, as it sits nestled between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, which was created by loggers at the turn of the last century.
The park boasts over 6 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Here you will find lofty sand dunes, virgin stands of evergreen and hardwood trees, soft, sandy beaches, and an extensive network of hiking, skiing, biking, and canoe trails.
The park’s education and interpretive programming is very popular and offers slide and video presentations, and live programs that can give you a better appreciation of the wildlife, geology, and history of this unique area.
Ludington State Park offers wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities from its 18 miles of trails system. Walk the Skyline Trail for some spectacular views of high dune ridges and Lake Michigan, and hike the Lighthouse Trail to Big Sable Point Lighthouse to sample a bit of Michigan’s maritime history.
Perhaps the most unique trail here is the canoe trail. Brochures at the visitor center show you how to make a unique passage along the bayous and inlets of Hamlin Lake’s shoreline. Slip silently down this trail early in the morning for a high probability of viewing herons, egrets, waterfowl, deer, and other animals along the water’s edge. The Sable River, which flows from Hamlin Lake to Lake Michigan, is just as popular for wildlife and canoeists.
There are three modern campgrounds at Ludington State Park — Pines, Cedar and Beechwood — with a combined total of 355 campsites including three mini-cabins. These sites have electricity and modern shower and bathroom facilities in each campground.
Cedar Campground also has a small loop of eight tent-only sites separated from the modern site loop. These tent sites do not have electricity but are within walking distance of the restrooms and showers. For backpack campers, Ludington offers 10 remote tent sites in the new Jack Pine Hike-In only campground. This campground has no electricity and the toilet facilities are rustic. Showers are available at the Pines modern campground.
My relatives — RV campers, of course — have stayed here many times and it’s easily their top choice when it’s time for camping. Trouble is, Ludington State Park is so good it’s nearly impossible to reserve a site, especially on weekends. And the holidays? Fuggedaboutit. But, in Michigan you can reserve a state park campsite six months in advance, so pick a summer date, and sometime in late winter go online here and stake your claim.
Folks at RV Park Reviews had a few minor complaints, but overall most seemed to really enjoy their stay.
“Large, diverse, and pretty park with lots to do,” said one camper. “There’s a long beach along Lake Michigan for sunbathing, a good-sized inland lake for motor boating and canoing, and a short stretch of river connecting the two lakes for lazily tubing/rafting.”
“Very impressive State Park, well run and well maintained,” said another camper. “Very quiet with a wonderful boardwalk for fishing, walking and bird viewing. Many terrific hiking trails and a very picturesque lighthouse. Great campground if you like the outdoors and wildlife.”
From the Personal Blog: Strawberry pie-eating contests, duct tape parade floats, live jazz & blues, outdoor arts, stilt walkers, cross-country bicycling, washboard music, military encampments and musters and the Memorial Golf Tournament are all sure signs of June in Ohio! Click here to read the whole thing.
Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.
By Bob Difley
The last remaining snowbirds, except for the hardy “desert rats” that won’t head north until successive days of 100-degree plus temps have turned them into brown lizards, have finally started their migration north to the cooler forests of the northern states and Canada. But Boondocking in the national and state forests presents new challenges quite different from those in the southwestern deserts.
One of these challenges is producing enough electrical power from solar panels to meet your daily needs.In the desert, your considerations are:
- Because most desert campsites are open to the sky, you get charging from your panels from the first glint of sun over the morning horizon until it has passed out of view in the western sky.
- However, since the angle of the sun is lower, you will not get full charging unless you tilt your panels toward the sun’s trajectory across the sky, and position your RV horizontal to the sun’s movement, and verify that your panels–or other roof top equipment–do not shade the charging (silicon) part of the panel.
- Since the days are shorter, your total charging time will be shorter, and your batteries may not have sufficient time to become fully re-charged. Therefore, you may have to schedule more electricity-using hours (meals, showering, computer use) during daylight, so as not to deplete too much from your batteries overnight.
When you move from the desert to a Ponderosa pine forested campsite, your challenges change.
- Since the sun during the summer months passes more directly overhead, your panels do not have to be elevated to take full advantage of the suns’ rays throughout the day.
- Days are longer so you have many more charging hours every day than in the desert, and since the number of nightime dark hours roughly equals the eight hours of sleep needed, most electricity-using can be accomplished while the panels are charging–though probably not to full capacity–if you coordinate your sleeping and rising times with the sun’s.
- But now comes the hard part. Since you are camping in a forest, you will undoubtedly have periods of the day when the sun is blocked from reaching your panels by the magnificent (and tall) trees surrounding your campsite. Short of camping out in the middle of a meadow (which can be nice) you will have to hazard a guess at how many of the actual daylight hours the sun is actually reaching your panels–without any part being shaded which reduces the amount of amps that pass into your batteries–and calculate accordingly so you don’t find yourself with batteries that have not re-charged.
The remaining consideration in both desert and forest is the number of overcast or rainy days which will produce minimal battery charging. It is therefore a good idea to oversize your system to account for all the variables.
Check out my eBooks on Boondocking and saving money on the road on my Web site for more information on living the good life of the RV Lifestyle.
By Bob Difley
I feel safer now that a designer has come up with the vehicle that will save us RVers from global warming, a food shortage, escalating fuel prices, peak oil, brownouts from overstressed power suppliers, and expensive campgrounds–not necessarily in that order.
Designer Mario Pitsch has introduced a futuristic creation on The Design Blog, the Nomad RV, whose mission is to help us cope with the coming post-apocalyptic world, roaming the earth as nomads bent on survival as our pre-historic ancestors once did–minus the RV, of course.
The Nomad RV includes its own system for growing food, captures moisture, mist, and fog to produce water from the air for drinking and other uses, and creates electricity from integrated solar panels. It also includes a greenhouse with algae reactor and will accommodate a family of four.
But don’t reach for your American Express card just yet, no manufacturers have stepped forward to produce the design. However, when it does become available, be sure to have a copy of my eBook on hand, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands.
By Bob Difley
As regular viewers of The Long Long Honeymoon know, Kristy and I have an Airstream travel trailer. Airstreams have been in production longer than most of us have been alive. The company was established in 1931.
Although Airstream has dabbled in motorhomes and other RVs, the company is famous for its travel trailers.
What makes ‘em different? The most obvious answer is the aluminum skin. The upside of aluminum construction is longevity. It never rusts, and never goes out of fashion. The aircraft inspired construction is aerodynamic and tows like a dream. We get 12 MPG towing our 25-foot Classic, which is one of the heavier models.
But Airstreams have a few quirks, also mostly related to the aluminum exterior. (Hint: When walking atop the roof, DO NOT step upon the aluminum.) And the curved roof construction that tows so well also leads to some compromises in interior space. The interior is more often described as “cozy” than “spacious.”
Fortunately, most of our servicing issues have been minor ones. We’ve had the occasional leak, or the fan that stops blowing, or the door latch that fails. We’ve had tire issues. But for the most part, the thing has been reliable. The air-conditioning has always blown cold, the electricity has always come on, and the plumbing has always plumbed. Like all towables, Airstreams lack a motor — so they also lack all of those engine-related maintenance issues.
From time to time, people interested in Airstreams ask us for shopping advice. For many of us, buying an Airstream isn’t as easy as driving down to your local dealership. That’s because most RV dealerships don’t carry Airstreams. So browsing Airstreams may take a little extra effort. As always, technology helps.
This leads us to one of the great Airstream dealerships, Airstream of Arkansas. This dealership is located in the small town of Searcy, Arkansas. And it’s one of the top performing Airstream dealerships in the entire country. They deliver new Airstreams everywhere, so you can shop with these guys no matter where you live! Personally, I enjoy visiting their site to browse the latest models. Airstream of Arkansas has an excellent website that features the wonderful smörgåsbord of new Airstreams on the lot. Although we love our 25-foot Classic, I must confess we have been sorely tempted by the new models.
If we were buying a new Airstream, our first phone call (or email) would be to Gene Morris at Airstream of Arkansas (AirstreamofArkansas.com). Gene is not only extremely knowledgeable, he’s Internet savvy. Better yet, he’s a nice guy and a straight shooter. Tell him Sean & Kristy of The Long Long Honeymoon sent you! If you have any other questions about Airstream shopping, drop me an email at HoneymoonShow
For 100 videos of our Airstream in action, check out our blog: LongLongHoneymoon.com
Are you convinced that global warming is a bunch of political bunk concocted out of personal greed? Is “drill, baby, drill” the answer to high fuel prices (that are now starting to creep up again) and the solution to importing OPEC oil? Do you feel that you have earned your McMansion-on-wheels and you are going to get the most out of it? You are not alone. So, for those of you that want to throw down the gauntlet of deniability, a pie in the face of enviro-whackos and climate change fanatics, here are eight ways to flaunt your frontier-style independence, your choice of free will over scientific malarkey, and to demonstrate your God-given right to what you deserve and the freedom to choose how you decide—not somebody else—how to live your life.
1. Forget that nonsense about driving slower. Cruising at 70 mph or better (watch out for those speed traps) will get you where you are going faster so you can beat others to the best campsites.
2. Don’t waste time staying at campgrounds too long. Once you spend about half a day seeing the sights, you’ve probably seen what there is to see. It’s time to move on to another place. Otherwise, how can you see the whole country if you stay too long in one place.
3. Leave your old-style lights bulbs that came with your rig until they burn out, then replace them with the same cheap ones. Why spend money when you don’t have to for lower energy lights. The campground pays for the electricity anyway.
4. Get rid of your recycle bins. They take up extra space in your rig, have to be taken to special recycling receptacles, and the stuff probably doesn’t get recycled anyway.
5. Don’t concern yourself with using reusable cloth bags for food shopping, they take up extra room in your rig, are a pain to remember every time you go to the store, and are not nearly as convenient as the free plastic bags that supermarkets hand out. Besides, without these free plastic bags, you would have to pay for trash can liners. And if some of those bags, plastic fast food containers, plastic forks and spoons, and paper coffee cups didn’t end up out on the streets, all those little people that pick up trash for their living would be out of a job.
6. Buy cheap disposable items whenever you can, since by the time things break, there will be new and better things to replace it. And face it, shopping for stuff is one of the joys of RVing to different shopping malls around the country. What are landfills for anyway, but a place to get rid of all the old stuff you don’t want anymore.
7. Don’t even consider buying your dry stores in bulk. Boxed items on supermarket shelves stack better in your cabinets, and when they are empty, it’s easier to just throw away the boxes than have to wash the containers that you would have used to put the bulk stuff in.
8. Buy the most powerful, big-horse truck for your fiver, or a brawny SUV for your toad. It takes power to handle big manly stuff, and your truck or SUV not only tells everybody in those puny fuel efficient cars and wimpy trucks to get out of your way but also lets them know that a real RVer is behind the wheel.
Some RVs are built to last. And when they do finally wear out, they often get rescued, restored, and put right back into circulation. Read more