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Old 03-24-2018, 06:50 PM   #1
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Balmar Smartgauge

Has anyone put one of these into their trailer or have any other experience with them? I only recently learned of them and kind of now wish I’d known about them before I went with the venerable Bogart Trimetric. I’m particularly intrigued by its self-calibration ability that should eliminate a number of potential sources of error that other amp-counter meters are prone to.

Would love to hear any first hand experience with them.

Smartgauge Battery Monitor | Balmar
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Old 03-24-2018, 07:05 PM   #2
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+/- 5% accuracy during discharge and +/- 10% during discharge.

Self calibration?
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Old 03-24-2018, 09:12 PM   #3
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I would guess that the lack of a shunt is the reason for the Balmer’s wide range of accuracy. Most battery monitors use a shunt, using Ohm’s law they give accurate measurements. Yes, they do require heavy battery cables and common (but heavy duty) connectors.

What about the Victron as an alternative to the Trimetric?
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Old 03-24-2018, 09:17 PM   #4
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I went with the Victron. The unit that includes bluetooth connectivity without needing to add a dongle looks good to me. I will review it after install.

Oh, and don't even think about a monitor without a shunt - no shunt, no accuracy, marketing hype notwithstanding. Just my humble - the underlying measurements and charge algorithms are difficult with a shunt which measures amperage precisely - I'm guessing bloody near impossible without one.
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Old 03-24-2018, 10:05 PM   #5
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no shunt, no accuracy, marketing hype notwithstanding.
Well, the "mar" in Balmar stands for marketing and they're pretty good at that. They've been around a long time.

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Old 03-25-2018, 01:21 AM   #6
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I went with the Victron. The unit that includes bluetooth connectivity without needing to add a dongle looks good to me. I will review it after install.

Oh, and don't even think about a monitor without a shunt - no shunt, no accuracy, marketing hype notwithstanding. Just my humble - the underlying measurements and charge algorithms are difficult with a shunt which measures amperage precisely - I'm guessing bloody near impossible without one.
We also have installed the Victron 1 1/2 years ago. So far very happy with there monitor . Now will be installing the solar controller made by Victron. Pat
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Old 03-25-2018, 03:19 AM   #7
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This is the article that piqued my interest in the Balmar Smartgauge: https://marinehowto.com/smart-gauge-...nitoring-unit/

It sounds intriguing...

Still waiting to hear if anyone has any experience with it. Anyone?
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Old 03-25-2018, 10:28 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by sclifrickson View Post
This is the article that piqued my interest in the Balmar Smartgauge: https://marinehowto.com/smart-gauge-...nitoring-unit/

It sounds intriguing...

Still waiting to hear if anyone has any experience with it. Anyone?
While no experience with this specific device, the difference between it & a true battery monitor is the ability to measure current - the Balmar only measures voltage. There is no difference between the Balmar Smartgauge and the volt meter you plug into a 12V receptacle, or, for that matter, the LED monitor panel that Escape installs (that also reads tank levels).

While a voltage measurement provides an indication of the battery state of charge if made under the correct conditions, (i.e. no solar or converter charging, waiting for the surface charge to dissipate, etc) a true battery monitor measures current in & out of the battery, showing the amp hour deficit. Much more accurate.
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Old 03-25-2018, 10:42 AM   #9
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Jon, did you read the article I linked? I think there is more to the Balmar than a volt meter that plugs into a receptacle. The one just reads straight voltage, and the other uses fancy algorithms to infer battery capacity.

I’m not saying that it’s everything that it’s cracked up to be. That’s why I solicited real world input. It’s clearly more than a straight voltmeter though.

Would be interesting to see one side by side with a Trimetric or Victron...
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Old 03-25-2018, 10:53 AM   #10
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I think there is more to the Balmar than a volt meter that plugs into a receptacle. The one just reads straight voltage, and the other uses fancy algorithms to infer battery capacity.
Yes, but you said it yourself. It infers capacity using a calculation. That calculation is based on voltage. No shunt means no measurement of current flow, which means no amp hour measurement. If I'm going to the trouble of replacing the stock battery monitor's simple and inaccurate display, I'm thinking it's best to get a monitor that actually measures current. After all, the primary benefit of the better monitors is to show you what you are using.
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:15 AM   #11
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I don’t know. While I find instantaneous usage interesting, I find the state of charge guess to be the most relied on feature of my Trimetric.

I suggest perusing the article that I linked. I’d be keen to hear thoughts on that from those of you with deeper electrical backgrounds. It raises a number of technical issues that I was previously unaware of, layman that I am.
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:20 AM   #12
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Also, *every* battery meter infers state of charge, even amp counters. Read the article.
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:37 AM   #13
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Also, *every* battery meter infers state of charge, even amp counters. Read the article.
That's true, it has to calculate the SoC from the current flow. But, it's actually measuring current flow, which this one is not. They guy did spend alot of time talking about the inaccuracy of shunt based systems over time, but focused on improperly installed systems.
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:55 AM   #14
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And how does one achieve a “properly installed” system, without conducting actual 20 hour load testing? Does anyone actually do this? Without knowing your batteries’ true capacity, state of charge is always going to be a guess, based on whatever you *think* it is. And capacity is a constantly moving target that changes based on how the batteries are used.

I’m intrigued by the Balmar’s approach to sussing our capacity over lots of charge/discharge cycles. True that it doesn’t include amp counting ability, but if it achieves a more accurate state of charge reading, without a lot of fiddling or involved physical testing, then I think it has the potential for great value as a straight “gas gauge” for the batteries.
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Old 03-25-2018, 12:50 PM   #15
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I read the article. The author's criticisms of the shunt based systems are reasonable, particularly if persons with limited electrical knowledge are involved in wiring them or interpreting their output.

With regard to the Balmar, I have to say that it seems that the gauge provides a reasonably accurate measure of state of charge. It obviously has algorithms in its "brain" that permit it to do a reasonable job by very precise voltage monitoring over time, rather than by amp hour calculations used by shunt based monitors. I did not expect that voltage monitoring would be able to do this, but it obviously does, and it appears to do it by comparing voltage patterns with those expected on the basis of data or computer modelling developed for particular battery technologies.

For what my opinion is worth, I think that for most owners, it would work fine, and avoid both the wiring complexity (not that it is that bad), or the technical understanding to make effective use of a shunt based monitor.

Had I not already bought the Victron blue tooth unit, I might have been slightly tempted. OTOH, I probably would have stayed with the shunt design because I want the amp readings to help monitor charge system behaviour.

Good luck with your decision. On balance if you are not technically inclined in the 12 volt department, and do not want the amperage information, the Balmar would work fine for you, maybe even better than a shunt based monitor.
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Old 03-25-2018, 01:17 PM   #16
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That's true, it has to calculate the SoC from the current flow. But, it's actually measuring current flow, which this one is not. They guy did spend alot of time talking about the inaccuracy of shunt based systems over time, but focused on improperly installed systems.
Yes, and he also advertises Balmar products. A real independent evaluation.

Balmar and Ample Power, both Seattle born companies, have been battling it out for over 30 years. From time to time each would come out with something new and improved. Don't get me wrong, they make good stuff, but as I said the "mar" in Balmar stands for marketing. (The "Bal" stands for the Ballard Locks near where they started.)

Despite all my exposure to this stuff over the years, my most used instrument for monitoring my batteries continues to be my $4 voltmeter, my brain and experience.

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Old 03-25-2018, 09:37 PM   #17
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Despite all my exposure to this stuff over the years, my most used instrument for monitoring my batteries continues to be my $4 voltmeter, my brain and experience.

Ron
Totally understood, I have likewise considered a mere voltmeter adequate for years in our camper setup, and I think the price was not much different than yours. Not everyone has the electrical background to use such a blunt tool though.

As to the MARketing part of BalMAR, you and I are on the same page. I have always applied a serious dose of skepticism to claims Balmar has made about their products (and I own more than one of them), particularly with regard to the "smarter" versions of their hardware. In my experience, Balmar tends to be silent about sometimes serious limitations, and over enthusiastic about features. In fairness though, they are not much worse than the competition in this business.

Twelve volt systems, particularly when combining and attempting to manage simultaneously more than one battery bank, are surprisingly complicated, so a dose of salt with the marketing hype is always a good idea. Unfortunately, most potential customers do not have the technical background to understand this stuff and separate the hype from the useful information, so Balmar and other companies are pretty much stuck using more hype than technical information in their marketing. That, I suppose, is the generous way of looking at it.

For your amusement Ron, the poor understanding of these systems is not, it appears, confined to normal customers. An acquaintance of mine was recently told by an alternator rebuild shop (admittedly by the son of the owner, not the owner himself - perhaps the owner knew better) that the maximum of ~13.5 volts put out by his alternator and regulator combo on the shop test bench was "perfectly normal" and that the voltage was only intended to "keep the batteries topped up". He was told that his gear was in perfect nick and that he should re-install it on the boat and go enjoy himself. Complete and absolute bullshit, demonstrating serious incompetence in separating automotive systems from marine deep cycle systems, not to mention a flawed understanding of the automotive ones. The advice, had it been taken, had a high likelihood of leaving the boat owner stranded with depleted batteries and an inability to start his engine.

His regulator was fried, as I had informed him earlier, and a new regulator sorted the issue completely, as I told him it would. It took some serious persuasion on my part to have him take my word over that of the incompetent at the alternator shop and order the replacement controller (an expensive and very nice Balmar as it happens). I remain shocked and dismayed at the completely incompetent advice he received from that turkey, and wonder how many other marine owners suffered serious and potentially dangerous difficulty as a result of such advice.

DC systems are such endless sources of entertainment...
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Old 03-26-2018, 01:48 AM   #18
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DC systems are such endless sources of entertainment...
Yes they are. I was anchored in Moorea and asked my friend if he wanted to go ashore for Happy Hour. Why bother, he said, more endless talk about batteries and refrigeration.

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Old 03-26-2018, 10:33 AM   #19
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Yes they are. I was anchored in Moorea and asked my friend if he wanted to go ashore for Happy Hour. Why bother, he said, more endless talk about batteries and refrigeration.

Ron
My pre-coffee laugh, for which thanks. Only another cruiser would come up with or appreciate that one.
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Old 03-26-2018, 11:00 AM   #20
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Jon, did you read the article I linked? I think there is more to the Balmar than a volt meter that plugs into a receptacle. The one just reads straight voltage, and the other uses fancy algorithms to infer battery capacity.

I’m not saying that it’s everything that it’s cracked up to be. That’s why I solicited real world input. It’s clearly more than a straight voltmeter though.

Would be interesting to see one side by side with a Trimetric or Victron...
There is a side by side discussion (with lots of offshoots) going on at RV.net :https://www.rv.net/forum/index.cfm/f...d/29599380.cfm

I will admit there is more to this device than a simple volt meter, but I'm not convinced that the additional cost compared to a $10.00 volt meter, of close to $300.00 is worth what it provides. I admit that installing & proper configuring of a shunt based battery monitor is more involved, but over a couple of years of 2-3 month long dry camping, I have learned to rely on my Trimetric.
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