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Old 09-06-2016, 11:11 PM   #1
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Electrical System Upgrade Recommendations?

We just returned from a two and a half week trip through Alberta and Montana with a quick drive back through Idaho and Washington. This was our first long trip with the trailer and we thoroughly enjoyed it! We mostly stayed in unserviced sites in campgrounds especially the BLM sites that are free or discounted with the National Parks pass.

The electrical system in our 17B is very simple and consists of a single 12V battery with 3 interior and 1 exterior 120V outlets as well as the usual lights, water pump, fridge and furnace.

A few observations from the trip:
  1. The battery seemed to last us a four to five days with minimal use before getting to the Poor indicator light (only once) on the display panel. Typical usage included using the overhead fan while cooking, 1 or 2 lights on in the evening for an hour and water pump usage for dishes, drinking water, etc. We used the furnace briefly on 2 occasions at Glacier National Park because it was 5 deg C!
  2. The alternator on the truck did not seem to charge the trailer battery as much as expected. We typically drove 1 to 2 hours per day with the trailer connected. However, even on the days where we drove 6 to 8 hours the battery never went above fair on the display panel.
  3. We ended up staying at 2 KOA's during our trip to recharge the batteries (literally)... and maybe enjoy the spacious hot showers and swimming pools.
  4. There is no inverter or any 12V outlets to charge things like camera batteries, phones, etc while parked.

Currently I am planning to add in a 12V outlet and possibly an inverter to be able to charge stuff in the evenings. I will also switch the existing incandescent light bulbs out to LED's to help lower draw.

I am looking for some thoughts and upgrade recommendations that would allow us to camp for longer without electrical service and not worry about battery charge levels. Based on the forums it seems like we have a few options:
  1. Dual 6V setup. I have read that this can double or triple the battery storage capacity. My concern would be the inability of the tow vehicle to recharge this sufficiently.
  2. Solar retrofit. Seems like a good option. How well does the solar work in the temperate rainforest campgrounds of the PNW?
  3. Portable generator. Not my first choice because the generator and fuel would need to be stored somewhere while traveling. I don't want to listen to the generator or have a vehicle or trailer smelling like gas.
  4. Better battery monitor and charge control system.
  5. Cook outside more and use water jugs rather than the pump. Seems the most cost effective solution!

Thanks!
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Old 09-06-2016, 11:31 PM   #2
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A few things right off:

1. 12v appliances will always use your battery juice more efficiently than 120v items run through an inverter. Try to do as much as possible on 12v, e.g. camera and phone chargers, etc.

2. Dual 6v batteries will give you far more capacity, and in general, the thicker plates in such batteries are also more resistant to damage from being run down too far, than thinner plated 12v batteries. Dual 6's are an excellent choice for dry camping.

3. LED's: yes!

4. Regarding solar, I personally will never go without it. The only scenario where we've had any power issues was extended camping in the PNW rainforest with no direct sun for lots of days. Outside of that situation our two panels (95W fixed and 100W portable) have kept us cable free indefinitely.
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Old 09-06-2016, 11:43 PM   #3
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We've been building a step by step solar resource on Scamp Owners International that I think would help you a lot.

Solar for Scamp Trailers | Scamp Owners International

You definitely need to have step 1-Lifestyle, 2-Power Consumption and 3-Battery down before looking at solar panels as those three steps are the backbone of an off-grid system. Taking the base steps will reveal whether you even need solar for your lifestyle and/or save a good bit of money in buying the correct items.
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Old 09-06-2016, 11:52 PM   #4
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My trailer power requirements are quite similar to yours.
I replaced bulbs with LEDs over time. I still haven't converted them all. Those that we use a lot are LED.
Biggest power draw is the furnace fan, but I like to be warm.

We only turn the water pump on to draw water. Not sure that it draws anything if you don't have a tap turned on, but we turn it off anyway.

It sounds like you don't have heavy enough wiring from the tow. I specified 10 gauge as recommended by ETI. Otherwise, they would have used 12 gauge.
I was advised by ETI to get the dual 6V at build because to change it later would be expensive. I'm still using a single 12V battery.

I have two portable 40 watt solar panels which do a reasonable job of restoring my battery. They are bulky and maybe somebody would steal them some day, or maybe not. I also have a Honda 1000 genset, which I think I'll just leave at home, so I don't have to carry gas or put up with the glares from fellow campers ( even though it is really quiet and only runs for a couple hours in a day ).
I have a cheap voltmeter to monitor my battery. I think the more you monitor, the higher your level of anxiety.

Suggest you register for sales alerts at Canadian Tire for the Coleman 40 Watt solar panel. It regularly goes on sale for $99, or $129, or $149. It's not as convenient as having a panel installed on the roof with the fancy controller, but it's not $1,000 either.
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Old 09-06-2016, 11:58 PM   #5
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Currently I am planning to add in a 12V outlet and possibly an inverter to be able to charge stuff in the evenings. I will also switch the existing incandescent light bulbs out to LED's to help lower draw.
Great start.

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  • Dual 6V setup. I have read that this can double or triple the battery storage capacity. My concern would be the inability of the tow vehicle to recharge this sufficiently.
Great, but you've already identified the problem: all the extra capacity would do it stretch the time between recharges, unless you also add a power source (such as solar or a better way to charge from the tow vehicle). I knew a guy who just doubled the battery capacity in his trailer and that was enough, because it got him through a long weekend and that's as long as he ever spent away from services.

If you want to start a long debate, ask "can the two vehicle effectively recharge the trailer battery?" It can, but with most vehicles and their wiring it doesn't work very well, and is marginal to hopeless if running the refrigerator on 12V power at the same time.

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  • Better battery monitor and charge control system.
Good, but I doubt it would make enough difference to be worthwhile by itself.
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Old 09-07-2016, 12:09 AM   #6
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I have two 12V outlets and could use a couple more, but meantime I just use 12V splitters.
I bought a 12V charger for the MacBook Air, but iPhones etc already charge via USB adapters to 12V outlets.
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Old 09-07-2016, 12:35 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by msweet View Post
Currently I am planning to add in a 12V outlet and possibly an inverter to be able to charge stuff in the evenings. I will also switch the existing incandescent light bulbs out to LED's to help lower draw.

:
  1. Dual 6V setup. I have read that this can double or triple the battery storage capacity. My concern would be the inability of the tow vehicle to recharge this sufficiently.
  2. Solar retrofit. Seems like a good option. How well does the solar work in the temperate rainforest campgrounds of the PNW?
  3. Portable generator. Not my first choice because the generator and fuel would need to be stored somewhere while traveling. I don't want to listen to the generator or have a vehicle or trailer smelling like gas.
  4. Better battery monitor and charge control system.
  5. Cook outside more and use water jugs rather than the pump. Seems the most cost effective solution!

Thanks!
Dual 6 volts; you can, it seems to be what everyone does. Not me, too many years in boats to put all my eggs in one basket. I use two group 29's isolated with a battery switch. I use one battery at a time. Easier recharging and if I do run one battery down low you can be sure I'll be really frugal with the second battery until #1 is recharging.

Buy a volt meter and see what your system is actually doing. Hard to fix something when you don't know what the situation is. I have a built in one permanently on in the trailer. I know at all times what the voltage is doing. Run the tug with the battery charging switch on and I can see the result on the meter.

Solar; no brainer. Even in the rain forest something will be going in. Sorry Glenn, I don't think the Canadian Tire panels are the best deal around. Check ebay. Lot's of good deals on 100 watt, which is a good size and amount to start with.

12 volt outlets; don't bother unless you have things with cigarette lighter plugs. Install some dedicated USB outlets.

Both the meter and USB outlets about 5 bucks on ebay.

Ron
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Old 09-07-2016, 12:59 AM   #8
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No problem Ron. The reason I abandoned solar in the build was I read all the technonut stuff on the forums and decided I would never understand it. They wanted me to measure all the appliances power draw over a camping season and calculate the size panels I required.
Then I bought a 40 watt panel on sale at Canadian Tire. It had all sorts of wiring options and had a controller. All I had to do was attach the alligator clips to my battery terminals and plug in the panel. That was as much as I needed to know, or wanted to know.
Wish I had a 'suitcase' for the panels, but I just reinforced the cardboard boxes the panels came in with packing tape.
My 80 watt 'system' cost me less than $250 ( I had to buy two panels and thingmabob that connects the two panels to a single controller ).
Main problem with portable panels is that you develop an obsession with locating them in direct sunlight and at the proper angle. Sometimes I have to spend an entire afternoon sitting in my camp chair with a beer and monitoring the sunlight.
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Old 09-07-2016, 05:43 AM   #9
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No problem Ron. The reason I abandoned solar in the build was I read all the technonut stuff on the forums and decided I would never understand it. They wanted me to measure all the appliances power draw over a camping season and calculate the size panels I required.
Then I bought a 40 watt panel on sale at Canadian Tire. It had all sorts of wiring options and had a controller. All I had to do was attach the alligator clips to my battery terminals and plug in the panel. That was as much as I needed to know, or wanted to know.
Wish I had a 'suitcase' for the panels, but I just reinforced the cardboard boxes the panels came in with packing tape.
My 80 watt 'system' cost me less than $250 ( I had to buy two panels and thingmabob that connects the two panels to a single controller ).
Main problem with portable panels is that you develop an obsession with locating them in direct sunlight and at the proper angle. Sometimes I have to spend an entire afternoon sitting in my camp chair with a beer and monitoring the sunlight.
Hi: gbaglo... What's wrong with chasing sunbeams around the camp site... beer in hand? Alf
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Old 09-07-2016, 07:58 AM   #10
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Better battery monitor and charge control system.
I know some users get into the very complex and expensive battery monitors, but if you are looking for a simple, yet powerful device in a small package you might consider the Doc Wattson battery monitor. It gives you amps, watts, voltage, amp-hours (Ah), kilowatt-hours (Kwh), peak amps and minimum voltage in a nice little package (only 2.8" L x 1.7" W x 0.83" D). It has a scrolling display. It is not backlit it's the camera flash reflection. I wired this up to measure draw from the battery but it can also be wired inline with a generation device (i.e. solar panel) to measure what is going into a battery.
www.rc-electronics-usa.com/ammeters/rv-battery-monitor.html

Picture is from install in a Scamp, but I also added one in the Escape using the simple 3 wire hookup. You wire it inline on the ground line that goes directly to the battery and you bring +12V to the source side red connection to power the monitor. You need a switch to cycle power to reset amp hours, but if you wire it downstream of the Escape supplied battery disconnect switch that works too.
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Old 09-07-2016, 09:53 AM   #11
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Hi: gbaglo... What's wrong with chasing sunbeams around the camp site... beer in hand? Alf
escape artist N.S. of Lake Erie
Maybe I could train my kids to move the panels while I drink beer...

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Old 09-07-2016, 09:57 AM   #12
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We've been building a step by step solar resource on Scamp Owners International that I think would help you a lot.

Solar for Scamp Trailers | Scamp Owners International

You definitely need to have step 1-Lifestyle, 2-Power Consumption and 3-Battery down before looking at solar panels as those three steps are the backbone of an off-grid system. Taking the base steps will reveal whether you even need solar for your lifestyle and/or save a good bit of money in buying the correct items.
That's a great resource! I will do some reading this weekend. Thanks Greg!

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Old 09-07-2016, 10:05 AM   #13
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Michael, in reading your post, I think the biggest improvement you could make is to add solar. You don't seem to be using alot of power, but what you do use isn't being put back. Sure, dual 6V batteries will give you more amp hours, and I would probably include that if I were adding solar power.
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:14 AM   #14
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Biggest power draw is the furnace fan, but I like to be warm.
I would like to use the unit more in the fall and spring and I envision that will require more furnace run time. We have even considered using it for skiing at some of the smaller hills but that will require some further upgrades to protect the plumbing systems.

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It sounds like you don't have heavy enough wiring from the tow. I specified 10 gauge as recommended by ETI. Otherwise, they would have used 12 gauge.
The wiring is factory from Toyota. I will check the wire gauge if I can open it up the wire bundle. I have read about people running dedicated heavy gauge charging lines from the tow to the trailer.

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Old 09-07-2016, 10:39 AM   #15
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Michael, in reading your post, I think the biggest improvement you could make is to add solar. You don't seem to be using alot of power, but what you do use isn't being put back. Sure, dual 6V batteries will give you more amp hours, and I would probably include that if I were adding solar power.
That was my preliminary thought as well. I floated the post to see what other people have done in similar situations and have received a lot of good info.

ETI quoted me about $1500 to retrofit both solar and dual 6V. That is a lot of money after buying the trailer, adding the storage box and replacing the tires this year.

I think I would like to do some of the work myself over the winter once I figure out a solution. I am not sure about mounting solar panels but I think I can do most of the internal wiring.
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:43 AM   #16
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Has there been any discussion about a lithium battery to replace the stock battery? This in addition to a portable solar panel to charge the battery may be the ideal setup.
Lithium batteries are lighter than lead batteries, last longer, no maintenance and can be completely discharged with no harmful affects.
Are there any experts on the forum that can give an informed opinion? Do they have more capacity (AH) and are they worth the money?
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:46 AM   #17
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Some vehicles have a power outlet that can be used as a generator if need be. My Toyota Tacoma, for example, has one at the end of the truck bed that I've used on occasion when a tree canope blocked my roof top solar system. It isn't the best on fuel economy but it's a lot quieter than a lot of the generators I've had the displeasure of listening to
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:47 AM   #18
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all the extra capacity would do it stretch the time between recharges, unless you also add a power source (such as solar or a better way to charge from the tow vehicle). I knew a guy who just doubled the battery capacity in his trailer and that was enough, because it got him through a long weekend and that's as long as he ever spent away from services.
That extra capacity might be enough to get us through a week or more in the summer; at that point we probably need to stop for laundry, showers, etc so a electrified spot like a KOA is good for that. The extra capacity sounds like a requirement for shoulder season and winter camping if we want to use our furnace and lights in the evenings.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian B-P View Post
If you want to start a long debate, ask "can the two vehicle effectively recharge the trailer battery?" It can, but with most vehicles and their wiring it doesn't work very well.
I need to take readings of the systems on both the tow vehicle and trailer to figure how much it really is charging the trailer. It didn't seem much more than a trickle though. There are lots of post about this on Toyota forums and it seems to be a common discussion item.

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and is marginal to hopeless if running the refrigerator on 12V power at the same time.
I run the fridge on propane while travelling... that will also start another long debate!
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Old 09-07-2016, 10:58 AM   #19
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Some vehicles have a power outlet that can be used as a generator if need be. My Toyota Tacoma, for example, has one at the end of the truck bed that I've used on occasion when a tree canope blocked my roof top solar system. It isn't the best on fuel economy but it's a lot quieter than a lot of the generators I've had the displeasure of listening to
Our 4Runner has a 400W inverter and an outlet in the back like the Tacoma. Did you just plug the trailer right into the outlet to charge? That sounds like a great idea!

The second to last night of our trip was in Fish Creek CG in Glacier. The guy across from us in a big 30' trailer placed his twin portable generators with the exhaust pointed directly at our picnic table and fired them up at 08:00 in the morning. I didn't enjoy my coffee and breakfast at the picnic table very much.
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Old 09-07-2016, 11:08 AM   #20
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Has there been any discussion about a lithium battery to replace the stock battery? This in addition to a portable solar panel to charge the battery may be the ideal setup.
Lithium batteries are lighter than lead batteries, last longer, no maintenance and can be completely discharged with no harmful affects.
Are there any experts on the forum that can give an informed opinion? Do they have more capacity (AH) and are they worth the money?
I'm not an expert, but I did stay at a campground near a Holiday Inn last night! LOL
The last time I checked, a 12v automotive type battery with adequate amp hours which would probably work in an RV had a retail price in excess of $1,000. That is a hefty price tag.
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