Charging the batteries

Be warned, this post is a bit heavy on technical issues and one image.

Life in a trailer, especially boondocking, requires monitoring your battery capacity and usage. The first thing I did to help this when we had our ’92 25′ was get some Sears AGM batteries. This gave me a larger capacity and less worry about them. Changing both trailers to LED lighting helped a lot more. We purchased a couple of generators to help with charging when we needed it and ostensibly run the air conditioners with two of them running. I also purchased a set of portable solar panels. I had all the pieces lined up for extended battery usage, except one. Solar on the trailer.

This was accomplished early this year, shortly before we started our fulltiming/CalExit. In our travels since May (2017) the solar panels have performed fantastically! But events during our travels have made me rethink my charging methodology.

Before solar, there were two methods of charging. When we were hooked into shore power, the converter/charger will charge the batteries and provide 12v DC power. When towing, the tow vehicle will provide a small amount of charge through the 7pin umbilical cord. I remember my father hooking up our station wagon to the trailer and letting it idle for extended periods to give the trailer a charge while boondocking. I have not tried this method.

The converter/charger that came with the trailer was a single-stage charger, meaning it was either charging or not. On or off. This can wreak havoc with your batteries, especially if you leave it plugged in while ‘stored’, as we did. I replaced the converter/charger with a multi-stage version. This flavor will do a heavy, high amperage charge until the batteries reach a certain voltage. The next stage is a consistent, lower amperage charge until a different voltage setpoint is reached. The final stage is a trickle charge just to keep a preset voltage level.

The one issue/problem when adding a solar system, and its inherent charge controller, is to ensure that the two charging ‘brains’ don’t conflict with each other. Luckily the solar charge controller is adjustable in what voltage it shuts off at. This way I was able to research the voltage level for the shore power converter/charger and adjust the solar charge controller to just below that voltage. That way, if we were on shore power the 110V converter/charger would do its’ high amperage charge and get it to a voltage higher than the solar chargers threshold and the solar charging would be negated.

What change have I made in charging the batteries? Let’s lay a bit more groundwork first.

I no longer have 2 generators, I never did use 2 to run the air conditioner which made the 2nd one expendable. After our 4+ months on the road I never used our portable solar panels, therefore they are for sale (contact me for more info). We are now down to shore power charging, solar charging and generator charge (which is essentially shore power charging since the generator creates 110V AC).

The months on the road brought up some odd issues that have steered me to my new path. We had problems with our refrigerator when we started that were hard to diagnose and explain. It was not working when we left and started working mysteriously after we were in Arizona for a few days. It got weird again in Texas. When talking to the repair shop they mentioned that irregular 12V power has been seen to cause problems with refrigerator circuit boards. I changed the shore power cables and it started working just fine, making me think it was the cables, but maybe it wasn’t?

We did great on power for about another month until we were in Williamsburg VA. The spot for the trailer there was very shady and I noticed that the battery was down to about 82% capacity and the shore power was charging it slowly, if at all. I immediately thought it was the shore power converter/charger and ordered a replacement. Once it was swapped out, charging was back to normal.

That got me to thinking that maybe our refrigerator problems earlier were symptomatic of a failing converter/charger. I am now fairly convinced that is true as the refrigerator has not exhibited any type of issues, even when the internal fins were coated with ice due to humidity.

When we were in New York and taking advantage of some courtesy parking, we had some issues with the 15amp shore power that was provided. The electrical management system that I installed, before we left, would disconnect our power and reconnect continuously. It made the power connection unusable so we relied upon the solar to take care of the batteries. This allowed me to notice another aspect of the shore power converter/charger. When it is in its’ first stage of charging it uses a LOT of amps! I saw about 18 amps at one time! That was overloading our 15amp connection.

My next thinking was if I could turn off the shore power converter/charger, I could then control when I used it and turn it off when we are on 15amp. One option is to turn off the breaker but that would also make the inverter inoperative. I didn’t want that. I made my own solution. I got some parts at Lowes and created a device that the converter/charger plugs into and then it plugs into the wall. It contains a switch that I can easily turn on and off.

This relates to an ability for me to disable the shore power converter/charger when on a minimal power connection and allow the solar panels to exclusively charge the batteries.

The empirical proof is in. For the last three weeks, we have been on 15amp power, with the shore power converter/charger turned off, and we have full battery power going into each evening. I feel it is a great success.

Back to Cali (sigh)

We left Idaho after the eclipse, as most others did also. But I was hoping, that as we traveled to the next destination, which was close to the path, there would be some clearing of places to stay.

We left Idaho and entered Eastern Oregon. It initially was was nice as we were following a river, but once we left the river and turned south on US395 it turned very ugly. Barren, desolate, blah. We got a spot in Lakeview OR at the Juniper’s Reservoir RV Resort with a Passport America discount. It was a nice campground for the evening. The manager mentioned that they were completely full for the last week or so (eclipse) and tonight was their first break. It also rained on us that evening continuing the persistent rain we went through during this entire trip. In the almost 4 months we were on the road, about 15-20 days did not bring rain to us.

The next day we continued on to the coast stopping for a bit to visit with one of Roxie’s cousins in Klamath Falls OR. We had just joined Boondockers Welcome and lined up a spot for the night between Medford and Grants Pass. This was going to work out really well, at least we thought it was. As we came down the hills into Medford we could see the smoke from the fires on the Oregon coast:

This type of environment is not good for Roxie as she had a bout of Valley Fever and her lungs are still affected by it. We contacted our boondocking host and told him we were pushing on. We contacted an RV park in Cave Junction OR and pressed on.

The smoke was even WORSE in Cave Junction. We told the RV park that we could not handle the smoke and we pressed on again on highway 199 to Crescent City CA. We ended up at the Walmart that night with about 20 other RV’s and others.

The next morning we continued to Eureka to spend 5 nights and visit some of Roxie’s family. She has a cousin there that is on Hospice and is not doing well. I tried to make reservations at the RV park just in town but they were full. I had to take the old KOA and an electric and water spot. I thought it would be fine. It wasn’t. This is potentially the WORST campground I have ever stayed at. See my review. We struggled through the campground inadequacies and were able to visit. But we had to move on to get to our Aug 31 destination.

After Eureka we went a bit more than halfway and stayed at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa CA. This is a Passport America location and it is a very decent location. Great for a one night stay. Then on to South San Francisco to stay at our normal location for a week.

This is the reason to get back to California:

A one-year-old!

We were able to see Atlas, Hannah, and Lukas numerous times even though San Francisco was in the throes of an extreme heatwave!

After we were done there we headed to our son’s house to moochdock next to it. We will be hanging around his house for a while, take some trips around, visit other relatives for the holidays, make some repairs/modifications to the trailer and then we will hit it again after the first of the year, hopefully with better timing!

Coming back to California makes me realize why we left in the first place over 4 months ago. This state is nowhere near how I remember it back in my teens. Everything seemed so vibrant, fair and hopeful. I feel dread, inequity, and despair now when I come to California. Products are so much more expensive than other areas. Here is where I have paid the MOST for diesel fuel than 21 other states. Here seemingly everything is taxed. They even tax ice here! The roads are in such disrepair even though the road taxes are the highest anywhere! Money is spent on things that don’t help everyone (high-speed rail, etc.). It is a sad state of affairs and is only getting worse. I don’t want to be dragged down by it. I am very happy to have Texas as my residence and I am sure California does not miss me one bit!