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Old 05-09-2012, 12:18 PM   #1
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Generator/solar questions from novice/newbie

These questions are so basic I am almost embarrassed to ask them. So ...
We have a 2011 Bambi. We want to get either a small generator (like the Honda EU1000) or a basic solar panel installed just to run our water pump, LED lights, fans, and keep our batteries charged. Not concerned about AC. And, if we got the generator, I guess it would be easier to keep our computer, cell phones, etc. charged. Questions: With the generator you just plug the main Airstream power cord into the generator and that allows you to use your 120V outlets while it is running but also charges batteries through the AS converter -- is that right? With the solar, because our AS is pre-wired for solar, it is a just a simple hook-up and then the panel will power 12v usage during the day (assuming you've got some sun) and top off the batteries -- does that sound about right? Any idea what size solar panel you would need for that level of use? Can I mount them on the roof myself? Thanks for helping out someone just starting out and trying to get it right.
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Old 05-09-2012, 12:31 PM   #2
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I have a Honda EU 1000 that I use occasionally with my 20' 74 Argosy or my 18' Caravel. Both have PD 9245 converter chargers in them, and the little Honda plays well with them, but from experience a 9260 does not. So, prior to purchase of a little Honda, I would get the dealer to let you test it on your Bambi, to be sure the electronics in your converter/charger are compatible with the Honda.

I have a small set of solar panels on my Argosy, which can give about a 4 amp charge in sun. I find they do a pretty good job of keeping things charged unless it is very early spring or late fall when the furnace runs a lot and you need more lighting power.

I put my own solar system in, and don't know how the solar pre wire on the newer AS works.
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Old 05-09-2012, 12:36 PM   #3
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Anything that runs continously is going to take a lot of power. Stuff like fans and TV's etc that are always on. So find out how much current these things draw and size your solar panel accordingly. If a fan draws 5A at 12V then that is 60W of power usage in addition to all the other loads like lights etc. I would say that you would probably need a 200-300W solar panel to stay in the green power wise and then pay attention to how your batteries are doing. Using candles and other forms of light that don't consume power is going to help you.

Yes a generator is going to connect to your power cord and charge the batteries and power the outlets. You can charge batteries through your tow vehicle although this is not very efficient.

Perry
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Old 05-09-2012, 01:59 PM   #4
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A 19-foot Airstream doesn't have enough space on the roof to install more than one or two solar panels. We have a small, portable panel that is intended to maintain a charge on a 12-volt battery while a trailer is in storage. While it is OK for maintaining a fully charged battery and it's entertaining to play with, we haven't found it to be large enough to recharge a discharged battery.

You might be able to get two large panels on the roof, but I suspect not. You'd probably have to relocate the television antenna. Also, solar panels are expensive, bulky and fragile, and you'll probably need three or four of them; so the next question is where do you store them while on the road. Plus, you have to keep moving portable panels around to follow the sun, which isn't very practical. I guess you could mount them on a pickup tonneau cover, but then the panels are visible and low enough for someone to easily steal. Therefore, in my opinion, solar isn't practical for smaller Airstreams.

Personally, we have two Honda 2000's, mostly because we need them for air conditioning in the summer. If you decide to go this route, I'd recommend the 2000 model versus the 1000; because it is only costs a little more, and you get twice the power. Also, you can start out with one generator; then buy a second one, if you later decide you want to run the air conditioner (or other high-wattage devices). If you live where it's hot and humid in the summer, generators can expand your camping opportunities, since you aren't limited to campgrounds with hookups. Plus, they can provide backup power for your home refrigerator, freezer, etc., if you live in an area where storms frequently interrupt power.

In summary, we looked at solar and found it expensive and impractical for our 19-foot Bambi. For us, our generators allow us to camp just about anywhere; and we have enough portable power for about anything that comes up.

Have you evaluated your power needs? How long do your batteries currently last without hookups? As a cheaper alternative, you may wish to consider switching to LED lights and conserving battery use as much as possible, or maybe add another battery or two. Depending on your camping lifestyle, you may find that batteries alone provide enough energy.
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Old 05-09-2012, 02:24 PM   #5
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I have a small 850w Honda generator that I bought 30 years ago to take with us when we moved overseas, and I purposesly had the dealer deliver it to me with no gas, no oil. The anticipated need to use it never arose, so I brought back to the US when we returned, and there it sat in my garage, unused, never used for about 25 years. We rarely boondocked, so I never felt the need to baptize it. I finally decided to try it it, so I oiled it up, gassed it up, and away it went, a brand new 25-year old generator. Anyway, in my limited boondock excursions, I found out immediately that it was too small to power the applicances that I was interested in. I didn't care about AC, but I would like to have powered the microwave. Consequently, it seldom leaves garage, and I use it for the occasional extended power outage (for lights only); otherwise most of it's run-time is periodic start-ups just to keep it properly running.

I know this is a long answer to a short question, but I would agree with Phoenix's response that if you buy a generator, buy the 2000w rather than the 1000w. Your needs/wants may change over time, and the 1000 will be like my 850, not up to the challenge.
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Old 05-09-2012, 02:25 PM   #6
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My Interstate came from Jackson Center complete with a 50W solar panel and a 2.5kW propane-powered Onan generator. THe Interstate is 22 feet long, and doesn't have much more roof area than a Bambi, though at least the roof is flat all over on the Interstate.

The solar panel will not recharge a depleted battery. A single 50W panel might produce 4 amps on a bright sunny day. One caveat: The solar panel's charge controller is powered from the house battery, and if battery voltage drops too far then the charge controller, and by extension the solar panel, quits working.

Anyway, the solar panel works best to float-charge a battery to keep it fully topped off once you've recharged it by other means. It will run a few lights and a rooftop fan, but you won't be able to power your entire trailer on solar with just the panels you can fit on the roof. Not for long, anyway.

If you're going to be boondocking, or otherwise off-grid, there is no substitute for a generator coupled with good deep-cycle batteries.
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Old 05-09-2012, 02:44 PM   #7
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We have a factory solar panel on our 19' Bambi. It's only 53 watts. (You should be able to get a larger-wattage after-market single panel.) As pointed out above, it will help keep batteries topped off, but it's not enough to go indefinitely, and the battery charge will drift downwards when using power. We have a set of 2000w Honda generators which we use when we dry camp or boondock...and as long as we have fuel for them we can go indefinitely. I agree that it makes sense to get a 2000w, which will run everything except the AC...then decide later if you really need a second one for AC...that's what we did. And now we have two (a Companion model and a regular model), primarily because we live in an area where we need AC. We don't take the 2nd one when we are not going to need AC.
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Old 05-09-2012, 04:01 PM   #8
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I bought a generator. The 1000 model will be fine for what you need. We got the 2000 and I would get the 1000 if I was doing it again. Friend has the 1000 Yamaha and it is a fine little machine. Might depend on how and where you are going to carry it. I carry and run the 2000 in the bed of the pickup, so no lifting. At time I bought the gen I was hedging my bets against getting a second one for the airconditioner. No longer have that idea and the 1000 is trimmer and lighter to handle.

We camped 4 nights in Jasper in the rain at 35 degrees. Also at Chicken, Alaska in the cold and rain. Ditto MesaVerde. Yeah, it can rain there. Solar was of no use. Yeah, just start the gen and plug in the trailer. (At least it works thay way on my 1988 model". Takes and hour or 2 to charge. We usually schedule it with breakfast and run the heat and whatever else we need for a while while it is running. Every 2 days unless we have a really cold night and run the furnace a lot.
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Old 05-11-2012, 12:03 AM   #9
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As with most questions about generators and solar... "it all depends" on the use and need. We have a 19' AS and primarily use it on the west coast (CA, OR, WA) at state/federal parks - no hook-ups, but mild weather. After doing some homework, we elected to go solar - two 50W panels (they fit), smart controller, and AGM batteries. We also converted all lights to LED, and only use 12V appliances/devices (fan, TV, laptop, etc.). The result - Vertually unlimited battery usage on typical trips involving 3-4 days per camp (water has been more concern) and it's totally automatic and maintenance free. We also developed a usage strategy to help the solar system by using some devices and recharging the laptop during peak sun periods (when extra solar might be wasted).

Regarding the solar pre-wire... It works pretty well in the 19' because it's a small system and a short wire run (we used it), but it's the overall system design that's important.
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Old 06-17-2012, 03:47 PM   #10
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Spotted this 212cc, 4000 Watts Max/3200 Watts Rated Portable Generator - Certified for California ...not sure of quality or how loud it is but it would seem to be powerful enough to run everything except A/C which I don't worry about of need.

I know I want a generator but my budget is small so I need big bang for the buck. The Honda 2000 does the job I understand so if I can find a Generator that delivers the same or more...like the link, I could be OK?

Thanks for visiting this question again and helping with your experience and awesome answers!

Mark
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:06 PM   #11
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Hey DBirkhead. I am on this topic too- looking at Solar units and generators, only not for a Bambi; however, I have some gathered info that you may find useful. As others have shared, the solar is really expensive. I have a larger trailer but the cost of the panels and equipment is expensive. My father sells and maintains generators and we have talked about this at length. He strongly suggests people consider propane inverter generators as they do not have issues with occasional use as gas ones do. Honda and Yamaha have that option. Yamaha has the tri-fuel models that I am looking at as a possibility. As far as solar is concerned, I was told locally that you need at least a 50watt panel to make a dent in power replenishment from the battery and that is minimal usage. Other people can verify this as I have neither and am shopping like you; however, my father's suggestion is wise as I have seen him deal with generators that have sat with gasoline-even with stabilizing liquid used, gummed up and a mess. It depends on your usage interval. Oh and you would probably be fine in using a smaller one if you NEVER plan to use the AC and use it for laptops, and ancillary items. Just be aware that whatever wattage you plan on using, it should amount to about 1/2 of the rated continuous power of the generator. Ampsx120=wattage.
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:19 PM   #12
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Quote:
Spotted this 212cc, 4000 Watts Max/3200 Watts Rated Portable Generator - Certified for California ...not sure of quality or how loud it is but it would seem to be powerful enough to run everything except A/C which I don't worry about of need.
Watch the noise level. Inverter are the quietest, followed by residential and then commercial. I am told that parks more and more want only inverter models.Home Depot has to really great units but again, noise level and also parts availability are two big issues.
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:48 PM   #13
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If you've ever camped near someone who was using an industrial generator you will understand why the quiet inverter mondels are the only way to go for camping use.
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Old 06-18-2012, 02:22 AM   #14
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I am NOT absolutely sure, but from the parts diagram, this generator does not look like it has an inverter. It appears to use a generator and voltage regulator to produce the output. If this is true, the AC voltage and frequency will probably vary with the engine RPM. This is OK for power tools and resistance heating devices (e.g., coffee makers, electric heaters, blow dryers, etc.). However, I would hesitate to use this to power any electronic devices (e.g., television, stereo, laptop, microwave, etc.), as there is a possibility that it could damage them.

As an aside, the owners manual says that it is rated at 70 dB. I think the Honda 2000 is rated at 53-59 dB, and would be noticeably quieter.

Also, the warranty is 90 days (two years on gasoline engine parts only); while the Honda is three years.

While the decision is yours, I think that you get what you pay for. And, personally, I'd spend a little more and get a generator that you'll get years of service from; rather than one that you may be unhappy with in the long run. (Not specifically the Honda, but an inverter generator designed for RV use.)

This quote (attributed to several different people, including John Ruskin) seems applicable in this case:

"The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."
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