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Old 10-15-2009, 06:09 PM   #1
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Ottawa , Ontario
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Modern Airstream Boondocking Rant

What the heck.. was reading some other power threads and just want to post a bit of a rant!

Modern Airstream just plain suck for boondocking.


I've spent the last 3 years while camping trying to manage power, conserve power, plain not use power, keep asking my wife not to use lights or watch tv, and hang around the campsite all day to babysit my trusty generator who strives to keep a somewhat full charge and world peace

Last year I spend at least a grand on a very good 135W solar setup with MPPT Controller. Problem was with all the crappy weather this summer and all the trees about, the solar couldn't keep up with the battery drain. If your in the north like us, and camp amongst trees a lot, forget it (in my opinion). Luckily we have our Honda generator which is always there to save the day (at least during generator hours).

I've got a Paralax(itive) which is just plain useless for charging via our generator unless I run it for a good 4 or 5 hours a day. Why didn't they put in a 3 stage converter/charger?

After 3 years one Interstate battery packed it in.. the other is babied babied babied just to get us through the season. We had to stop using the fridge, watch TV on my little Macbook, use dollar store sticky lights for lighting, etc etc.

Here was our solutions to all the power problem during fall camping this year:

Problem: 'Propane' heater sucks an unbeliveable amount of power and easily drains the batteries over night.

Solution: We stopped using the heater! Brought more blankets. Turned on a stove burner instead (sometimes the stove) and stayed reasonably warm. ZERO power needed!

Problem: Fridge fan runs most of the time (unless its cold outside). Battery draw is considerable for a 'propane' fridge.

Solution: We unplugged the fridge fan (not wise if it overheats though)

Alternative Solution: Last camping trip we simply stopped using the fridge altogether and opted for our trust Coleman cooler which uses ZERO power. Alas we did have to buy ice...

Problem: Lights use over an AMP a piece!

Solution: Stick on lights. Over Columbus Day we use a $1 halloween light with a couple of AA batteries to provide hours of lighting.. ZERO power.

Problem: Next to the 'propane' heater the TV/entertainment is the biggest user of power on a rainy day.

Solution: Watched movies on my Macbook... enough power to watch two full movies no problemo!

Maybe AIrstream had a reason to make modern Airstreams so reliable on the umbilical cord... I don't know... then again maybe they cut their cost on producing a unit by $10 or so saving a whooping .02% of the unit cost! I wouldn't mind hearing the rationale actually. For the price we paided, I am not happy having to replace half the stuff in the trailer to make it right.... sheesh... I will have forked out a good $2000 or more by the time I am done 'correcting' all there short cuts.

Maybe Airstream should offer their units with a 'boondock package'!?

So next year I am tossing the bulky $1000+ solar panel setup that I invested in, and plan to tackle power head on...

Replacing the Paralax(itive) 7300 with an Intellipower 9100 (or similar).

Buy some mega Trojan 6V's, Group 27's or whatever I can stuff in the trailer and toss the Interstates.

Replace any of the halogen 'heater' lights we use with LED's.

Toss the heater and replace it with a good old catalytic heater.

Permanently cut the wire to the fridge fan or at least replace it with a Slientx... or pull the fridge and install a cooler :-)

Replace the whole 'enertainment' system with something more efficient... or simply build a shelf for my my trusty Macbook with its micro slim, micro ounce, long lasting battery :-)
(and what is with the multi CD changer? hasn't AIrstream heard of MP3 players yet?)

At the end of the day I should have the following sitting on my curb side on garbage day:

1 - Paralax(ive) 7300
1 - 'Propane'... NOT heater
11 - halogen lights (I'll keep 10 for posterity )
1 - Sony LCD TV
1 - Sony AMP/DVD player
1 - obsolete multi disk CD changer
1 - huge ball of wire found behind the AMP/DVD player
1 - noisy power hog of a fridge fan
2 - poor Interstate batteries that couldn't keep up with it all
1 - battery box that is WAY to small

At least the solar panel won't go curb side... will likely get some good coin for it...

There.... I am done... LOL

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Old 10-15-2009, 06:20 PM   #2
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Dave, are you running the TV with an inverter or do you have a 12 v. TV? Maybe that's where some of battery capacity is going. The furnace fan will eat power, but it keeps the potable water tank from freezing.

We have replaced most of the lamps with LED's and that helps.

Have you had the charge circuit and the solar panel output tested?


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Old 10-15-2009, 06:25 PM   #3
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Dave, a simple 12 volt muiffin fan with a toggle switch would help your fridghe, and you can shut it off with the switch when boondocking. An alternative would be a small dedicated solar panel that runs only the fan. If it's dark, you won't need the fan anyway, and since it would never be connected to the battery, it wouldn't drain it.
For watching movies, I got a personal dvd player, that runs 4 hours on a charge, and save the battery on the notebook for something important, like deleting spam...
I'd keep the furnace, and just install the cat heater. Furnaces do have their uses, just not while boondocking.
I installed flourescent lights in place of the energy hungry incandescents in our trailer, a single flourescent draws the power of a single incendescent, but puts out the light of 4. Maybe a combination of LED and flourescent would work.
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Old 10-15-2009, 06:41 PM   #4
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found the Trimetric to be very handy for marshalling resources...
very disappointed with the interstates... holding off on a 3-stage until I upgrade to lifelines
A family of eight, blogging all things camping from our Airstream
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Old 10-15-2009, 06:42 PM   #5
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Some comments...

1. Don't lose the solar panels...even amongst the trees, you'll realize some amount of charging for your batteries, and in direct sunlight you'll really get some usable 'juice' for your battery bank...

2. The reason your heater discharges your batteries is due to the squirrel cage blower - it's a power hog when running, but should heat up your As in a short time, unless it's really COLD outside! Sounds like your batteries are running short of capacity due to age - OR - you aren't getting them FULLY charged before running your heater o'night.

3. Catalytic type heaters are good, don't require 12 volts, but aren't as quick to heat up your AS as the forced air heater - we have both - heater for the really cold nights, and the catalytic for the milder times to take the chill off!

4. NEVER< NEVER< NEVER< use the stove for heating your AS!!!! Carbon monoxide is emitted in great quantities - if you were to leave it on overnight, you may never wake up!!! I've seen people use upturned flower pots on their burners for heat - great danger if your trailer is rather airtight, as the O2 gets used up and you then have no air to breathe...DANGER DANGER DANGER...if you do nothing else, PLEASE don't use your stove top burners for HEAT...!!!!!!!

5. Converting your lights to LED units are a great way to cut down on your 12 volt usage - it's one of the first things I did for our AS.

6. I don't have a fridge fan, so don't know how many amps your's uses...I have an after market computer type biscuit fan mounted in a fiberglass manifold that suck cool air over the cooling coils - works really great, thermostat controlled, is so quiet I don't even know it's running - can't believe it uses many amps from our battery bank...

7. we have (3) group 27 (105 amp hr rated) deep cycle batteries running all out stuff when boondocking...22 inch LED HD TV, Dish Sat receiver, DVD player - we run them off a 1500 watt solid state inverter, and have never had any problems - however, we run our 2000watt Honda genny EACH DAY to bring our batteries back up to a full charge - our converter/charger is a 3-way charger, 45 amp rated.

8. Don't forget, if your elect to go with a larger capacity battery bank, you'll have to allow longer charge times to bring em' back up to snuff - regular charging schedules are best - to keep your batteries fully charged...if you let em' run down to almost nothing, you'll be looking at hours and hours and hours to recharge em'....there's no 'free' lunch, what ever you 'drain' out of your batteries has to be replaced for them to perform when you're out in the boonies!

Good luck,
Ray & Pat; Morada, CA
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Old 10-15-2009, 07:49 PM   #6
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The TV that came with the A/S is 120V, so yes I have to use an inverter.

I have a Link 10 monitor. The solar panel works great... if the sun is out and I can keep the panel out of the shade (not so easy where we camp often). It puts out a good 8A in full sun.


The solar panel is pretty large, and a pain to move around into a sunny spot. Kate complains about tripping on the wire, and its a pain to store. Any shade really kills the output (even a bit of shade will cut an 8A charge down to 1.5 or less). Its just my situation since full sun (or decent sun) isn't always to be had... ie generator is still required most of the time.

When we first got our A/S we used to have a devil of a time with the heater... was usually cold or WAY to hot in the A/S. It didn't help that the thermostat was located inside the bathroom LOL. When we do use the heater we have to ensure the bathroom door is wide open or else we have to manually control the heater

I am aware of the CO dangers. Whenever the stove or a burner are used, we always ensure there are a few windows/vent open. We don't leave it on at night, just to warm things up, and certainly not unless someone is awake. Thanks for posting the warning though.

Thanks for the great input!
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Old 10-15-2009, 08:33 PM   #7
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Battery Charger

Electrical idiot here - have what I hope is a simple question. Would it be faster, simpler, more direct to get a dependable car battery charger from an automotive store, use the generator to power it, recharging the batteries directly with the charger than to try to charge them through the inverter?

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Old 10-15-2009, 09:00 PM   #8
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Dave, using that inverter, which is at most 90% efficient, and maybe less, is using enough power combined with lamps and furnace to give you problems. Boondocking requires some big limits on power use, or a lot more battery and some generator charging. Yes, full sun is important for solar plus at this time of year, there's a lot less of it.

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Old 10-15-2009, 09:17 PM   #9
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Boondocking is kind a lifestyle choice. You can't bring all the
home stuff with you. A few things have worked really well for us:

1.LED lighting for all lights except the ceiling.

2. Very limited inverter use. No movies. Books and games.

3. Portable propane heater (Mr. Buddy). Lots of blankets.

4. Periodic recharge with generator and 3 stage converter.

5. Bigger batteries. Two 6 volt agms: 856 minutes @ 15amps vs
two group 24 Interstates: 552 minutes @ 15 amps.

This will work for three days, no recharging, in cold weather.
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Old 10-15-2009, 09:43 PM   #10
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Dibs on the solar and television! I'm serious.
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Old 10-15-2009, 10:01 PM   #11
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I've never understood the misplaced green interest in solar. Limited roof area restricts amp-hours to battery maintenance when the trailer is in storage (re: see many analytic posts by roadkingmoe). Artstream's installation is something different altogether ... but he can't run all his neon with 12V either. I hear his flags draw 2 amps apiece - without lighting! :wink:

We've never had a TV in the Safari. When do you have time to watch TV? You just might get me to abandon a campfire for another episode of Sookie Stackhouse on the laptop ... but that's pretty uncommon.

My normal dry camping strategy is to figure on the fridge & water pump being the only draws; in summer I can get 4 days -- at which point it is harder to manage the gray tank. I certainly have to adopt the genset strategy if the furnace has to run. To lessen the amount of time that it is making a racket (I sleep better that way), I set the night thermostat in the low 50s. Benefit of less fan time = less battery draw. And we have appropriate bedding to deal with that. The laptop and cell phone plug in whenever the genset comes out. Early in my battery life I could get a couple nights of running the furnace in 30 degree F weather but I've moved away from attempting that.

I appreciate the 6 cu ft fridge units that set up a natural draft through the roof and don't need the accessory fans.

I've seen threads where people have installed ceiling halogens at half the amperage. And some talking LEDs with mixed results. For our camping, we only use a couple inexpensive LED lanterns after the sun goes down. Halogens are for hookups. Period.

Multi CD player? Mais non monsieur! Sony's xPlode compatibility with iPod is a legendary disaster. I saw a Pioneer unit in a C-van do marginally better this last summer. The iPod system isn't perfect but at least we're used to it. Can't we all just get along? I wish Apple made automotive stereos...

Both my Interstates are packing it in after four full years. I'd almost go that way again. 4 years doesn't convince me to go the AGM or parallel 6V route. But I've been fastidious to avoid discharging below 50%. Thanks Nick --

So, comforts of home? Better! (anytime out camping) But we'll even take no-hookup sites at state parks just to get out. Though my favorite sites are in little state & national forest campgrounds.

5 meter Langford Nahanni

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Old 10-15-2009, 11:28 PM   #12
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the tv in and of itself uses ~ the same juice as a macbook.

so the inverter can be TINY, like 150 watts.

i've left it on (accidentally) for 10 hours with issue.

it also has 'power saver feature that cuts the watt another 10% or so.

the BULK stage of 3 stage charger WILL allow the honda to juice the batteries faster....

80-90% in 2-3 hours. the last 10-15% takes a LONG LONG TIME.

but the issue then becomes flood cell batteries don't like HIGH bulk charging and will heat/boil.

so get some agms. group 27s will INCREASE your amp/hour holdings.

they tolerated HIGHER/faster charge and can be drained LOWER without issue.

also have less LOSS due to cool weather.

replacing halogen with led is good

i use candles and a solar recharged area light and a led lantern that recharages.


the audio UPGRADE is a power sucker and always on. the amp/whoofer and so on are a MAJOR drain...

go ipod, get a harmonica or go silent.

i would NOT ditch the furnace but add a cat heater.

it will serve you for 90% of all cold weather camping. and boondocking.

i've told many folks that solar up north is a low yield addition

and maximizing the genset issues (bigger wire, better charger, better batteries) gives MORE return for the efforts.

all of the true things that i am about to tell you are shameless lies. l.b.j.

we are here on earth to fart around. don't let anybody tell you any different. k.v.
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Old 10-15-2009, 11:29 PM   #13
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Battery life has more to do with use and maintenance than brand. There are many many myths promulgated with passion so take care and look at measureables like warranty and size.

The IntelliPower with chargewizard is going to be a big help on battery life. That will assure prompt charging and also take care of maintenance when the battery is not in use.

You aren't going to be able to put enough battery in your trailer to have home comforts so you have to make lifestyle adjustments. Same for those who get into thinking the 90% efficiency of an inverter is going to make a difference.

Figure that each battery has about 1 KwH energy of which only half should be used in normal circumstances. That means your typical RV has about 1 Kilowatt hour of usable battery energy storage. Compare that to the typical average 10 KwH per day household usage.
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Old 10-16-2009, 09:28 AM   #14
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The subwoofer is on all the time, but I put a switch in the line. It stays turned off, though available if I should want it. That hasn't happened.

The Sony upgrade radio has an "off" button on the upper left corner. Press it like any off button and it doesn't turn all the way off—displays still going. Hold it down until all the displays go away and it seems to be off. I'm not sure if there's some power consumption still since a lot of electronics don't go all the way off.


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