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Old 06-29-2013, 06:24 PM   #1
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My 27FB Solar/Inverter Project Documentary

We recently bought a new 2013 27FB International Serenity. Having camped for years with a popup and a small solar setup we understood the advantage. I wasnít thrilled with the stock Airstream solar package and figured I could do better and cheaper myself. BTW Ė the 2013 list price for solar is $2,950 and $729 for the inverter. So off I go, having owned the brand new trailer for just seven days the first thing I do is rip the bedroom apart, tear out cabinets, pull the microwave out of the trailer and all the sliding drawers, pull the main panel, drill holes, and generally make a big mess. But it's worth it. Now itís all back together, my wife finally got in to decorate and next week camping! Following is a pretty long documentary of the project.

Because the forum software limits the number of photo per post, I'm breaking this into parts. This is part 1.

Planning

First we assessed our expectations for a solar and inverter system. We prefer to camp in state or federal parks, mostly places without hookups. We sometimes stay put for a week and we didnít want to worry about lack of electricity while out. The northern California redwoods are especially nice, but those campgrounds can be heavily shaded much of the day. We wanted to:

1. Have power to charge cell phones, tablets, etc.
2. Run a small vacuum,
3. A blender.
4. The TV and DVD player, and;
5. Use the furnace, lights, and other 12 volt items without compromise;
6. All using existing outlets for the 120 volt, and.
7. All for a relatively low cost.

To keep the project modest, off grid power for a coffee pot, blow dryer, microwave, etc. was not attempted.

After reading and hearing such great reviews of AM Solar I elected to go their route. They have an excellent solar education website. After studying and speaking to their techs I opted for the (1) SunRunner Signature 25/6/Pro Core, (2) three 100 watt solar WGS100 Solar Panel Kits, and (3) a Morningstar SureSine 300 watt fanless high efficiency Inverter. Three days after ordering five big boxes arrived on my doorstep. Whatís nice is lots of miscellaneous parts (switches, breakers, cables, etc) necessary are also included along with installation instructions. I choose to keep the two brand new interstate group 24 batteries for now (160 amp hours). When those die I will replace with twin 6 volts at 220 amp hours.

Another good planning source are these forums. I found this post 27FB Solar Installation Report Start to Finish to be very helpful.

Running the Wires

This part of the project is a lot of hard work. The Airstream solar pre-wire is 10 gauge. AM Solar recommends 6 gauge so I abandoned the Airstream pre-wire. I decided to route the new 6 gauge wires through the refrigerator vent thus avoiding one more hole in the roof. You can follow the red and black wires as they are routed forward to the battery area.

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The black and red Wires tied into the bus and combiner box. I stuck a piece of Liquatite conduit to protect the wires from the sharp metal refrigerator vent edges. I later pumped silicone into the entire hole and wires.

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Through the rear of the refrigerator and down into a utility area where the furnace pipes are routed on the floor. There I then located a convenient ďunder hallĒ chase that connects to the main panel area. This chase links the left side of the trailer to the right side.

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Under the hall to the main panel area.

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Here the wires pop up and travel about two feet to the water heater.

As the main panel of the 27FB is in the center of the trailer, there is no good path to route the wires the 12 feet forward to the battery area without going outside (or ripping inside aluminum off the walls). Fortunately the water heater is behind the main panel so itís an easy decision to follow the gas line outside and forward. The Airstream builders conveniently drilled large diameter holes through the plywood subfloor to run the small diameter gas lines so I used the extra space around the gas line for the wires to the underbelly. At that point I had to drill through. To protect the wires externally and through the holes drilled through the aluminum underbelly I elected to run all wires inside a piece of flexible ĺĒ Liquatite conduit. In the conduit are the two 6 gauge solar wires, one 14 gauge Romex, and three smaller wires for the controller remote meter and the Inverter on/off switch. They all just barely fit. For now I just strapped the conduit to the gas line. Later Iíll probably mount it directly to the underside with brackets more firmly later on.


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Under the water heater, heading toward the belly pan.

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Through the belly pan.

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Got a 90 degree fitting attached. The threaded part is through the metal, held by a nut. I had to drill a few rivets out to be able to get my hand to the other side of the metal to screw the nut on.

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All done and siliconeíd up nice and watertight.

Part 2 to follow.
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Old 06-29-2013, 06:52 PM   #2
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Solar/Inverter Project Documentary - Part 2

Continued from above....

AM Solar recommends all controller related hardware be placed as close to the batteries as possible. Conveniently, the 27FB front opening storage area is inches from the battery compartment. Within the storage compartment, on the right side, thereís a small utility area. All this is under the master bed at the very front/right side of the trailer. Since there was some extra room this area was also used to mount all the rest of the solar hardware (controller, breakers, and switches). The stock Airstream battery cables are 6 Gauge, undersized for the Inverter, so I replaced those with a pair of 2 Gauge battery cables purchased at an auto supply store.

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ID:	189678 This is the hardware that comes with the Airstream. The funny round goofy looking thing is the main power relay. The black box is a bus for brake lights, running lights, electric brakes, etc. A positive and negative battery bus and thatís it. A small partition wall separates this utility area from the main front storage area.

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ID:	189679 Same space, more stuff. Added in the controller (see the green light, its working!). A couple of circuit breakers, a solar cutoff switch (red), and a lot more wires. I ended up drilling another through floor hole (on left in grey Liquatite) for the 2 gauge battery cables.

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ID:	189680 All put together. I made a tiny door to provide access to the circuit breakers from outside. What's neat is there was no additional space lost for all this new hardware.


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ID:	189681 Batteries with new 2 Gauge cables attached. Thereís also a battery temperature sensor for the solar controller attached to the black negative post. Someday Iíll switch these to twin 6 volts.

Solar Panel Installation.

Mounting the panels was pretty straightforward. I recommend starting this work soon after sunrise if you live where itís hot like I do. I had a friend to help; we did all the work from stepladders. It took maybe four hours to unbox, read the instructions, put the parts together, mount the panels, seal the brackets, run and tie everything to the refrigerator combiner box. Even though the panel mounting brackets came with some super stick tape that supposedly was good enough, we elected to drill and rivet or screw all the brackets to ribs wherever possible, then used lots of Dicore sealant to make things watertight.

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ID:	189682 Mounting bracket. All ready for Dicore Sealant



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ID:	189683 Wires snaking back to the combiner box.

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ID:	189684 Easily room for one, or maybe two, more panels.

Shade, even partial shade, is the enemy of solar panels. I wired the panels in parallel, the most common arrangement. This way if one panel is shaded, power from the others still travels to the controller. Not so if wired in series. I put one panel the rear of the trailer, one in the middle, and one in front. My thought is at least some panels will get sun sometime if parked under trees.

Once the last wire was connected, the batteries were charging from the sun! Pretty cool!

Inverter Installation

The SureSine 300 is fairly compact. I mounted it at the foot of the bed in the rounded corner where the space is awkward and sort of wasted. The instructions called for 4 Gauge wire to the battery. As the result of a mix-up at Home Depot I ended up with 2 Gauge wire for the same price. I thought I got away with a bargain until I had to work with it. It bends almost like re-bar and needs some serious manhandling to get it placed.

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ID:	189685 Hereís a photo of the inverter with the 3 #2 wires (hot, negative, ground) It comes with a remote on/off feature that I wired in a convenient location elsewhere.


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ID:	189686 This view is looking down and forward at the bed frame. We can see the utility area where all new hardware is placed (top right) and the inverter that's placed a the foot of the bed.

I found the inverter handily powers the television and DVD player. It easily powered the blender to mix up a test batch of margaritaís! for kicks, I found it also powered a 3/8Ē corded drill, a Dremel tool, and a small ShopVac. Surely it will be fine to charge cellphones, power a laptop, and charge a iPad. The trailer batteries probably couldnít with much more anyway.

Part 3 - Running Inverter power through existing outlets follows.
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Old 06-29-2013, 07:12 PM   #3
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Solar/Inverter Project Documentary - Part 3

continued from above....

Running Inverter 120 Volts Though Existing Outlets

I went back and forth on the best way to distribute power. The neat thing about the Airstream inverter package is the extra internal wiring that they install. If it were possible to easily drag more wire in the wall of the Airstream I might have tried to duplicate that setup, but thatís impossible. Fortunately I discovered a way to split shore power from onboard inverter power via a heavy duty five pole cam switch. This is a variation of an idea another RV user posed on a different forum. This project requires some amount of re-wiring of the main panel. All the changes are downstream of two 20-Amp circuit breakers, both of which lead to outlets, but one also to the refrigerator and the other to the Controller.

The idea is that under inverter power only the outlets are powered, the refrigerator and Controller are not. When under shore power everything is powered. The key is this Changeover Cam Switch I found online at c3controls. I purchased the five pole 25 amp switch. They will also make a custom cover plate for the switch for a few extra dollars.

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ID:	189687Here is a schematic I drew up for my purpose that I carefully followed when wiring. Now that itís installed it works perfectly.

Information Center & Control Panel Ė Putting it All Together

luckily, my International Serenity has this ideal location for the Solar Remote Control Panel and my shore/power inverter switch in the overhead cabinet above the galley.


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ID:	189688Thereís the opening for the hardware. I drilled a hole through to the pantry on other side of wall then fed routed wires to the Main Panel area on floor below the pantry.

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ID:	189689Got all the wires to the Cam Switch and Solar Remote Panel from the main panel directly below.


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ID:	189690Neatened up.


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ID:	189691Cam switch wired up and in a pull box. Ready to cap it and close things up.


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ID:	189692View of galley area. Itís not too obvious. My wife is okay with it and happy now that I am done making a mess.


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ID:	189694Switch on left toggles between shore and inverter power to existing 120 volt outlets. The small button on the right is the inverter on/off switch. The red led lights up when the inverter is on and producing 120 volts. When off, it basically stops drawing power from the batteries.

So that's it! It was a good DIY project, took about three weeks, mostly weekends. I hope some of this is helpful or inspiring to others. I'm loading up this weekend to head out camping where there's no plug in power, though I expect to have plenty for my needs.

- Kurt
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Old 08-08-2014, 08:03 AM   #4
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Hey Kurt,
Great write up! I really like how you wired the inverter into your existing AC system. I know it's been a while since you posted but how is your system working out and have you made any changes? What kind of wire did you use for the cam switch? Thanks Steve.


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Old 08-08-2014, 02:57 PM   #5
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Since I installed the system over a year ago I have no complaints. Have camped at RV parks with hookups and state/federal without. I since added a bedroom TV and now we find we like to watch movies at night in bed and never think twice about 120 volt power.

For the wires to the Cam Switch I think I used 14 Gauge solid copper wire (found at Home Depot) in various colors. I used a gauge no smaller than Airstream installed off the circuit breaker.

I since briefly toyed with the idea of replacing with a larger inverter to power the microwave when boondocking, but ultimately decided the negatives such as excessive battery drain, replacement inverter fan noise, cost, etc not to worth the effort. I think the SurSine inverter at 600 watts is the largest to be had without a fan and is totally silent.

Since I wrote this I also added a fourth solar panel for a total of 400 watts. If I'm parked in a sunny spot batteries will be fully re-charged by noon the following day. My next project will be to enlarge the exterior battery box to hold two 6-volt batteries instead of the two existing group 24 batteries. This should increase amp-hour storage by nearly 50% (160 to 230). Sometimes we camp in such a shady spot the solar is largely ineffective. The batteries can last for about 4 days before dropping to around 20% charge. But once back in sunlight are fully charged by dinner time.
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Old 08-08-2014, 03:13 PM   #6
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I just received my 2015 international and chose to not get the inverter option. I really like the way you wired it in. Thanks!


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Old 08-08-2014, 03:19 PM   #7
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Great job!!!!!
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Old 08-08-2014, 03:32 PM   #8
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Thanks for the great write-up, the very thorough design work and the fine job of documentation. I will use this as a guide if I ever decide to install solar.

Dan
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Old 12-12-2014, 01:27 PM   #9
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Thanks for this Kurt. I've been on the sidelines for a while now but have called AM Solar and am waiting for a call back. I have two questions.

1)How is the inverter output and wiring to the outlets protected when the cam switch is in inverter mode? There are no breakers inline. Maybe a mute point in that theoretically the inverter at 3 amps output could never supply enough current to melt the wires. I assume the inverter has an instantaneous overload shutdown?
2) If you had to do it over again, would you still use the fridge vent combiner or use the standard combiner box? The fridge vent and underfloor runs are clean but look troublesome to run and repair/test.

Again, thanks for the thorough write up with pictures and time estimates. It has really helped shape my thinking on going Solar. - Brad
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Old 12-12-2014, 01:58 PM   #10
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In hindsight I would not have routed the wires through the fridge vent. Instead I should have drilled the hole in the roof above the microwave and used AM solar's roof combiner box (and caulked heavily). I was trying to avoid the hole but didn't know that the fridge vent is kinked somewhere in the middle of the run. Took a couple of hours and luck to get the wire up there and out into the open.

The Suresine inverter has some kind of built in overload. Try to run something with too high a draw and it quickly trips off. I think they also recommend a fuse off the inverter too, I never installed it though.
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Old 12-13-2014, 03:25 AM   #11
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Thanks Kurt. I called AM Solar and we are moving forward. We'll use the standard roof combiner box.


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Old 12-13-2014, 11:01 AM   #12
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Your cam switch link didn't work. Try this one. http://www.c3controls.com/site/cam-s...changeover.htm


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Old 12-13-2014, 12:18 PM   #13
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I also have the Morningstar Sure Sine inverter and think it is a really fine unit.

I ordered my 2014 FC 20 with the factory inverter package, but soon found that the inverter idle current is a killer. It runs from 1.75 to 1.90 amps doing nothing, just sitting there. All actual loads are in addition to that so it is a real energy gobbler when powering anything, unless you switch it off and on all the time. And small loads such as a single 120 volt LED bulb of 10 watts or so still require that high inverter idle load.

The Morningstar has a .45 amp idle load, apron 1/4 of the factory inverter. But most importantly, it has a search function, which, if used, cuts the input and shuts the inverter down when not in use. When a 10 watt load is applied to it, within one second it powers up automatically. In the "sleep" mode it only draws 15 mA. So, essentially it can be left on all the time, happily sitting there waiting for you to turn something on then it will turn itself on... really nice function.

I use my factory inverter for powering a very small microwave that I have, and also a toaster. Otherwise the little Morningstar is used for everything else, including my 120 volt LED bulbs I use for lighting. I hate the cold "bright white" LED's the factory supplies.

Right now I use a separate 120 volt cord arrangement for the Morningstar power distribution. I have some further ideas on using the original dedicated inverter outlets with the Morningstar or the factory original unit but have not worked out the details yet. After the factory warrantee expires in June I have some things in mind though.
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Old 12-21-2014, 10:30 AM   #14
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Hey Kurt, a few more questions.

Are the circuit breakers to the front of the storage bay just for the battery positive feed? What circuits do they protect and how many amperes? They look like different sizes but I cant read them. Did you purchase them separately?

Also what size sealtite conduit did you use for running under the trailer? Is it 3/4 "?

I'm in parts gathering mode. I'm ordering a cam switch early next week and plan to do the install the week of Jan 9.

Thanks for your detailed descriptions and pictures.

Brad


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