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Old 01-22-2016, 09:35 PM   #1
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Simple question, probably not so simple answer

Wanting to do a simple as possible low cost solar install. My question is can I connect the controller directly to the bus where the feed comes in from the batteries or do if have to something else? Click image for larger version

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Do you know what a learning experience is? A learning experience is one of those things that says "You know that thing that you just did? Don't do that."
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Old 01-23-2016, 12:38 AM   #2
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Michael, does the bus connect directly to the batteries or is there a battery disconnect relay between the bus and the batteries?

If the bus is hard-wired to the batteries, then sure, go ahead and connect your solar charger to the bus. If not, you should connect your solar charger directly to the batteries - this will allow your solar panels to charge the battery when your disconnect switch is in the Store position.
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Old 01-23-2016, 08:23 AM   #3
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I do have the disconnect switch. Is this what you mean by relay? So the trick will be to fish the new wires thru the shell and to the box.
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Old 01-23-2016, 09:55 AM   #4
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Yes, your battery disconnect switch controls the relay that's seen to the left of the bus bar.

Since my controller was mounted within a couple of feet of the batteries, I used stranded #8 AWG to connect my solar controller directly to the batteries. You'll probably need a fuse in the positive connection. I was able to fish the wires through the same protective jacket that housed the wires run by AS to connect the batteries to the disconnect relay.

In my case the opening where the battery wires passed into the cabin was sealed with a pliable caulk, so I was able to simply pass the wires through and re-seal the opening.
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Old 01-23-2016, 10:01 AM   #5
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Al, thanks. Once it warms up a bit I will go out and check it out.
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Old 01-23-2016, 11:48 AM   #6
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My simple rule is if it involves electrical or LP gas I hire an expert. But that's just me
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Old 01-23-2016, 03:22 PM   #7
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Solar for the last 10 years no problems

Let me begin with one thing, don't have the Airstream dealer install your solar and don't go with an Airstream factory kit. If you don't want to do your own, get a company or installer with a good reputation and previous installs on Airstreams. Some panels are not made for the rigors of travel so make sure that your panels are built for non stationary use. Mine are Samsung but there are a ton of good ones out there.

I did my own install. I have four 80 watt panels, a great charge controller and inverter. We have had this set up for 10 years on our 22ft International and have not used our generator since. We have camped for more than an accumulated year with this set up. Last year, we camped for a solid month in the cold with our DVD and TV going each night along with the furnace running almost all night long. Never ran low on power. We do have to conserve after a few days if we are ever in the dark dark shade but that has only been once or twice.

It is easy to do if you know or learn how to do the install but that takes some research. I met a full time couple with a 27ft International who are living and traveling full time in the trailer. They also had 4 panels and had them installed professionally in Oregon. Here is a link to their story with the name of the installer in the blog. Their only problem was that they had more charging power than battery storage ability. Still, they had good luck overall. The Scenic Route: Here Comes the Sun! Our Solar Power Installation

Some things that are missed by most installations is a mild galvanic corrosion over the years from screwing stainless steel into aluminum. The US Navy uses something called T-Gel to coat any stainless steel screw going into aluminum. T-gel is available in small quantities on the net.

Installing the panels was easy. I used rubber expansion bolts. Where there are rivets, there are solid frame tubes to mount to. Since the roof is curved, there is a Z shaped bracket made from aluminum that can be easily bent for a bracket flush mount.

I used the pre-wire from already installed by Airstream. The beginning of those wires are usually tucked in behind the fantastic fan and come out near the buss. Most folks here recommend a thicker wire than the pre-wire but I've had no problems. The panels are wired to a junction box on the roof with its own buss. Several people told me to make sure to use the exact same length wire from each panel to my junction box amid claims of efficient use of the panels. Don't know if they were right but it can't hurt anything and nothing has gone wrong in 10 years and the panels work great.

From the roof junction box, you must access the pre-wire inside the trailer. There are lots of holes to drill in your roof with a solar install but taking the wire from the roof to the interior is the scary one. I used a wire "clam-shell" fixture from West Marine that is used for the side of sailboats for cable wire install for TV access while docked. Great little device and very waterproof.

Now that your inside, securely connect to the pre-wire by taking the bottom of the Fantastic Fan off. The big thing here is to know where the Pre-wire is for sure. Mine was in the roof to the side of the Fantastic Fan which made this connection easy. The folks at Airstream Customer Service went to the factory to make sure that this is where my wires would be and got back to me in a few hours and bingo. Know where the Pre-wire starts. If you want thicker wire as many recommend, post something here and ask how to do that.

Now that the sticky stuff is done, connect to your charge controller. Don't skimp here. The charge controller is really important!!!!!! I recommend an MPPT controller. Maximum Power Point Tracking Solar Charge Controllers (MPPT) are different than the traditional PWM solar charge controllers in that they are more efficient and in many cases more feature rich. MPPT solar charge controllers allow your solar panels to operate at their optimum power output voltage, improving their performance by as much as 30%. Traditional solar charge controllers reduce the efficiency of one part of your system in order to make it work with another.

May I also add at this point that inline large buss fuses are nifty on between all connections. I did have one blow between the controller and buss one time around five years ago.

Once you have your inline fuse in, connect to the main buss. The switch on the wall that disconnects the battery to the trailer still works as intended and the batteries will still charge. A good controller will help the batteries last longer.

Now for the bummer, I mentioned the full time campers with not enough battery storage. This is the biggest problem with solar camping if you really want to use full time solar without restrictions. You really need to educate yourself on battery maintenance whether you do the install yourself or have a professional do it. You can add more batteries or use bigger batteries. The batteries need to be well ventilated. Lots of panels may charge better in the shade but the charge controller will shut off juice except for a trickle if the batteries are fully charged. Most people use electricity when the batteries are not charging at night (especially the furnace).

Whether you add batteries or switch to bigger batteries, you will have to decide where to put them. I have 2 huge Trojan 6v 435AH which is overkill and adds tongue weight. The box that Airstream installed on your tongue is useless for increasing battery capacity. I built a bigger box.

Also, for the life of me, I can't understand why Airstream goes with those 30lb propane tanks instead of a standard 20lb tanks. In a tight spot, the 20lb tanks can be traded with Amerigas or Rhino at the grocery store but with the 30lb tanks, you need someone that has a filling station. The 30lb tanks full add about 16lbs of extra tongue weight at the furthest point from the trailer. If you want to increase the size of your batteries, that weight could be better used.

In closing, this is what I did and this is what has worked for about 400 camping days in all kinds of weather. We've also found the solar to make a handy emergency home in the trailer during power outages, one of which lasted three days in our town.

There may be better ways to go about this but it worked for me and cut the price in half over hiring an installer. If your worried about the difficulty, it's not that hard once you get the knowledge. I did most of my install under the influence of Tequila and it was still easy.

Write if you want more info: airstreamcat@gmail.com

Chris
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Old 01-23-2016, 03:45 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kdickinson View Post
My simple rule is if it involves electrical or LP gas I hire an expert. But that's just me
Not helpful but think you for that personal opinion.
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Old 01-23-2016, 04:01 PM   #9
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Chris, thanks for the detailed post. I have located the factory wiring. It is in the bottom section of the fridge compartment and runs to under the side section of the front seating. maybe I should of explained my thinking. I want to wire the controller inside out of the elements and have an external plug to plug in a portable panel. I went back out and took a look at the area where the wires from the battery to inside go in. Ran a short fish thru easily. Looks to be a simple enough job running the wires and mounting an external plug.
Like I said simple and low cost is the goal at this time. I am going to be spending several months of the up coming year in the Smokies where many of the national park campgrounds are basically boondocking with no utilities. I can now go about three days without plugging in as long as it is not to cold or hot. I would like to extend that longer without breaking the bank. In the future I will be able update and improve the solar install properly.
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Old 01-23-2016, 04:11 PM   #10
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I did not mount my panels on top of the coach. This allows me to park in the shade or under cover and still use the solar panels by running a length of cable to a sunny spot and place the panels in the sun. I get maximum angle and exposure that way.
You can also use a boat battery box for your solar charge controller instead of mounting it inside the trailer. Then you have a completely portable system you can use on anything anywhere. Flexibility!

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Old 01-23-2016, 04:23 PM   #11
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Dennis good suggestion about the external battery box. I just happen to have a couple of those laying around not being used. A plus is they already have a basic volt meter and external connection points. For my current purpose that might be the way to go.
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