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Old 04-27-2015, 05:17 PM   #1
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Los Gatos , California
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Solar, Inverter and Battery upgrades

I recently completed some some upgrades the the house electrical system on my 2012 EXT. The main issue that I was trying to address was a lack of battery power after minimal use and after storage indoors (unplugged) for 30 days or so.

Via this forum and a few people who were generous with their advice and patience, I was able to complete the effort in 2 stages.

The first stage was to replace the original house batteries with LifeLine batteries. I bought 2 GPL-4CT 6 Volt batteries from Mark @ Centex (512.308.9002 Official Lifeline and Sun Xtender Battery Dealer Distributor). They provide me with 220 amp hours of power; about a 30% increase over my original batteries if I recall correctly. I was hoping to go with the larger 6CTs, but there is no way they would fit in my battery box. I basically had the shoehorn the 4CTs in. Mark provided great support and helped me gain a good understanding of battery life and recharging and helped me get all of my inverter and solar charger settings correct.

For the the second phase of the upgrade, I installed a 1000 watt Magnum inverter, 3 100 watt solar panels and the solar charger/remote to go along with them. The Magnum inverter was model MMS1012. The solar charger and remote were Blue Sky models. The Solar Controller is a Solar Boost 2512i(X)-HV along with an IPN ProRemote. I purchased everything from Dave at AM Solar. Welcome to AM Solar_Your RV Solar Specialists since 1987. (541) 726-1091. AM Solar sells the panels with an option to get them as a kit. The kit contains all of the parts you need to install the panels and controllers (wiring, heat shrink, mounting hardware, etc), along with detailed instructions. You just need to figure out where to mount everything and how/where to run all of the wiring. Dave and AM Solar team were very helpful when I called in a few times to ask for assistance. I have to say that when I received the shipments from them I was a bit overwhelmed at first; there were lots of parts and lots of wire. My total cost for all of the parts was $3461.

The most helpful of all with Lewster from this forum (Lew Farber). Talking things thru with him beforehand gave me the confidence that I could tackle this upgrade. A call or two during the install helped keep me on track.

I just returned from a quick trip and could not be more happy. We had the refrigerator on, watched a movie at night and had the furnace on as well as some lights. My battery was at 84% in the AM, much better than my previous batteries that would have been somewhere around 50%. Even better tho was that they were 100% charged with a few hours of morning sun. During the day now, I can run the inverter, the refrigerator and my communication amps (Internet and cell phone) and still sit at 100% power when it is sunny (which is most of the time in California)

The Phase 1 battery exchange took a solid day to do.

The Phase 2 inverter and solar upgrades took me just shy of 5 days.

I could of shaved off a day if it weren't for the battery box and TV antenna. The battery box is wedged in tight between the lounge framework and side of the van. It took a long time to get wires disconnected/reconnected there, as well as working around that area to run new wires. If doing it over, I would eliminate the battery box (and go with the larger battery size). The TV antenna was securely mounted and I fought its removal for awhile before I went commando on it and destructively removed it. What ever Airstream uses for sealant is very durable...

It also took a bit of time to figure out my existing wiring. I had a factory installed solar system (50 watt) that had to be removed. I had wiring that went to the Battery Isolation Manager that wasn't supposed to be there and I was leery about taking it away, as the new system does not hook up to it (not directly at least).

Running all the wiring is tedious, but not too bad. The worse area was getting the wiring in from the roof penetration and fished behind to the 'control center' in the upper bulkhead.

Lessons Learned and General Thoughts
- Patience is a virtue; especially when trying to fish all of the wires thru the various areas
- Have a box of band aids available. Every finger, as well as the back of both of my hands, bled at some point during the install. There are sharp corners, wires, etc in all of those blind spots where you are poking your hands and fishing wiring
- A saying we have at work is very applicable here. 'Plan the work and work the plan'. In other words, think thru the work that you are going to doing and line up everything that you need to perform it (tools, ladder, drawings parts, etc). Then do the work that you had planned. I'm a little OCD and would sometimes get distracted by other things that I found would need addressed
- Safety. It goes without saying that there are some 'dangers' involved. The AC/DC voltages and amps are sufficient to mess you up a bit, as well as do some damage to your rigs components. Make sure you disconnect everything and ensure nothing is energized prior to sticking a wreck on the electrical connections. Roof access isn't bad, but respect the height. It's tight up on the roof now with 3 panels, AC, vents, etc. Don't do foolish things to get on or off the roof.
- In the end, I'd give myself a B+ for the finished product. I would have liked to have gotten the wire runs under the lounge better organized. If I had to do it again, it would redo all of the existing wiring. The AS run wires were quite messy. I did my best to clean them up, but could only do so much. The good thing is that the wiring is all hidden.
- Enjoy it! Overall, it was a very fun project. I learned a lot and feel proud of my accomplishment. There were a few times I got frustrated. Don't let it bother you. Simply step away for a bit and doing something else.

Overall it was a great project with a high rate of return for me. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate it a 5 for overall difficultly. '1' being a fuse changeout. '10’ being an engine rebuild. Nothing was that difficult; its just more of the effort required to run all of the wiring.

Attached are a few pictures. I don't have one of the roof, however it is the same that others have posted. 2 panels in the rear running parallel to the sides of the van (in place of the TV antenna), and 1 running perpendicular in front of the AC (where the old panel was). Also attached a a wiring diagram of the some of the associated components in the 2012 electrical system that may be useful to some.

Thanks again for all who post to this forum and are generous with their time, advice and opinions.

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2012 Interstate EXT
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Old 04-27-2015, 07:28 PM   #2
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Nice job!! Thanks for sharing your experiences and lessons learned. I also installed solar system from AM Solar last year. Works great - now I need to upgrade my batteries.
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Old 04-27-2015, 08:03 PM   #3
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Nice Job!

Welcome to my world!!
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Old 04-27-2015, 09:34 PM   #4
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You're taking $$$ out of Lew's pocket

Congrats on pulling off a huge endeavor
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Old 04-28-2015, 05:45 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron_CA View Post
You're taking $$$ out of Lew's pocket

Congrats on pulling off a huge endeavor
That's OK!

Thankfully, others are still putting them back in.........

As my old martial arts Sensei once told me: "I'll teach you everything you need to know, just not everything that I know!!"
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Old 04-28-2015, 03:44 PM   #6
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Great job and nice write-up. Did you remount the TV antenna or just leave it off?
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Old 04-28-2015, 04:37 PM   #7
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Excellent! Looks like that Magnum panel is a perfect drop in fit for the Tripp-Lite.

How did you run the cables from the PV panels into the coach?
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Old 04-28-2015, 07:00 PM   #8
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Excellent! Looks like that Magnum panel is a perfect drop in fit for the Tripp-Lite.

How did you run the cables from the PV panels into the coach?
Actually, the opening for the Magnum ME-RC remote needs to be enlarged slightly from the old Tripp-Lite recess. The cable for a 300 watt AM Solar charging system is significantly larger than the Airstream pre-wire and needs to be run to the location of the solar charge controller, which usually means drilling a single hole in the roof for entry into the coach.

AM Solar's roof combiner box serves a double duty here as a place to join all of the panels in the solar array and also as a waterproof point of entry into the coach. I have a 'special place' where I run my cables so none of them are visible, but you can run them thru any cabinet that's adjacent to the roof.
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Old 04-28-2015, 07:14 PM   #9
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2013 Interstate Coach
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Thanks Lew.

Re-doing my PV panel wiring is on my to do list. Not real happy with my temporary solution of re-using the factory wiring for 200w. However when I did that project I did not have the courage to drill a hole in the roof because I was not real happy with how the bottom of the AM Solar combiner box fit in-between the ridges on the roof. Maybe Ill give you a shout when Im in Oak Harbor, Wa this summer.

Also on a related note, Kaylorsan, where did you obtain that Interstate wireing schematic? That is a great reference item.
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Old 04-29-2015, 07:12 AM   #10
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To answer some of the above questions:
- I did indeed need to enlarge the hole in my control panel for the solar charger remote. Wasn't much, but was needed.
- for the magnum remote, they offer a wall mount kit that holds it off of the face of the cabinet. I found one on eBay for $14.99
- the roof penetration for the new solar wiring was placed slightly back from the antenna wiring penetration and closer to the center. The AM Solar combiner box fit nicely there (and also fits nicely under one of the panels)
- I did not reinstall the TV antenna. Never used it in 3+ years, so I figured I wouldn't miss it.
- the wiring diagram came from Airstream. Dan Snyder was who I dealt with. He sent me the drawing upon request

Some neat stuff I found to be useful is polymorphic plastic. You can see the white 'blobs' of it in one of the pictures. It's cool stuff. Some info about it here (http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-...c--a-thermal-/). It comes in bead form and is easy to work with. It's melting point is around 160 deg. You simply drop it in hot water for a bit, then shape it into any shape desired. It's drill-able, machinable and reusable. Best of all, it's non-conductive. I covered up the exposed terminals of the battery isolation manager, as well as the terminals on a 30 amp circuit breaker that I installed as part of the solar upgrade. I also built some 'protection' around the 6 gauge wire where it penetrated my roof. I built up a nice bit of it around the wire to prevent movement and possible fraying of the wire against the roof penetration. Tons of other uses also. I got a great deal on a huge bag of it on eBay.



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Old 04-29-2015, 07:52 AM   #11
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Kaylorsan,

Thank you for your additional input.
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Old 05-24-2015, 07:39 PM   #12
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Any reason (other than having 250W instead o 300W) that I couldn't leave the original 50 and just add the 2 100W panels at the back. Voltage and current specs of the original 0W and two new panels look the same. I would add new (bigger) wires for the new panels and use the original wiring for the 50W panel. The new and old wires would meet at a new Blue Sky Energy 2512ix MPPT contoller with battery temperature sensor.
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Old 05-25-2015, 09:37 AM   #13
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Be very sure that all of the panel specs are identical, or within 0.1VDC. Any greater variance will confuse the MPPT module and you will loose the benefit of the solar boost.


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Old 05-25-2015, 08:35 PM   #14
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This is a great story, with several really helpful suggestions that I'm now considering. I just got a 2015 AI, and find myself spending several days at a time in no-hookup situations.

I have 2 pretty basic / naive questions:

1) my manual says not to let batteries fall below 50% charge, or their future charge-carrying capabilities may be hurt. So I've become paranoid about the 50%. Any opinions on this?
2) one night I just decided to turn off the house battery. Temps were cool-ish, not much in fridge, etc. ANY SAFETY RISKS IN THIS THAT I COULDN'T THINK OF? or for that matter, any other reasons not to do it?
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Old 05-25-2015, 08:50 PM   #15
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Not sure it's the same in a 2015 model, but in mine, when the coach battery is disabled, it also cuts power to the propane detector. That alone would be a good reason to keep the coach batteries enabled.
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Old 05-25-2015, 09:08 PM   #16
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Not sure it's the same in a 2015 model, but in mine, when the coach battery is disabled, it also cuts power to the propane detector.
Mine is that way as well. But since I always cut power to the propane solenoid when I cut off the main power, it's all copacetic.
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Old 05-25-2015, 09:15 PM   #17
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Yeah that's a good consideration that I'm trying to figure out. My manual says 1) the LPG detector is wired "directly" to the 12V. Does that mean it's "always on," even if I disconnect the battery? 2) and if the battery is disconnected, the solenoid automatically closes the valve that sends LPG to appliances. I guess I"ll look at the detector when I disconnect the batter, see if it's still green, and try the test button. THANKS
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Old 05-25-2015, 10:36 PM   #18
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Yeah that's a good consideration that I'm trying to figure out. My manual says 1) the LPG detector is wired "directly" to the 12V. Does that mean it's "always on," even if I disconnect the battery? 2) and if the battery is disconnected, the solenoid automatically closes the valve that sends LPG to appliances. I guess I"ll look at the detector when I disconnect the batter, see if it's still green, and try the test button. THANKS

Come to think of it, in 2014 they also changed the LPG solenoid to close when the coach power is disabled.
You can check your LPG detector by watching the green light go out when you disable the coach batteries.
On your original question about whether to disable the coach batteries at night, my own experience is that if the batteries are above about 85% at the end of the day, then with the fridge running, and with occasional use of the water pump and lights, we have about 50% left by the morning. My experience - you may be different - but over time we learn to be more frugal with resources!


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Old 05-27-2015, 11:31 AM   #19
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But here's another confusing point, caused by the 2016 AI manual:

1) so I tried it, and discovered that when I disconnect the house battery, main switch, the LPG detector green light indeed goes OFF
2) however, the manual says: "[the disconnect switch] ... disengages or engages the 12-volt power supply from the house batteries to everything but the LPG detector, CO detector, tank heaters, powerlounge, and Magnum inverter."

...that seems wrong based on the green light going off when I disconnect
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Old 05-27-2015, 11:48 AM   #20
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But here's another confusing point, caused by the 2016 AI manual:
The manual is written by a person who didn't design the van, didn't build the van, doesn't use the van, and is editing last year's manual rather than starting over.

I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that the manual is written by someone who is literate in English. It could just as easily have been written in Hindustani and translated to English by Google!
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