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Old 06-27-2019, 11:11 PM   #1
3rd one is the charm?
 
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2014 23' Flying Cloud
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Solar Install for 'The Aluminum Tent 3'

I thought I would give back to this group, and post this thread to make it easier to read about my install in one place, but after I'm done I'll post a summary and pics on the "Solar Show and Tell" thread, which is a great resource that I have learned a lot from. Short version: I'm finally doing a solar upgrade and will outline it here. Long version: read on!

So, I took a 2-week boondocking trip to southern Utah in May, and as usual dragged along my Honda eu2000i propane-powered generator to use for recharging, and maybe the AC if needed (I have an Easy Start installed.) I knew the nights would be cool, so I likely wouldn't need the AC. But I knew I'd need to recharge at some point regardless, so into the truck went my generator and a 20# propane bottle. Just more crap to lug around.

As it turns out, the nights were quite chilly and I enjoyed some furnace use, and a couple were downright cold and rainy. This is when I discovered my blue-ray player and tv were functional (wow the sound from the tv is awful!), and was glad I brought a briefcase full of older DVDs I had almost discarded months ago, since everything at home is on streaming these days. Good call, as I was able to fire up the inverter and watch 'Guns of Navarone' one night and 'Miracle at St. Ana' another (I guess I was on a WWII kick) and enjoy my furnace while it was rain and 40 degrees outside.

In the mornings after these nights, I needed to run my generator to recharge my batteries, which got down to the 12.0v level, maybe even 11.9...they are 12v flooded Interstates, and their life is waning. In the morning, I sat, with annoyance, listening to the generator in that otherwise stunningly silent desert landscape, and started thinking about how I was accessing energy that was millions of years old, that went through a ridiculously long and circuitous route to get from the ground in to my generator, where it was converted to electrical energy that I would use later. And did I mention I hate using a generator? I thought about the abundance of free, quiet, and clean energy warming the top of my head, and at that moment decided it was time to stop the madness and commit to this project.

I did lots of re-reading on this forum, including Rich (Troutboy)'s great thread http://www.airforums.com/forums/f382...-a-162955.html, and Airmiles' thread http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...-181608-9.html, and Ronnie (GMFL)'s posts and his Blog http://www.airforums.com/forums/blogs/105870-gmfl.html, which has great info on not just solar, but many other mods he has done. Plus various posts, comments (and debate!) from Pteck, Airmiles, Wulfraat, Thiel, Wolfwhistle, Uncle Bob, of course Lewster, and many others. I know I am forgetting some of the regulars, and I apologize. Thank you all. OK that's enough for the Academy Awards speech.

So, step one was...what, how much, and how? I'm a home wrench rat so I knew I'd do the install myself, but had to decide how much solar? Do I use the solar prewire, which would be easier...but was a source of endless debate on whether it's adequate depending on how many watts up top? What equipment to buy, and from who? Like most, I like simplicity, so I emailed AM Solar, they have a form you can fill out telling them about your trailer, your usage, etc, and they'll recommend a system. So that's what I did, and in a couple days I got a nice email back from Garrett with a description of a full customized 'Airstream' package that included everything needed: Zamp panels, customized wiring, mounts that are different for Airstreams, combiner box, controller, and all the related wire and bits of gear needed, right down to the Sikaflex to seal the mounts and combiner box. Everything needed in one click. The only addition would have been the Victron BMV-712 battery monitor. Awesome package and I *almost* pulled the trigger, for a 2-panel 200w package, thinking I would add 200 more watts later if needed. With my energy stinginess, I really think 200w would be plenty to keep me charged up, especially here in the western US which enjoys an abundance of sunshine. Remember, for me, it's 'camping'--that's why my Airstream is named "The Aluminum Tent." I don't use a lot of electricity when I'm 'out there.'

I had that package, plus the BMV-712, in a shopping cart for more than a week, but then my thrifty impulses kicked in, and I thought I'd just price out the gear and bits and pieces myself and see where I landed...knowing that I'd be on my own for the most part (other than you all), and wouldn't be able to rely on the outstanding support and expertise of AM Solar, which frankly, has great value. And, their Oregon-made Zamp panels are outstanding, by all accounts, and custom wired. Top quality, and less work for me. Plus some really experienced folks just an email or phone call away.

In the end, my thrift, and enjoyment of designing a project myself, kicked in and I decided to forge ahead and buy the gear piecemeal. There was definitely some meaningful savings by doing so, and it was enough to make it worthwhile--for me. In fact, it made it possible to go ahead and add two more panels and do the full 400 watts, for less than I would have paid for the 200w package. However, the panels would be Renogy, which are less than half the price of Zamp--hopefully that won't be a factor that I later regret. Zamp seem to have flawless reviews, but Renogy seem to be quite solid as well.

So I opted to go in that direction. I'm glad I decided to just jump right to the 400w. Even though 200w would likely be enough most of the time, 400w would get me recharged twice as fast, and at times perhaps make the difference on getting a full recharge...or not, based on weather, shade, etc.

In conjunction with this project, I am replacing the struggling Interstate Group 24 batteries with two 6V Trojan T105 golf cart batteries. I know I can save a few bucks at Costco or get some other brand, but in the end I simply feel that the Trojans are the gold standard for a flooded 6v true deep cycle battery, and the battery of choice...for me. They aren't a whole lot more than the cheaper alternatives anyway. GMFL was kind enough to build me a battery box extender which I purchased from him, so I can fit them in my box, he even primed and painted it! I look forward to its arrival early next week as part of this upgrade project.

Next up, I'll post the gear that I chose, and outline the costs. But for your enjoyment, here is a photo of the amazing spot in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah where I spent 11 nights and had the 'sunshine epiphany,' finally deciding the time had come to ditch the generator and get moving on this project
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Old 06-28-2019, 12:21 AM   #2
3rd one is the charm?
 
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The Gear and the Cost

I know a lot of people always want to know...how much? I was one of them whenever I read about these installs. Obviously there can be a wide variance. How many watts? How much storage and what kind, i.e. battery bank? How much AC power needed (inverter)? DIY, or professional install?

I consider my system to be middle of the road. Bigger and more complex than a 180-watt suitcase, which I did actually consider. I just didn't want to lug around yet another piece of (fragile) gear. More robust than a 100 watt panel on the roof. Much smaller and less complex than a 500 or 600 watt system with a 2000 or 3000 watt multiplus inverter, new AC subpanel, a 4 or 6 Lithium battery bank inside the coach. I don't need that much juice. And I couldn't conceive of that budget, either! I think what I've spec'd is just right...for me. Like I've said, my Airstream is a tent, except I don't have to sleep on the ground, I can have some heat, and I don't have to make coffee in the rain. Or dig a cathole for when...well, you know.

If I ever decide to go bigger in terms of storage, the rooftop part is already done. I don't see a need, right now, for more than 1000w of AC power, the stock 1000w stock inverter is plenty for my needs, I rarely use it anyway, as I leave most of the luxuries (coffee maker, hair dryer, etc...at home. I use the microwave for storage). Just for the rare TV time really. So, onwards to the budget part.

After doing a lot of studying of wiring diagrams, posts on this forum, and other sources, I started choosing what I would need, and started building a shopping cart on Amazon. In the end, I wound up placing three orders, from Amazon, Renogy, and AM Solar.

This should be pretty much everything I need to do a 400 watt install, with four panels and the necessary gear, as well as the added option of a Victron battery monitor. I'll just need some wire and a few various connectors, which I'll pick up locally once I have everything laid out and know exactly what remains.

Other than this list, I am also going to add Trojan T105s, 235 amp hours should be adequate for me, as the 12v Interstates were really were enough already, most of the time. My goal here is to recharge without having to think about it or really pay much attention, or have to take/use the generator.

So here's my shopping list with prices as of today.

Ordered direct from Renogy:

4 x Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel (Compact Design) RNG-100D-SS-BC. These are a newer iteration from Renogy that have the same output as previous panels, but in a slightly smaller footprint, which obviously helps with roof placement. When I was building my Amazon shopping cart, these were $101, but this week when I was getting ready to order, the price increased to $113 each. Darn. But today, I happened to look at Renogy’s website, and they had a sale that started today for $106 each with free shipping, and also no tax. Amazon charges tax in Utah, so I basically paid a little less than I would have originally with Amazon at $101 plus tax. I basically escaped the Amazon price increase :-) When checking out, Renogy also added as a free bonus a Renogy 5000mAh portable USB battery pack that normally costs $17.99. So that was a nice unexpected little gift and it will come in handy when hiking or mountain biking and my phone needs a charge.

No Tax, free shipping, TOTAL $424.96

From AM Solar:
  • Rooftop Combiner Box, $80.00. I decided to not use the Airstream Solar prewire and use heavier wire from the roof through the coach. My 2014 does not have the Zamp box on the roof. Opinions on using the prewire for more than a couple hundred watts of solar is varied...I decided to not use it and wire each panel to the combiner box like Rich (Troutboy) did on his install thread, then use bigger wire to the controller inside the coach. I am pretty sure I'm going to wire all four panels in parallel, unless someone can talk me out of it Note to GMFL and Airmiles: Series-Parallel is still on the table!
  • Two tubes of Sikaflex 221, $12 each
  • Liquid Tight Strain Relief (4 x $3.50 each).
No tax, $12 shipping, TOTAL: $130.00.

From Amazon:
Since Amazon was the seller for mostly the low-value items the total tax was only $8.60 for $637 worth of stuff. Fortunately, the higher dollar Victron gear was from resellers so there was no tax. Free shipping on all, TOTAL: $646.64.

GRAND TOTAL: $1201.60.

So I'll have a 400 watt installation, controller with bluetooth, battery monitor with bluetooth, and pretty much everything, except for some wire and a few connectors, for right at $1200.00 I'm pretty delighted, but of course there is the cost of the time and effort to put it all together. But I get a lot of pleasure from doing it, but I know it'll be quite a few hours on a ladder and on my knees.

Keep in mind if you don't have an inverter, and want one...that will be extra. Around $200 for 1000 watts. On the other hand, if you don't feel the need for a battery monitor, you could drop the Victron BMV-712 off this list and cut the cost $225 or so. Getting the cost for 400 watts of solar, self installed, down to under $1,000.00. Considering that a decent suitcase with 180 watts or so can run north of $700...this suddenly seems quite affordable by comparison. 400 watts on the roof, set it and forget it.

I just ordered the gear today so it's all 5-8 days out, so this will be it on this thread for now. While I'm waiting I will probably take out the dinette table and seat so I can have easier access to the rat's nest to start preparing for the install. And clean up all the construction debris that I know I'll find down there.

Meanwhile, enjoy this pic of the 'Tent' on the Bonneville Salt Flats last August during Speed Week. If you ever get the chance to spend a day out there, I highly recommend it.
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Old 06-28-2019, 02:21 AM   #3
3rd one is the charm?
 
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Supporting AM Solar

Quick update. I realized that AM Solar was just $10 more for the Victron Controller and Battery Monitor than Amazon. So I was able to still cancel my Amazon order for those two items, and placed a new $460 order for that gear from AM Solar. With Lewster's contributions here, and the customer service, and knowledge bank on their website, I really want to support AM Solar wherever I can, rather than some random Amazon merchant. Still getting a $180 worth of random bits and pieces from Amazon, and the panels still from Renogy.

I feel better though! Plus I can call AM Solar for support now without any guilt

Thanks for reading. Now enjoy this photo of The Aluminum Tent with one of the few remaining "Uniroyal Gals" from the 60s! (I don't know why it won't post straight up. I've tried smaller file size, rotating before I upload, etc...so please tilt your head!)

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Old 07-06-2019, 02:02 PM   #4
3rd one is the charm?
 
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Gear is arriving; removing furniture and ready to dig in.

Still awaiting some bits and pieces to arrive so that I can tackle the solar install. But here are the main components needed--panels, charge controller, battery monitor, DC fuse, panel mounts, combiner box (which I might not wind up using if I use the factory pre-wire) strain relief fittings, and adhesive sealant. Still need wire, connectors, a cutoff switch, and VHB tape, all of which is still on the way.
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Meanwhile, I removed the table and dinette bench to access the 'rat's nest' so I could start planning the gear layout; plus, I am switching to twin 6V batteries, and am upgrading the cables from the batteries to the coach and inverter. I'll detail that in a separate post.
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Here is what you'll see when you expose the rat's nest where you'll be working to add charge controller, shunt for monitor, inverter if you add one (I already have a 1000w factory inverter which I am sticking with), etc. I didn't think mine looked too bad...just one loose rivet rolling around and some dust and grime, but not the construction debris I've seen other people report.
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That's it for today. Meanwhile, here's the sunrise view I had every morning in May down in the Grand Staircase.
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Old 07-17-2019, 09:07 AM   #5
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400w of solar is awesome
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Old 08-13-2019, 09:48 PM   #6
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Great post!
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Old 08-14-2019, 10:51 AM   #7
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Nice detail, I'm sure your info will assist others. I think you'll be glad you went with 4 panels. I went that route for an additional reason. I am using a isotherm conversion on my vintage frig (12/120 volt) and wanted to have the solar available to handle it while on the road.

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Spent last weekend at a street rally (parked on the street) in Harrisburg, OR. Parked under a tree so I only had morning sun. Kept up with load no problem.

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Old 08-16-2019, 10:24 AM   #8
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Nicely documented install. Thank you for sharing your info.

-Dennis
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Old 01-12-2020, 11:01 PM   #9
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Who hoo! Dang, I go AWOL, and look at you, mastering the solar install and write up. Amazing job! You will love it. Can’t wait to meet up and power a few camp grounds with you!
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Old 01-13-2020, 07:54 AM   #10
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Peter did a Great job on his set up. I have personally seen it and witnessed it in action. Super clean and efficient install.
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Old 01-13-2020, 09:21 AM   #11
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Wow, I missed this whole thread until today! In June I was out enjoying my solar-powered Airstream in some off-the-grid location. I would do (and have done) the same as pcskier with selecting my hardware. The Renogy Compact panels are hard to beat for cost, size and performance. I used them for my additional 200W on my 600W install. Other than the panels, I would buy the rest of the hardware from AmSolar. I love their mounting brackets. I love their shielded rooftop cable. I love their support!

Its amazing how cheaply one can create an off-the-grid solar-powered Airstream. With 400W of solar, I can avoid "needing" shore power, or a generator, for months at a time. I also love the peace and quiet of solar power. A $1,000 solar upgrade can transform your Airstream into an excellent off-the-grid boondocking machine.

Great job pcskier! Thanks for sharing your setup.
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Old 01-15-2020, 05:51 AM   #12
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Great thread! It provides a handy parts list for my future build



Am I understanding this correctly: One must remove interior furniture in order to install the charge controller and monitor? I don't know how the wiring looks yet in my FC28 but I'm hoping to avoid major surgery like that. I'm also hoping that by using the factory wiring I'll find the green/yellow solar wires upon popping open a panel under the front couch area and simply make the connections.
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Old 01-15-2020, 07:36 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalashnikov View Post
Great thread! It provides a handy parts list for my future build



Am I understanding this correctly: One must remove interior furniture in order to install the charge controller and monitor? I don't know how the wiring looks yet in my FC28 but I'm hoping to avoid major surgery like that. I'm also hoping that by using the factory wiring I'll find the green/yellow solar wires upon popping open a panel under the front couch area and simply make the connections.
You will want to remove some of the interior in order to do a clean job on the install. It is very EASY to remove the pieces you need to. They are only held in place with a few screws.
By removing the pieces you gain unimpeded access to your wiring allowing you to do the work properly. It’s absolutely nothing to be worried about. 10 minutes and it’s out of the way.
Heck, with it out you can straighten up the rats nest while your at it!
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Old 01-15-2020, 12:28 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalashnikov View Post
Great thread! It provides a handy parts list for my future build



Am I understanding this correctly: One must remove interior furniture in order to install the charge controller and monitor? I don't know how the wiring looks yet in my FC28 but I'm hoping to avoid major surgery like that. I'm also hoping that by using the factory wiring I'll find the green/yellow solar wires upon popping open a panel under the front couch area and simply make the connections.
On both of my Airstream Front Bedroom Queen installs, I only removed the mattress and a 3' section of the plywood under the head of the mattress. This provided easy access to the "rats nest" and busbars inside the front storage compartment.

Here is a link to my parts list for a 600W install on the factory prewire: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...ml#post2288472
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Old 01-15-2020, 12:31 PM   #15
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On both of my Airstream Front Bedroom Queen installs, I only removed the mattress and a 3' section of the plywood under the head of the mattress. This provided easy access to the "rats nest" and busbars inside the front storage compartment.

Here is a link to my parts list for a 600W install on the factory prewire: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...ml#post2288472
He’s in a 28’ Rear bed. Going to have to remove that lounge......No big deal to do though.
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Old 01-17-2020, 11:41 PM   #16
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Thanks folks, and I am very remiss in not completing the install thread...after I got done I went camping...several times :-) Sometime soon I'll gather my pics and finish outlining my install process and completion pics. I LOVE it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GMFL View Post
Peter did a Great job on his set up. I have personally seen it and witnessed it in action. Super clean and efficient install.
Thanks Ronnie, I'm a hack compared to your workmanship, I still intend to go back in and do a neater wiring job under the dinette at some point, I'd be embarrassed if you saw under there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AirMiles View Post
Its amazing how cheaply one can create an off-the-grid solar-powered Airstream. With 400W of solar, I can avoid "needing" shore power, or a generator, for months at a time. I also love the peace and quiet of solar power. A $1,000 solar upgrade can transform your Airstream into an excellent off-the-grid boondocking machine.

Great job pcskier! Thanks for sharing your setup.
Thank you...I did post some questions etc on other threads including Solar Show and Tell and you and the others were very helpful and encouraging. Thank you. I recall my panic moment being when I had the first panel in place, so excited to test it, and it was only producing 15 watts...and then figured out with the help of you all that the charge controller only asks the panel to produce what is needed at the moment...and my batts were fully charged at the time. It was a relief when I learned that. And yes...getting the system in was a game changer for my summer and fall...in fact the generator came with me on three long trips and 3 short ones, just in case, but never left the truck bed. I am more confident than ever that my system will meet my present needs perfectly, and I will start leaving the genny at home. It truly is what you told me it would be: a 'perpetual boondocking machine' with the solar!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Troutboy View Post
Who hoo! Dang, I go AWOL, and look at you, mastering the solar install and write up. Amazing job! You will love it. Can’t wait to meet up and power a few camp grounds with you!
Rich, the excellent thread on your install was a fantastic resource...I read it when you first published it, again before my install, and referred to it several times during. Super helpful, so thank you for the detail you provided on that. Glad to see you're back in the fold.

I got to meet up up with Ronnie and his wife in September in the Tetons and again in W. Yellowstone (where we also met up with Uncle Bob and his lovely wife Ann for a raucous and very fun pizza dinner), and in early December visited with Ronnie and his cool family at their awesome home on the lake in Alabama (Worldwide HQ for Green Monster Fishing Lights!!) where we (mostly he...I 'held the light' so to speak) put in one of his custom-made lift kits, and did several more mods and improvements. I still need to get a post up about all that was done...but it was awesome to get to know each other and enjoy the gift of his time and expertise, and more than that, friendship with him and his family. I think he and Tera are hankering to head west again this year...it would be awesome if you could hook up as well if they come. Meanwhile, I'll let you know if I head your way at all, and you do the same if you head in my direction!

Peter
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