The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

I’ve been wanting to write more about the vehicle that was our home for over a year after we sold our house back west as it deserves honorable mention. We’ll never forget the time we spent safely tucked behind it’s half-inch walls. The trailer is a 20′ Jayco Lite with canvas pullouts on each end. It was designed as a camper trailer … the kind you take the family for a weekend campout in, not live in for a year. That was not our plan, I assure you.. it just happened as some things do.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, almost a wood stove (renovations had been started for the project), an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was. It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up tubed in for a year too long. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time doing whatever in our bunk at the rear or in the shed we half-built. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. Just too cramped.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy and it became an art form to pull a shower off in the approximately six minutes available if the water didn’t boil over first. The pipes froze solid during the winter and imagine doing dishes outside in zero degree weather at a makeshift table. It happened.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands what with the canvas walls of the pullouts. We were clearly unprepared. That seems to be the story of our lives.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through all the tarp we put over it too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There isn’t much between the outdoors and the humans either in a canvas pullout. One night the roof caved in on my face. I could feel paws on top of me as my husband half slept. When I screeched at the cat, he said “are you sure it’s the cat?” Helpful. One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard something that sounded big scrape up against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. My husband continued to take the outside position in the bed.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel for a temporary upgrade, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and still occupies it’s space.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we full of ideas from an episode of Mythbusters we’d recently seen where all of the fail-safe measures were removed on some water heaters and the heat cranked up. The tanks became rockets, shooting hundreds of feet into the air, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

Tinkham Campground

We spent about four months on the road living in our 20′ Jayco Lite travel trailer after we sold our house in Snoqualmie Washington. We lived on the road for about four months, mostly in the Snoqualmie National Forest, while we looked for property. It was a memorable summer.

We spent the first month or so up the Middle Fork Road just outside North Bend but you’re supposed to only camp for two consecutive weeks at any time in the national forest so we were under pressure to keep moving. Still, the Sheriff did their jobs pretty well and it was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them. We were forest bandits.

We had to spend a week at the Summit At Snoqualmie Motel for awhile just to get out of the national forest for the prescribed time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower easily and be more comfortable.

We spent a couple of weeks at the Denny Creek campground near Snoqualmie Pass but it was under the control of Darth Dunder. He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously; and he was simply an asshole. I wrote about him in a previous post.

After spending a couple more weeks in another open camping area, we moved into Tinkham Campground for almost the last month on the road.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air in that the hosts were super friendly and didn’t administer the camp like a internment facility. It was located about halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still “living” and working near our old home, we could still commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. A quick drive up the forest service road to the freeway entrance and we could blast down I-90 in about twenty minutes. It was a beautiful commute.

We found an open spot on the river side of the campground with our own semi private trail to the river. I can’t remember if it was the north fork of the Snoqualmie or another river. Denny Creek fed into it just a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

We were at the river often to get water, prospect, or just to play around and throw rocks. The beach was extremely rocky and I noticed that someone had begun to build a trail of sorts from the tree line to the river’s edge. I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks continuing with construction of the trail. I treated it like a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, put down the rock and fill in between them with sand. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It became somewhat symbolic to me. It was a contribution of sorts to those that would follow; an easier way to the water other than the ankle twisting journey one would normally have to take. It was an invitation of sorts to come and enjoy. It was a testament to the small dedication of one person to create something ordered out of chaotic jumble of stones lining the river. I hoped it would be enjoyed for months, maybe years ahead. I hoped other people would help to maintain it. I would like to go back and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were there. When the event happened, the shadows deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach, me with my camera, my husband with three pairs of sunglasses, to view what we could of the show.

I wanted to capture the eclipse on camera but although I could see the shadow of the moon creeping across the face of the sun, I couldn’t capture it on film. We all ended up taking turns putting on the multiple pairs of sunglasses to see what we could. It turned out to be anti climactic but was memorable all the same.

We went prospecting up at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. With the weeks I spent prospecting there, I realized just how difficult gold really is to find. Being so heavy, it sinks down to the bottom of the gravel and sand and you have to be experienced and have the right equipment in order to recover anything. Lessons learned though. Sometimes it’s learning how not to do something that teaches you how to do something. The process of elimination.

We were able to pull off more than the usually prescribed two weeks stay because the season was coming to a close for the winter and the hosts, being an older couple, were quite open to the idea of having us clean up the firepits. We worked over the course of about three days to finish all fifty or so campsites.

We found the property we were looking for and the negotiations finally went through in the last couple of weeks of September 2017. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go. Somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and say thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now behind us, most likely for the remainder of our lives but a new adventure awaited us ahead.

 

Rant Poem On DIY Solar

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overwhelmed

Trying to keep up.

I feel so overwhelmed right now. We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day (see picture below for current status). There it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark hitting earlier hasn’t helped.

Our little matter with the neighbor over the cul de sac kind of derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct, firm letter for him and his wife on one of the fence posts he erected stating we had checked and confirmed that the land survey was correct and recorded and asked him to respect our private property signs going forward. He’d previously gone onto our property, past well marked posts, and spray painted the ground while he was planning his cul de sac. We weren’t too happy about that.

I wonder what he’s thinking right now? My husband and I have wondered whether he made a gargantuan mistake in his surveying or thought he’d just see if he could get by with us offering no resistance to his grand plans. That’s purely speculation but one thing isn’t; he never mentioned a word about moving his road onto our property in advance. That baffles us.

He was up here with his chainsaw today cutting down trees again but we couldn’t tell if he was cutting them down along the easement or further out on his property. It was a bit disconcerting to keep hearing the “thumps” as they came down. I might walk down the easement road a bit tonight and check.

We didn’t get the covenants from the recorder’s office the other day and are still not sure where we stand legally in the decision process about making changes to a shared easement. Common sense says that we should be consulted and have to agree to any such changes. Still waiting on the attorney. There was a conflict of interest and we were referred out to another attorney.  Tomorrow morning we go and comb over those covenants.

The neighbor said he was planning on adding a lane to the easement road and a lot of gravel to a steep portion to level it out. This is OK with us but we’re not OK with not being consulted.

We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property and exchanged antique ax heads for cash off the delivery. Very nice guys. One of them also does handy work so we may have our guy to help with some work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game. We can do it ourselves but the time….

I insulated the battery bank tonight as the inverter wouldn’t turn on the past couple of nights in the cold. Some research told us that with the battery temperature sensors now in play, the charging voltage is probably way up and the inverter is most likely protecting itself from over powering. We’ll see if the insulation helps. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.

The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve our son more in responsibilities around here for the benefits those things offer a young person; a sense of responsibility, confidence, ownership, a sense of independence, family time. 🙂

Work in progress photos:

It was time to refill the huge water tank we bought about a month ago but alas, the freeze sneaked up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us about an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into the tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out of them. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after use from now on.

I moved the ever growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago but still haven’t installed out of the trailer. We want to put all the extra stuff in the shed but it still needs to be built! Uhggg.

We need to clean up from all of  our projects too. It never ends around here.

I also have a million administrative type tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of things to do. I’m a list person and I decided to get this stuff out of my head where it’s a giant whirlpool of thoughts and feelings onto paper where I could organize them. I drew a big mind map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done, along with every sub category attached to it until I’d gotten it all out.

The page looks like a mess unto itself but everything’s there in bubbles that I can look at and know I at least don’t have to keep trying to remember what needs to be done. It’s still a lot but I feel like I have a semi handle on it now.

At least the main mission of the week is handled. The most terrifying to our sense of peace; the issue of the cul de sac. We are so relieved and there will be fallout surrounding the dispute but it sure wasn’t our fault. We simply had to respond to this threat to our land and our peace of mind in an assertive way.

Tomorrow is Monday. Another week starts but for the most part, my husband and I look forward greatly to our future here and have a concrete list of goals to grow in every way.

Writing my blog helps me to just get it out when I feel overwhelmed (between appointments with my counselor). It’s nice to talk at people

It also helps me avoid the bubble list.

 

 

HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

This and some other issues need to be addressed.

It’s taken a couple of months since we bought our first solar power system kit to realize where the problems lie and that one of them isn’t being addressed well enough yet. I can’t speak for systems that are professionally set up as I don’t have any knowledge about them. I’m talking about the ones you order and set up yourself.

The first problem is absolutely critical to the life and functioning of the battery array. The battery array stores all of that sunshine for your use.  Deep cycle batteries that are used in a battery bank must never be discharged below 50% or 12.1 volts as it can damage them and shorten their lifespan and storage capabilities. It can ruin them necessitating a replacement of the whole bank.

You need a way to monitor the voltage level of the batteries and way to shut off the power draw when they hit that 50% depleted level.

Important here is that solar power systems can run an AC or alternating current system (120 volts) and/or the DC or direct current system.  The DC is more of an auxiliary system.

If you live in an RV you have a DC system built in that runs the smaller appliances such as the lights and the water pump either off of the 12 volt house batteries or through a direct connection to a solar setup. The DC system is what you would use while out camping but RVs incorporate both a DC and an AC system for use if an outside source of power is available at a campground, for example. The AC is a 120 volt system that supplies power to larger appliances such as an air conditioner, a ceiling fan, washer and dryer etc.

Our main goal and most folks, I imagine, when buying a solar power system, is to run the BIG stuff with an option of also plugging in those smaller appliances.

When we bought our first set of solar panels, we saw that the control charger that came with the kit (the brains of a solar power system) could be programmed to disconnect the power draw from the batteries at whatever depletion level you set. By doing that, it would theoretically prevent the batteries from being discharged below the 50% (12.1 volt) level (recommended) thus preventing over discharge and the resulting damage to the batteries.

It took us this long and a conversation with the solar company we bought from to find out that the controller they sent only monitors and controls the DC or auxiliary system. The one we never used.

There was no way to program it to monitor and shut off the power draw being funneled through the primary AC system.  This particular charge controller was effectively useless to us in protecting our main power storage asset; our battery bank. I have no idea why it would have been designed this way. It makes absolutely NO sense!

The only way to prevent battery damage as we use the system, is to visually look at the voltage level display on the power inverter itself (the component that converts the 12 volt power from the battery bank to usable 120v energy) and turn it off/or unplug the extension cord to our trailer when the batteries get low on voltage. Stupid.

I had to search the internet for a special low-voltage disconnect relay that I bought from another company and I installed it. It worked for awhile then something happened and it started to shut down the inverter altogether and to this day, we can’t figure out why.

We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. We now have no way to watch the battery voltage levels but we kind of don’t care right now. I could press forward in getting the answers but for now, we’re back to using just two gas powered generators.

Inverters that are programmable to actually work properly with a solar setup are 700.00 and up. The rest (the ones that come with DIY solar panel kits) are preprogrammed to disconnect from the battery bank at 10.5 volts; after your batteries are already dead and/or damaged.

My understanding of why they are set to disconnect power at such a low voltage is to prevent the inverter from tripping off with a load spike when first plugged in. I can’t believe someone hasn’t come up with a work-around for this.

By the time we got a clue as to what was going on, we were worried about our batteries as we were having HUGE problems getting any kind of significant power out of each cycle (day of sunshine). Our batteries had been over depleted so many times by now they were almost surely damaged. We had them tested and although we believe their performance has somewhat been compromised, they are supposedly good.

Here’s another issue I noticed about the planning stage of going solar. This is specifically for those living in an RV.  Logically, you have to figure out how much power you’re using in order to estimate the size of the system you plan to purchase. I consulted website after website on how to do this. You make a list of appliances and the amps and/or watts each one uses, total it up, and size your setup accordingly.

We did this and still had a huge problem with a power drain that we couldn’t account for. We would plug in the solar at night, for example, and we would be lucky to make it through the entire night before the solar would shut down.

We came to suspect that our RV had some sort of parasitic drain so we flipped the breaker switches one by one while the solar was plugged in. We watched the voltage readout and noted the drain as we went from one to the other.

Finally we found the culprit: Our RV house battery recharging system. If you live in an RV, when you plug into an outside power source, your house battery charging system automatically kicks in and starts to charge your RV batteries. This turned out to be a HUGE extra energy user that not one website had mentioned. We were charging one set of batteries off of another set of batteries.

To make it worse, we discovered our house batteries were bad. We’ll replace them and either disconnect them from our RV charging system and charge and monitor them independently, install a separate charge controller for them, or just flip the breaker switch in our RV that controls the battery recharging system when we plug our solar into our RV.

The last issue was completely our own fault. Our batteries are getting cold with the onset of lowering temperatures. The charge control units came with temperature sensors that attach to the batteries and they send more power to them when recharging at low temperatures as needed. If it’s too warm, the sensors tell the charge control unit to send less power to recharge. It makes the charging system more efficient.

I attached the temperature sensors to the batteries yesterday and the bank is now charging faster and more completely.

I also found out that a Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT type of charge controller is more efficient than the ones we have (Pulse Width Modulation-PWM)  so I’m considering switching those out too.

The moral of this story is that a lot of factors contribute to how well or IF a solar power system works.  Added together, they can have a profound effect on performance. Solar power is a fantastic concept but until the industry makes these kits more failsafe, they’ll continue to be riddled with problems and users are going to keep going through batteries like disposable razors.

Believe it or not, we are still completely sold on solar energy. Our plan at this point is to double our panels and battery bank, switch to MPPT controllers, and invest in a programmable power inverter to preserve our battery array. This is going to take a little more cash so we’re waiting for the sun to come back out in the spring.

Until then, here’s a poem I wrote: Rant Poem On DIY Solar

 

Modern Day Pioneers

Simple daily tasks made complicated.

Clean clothes don’t come easily nor does most anything else when you live on raw land.  For everything it’s a process . A lot more of a process than just sticking the clothes into the washer and pushing a button.

Utilities are even more complicated. We have a solar, RV battery 12 volt, and gas generator system. Depends on what you want to do, how much electricity it’s going to take, the time of day, what’s broken, and what you happen to have on hand that day.

Want some coffee? If you’re like us and are out of propane in the dead of winter and need some caffeine, you’ll need either a blow torch or some firewood and fire building skills.

A bath? You want a bath? This is going to take some time. Put the pot on the stove and turn it on high and you’ll have your bath in about an hour. A shower? Maybe, if you can take one in less than five minutes and the generator has gas and the water pipes aren’t frozen. Oh, and if the trailer’s water tank is full enough after dishes.

But you need water for some of these things. That undertaking meant weeks of digging and breaking rock to get to it. We were so lucky to have natural springs on our property. Before the spring, we depended on city water and the neighbors.

All summer we drove our truck to the city water department to fill our 55 gallon drum every third day or so then one day in fall, the standpipe closed for the winter. Our neighbors came to the rescue for a few weeks and let us fill up at their outdoor faucet but it was incredibly laborious. Eventually we built a trench down the hill from our spring  to the hole we dug to act as a holding tank near our trailer. At that point we felt a new sense of independence and accomplishment. Surprisingly, the spring poured forth water all winter in plenty.

We still had to get the water into the trailer which we did by pumping it through a hose and adding a touch of bleach in the process. We used that water for dishes and showers while buying drinking water from the store.

As for the laundry, we’d have to decide whether or not we wanted to load everything up and drive into town to the laundry mat or just do it at the property. More often than not, we did it by hand at home.

If by hand, we’d first have to get the water into a tub or the bathtub, depending on whether or not it’s summer or winter. That involves (or involved as we’ve recently upgraded) using the water pump to move water from the holding tank/hole we dug in the ground. After filling up, we’d pile the clothes in and add the detergent. A clean plunger came in handy for sloshing the mix up. I’d then turn the container over to drain it and fill up again with fresh water for the rinse. The water would still be pretty much black but my standards were pretty low at that time.

For the wringing out, I’d drilled a bunch of holes in one of those Home Depot all purpose buckets and I’d put the clothes in, take my shoes off, and mash grapes; that is, climb on top and mush the water out of the holes with my feet. It worked relatively well. Then for the clothes line we’d strung up between two trees. There the clothes would most likely get rained on.

The clothes would be anything but soft by the time I took them down and into the trailer. They would be completely wrinkled, still stained, and crispy. But hey, they were mostly clean and better than they were before. They would then sit on the couch in our cramped trailer for another week before I grudgingly sorted through them and put them away.

Some things always remain the same whether or not you have a washer and dryer. Folding and hanging clothes and putting them away is death. You avoid it at all costs. I have a pile of laundry that’s been sitting around for a week as I’m typing this.

The shower/bath thing was difficult because the water heater on our original trailer is fucked up. I tried to fix it so many times but we’d have to time it once we activated it and then you’d have to be ready to jump into the shower at exactly 12 minutes in order to catch the window between the water being ice cold still and the water heater boiling over outside. It was almost a skill; timing a shower. The heater is still messed up but we have one that works in the new fifth wheel.

Now let’s get to electrical systems. We’re still tweaking our solar power system and may have already ruined our batteries by depleting them by more than 50 percent but we’re hoping not. We run on solar mainly at night and in the mornings at this point as we just don’t have enough panels to generate what we need. We ordered our third set of solar panels this morning and added a new controller to the existing 8 panels this afternoon. We still need to see how adding the new controller to the mix contributes tomorrow when the sun comes out again. We were running all 8 panels through one controller until we found out it was too small to handle the amps (or watts or volts or something like that).

At this point though, we can’t run our electric refrigerator on solar so we unplug it and try to stay out of the fridge until we start the generator. If it’s plugged in when we plug in the solar, we lose our internet. That’s where the protocol comes in. Many things we do here involve using a set order of tasks we have to follow in order for things to go smoothly.

When the generator goes on, remove the plug from the inverter, turn it off, unplug the fridge, plug in at the generator itself. Then you can do laundry and use the microwave. When that’s reversed, unplug the fridge and replug into the inverter. Make sure the laundry’s done and anything you want to microwave is done. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned off the generator only to realize we wanted to microwave something. We ordered a propane fridge today. Finally.

If the solar has flopped in the middle of the night and you want to use the internet and/or your computer needs juice, turn on the other inverter back by the RV batteries, and plug the modem into that extension cord.

Does this all sound exhausting? It is. Thank God things are improving day by day. I now have a washer/dryer in the fifth wheel along with a shower that works.

And we have hot water for the kitchen now! The repairman came today and turned the temperature dial to cooler. That was the only thing wrong with it!

Done.

Solar: The Learning Curve

e=mc/2 = 100 volts/230X67 + 6 batteries and 8 panels now, x the total amount of appliances you have divided by 50 percent of the watts needed to power Las Vegas – 10,000 liters and cubits divided by the number of hours in a typical day in Antarctica figured into whatever parallel you live at and reduce that by another 50 percent and add in the number of teeth your dog has and that’s the calculation for the new solar power system needs and setup. That is, if you want to use the washer/dryer on Tuesdays rather than Wednesdays and in the spring and not winter. If your preference is winter, redo your calculations and add 1.

End result: Throw your calculator in the garbage, just buy a damned system and figure  things out as you go.

My head would start spinning while I cruised the websites on calculating power consumption and getting the right system. I looked at charts of average watts and amps used by various appliances and read about how many watts a solar panel produces and tried my damnedest to figure out how many batteries we’d need (depending on what size) and how configuring them differently would produce more volts or amps or something and less of something else.

I finally gave up and ordered the basic 4 panel starter kit from Windynation.  Of course it wasn’t enough so we ordered 4 more panels and I commenced once again with my calculations. This time I came up with a number that clearly showed we were now at about a third of what we would need to produce 100 percent of our own power.

learning curve

Don’t get me wrong. I love solar power. After the initial cost it’s free! You can’t get better than that. I’m chomping at the bit for more panels. I’m still not sure about the number of batteries though. I’m pretty sure we’ll need more of those too and possibly a larger inverter. For the time being though, we have a solid compliment to our current power system which is the generator.

You really do learn as you go. The best calculations can’t teach you real world experience. We’re learning about how long we can power the RV and with what appliances. We quickly learned that if an appliance has a mechanical part that must move, it takes a bunch of electricity to do that. A general rule: if it moves it eats power.

We replaced all the regular bulbs with LEDs and installed the infamous gas water heater and are looking for a gas refrigerator. This is all just a period of tweaking. Give us a couple more months and more panels and we’ll be good to go.

Do I recommend solar? You betcha. Just be prepared for the brain busting calculating (it might come easy to you) and to learn as you go.

There’s a learning curve here for sure.

The Great Leveling

Jammed door syndrome.

Our house is crooked. Rather, it isn’t level. Being a recreational vehicle meant for travel on the road, every time you park it and unhitch, you have to level it; that is, try to distribute the weight of the rig as evenly as possible all around as well as level.

Looking at the photo above, it looks terribly askew but that’s mostly optical illusion.

If you don’t do it properly, your doors and access panels will not open and shut properly due to the trailer not being squared and stresses being created in places where there is very little clearance for movable parts.

It doesn’t help that one of our hydraulic landing jacks isn’t moving up or down. I think it’s a damaged sheer pin and I’m not sure we’re capable of fixing it.

The location of the fifth wheel was pretty uneven in the first place so we dug ruts for the rear set of tires on the uphill side before it was pulled in. The ground also rises on the front end side of the trailer so we’re having to compensate for that too. It came with a tripod for that part of the fifth wheel that normally sits in the bed of the hauling truck. It’s to support that front section of the trailer to prevent it from the slight stresses that may lead to leaking from sagging, if ever so little.

We had to dig holes for the legs of this tripod just to get it to recess enough into the ground for the rest of the rig to be lowered onto it. We redid and redid it until it was far enough down but then the left front jack quit on us. Now we are stuck not being able to lower the front of the trailer to complete the leveling process.

We managed to get the side to side level by digging those wheel ruts deeper while we had the back jacked up then lowering the wheels into the recesses again.

I’m getting tired of everything rolling towards the back of the fifth wheel and the visual of the thing, especially when we’re inside, looking obviously sloped.

I’m thinking that the majority of the weight being on the 2 sets of 3 wheels on either side would naturally be the best configuration. It’s all of the other points of contact that are a pain in the butt to adjust.

I just had an idea. If we can temporarily get the weight off of that problem jack, we can dig under it and lower it just like we did the wheels.

Be right back.

Update: Going to go get a jack.

Progress

I needed a taste of the carrot.

I’m up early again but at least not 4:00am. The solar went out again but that’s because we ran the fridge for several hours yesterday. That’s a first in the great solar power experiment.

The best thing so far about today is that it’s noticeably warmer in here this morning. Progress!

Here’s what we accomplished over the last couple of days:

  • Pulled and repaired our fresh water tank.
  • Tried an on-demand hot water system-jury’s out.
  • Skirted the small trailer with foam board.
  • Insulated small trailer’s water pipes on bottom of rig.
  • Insulated various areas in the small trailer with the regular fiberglass insulation.
  • Put foam board insulation on the outer bottom of the slide-out.
  • Put bubble wrap on the window of the pull-out.
  • Put leftover insulation on the floor of the basement to the fifth wheel.
  • Picked up door insulating kits for both trailers. Will install today.
  • Came up with an idea to secure the solar panels and picked up half the parts; forgot half the parts.
  • Had a family skirmish about everyone taking this seriously.
  • Finally found hot pads for the household.

This could be a full time job. I feel like I eat, breath, smell, taste; do nothing but think about what’s next on the getting-ready-for-winter checklist. The daily trip to the Do-It Center for weather stripping, Great Stuff foam insulation, that tin foil looking stuff with bubbles, bubble wrap, screws, bolts, wire, gas fittings, water hose and fittings, duct tape, tools for the job, a candy bar. The candy is to get me through the damned job.

But it’s all paying off.

I walk the line mentally in wondering if I’m too obsessed with this stuff but I consistently come to the conclusion that I’m not over estimating what we need to do before winter hits. We had frost on the inside of the small trailer we were crammed in last winter. The cat’s water dish froze every day; inside. We didn’t have running water for months. My son and I went to live in an emergency shelter in town for 3 months.

I believe my thinking and actions are quite reasonable.

We make the daily, sometimes more than once a day pilgrimage to the Do-It Center here in Colville and the folks there are getting to know our story pretty well. There’s one particular young man who’m I’ve talked to more in depth because he seems genuinely  interested in what we’re doing. I told him I started a blog after he mentioned we inspired him with our determination. I told him to just not do what we do.

Shout out to the guy at The Do-It Center (just in case he actually reads this)! Like I’m some special person who’s opinion counts. 🙂

BTW, we looked for someone to do most of this work because it’s so overwhelming but didn’t get any takers. The guy who ranted at me over the water pump does RVs by trade but I didn’t want his help after that little incident.

I really want to make coffee right now but that would involve putting on a coat and walking to the top of the property to get the siphon going from the spring to our RV. How bad do you want that cup of coffee Linda? I ran out of water while testing the hot water on demand system last night. I didn’t get to rinse the conditioner from my hair. Actually, it’s really soft and silky this morning. I kind of like that.

I’ve been reading some of the blogs from those that have followed me (I’m now following them in return) and am gaining more knowledge about how this blogging thing works. BTW “blog” and “blogging” keep coming up as misspelled on my computer. Funny.

They say to join groups among your niche on Facebook. I might be burning some bridges here but the ones I requested to join had these super strict rules about not posting links. You have to answer the moderator questions and I just sort of put answers like “sure”, and “can I post links to my blog? If not, let’s pass”. I got a sort of snobbish vibe. I can pass on those if it’s going to be so touchy-feely strict.

I think the need for coffee is stronger than my desire to not set foot outside my front door. Gotta go put my snowsuit on. Exaggerating.