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Fulltime RV Solar Setup for a Family of 6

chrisadmin No Comments

SolarPic2

We started full-time Rving 6 years ago from South Florida.  We had not know what to expect other then we would be living in our 5th wheel RV full-time driving from campgrounds to campgrounds and touring the most beautiful places on the planet.  Electricity was never a concern or a thought at this point.  I just assumed that we would always be plugged into shore power just as if we were living in our house.  Once I realized that sometimes campgrounds are not always an option when traveling, we started overnighting in Walmart parking lots, as we would travel from one place to another.  Our (2) 12-volt DC batteries would do fine until the one night we camped in a Walmart in Northern Florida where we had to run our furnace to keep warm.  Our batteries down to about 50% at 11:00 PM, we went to sleep.  At around 3:30 AM I was woken from the camper shaking violently back and forth.  I naturally got up to see what was happening and discovered that it was 40 degrees in the RV.  My wife and kids being so cold caused the shaking of the RV from their teeth chattering and shivering!  I attempted to turn on the furnace when I discovered that our batteries were dead!  None of the lights, refrigerator, or furnace would run.  I covered everyone up nice and tight and we made it through the night.

The next day, I went to our local hardware store and purchased a generator.  I thought this would ultimately solve our problems with our batteries being dead when not being plugged into shore power.  This did help, but we were lacking on battery amp hours.  I could charge those batteries to 90%, turn off the generator and by 4:00 AM, the batteries were dead again.  At this point, I went out and purchased (4) 6-volt golf cart batteries and wired them in series parallel.  This setup would last us through the night and we were satisfied with that.

After using the system this way for about 1 year, we got the idea to spend 5 nights dry camping in Quartzsite Arizona attending the RV show they do every year.   We were going to be off grid and for the first time for so many nights.  At this point, I was introduced to solar power.  I purchased my first 2 Kyocera 80 Watt solar panels, a cheap solar charge controller, wiring, and a small inverter.   I had planned on powering our 110-volt residential refrigerator with that system and charge our batteries.  I remember telling a solar expert what I was going to do with the system and him telling me, “That is not enough solar power to run what you are trying to accomplish.”  Being on a budget and not totally believing the experts, I purchased the system anyway.  This system did work great but would not keep my batteries charged enough to make it through the night.  I would have to run the generator for 4 hours every night and wake up to batteries that were about 25% full.  We lived with this system for about 3 years where decided as a family that we wanted to do lots more boondocking and less campground camping.  We wanted to save money and park in the most amazing places on the planet.

Boondocking opens up so many opportunities as you can get the best views, places for the kids to run and be loud without campgrounds getting upset, being remote and alone so you have time to enjoy the landscape around you.  In order to accomplish this, I knew that we needed a much larger solar setup.  I started researching the best hardware options and configurations available for RV’ers.

Hardware list:

(4) 260 Watt Canadian Solar Panels wired in series parallel

Midnight Solar breaker box and breakers

2 Gauge wire from roof to batteries and solar controller

Morningstar TriStar MPPT 60 solar controller

(6) Full-River 105 Amp Hour 12-volt AGM batteries

Xantrex PROsign 2.0 2000-Watt Inverter wired with 2/0 Wire

Sirus Solar DS-201 Network Enabled Monitor

With this system, we are able to run (2) residential refrigerators, all the electrical outlets in the RV, charge our batteries, and make it through the night in any environment.  The item’s we cannot run is our air conditioners, electric heaters, and central vacuum.   These items have too much of a load and either our batteries would drain to quickly or the inverter would overload and shut off to prevent damage.  If we need to run these items, we can run our generator.  We also substitute the solar with the generator on cloudy days where the sun is not producing enough electricity to charge our batteries.

After owning a Morningstar TriStar MPPT 60 solar controller for about a year now, the one thing that the device is lacking frommpptcontroller the controller is reporting and monitoring.  Yes, the Morningstar has a built in webserver and does have reporting features but it is very hard to get any useable reports and graphs from the device.  The Morningstar has 2 ways to communicate with it.  You can connect to it by RS232 serial connection or you can use the built in LAN adapter.  Most computers today do not have RS232 serial ports on them, so you will need a serial to USB device to connect to the unit if you choose this method.  LAN is much easier but you will need a Windows computer with the MSView software you can download from Morningstar’s website.  The software is not supported on any other platform but Windows Operating Systems.  If you are not familiar with the software, you will find it very difficult to configure and run reports, graphs, and other data metrics that you may be wanting.

sirussolarIn order to combat this issue, I found a 3rd party add-on piece.  The Sirus Solar DS-201 Network Enabled Monitor.  Sirus Solar also has a DS-202 model for those using 2 Morningstar solar controllers.  This device connects to the RS232 serial port on the Morningstar solar controller, an AC adapter or DC hardwire connection for power, and an Ethernet cable for network communication.  Setup on the monitor is quick and simple.  After you have all the wires connected, you go to a computer or mobile device to access the webserver.  You will find the setup tab where you then can either choose DHCP or static IP addressing, serial port configuration, device user name and password setup, time and time zone / NTP configuration, and email setup for system reports and alerts to your inbox.

SetupSS

After your configuration is complete, you can start having fun with the DS-201.  As you can see from the image below, you have all your important views on the “Main” tab.  This included battery charge status, solar charging amps, AMP hours, kilowatt hours, and it even reports as to how much avoided CO2 emissions you did not generate due to using your solar system for charging batteries.  Also important elements are the status of your solar controller and a graph overview of kilowatt-hours and emissions avoided.  All this data is reported to you in real-time as well as the “monitor” tab discussed below.

mainSS

If you click on the “Monitor” tab, a small meter comes up with battery charge status, battery volts, battery temp, array volts, and charge amps.  This is the amp’s going into your batteries from your solar controller.  You also have total watt-hours for the day, amps hours, controller state, and if the controller has any faults going on.

monitorSS

In my opinion, the strongest feature that the Sirus DS-201 has is the graphing capabilities.  This was my biggest complaint with the Morningstar MSView software and Sirus Solar has nailed this!  As you can see from the screen capture below, you get a 7-day to 5-year overview all in one spot with an easy to understand output.  You get battery status, array current and avoided emissions on one simple page.

GraphSS

The one thing that the DS-201 I feel is missing that is important is how many watts your solar panels are generating.  I know that I have 1040 watt max solar array system and I would like to know how much watts are being sent down to the controller in real-time without having to do the math converting amps to watts.  I have contacted Sirus Solar on this and they are open to the possible of adding this feature in the future with a simple software upgrade.

Steps For Version Upgrade when available by Sirus Solar:

1 – Download and unzip Autoupdate program.
2 – Download and unzip file version Sirussolar_vX_X.zip
3 – Export graph data before upgrading. ALL DATA WILL BE RESET ON UPGRADE.
4 – Document all setup configuration data as THIS SETUP DATA WILL BE DEFAULTED.
5 – Run Autoupdate program. Click find to find your DS-201 on the network.
6 – Click browse to find the upgrade file you downloaded, SirusSolar_vX_X_APP.s19
7 – Click the checkbox  “Reboot when complete”
8 – Click the Update button. DO NOT TURN OFF POWER while uploading.
9 – Your web server will reboot after upgrading is complete.

SSDevice

I would recommend the DS-201 to anyone with the Morningstar solar controllers due to its robust features, the ability the view your solar system from a network device LAN or from the Internet.  The support team at Sirus Solar is top notch and if you feel an add-on to the software should be made, they are willing to listen and possible add this in their enhancements list.  At a price of $269.00 without a monthly subscription fee, this monitoring device is a solid investment and compliment to your solar monitoring system.

(Example of MSView Software and webserver)

MSViewEx1


MSViewEX2FtF Solar Setup Pictures:

SolarPic1

Exciting Free Event Packed with RV Information: 2015 RV Summit Event

Kimberly No Comments

RVsummit-logo-2015-11

Hey FtFs!  We just got wind of this great online event, loaded with over 30 presentations from  knowledgeable and trusted resources across the interweb:

  • Looking for info on Internet on the Road – It’s there
  • Looking for info on expanding your Boondocking Adventures – It’s there
  • Looking for Location Independent Income Opportunities – It’s there
  • Looking for the Inspiration you need to take your dream to the next level…. You Guessed it! It’s there!

Where will you have to point your RV to attend this event?

You can get access wherever you’re parked!  It’s all happening online.

So, how much would you pay for all this amazing, information?

Here’s the best part!  It’s FREE!!!!

All you need to do is click REGISTER and you’ll be able to reserve your spot immediately!

Check out all the great resources amassed in this one corner of the web!

The RV Summit takes place over 7 days and is absolutely free. You don’t want to miss it!

Let’s talk about travel – with a RV or without, retired or not, small to big(ish) budgets. The RV + Travel Summit is packed with information and inspiration, our guests will share fascinating stories and you’ll get insights and practical information you can use to plan your trips right away. Our interviews include a roster of respected travelers ranging from digital nomads to travel bloggers, authors and experts, young to retired all living the dream!

 

How Does a family of 6 Live Full Time in 350 sq feet – Video Tour of our RV

Kimberly No Comments

Many of the emails I receive weekly ask me what RV we live in and how we fit ourselves and our stuff in it.

Over the years, we’ve made multiple video tours of our RVs (we are in our 2nd full time rig) but no sooner do we make a video and then change something substantial in our home on wheels.

This week, while boondocking in the shadow of Zion, I took some time to create a brand new video tour, which includes a lot of the remodeling we’ve done.

So, join us for a tour of our home on wheels. See how we fit our family of 6 in 350 sq feet.  How we can grocery shop once a week, where do all the kids sleep and how do we use our garage?  If you have additional questions go ahead and email me at kimberly@fulltimefamilies.com

2015 Fulltime Families Back to Basics Boondocking Rally Recap with Video

Kimberly 1 Comments

Our 8th nationwide rally is in the books and what a rally it was!

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.02.34 AM

30 families, nomadic in nature, converged on a dry, crusty, barren landscape. They dragged their humble homes, set up a temporary village in the sand and had…
Relay races, pet shows, educational seminars, scorpian hunts, star gazing, hiking, campfires, multiple epic water battles, crafting, structure building with spaghetti, friendship making, sharing, laughing, auctioning, and all around rallied like rock stars! These are their stories.

Here are attendees blog posts about their experience at this event.  If you would like your post included, please email the url to kimberly@fulltimefamilies.com

From Road it Up: http://www.roaditup.com/blog/2015/3/29/2015-fulltime-families-boondocking-rally

From RV Daily Report: http://rvdailyreport.com/owner/fulltime-families-kicks-off-boondocking-rally/

Click here to check out all the fun!

Want to join us for the next rally?  Click here to find out where and when!

https://www.fulltimefamilies.com/family-reunions/

 

 

How to Prepare for the 2015 Back to Basics Boondocking Rally

Kimberly No Comments

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 4.50.07 PMLake Mead Learning Packet For FtF Explorers2015 Back to Basics Official Bumper Sticker

Click this link to download your copy of the 2015 Back to Basics rally schedule

Lake Mead Learning Packet For FtF Explorers

How to get to the Rally Location:

Final Countdown to the Boondocking Rally, less then 24hrs to go.
Where is the Fun going to be and how to get to it:

Coming from North Las Vegas:
Take Lake Mead Boulevard (Rt 147) East over Sunrise Mountain into Lake Mead NPS, you will go through a NPS Entrance Station. Approx. 2 miles behind the Entrance Station you will come to a T-Intersection and take a left. Government Wash is ~ 3 miles down on your right. Sign is posted.
Coming from Henderson:
Take Lake Mead Parkway (Rt 564) East into Lake Mead NPS. Once you pass the NPS Entrance Station, ~ 0.7 miles take a Left towards North Las Vegas. Follow this Road for ~ 6 miles and Government Wash is on the Right. Sign is Posted.
These are the 2 closest ways from Las Vegas, but if your travels are taking you into the Lake Mead NPS from any of the other Entrances, just ask the Ranger at the Entrance Station to Government Wash. The Rangers are very helpful and also provide you with a Map and Information about the area.

Once you get to Government Wash, cross the Parking Lot and drive through opening in the Fence. We will be Marking the Way with Colorful windmills.
Please follow this Path for the easiest way.
If Unsure please call Mike : 239 344 6164.
See you all soon.

How to Prepare

Over the years, we’ve had lots of FtF Members interested in parking their RVs “off the grid” without hook-ups. But many people are a little apprehensive about it.

The Hoernke family has taken up the challenge and is currently organizing the Fulltime Families Back to Basics Boondocking Rally, to be held late March 2015.

This family friendly, four day event will have a balance of scheduled activities and plenty of free time to make friends around the campfire. It will also provide hands on tips and tricks for those that want to try boondocking with support from those with experience.

Click Here To Register

OR keep reading to learn more.

Fees and Specifics

We will be parking on BLM land in Lake Mead National Park. Entry fee is  $10 for 7 days, or $30 for yearly pass (or you can enter using your National Parks Pass). Government Wash is a large, scenic area. Two main dirt roads (very rocky/bumpy but otherwise firm) lead off to the boondocking sites.  Most sites will have good views of Lake Mead. Verizon signal is excellent and there is on-site trash dumpsters and bathrooms.

You will want to “stage” prior to the Rally.  This means fill your fresh water tanks and empty your waste tanks. Fill your generator with fuel and your propane tanks.

We will have campfires, ….

potlucks, ….

happy hours, …..

games, crafts, and tons of fun you’ve come to expect from an FtF Rally.

What To Bring

Clothing

March weather in Las Vegas averages highs in the mid-70s, and overnight lows in the mid-40s.

Rain is not likely, but is possible.

Food

There are many shopping options in nearby Henderson, approximately a 15 mile drive.

Chairs, Tables, Grills

Bring comfortable chairs for happy hours, campfires, and other gatherings.

If possible, bring a table for potluck set-up.

Grills and propane cookers will come in handy. Remember, there are no electric hook-ups, so microwave and convection oven use will be limited unless you want to run your generator.

Generators

If your RV has a generator, great. If you have a portable generator, bring it. If you don’t have a generator, consider borrowing or renting one (we would recommend a Honda portable).

Daily rentals of generators can be high, but a weekly rental might be worthwhile. Check with Home Depot, Lowe’s, or other equipment rental companies.

A generator isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you don’t have solar panels, you will need some way to keep your coach batteries charged. You will likely be able to borrow a generator from another attendee to charge batteries, but having one to yourself will increase your abilities.

Note: We will have generator hours. Quiet time (no generators) will be from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.

Games

Bring your favorite camping games such as ladder golf (aka hillbilly golf, blongo ball, bolo ball, ladder ball, flingy pongy, etc.) or bean bag toss (aka cornhole) or horseshoes. We might even have a tournament.

You will probably find someone to play your favorite card game, board game, or domino game, so bring those too.

Flashlights/Headlamps

With no electricity, it’ll be pretty dark. Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp to avoid walking into a tree or a cow and for those evening walks with the dog.

Pets

Pets are most certainly welcome. Here are some pet guidelines.

Please keep your dogs on a leash while in the group area (or otherwise maintain control). Please keep your dogs away from the food during potlucks and happy hours. Please pick up after your dogs. Keep in mind, not everyone is a dog lover and be considerate of those that aren’t.  Boondocking is great for dog owners, because strict RV park rules don’t apply in many cases. However, in this group setting, we appreciate your understanding of our common sense requests.

Full Propane, Full Fresh Water, Empty Holding Tanks

 

To maximize your length of stay, make sure:

Your propane tanks/cylinders are full. Your fresh water tank is full. Your wastewater holding tanks are empty.

If you have any questions about this Boondocking Rally, please contact your hosts / Rally Wagon Masters the Hoernke Family at mike@camperlifestyle.com. If we have several of the same questions, we will update this page to answer those and perhaps even add a Frequently Asked Questions section.

Click this link to download your copy of the 2015 Back to Basics rally schedule

Here’s some more tips from frequent boondocker Erin Marsee:

1. You don’t need a generator and actually a little solar set up goes a long way and much cheaper than a generator. We have one 130 watt panel that tilts and 2-6 volt golf cart batteries and a controller. We have a tiny 300 converter. When its sunny, we can keep the lights on all day, use the tv for a movie, and charge all our devices and keep very close to a full charge. Most of the appliances are propane. So we go without a coffee pot or toaster but we just heat water on the stove.

2. We have a 63 gallon water tank and 2 adults and 2 kids. We fill a spray bottle with a few drops of dish soap some vinegar and water for spraying and cleaning dishes.

3. Turn off your water pump. Turn it on just before you need it and water will fill the lines. This is enough to brush teeth and wash hands. Plus no accidentally cranking on the water for more than you need.

4. Spray bottle full of water. This is handy for sponge baths. Yes, we don’t shower everyday or every other day for that matter to conserve water.

5. If you plan to boondock a lot and want to use more water, then get a food grade blue barrel and put a spigot on it. When u need water, just take the barrel into town and fill it. Then fill your tanks.

6. Enjoy the outdoors! The kids love boondocking, especially with friends the best. They can run, scream, dig, ride bikes, shoot arrows, hike, flashlight tag, all without disturbing neighbors.

7. Fill all your tanks, propane and fresh water, and dump your grey and black before finding a spot.

8. Buy a pack or two of bottled water so you save the water in your tanks and can stay hydrated.

9. Go grocery shopping BEFORE finding your spot. Sometimes the best boondocking spots are not close to town.

10. We got a 5 gallon bucket for emergency laundry. Just slosh around with our hands then rinse. If you have a lid, u can prefill it before you find a spot and it will be ready if u need it.

11. Replace lights with LEDs to save on battery usage.

12. Blue flame or catalytic heater. We have a blue flame heater because it was way less than the catalytic heaters plus are less prone to damage and dust. Most of these have oxygen sensors now so depleting the oxygen is a lot less likely. Plus the blue flames have a thermostat which automatically shuts off at your temp. But plus and minuses to both…but the only run on propane so no battery dranage for heat on either.

 

 

Click this link to download your copy of the 2015 Back to Basics rally schedule

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