A little remodeling

BlueSky

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 17, 2018
Messages
162
Like many DIY camper builds, once you have been using your finished camper for a few seasons you find what you like and don't like. I found that putting the water tank directly under the sink in the galley cabinet was not the best place for weight distribution and galley cabinet space. I also grew a little tired of the big cooler that lasted maybe 3 days on 3 "cooler shock" cold packs. The old lead-acid battery was not holding up well and weighed a ton. So I did a little remodel that was far more work than I thought:

First the battery. One can spend $800-$1000 on a top brand LifePo4, or you can get one directly from China with a BMS for about $500 or even less. I got one called "Scremower" 100ah off Amazon. I like the name - NOT. Came with a charger, a USB port on the side, and a digital display that tells you the voltage. Will it hold up as well as those other far more expensive units? I will let you know. I also got a Sunpower 110w flexible solar panel and a Victron 75/15 solar charge controller with bluetooth. Here is the battery and controller mounted in the cabinet space where the water tank was...

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Here's the solar panel attached to the roof with Eternabond RV roof repair tape. There is a thin sheet of this material I got at Home Depot. It is like plastic cardboard, very light. It was recommended on one of the solar panel web sites to put this material under the panel to help keep it cool. Wish I could find a 90 degree connector...
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Here's my new 18 gal water tank in the more traditional location against the front wall. You can't see it but it is elevated about 2-1/2" off the floor to allow a drain fitting and water lines to run underneath. That small square wood panel covers the water pump allowing easy access if I ever need to change it. The air vent is on the right side and has a check valve allowing air in but not out...
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Now when on the road with the canoe, kayak or paddle board on top covering the solar panel, the battery will get charged via the truck's alternator with this DC-to-DC Victron 20a charge controller, also mounted in the galley cabinet near the battery. Bluetooth enabled like the solar controller, easy to set up and monitor with my phone...

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Finally, I got a Dometic CFX355IM 53 liter fridge in place of the old cooler in back. It is quiet and uses very little power, and it fit in the same spot.
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That was a a lot of money and few weekends of work! I'll let you know how the shakedown trip goes. I moved the water tank weight up front and got rid of that really heavy lead acid battery. But, the fridge weighs twice as much as the cooler with ice packs in it, so no big net weight savings but a little better weight distribution. Much more storage space under the stove/sink too. It is great that all these solar/controller/LifePo4 components are now available off the shelf and not hard to figure out. Costs are coming down too. Happy to answer any questions.
 
Nicely done!
Clean workmanship and well thought out upgrades.
It's always more than we think, especially when remodeling.

Disclosure: I am a remodeling contractor
 
Hello Bluesky
Thanks for your write up and photos. Clean looking install looking forward to the shake down report.

Russ
 
Let us know how the battery does. Have read good and bad with some of the "off brand" lithium but the price is sure good
 
Thanks folks! I said that setting up the Victron Solar Charge Controller was "easy." Well, installing the app on my phone and connecting to the unit via Bluetooth was easy. There are a lot of settings to get through though, and it is a bit of a process. The instruction booklet that comes with it is somewhat helpful, but you need Superman eyesight to read it. The web site is a little better, and I also looked at a few of the name brand LifePo4 battery web sites for more scope on how to set these things up. It is best to get a LifePo4 battery with a built in BMS so that if you get the charge controller settings wrong the BMS will protect your expensive battery from overcharging. It took me a few tries over a couple of days to get it right. I've had the fridge set to 36 degrees and running for a few days with a mix of sun and clouds and the battery voltage never got lower than 13.2V, so things are working well. I'll keep you all posted.
 
i am wondering if your solar panel cables could conceivably shade the panel. You might want to move those wires a bit to be sure they don't do that.
 
Vic Harder said:
i am wondering if your solar panel cables could conceivably shade the panel. You might want to move those wires a bit to be sure they don't do that.
The solar panel wires are taped down and won't shade, but the Yakima rack tube will. I actually get plenty of solar to power the battery even with cloudy days, so it is not a big deal to lose a little. I'm not running an inverter or anything big.

It would be nice to have a 90 degree plug into the top of the camper so the wires don't stick up as shown in the photo. I'm on the lookout for that.
 
The battery to controller should be fused (unless they are right next to each other) as the battery can provide almost unlimited current on these wires. The panels to the controller does not need to be fused as the panel can only provide limited current which is always going to be less than the fuse rating anyway. Some folk use a circuit breaker between the panels and controller, but this serves as a switch as opposed to a current limiting device.
 
rando said:
The battery to controller should be fused (unless they are right next to each other) as the battery can provide almost unlimited current on these wires. The panels to the controller does not need to be fused as the panel can only provide limited current which is always going to be less than the fuse rating anyway. Some folk use a circuit breaker between the panels and controller, but this serves as a switch as opposed to a current limiting device.
This is correct. I put a fuse between the battery and controller, and you don't really need one between the panel and controller, but I put one in there anyway. I prevent an arc when I unplug the solar panel from the controller with cardboard or something over the panel to block the sun, and then pull that fuse that I put between the solar panel and the controller. Or, you can use a circuit breaker, if you have one:)
BTW - It is rather surprising how much of a shock you can get from a 110W solar panel plug end.
 
Ok, I have an update. I finally got the shake-down trip in. But before I left I thought that since I am driving the truck I don't know what is going on in the camper. Will my water tank, fridge and other things I did stay put? So I enlisted the help of my wife to drive the truck...
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While I climbed back in here...
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Note the Lagun table leg on the left, this will be important later.

Apparently my instruction to make a few fast starts, stops and curves, "but nothing too crazy" was not heard very well. She backed down the driveway fine, and then she punched it and I went flying back against the rear door hitting my head real hard on the corner of the fridge. Before I could gain my balance she slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward. I lunged for the Lagun table leg just in time before she made a hard left. It was the only thing to hang on to back there. I held on to it for dear life for the rest. Not being able to communicate to her was a big drawback.

My shakedown trip went great. Colorado, Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and back home. Lots of boondocking. Solar system worked great even though there were some cloudy days. My Dometic fridge worked fantastic, it is the best upgrade I've made. LifePo4 battery never dropped below 13v even when using the fridge, furnace, lights, stereo, and charging my phone. I have a Victron DC-DC charger on board but didn't use it. The idea was to have DC-DC charging from the truck's alternator in case the solar was not working for whatever reason. Sort of a back-up. One thing about the DC-DC charger is that my 2008 Tundra has a "smart alternator" and only puts out about 12.4v. The LifePo4 battery must drop below that voltage before the DC-DC charger starts charging. I'm not yet sure the DC-DC charger will get the battery up to 13.5v like the solar charger does. Maybe there is a setting I need to look into. Something to consider if you don't have solar.
 
LOL, oh, that was funny!! Glad you are not seriously hurt! My face hurts from that laugh!
Thanks!

Now about your DC-DC. I suspect your "Engine shutdown detection" settings need to be tweaked.
5. Engine shuthown detection (victronenergy.com)

These settings are also why the wire gauge from the truck to camper are very important. If the wires are too skinny, the dcdc charger may detect sufficient voltage to turn on, but as soon as it does, the voltage drops enough for it to think the engine is off again, and the cycle repeats. This is the same behavior we see on the older style battery separators that used to be used in these campers.

6awg wire should be enough.
 
BlueSky said:
The solar panel wires are taped down and won't shade, but the Yakima rack tube will. I actually get plenty of solar to power the battery even with cloudy days, so it is not a big deal to lose a little. I'm not running an inverter or anything big.

It would be nice to have a 90 degree plug into the top of the camper so the wires don't stick up as shown in the photo. I'm on the lookout for that.
Something like this maybe?
https://www.amazon.ca/Link-Solar-Weatherproof-Connector-Campervan/dp/B0111RNZDY
 
I decided that the Lagun table leg had to go. The way I had it attached to the corner of the cabinet was both good (swung around to all kinds of positions) and bad (too flexy, ate up room). We don't use the table much anyway, so I decided to go back to the tried and true floor mount pole style. Here's the cabinet now sans Lagun Table Leg, much more clean looking...
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See that little black rubber grommet screwed to the lower white side panel? That keeps the sliding access door from falling out of the track when you go to tighten your turnbuckles. ATC should do this.
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and here's the floor mount for the tube of the table. Much more stable, and the tube stows away nicely in the storage foot locker...
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I also did Vic's suggested mod on the clear window flaps so they don't leak (thanks Vic!)

So I have a Lagun Table Leg I no longer need that I'll let go for a good price, just PM me. It has a 3 extra mounting holes in the vertical tube you can see, but works fine...
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Sorry it has taken so long to load pics of the soft window mod. I used some heavy duty waxed thread (from a leather sewing kit). I put one stitch as a strain relief (small horizontal black stitch) at the top of the 3/4" section that I want to create a dam...
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On the inside I applied the HH-66 cement in the 3/4" section between soft window and velcro. One has to be careful with the HH-66 cement, it is very aggressive and if you use too much it will eat a hole in your soft window. You can see how the soft window is now about 3/4" higher than the opening of the screen. Water drains down the closed soft window, is diverted by the little dam, and flows out the screen...
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In a heavy duty sideways downpour I would probably have to attach the outer flaps, but most of the time this will work fine.
 
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