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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Make sure you have enough RV battery power for your inverter needs

If you're considering adding an inverter to your rig, or already have one, it's important to keep in mind the battery power you have available. Nothing can ruin a spot of boondocking quicker than killing off your "house" batteries. Replacing deep-cycle batteries is an expensive proposition, and a bit of quick math can help you prevent the problem.

To get started, you'll need to know how many amps your shore power equipment will use. This can typically be found on the manufacturer's ID plate on each appliance. The plate may list amps, but in many cases, power consumption will be expressed in watts. You'll need to know the figure in amps, so here's the method for figuring amps.

Amps = watts/volts

For example, if your TV set uses 160 watts, divide 160 by 120 (for volts) and the result is 1.3. Your TV uses 1.3 amps to operate.

Now, add up the amp usage by all equipment that would be operated at the same time; this will give you the maximum amount of current that equipment will call for from your inverter, at 120 volts. Since your batteries operate at 12 volts, then the actual amount of current drawn from the batteries would be 10 times that of shower power needs – 120 volts is 10 times more than 12 volts. Our television, then, would "ask" the batteries for 13 amps of battery power (10 x 1.3 amps).

Sad to say, power inverters are not particularly efficient; to make the transformation between battery power and usable shore power, they eat up juice, on average, about 10 percent of the total transfer. What this means is, your battery will need to produce more current than actually used by the equipment.

Here's how to figure out how much "real" juice you'll take from your batteries.

Amps required by equipment x 1.1 x 10 = amps demanded from batteries.

So in our TV example, 1.3 amps from the TV times 1.1 (inverter efficiency loss) works out to 1.4 amps x 10 (the difference between the shore power voltage and the battery voltage) equals a total of 14 amps from your battery.

While 14 amps doesn't sound like a lot, think about what happens when you fire up your microwave oven. Our RV microwave demands 13 amps at 120 volts. Let's walk through the math:

Equipment demand x 1.1 (inverter inefficiency) x 10 (voltage difference) means, 13 x 1.1 x 10 equals 143 amps demanded from the RV batteries. That's a considerable wad of power.

A final, and really important factor: Your battery system capacity should be NO LESS THAN four times as large as the maximum current draw placed on it by your inverter. In the case of our microwave then, our battery bank would have to be a minimum of 572 amp-hour capacity. If we tried to run anything else at the same time as operating the microwave, the bank would have to be even larger.

How do you know the "size" or amp-hour capacity of your battery bank? Hopefully the amp-hour statistic is printed on your battery label. If not, you'll have to get the manufacturer and model information of your batteries and do the research to find the amp-hour specs. With that information in hand, here's the rest of the story.

In a simple, batteries-connected-in-parallel, system – for example, you're using all 12-volt batteries, than simply add up the values for each battery. The result is the total amp-hour capacity of your system. If you're using 6-volt batteries, wired in series (and possibly in parallel), things are a bit more complex. Batteries wired in series do not "add" the amp-hour capacity. For example, two 6-volt batteries, each rated at 200 amp-hours, wired in series to provide 12 volts to your rig, would provide 200 amp-hours. If another pair of these same batteries are wired in parallel, then the total would be 400 amp-hours (two sets of 200 amp-hours each, wired in parallel).

Clear as mud? Let us know if we need to go into more detail – russ at rvtravel dot com.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RV plumbing "mod" saves wasted not-so-hot water

For boondockers, staying out in the "wilds" and away from civilization for as long as possible is often a priority. When we boondocked for entire winters on the desert, water was a primary concern – how do you stretch 40 gallons of fresh water between two people for as long as possible?

The usual water conservation techniques always apply: Take the "Navy shower," as an example. Step in the shower, wet yourself down, turn off the water. Soap up. Turn on water, rinse off. It's practically a contest to see who can use the least amount of water and still come out clean. Other water conservation techniques come into play – save the dish water for flushing the toilet. We've even heard of extreme measures – one RVer uses a bucket and takes gray water out of his holding tank to flush the pot. Not so sure on that one – our gray water never smelled good enough to bring back inside the rig.

But what about wasted water when waiting for hot water to make its seemingly sluggish way from the water heater all the way out to the faucet when you're waiting to wash your hands, dishes, etc? Some (ourselves included) have used a jug or pan to collect that otherwise clean, fresh water, and use it later for "cold water" purposes. But it can be a bit of a hassle, and if you're using a tankless "instant hot" heater, or if your conventional water heater is a long way from the faucet, you can collect quite a bit of tepid water while waiting. Here's an RV modification to think about.

Rather than collecting that tepid water in a pan, instead, simply re-route it with a modified plumbing scheme to send it back to the fresh water tank. How so? By putting a "T" in the water line that supplies the "hot" side of your faucet. One of the T outputs routes to the faucet, and the other side to an add-on line that routes back to the fresh water tank inlet. The trick is to put a valve in the line headed back to the fresh tank. When you want hot water at the faucet, leave the faucet turned off, but open the re-route valve long enough to ensure you really have hot water on location. Now close the valve, and use the faucet – and have hot water readily available.

You could really trick this idea out by using a 12-volt electrically operated solenoid valve in place of a standard water valve. Push a button at the sink, the solenoid opens, shunting tepid water back to the fresh tank; when the hot has arrived, let loose of the "normally open momentary contact push" style button. Here's one solenoid you could use, for less than $25.00.

Of course, you'll need access to 12 volts, and a way to route the "new" line back to the fresh water tank on your rig. It'd really only make sense if your tank is on the same side of the rig as the faucet(s) you want to modify, but hey, it's a great afternoon "mod" project for the boondocker.