Reflectix Window Shades

I’ve learned that occasionally, in the heat of the summer, some “powerful” window shades are necessary. With summer coming quickly, here is a little tip!

A little research uncovered the fact that many people are using “Reflectix” insulation.  This shiny, panel like stuff with the little air bubble padding type material in the middle. Ha – nice description!  In any case, it is available at home improvement stores in a 24″ height and rolls of varying length.

Conveniently, the windows in Shaneeda are about 24″ tall.  I purchased a medium size roll for about twenty-five dollars.  I then measured the width of the window openings on one side of the RV, and cut some pieces using regular scissors.

Surprisingly, this is an incredibly easy project with excellent results!

Why only one side?  Well, the sun rarely glares on both sides of the RV at the same time  – at least in my experience (thankfully).  One window required a slight variation – the window between the passenger window and house door.  It is taller than all the other windows BUT happens to be 24″ wide.  So, that piece of Reflectix goes in vertically instead of horizontally like all the others. In all cases, the reflex just sits inside the window “frame”.  On the larger windows, lowing the curtain (with the Reflex between it and the window) helps to hold the Reflex in place.  Nothing else is required – very simple.

Reflectix Window Shade RV Motorhome

Does it work?

It certainly does. The amount of heat that is blocked is pretty amazing. Of course, it is dark but that’s ok.

When not in use, I roll all the shades up together and store under my bed. While not miniscule, they do collapse to a reasonable size.

Reflectix Window Shade RV Motorhome

Now I wish I had something similar that would keep the cold out! :-)

Shot Some Elk

I am presently boondocking with my motorhome in the beautiful Cibola National Forest in northwest New Mexico. I woke up recently to yet another wonderful site – a small herd of elk grazing in the meadow.

RV Motorhome Boondocking National Forest

Of course, I grabbed my camera and raced out the door – quietly and gracefully!

I was able to sneak up relatively closely to these elk.  Relatively is several hundred yards – they really don’t like too much company.  It was very early morning and the light was far from perfect but I managed to shoot a few descent photos.

RV Motorhome Boondocking National Forest Shot Herd Elk

It appears that there was one male in a group of females and youngsters.  It was interesting that the youngsters were the most annoyed by my presence.  No bugling today.  They were just happily feeding on the spring grass like they didn’t have a care in the world.  That is an example to strive for considering Mathew 6:25 – easier said than done, I know…

RV Motorhome Boondocking National Forest Shot Herd Elk

Solar Charging System

I am so excited!!  I have working solar charging system running in my RV!!

There are a boat load of options when it comes to solar electricity.  Because of all these options, questions, and decisions; I thought a kit would be the way to go – take advantage of someone else’s labor and all that.  I should add that I have a gas powered generator in my motorhome. This means that solar is not my only source of electricity.  However; I really enjoy peace and quiet and the gas generator is neither. Most of my camping is boondocking, off the grid, and in out of the way places.

So, I started searching the solar kit world.  I found lots of kits but none of them exactly fit what I wanted – either in terms of physical panel size, system output, equipment manufacturer, or cost.  The final kicker was the shipping cost for solar panels.  It is crazy.  So, I decided that a DIY system was in order.

The first decision to make are the panels. I have limited space and wanted as much output as possible.  From this I learned that the newer high voltage panels are the best way to go.  These solar panels are often used commercially and on solar homes. I am not expert and can’t tell you the difference (other than voltage) but research shows that the solar cells used in contructing these photovoltaic panels seem to start producing current earlier than 12 volt panels and keep producing it after other panels have stopped (sunrise/sunset). Purchasing local would eliminate shipping and save money.  I found reasonably priced SunPower E20, 327 watt solar photovoltaic panels available within just a few miles.  I purchased two of them for a total of 650 watts.

With these high voltage panels, the choice of an MPPT (maximum power point tracking) charge controller is a no brainer.  There are several good manufacturers and I found a good deal on the MorningStar TriStar 45 amp MPPT charge controller. Yes, they cost more but they are worth it in my opinion and in this scenario.  Obviously, there are many different scenarios/solar charging systems so you have to judge based on what you are constructing.  A little side benefit of the high voltage solar panels is that you don’t need cables as large as you do with a 12V system between the solar array and charge controller.

Finally, I just needed some cables, connectors, fuses, and mounting hardware.  Some of this I ordered from Amazon and eBay, some I constructed myself (brackets, mostly).

Each solar panel measures approximately 41.5″ by 61.5″.  This is big and finding the necessary space on the roof was a challenge.  The spacing of two air conditioning units, two vents, two plumbing system vents, refrigerator vent, and television antenna is such that there aren’t many large, unoccupied areas left. Adding to this, the panels should be as far as possible from items that may shade them.  This includes the vents and AC units that I was installing next too! I did the best I could.

Solar Panel Charging System MPPT Electricity

It is worth noting that these panels are high voltage house type panels.  In the past, one typically used 12V solar panels on boats and motorhomes due to charging a 12 volt battery.  However; the MPPT charge controllers are doing away with that ‘standard’.

The first big surprise came when I laid the panel on the roof.  I knew the roof was rounded but it is REALLY rounded.  I would need to construct a raised mounting bracket for the outside edge of the motorhome.  I did this with some steel tubing and large washers.

Solar Panel Charging System MPPT Electricity

Rather than shoot for equally spaced brackets connecting the panel to the roof, I shot for hitting the steel beams in the roof.  I used fairly large lag screws. This seems to have worked as the panels are very firmly attached.  As always, lots of Dicor roof sealant was used.  I laid a puddle under each bracket and then coated the bolt heads.  Water has a way of penetrating anything if even remotely possible so you can’t hardly go overboard on this step.

Solar Panel Charging System MPPT Electricity

Note from JD: In the above photo, you get an idea of how the roof looks after cleaning as described here.

Many people have reported success running the cable from the panels down the refrigerator vent.  This would work perfectly for me as there was a batch of cables entering my wiring “cabinet” (more like an “area”) at the bottom of this vent.  I asked about protecting the cables with something and was told that just keeping them secured and away from the propane burner was sufficient. So, that’s what I did!   So far, it is working just fine.

My wiring “cabinet” is in a very poor location.  I think Fleetwood built the motorhome around it as it is nearly impossible to get into and actually accomplish anything.  In spite of that, I was able to mount the MorningStar charge controller, fuses, and run the cables with a fair amount of pain and suffering (laying on the floor, reaching thru drawer openings, standing on my head, etc…).

The MorningStar TriStar manual says that charge controller should be mounted vertically for proper cooling.  That added some difficulty but I pulled it off.

I installed AN 80 amp fuse between the solar array and charge controller and another 80 amp fuse between the charge controller and battery bank. Better safe than sorry and even these large fuses don’t cost very much.

Solar Panel Charging System MPPT Electricity Fuse

Solar Panel Charging System MPPT Electricity

When I tested the output of the first PV panel, I was getting approximately 55 volts and 5.5 amps!  About 300 watts – Pretty impressive!

Connecting everything up is largely an exercise of ensuring that polarity is correct and remembering that you are dealing with high voltage power.  To aid my wellbeing, I disconnected the panel (up on the roof) while messing with the wiring. I also put a blanket over the panel whenever connecting/disconnecting it.

My total system consists of the following:

  • Two SunPower E20 327 watt PV panels
  • MorningStar TriStar TS-MPPT-45 Solar Panel Charge Controller
  • One 50′ MC4 extension cable (cut in half)
  • Two 6′ MC4 extension cables
  • One set of MC4 two-to-one adapters
  • Twelve Z brackets
  • Two 80 amp fuses and holders
  • Scrap welding cable, crimp on cable connectors, aluminum angle, steel tubing, nuts, bolts, and washers.

Total cost was pretty close to $1,200.00.

I didn’t keep very close track of my time.  Probably 15-20 hours of fabrication and installation time. Of course, I spent a great deal more than that researching and learning.

So far, I am very happy and have electricity far in excess of my needs but I am sitting at home.  I hope to make a couple week trip starting in a couple days and that should be a real test!!

Review: Nashbar Duro Pro Road Tire

I’ve been running Continental Gatorskin tires on my road bicycle for the last 1000 miles or so. It was time for new – especially after the last goat head season.  I had a couple flats due to goat heads puncturing the sidewall. During the last repair, I removed about half a dozen thorns from the tread portion of each tire that had not yet caused a puncture but time was not on my side.

Shopping around, I found that these Gatorskin tires are not exactly, inexpensive. Even on sale they are around $50 each. Of course, being a cheapskate, that didn’t settle very well.

I eventually found the Nashbar Duro Pro tires.  They are advertised as “Dual compound tread improves traction in the corners without sacrificing rolling resistance or tread wear” and “Lightweight but tough bead to bead polyamide layer protects from punctures and sidewall cuts.”  Ok, I’ll bite.  Ended up purchasing them for $20 each in the 700C x 25 size on a day when shipping was free.

They arrived in short order and appeared to be normal tires.  I mounted them up and went for a spin.

Nashbar Duro Pro Road Bike BIcycle tire reivew

I now have about two hundred miles on them. The new tire molding hair still exists in some places and neither tire seems to be wearing at all and certainly not excessively.  I’ve not ridden in the rain so no data in slippery conditions but in the dry they feel no different than the Gatorskins (to my big butt).

One little thing I’ve noticed while working on my bike (spinning the tires while on the stand) is that the wheels seem out of balance.  This may have been the case with the old tires and I simply did not notice it.  It would seem that bike tires are always heaviest at the stem, I dunno.  Just an observation, not a negative or problem.

No flats, knock on wood.

Time will tell but so far I am very satisfied with my twenty dollar tires.

Dry Water Leak

Ok, first off, I’m not as dumb as I look. At least I didn’t think so… maybe this event proves that I am wrong. Water leaks can be elusive!

A couple days ago, my water pump started cycling on for just a couple seconds about every thirty seconds.  Having had a water leak last fall, I knew exactly what this meant  – a water leak!!  So, I started searching for it.

I searched and searched and searched.  I poked around all my basement bays, I tore the interior apart, I stared at the ground under the coach hoping to see the water leak or drip.

The water never dripped and didn’t spot a drop anywhere inside the coach.

Question MysteryI repeated the above exercise repeatedly telling myself that I just needed enough water to leak before I could spot it.

I repeated again, and again, and again.

By this point, I was getting pretty annoyed that I wasn’t seeing any water leak. I started thinking that perhaps my pressure switch (internal to the pump) had failed. Being unable to do anything about that, I thought harder.

It finally occurred to me (while staring at the plumbing) that there is a valve used to fill the water tank from city water.  The valve seemed to be closed but I opened and closed it a few times and made sure it was good and snug.

The pump cycling stopped….

Ugh..  Apparently, unless something new develops, I was pumping water from my fresh water tank into my fresh water tank. There was no water leak other than within the water system itself!   I can only imagine that this happened because I did not fully close the valve after winterizing the system, I hope my experience will help someone else.

Oh, another little tidbit that a I learned previously.  Air in the system (e.g. hot water tank) can cause the pump to cycle occasionally.  Ya gotta run some water thru the system to flush all the air out and maybe even open the hot water tank pressure release valve (momentarily) to purge the air. At least that’s how it works on my Pace Arrow motorhome.

Roof Cleaning – Part 2

I agonized over this project long enough. A roof cleaning for Shaneeda was necessary and I was the only one that was going to do it.

Why was roof cleaning needed?  Well, because every time the least little bit of rain fell, that rain would drag white chalky junk off the roof and onto the sides of the motorhome.  Ugly.  I would feel terrible about it and spend the next couple of hours wiping her down and restoring her beauty.  I needed a less needy RV in my life.

A priority was to avoid messing up the nice finish I put on the sides of the motorhome. To achieve this, I avoided the use of any chemicals.  Instead, I just used water and a brush – and elbow grease.  I thought about using a pressure washer but I was a bit afraid of damaging the surface and or forcing water entry into the motorhome.

In the end, it probably didn’t take very long for the scrubbing. Maybe thirty minutes, probably less.  I just wet the thing down and started scrubbing with an automotive brush on a long handle – everywhere.  Rinse… scrub… rinse… scrub… rinse… scrub… repeat.  This brush is not a stiff/harsh brush – I didn’t want to damage the roof, just get the chalk and grime off.

The roof now looked pretty good. I would not say that it was perfect but certainly much better.  I found I needed to be careful in spots as the white coating was worn thru and the black coating underneath (not sure what it is) was showing thru.  Continued scrubbing in this area caused the black to come off and I figured that was a bad thing.

Now the roof was clean but all the chalk and other junk was all of the sides of the motorhome.  So a thorough cleaning was in order.  I wiped her down and we were back to looking good.

I know a lot of folks will disagree with my solution.  Please understand that I am a cheapskate. With the condition of the roof as noted above, a quality re-coating of the roof would probably be best. Even Rhino Linings now has a product for this.  However; all of them are expensive, in my opinion. I think it is important to note that my roof does not leak.  Spending $500-$1000 (or lots more) on an EDPM coating just wasn’t in the books.

I read on a forum that people were having good success coating their roof with the same stuff we put on the exterior walls – ZEP Floor Finish.  The idea is that it seals water out as well as locks all the stuff on the roof… well… on the roof.

I gave it a shot.  The floor finish is easy to remove so there was very little risk. For the first coat, I used a paint roller pan,  paint roller on a long handle, and gave the roof a good coating.  For the second coat, I used a brush around all the components on the roof and just poured a splash of the product on the roof and used the roller to spread it out.

The roof cleaning seems to have worked.  It is certainly sealed.  I can run my hand over it and pickup nothing.  It rained a day after finishing the project and I am very pleased to report that there are no white streaks!!  In fact, you really cannot even tell it rained by looking at Shaneeda – she is still looking fine!  Obviously, this will be a long term test.  I don’t have any expectations for how long the coating of floor finish will last but time will certainly tell.

The whole roof cleaning and sealing process, including washing/wiping the entire exterior, probably took a grand total of about five or six hours.  Not too shabby to have a clean roof!

Roof Cleaning

I’m sneaking up on this job. Shaneeda’s roof is quite chalky and needs cleaned to stop the white streaks forming on the exterior every time it rains.

1994 Fleetwood Pace Arrow 33XCleaning a roof is no small job and I certainly do not want to attack it with too much vigor.

I performed online research looking for information on how to best clean the roof.

A couple weeks ago while in Lowes, I purchased a nice brush head. This brush affixes to one of the many broom handles I already have.

A couple days ago I drove by the local carwash and eyeballed the high bay to see if there was enough room for motorhome with me standing on it. There is.

I performed online research looking for information to convince myself that I didn’t need to clean the roof.

Today I stood and stared at the motorhome hoping to find that the roof magically cleaned itself.  It didn’t.

I’m now looking for the next step in the process….

El Malpais MTB Ride

A local Meetup.com MTB group scheduled a mountain bike ride in the El Malpais area last weekend and I decided to tag along.

WikiPedia says this about the area:

“The lava flows, cinder cones, and other volcanic features of El Malpais are part of the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field, the second largest volcanic field in the Basin and Range Province. This volcanically active area on the southeast margin of the Colorado Plateau is at the intersection of the Rio Grande Rift Basin, with its deep normal faulting, and the ancient Jemez Lineament. These two features provide the crustal weaknesses that recent magmatic intrusions and Cenozoic volcanism are attributed to.

The rugged Pahoehoe and A’a’ lava flows of the Zuni-Bandera eruptions (also called the Grants Lava Flows) filled a large basin, created by normal faulting associated with the Rio Grande Rift, between the high mesas of the Acoma Pueblo to the east, Mt. Taylor to the north, and the Zuni Mountain anticline to the northwest. Vents associated with these flows include Bandera Crater, El Calderon, and several other cinder cones; more than a dozen older cinder cones follow a roughly north-south distribution along the Chain of Craters west of the monument.”

I’ve ridden in this area before and thoroughly enjoy it.  Viewing the lava flows and old volcano cinder cones is really neat!

This ride was scheduled to be a fairly easy route of about 10 miles total distance.

Apparently, the winter months have not been kind to me or my conditioning (in spite of trying to ride my road bike at every opportunity) because this ride was tough!  Making it worse, we went for just over twenty miles!!

We started at the El Calderon parking area off highway 53, twenty miles south of Grants, NM. It was a very cool day (forecast was for about a 40 degree high) and windy.  No matter, the beauty of the area and great camaraderie more than made up for the temperature and wind.

El Malpais MTB bike ride

By the time we made it back to the car, I was totally shot.  My quads were even starting to cramp up a bit.  It was worth it though – I highly recommend this area!

I flew over the area the next day and took the following photos.

El Malpais MTB bike ride

El Malpais MTB bike ride

RV Leveling Jacks

My leveling jacks stopped working!  Argh!

No, this is not the end of the world – not even a catastrophe actually.  Just a bit inconvenient. Possibly the two most significant problems that this causes is 1) it is reported that the refrigerator should only be ran when level and 2) the RV rocks when the wind blows.

When I purchased Shaneeda, the semi-automatic hydraulic leveling jack system from PowerGear was not working. The pump would run but the jacks would not move (like the dump valve was open). I worked on other issues for a couple months and when I next tried the jacks, they worked. I was pleased with my good luck.

They jacks have worked dozens of times since then. Right up until last week. For some reason, they stopped. The lights on the control panel lit up but nothing happened when the buttons were pressed (as in nothing, no sound, no noise, no nothing). The pump would not even run.

I checked fuses and wiring to the extent that I was able – the control box seems to be accessible only by removing the dash – I did not go that far.  I discovered that the pump was ok by manually grounding the contact point on the solenoid.

PowerGear Hydraulic Leveler Leveling Jack RV Motorhome

The behavior made me think there was something wrong with the neutral or parking brake switch. An intermittent connection perhaps??

I spent hours poking around at the system hoping to spot something obvious.  Finally, I had a bit of luck.  I really felt that something was wrong with either the emergency brake switch or the neutral/park switch. Both of these must be in the right position for the system to allow the jacks to go down.  I had the engine running and was moving the emergency brake and gear shift lever to various positions while trying the leveling system. Suddenly, the pump started running!!  Aha!!

It turns out that there is a bit of a dead spot in my neutral/park gear shift switch. Moving the shift lever ever so slightly (pull it slightly off park) solves that problem and the leveler pump runs, as it should.

Victory!?!?  Well, not quite.

The pump was now running but the jacks were still not going down.

Using the PowerGear troubleshooting guide, I eventually tested for +12V power at the solenoid valve leads. I tested the inline fuse and it tested ok. However; there was power immediately ‘upstream’ (towards the battery) of the inline fuse holder. Turns out the connection INSIDE the inline fuse holder was faulty. Even pulling the fuse in and out a dozen times did not help (scrape the contact points clean). I gently squeezed the holder to squeeze the contact points together and this helped. Clearly the inline fuse holder or the connections inside of it are faulty.  However; I now had +12V at the solenoid valves.

I fired up the system, pressed the jack down button and off they went!!  Yippee – problem solved!

I will be replacing that inline fuse holder but for now, it is working well enough.

I called out to an Internet forum for help while all of this was going on.  It was suggested that I should replace the control panel and control box.  A little online sleuthing indicates that those parts are something around $1000.00. I am not a big fan of the “replace parts til it works” form of troubleshooting and, in this case, could not have afforded it anyway. My point, however; is that many times people begin replacing parts (spending money) when it is not necessary.

Necky Kayak

So, I purchased a used kayak from Craigslist last week.  I’ve been wanting to add a “water sport” to my routine and kayaks have interested me for a long time. I miss my sailboat and the water. A kayak seemed to be a cheap and easy way to at least get back on the water. I found a very inexpensive Necky Manitou Sport and it’s even yellow (my favorite)!  She seems to be billed as a good, stable, beginner model.  That’s what I need!  She is more like a sea kayak or touring kayak that a fishing or sit-on type of kayak.

Recently, I took her out on the water for the first time.  I’ve never been in one before and haven’t even paddled a canoe in a long time (many decades). What a blast!

Necky Manitou Sport Kayak Lake Paddling

The typical me is apprehensive and nervous about this type of thing.  I do not know why – lack confidence I suppose.  I seem to be scared of making a fool of myself.  I’ve gotta quit that – I hate it.  Instead of enjoying things like this, I stress about them. I love adventure and new things but am somehow able to spoil them.  I tried not to do that today. It helped that NOBODY was anywhere nearby.

I dropped the Kayak into the water at Elephant Butte lake (near Truth or Consequences, NM) at the end of the boat ramp and jumped in.

I was initially surprised by the sensation – kind of like sitting on a 2×4 stood on edge – kinda wobbly. I quickly got used to that and spent a good bit of time in about one foot of water just getting the feel of it. It didn’t take long to learn that it was not going to tip over and dump me out.  In fact, it is surprisingly stable.

I worked on proper kayak paddling technique (not using arms shoulders but torso instead) and just getting comfortable.  I even spent some time moving around buoys and other floating objects to figure out how to maneuver the beast.

Necky Manitou Sport Kayak Lake Paddling

I eventually got brave and ventured out a ways. There was a light wind blowing and about 4″ waves were rolling along – yes, I know, those are very tiny waves!! :-)  I spent time rowing directly into them as well as at angles – all the way to perpendicular to them.  What fun!!

I spent about two hours paddling the kayak around and now, several hours later, I am starting to feel some soreness! Yay – that is a good thing!!