Solar Charging System – Take Two

I documented the installation of 650 watts of solar (Morningstar TriStar MPPT 45 charge controller and two SunPower E20 327 watts panels) on my last motorhome here.  Well, when I traded for a new motorhome, the solar system was of no value to the dealer, so I arranged to remove it.  My plan was to re-install it on my new motorhome because I love it so much!  I really can’t hype an adequate solar system on a motorhome enough!  It is SO COOL to not run the generator for weeks on end while living “normally”.

The process started by ordering a 50′ length of PV array cable, 3M 5200 adhesive, and a chunk of 4″ x 2″ x 48″ aluminum angle.  Amazon Prime is pretty amazing!  Possibly even dangerous.  I love being able to order this and that without having to worry about shipping charges and then actually getting the things in only two days.  Impressive!

The installation on my new 2005 Newmar Dutch Star was either much easier than on the Pace Arrow or I learned a lot on the first install because this time around it was VERY easy. Getting the array cables routed down thru the refrigerator vent stack has twice proven to be the hardest task of the install.  I used an electrical snake and tried, tried, tried, and tried again… Eventually finding a good route that offered enough space for the two array cables.  These cables were then run down thru the floor of the refrigerator vent stack and into the furnace space.  More holes were drilled from this space into the basement.  All of these holes were filled with caulking to avoid air leaks and locations thru which critters could stage an invasion.

Newmar Dutch Star Solar Panel Electric Charge Controller PV Photovoltaic

I mounted the MorningStar MPPT charge controller in the basement, on the wall near the inverter.  This made for VERY easy access – much easier than working on my head under the refrigerator in the Pace Arrow.  It also allowed for a very short cable run to the DC input power terminals on the inverter (which run to the batteries via very thick cables. Of course, I reinstalled the large fuses between the array and charge controller and another between the charge controller and battery bank (inverter input cables, in my case).

Newmar Dutch Star Solar Panel Electric Charge Controller PV Photovoltaic

Newmar Dutch Star Solar Panel Electric Charge Controller PV Photovoltaic

I was going to make panel mounting tabs using 2″ x 4″ aluminum angle.  However; a trip to the home improvement store was productive and I found some nice 2″ x 4″ galvanized sheet metal L-brackets in the joist/construction section.  I drilled a number of additional holes in the feet of these brackets to provide additional “bite” for the adhesive.  I did some research and the 5200 documentation reports that it has better holding power with galvanized steel than aluminum so I was comfortable with this bracket choice. The roof of the Dutch Star is flat which makes the panel install VERY simple – I simply laid the panels on the roof and marked the bracket attach points.  I then scratched up the surface of the bracket and the roof where the brackets will mount and cleaned it all with acetone.  A nice layer of 3M 5200 adhesive was put on the bracket feet and they were laid in place to cure. The standard 5200 adhesive requires a week to cure – I probably should have ordered the quick cure version but I didn’t.  So, let’s hope for no high wind events over the next few days!! :-)

Newmar Dutch Star Solar Panel Electric Charge Controller PV Photovoltaic

Upon connecting the wires, the charge controller started pumping juice into the batteries!  It is a marvel to behold.  Speaking of which, I did not retain my Trimetric Battery Monitor (here) which I also loved.  I sorely need to buy and install one.  The Dutch Star remote inverter control panel has a “battery full” gauge but it is based on voltage so is terribly inaccurate/misleading.

Newmar Dutch Star Solar Panel Electric Charge Controller PV Photovoltaic

I am excited to see that there is a lot of space remaining on the roof so the addition of another panel or two is possible!  1000 watts or more – wouldn’t that be neat!!!

Newmar Dutch Star

I am super pleased to report that I have done a bit of upgrading over the last few weeks.  I am now the proud owner of a 2005 Newmar Dutch Star (DSDP 4023)!  Shaneeda was great old girl and I had a lot of fun with her. She taught me a tremendous amount and kept me occupied which was incredibly important during that phase of my life.

This Dutch Star is pretty amazing.  The space that opens up when the slides are open is something else – massive!  Cruising down the highway at 65 mph is surreal!  The noise is nearly nonexistent and the ride is very smooth. It feels incredibly odd.  The big diesel just chugs right up hills. With the cruise control set, it barely changes it’s tempo – no downshifting and roaring up the tiniest of lumps in the road.  The space in the basement isn’t quite like a bus but there is certainly more of it than Shaneeda had.  Even has a couple big, heavy duty slide out “drawer” type things.  Very neat!  Of course, it is a very complicated machine.  There are all sorts of electrical systems – I have much to learn!

Newmar Dutch Star diesel pusher motorhome rv

You might be asking what am I going to do now that I no longer have my “project machine”??  Well…. Fear not – there is no a shortage of tasks to be performed.  I kept the solar panels and charge controller from Shaneeda so I have those to install.  I have come to realize that I am a clean freak.  There are MANY cleaning opportunities so will be spending lots of time on that.

I am an advocate for older RV’s, some will ask why I changed.  I haven’t, actually.  However; for my use, I decided something more was needed… ok, desired.  Shaneeda was not well insulated (or insulated at all??) and her windows leaked a lot of cold air.  This made winter/cold weather camping difficult and hot weather camping uncomfortable.  With shore power (or generator), the air conditioners kept the inside at a comfortable temperature but at a huge noise cost.  The other biggie was weight.  Shaneeda had a 16,000 lb chassis.  With my typical camping stuff, we were maxed out.  To live in her full time would require adding several thousand pounds more junk (my belongings).  I knew this would be hard on her mechanically and possibly even dangerous.  It could certainly be done but I decided to make things easier on myself, and more comfortable to boot.

Let the learning begin!

Indian Bread Rocks

I spent nine nights on a really nice BLM spot in southern Arizona this past week (early January 2015).  It is called Indian Bread Rocks Picnic Area and/or Happy Camp Canyon. It is about ten miles south of Bowie, AZ.

The surrounding hills are huge mounds of giant boulders and are really spectacular – particularly in the right early morning sun.  Of course, they are a blast to climb around on as well!

The area was very quiet and peaceful while I was there.  I probably saw about one vehicle drive by each day.  While I was there, I saw three or four other motorhomes nearby.  Most of them stayed for one or two nights and then moved on.  The only negative to the quiet is that the railroad tracks are way off in the distance – probably ten miles or more – and you could hear a dull rumble when one was chugging up the valley below.  A city slicker probably would not even notice the sound, it was very faint. To someone like me that loves total silence/solitude, it was noticeable but not annoying.  A very, very minor negative to a very nice spot.  There are probably about six or so spots that a bigger-rig (my size) could get into, probably that many more smaller spots.  As noted on the above site, the last cattle guard is rather narrow.  I did not have any problems towing my Jeep – had about eighteen inches of clearance on each side, but I could imagine a big rig feeling the pinch.  Hit it straight on (the road angles) and I would think nearly all rigs will fit.

The altitude of the site is right at 4000′ MSL so one can expect cool nights.  On average, the nighttime low temperature was between 30 – 35 degrees while I was there. The daytime highs were in the mid 50’s to low 60’s and mostly sunny.

Camping BLM Indian Bread Rocks Boondocking dry rock climbing

I camped near a group site that has a vaulted toilet and two BBQ pits/grills.  Nobody used the site while I was there.  The markings/information plaque are long since faded/missing. That said, the site is in reasonably good condition.  There was no toilet paper in the toilet when I arrived but within a day or two a maintenance person arrived and restocked it as well as did some general cleanup (not much to do, it appears).

Camping BLM Indian Bread Rocks Boondocking dry rock climbing

A huge positive was having a good 4G signal on my Verizon phone (three bars without amplifier) and reasonable signal on my Sprint 3G MiFi (three bars).  The Sprint connection was useable but kind of iffy (dropped fairly often and was far from fast, even for 3G.  I think it is an amazing thing to be camped on gorgeous BLM land and have a good Internet connection!

Camping BLM Indian Bread Rocks Boondocking dry rock climbing

The hiking was, of course, fantastic!  I find climbing these huge boulders to be a ton of fun.  Going up is a good workout and a bit of a challenge (I’m far from a “rock climber”) and coming down is heart pumping excitement since I’m afraid of heights and afraid of falling and then tumbling down three hundred feet of rocks!!

Camping BLM Indian Bread Rocks Boondocking dry rock climbing

I did not see much wildlife.  A good number (twenty??) of grazing cattle and a few small, pretty birds – that was it.

Camping BLM Indian Bread Rocks Boondocking dry rock climbing

Camping BLM Indian Bread Rocks Boondocking dry rock climbing

My kitten, Buddy, got outside to do some exploring and seemed to have a great time being a wild tiger on the prowl.  As far as I know, he didn’t catch anything but the excitement is in the chase!!

Who needs friends like these??

Several of my friends took a look at my new vinyl sheet flooring in Shaneeda. They all loved it but all commented that the carpet around the front seats and doghouse had to go. Ugh… just another project right!?!? So, I started ripping that carpet out…

For those not familiar, my RV is a Fleetwood Pace Arrow Class A motorhome which is a gasser. This means that it has a gas engine (as opposed to diesel) that is situated in front between the driver and passenger seats and is enclosed by a cover that is lovingly called a doghouse.  The carpet is glued to the doghouse and is not terribly easy to remove.  Making it worse, the hinges and latches were riveted to the cover thru the carpet. And dirty??  Wow – very nasty. I was actually glad I pulled it out but I knew installing new carpet would be a serious pain in the rear.  To remove the latches, I had to cut the rivets off from the backside. This was not easy and ended up being accomplished with wire snippers, screwdriver, and vice-grip (low-tech).  Of course, this is all much easier with the seats removed.  I elected to leave the seat bases in place (carpet goes over them) and remove both seats from its base.  This requires removal of four nuts (plus unbolting the seat belts) and is an easy one person job (as opposed to removing the bases which is a two person job and much more work). After the normal removal of hundreds of staples, scraping, and cleaning; the real work started. RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit The doghouse is a fiberglass “box” that was attached to the floor with sheetrock screws.  These screw heads were sticking up all around doghouse, at least a quarter inch. Additionally, there were a bunch of other screws who’s only purpose seemed to be holding carpet down at the 90 degree “bend” where the floor and doghouse meet.  I could not stand that.  So, I removed all these screws and replaced the ones that were holding the doghouse in place with truss head screws which fit nearly flush.  Another problem I noted was that the carpet was installed “into” the joint where the doghouse and cover come together.  This was preventing the cover from closing completely and the rubber seal doing much of anything. RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit Dynamat The first thing laid on the floor was a layer of dynamat insulation in the cockpit area.  My goal was to provide some amount of insulation from heat/cold but mostly to eliminate some road/engine noise while driving.  I really wanted to apply a layer of this to the doghouse but I could not imagine how I would get the carpet to stick to it so abandoned that idea.  I will later experiment with putting the dynamat on the under/engine side of the cover – not sure it will stick there (hanging and exposed to lots of heat). RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit The carpet padding was next – pretty simple. I’m really not very good at getting carpet installed in tight spaces with lots of nooks, crannies, and angles so this whole process was very time consuming and laborious.  That said, I took it as slowly as I could and tried really hard to make it look good.  I quickly gave up on the idea of using a single piece of carpet. Instead, I focused on one large piece on the passenger side and another on the driver side covering as much of the floor as possible.  This is easy on the passenger side but the driver side has a lot more angles so this is pretty hard (for me).  Eventually it was done and time to attack the doghouse. My initial approach on the doghouse was to stare at it and hope the carpet would jump on, conform, and glue itself on – kind of a Jedi mind trick thing. After waiting a good bit of time, this did not happen so I went with plan B. I started on the part of the doghouse that is firmly attached (not the cover) and worked my way around fitting the largest pieces possible.  All of this was then glued in place with contact cement.  After drying, the carpet was trim around the cover/door. RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit The doghouse door/cover was the real challenge – lots of angles.  I took one large piece of carpet (which wasn’t large enough – use plenty of carpet) and started fitting at the top. Working my way down the sides and cutting the carpet where it would not conform to the shape.  I then used the heat gun to warm the carpet and sort of mold it in place.  This worked to some extent in that it helped the carpet lay flatter than it wanted to on its own. RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit Contact cement and I do not usually get along very well. Typically, the cement likes to get onto a whole bunch of things that I don’t want it on – I’m not sure why.  This time, I took it very slow with this cover.  I marked on the cover the area that would be glued first.  Due to the shape and all the little slices, I could not properly fit the entire carpet all at once – at least not with my skill set.  I applied glue to the cover and pieces of the carpet that I wanted down first.  This was then applied to the cover. Once set, I began fitting the little tails of carpet – trimming and fitting them as I went along and cementing them only after the previous pieces were stuck down and I had achieved a tight fit.  Finally, small pieces of carpet were fitting to fill the few remaining bare spots.  The carpet was trimmed at the joint of the cover such that it no longer prevents the cover from closing all the way.  Now the rubber seal is ‘engaged’ – hopefully the engine noise will be slightly decreased. RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit I am very pleased with the results!  It is not perfect but for me, it is pretty good.  If one looks hard enough, a few of the seams can be seen but from a couple feet away, it looks very nice! I used a pewter colored transition to the vinyl flooring that looks pretty good.  In hindsight, I wish I would have left enough carpet to do a foldover and staple which is what I did in the bedroom.  No matter, it looks a thousand times better than it did before.RV Motorhome Carpet Install Replace Doghouse Cockpit

Even my friends like it! However; they are now telling me the wall paper needs updated. They are not allowed in my RV any longer….

In total, I was able to install new flooring throughout the entire RV for approximately $600.  The vinyl sheet and tools were about $250.00 The carpet, padding, and tools were also about $250.00. The trim (all new) and extra carpet for rugs was about $100.00.

RV Flooring Replacement

The old carpet and linoleum in Shaneeda had served valiantly but it’s time had come.  It was matted, dirty, torn, stained, and just nasty – very nasty.  I wanted to keep putting it off but I couldn’t – it was time to replace the flooring.

For many months I have agonized over whether to install carpet, vinyl sheet, or cork laminate.  My motorhome is weight limited so a light solution was required.  I really like the feel, warmth, and quiet of carpet but I hate the way it seems to attract dirt and sand.  I love vinyl for it’s simple installation, easy cleaning, and resistance to dirt/stains but it can be so cold.  The cork laminate was hugely attractive in terms of warmth and quiet but the installation and cost were not. Cork is also not quite as resistant to water as vinyl.  What to do…

A trip to Lowes helped me to find a vinyl sheet color/pattern that I liked (Armstrong Sedona Clay Stone, Ashton Collection) and I discovered that the new options are rather thick and cushy – not thin and hard like linoleum.  I liked that but realize it isn’t padded carpet. The final straw was learning about the “lay flat” installation.  It does not require a bunch of adhesive. One simply lays the vinyl down and apply double-sided tape under the edges.  VERY simple!  I was sold.

Removing the interior is a bit of project since everything is bolted down pretty well.  The couch, recliner, fold out table, dinette table and chairs all had to be unbolted and removed. Next came all the trim, heater vents, and other small items.

First thing on a Saturday morning I started ripping out the old flooring.  The old carpet and padding was quick to come up – just pull, cut, and rip.  The linoleum was much more work.  It had been glued down so it came out in small pieces and lots of scraping was required.  Fleetwood installed the linoleum before the cabinets so they were sitting on the flooring.  I cut the linoleum as close to the cabinets as possible and left what was under them.  The carpet (and some of the linoleum) is held down with staples – lots and lots of staples.  By far the most time was spent crawling around the perimeter with vice grips, needle nose pliers, and small screwdriver pulling all of these staples out.  There are literally hundreds of them and this is a very time consuming process.  However; like many things, the preparation is very important to the final product so I took my time and got all of them out.

RV Motorhome Flooring Vinyl Sheet Linoleum Carpet Laminate

The two items that caused me to pause and contemplate what to do were the bolts for the recliner couch seat belts. All of these bolts have their heads welded to steel plate under the floor and protrude up thru the floor. I am getting rid of the old recliner and getting something more modern so the bolts would not be reused.  I cut these four bolts off and ground them flat/level with the floor using a hand grinder.  The couch seatbelt bolts were up against the wall and I couldn’t decide what to do so I left them.  They are out of the way so should be fine.

RV Motorhome Flooring Vinyl Sheet Linoleum Carpet Laminate

The vinyl sheet comes in twelve foot widths. The inside floor width of my Pace Arrow is seven and a half feet wide. So, I purchased one eight foot piece and one seven foot piece.   I started in the living room, laid out the vinyl and started trimming.  I was a bit nervous about this step as I could imagine really screwing it up.

I started by aligning the sheet against one wall, making sure the pattern was straight and then trimming the excess material but leaving a bit of excess.  This allowed me to get the sheet laid down and mostly “fit”.  I then came back around the perimeter doing a close trim. The instructions say to leave one quarter inch of space so a super close fit is not desired.  Easy enough.

I was worried about the next step.  Getting a seven foot wide by twelve foot long piece of vinyl to line up with the piece already on the floor, get a good seam, and somehow trim it to fit in very last couple feet of kitchen, hallway, and bathroom.  I started by figuring out how much length I needed and cutting the whole sheet to that size (down from the twelve foot length.  The remainder was unrolled in the hallway and large cuts were made leaving lots of excess but trying to achieve an approximate fit.  This worked pretty well.  The vinyl sheet instructions (from Armstrong) are pretty clear on how to seam the material. You basically overlap it and then make a straight cut thru both pieces, remove the excess material and then double-sided tape the underside.  This worked great and the seam is nearly invisible.  Final trimming in the hallway and bathroom took lots of time as there are so many little nooks and crannies.

RV Motorhome Flooring Vinyl Sheet Linoleum Carpet Laminate

The entry steps were next.  I really wasn’t sure how to approach this area so I just started – sometimes that is better than overthinking it.  I cut pieces of vinyl sheet for the step treads, then the risers, then a piece for each side wall.  For some reason, the sidewalls nearly defeated me – took me half a dozen attempts to get it right – good thing I had lots of extra material!!

RV Motorhome Flooring Vinyl Sheet Linoleum Carpet Laminate

Finally, I made a pass around the perimeter installing the double-sided tape.  The result is very nice.  I really like the new look – I really like having the old torn up and stained mess gone!

I have not yet decided what to do about trim so that part of the project is unfinished.

A real negative to this project is that the carpet in the cockpit and bedroom now look REALLY BAD!!  I thought they were bad before, the new floor has made them worse. What to do….