Battery/electric wildcamping

Discussion in 'The Beginner' started by snowdrops, Nov 23, 2013.

  1. snowdrops

    snowdrops Funster Life Member

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    We've more or less decided on a layout for our conversion......... not that we're ever gonna decide on where to have this done !!!! One of the potential converters said we didn't need a 3-way fridge as he'd fit a relay. My question is, given that we intend to wildcamp most of the time, what is the best way to provide charge/electric to van ? Obviously gas for cooker is easy. But what about the rest ?

    Main issues would be ....... keeping fridge running, needing to plug in the ipod dock so we can have music, using hairdryer where possible, microwave now and then, odd charging of lappy and daily charging of phones, (tho we cld do that from ciggy lighter thing). :Eeek:
     
  2. Minxy Girl

    Minxy Girl Funster Life Member

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    Firstly welcome to the fun house! :BigGrin:

    Now as you intend to wild camp (which is what we do all of the time) then ideally you need to have:

    • a good sized solar panel (at least 85amp but the bigger the better - roof space permitting!)
    • at least 2 high capacity leisure batteries (get good makes as some are just rebranded starter batteries)
    • a 3-way fridge (electric only ones can be very power hungry although they are easier to install and possibly cheaper which is probably why the converter is happier to fit them!)

    For your electric consumption you need to have a good think about if you really need to use a hair drier and/or microwave as these can be very power hungry and you'd need a VERY good battery bank and high capacity inverter to be able to use them (forget about using 12v versions as they are pitiful!).

    A solar panel and battery bank would be more than adequate to keep your laptop and phones charged, as well as your other stuff like lighting, powering the water pump etc. As for the iPod dock for music - I'm not familiar with it but I assume I won't have a massive draw, alternatively if you have a good cab radio anyway you may be able to link it to this instead and save having to use the iPod doc anyway.

    Some question though - how much experience have you of campers/motorhomes? Have you ever had one? How much research have you done into all of this? I am a bit concerned that you could make some expensive mistakes, not from being silly, but simply because it is all new to you and you aren't therefore aware of the vast array of things that need to be considered when having a conversion done.

    I converted an ambulance myself a while ago (1997!) and I did lots of research at the time but didn't have access to the wonderful font of knowledge that is available on forums now. Fortunately I didn't make any boo-boos as I'd crawled all over lots of 'manufactured' motorhomes and campers beforehand and seen how things were done, what layouts would be feasible, and spent a lot of time designing what was best for our needs. :thumb:

    It might also help if you could upload a sketch of what you are thinking of having done and then forum members could give you an idea of if it will pose any problems or make suggestions for improvements?:Smile:
     
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  3. snowdrops

    snowdrops Funster Life Member

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    We bought an old, already converted Fiat Ducato and up until 2 years ago went everywhere in that. We had a 3-way fridge that didn't properly work, a few electric points and ipod wasn't an issue as there was an amazing sound system thro van so we cld plug ipod in and play. Music is what we do so v important to us to accompany wine :Wink: We used hook up now and then so no issues there. Hair dryer not essential for paddling/cycling wknds, but on long hauls wld like to be able to look half decent now and then. Tho with thought, spose the occasional hook up wld suffice there.

    Solar panels wld be great, however, the kayaks would be on the roof most of the time. Microwave again only for use for big hols so maybe only use with hook then.

    Soooooo mainly then to run the fridge at all times and music I suppose. He said 3-way fridges old fashioned ....... hmmmmm !!!! So easy to get ripped off, you are right. For example, we just want a wooden u-shaped frame at the back for a bed, however, he said need rocknroll bed as cheaper than wood. Issue is we cannot do DIY. No skills, no time. Having to have all done in same place as otherwise issues with workflow. So hard tho :cry:
     
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  4. Wildman

    Wildman Read Only Funster

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    It sounds like your converter is uninterested in anything that involves work. I'd dump him and look elsewhere. You need a 3 way fridge unless you are on hookup all the time or have a roof full of solar panels. Ask JJ for more info as he runs a 12v compressor fridge. When wilding in the UK he often ran out of power. You can get some solar panels to fit on the sides of the van , in windows or even outside, panels on the roof UNDER the kayaks which would charge once the yaks are unloaded so don't disregard them. Heating anything from 12v even via an inverter is very power hungry, people do use microwaves and hairdryers but need at least three leisure batteries and 320W of solar power to do so. Do you have the space?
     
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  5. Minxy Girl

    Minxy Girl Funster Life Member

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    The converter you spoke to really is fobbing you off! It sounds like he can't be bothered to do the job properly - be careful there are a lot of people who say they are converters but it doesn't mean they can all do it well! It also doesn't mean that the cheapest is the worst or the most expensive is the best - the best way to get a converter is to go from a recommendation and have a really good look at some of the work they've done for others - both what's on view and what isn't (such as how the components are made and fixed together etc). At the end of the day you should get the layout that suits YOU (within the realms of reality that is!) and NOT what the converter wants to do.

    What size/type of kayaks have you got? I'm just trying to think of alternative ways to carry them and/or where you could place a solar panel to have some benefit from it. For wild camping for any length of time IMV it is an essential piece of kit. Even a smaller portable one would be better than nothing ...

    If you're not intending to use the microwave normally then why not just have a small one you can pop into a cupboard and take out to use it, that way you can leave it at home when its not required?

    Have you thought of your MTPLM and payload? Depending on the materials used and what you install this could be minimal so another thing to consider before you get anywhere near starting work.

    There is a self-build camper/motorhome forum, I'm not sure of its exact name but it may be an idea to have a shuftie on the web for it and pay them a visit as I'm sure you'll pick up more info from them, and probably some recommendations too on which converters to contact as not everyone will have done the work themselves.
     
  6. Gromett

    Gromett Funster

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    Dump that converter would be my advise. He is wrong on fridges and if you want a wood frame bed than that is what he should give you not try to persuade you to have something you don't really want.

    3 way fridges are best if you are off hookup. No 240V when off hookup so you have a choice between 12V or Gas. You can run a 3 way fridge on 12V but only when driving as they are not thermostatically controlled and pull massive amounts of juice out of the battery. On gas they are very efficient unless the ambient temperature is really high.

    A compressor fridge is efficient but really needs loads of solar panels if you are off hookup and a generator as backup.

    I live fulltime in a self build and have had both types of fridge so I can offer this advice with confidence.
     
  7. Wissel

    Wissel Read Only Funster

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    If you forget the hair dryer and microwave this is fairly simple. A couple of leisure batteries, simple split charge relay and ideally a couple of solar panels (about £75 for a 100w panel, the same again for a good solar controller) and you should be about there.

    You could probably use a compressor fridge with the above set-up most of the time. The solar would keep up with the fridge and charging etc throughout the summer with ease.

    In the winter you won't get much from the solar but the leisure batteries should be fine for at least 2 days without any charging.

    If your planning on wild camping for longer periods all year around it might be worth fitting a beefier system. I do this and run a PC in my van so went for the following:

    4 x 100Ah leisure batteries (I fitted 2 under each front seat), a CTEK D250s Dual charger with Smartpass (this is a clever bit of kit that smart charges your batteries from the alternator at up to 100a per hour and from the solar panels and looks after your starter battery). If your interested in this system I've written about it on my blog n the link at the bottom of this post.

    If you really want to use the hair dryer and microwave, I know someone who has fitted an electrical system that does this (he just wild camps).

    From memory he has 4 x 115ah batteries, a smart charge system, I think 300w of solar and a 2000w sine wave inverter. His system makes mine look cheap :BigGrin:
     
  8. hilldweller

    hilldweller Funster Life Member

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    How to build a motorhome !

    A good read. Certain British manufacturers should have a look.
     
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  9. Minxy Girl

    Minxy Girl Funster Life Member

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  10. Duadua

    Duadua Read Only Funster

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    Can't emphasize enough ... install as many solar panels as you can on the roof.

    When travelling with kayaks on top, it will not matter as a good alternator and smart charger will be charging the batteries.

    When parked up, remove the kayaks and the solar panels will charge the batteries.

    Obvious I know, but it is easy to not see the wood for the trees etc. :Blush:

    If bothered about having to remove kayaks when parking up, think about folding out or sliding out the solar panels.

    Or better still, if headroom is not a problem, why not fix a raised frame for solar panels and slide / store the kayaks underneath? :Wink:

    If you do not want the solar panels to be permanently raised, then you could introduce a scissor frame along the sides, so that the solar panel framing could be at it's upper or lower position, depending on whether or not you are carrying kayaks.

    Hope this helps the brain cells.

    Best of luck and get it right for yourselves and only yourselves.
     
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  11. snowdrops

    snowdrops Funster Life Member

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    Wow, a good response :D Was just thinking that solar panels may get broken pulling kayaks on and off as hubby gonna have to get up there, (is high roof van). Defo prefer 3 way fridge spesh as still have the gas bottle for one.

    We're a bit stuck because of the layering of the work. eg, need lining,insulation after speaker wires, plumbing fore lining etc. Seemed easier to get one person to do the lot. He's done some lovely conversions, however, yep, is pushing for diff bed and fridge system. Another look around necessary I spose. Thanx everyone.

    ............. anyone recommend any decent converters not too far from Severn Bridge :help:
     
  12. TheCaller

    TheCaller Funster

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    The 'which fridge' question isn't quite as cut & dried as saying 'if wilding, then 3-way'.

    If you want to spend a long time in one place, including in the winter in the UK, then a 3-way fridge is the way to go.

    But if you move about quite a bit & mostly in the summer, then I think your converter has a point - but only if you have a proper 12v system, which very few UK converters fit as standard.

    The 3-way fridge is a pain in the posterior if you keep moving about. Every time you move, you have to swap to a different power source. So on a hot day, you get up in the morning & the fridge is on gas. You set off to drive somewhere, so you turn the gas off & switch it to 12v. Then you stop to do the first event of the day - shop, swim, kayak, visit old castle, whatever takes your fancy. So now you have to light the gas again. 2hrs later, you set off to that nice pub for lunch - gas off, back on the 12v. Too warm to not bother with the fridge over lunch, so light it again. Back on the 12v to drive into town. Supermarket car park - must re-light the fridge because we'll be back out with food to put in it so it'll need to be as cold as possible .... Getting fed up yet? And that assumes it's one of the better fridges that you don't have to take half the food out off just to see if the flame is actually alight. And that it doesn't take half a dozen attempts to get it to light. And then there's the time you forgot to re-light it & the ice cream melted & you had to drink warm beer.

    All this time you won't have had to touch a compressor fridge.

    So ... if the convenience of a compressor fridge is starting to appeal, then you also need a really good 12v system. If converting a van from scratch, read Wissel's blog on the CTEK equipment. Fit a solar panel (min 80W) & at least 2 leisure batteries.

    If you do go down this route, come back for advice on how to connect it up. There is a widely held misconception about what to connect where based on a much viewed example that leads you astray. The example isn't wrong - it just doesn't explain the whole picture & thus leads to people drawing the wrong conclusion. CTEK's manuals don't help much either. I won't bore you with the details unless you need them.
     
  13. Wissel

    Wissel Read Only Funster

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    You just summed up exactly why I now have a compressor fridge :BigGrin:

    I had already bought a brand new 3-way fridge (Dometic 5380) but had this doubt in the back of my mind and never got around to fitting it. I pretty much always wild camp and was also a little worried about not being parked on very flat ground - the 3-way fridge doesn't work (on gas) if more than 3 degrees out of level.

    In the end I sold the 3-way on Ebay and now have the Vitrifrigo C85i. This also means no huge vents cut in the side of the van which is a bonus.

    I use my van all year around so battery life is a concern in the winter when solar doesn't do much. Having said that I'm only usually away for a couple of days and my van has enough 12v to power everything in it for 3 days with heavy use (van pc) without any charging.

    For me I like simple and easy. I want to get to where I'm going, flick a switch and the van to be ready to use (I don't even have an awning).

    As TheCaller already pointed out, once the compressor fridge is on it's on, whether driving, stopped or whatever.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2013
  14. Minxy Girl

    Minxy Girl Funster Life Member

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    Wissel ... I can understand you wanting to have a 12v compressor fridge but you have 2 x 100w solar panels and 400amp of battery power to keep it running (although I do appreciate that you have a higher need for energy than most due to working from your van).

    The Caller ... they could have an AES fridge so coupled-up with a secure-motion type regulator they wouldn't HAVE to keep turning the gas off in transit (a lot of people don't bother to do this anyway ... not saying this is a good thing, just that it happens in reality). This would resolve the 'problem' of having to alter the energy source all the time but still have the benefit of gas operation when required.

    We had an AES fridge once and did miss it at first when we changed to a MH with a manual one, but we soon got into the habit of switching the power source and it became second nature again. Modern 3-way fridges are much easier to use now with various types to choose from and much more tilt-tolerant than they used to be (and no little flame to watch for!).

    One other thing to consider is WHEN the motorhome is going to be used. If in colder times of the year then a compressor fridge may not cool properly and/or defrost if the interior of the camper isn't warm enough! :Eeek: This is a know issue, not something you get with a 3-way fridge.

    Snowdrops doesn't know if there will be anywhere to fit solar panels at all and with 2 kayaks up there they wouldn't be able to be massive anyway. Even if they did, if they use the kayaks for hours on end which I would think they will, they may be more likely to be in out of the way places under shade/trees etc, where solar wouldn't boost their energy levels much. I would be wary of restricting myself to a 12v fridge only.

    How they will USE the camper and WHERE will help to determine what in reality they need to stay 'off grid' ... it needs careful thinking about.:Smile:
     
  15. Wissel

    Wissel Read Only Funster

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    My last post was just an explanation on why I went for a compressor fridge. Bit of a derail really so apologies for that :Smile:

    I agree with Minx in that 3-way and compressor fridges each have their pros and cons and it really depends on what your van will be used for.

    If you wont have room for solar then I would definitely suggest a 3-way fridge would be the way to go.

    With regard to finding a good converter in your area I can't help I'm afraid. I would agree that asking on the self build forum that Minx linked to would a very good idea. It helped me a lot.
     
  16. Gromett

    Gromett Funster

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    I had a compressor fridge until I broke it last year. I am now torn between replacing it with a 3 way or a new compressor fridge.

    I am leaning towards a 3 way.... The compressor fridge does take a lot of juice (about 40-50AH) per 24 hours. When doing extended off hookup runs I was running my batteries lower than I wanted after 10 days. With a three way I can run it off LPG (Gaslow) and can top up whenever I want. This leaves my 500AH battery bank free for running the computer etc.

    I prefer to use the fuel source that is easiest to replenish first. So gas for everything I can, then 12v for everything else.

    I went for the compressor fridge because it works better in higher temps. a 3 way fridge starts to struggle once temps reach 30C.
    Also the cutting holes in the side of the van, sealing them etc.

    As the OP can't or maybe won't have solar panels then a compressor fridge in my opinion is just not viable. They do need solar panels and a decent battery bank for extended off hookup trips.

    I want to install a 3 way on my next upgrade to the van but I may end up going to a new compressor fridge purely to avoid cutting holes etc.
     
  17. TheCaller

    TheCaller Funster

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    Good point - I only recently discovered such things existed. AES = Automatic Energy Selection, I believe. Overcomes a lot of the drawbacks of a 3-way fridge. No idea on cost & the installer would need to understand what they were doing - needs matching with the right 12v control system.

    I think the point we've all been making is that it isn't a case of one solution being right & the other being wrong - there are quite a few factors about the way a van will be used that need to be taken into account. Then the right type of fridge for your own particular circumstances will become clear (or clearer, anyway :RollEyes:).
     
  18. snowdrops

    snowdrops Funster Life Member

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    We took Jumbo down and the fella chatted about the fridge and how it works etc. He does the electrics down to the last wire so will be well installed. He said something about a relay and other boring stuff. Basically he said that as long as we started the engine up for about half hour every 2 to 3 days, fridge will be fine. The led lighting is minimal drain on the battery so that will help. We intend to use the van anyway as we'll either be moving around or transporting the kayaks/bikes somewhere to use. Sooooo, a 12v compressor it is :BigGrin:............... and I absolutely adore the chrimble smileys
     
  19. TheBig1

    TheBig1 Funster Life Member

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    a thought to consider re transporting the kayaks. i once met a chap that had converted his work van as a basic camper for getting him to canoe meets. anyway he had a ladder rack fitted to the roof for work with a pulley system on for loading his work ladders. he simply strapped his canoes to the ladders and pulled them up together. would save climbing on the roof. other vans have racks that hold kayaks and surfboards onto the side of the roof. this would leave the roof free for solar panels

    as for getting the right converter to do your work, you need somebody that will build what you ask for not what they think you need. its going to cost dearly to get it done right, but do it right first time and you only have to build it once
     
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  20. Ed Excel

    Ed Excel Funster

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    Just a small point. Don't know wether it would be an issue for you but a compression fridge makes a noise, an absorption fridge doesn't.

    Not sure why the Converter suggested running your engine for a short time. AFAIK your vehicle alternator will serve your batteries first and may not even get round to supplying your fridge in a short runtime.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2013
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