Full time through winter in search of new life (1 Viewer)

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Apr 24, 2018
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Hello all, this continues my earlier thread started some months ago which got deleted by mods due to me mentioning the B word…

In October we (myself and my French wife Beatrice) completed the sale of our UK property and set out in our 20yr old B544 to find a project in France. Having been into campers since my early 20s (some near 30 years ago) I/we want to buy a campsite to develop.

In earlier threads I mentioned how I spent a couple of months prepping the old bus to be completely self sufficient - it had to get through a continental winter with us full timing. We’d be in France, so overnighting would be super easy in their system of aires-de-camping car, however, often there’d be no hook up options and water points would be off to protect from frost damage. To preserve funds, campsites would be avoided.

Hence the two 18kg Gaslow LPG tanks, 200Ah of lithium and 600W solar (covering pretty much every spare square foot of the roof) :) and 25/50A B2B to keep the batteries nicely charged. Systems to collect rainwater and even purify river water were all plumbed in. Adamant that she needed a full oven and microwave (installing a microwave in there is an excellent way to repurpose the big old CRT TV cabinet :) ), and to be able to run hairdryer and hair straighteners, a high end 2kW inverter was also integrated into all the existing electrics, with me in the process discovering that there is definitely such things as ‘low end’ invertors. When the 1st so-called 2kw rated inverter (ebay, c£120) failed under just 1300W of microwave load. I took it apart to find it had an internal, hard soldered, 80A fuse. Here was something advertised as a 2kW (4KW peak!), that was guaranteed to fail if run with more than a 1kW load. I then spent twice a much on something of the same nominal capacity but somehow twice the size.

Already running out of load capacity with safari tent, roof AC (for summer) and sat dish, when I decided I needed an on board alternative mode of transport other than the Mrs’s old push bike (a 110kg 250cc motorbike, itself necessitating a 25kg chassis carrier for my elderly non-garage equipped camper :)) - I had to uprate. Going to the max 3700kg kept us (just about) the right side of UK law. Some Dunlop air assistance on the Alko torsion bar took care of the ‘soggy bottom’, and uprated springs and new dampers at the front took care of the ‘soggy front’ (?)

Loads of stuff goes wrong with old campers - since prepping it and doing a trial run in summer, in addition to routine servicing, I have sorted all manner of stuff

- fridge sparking constantly (serviced, burner cleaned, water ingress (from hob drain) issue resolved
- drop down bed gas struts failed (replaced easily and cheaply enough with pattern 1.7kN units).
- water pump failed (again replaced easy enough. I now carry a spare pump as it is really inconvenient to have no water at all)
- water pump non return valve then failed (fixed with a second in line non return valve)
- boiler purge valve failed (again easy enough replacement)

with all these watery things fixed, for the first time I had pressure remaining in all taps at any time (instead of gurgles and spluttering when opening if left for more than 10min..). This then caused the shower tap to fail internally (drip drip heard in the cubicle at night) so I replaced that after 3 attempts to fix it.

Finally, some element of the various failed valves must have made its way into a pipe as all cold water pressure was lost and cold tap (kitchen) output reduced to a trickle. Fixed by disconnecting all cold pipes from boiler, routing the pipes temporarily outside and connecting mains pressure water direct to the kitchen tap to back flush. It worked, though I never found the offending component.

- bathroom roof vent failed. Just age and fatigue. replaced with something from ebay which required me to spend a day chopping it to pieces to make it fit…
- kitchen turbo vent failed - in addition to the usual banging when retracting, bearings then went on motor producing terrible noises. After some oiling I gave up and bought something cheap on ebay (I by now should have known better). what garbage, a remote control thing which lasted a month before failing.
- roof AC failed on the summer - just age, it was same age as the camper. A Telair Silent whose manufacturer was obviously having a joke with the name..Replaced with a Truma Aventa compact (so I could run it off the solar panels, at least in theory :) ) - this then failed within a month but Truma sent a new sensor under warranty which I fitted myself, after pretending to be a service agent to get them to send it in the first place…..

- light bar electrics all failed when someone in UK bashed into it (and helpfully drove off) - I just made up a new bar
- ‘mood lighting’ as demanded by the mrs if she were to spend loads of time in there. I experimented with all sorts of lights - fitting and then removing all sorts of LED as the light colour was just nasty. I eventually just fitted halogens back in the light units, and recessed LED strip lights in various places for a subtle lighting option, one of which is on the front of the drop down bed, making it look from the front like one of those crazy over illuminated trucks when on!
Guess what we found to be the best lighting solution? - A normal 240V bedside table lamp with an LED bulb. Just runs off the invertor and produces nice lighting.

- then the worst job of all, noticing sometimes awful smells when driving if ‘someone’ had used the loo and it hadnt been emptied, and noticing effluent collecting in the cassette recess, I diagnosed (eventually :( ) a leaky cassette seal. It was limescale, same thing as knackers kettles and shower heads, causing it to fail to fully seal when closed, then driving would allow splashes to make it outside the tank and into the van - an unpleasant job, but very simply fixed by removing the silicone seal in the tank and thoroughly cleaning it with a vinegar solution.

In the next post I will outline how the first 2 months went for us mooching around darkest France, not a single night on site or on hook up, if anyone interested :)

Happy new year - Graham and Beatrice
 
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Tombola

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Hello all, this continues my earlier thread started some months ago which got deleted by mods due to me mentioning the B word…

In October we completed the sale of our UK property and set out in our 20yr old B544 to find a project in France. Having been into campers since my early 20s (some near 30 years ago) I want to buy a campsite to develop.

In earlier threads I mentioned how I spent a couple of months prepping the old bus to be completely self sufficient - it had to get through a continental winter with us full timing. We’d be in France, so overnighting would be super easy in their system of aires-de-camping car, however, often there’d be no hook up options and water points would be off to protect from frost damage.

Hence the two 18kg Gaslow LPG tanks, 200Ah of lithium and 600W solar (covering pretty much every spare square foot of the roof) :) and 25/50A B2B to keep the batteries nicely charged. Systems to collect rainwater and even purify river water were all plumbed in. Adamant that she needed a full oven and microwave (excellent way to repurpose the old TV cabinet :) ), and to be able to run hairdryer and hair straighteners, a high end 2kW inverter was also integrated into all the existing electrics, with me in the process discovering that there is definitely such things as ‘low end’ invertors - when the 1st so-called 2kw rated inverter (ebay, c£120) failed under just 1300W of microwave load. I took it apart to find it had an internal, hard soldered, 80A fuse. Here was something advertised as a 2kW (4KW peak!), that was guaranteed to fail if run with more than a 1kW load. I then spent twice a much on something of the same nominal capacity but somehow twice the size.

Already running out of load capacity with safari tent, roof AC (for summer) and sat dish, when I decided I needed an on board alternative mode of transport (a 110kg 250cc motorbike, itself necessitating a 25kg chassis carrier for my elderly non-garage equipped camper :)) - I had to uprate. Going to the max 3700kg kept us (just about) the right side of UK law. Some Dunlop air assistance on the Alko torsion bar took care of the ‘soggy bottom’, and uprated springs and new dampers at the front took care of the ‘soggy front’ (?)

Loads of stuff goes wrong with old campers - since prepping it and doing a trial run in summer, in addition to routine servicing, I have sorted all manner of stuff

- fridge sparking constantly (serviced, burner cleaned, water ingress (from hob drain) issue resolved
- drop down bed gas struts failed (replaced easily and cheaply enough with pattern 170N units).
- water pump failed (again replaced easy enough. I now carry a spare pump as it is really inconvenient to have no water at all)
- water pump non return valve then failed (fixed with a second in line non return valve)
- boiler purge valve failed (again easy enough replacement)

with all these fixed, for the first time I had pressure remaining in all taps at any time (instead of gurgles and spluttering when opening if left for more than 10min..). This then caused the shower tap to fail internally (drip drip heard in the cubicle at night) so I replaced that after 3 attempts to fix it.

- bathroom roof vent failed. Just age and fatigue. replaced with something from ebay which required me to spend a day chopping it to pieces to make it fit…
- kitchen turbo vent failed - in addition to the usual banging when retracting, bearings then went on motor producing terrible noises. After some oiling I have up and bought something cheap on ebay (I by now should have known better). what garbage, a remote control thing which lasted a month before failing.
- roof AC failed on the summer - just age, it was same age as the camper. A Telair Silent whose manufacturer was obviously having a joke with the name..Replaced with a Truma Aventa compact (so I could run it off the solar panels, at least in theory :) ) - this then failed within a month but Truma sent a new sensor under warranty which I fitted myself, after pretending to be a service agent to get them to send it in the first place…..

- light bar electrics all failed when someone in UK bashed into it (and helpfully drove off) - I just made up a new bar

- worst job of all, noticing sometimes awful smells when driving if ‘someone’ had used the loo and it had t been emptied, and noticing effluent collecting in the cassette recess, I diagnosed (eventually :( ) a leaky cassette seal. It was limescale, same thing as knackers the kettles and shower heads, causing it to fail to fully seal when closed, then driving would allow splashes to make it outside the tank and into the van - an unpleasant job, but very simply fixed by removing the silicone seal in the tank and thoroughly cleaning it with a vinegar solution.

In the next post I will outline how the first 2 months went for us mooching around darkest France, not a single night on site or on hook up, if anyone interested :)

Happy new year - Graham and Beatrice
good luck, keep us posted

Have you got some campsites lined up to view then
 
Apr 13, 2019
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Very informative and enjoyable reading.
Look forward to reading more and maybe asking a few technical questions about possible uprating of stuff on our 22 year old ci / fiatducato coachbuilt.

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Mikey RV

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Things can only get better. Keep us informed. And happy new year. (y)
 
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Very informative and enjoyable reading.
Look forward to reading more and maybe asking a few technical questions about possible uprating of stuff on our 22 year old ci / fiatducato coachbuilt.
Not a problem, ask away. I joined in the main to provide some help to others where I can. I was a chartered engineer for over two decades, and as a result just see a camper as just a collection of basic electrical and mechanical systems 😉
 
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Not a problem, ask away. I joined in the main to provide some help to others where I can. I was a chartered engineer for over two decades, and as a result just see a camper as just a collection of basic electrical and mechanical systems 😉
Thanks very much.
Main question is about electrical power.
Our van was built in 2000, so geared around simple 12v and 240v systems ie lead acid12v battery and onboard charger.
Would love to upgrade van to lithium and good solar, but am concerned that the current wiring systems and chargers are likely to be cost prohibitive to upgrade, plus suitable solar and inverter systems.
Might be better to leave as is, ie simple system, which works ok, and wait until we can upgrade to a better and more up to date motorhome.
Ideally looking at being “ self sufficient” ie not relying on ehu.
We dont watch much tv in the van and dont have an oven, but would need to run a low wattage microwave occasionally, and / or a rice cooker.
Fridge can be on gas, as can the boiler and hob, but would be nice to have spare capacity from lithium for phones, tv, ipads, charging radios etc etc plus additional internal lighting.
Current lead acid battery arrangement is somewhat limiting, hence always looking at sites with ehu.
Interested in your thoughts, costwise, and the potential impracticalities or virtually rewiring an entire vans habitational capabilities.
Cheers
😊
PS am not unhappy with what we have, but feel we are limiting our potential use currently.

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OP
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Apr 24, 2018
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Thanks very much.
Main question is about electrical power.
Our van was built in 2000, so geared around simple 12v and 240v systems ie lead acid12v battery and onboard charger.
Would love to upgrade van to lithium and good solar, but am concerned that the current wiring systems and chargers are likely to be cost prohibitive to upgrade, plus suitable solar and inverter systems.
Might be better to leave as is, ie simple system, which works ok, and wait until we can upgrade to a better and more up to date motorhome.
Ideally looking at being “ self sufficient” ie not relying on ehu.
We dont watch much tv in the van and dont have an oven, but would need to run a low wattage microwave occasionally, and / or a rice cooker.
Fridge can be on gas, as can the boiler and hob, but would be nice to have spare capacity from lithium for phones, tv, ipads, charging radios etc etc plus additional internal lighting.
Current lead acid battery arrangement is somewhat limiting, hence always looking at sites with ehu.
Interested in your thoughts, costwise, and the potential impracticalities or virtually rewiring an entire vans habitational capabilities.
Cheers
😊
PS am not unhappy with what we have, but feel we are limiting our potential use currently.

Seems like you have a setup similar to what I had before updating a little.

It’s easy to upgrade, no need to junk anything old, just integrate the new stuff.

Best possible upgrade is batteries, especially if you don’t hook up so much. 200Ah of lithium is about £800 these days. I bought 2 x Renogy 100ah with built in bluetooth. You just download an app and check battery status via your phone.

For summer, next best upgrade is solar. The more the better. You also then need a decent charge controller.

For winter, you need a B2B charger. It’s possible to combine a decent MPPT solar charge controller and decent B2B in one unit.

To keep the old systems, you can use a 50A ideal diode to permit the lithium batteries to discharge via the Elektroblock, maintaining the function of the block and any remote gauges. The diode will not allow the onboard split charge relay to try to charge the lithium’s when engine running, thus protecting the alternator. Also prevents a circular connection from 240V, when powered by invertor, to the lithium batteries.

Connect your invertor to your lithiums, and wire it directly into your distribution board, using a 3 way switch to connect either the EHU input or the invertor (but not both) to the distribution board. Makes it fool proof.

The vehicle lead acid starter battery remains separate, and continues to be charged direct from the alternator. All old systems continue to function exactly as they should. I can send a wiring diagram if you like.
 
OP
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Apr 24, 2018
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Buy a dilapidated chateaux with lots of land and set your own camp site up. (y)
We’ve looked into it. can’t get the permissions so easy nowadays (unless prepared to make the marie very rich, but even he/she doesn’t have final say these days.

Also don’t fancy the time and cost of doing up a chateau. The days of the 100k jobbie a la Dick and Angel are gone. £1m for something half decent and minimum same again to make it barely habitable.

A manoir with the land and necessary permissions is definitely on the radar though

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mikebeaches

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Sure, we’ve already seen half a dozen. By far the most interesting was a former nudist camp :) - So far, all sadly overpriced due to them all having had 2 very good years for some reason.. :rock:
Be interested to know which site 'the former nudist camp' was?
 
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mikebeaches

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I see Dick from Escape To The Chateau is selling up, 45 bedrooms plus all the other bits for £700k👍
I'm not sure that is correct? :unsure: I read an article in the Express that indicated exactly that, but in fact the newspaper appeared to have got completely the wrong end of the stick (surprise surprise ;)). It was another chateaux that had featured in the spin-off show - 'Escape to the Chateau DIY' - up for sale, not Dick and Angel's place. :giggle:
 
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I'm not sure that is correct? :unsure: I read an article in the Express that indicated exactly that, but in fact the newspaper appeared to have got completely the wrong end of the stick (surprise surprise ;)). It was another chateaux that had featured in the spin-off show - 'Escape to the Chateau DIY' - up for sale, not Dick and Angel's place. :giggle:
Definitely the one I think, seen it on a few site, although saying that you cannot believe anything you read on the web🙁🙁
 

mikebeaches

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Definitely the one I think, seen it on a few site, although saying that you cannot believe anything you read on the web🙁🙁
Afraid I believe that is incorrect also and the error just keeps being repeated across various media...

Try this link from the Liverpool Echo which I reckon is - surprisingly - more accurate:



Broken Link Removed


Apologies to the OP - didn't mean to hijack a useful thread. (y)

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Be interested to know which site 'the former nudist camp'
No worries. We’ve talked to many French estate agents. They all used to love the Brits back in the good old days when UK economy was strong and £/€exchange rate was 1:1.50, but those days are gone. The agents all say the same, the Brits were the only ones happy to lavish decent money at restoring characterful old properties. Some agents even told us of Parisian French clients, looking to escape the city during the pandemic who asked to see only properties that had only been owned and renovated by Brits…
As it was explained to us by more than one French agent, we Brits come from a housing market and culture that more or less guarantees that when we invest in UK property, we usually get the investment back come resale. That isn’t the case in France, you don’t get your money back hence they tend not to invest in heavy duty, high quality renovations. if you buy something for €500k, you can invest €400k and if you then marketed, it may sell for €600k. We have met people in this exact position.

To answer the nudist camp question.


bought by Dutch 5 yrs ago and now a glamping site, though the FFN (nudist camp) signs for some reason remain.
 
OP
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Apr 24, 2018
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I see Dick from Escape To The Chateau is selling up, 45 bedrooms plus all the other bits for £700k👍

nope. it’s was one of the much smaller ‘chateau’ featured in their spin off series. 9 bedrooms. While this type of building is still cheaper than UK, the restoration and maintenance costs (similar rules to UK, becoming ever tighter regarding materials you can use etc) that put people off, especially if the thing is in middle of nowhere and can’t easily attract visitors. Fact is you can’t buy a 45 bedroom chateau that isn’t a total ruin and hasn’t had all its land and outbuildings already sold off for less than several million these days.
 
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Seems like you have a setup similar to what I had before updating a little.

It’s easy to upgrade, no need to junk anything old, just integrate the new stuff.

Best possible upgrade is batteries, especially if you don’t hook up so much. 200Ah of lithium is about £800 these days. I bought 2 x Renogy 100ah with built in bluetooth. You just download an app and check battery status via your phone.

For summer, next best upgrade is solar. The more the better. You also then need a decent charge controller.

For winter, you need a B2B charger. It’s possible to combine a decent MPPT solar charge controller and decent B2B in one unit.

To keep the old systems, you can use a 50A ideal diode to permit the lithium batteries to discharge via the Elektroblock, maintaining the function of the block and any remote gauges. The diode will not allow the onboard split charge relay to try to charge the lithium’s when engine running, thus protecting the alternator. Also prevents a circular connection from 240V, when powered by invertor, to the lithium batteries.

Connect your invertor to your lithiums, and wire it directly into your distribution board, using a 3 way switch to connect either the EHU input or the invertor (but not both) to the distribution board. Makes it fool proof.

The vehicle lead acid starter battery remains separate, and continues to be charged direct from the alternator. All old systems continue to function exactly as they should. I can send a wiring diagram if you like.
Good Morning and Happy New Year.
Thanks for your detailed reply and the offer of a wiring diagram, which I am most obliged for.
Look forward to receiving the diagram.
Thanks
 

mikebeaches

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To answer the nudist camp question.


bought by Dutch 5 yrs ago and now a glamping site, though the FFN (nudist camp) signs for some reason remain.
Thanks for the info. As keen naturists we've stayed at a lot of the sites in France, but not that particular one - but I am familiar with the name.

And yes, the Dutch are a nation of naturists and own a surprising number of resorts and campsites in France.

Good luck with your property hunting. (y)
 
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No worries. We’ve talked to many French estate agents. They all used to love the Brits back in the good old days when UK economy was strong and £/€exchange rate was 1:1.50, but those days are gone. The agents all say the same, the Brits were the only ones happy to lavish decent money at restoring characterful old properties. Some agents even told us of Parisian French clients, looking to escape the city during the pandemic who asked to see only properties that had only been owned and renovated by Brits…
As it was explained to us by more than one French agent, we Brits come from a housing market and culture that more or less guarantees that when we invest in UK property, we usually get the investment back come resale. That isn’t the case in France, you don’t get your money back hence they tend not to invest in heavy duty, high quality renovations. if you buy something for €500k, you can invest €400k and if you then marketed, it may sell for €600k. We have met people in this exact position.

To answer the nudist camp question.


bought by Dutch 5 yrs ago and now a glamping site, though the FFN (nudist camp) signs for some reason remain.
Although really liking your thread and I am sure lots on here would use your campsite you do seem to be working at cross purpose with on one hand saying how you stay off grid and don't use campsites but on the other hand saying how you are going to open one.
If everyone was to take your first advice which in fact most on here do, it's not going to work very well with your project.
Another thing to watch out for is campingcarpark, will they be opening one near to you when you buy as they are in a position to take a lot of your custom.
Other than that I wish you well with it, something I would have looked at myself twenty years ago if things had been different. (y)

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OP
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Apr 24, 2018
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Good Morning and Happy New Year.
Thanks for your detailed reply and the offer of a wiring diagram, which I am most obliged for.
Look forward to receiving the diagram.
Thanks
No Problem. It’s in my head so I will scribble something down.

In terms of components and costs, I decided to use one company, they are market leaders, products are decent quality and extremely competitively priced. Company was Renogy, a USA company manufacturing (as do all) in China.

2022 prices - might have gone up a bit

Solar - Renogy 100W x 6 (£85 each) plus wires and fittings and stuff to fix to roof - c. £600
Integrated 25/50A Solar MPPT controller/B2B charger and remote display - £250
200Ah of lithium with BMS and bluetooth - £850
2kW PSW invertor - £250

Wires and fuses: you need 10m of 4mm external grade from the solar to an isolator switch, 10m of 10mm to the B2B/charge controller 5m of 16mm from starter battery to the B2B/charge controller, another 3m of 16mm from the B2B/charge controller to the lithium/lithiums, and 1-2m of 25mm between the batteries and the invertor. A length of 240V 10A 1.5mm cable from the invertor (using a standard plug) to a 3 way industrial switch also connected to the incoming from the EHU socket. Then a 10A 1.5mm wire to the distribution board.
each wire run should have an appropriate fuse, close to the source. I used 60A for the leisure battery connection, the same from B2B to lithiums. Then a 150A fuse between lithiums and invertor.

The secret sauce
On these old buses there will be a 10mm wire with a 50A fuse (and seperate 2A fused voltage monitor lead) running to the 12V control block, usually a Schaudt Elektroblock, the lead will be where the original leisure battery was located, often user drivers seat. Just connect these leads to the lithium batteries using a 50A ideal diode, about £15 on amazon, retaining their 2A and 50A fuses.

Wires, fuses, connectors etc about £150

Total will be roughly £2000 - it sounds a lot but will transform your van.

The lithiums will easily charge and be maintained by the panels in summer, as will the lead acid, which will be trickle charged by the B2B using solar. If not enough energy from solar (autumn/winter) just running the engine will charge at 25A plus whatever is from the solar. If insufficient from solar (ie winter) you can charge at 50A by isolating solar and running engine. An hour of engine running in winter is enough to recover a full days electrics use for us, and we use 240V electrics as if at home, with amplifiers on board home cinema etc. Even in winter, if it’s a bright day, and we are in the open, the solar alone is enough.

The lithiums will not charge when on EHU. But they don’t need to. If on EHU they won’t be discharged, as all power will come from the hook up. The lithiums will always be maintained with whatever comes from the solar panels. You can even cover or garage the van over winter, and they will be fine if left for months with a 50% charge as they don’t really self discharge and are not damaged by discharge (don’t need a conditioner). You can use a conditioner to maintain the starter battery in this case (don’t use ehu long term to keep starter lead acid charged, it will boil it)

Cheers, and again happy new year. Written with hangover so apologies for typos etc
 
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Apr 24, 2018
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Although really liking your thread and I am sure lots on here would use your campsite you do seem to be working at cross purpose with on one hand saying how you stay off grid and don't use campsites but on the other hand saying how you are going to open one.
If everyone was to take your first advice which in fact most on here do, it's not going to work very well with your project.
Another thing to watch out for is campingcarpark, will they be opening one near to you when you buy as they are in a position to take a lot of your custom.
Other than that I wish you well with it, something I would have looked at myself twenty years ago if things had been different. (y)
yes I’m aware of this - also aware that few people are as keen on wild camping as we are. I like the idea of an aire de camping car, fully automated with barrier. They are usually created when the old camping municipal is sold off by the commune. Our eyes are open :)
 
Apr 30, 2018
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First off very interesting and informative thread. You must have the patience of a saint to take on such a large project. With that level of detail and tenacity, together with your wife Beatrice you’ll have no problem achieving your objective (dream). All I would say is, try to find an existing site no matter in what condition, rather than starting with a blank canvas and all the issues and extra expense that come with that approach.
Good Luck to you both, enjoy the adventure. You never know we might even meet in your reception as we’re booking in for a couple of nights.
 
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911
4,109
France
Funster No
53,567
MH
2001 Hymer B544
Exp
Since 1992
First off very interesting and informative thread. You must have the patience of a saint to take on such a large project. With that level of detail and tenacity, together with your wife Beatrice you’ll have no problem achieving your objective (dream). All I would say is, try to find an existing site no matter in what condition, rather than starting with a blank canvas and all the issues and extra expense that come with that approach.
Good Luck to you both, enjoy the adventure. You never know we might even meet in your reception as we’re booking in for a couple of nights.
Thanks. That is precisely what we plan to do :)

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