Tag Archives: charge controller

Lucky Contacts in Pennsylvania

This is our Airstream’s first time in Pennsylvania. Various interests have pulled us all over the continent except, until now, the North Atlantic regions. The Airstream Club invited us to attend a region rally in Centre Hall (it really is in the “centre” of Pennsylvania.) We stopped first for a few days in Penn Wood Airstream Park. Thanks to Rorie, the Park President, for allowing us in despite a very busy Memorial Day weekend in the Park. And thanks to the many folks we met this weekend for their friendliness. We’ve had a great stay in their home park and look forward to our next visit.

The space Rorie found for us is at the top edge of Penn Wood (maybe she was hiding us?) It is a pretty and very quiet site. Our roof-mounted ham radio antenna works well here, better than many places we’ve visited. The nearby trees are fabulously tall white pines. I couldn’t resist hanging another antenna over the top of a great tree on this hill.

Good antennas plus good atmospheric conditions provide opportunities for long range conversations on the ham radio. The last couple of nights I’ve talked to hams in Slovenia, Geneva, Aruba, San Diego, Mille Lacs Lake (MN) and Rentz (GA.) The wire antenna I was using, the site we were in, and great conditions all combined for easy and fun work on the radio.

I’ve tried a lot of different portable antennas and wasn’t thrilled with many of them. I have a favorite antenna now. I learned a couple of years ago about a simple antenna from an article on the internet. The antenna consists of one 71′ piece of 12 gauge wire and an electronic box at the bottom. The box is an auto coupler, or auto tuner, and sits on the aluminum roof of our Airstream. The wire attaches to it, and a coaxial cable (similar to cablevision for your television) connects to the radio inside our Airstream.

Sometimes the wire attracts attention, often it doesn’t. The wire’s insulation is grayish brown and the wire isn’t large. The rope pulling the wire steeply upward toward the tree is smaller than the wire. Combined they are over ninety feet long and go very high up to the tall white pine across the driveway. If you look carefully at this picture, you might see the wire sloping upward away from the trailer.

end fed antenna

Two nights ago I turned on the radio, tuned up, and bang! I heard the station in Slovenia calling for North America. A few minutes later I heard the Geneva station then the one in Aruba. Last night I was listening for a few minutes and trying to reach a Naples station I heard. The Naples station fell silent and I heard a person asking, “Is the frequency in use?”

I waited while he tuned up and answered when he called “CQ, CQ, anyone anywhere?” Gordie was visiting Mille Lacs Lake and trying out his very old radio with good luck. I don’t think the radio is quite as old as Gordie though — he’s 92 and says he’s been a ham for 75 years. I started too late to ever match that! We had an enjoyable conversation for almost a half hour. Doesn’t happen often but is nice when it does.

Last week we were at the Airstream factory and at the Airstream Club central offices, both in Jackson Center OH. Enjoyed working with other members of the Club’s leadership on budget for next FY and plans for next year’s big summer rally. Membership is rising again, no doubt helped by the prodigious increases in production and sales from the Airstream factory and dealers. This year’s Airstream Club President Joe Perryman deserves a lot of credit too. He worked collaboratively two years ago with a team of very interested members to develop an action plan for the Club.

Joe and his team have a lot of great ideas to improve the club. They arrived at a series of priority issues to accomplish during his leadership year. Under Joe’s watch the Club has implemented a digital directory (“Big Red Numbers Lookup”, some friends call it.) Joe relaxed the dress code for business meetings. He reinstated the electronic newsletter, “News and Views”; issued a survey of Club membership; hired a new Corporate Manager; has continued support for modernizing the Club’s administrative processes and has pushed for on line registration and renewals. It’s been a good year, and things are looking up for the Airstream Club!

While at the Airstream factory we asked the service center to do an annual tune-up on our trailer brakes. It turned out to be a little more than expected. The excellent service techs found a problem with two of our wheels’ brakes and quickly adjusted their work plans for the afternoon to finish this up and get us going before closing time.

Nothing is without a cost, though. I was hoping for a brake adjustment and repacking the trailer’s wheel bearings. Sometimes this work has cost us under $100. This time the techs showed us damaged drum faces and ruined brake magnets in our wheels apparently caused by a pair of lost retaining clips. They explained very well what must be done. Our bill was $1,000 to bring everything up to safe working order.

It’s a relief to have the brakes and bearings in best condition and ready for another year on the road. An interesting thing about the Airstream factory service center technicians — they work ten years in the Airstream assembly plant before eligibility for joining the service center. Pretty good credentials, we think! We try to stop by every year or two and catch up on needed repairs.

This afternoon found me begging to tackle anything productive. Our solar charge controller quit working ten days ago, displaying one bright red light and doing no work at all. We don’t have specific plans for boon docking in the near future. We’ve found over the past eight years the solar power system is very convenient to keep our batteries up no matter where we go. This charge controller’s only four years old and should be good for many more years but just stopped working. I had lined up a replacement unit identical to this one (BZ Products 2500HV) and decided to take a look before I ordered the new one.


Pulled the fuse from the solar panels, carefully removed all the mounting screws to release the control box from it’s mounting spot. I took the unit out into bright sunlight and Debbie and I examined it very closely for any cold solder joints or blown components on the circuit board. The circuit board was dirty but everything looked fine to our unpracticed eyes.


I carefully dusted off the board and realized I might have gotten by with just resetting power to the board to clear the failure. It hadn’t occurred to me earlier because I expected to find a blown capacitor on the board or a loose connection. Crossing my fingers as much as I could while wielding a screwdriver, I reassembled the control box and reinstalled it with all the electrical connections.

When I reconnected the fuse the charge controller worked again. Four more years trouble-free service? I hope so. Having the solar collectors and charging is very handy and has allowed us lengthy stays in Quartzite, NC mountains, and elsewhere without any commercial power connections. Even when we’re connected to shore power, the solar charging system reduces our demand on the grid. Nice to have.

This reminds me of another problem we corrected a few days ago. We’re connected to an old park power system and apparently are on the long end of it. Voltage is low and power is almost non-existent. We can’t run the microwave without going below 108vac. The low power tends to make me hyper aware of potential problems.

I was probing around, just looking for another problem when I realized our batteries weren’t doing anything. We’re connected to shore power, the park’s 110vac system. We generally assume the batteries are ready to go too. I turned off the trailer’s main 110vac breaker, and everything turned off. Not s’posed to happen!

Hmm, did low voltage mess up our charger? Are our batteries shot? Calmly, I pulled the trailer’s 12vdc two main fuses, one at a time, and put them back in (you can see the pair of 30a main fuses in the below picture.) The second one was apparently a little corroded, because when I plugged it back in everything powered up. A little strange. . . I’ll be tightening up all the 12vdc and 120vac terminals on our power system today!


We feel very fortunate to have everything working well so much of the time. Bouncing down the road more than 100,000 miles in ten years is what the Airstream trailer is made for, but it can’t be easy. That’s a lot of shaking and braking, and fortunately not so much breaking. We often do routine maintenance and cleaning and try to keep a sharp eye and ear out for trouble. A well-built RV helps reduce problems. A little luck helps too.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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Solar Charging Stuff for RVs We Should Have Known

winter tilt position on our roof

winter tilt position on our roof

You might be interested in buying into the quietest electrical power generator? There is no fuel to keep up with and pour (and spill). Maintenance is very minimal for the panels, just wiping them off, ensuring they are well-attached to the RV, and keeping the wires secure and free of chafing. You should already be tending your batteries to keep them clean, topped off with distilled water (unless yours are “no-maintenance”), and keeping the connections tightened, no matter whether you have solar panels or not.

pair of 125 watt solar panels

pair of 125 watt solar panels

Solar makes sense for more RVers than just full-timers. These roof-top battery chargers allow us to go most of the year without ever needing to use the trailer’s electrically-powered battery charger. A small solar charging system can tend your batteries for your RV without any shore power connections. A larger system can keep up with all your daily uses for your RV’s batteries including fans, lights, water pump, and even ham radio operations.

from http://www.solarchoice.net.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/Module-cost-vs-BoS-costs-on-average.jpgStill higher end systems can also provide all the DC, or 12 volt power, as well as your 110 volt power for your RV. You could run your microwave, hair dryer, coffee pot and more from your batteries, all recharged with solar panels. Beware though, there are costs to all this. The trick, as with so many things, is to strike your optimal balance between cost and benefit.

Before you consider buying anything, study up a bit.  Don’t buy anything yet!  The two links that follow this paragraph provide helpful information about solar panels, controllers, what sizes are useful.  

Look at http://www.windsun.com, halfway down the page. They have “Solar Information Pages” with good learning info about solar.

Look at amsolar’s rv_solar_education pages. They provide good learning info.

Before you buy anything, read this short post we wrote about installing a meter to measure and record battery usage and capacity.  We highly recommend anyone consider carefully this tool before spending a dime on changing the size of their battery bank or adding more solar panels.  If you don’t know what size shoe you wear, why would you order a pair of shoes without being fitted first?<

Trimetric Meter by our fridge

Trimetric Meter by our fridge

The meter we installed in October 2013, in case you did NOT read the article I just told you to, is a Trimetric 2025RV.  It costs $180 from BestConverter, including the required shunt. You can see it through this link. We bought the approx 25′ of control wire from a really neat store in Boise Idaho, they spooled off 25′ of Cat5 for about $5.  We had the battery cables we needed to connect the meter in-line with our batteries and the house.

No one told us to have a cooling off period or to learn more.  Well, we learned more anyhow — we studied our fannies off learning about so many sizes and brands of solar.  Solar was smoking hot in 2007, the dealers could not keep good panels on the shelves.  Same with charge controllers (you already learned in the first two links way above, these are very important), they were often unavailable.

We somehow stumbled upon a very nicely documented description of installing solar panels ON OUR VERY RV — Yep, Don had installed a pair of solar panels atop a 2005 Airstream CCD 25 trailer.  Wow, we’re supposed to do this.  We tried to be just like Don.  We ordered the same kit from the same place, put our panels in the same spot, installed our charge controller in the same blank panel.  This is too easy!

Well, it wasn’t quite so simple.  You see, you have some days luckier than others.  The day we installed our solar panels was a less lucky day.  Jim drilled holes in our trailer’s roof. Eight 5/16″ holes, four feet for each panel, didn’t take very long to make.  The panels attached easily to the roof with the supplied mounting hardware and . . .

Inside the trailer the 12 volt lights didn’t work anymore.  Oh, it’s probably something really simple.  No. A wire must be cut somewhere from all that drilling.

see the patched hand-hole from patching wires?

see the patched hand-hole from patching wires?

After much snarling and searching and spending sleepless nights, Jim found the one hole in which the drill bit had touched two wires.  The insulation stripped off, the two wires were crossed and shorting out.  Finding the problem was the hard part.  Jim spent only an hour or two fixing these two wires and our solar charging system has worked fantastically since.

Here is one more link, to a seller with very nearly the same system we bought over five years ago. This is our favorite system, the 270 watt one, close to what we have but seems a bit sharper and is certainly much less expensive than what we paid then. The technology has improved in five years, although we’ve read the manufacturing may be lower quality. The article we read from NY Times reported a case where the failure rate for newly manufactured panels has risen from below 5% to between 13 and 22%.

P1120863We are now more advanced users due to lots of practice — full-time with the solar charging system for over five years.  All the components are original, but we’ve enlarged the battery storage to four 6v golf cart batteries.  Jim can now rest assured of having full power for his ham radios before sun-up tomorrow, every day. Debbie rests confident Jim will not once ask her, “are you still using that light or may I turn it off for you?”  We have lots of battery capacity.

arm uni go powerJim installed a neat tilting system for our solar panels. Our panels can be up to 30% more effective by tilting than if lying flat on our roof.  This is especially useful in winter months, when the sun is much lower angle in the sky and solar gain is much harder to obtain.  

both panels now tilt at once

both panels now tilt at once

Our panels, tilted up, are ready to get all the solar they can in winter.  At least each quarter-year, Jim changes the amount of tilt to correspond with the sun’s higher, or lower, path across the sky.  And no, we do not travel down the road with the solar panels tilted up. The panels lie flat on the roof for travel.  Jim can easily and quickly tilt the panels, standing on a ladder leaned against the trailer’s side.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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