Monday, January 25, 2016

SOLAR!

Hi everybody!

Last week, we went to Woodland WA and Eugene, OR to get some upgrades done on the RV.  The biggest upgrade that we have ever done was last week when we decided to install solar. 

Our first stop was Dave and LJ’s Interior Design in Woodland, WA.  Late last year, Dave and LJ’s installed new AutoMotion Shades throughout the RV.  The cornice boxes over the driver side window and passenger door had to be extended down about 4 inches to cover the top of the blinds.  When they were re-installing the pillar cap on the left side of the front windshield, they accidentally cut the wrong end.  It had to be cut down in order to go around the new window cornice boxes.   This meant that they had to order a new pillar cap from Newmar.  It took quite some time to be shipped and delivered.  Dave and LJ’s finally received it in mid-November, but we couldn’t find the time to get back down there before our trip to OKC in December, so our first opportunity to get it replaced was last week.

Because we were going to be in Woodland, we decided we would take this opportunity to drive 2 more hours south to AM Solar, Inc. in Springfield, OR to get a quote to add solar to the RV.

So, on Monday, January 18th, we drove to Woodland and stayed overnight at Columbia Riverfront RV Park.  It is the same park that we always stay at when we go to Woodland.  You can see our review on this blog under the tab “Campground/RV Park Reviews”.

On Tuesday morning, we had a 9 am appointment at Dave and LJ’s.  It took them about an hour to replace the pillar cap.  Once that was done, we drove to Coburg, OR, which is just 5 miles north of the Eugene/Springfield area.

We stayed at Premier RV Resorts.  You can see our review on this blog under the tab “Campground/RV Park Reviews”.  The next morning, we had a 9 am appointment at AM Solar. 

So why go solar?  Solar, for most people, is not a cost-saver.  Depending on the panels, equipment and installation, it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000.  The return on investment can take a few years to make sense financially.  If you mainly use campgrounds or just stay off the grid for a day or two, then solar is not necessary.  If you like to go off the grid and boondock for days and weeks at a time, then solar makes a lot of sense. 

We have been thinking of adding solar for quite some time because we want to be able to boondock once we start traveling full time.  With the 30% tax rebate ending in December 2016, we thought we should get a quote now so we could see how much it was going to cost.  Armed with that information, we could then decide if we wanted to go ahead and get solar or not.  We also knew that AM Solar books out several months in advance and we needed to make that decision now so we would have time to get on their calendar.  In fact, as of last week, they were booked through July with just a couple of random weeks free.

We chose AM Solar because they are well known throughout the RV community for being experts in RV solar installations.  People come from every corner of the U.S. to get their solar installed here.  We are very lucky that they are within driving distance for us.  Several of the employees are full time RVers and every employee understands the specialized needs of an RVer.  Our appointment was with Roger, who was super smart and extremely helpful.  He put everything in layman terms that we could understand and walked us through the process. 

Let me preface this next part by saying that I have almost no clue what I am talking about and I am only providing the bare minimum information.  There were several calculations that Roger did that were way above my head but the bare essentials are listed below.  At the end of this article, I will link several different RV blogs and websites that go into more detail that would be very beneficial reading if you are considering solar for your RV.

The first step for any solar installation is to determine your average usage in amp hours.  When you are contemplating solar, your average usage should be for those “necessary” items.  For us, that is our residential fridge, Tex’s CPAP and that is about it.  Lights, phone and laptop charging even watching TV are not “necessary” as you can get by without them. 

To determine our average usage, we looked up the yellow energy sticker for our fridge.  We used the yearly average kWh and converted that to amp hours and divided that down to the daily average.  We then went out to the RV and turned on Tex’s CPAP and used a voltage meter to determine how many amps it used and then multiplied that by 8 hours of normal sleep time.

So how many panels did we need? After all the final calculations were conducted, Roger determined that we needed a minimum of 500 watts of solar to run just our fridge around the clock and CPAP for 8 hours a day.  Roger then priced two different systems for us to consider.  One was for 640 watts and the other was for 840 watts.   

I should also state that we already upgraded our inverter/charger in May of last year when we installed the new residential fridge.  We have a Magnum 2800-watt pure sine wave inverter/charger so we did not need to purchase an inverter along with the solar.  We also had to replace our coach and house batteries last summer and we chose to go with flooded batteries so we do not need new batteries right now.  We will more than likely upgrade to AGM batteries before the end of the year so we can include the cost with our solar tax rebate.   The reason we will upgrade to AGM batteries is because they charge faster and since they are sealed, there is the bonus of no more maintenance.  Because of this, we will be able to reconfigure the battery compartment and will be able to add 2 additional AGM batteries, which will bring the battery capacity more in line with our solar wattage capacity. 

So what did we decide?  Well, let me just say it was an expensive week!  We did decide to go ahead and get solar and we decided to get the 840 watt system.  The 640 watt system would have barely met our minimum requirements and would have left hardly any capacity for any other electrical usage such as watching TV (football, Nascar, baseball etc anyone?), cooking or charging devices etc. 

We had planned to get the solar installed towards the end of this year so we could take advantage of the tax rebate and because we won’t be traveling full time until next year.  But once we made the final decision to get solar, I made a joke to Roger asking what their schedule looked like Thursday and Friday.  I knew they were booked out over 6 months in advance and was really just teasing. We had Thursday and most of Friday available as we didn’t plan to drive back home until Friday afternoon and Saturday so I thought I would just throw that idea out there. We were very surprised when Roger said that they did in fact have Thursday and Friday open as the people that had those two days reserved couldn’t get over the mountain passes due to the snow. 


Putting cardboard down to measure and make proper placement.

Putting cardboard down to measure and make proper placement.

Starting to place panels on roof



























So, that is how we ended up having the solar installed in such a quick fashion.  This also saved us several hundred dollars in diesel costs and RV park costs to drive back down to Oregon in addition to Tex having to take another few days off of work. 

The main part of system we ended up getting is listed below:
    •      TriStar MPPT 60 Controller
    •       Roof Combiner Box
    •       4 – SF 160 watt Solar Panel Kits
    •       2 – SF 100 watt Solar Panel Kits
    •       5 Tilt Bar sets
    •       Battery Monitor Kit (BMK) for Magnum Inverters
    •       BMK Power Wire Harness
    •       On/Off Switch for Solar System
    •       Extra fuses
    •       Dicor Lap Sealant
    •       Various cables/parts
    •       Labor to install above


We also have room on the roof for two more solar panels if we decide to add more in the future.  The controller we chose also allows us room to expand our system as well.

In addition to the above equipment, we also added an on/off switch so that we can isolate the house batteries from the inverter as well as a few other improvements to our battery and inverter system. 

Let me now say a few things about AM Solar, Inc.  Every single employee is amazing.  Each one went out of their way to make us comfortable and feel welcome.  They answered all of our questions, some of them several times and were extremely patient with us. 

They have a great waiting area with a couch, table and chairs, lots of books and magazines, tea, soda, coffee, free wifi, lots of electrical outlets for charging your devices and anything else you may need.  They even shared a “Mock Apple Pie” with us!  They are extremely dog friendly.  They have a doggie gate for across the door to the waiting area and have the funniest doggie water bowl in the waiting room.  They also have a patio door off the waiting room to the outside so you can come and go as you need.





The girls loved the water bowl!

Love this doggie bowl!!


Working equipment so you can see how it works and
what they are talking about during your consultation



Their business is located on a huge piece of property that is heavily wooded with lots of squirrels and has a large pond with resident geese.  They have several sets of outdoor lawn furniture and even have some adult swings that are actually chairs with cup holders.


Some of the lawn furniture and part of the
pond in the background.

River that runs behind the property.


View from the back portion of the property at AM Solar


Loved these swings!
Elsie loved swinging with me!

Part of the pond on the property


Another part of pond




They continually kept us informed on their status and offered recommendations on ways to improve our current battery and inverter setup.  Based on their recommendations, we did have them do several different upgrades and we are so thankful for their expertise.  Each employee there is very knowledgeable in regards to RV solar and electricity and they have such a natural way to explain it to you in ways that you can understand.  We can’t recommend them highly enough. 

There are several RV bloggers on the Internet that have written extensively about solar and how they set up their system.  There are also several websites that we have found to be very helpful.  I will list a few below but just know that there are a lot more out there than the few I will list.  Be sure to do due diligence if you are considering adding solar to your RV.

A few of the websites we found helpful were:



Now that we have solar, we can’t wait to get out and use it.  Even if we can’t get anywhere to boondock any time soon, having the solar will allow us to disconnect from the RV park power and enable us to save on our monthly electric bill. 

So, that is our story in a nutshell.  If you are thinking about solar for your RV, be sure to call AM Solar at 541-726-1091.  They will spend as much time with you as you need and will answer all of your questions. 

~Until next time!


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