Category Archives: Research

Solar RV Air Conditioning – Financially Frugal or Folly?

Background and Setup:

Jason and Nikki Wynn recently proved that, yes, with a specialized setup, you can absolutely have Solar RV Air Conditioning! The definitive proof is here, in their video.

The catch being that The Wynns have a VERY high tech (and therefore VERY expensive!) solar setup on their RV. They’ve gone into tremendous (and extremely helpful!) detail on the cost of parts and installation on their RV in this post on their website. The cost of their solar installation (6 panels, Solar Charge Controller, 700ah of Lithium battery cells, Inverter, AutoGenStart, Battery monitoring kit, Inverter Remote) was a whopping $16,352.74!

Nikki and Jason demonstrated that with their solar installation supplying 85% of it’s listed potential,  the Air Conditioner had only about 30-35ah net draw from the battery bank. The question on my mind is this…they have proven that it’s entirely possible on a technical level to run your Air Conditioner off a specialized solar set up…
…but is it cost effective?

How much does it cost to run a generator?

A quick look around the internet (Gas buddy and other places) reveals that the cost of gasoline has averaged about $2.95 per gallon over the last 10 years. Checking my Onan Generator Manual, I find that the Onan 5500 watt generator will use 0.6 Gallons of Gas per hour when running one Air Conditioner, and will use 1 gallon of gas per hour when running both air conditioners. This means that the cost to run a single Coleman Mach air conditioner using an Onan generator has averaged $1.77 per hour over the last 10 years.

Note that this figure also has implications when it gets warm and you don’t have solar, and you’re deciding between WalMart/Love’s or paying to ‘day-stay’ at an RV park with a power pedestal…even at $4/gallon, boondocking someplace while running the generator to power both Air Conditioners for 10 hours is still more frugal than a $40 RV Park stay.

…but I digress…

How long could The Wynns run Solar RV Air Conditioning?

Jason and Nikki’s battery bank is a 700 amp-hour Lithium LYP Battery bank. They have their charge controller set conservatively to allow them to use 70% of the power from the battery bank (500/700ah used). The LYP battery design, however would allow them to safely discharge the batteries to a 90% drained state (630/700ah used) with no damage.

Jason and Nikki have 960 watts of tiltable solar panels on the roof, and they state in their tech post that this panel setup could supply 54 amps inbound when it’s running at 100%. In the video, it’s supplying 43 amps to their battery bank, meaning it’s running at about 79% peak (idealized) capacity, and the same panel shows that they have ‘banked’ 290 amp hours for the day. Not bad for a sunny day in January!

The Coleman Mach Air Conditioner they have is pulling 76-80 amps when the compressor is running and the unit is cooling, and 27 amps when the compressor is off and only the fan is running. That’s important, because Air Conditioners don’t run their compressors 100% of the time except in the most brutal of conditions. They cycle off and on to keep the coach at a pre-selected temperature, and even when they’re on, the compressor will often cycle on and off to prevent icing in lower temperatures or other specific conditions.

The net draw from the battery bank with the compressor running and the air conditioner cooling the coach is shown in the video to be 36.3 amps.

If we presume that they shot the video around halfway through the day, we can safely presume that they’ll be able to bank another 290 amp hours before sundown, for a daily ‘break even’ total of 580 amp hours stored sunshine for the day.

Daily 580ah solar in divided by 80ah Solar Air Conditioning Draw out means that Nikki could theoretically stand on that kitchen chair for 7h 15m per day with the air conditioning compressor running a 100% duty cycle (always on and cooling), and they would break even on the power stored and used.

If it weren’t particularly hot, and the A/C were only on a 50% duty cycle… Theoretically they could potentially run the air conditioner 14.5 hours per day.

How Does That Compare To Running A Generator?

In extreme (100% duty cycle) heat, running a single Coleman Mach air conditioner 7.25 hours per day means the generator will use 4.35 gallons of gas – at a recent historical average of $2.95 per gallon, the generator will cost $12.93 per day to run.
In moderate heat (50% duty cycle) running a single Coleman Mach air conditioner 14.5 hours per day means the generator will use 8.7 gallons of gas, which will cost, on average, $25.86 per day.

We’ll presume that the average temperature (and duty cycle) for air conditioning will lie somewhere between those two points, and that it would cost $20 per day on average to run the generator to provide AC for the A/C.

How Do The Numbers Shake Out?

Cost of Jason and Nikki’s Solar Installation: $16,352.74
Number of days requiring air conditioning to break even @$20/day: 817.6 days.

At first blush, that seems like a VERY long time, presuming you would ever get to that point without having to replace some expensive parts, like batteries or solar panels.

HOWEVER…

If you were to elect to use your newly found Solar RV Air Conditioning Freedom and decide that you don’t have to chase 70* to keep cool the way you have in the past, and that meant you were to run the air conditioner 180 days per year, a $16,000 solar installation capable of running the coach air conditioning pays for itself in eliminated generator fuel costs in a little over 4.5 years!

Conclusion – YES!

It appears that not only is a specialized solar set-up technically capable of powering a Coleman Mach air conditioner in most climates for the bulk of the year, but it further appears that it is Financially Frugal and NOT Financial Folly to do so!

This seems like a terrific option for people who

  • Have 60-80 square feet of unshaded roof space.
  • Have a pile of money that they can spend on a longish return investment.
  • Would use Air Conditioning at least 180 days per year.
  • Are exceptionally happy with the RV they currently have, and are unlikely to move coaches.

Note: This entire article relies on some amount of theoretical extrapolation of provided real world values, and that it further hinges on the fact that The Wynns have not yet talked about whether they have stress-tested their Solar Air Conditioning setup to see how many hours of Air Conditioning (at a ‘normal’ thermostat setting of, say, 70*/21*c) they can have before they reach their 70% battery drain cutoff mark on their LYP battery bank. Finally, it relies most heavily on me not having borked up the math someplace. If I did, I’m sure there will be a comment, and I can correct my error(s).

Cat Food Basics…

CAT FOOD BASICS:
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they require nutrients that are found ONLY in animal tissue. Cats need tons of protein and have no need for carbohydrates in their diets. Carbs basically just make cats fat and cause diseases, but dry cat foods are loaded with carbs because they help the kibble stick together in the manufacturing process. Canned foods are all very low in carbohydrates. Canned foods also have the added benefit of forcing your cat to consume more water, which is great because many of the most common cat diseases are improved by increasing water intake (kidney disease, UTIs, blockages, crystals, etc.).

So here are the criteria for a good cat food:

  • High Protein
  • Low in Carbohydrates
  • High in Moisture
  • High-Quality Ingredients

If we’re looking at just carbohydrates and protein, canned food is better than dry food. Even the cheapest grocery store generic canned food is better than 99% of dry foods. Canned food is more expensive and less convenient, so to keep things simple, there are separate lists for canned foods and dry foods. The brands are primarily ranked on nutrient makeup (carbs & protein), and then bumped down a notch or two for containing low-quality ingredients.

For brands in this list, if one company makes grain-free and non-grain-free foods, you can usually assume that their grain-free food is at least marginally better (lower carbs, higher protein). You can also assume that any formula labeled “light, diet, weight control, or indoor” is at least marginally worse (higher carbs) than the regular stuff from the same brand.

Some flavors of food are significantly better than other flavors of the same brand. There is a huge amount of variation. If you want more detailed and accurate information, post in this thread and we’d be happy to help you choose.

CAT FOOD BRANDS

Premium Canned Foods — These foods are very low in carbohydrates and very high in protein. They also use excellent ingredients (no corn, soy, byproducts, or anything like that). Generally <15% of the calories in these foods come from carbohydrates, which is what your cat is designed to eat.

Blue Buffalo
By Nature (95% Meat formulas)
California Naturals
Chicken Soup
Innova
Innova EVO
Merrick
Nature’s Variety Instinct
Solid Gold
Wellness

Good Canned Foods — These foods are mostly a little higher in carbs and a little lower in protein, or they use some lower-quality ingredients in relatively small amounts. But they’re still very good foods and better than most dry foods.

Authority
Avoderm
By Nature Organics
Fresh Pet
Natural Balance
Nature’s Variety Prairie
Nutro
Organix
Pinnacle
Purina Pro Plan (regular & Selects)
Royal Canin
Taste of the Wild

Acceptable Canned Foods — These foods are mostly still better than dry foods in terms of nutrients, but many of them use byproducts, corn, and soy as protein sources. They may also use artifical presevatives/colors, menadione, and other low-quality ingredients. How good these foods are varies A LOT from flavor to flavor. If you have to feed these foods, I recommend that you 1) look at these two charts (here and here) and choose flavors with the biggest numbers in the protein column and the smallest numbers in the carb column, and 2) read the ingredient labels and pick the flavors with the least awful ingredients. You should also know that most of these “cheaper” canned foods contain significantly more water than the premium foods, which means you may not be saving as much money as you think. For example, if you compare the cost based on calories (instead of ounces), many Fancy Feast flavors are more expensive than Wellness.

By Nature Goldleaf Selects
Fancy Feast
Friskies
9-Lives
Science Diet
Sophisticat
Special Kitty
Whiskas

Next, Dry Foods. In case you missed this before, CANNED FOOD IS BETTER THAN DRY FOOD FOR CATS.

Good Dry Foods — These are the few dry foods that are almost as good as canned food (in terms of being low in carbs and high in protein). If it weren’t for the fact that they lack moisture, these would be equivalent to Premium or Good canned foods. These foods are also extremely dense in terms of calories per cup of food, so many cats will eat 1/3-1/2 cups a day or less. In short, you’re getting more bang for your buck.
(For example, if you compare the costs based on calories (instead of lbs or kgs), Solid Gold Indigo Moon is cheaper than A LOT of dry foods, including Purina, lots of grocery store crap, and almost every food on the Acceptable list. These foods are expensive by the pound, but they really only cost $6-12 per month to feed an average sized cat.)

Innova EVO
Nature’s Variety Instinct
Orijen
Solid Gold Indigo Moon
Wellness Core

Acceptable Dry Foods— These foods use good ingredients, but they’re too high in carbohydrates and/or too low in protein. Nutritionally, they’re not as good as almost any canned food, but you could do a LOT worse. (These are mostly in the range of 25-30% carbohydrates; there are almost no canned foods this high in carbohydrates.)

Acana
Before Grain (Merrick)
Blue Buffalo
California Naturals
Chicken Soup
Halo/Spot’s Stew
Felidae
Healthwise
Innova
Nature’s Variety Prarie
Pinnacle
Solid Gold Katz-N-Flocken
Taste of the Wild (Rocky Mountain Formula)
Wellness (formulas other than “Core”)

Poor Dry Foods — These aren’t quite as bad as the Awful Dry Foods, but they’re close. These foods either have decent ingredients but huge amounts of carbohydrates, OR they have awful ingredients and moderate amounts of carbohydrates . Most of these are also pretty overpriced for what you’re getting.

Authority
By Nature
Drs Foster & Smith
Eagle Pack
Eukanuba
Flint River Ranch
Natural Balance
Natural Ultramix
Nutro
Organix
Purina Pro Plan (regular & Selects)
Royal Canin
Taste of the Wild (Canyon River Formula)
Wysong

Awful Dry Foods — These foods are the worst – awful ingredients and tons of carbs. They’re loaded with corn, soy, and byproducts. Many of these contain the minimum amount of protein required to be legally labeled “cat food”. Many contain more carbohydrates than protein, which is a recipe for greasy, obese, diabetic cats.

Fancy Feast
Friskies
Iams
Meow Mix
9-Lives
Purina Cat Chow
Purina ONE
Science Diet
Sophisticat
Special Kitty
Tender Vittles
Whiskas

Connecting to the Network using a Ubiquiti NanoStation M2

Because I work from the road, a solid WiFi connection is a must. That means that I frequently need a WiFi Booster. Additionally, one of the parks that I stayed at early on only allowed ONE device to connect to their network for free. The solution I’ve adopted solves both issues in one neat little package, for right around $100. Building this setup will allow you to connect all of your wireless devices (laptop, iPad, cellphone, Xbox, Desktop PC) to YOUR OWN PRIVATE network, and then connect that network to the world. Enter the Ubiquiti NanoStation M2!

Ubiquiti NanoStation M2

This doesn’t mean you’ll have *faster* internet – there are a lot of variables in that equation. At the time of writing, I’m in a KOA in North Central Florida that’s connected to the world via a CenturyLink DSL connection that has 8MB downstream speed (decent, especially late at night after everyone goes to bed), but only a 256k upstream speed – which means uploading YouTube videos is a multi-hour process, if it’s possible at all! You’ll have to keep in mind that you won’t be able to change the quality of the connection from your host (whether that’s an RV park, a Starbucks, or even your own cellular phone as a Hotspot) to the world – but you’ll have the best possible connection between your equipment and your host!

…What you need…

Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 – This is a commercial grade, weather resistant piece of network gear. As such, there are no wizards or other hand-holding to configure it. Fortunately, setup is pretty straightforward.

Ubiquiti AirGateway – If you ONLY have wireless devices you want to connect, you can add one of these to your setup. It will simplify things a little, as you won’t need to find Yet Another Power Source, and you’ll only have one device inside the coach.
OR
A wireless router of your choice
– Maybe you have one you kept from your apartment, or you bought one at Best Buy. They should all work mostly the same as the AirGateway.

Two (or more) Ethernet Cables – If you don’t already have two just…around…they have 15′ cables at Wal-Mart for about $10 each. You’ll have to decide how long your cables should be. One will need to connect the NanoStation M2 to the PoE (Power over Ethernet) adapter. If you have both right next to each other inside the coach, a 1′ cable might be enough. If you’re mounting the NanoStation outside on a Flagpole Buddy or on your television antenna mast, you’ll need a much longer cable! If you’re connecting any devices with cables (an Xbox or a desktop PC, for instance) you’ll need to have an ethernet cable for that device, and you’ll need to plan to have a port on your router to plug it into.

Here’s how I configure my setup:

So far, it’s been a terrific setup for me. I can connect to all 8 Access Points at the KOA NE Gainesville in Starke, FL – and if it’s late at night (when there’s less electronic noise in the area) I can even connect to the wireless AP at Dick’s Wings over 250 yards away, on the far side of a shopping center. While I was out running errands today, I tested connecting to the same AP with my phone, and could barely manage to connect from 40 yards away in the parking lot, with a clear line of sight!

If you plan on purchasing this setup please feel free to use the links above – I am an Amazon Associate, and when you make your purchase through my links, I get a small commission from the sale – it’s a great (and free!) way to say “Thanks for the information, Jon!”
Transparency Disclaimer: This is the setup that I use in my own coach, and I purchased all the equipment for it with my own funds. If it wasn’t a stellar setup, I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or post comments below!

Glad to have you all along for All The Adventure, None of the Scurvy!

Is it possible to go “inverterless”?

I’m currently drafting and assembling a setup that is potentially ‘inverterless’.

I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – the power brick for that is 120vac -> 12vdc. It’s basically a laptop with the guts behind the screen instead of under the keyboard – Core i5, 4GB, 128GB SSD, 2k monitor (2160×1440).
The monitor you see in some of my videos is a 23″ AOC 1080p monitor. The power brick for that is also 120vac -> 12vdc. (sensing a theme here?)
For WiFi, I’m using a Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 as a primary antenna/connection to public WiFi – if I were to connect it to another M2 with a clear line of sight, I could connect up to 1.5 miles away. In town the range is quite a bit less… 300-400 yards, I’d say. That has a power brick that is 120vac to 24vdc. Should be a snap to run a dedicated circuit for it.
Finally, I’ve got a wireless router for the coach that’s connected to the NanoStation, so my devices always connect to my private local network. That, too, runs on a 120v -> 12v wall wart.
Device batteries currently (HA!) charge from dual 12v sockets -> Dual USB plugs in the cab that are always hot.
Once I get that all swapped over, it looks like the only things I’d need A/C for would be charging the quadcopter batteries and running the air conditioning.
It looks like it may be possible for me to have a solar installation that doesn’t drive an inverter for anything while wild camping.

No. Way… Are you KIDDING me?

Get right out of town!

There’s a Spinnaker 5th Wheel at CampingWorld that Audrey and I have been considering. Last night we were looking at other 5th wheels and we found a very nice 5th wheel that tips the scales at a massive GVWR of 16,100 pounds, and (since neither the MINI Cooper or the Toyota Yaris is rated to tow that much) we got to looking to see ‘which truck do we need? Do we need a 350/3500 series, or would a 250/2500 series pull it? What about a Tundra?’, etc.

Poking around on the internet I found a forum post from 2012 in which someone suggested, “If you’re going to pull a big 5er like that, for the amount of money you’d spend on a newer F350/450 in good condition, you can just buy a TRUCK, instead.”

Wait. Did that guy mean what I think he meant?

Yep. It’s exactly what he meant…

How do the economics play out?

The average price of a 2010-2012 F350 is $37,892
The average price of a 2010-2012 RAM 3500 is $42,498
The average price of a 2010-2012 Chevy/GMC Silverado 3500 is $38,223.

So, for the $39,537 you could buy one of these instead.

2008 VOLVO VNL64T780 CONVENTIONAL - SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS
2008 VOLVO VNL64T780 CONVENTIONAL – SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS
2009 INTERNATIONAL PROSTAR CONVENTIONAL - SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS
2009 INTERNATIONAL PROSTAR CONVENTIONAL – SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS

Wait, What?

I was a little shocked.

No. Way.

That can’t possibly be right – you’ve got to have a Commercial Driver’s License for those. RIGHT?

The first place I stopped was the CO DMV website.
No Commercial Driver’s License required – straight from the Colorado.gov website –
Commercial Vehicle includes “Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more.
Commercial Vehicle exceptions includes “Recreation vehicles used for recreational purposes.

OK, so Colorado’s just weird, right?

Nope.

Almost (but not all) states have a similar provision on their books. That’s basically what makes 45′ Class A motorhomes viable.

What about the weird ’16 gear, Hi/Lo’ Truck Transmission thing?

That’s hard, right?

Every example I listed above has an automatic transmission, and only two pedals on the floor – Gas and Brake – and is no more tricky to shift than a giant Class A diesel pusher. Put it in Drive. Step on the long skinny one.

These trucks are designed to haul up to 80,000 pounds. Field reports indicate that when they’re “only” pulling a 16,000 pound 5th wheel, they get better MPG than when they’re loaded to the gills – like any other RV, they seem to get 10 MPG all day long.

We found similar trucks for lower prices – the lowest price truck we could find that still had an automatic was only $12,500.

That’s something we’ll really have to consider.

The Devil’s in the Details…

It looks like you’ll need to register your RV hauler as a non-commercial vehicle. That may or may not be the easiest thing in the world, depending on where you live. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may be able to register them as an RV unto themselves.
It also looks like, while it’s not necessarily required, (again, depending on the jurisdiction) your shiny New-To-You truck should be marked “NOT FOR HIRE” and the paint should be pretty plain – as much as I do like them, I suspect that a State Patrol LEO might start wondering just how “non-commercial” your truck is if you have a giant vinyl logo for your RV blogging website decorating the sides of your sleeper cab…
Finally, it looks like you’ll have to be pretty diligent about ensuring you aren’t using your truck in any way that could be construed as “commercial” – there are apocryphal stories floating around the internet about:

  • A couple who got dinged for not having a CDL when their “commercial enterprise” was the occasional sale of quilts at quilt shows,
  • A man who towed his race cars to races where prizes were offered for winning.
  • A Horse Trailer with living space included being registered as an RV and not a commercial trailer.

There’s clearly a line between Privately Owned Recreational Vehicle (No CDL Required) and Commercial Vehicle (CDL, Logbook, Drug Test, etc. Required), but on the surface this looks like an entirely practical option for someone willing to deal with the occasional hassle of “It looks like a duck, it must be a duck”, “No, officer, it’s actually a goose(neck), and here are the laws that make it a goose, and not a duck.”

Narrowing down the options?

Last Tuesday I attended a ServiceNow User Group meeting at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.  Afterward, I skipped down the road to Camping World of Denver to do some RV comparison on a cool, cloudy day. I found a couple smaller Class A Gas RVs that I wanted to come back and look at with Audrey on Saturday, along with a 5th wheel.

More research shows that the 5th wheel has a pretty unique layout – I can’t find anything comparable. It has three slides, two in the very back that expand the living space with a couch and a coffee table curbside and a freestanding dinette, refrigerator, and cabinet space streetside. The rest of the kitchen is along the back wall of the trailer.

Click to EmbiggenateClick to Embiggenate
Click to EmbiggenateClick to Embiggenate
Click to EmbiggenateClick to Embiggenate

The third slide is for an east-west queen bed, leaving room for a large closet across the front, and lots and lots of storage curbside.

The upsides:

  • It’s hard to believe how open and apartment-like this plan is.
  • There’s clearly room for a proper gaming table right in the middle.
  • This thing has got SO MUCH STORAGE…look at dem overhead bins!
  • Audrey says that she’ll feel WAY less bad about customising this than she would about buying something newer and painting every wall right off the bat.

The downsides:

  • It’s old. Camping World calls it a MY2000 Forest River Spinnaker 33RKT, but there is no such model – there is a 1999 Spinnaker M-32RKT, however.
  • It’s listed at $17,000. Top Dollar NADA is $12,480.
  • For not a lot more money, we could buy a *new* TT or 5er similar in size, but we haven’t been able to find something with this peculiar layout that gives so much room. Most other “Rear Kitchen” models have this weird attached island thing going on, so the space in the middle is intruded.
  • It needs a fair amount of TLC – the carpet could be replaced, the cabinets are showing their age (a couple of them have clearly been repaired at some point, and the repairs aren’t top-flight.), and everything is dated.
  • There’s no TV, when that was standard at date of sale.
  • No Washer/Dryer, or room or hookups for them.
  • Also, we don’t actually own a truck at this point, so that adds a fairly serious wrinkle to the plan.

It’s tempting. Maybe we’ll go look at it again, make an offer of $12,000 and see if they bite.

Getting Our Sea Legs – Audrey’s Tale

So, a while back, Jon found a pretty screaming deal on an RV. CruiseAmerica was offering their used rentals up for sale: decent sized class C’s with a spartan setup (no levellers or other fun sorts of breakable extras) for suuuuuper cheap. Before throwing down the cash for one of these bad boys, we decided to rent one, as CruiseAmerica offers a rebate towards the purchase if you decide to buy one for the full price of your rental. Great! Either it’s awesome and we get the rebate towards one of our own, or it’s terrible and we know not to get one. Well, we rented it for this weekend and learned a truck load about what we did and didn’t want in an RV.

Firstly, and very foremost, we didn’t want one of theirs.

For vacationing, briefly, they’re fine. However, full timing in this thing would have been….uncomfortable to say the least. Space, aside from wardrobe space, was fine. I actually didn’t feel all that cramped at all. It was 28ft, and frankly, it wasn’t overly tight or cramped with two people and two cats. There was definitely a lack of wardrobe space, and as someone with not a whole lot of clothes I feel like if there wasn’t enough for me for two days, there would definitely not be enough for any extended period of time.

I liked the convenience. It was small enough to get anywhere. The controls for everything were easy to pick out because there was nothing fancy to muck it up. And I mean nothing. No levellers, no awning, no backup camera, no TV, nooooothing. Dumping the black and gray water was easy. It was very very simple.  I really enjoyed the peace in it though. The first night was cold cause we were boondocking at a friend’s place and didn’t want to run the generator all night to run the heat, so we kept it low, but that’s largely in part to the fee associated with it through the rental company. In our own, we’d have run it, as needed.

It was very quiet in our second location, at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, CO. The folks who checked us in were wildly helpful, nice people who had been fulltiming for 3 years. We got the last pull through spot with a hookup, and it was absolutely lovely. Due to the lack of levellers, we were at a jaunty angle, but it was excellent to be able to run the heat and leave the windows open. It was quiet, our neighbors on each side being a dream. We had the moon shining in through our skylight. I slept better the second night, than the first. Our cats  adjusted fairly quickly, and by the end of the second day were exploring and peering and doing cat things all over the RV.  I was actually pleased that there wasn’t any carpet.

I hated the fact that the bed was nearly boob high. The mattress was a plastic covered monstrosity (because, again, rental) that was really, VERY uncomfortable and reminded me of very old hospital beds. If we were to buy one of these (and that’s a mightly large if), that’d be the first replacement. And the toilet…well it was an adventure in acrobatics. Cramped I don’t mind, but having to climb up what feels like three feet to pee in the middle of the night is disorienting at best. Since there were no levellers, I didn’t partake in the shower, because I could see face planting out the 18 inch drop out of the shower because we weren’t level. It rattled, it shook, it occasionally felt like it was going to fall apart on the interstate. I can appreciate a heavily used RV (especially a rental) will have it’s creaks and it’s moans, but at 158000 miles, this one was uh…disconcerting.  We prepaid for 300 miles, and kept our travels just over 100 and I am grateful for it.

We didn’t partake in any of the kitchen stuff aside from the sink to wash our hair (the sink was very deep which was nice).

So what do I want in an RV? A reasonable bed, shower, and toilet for starters. I don’t mind a bit of a lip but I don’t want to have to climb a 14er to sleep/bathe/pee. More storage space on the inside. I’m actually surprisingly OK with class C. I thought we’d be climbing over each other all the time, but even in an RV without slides, sub 30 ft, we were okay. Ultimately, I’d like slides (at least one in the bedroom, so that I can have that wardrobe space). I liked the over the cabin bed. It was a great place for our cats to lurk, and if we ever did have company stay over, it’d be nice to have a place that isn’t a fold out for them to crash on.

 

Overall, it was an educational experience and I have solidified my desire to full time…just not in one of these.

Getting our Sea Legs – Jon’s Tale

This weekend, Audrey and I rented a Four Winds Majestic 28A from CruiseAmerica to give living in an RV a try – to see how we like it, to see how living in 212 square feet worked out for us, and to see how our two cats adapted to living in that space. We did reach some conclusions, which I’ll get to toward the end of the article.

Rewinding a little bit – Thursday night I was trolling on RV Trader, when I found a 1984 Airstream Class A motorhome for just a tick under $30,000. It was (and looks like) it was originally owned by Larry Hagman – the actor that played JR Ewing on Dallas. It’s so retro, and very, very cool.

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Completely on a lark, I clicked the “Get Financing” button on RV Trader, and I submitted an application. It’s hilarious to think that there would be financing available for a 30 year old motorhome, but I submitted the app and figured I’d get a rejection letter a few days later.

Friday afternoon, I left work at 12:30 so I could get to CruiseAmerica on Federal Boulevard by 2 – however, I got a call just before I left work from Dana at Southeast Financial. I called her back when I got home, and we had a nice long, informative chat about where I am credit wise, and that no, they can’t approve the loan right now, but that the dings that I have on my credit (that an awful lot of people have, actually – thank you, 2008) will be falling off pretty soon, at which point my credit should go from merely ‘average’ to ‘fantastic’, and that, why, yes, a 40′ Diesel Pusher just might be in your future… *blinks* That was not an answer I was expecting to get.

Anyway, after the call, I was running late (but sort of floating on clouds), and drove over to CruiseAmerica, where I did the walkaround and checkout on our home for the weekend. Then I got back in the car, came home, and took a Lyft back to CruiseAmerica to pick up the RV.

My first impression? MAN THIS THING IS LONG. I misjudged how long it was, and had to back and fill once just to get out of the parking lot. The drive back to the apartment was full of adventure, too, since there was construction along 92nd avenue, and each side was down to one narrow lane in each direction. After some finagling and figuring out which direction I needed to go to get the RV faced the right direction, I got the RV parked in front of our garage for the afternoon while I did some laundry and waited for Audrey to get home.

She got home about 6pm, and we had the RV loaded with clothes, sundries, and cats about 7:15. Once we got underway, Figaro and Little One made it clear (with a chorus) that they were having none of this moving business! That said, they both *really* like the overhead space that’s available in a Class C. That much became apparent by the end of the weekend.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for linen – we didn’t want to use ours on a rental mattress that (potentially) had bedbugs (it didn’t) – and some other sundries. We found some grape purple sheets and a grey and red plaid comforter that we liked that were well within ‘disposable’ budget. After that, we headed over to our friend Ann’s house to pick her up for our weekly evening of karaoke at Ogden Street South. We cheated a little bit – we’ve been talking about going without a tow-behind vehicle, but it became apparent right out the gate that it isn’t going to be feasible – taking the RV to karaoke would be hilarious and bad. We wound up taking Audrey’s Yaris. I do have to say that it was very nice to get back to Ann’s, and just crawl into bed right there, curbside. Friday night was pretty cold – I didn’t turn the heater up quite enough. By morning, the (single) house battery was just about dead, as well.

DECISION: We need an RV and a Car – at least for now. Someday we might be able to downsize again to perhaps a pair of motorcycles and bicycles, but for now, if we’re fulltiming and location independent, a car is a must.
DECISION: We need more than one piddly house battery.

Saturday, we helped Ann put together her new computer – she’s building it from scratch – and we helped her do some troubleshooting to get it going. About 1pm, we drove 38 miles across town to Audrey’s parents’ house in Ken Caryl, Colorado, to see them. The cats, again and predictably, did not like rumbling down the road one bit – but they dealt with it better than they did at first. Audrey’s dad really liked the DJI Phantom quadcopter we got recently, despite the preview that YouTube picked for the video. =)

We had dinner with them at Rubios, then we had our first – “Well, where in the hell are we going to stay tonight?” moment. On Friday, Audrey was ALL ABOUT having a plan. For the entire weekend. I was really super proud of her when, coming into Saturday Night, it got to be a little late to go with our original plan (drive up into the Pike National Forest along Rampart Range Road), and we needed to improvise.

Chatfield State Park was full.

Bear Creek Lake Park was full.

Cherry Creek State Park was full.

Jefferson County Fairgrounds, however, had space, and was reasonably priced at $30 for a 30 amp hookup. We were there in 20 minutes, and had probably another 20 minutes of chatting with the camp hosts while we signed in. The camp hosts (Melissa and her husband) have been fulltiming in Colorado for 3 years now in a variety of vehicles from a travel trailer to a 5th wheel and now they’re in a 31′ Class C. They were wonderfully friendly, and just full of advice. The spot we wound up in was hilariously not-level, however, and so…

DECISION: We MUST have leveling jacks.

We were up until around midnight talking about our experiences (we went to bed at 10pm, believe it or not) We were warm enough Saturday night (I was roasting, Audrey was freezing – weird.) and the cats were really starting to settle in. This is a good sign, I think.

Sunday morning, we decided that we’d had a long enough test run. We stopped at Village Inn for lunch, then brought the RV home and decamped. We’ll return it in the morning after getting gas and propane.

DECISION: We are going to buy an RV before our lease is up – even if it’s a $3000 Craigslist special. I’m not 100% sold on paying cash for a craptastic RV and starting from there – I am sold on not going $100,000 into debt buying our third RV first. I think we’ll be somewhere between buying a $3000 RV and something in the $10-20k range.

DECISION: Starting out fulltiming in an RV at the end of our lease will kind of SUUUCK because it’ll be Winter – but the hard cold winter in Denver is really from January 1 to the beginning of April. It’s just 90 nights. We can find a place with electric hookups and buy some fantastic ‘enclosed space’ heaters, and suck it up, buttercup.

DECISION: A 28′ Class C is large enough for what we want to do. It’s still a little cramped at times. 28′ is nice enough if we can have LR and BR slides for just a little extra space.

DECISION: 2015 will be 12 months to work on ‘non-job’ income. 

All in all, we had a great time, we learned some valuable lessons that we wouldn’t have learned without actually going out there and doing it, and we’re looking forward to the next step along the path to truly becoming digital nomads!

2014 Colorado RV Super Sale

Audrey and I went to the 11th Annual Colorado RV Super Sale at Mile High Stadium yesterday. We were supposed to get an early start and meet up with our internet friends Matt and his lovely wife, but they were there and gone before we managed to get on the road. It was in the mid 90’s, and probably hotter in the parking lot. Sadly, we didn’t get any of the afternoon clouds and thunderstorms that we’ve had for weeks, so it stayed hot and miserable – but there were some pretty awesome RV’s to inspect, and we did manage to find 4 or 5 things we want to follow up on.

Transwest Trucks in Frederick, CO

A 2009 Fleetwood Discovery 40X.

Their salesman said they’re looking to get it out the door for $128,000. Audrey and I both agree that it really, truly feels like a home to us.
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The black leather Euro-Chairs would go out the door on Craigslist, and would be replaced by at least one computer workstation. The dinette may or may not stay. Depends on how useful it turns out to be for working and eating both. We currently eat on the couch – that’s all the time we spend watching TV (and sitting on the couch) on any given day, so the dinette might become desk space, and a TV/computer workstation where the Euro-chairs are.

A 2014 Fleetwood Excursion 33A 

This is a new model, and it’s the last of them. They’re trying to get it out the door for (basically) what they have invested in it – $139,700. They didn’t have it on-site, but we’re going to look at it on Saturday.

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Although we haven’t seen the inside of this one in person yet, we did see a very similar Excursion 33D at the show (and Jason and Nikki Wynn have covered extensively) that we did like a lot.

One of the things that Transwest gets right – besides having sales people that are content to let you be to browse at your own speed – every time we’ve been to their location, and again at the stadium, they’ve got almost all of the units plugged in to shore power, and the air going. Even with the air going, it was hot in most of the coaches we looked at, and everything that was buttoned up went from being tolerable to being miserable quickly.

SO MANY AIRSTREAMS! 

OK, just 2 Airstreams…

…that were large enough for us to consider, both from Windish RV in Lakewood, CO

We noticed a couple of things about them – first, and this bit we really did like, is that new Airstreams are using materials, colors, and finishes inside that make them perfect for the person who wants to purchase decorating and living materials from IKEA. Second, if you’re buying brand new, IKEA is where you’ll be buying all your decorating and living materials to kit out your new travel trailer, because Airstreams are incredibly expensive. The Airstream 27FB that we were looking at was pushing $90,000. I found one tonight in California for $59,000 (pictured below). Hard to believe that it’s depreciated 1/3 of the new value in 2 model years.

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Ugh. This is why we’re skittish about buying new. A warranty is nice, but not as nice as saving $30,000 lost to depreciation!
We would seriously consider a used one if we hadn’t already made up our minds that we don’t want to tour the country in a pickup truck or SUV – If we show up at midnight, (or pull into a Bass Pro Shop or WalMart for the night) and it’s raining buckets, we want to be able to just go in back, get under the covers, and worry about jacks, and leveling, and plugging in, and all that jazz in the morning.

Camping World

2015 Winnebago 42QD

Camping World had a number of coaches that we really liked – that naturally were way out of our price range. Isn’t that the way these things go? Of course everyone LOVES the ‘stick and brick’ home that, if you optioned all the options they have on the model, then bought all the same furniture, would run $600k, right? Same with the coaches. The $300,000 Winnebago Tour that Camping World had set up as the first coach you’d see is a masterpiece of beauty. It’s really, really lovely. We both really like the materials and floorplan choices that Winnebago makes. How could you not love this?

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The thing that cannot be adequately captured with a camera is how wonderful the rear bath is on the 2015 Tour 42QD. It’s spacious, well laid out, and…just fantastic. (There I am, going on again about the room I spend the least amount of time in!)

Jayco Seneca (3 on display)

I really, really want to like the Jayco Seneca. Having an honest Freightliner truck cab up front is really, really cool.

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Unfortunately, the interior layouts of the ones they had on display are all pretty much terrible.

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What this view doesn’t show is the pinch points where the steps enter the coach, and again where you walk around the bed in the back. Both spots are very, very narrow. Even the older used Senecas we’ve looked at have had some fatal flaw in the floorplan. It’s a shame – as I said, I really want to like them.

Thor Palazzo 33.2

The Thor Palazzo 33.2 is one of my favorite coaches under 35′. (The other two being the Winnebago Forza/Itasca Solei 34T and the Fleetwood Excursion 33A/D). It’s got a great open floorplan, and room for a washer/dryer, which is a must have for us. They’re still new, so buying one used is out of reach for us, however.

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Looking Aft in the Thor Palazzo 33.2Looking Forward in the Thor Palazzo 33.2

Winnebago Vista 35Y

This is a New For 2015 floorplan, and Audrey and I both like it a lot. It’s the first floorplan that I’ve seen in a Class A where the kitchen doesn’t feel like a ‘tucked against the wall’ afterthought. The more I look at this coach, the more I like it. So, you’re going to get extra pictures of it.

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A REAL KITCHEN, and a bedroom with a Not Terrible window! I REALLY, REALLY like the Vista 36Y, but it’s BRAND NEW for 2015, so it’s prudent to let someone else take the bath on depreciation.

At this point, we’d made our way from the very southern end of the show, where Transwest was, to the very northern end. It was blazing hot, and the only water available was a small stand in the center, selling 16 oz bottles for $3, and only accepted cash. We passed it on the way down the lane, since we don’t carry cash anymore. Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot left that looked interesting to us. We did find one gem among all the travel trailers and enormous 5th wheels at the north end of the show.

2015 Dutchmen Denali 2445RL

What an adorable little ‘babby’ 5th wheel – GVWR is 10,860 pounds, which means that if you don’t load it down with 3939 pounds of crap, you could pull it with an (appropriately optioned) F-150.

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It’s also very similar to the Cougar 5er that Reddit user SiberianSF remodeled. Again, if we were considering driving a truck and not a single unit, I think we’d be all over this.

After this, we made our way back to the car, and headed out to…

CruiseAmerica

Four Winds Majestic 28a

…CruiseAmerica to look at their $20,000 Four Winds Majestic 28A Class C specials.

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It was very…basic. The sales guy had worked for the company for a long time, and had pretty good information on these coaches – little touches that are “renter friendly” (renters break shit) that you can see in the pictures, like the basic trim strips along the top and side of the dinette. They’re made that way because renters cut them, or burn them. Three screws and you can replace the damaged piece with a new one, without having to pull the whole dinette seat apart. Unfortunately, this also means that the Majestic 28A comes without things that a lot of other coaches do have, like an awning, slideouts, leveling jacks, etc. Some of that you can add, some would be cost-prohibitive (jacks, primarily), so you’ll have to kick it old school. The price is very, very, very hard to beat, especially after looking at coaches costing 4-15 times as much. We were sorely tempted to see if we could put $2200 down on the spot and pick the coach up in 3-5 weeks (standard delivery time).

The research I did on Friday turned up two camps of people.

  • People who do not, and would not own one, and hate them with a fiery passion.
  • People who did some due diligence, bought one, and love them (and the SCREAMING DEAL they got) with a fiery passion.

However, a $22,000 impulse buy is not something I’d ever recommend.

The Salesman said that they’ll be out of 2008’s this week, and then they’ll start selling 2009s for about $25,000. I don’t know that those will be the 28′ coaches, though. RVTrader shows the 2009 28a’s being about 32k. If the 2009s are indeed going to be 32k, then I think we’ll look out of state at a former El Monte RV rental that’s being pulled out of service, since the prices will be more or less comparable, but the El Monte coaches, from what I’ve seen, do have things like slides and levelers.

We’ll see what the folks at Transwest have to say on Saturday.