Category Archives: Testimonials

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).

Experimenting with the GoPro Night Lapse Mode

For the last several nights, I’ve wanted to go outside and experiment some more with the GoPro Night Lapse mode to capture satellite trails, since I had so much fun watching them in Folsom when I was camping with RV Lady. However, night after night, it’s been too late when I look up the passes for the evening on Heaven’s Above, all the bright passes had already ended for the evening. I think it has something to do with being this far south, but it’s pretty rare to have a visible satellite pass after about 9:30pm, and they start shortly after 7pm. In Folsom the last passes were much closer to 10:30, and they’d start about 8:15.

Well, tonight I remembered in the nick of time to check Heaven’s Above, and I saw that the ISS was passing overhead, and for once, it wasn’t a “barely visible down on the horizon” pass, but up at a respectable 40+ degrees! The down side is that I only had about 5 minutes to prepare!

BEHOLD THE FIVE MINUTE PREP-TIME ISS PASS!

Click to Embiggen

The top to bottom trail, and the two at the bottom right are aircraft. The horizontal pass with small gaps is the ISS. This is a series of 12 images shot with a Hero 4 Silver in GoPro Night Lapse mode with ProTune turned on. 15 second exposures on Continuous mode, with an ISO limit of 200, GoPro color turned on and composited in Markus Enzweiler’s excellent StarStax.

Nighttime GoPro photography is fun! This is a 4 image stack using GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 10 second shutter, Continuous interval, ProTune on, 3000K White Balance, GoPro color, ISO limit of 400, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.

StarStaX_G0030243-G0030246_lighten

 

The next 4 images are single shots with different settings for comparison.

GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 2 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.
GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 2 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.

 

GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 5 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.
GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 5 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.

 

GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 10 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.
GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 10 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.

This one is starting to get a little overexposed from the long shutter time.

GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 15 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.
Single frame from GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 15 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.

And finally, this is what you get if you just leave the shutter time to Automatic with a 3000K White Balance and GoPro Color…

Single frame from GoPro Night Lapse Mode, 15 second shutter, ProTune on, 5500K White Balance, Flat color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.
Single frame from GoPro Night Lapse Mode, Automatic Shutter, ProTune on, 3000K White Balance, GoPro color, ISO limit of 800, Low Sharpness, and no Exposure Value (EV) Compensation.

I’m really starting to be amazed at the sheer breadth of capability that the GoPro has. 

 

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!

Goodies for the YarrVee!

Some goodies for the coach just arrived. They’re still cold to the touch from being in the unheated UPS truck.

Two GoPro Hero 4 batteries and a USB dual charger.
An extendable GoPro monopod.

And the cool piece

a Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 high-gain 11db WiFi…I’m not really sure what to call it!
It’s not an “antenna”, “booster”, or “range extender”, since I’m not connecting it to an existing piece of WiFi gear to improve reception…but it does act like a very powerful directional antenna.
It’s also not a router like the one your Internet Service Provider sent you, since I’m not plugging it into a fixed connection someplace…

It’s really a professional/commercial grade piece of gear (without a professional/commercial grade price!) that doesn’t have anything similar in the residential market that I’m aware of. The case is made of UV resistant weatherproof plastic, and comes with mounts and heavy duty zipties suitable for attaching it to a pole about 1.5″ in diameter.

I will tell you that I followed the instructional video that David Bott from Outside Our Bubble posted a month or so ago, and I was up and running in about 15 minutes.

Cellphone Results…

My Galaxy S5 phone could identify 18 Access Points nearby. Only a couple of them were open (Thanks, xfinitywifi provided by Comcast!), and the phone wouldn’t stay connected to any of them (Thanks, xfinitywifi provided by Comcast!).

Laptop Results…

My ASUS Laptop could identify 19 Access Points. The same two were open, and the laptop wouldn’t stay connected to any of them.

The Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 Results?

54 Access Points found, 35 of them with visible SSIDs (required to connect), and *9* xfinitywifi hotspots. I’m currently connected at the fastest rate and it’s clear to me that Comcast is capping my speed at about 2-2.5 Mbps, so as to not impact the experience their long-term customer has.

Looking at Ubiquiti’s PDF on what to expect for distance, the M2 (when, say, talking to another M2 for simplicity’s sake) could reasonably expect to connect across about 2.5 km (1.55 miles) where there is good, unobstructed line of sight and low electronic interference. I’m pretty sure that “across the parking lot to that “Googled” Starbucks over there” isn’t going to be a huge connectivity issue for me on the road.

Anyone who routinely connects to public or campground WiFi spots from their RV, trailer, or van needs one of these. I cannot recommend the NanoStation M2 highly enough. It is a stellar piece of equipment.

Since you can connect other devices to it. I think the best use of the NanoStation is as a gateway for creating your own personal network inside and around your RV. I’ve currently got my laptop connected to it with a network cable right now, but I could just as easily move that connection from the laptop to a standalone wireless router which would create a wired connection between the router and the NanoStation.

I could then configure the standalone Netgear/Cisco/whatever router to create a local private in-coach WiFi network that my laptop, game console, tablet, and phone would connect to…just like everyone who has Comcast or CenturyLink or Charter or whatever in their home. The big difference would be that the connection to the internet wouldn’t be a high-speed internet connection at the wall, it would be the connection to the public/campground WiFi, which is in turn connected to the internet.

Considering the price point is $80, and the easy availability of David’s video on YouTube (and OutsideOurBubble.com) to walk you smoothly through setting up this piece of commercial network hardware, you just can’t go wrong!

I’m also already dreaming about mounting this alongside the YarrVee banner at the top of a 12 foot, 16 foot, or 22 foot Flagpole Buddy pole

-Jon