Wednesday, August 16, 2017

And on the 12th day the Lord spake and said

Let there be a kitchen so the womenfolk may cook and serve their men. And lo, a kitchen was born and women did love this kitchen and their newfound ability to serve their men.

Well, today after having my freshly painted fridge bouncing around in the back of my car for the last week or so while the paint thoroughly baked itself dry, I lifted the fridge out and installed it in my bus. I must say it looks pretty good there. I'll have to install a flat batton to stop it sliding and rig some kind of closure to keep the door shut in transit but I think you'll agree it looks pretty good.
My little kitchen is shaping up nicely with the microwave and fridge visible. The microwave probably won't last too long. It was one of the cheapie $30 microwaves from Walmart bought during their back to school sales gimmick. The fridge came with the bus. It has a 2003 date on the back and I see them on sale in Walmart for $60. Not too bad - a $90 kitchen!

The fridge protrudes a little but more by miscalculation than any other reason. Behind it is my electrical breaker box. Were it not for that, I'm sure the fridge would sit square with the countertop. Having said that, it's not a problem and all looks pretty good. Of course, when the microwave makes its way out of the box, it'll look even better!

And thus draws to a close a summer that was less devoted to bus conversion than I would have liked. As far as retitling is concerned, all the elements are there. It just needs the application to be sent off and then later the improvements start. First comes the underbus battery then comes the air conditioner and then the cold water inlet then the hot water then perhaps a flush toilet. Sometime down the line new tyres and getting the brake pedal adjusted.



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

That's a bit small!

Indeed, as the vicars wife once famously remarked to an eager young milkman, it is very small! My timer that is - get your minds out of that gutter!
According to eBay my timer had been dispatched a week ago. According to the tracking number it was two days ago that it finally hit the postbox. The important thing is it has arrived even though I probably need a magnifying glass to see it and a microscope to see the display.

It's a 16 event, 7 day timer. The way charge controllers are set up, they provide power continuously until they switch off to recharge the battery. My extraction fan can easily outpace my solar panels, a bit like the famed American motorist of the 30s who had to turn the engine of his automobile off when refueling as it used fuel faster than the pump could supply it. The purpose of the timer is to ensure the fan is operational only for as long as required rather than continuing until the battery is empty.

Thus, I've preprogrammed the timer for 15 minute operations every hour. According to my calculations, my fan should evacuate all the air in the bus every 10-12 minutes. 15 minutes should see that done and it commences operation at 10am, running hourly until 7pm. By then, summer or winter, the heat should be gone from the day. They could easily have left off their silly keyboard lock and the 7 day part of the timer.

Ominously the instructions say the timer has a 3 year lithium battery. Does that mean I'll be looking for a new timer in 3 years? Actually, I suspect all the electronics in use will die by the end of 3 years. This is largely why I don't load myself down with electronic junk. It barely lasts out of the reasonable use period.

Today was to have been a day spent working on wiring from my magic box to the battery. With my timer having arrived, I would have probably had a go at installing it. Connection is straightforward as it's just four spade connectors. Two go to the power and two are the switch. It seems polarity is unimportant.

I've been researching air conditioners, particularly the small portable variety. On my blog (which had a random advert via Adsense), I spotted an advert for a marine air conditioner. That looked interesting and I followed it. It seems though that marine air conditioners use seawater to cool the air conditioner high pressure coil. They're also ludicrously expensive!

Meanwhile, I've seen a couple of interesting portable air conditioners. It seems the exhaust vent gets really hot. Having said that, it's something that will be easy to vent through a hole in the bus floor with a duct leading out of the bus skirt with a mesh over it. The key is finding one that not only furs the space but also permits use of the exhaust hose in the same space.

Another alternative exists. I did see a portable unit that was just ten inches wide by eighteen long and about thirty six high that had the exhaust hose coming out of the top. That brings to mind all kinds of interesting ideas based on a unit that can be moved into a storage location. The downside is, according to a tradesman that used one in her grooming van, that the exhaust pipe gets very hot. It's all food for thought and various alternatives exist. I just have to keep investigating until I find an acceptable solution.

Tomorrow is another of my free days. Work starts properly on Thursday but even so, I have work related tasks that will take me to work for a couple of hours - stuff I probably won't even get paid for. That's all part and parcel of committing to an employer and doing one's best. The reality is that being exceptional is unrewarded. Being mediocre is accepted. It's all part of job satisfaction to do one's best, however. I always say, if you're not working on being brilliant then don't bother. I think Lincoln said something similar - whatever you are, be a good one.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The strange world of the Peltier dehumidifier

Sitting in my bus today, I was dripping with sweat. It wasn't particularly hot - it was about 90F which is pretty OK. The problem was the 74% humidity. My mind turned to air conditioning and to dehumidification. The ventilation fan seems not to have cut on in forever so I'm assuming either the battery or that particular charge controller is at fault. I would have connected my latest charge controller and my latest battery but since my timer has not arrived, it's not practical.

My clothes were drenched in sweat with obvious sweat marks. Clearly not a situation that's welcome. The solution will probably be to get the ventilation working. Needless to say that's not an option right now. Remembering I have a Peltier unit that I put together out of curiosity, I decided to try it with a 12V battery. The temperature of both sides was 92F when I connected the power. I left the power connected for exactly one minute at which point the high-temperature side was over the point at which my thermometer could measure (about 200F). The lowest point I measured on the cold side was 86F. On a subsequent test, the hot side rose to over 200F again and the cold side kept climbing. When I gave up trying it was at 126F.
Previously when I used a 9V battery, I could feel a warm, cool difference. I have no idea what's going on now. It's allegedly a 12v unit so it should be doing more than that. There should have been a bigger difference. The only thing I can think of is the heat from the hot side was making the cold side warmer and that while there was a 70+ degree difference between the sides, the unit was just working as a heater rather than anything else. Quite disappointing really.

That puts me in mind of somebody else's blog entry in which they blogged about "The useless world of the Peltier effect dehumidifier". It's a very enticing technology but all the reviews I read so far are very mixed. People either rave about expensive Peltier dehumidifier or condemn them soundly. I would imagine there's a tendency for those that spend silly money on things to praise them in order to defend the fact they spent silly money. I would tend to question the bad reviews as to whether they operated the things correctly. Based on the conflicting evidence from my tests - one in which the one side was actually cold and one in which the cold side was quite hot I'm going to declare this to be yet another one of those dubious bits of electronics.

I moved on and added side brackets to my aluminum box. One didn't go quite square but what's new. That whole construction has been a fight with holes going where they wanted to go rather than where I wanted them. I'd start a hole and drill straight yet somehow the hole would end up way off where it was marked, even though when the cut started, it was spot on. Somehow the drill is drifting through the material. I'm guessing it's not a good quality of aluminum. I've had strange spots in metals before. I recall drilling some steel with a drill press when all of a sudden the drill stopped cutting. I changed drills several times and oiled the work to no avail. I ended up with a carborundum bit getting nowhere before finally cutting with a diamond tip drill. That went through like a hot knife through butter. Just because it's steel or aluminum doesn't mean it's the same all the way through - especially these days when almost all steel or aluminum is recycled and there's no telling what grades are mixed in.

It's still 66% humidity but only 91F so I'm still drenched with sweat. The humidity is more of a killer here than the heat. I'm positive that when I can finally connect my solar arrays and run everything off a single battery with a timer on my extraction fan that things will be a lot less humid and probably a lot cooler.

After the riveting, I pondered how to put my cables in and decided in the end to put them in a cable sleeve then to cut a notch in the side of the unit with my trusty angle grinder large enough to accommodate the sleeve. Then when everything is wired and the sleeve is poking out, the back can be slid into place and the whole lot screwed to the wall - wiring to be completed whenever. That's not a major task. It's fiddly but not major. Obviously 66% humidity and 91F is not conducive to doing much aside from sitting still and blogging.
The problem with blogging is while I'm blogging, I'm not doing anything toward construction. The other problem is that where I am, the wifi doesn't quite reach. I think it has to do with being in a steel bus. It's a bit of a Faraday shield. My MiFi pad is just plain uneconomical to use and the next step is a smartphone and that's more more than I want to be bothered with. It would be ideal if my flip phone offered a wifi hotspot. Sadly I don't know of any that do and I'm pretty well positive only a few of us would buy such a thing.

So why not buy a smartphone? Well, Walmart's $35 a month for a smartphone with 2GB of data would fit the bill nicely but for two things. First I don't want to have to have a monthly bill that's $20 over what I pay now. Secondly I don't want a smartphone. They're expensive to buy, have rotten battery life and take up too much pocket space. That's without mentioning that nobody calls me anyway!

So, I wired everything together with my magic box, including some nifty soldering of Radio Shack's pain in the rear non-standard pushbutton switch. Finally I put the back on the unit and touched up some of the paint.
In my construction work today I decided to do it the easy way and mount the unit on the front of the horizontal beam with a little protruding below the beam. The wires will run in my cable sleeving along the beam and into the cockpit via a small hole in the partition wall. I'll secure everything with my remaining cable clamps and drywall screws.

Earlier today I connected the bank of fuses using my piggyback connectors. It doesn't look pretty but it is functional. It's now possible to use the entire bank of 4 fuses. Tuesday being my next available day, I should be able to complete the wiring. Today there's just not enough time to do anything other than install the basic unit.

How far am I toward completing the motorhome? Well, aside from getting it retitled and getting the new magic box wired it, it's done for the moment. The 12v system needs an upgrade - it needs the new battery installed and the rear charge controller replaced by a timer that runs off the front charge controller. The two solar arrays need to be linked and I need to think about installing a cold water inlet and possibly putting in a 120v instant water heater so I can have hot water at the handbasin. As far as hot water for the shower goes, that's possible though I have not really got a foolproof method of doing it yet. Air conditioning might not be needed if i can get the ventilation working properly.

All day I've been having difficulty in trying to post photos. I've got three ready to post but whether they'll be attached by the time I publish is unknown. Blogger lets me select the images then just farts around showing me a silly little ball that keeps changing color while progressing no further despite heading off for a cup of tea while I waiting. I'm not 100% sure that it's purely a blogger problem or whether the unreliable HighesNet satellite connection could be also causing problems.

Today has been a series of problems. One of the first was that I put my freshly painted magic box back out to dry and the sky was gloriously sunny. Ten minutes later, it was pouring with rain so the paint now has poc marks. It's not as bad though as when I painted V1 of my toilet. It began to rain and washed all the paint off. Speaking about V1, I'm on V2 now and there might be a V3 after the plumbing I'm toying with comes to pass. I left space under the toilet area for a black tank. Fresh water currently goes in jerry cans but there is space behind the fuel tank for a 15 gallon water tank. There's also plenty real estate behind the rear wheels. I've shied away from that though as I figure for dry camping then jerry cans are best and for hookup, there's no need. With a flush toilet, disposal at a hookup site is easy. With a dry toilet, disposal while dry camping is easy.

While I waited for the paint to dry, I pulled out my trusty 10AA battery pack and tested my magic box. Everything worked as it should. The next stage - putting it on the wall and securing the cable using a cable clamp. That bit was surprisingly easy although I could not locate a suitable cable clamp. That's probably a trip to Harbor Freight sometime.

Illuminating the magic box should have been straightforward but for the fact the handle has fallen off yet another of my LED lanterns. It doesn't matter how much I pay for LED lanterns - they just seem to be absolute junk. On the other hand, that's pretty much my experience of all LED products. Nevertheless, I did manage to light it up and can see that my spray can of metal paint is a few shades darker than my wall paint but not obnoxiously so. My magic box is mounted on the wall, has been fully tested and is in working condition for whenever I complete the operation by installing the cables.
I can honestly say I'm glad to have completed my magic box and that it came out looking so good. I know all the minor imperfections but it's safe and it works. Wiring as I said, will have to be completed on Tuesday. That will give me a fully working battery monitoring, charger monitoring charging station for electronics. If nothing else, that makes the motorhome viable for today's technology.

Meanwhile I mentioned my battery drain issue and somebody suggested taking all the fuses out then replacing them one by one with a bulb attached between the ground of the battery and the bus ground to see which fuse lights the lamp. That sounds an excellent idea!

I can honestly say working in the heat on my motorhome is the kind of sauna that most people would pay good money for. My skin must look 20 years younger by now. Any younger and I'll be carded at the bars!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Naked in my motorhome

It's currently 86F in the bedroom of my motorhome. Stripping off naked and just being there in my birthday suit seems like a very good idea. I don't want to shock the lampshade though! I think I've probably gone as far as I can for the moment with cooling without investing in an AC unit.

In Walmart, there was a very nice AC unit. It was a window unit that measured about 13 inches high. That would fit quite nicely under the bus. I have heard these Arctic King units just aren't very powerful. That's fine because as far as I can tell, I don't need anything particularly powerful. If I can keep the summer temperature down to say 78 that should be fine. It would need some inventive ducting and an equally inventive bay to fit it into and there's no guarantee that I'd be able to get another similarly sized unit should it fail - which the naysayers keep telling me it will. For the moment then I shall stay with ventilation and removing excess clothing.
Over the last few days I've taken delivery of an aluminum box and have mounted the two plastic panel mount holders for my Chinese USB sockets. I've also added a voltmeter. There's a 12v cigarette lighter socket included also. Now, on order I have another Chinese USB socket. I will probably replace that 12v cigarette lighter socket with a USB socket. There's also a very nice green illuminated toggle switch that lights up green when it's switched on. That should provide a color clash enough to render even the hardiest soul violently ill. The sockets have blue lights, the switch is green and the voltmeter is red.

Looking at my cigarette lighter to 120v inverter I noticed that it's both 8.8A and only produces 120v at 0.75A. That would have a struggle to power a 100W light bulb! I have not checked the power requirement of my Maha battery charger but I would imagine it would be in excess of that even used straight off 12v.

The plan was to wire all the sockets and the voltmeter together under a single fuse on my distribution panel. That plan has changed several times. Adding up the maximum power, the dual USB sockets are 3.3A each. I have two which is 6.6A. Add a 3rd and I'd have 9.9A which would work well off a 10A fuse.

The voltmeter applied to the line coming in from the charge controller should always read 12v. Not much point in measuring that. The line coming in straight from the battery is the one to measure. That should tell me when the charge controller is about to kill the power. It might even be worth putting a second voltmeter just to measure the power from the inverter and measure both. That would bring me down to four USB sockets, two of which are 1.1A and two of which are 2.2A.
I have to thank EngineeringToolbox.Com for the table above. Normally I just use "wire" for 12v applications and never have a problem. On the other hand I'm usually using very low amperages. I'll be putting a 30A cable to my big battery despite the fact my draw will be minimal. So, what will my draw be?

  • 2.5A extraction fan
  • 2 x 0.5A CPU fans.
  • 2 x 3.3A USB sockets
That's a grand total of under 11A. Assuming I add two more CPU fans and two more USB sockets (the car store has better looking USB sockets) that's an extra 7.6A or if both sockets are USB 2 then 5.4A. So I'm looking at under 20A maximum draw.

Yes, you are correct - I do have a 12V socket. That's going bye bye though for this particular project. It will be returning as an inlet for extra solar or wind power where it'll be mounted straight onto the side of the bus. 

Switching down to two dual USB sockets and two voltmeters was the work of a few seconds. It had the effect of reducing current draw to a maximum of under 7A. That still means 14ga wiring for the positive side of the two USB hosts and one voltmeter. The other voltmeter will be powered directly from the battery. That way I get to see the voltage on both sides of the charge controller. The power switch will have to be changed to a straightforward plain switch but be on the common ground side. 

With that all sorted out, I have a delay in waiting for my piggyback spade connectors to arrive and because I need to buy some 12 - 14 gauge wire. Testing the connection of the battery ground to the charge controller supply ground produced no immediate ill effects. Nothing went boom and nothing went up in smoke. That was when I tried it on one charge controller. The other was a different story.

The extraction fan was off due to low voltage. I connected the negative to the negative and the fan roared into life. That's not what I expected and isn't desirable either. Clearly I'm going to have to work this differently. As I've already drilled my holes in the aluminum box, it's hard to undrill them. Fortunately socket blanks exist for this purpose.

Hunting though my parts supply I found loads of on-off-on switches that were of no particular use for this project. I found a few lighted on-off switches that again were of no particular interest. A double pole single throw or double pole double throw would have been advantageous but none were in my supplies. I did, however, find a make contact pushbutton switch and a straightforward on-off single pole toggle switch. Now I can put the switches on the positive side where they should be.

Well, I went shopping and bought some 12 gauge wire only to find it's about the same size as some cable I already have that's not labelled. That's fine - at least I know what I have. I didn't find any replacement switches but decided in the end to go ahead with a pushbutton switch for the battery monitoring on the basis that monitoring will be fairly inaccurate on the battery anyway. Lead-acid batteries need to rest for 30 minutes before the voltage and hence charge level can be correctly assessed. 

In vain I hunted for some piggyback connectors. Those I ordered I figured would not arrive today and yet they did. Thus I was lucky not to have paid through the nose for a second set. I'm determined to complete my USB power block installation today! 

Today's massive shopping expedition included two kinds of bracket to hold my USB power block in place, two colors of 12 awg cable, a can of liquid insulation and a can of paint. My blue piggyback connectors also arrived in the post. Thus, I'm all set for this project.

While I was in Walmart I saw a $10 faucet that would fit my handbasin. I didn't buy it because that's not a project due to be undertaken until winter. Winter has two projects or perhaps three. I need to put cold water plumbing in from a hose connection. That will feed to the cold of my faucet. The other project is to put in two 120v lines. One will go to the inside of my cupboard (if I really can fit a portable AC unit in there) and the other will go to under the handbasin where there will be an instant hot water heater. I had thought about plumbing from the heater to the shower but decided the easiest way is just to put an extra faucet under the sink with a connection to the hot water so that I can fill the cooler that i use with my shower pump. There's less construction involved.

On my return from the store, I'd disconnected the batteries from my charge controllers but the lights on one were flashing away. It seems it still puts solar power through. One of my fans was spinning lazily. Clearly I've got to put a solar disconnect in as well as a battery disconnect. Just think... when the aliens invade, they won't be able to pick me up because I can turn all of my electrical devices off. The only other thing I'll need is a tinfoil hat to stop them picking up my brainwaves. I believe they're sold alongside the August 21st 2017 USA Eclipse glasses.

The first thing I did was to put the pushbutton switch in place. That had to be shaved down on one side to make it fit. Now that is a Radio Shack switch and shame on Radio Shack, it isn't a standard spade connection. In fact, after trying it with midget-sized spade connectors, I can rule those out too. Radio Shack has just forced me to solder that connection though why, I don't know as it would have taken barely a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a cent to make the tags big enough to offer the choice of solder or midget spade. 

Next came the delay. Looking at my brackets, they were shiny metal - possibly tin plated. That meant I had to use a self-etching primer before painting them. They're what's going to hold my box in place. I'll rivet them to the sides of the box and screw the box to a cross beam. I'll have to sit what I'm charging on top of the counter or perhaps on top of the microwave. I'm assuming that if I'm solar charging things then the microwave is packed away because I'm dry camping. 

The piggyback connectors are definitely the business. They make connecting my USB ports in parallel, a real breeze. I think I always underorder connectors. I've had to reorder several times. I seem to be on the right track. Since I'd got this far, I connected the unit to a battery and it worked well. Both USB chargers lit and the voltmeter lit. There was a heck of a crackle as I connected to the electricity but that's only to be expected. The switch currently is upside down and will have to be removed and rotated. That's a matter of seconds work at this stage though.
As can be seen, it's looking pretty good. The goal is to have solar charged USB devices. While I work in the bus, I can charge my phone or my tablet or my MiFi pad (should Straight Talk MiFi ever become a viable option again). I heartily wish somebody would produce a straightforward flip phone that could be turned into a hotspot. I don't want a clunky great big smartphone. I want something with decent battery life. 

That was pretty much it for the day. By the time I'd done all that, dusk was falling. That brings me to two questions people keep asking me:
1. Why is the bus taking so long? Simply because I have a life to live around doing it and I want to get things right.
2. Why are you spending so much time on the bus. The answer to that is more complicated. I need to get it done and done as quickly as I can. My mother never lived to see its completion and always considered it to be some kind of hobby anyway. My dad's not quite sure that it's not a hobby but I want to show him it's completed, titled as a motorhome and that I've used it for a trip or two. Concurrent with that, a friend who's on his last legs is going to Canada in a few weeks and will spend 3 months there, during which time I hope to be able to drive somewhere in my motorhome to meet him.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New math

I decided in the end to mount the USB and 12V connectors on the galley-driving compartment partition and to have solely the CPU fan in the bedroom. This makes connections a lot simpler though when I run my cables under the bus I might well add extras in case I change my mind later (a possibility).

Looking at my two Chinese connector panels, I removed 3 of the voltmeters and replaced two with Chinese USB connectors and one 12V connector. That should fit nicely on the aluminum box that'll soon be arriving.
Now the maths works out something like this. There are two 2.1A USB sockets plus two 5v 1.2A sockets. Add to that a 2.5A fan and two 0.5A fans. That all comes to 11.1A. The cigarette lighter socket is nominally rated at 12A and the documentation on my combination dual USB and cigarette lighter socket recommends a 14A fuse. That adds up to 23.1A. Add in the one piece unit I purchased the other day and we're up to 27.1A.
If you turn your head upside down, you'll notice my charge controller tops out at 20A. That doesn't overly worry me because I'm highly unlikely to have all the devices running at the same time. Having said that, there's a big case there for putting in a resettable breaker just to make sure I don't go over 20A. Of course I could spend a ton of money on buying a massive new charge controller but until my existing 5 charge controllers, each of which can handle 20A die then there's just zero point in bothering. I cannot possibly imagine any circumstances in which I would use such a massive amount of power.

My fuse array is set up for four fuses. Those will be fan 1, fan2, fan3 and sockets. The sockets need a 6.6v fuse for the USB, an unknown quantity for the voltage meter and something for the 12v socket. I only have two devices that run off a 12V socket and to be honest I do not know their amperage. One is a battery charger for AA batteries (it also runs off 120V) and the other is a 120v inverter that produces 200W. Neither of those, I actually use.

Thus, replacing the 12V cigarette lighter socket with another USB charger socket sounds much more practical. That'll have to be ordered but I think it'll work out far better value. That would take the total power from the USB cluster to 9.9A plus say 0.1A for the voltage meter or a 10A fuse. Combined with the fans totaling 3.5A, I'm now under the maximum limit of the charge controller.
Another issue is that my 4 fuse holders have no interconnection. It seems for that I need something called a piggyback spade connector. I went to one of the multitude of car spares shops. I think it was Advance Auto and could find no piggyback connectors. In the end I hunted online and found a pack of 3 for some awful price then Walmart had a pack of 25 for some ludicrous price. Finally, eBay had a pack of 25 for under $5 including shipping. Though it'll take a few days, they should be here next week. I hate all these delays in my plans.

As far as the other USB connector is concerned, I'll have to order it and wait - that's coming from China. Eventually I might use the dual connector I purchased the other day but not in the currrent iteration.

By the time I want a 12v cigarette lighter socket, I'll probably have upgraded my battery from 35AH and will probably have added extra power input. I did email somebody the other day that makes tiny gas engines for bicycles. They're quite inexpensive and at about 45cc would do well turning a car or motorbike alternation to develop power for a 12v battery independent of solar power. Solar is fine for a wide variety of things but the power produced while it will handle my small demands, won't handle much more. I certainly doubt all the online claims I've seen of being able to run air conditioning and fridges off solar.

Meanwhile, the subject of my mysterious battery drain came up at work and one old fellow that used to work as a bus mechanic then as a driver but who now works solely as an aide piped up saying that he would suspect the alternator. I tend to agree. Reading up on alternators online, it seems this kind of thing happens when the bridge rectifier built in begins to fail. There could be other reasons too but if I can get somebody to test the alternator then I might be closer to a solution. Otherwise I'll have to wait until I can get underneath the bus again.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Choices, choice, choices

After an unexpectedly early release from work, I retreated to the bus cum motorhome to work. Work today was centered solely around deciding what to do with my accessory sockets. I have two kinds of accessory socket - the one I bought the other day that's self-contained and the pair I bought on eBay.
The unit on the left has a voltmeter and twin USB connections, one of USB 1.1 and one of USB 2.0. The one on the right has a cigarette lighter socket and two USB 2.0 connections. Interestingly, I discovered that drilled carefully with my 1.5 inch hole saw, a piece of 2x4 could readily house the unit on the left. Now that unit has the advantage in requiring only a 3.5A fuse and lighter wiring than the other unit. The other because of the 12v socket requires a 14A wire and fuse because the socket is rated at 12A. I really don't want nor need massive amperages in the bedroom nor do I actually have any great need for a 12v socket, in the bedroom.

As I already have the circulation fan functioning in the galley, It's a straightforward matter to put in a USB and power socket. That's the theory! The problem is finding that ideal site. Ideally, my 12V stuff  could run much of the same route as my circulation fan. The only problem, I glued the 12v fan wires in place and the higher amperage cable was better put through a conduit. With a conduit, putting the lighter wire through also made sense. Doing it this way also means a 12V and USB socket could be operational today.

Meanwhile, I looked at my extraction fan. I'd already noticed the T section end had a tendency to wobble about. While stationary, that's not a problem. In motion though I fear it could break the mounts for my extraction fan. That could prove expensive. Thus I resolved to add a bracket each side and to support it with a stout zip tie. The zip tie does not have to support any great weight, rather it has to dampen vibration. That should work quite well!

My requirement for fuses now includes 14A, 0.5A and 3.5A for my assorted sockets and fans. It would make sense when I mount the underbus battery to put an overly large fuse on it so that it will be protected absolutely in the case of a short circuit but then to have an overall fuse for it totaling the maximum amperage likely to be used so that I'm protected from drawing too much current. In the unlikely event too much current is drawn, the easily accessible fuse will blow while the underbus fuse will not.

I'm still awaiting two items from eBay. One is my timer for my fan at the back of the bus. Once that's in place I can set it to a 10 minute run time every hour and set the charge controller to work correctly rather than using it as a fan controller. The other is a remote camera I ordered. This apparently has remote pan and tilt controls and is accessible via wifi. A very useful gizmo to have! The problem is I don't think I'm going to receive it. Hours after I purchased it, eBay sent me a memo stating that the item had been deleted but not to worry as it should arrive soon and that if it didn't I should contact the resolution center.
Not only did they delete the item, they also deleted the seller. Thus, I have to wait for the item not to arrive before I get my refund which looks like being September. This is absolutely ridiculous and smacks to me of eBay being a shade dishonest. What they're actually saying is: "We've deleted the seller and we're going to hang onto your money until you can prove the seller never provided the goods". As far as I know, as soon as the seller was deleted, their account was killed off and they have no access to the data files as to where to send my stuff, assuming of course that it wasn't a scam in the first place.

Despite being insanely tired having been wide awake at 3am - a full two hours before my 5am alarm, I managed somehow during today's meeting to remain awake - something 12 others did not manage! Even more amazingly I managed actually to do something on the bus rather than just blogging about what I might do and studying things. I installed my extra zip tie support for my T section.
As it's possible to see, things are supported at the T end. The other end already has plenty damping and support. With luck that will mean there won't be any fractures taking place. In the unlikely event the thing does fall apart then I probably won't replace the bilge fan. I'll probably put Y adaptors on each of the vent tubes and put a pair of CPU fans of about 3 inches diameter onto each of the open legs of the Y. That should provide 2A of extraction fan that will run much quieter. My bilge fan is pretty loud!

Siting my 12V + USB power connector proved particularly challenging. As there was an overhang under the back of the unit that critters could theoretically use to hide, siting was limited. In the end, lateral thinking was used such that the unit was cockpit mounted. Having studied the other units carefully and found a 1.5" hole saw and a piece of 2x4 was all that was needed for a mount, it was decided that was how they were to be mounted. That raised my available USB sockets to 6 running from battery power. It had an unforeseen consequence that I will have to add extra fuses and an extra couple of fuse positions.

Well, that was my decision until I'd put connectors on the device and discovered that there just wasn't the available real estate amidst all my wiring etc to put my connector. That put the project on hold for today which given how tired I was, was probably a good thing. Mistakes are costly as the Vicar's wife discovered when she found her opponent was not bluffing and strip poker meant just that!

I am definitely feeling the lack of a Radio Shack type place in Lexington. There's just nowhere to browse electrical components for possible solutions to issues nor a place to buy electrical components. Lowes (hiss, spit) has a good 120v section but their low voltage and 12v section is pathetic. As for the car parts stores - they have most of it but the prices are outrageous.

Having discovered I can just drill holes in a block of wood to mount my USB connectors and volt meters, I might just do that. Have twin USB connectors with a voltmeter. Having said that though, more USB charging ports is definitely better. That raises the amperage to 6.6A for a dual dual. That's definitely something I could mount on the partition between driving compartment and galley. On the other hand, with Chinese stuff it might be better to mount it in a non-flammable steel box just in case of fire. Something to think about tonight!

Monday, August 7, 2017

''Twas a bright and sunny day

And I skipped off happily to work for it was the beginning of the school bus driving season and I did not have to heft palates and boxes for the maintainence people any longer. Today was a simple course on handling difficult children.

So, having elected to go home rather than do extra work for maintainence, I drove to Walmart to get my photos for the retitling process. Let's just say that Walmart would not have to do any worse with their photo quality! Still, it's reasonably recognizable and will do for retitling. It doesn't have to be perfectly printed though those that saw the images commented how bad the pictures were, meaning the prints. Needless to say, on the way, I picked up a rather fetching 1/4 inch screw and listened to it going tappety tap as I drove to Walmart. Fortunately they had a tyre repairman so while he set to work, I went shopping.

Thinking exclusively about retitling, I bought some purple paint to put on the old fridge that came from the original conversion. It's a nasty little fridge and I certainly wouldn't like to put food in it having not known whether it has been used to store turds or used as a rat's nest. I suspect the latter for there was plenty sign of rat activity in the original conversion.

Walmart also had a USB and 12v socket which looked ideal to put in the bedroom area. The truth is I really would have preferred solely USB but I have a 12v voltmeter plugin that's currently at the front of the bus but which could be used quite happily in the cigarette lighter socket. Yes, I do know they're called accessory sockets these days but I'm on old codger who was brought up with it being solely the cigarette lighter socket or in fact the colloquial term in Britain was the fag lighter socket. That was an era when smoke free zones were an oddity and an adult that didn't smoke was viewed with suspicion.
So, I bought my cigarette lighter and USB socket. If you remember, I bought some on eBay that were panel mounted. That would be nice but I wasn't prepared since my plans changed to buy a box to panel mount them onto. I could have but for the price various sellers wanted, it was cheaper just to buy a USB/cigarette lighter socket ready to mount.

While I was out I also got some purple paint that doesn't really match the color of my kitchen but it's pretty close. Looking at the sky, it was bright and sunny so I sprayed the fridge on each side, the top and the back, purple. Now it looks much more the part.. Having said that, brand new that fridge is $60 in Walmart right now. I didn't buy one but it was a pretty close thing!

 The end result looked pretty decent. As soon as the paint was mostly dry though, down came the rain. Fortunately that fridge only has to look good. It doesn't have to be used. When it's dry, I'll probably give it a thorough wipe out inside with Clorox and then spray the exposed working areas with Raid to kill any remaining critters.

While in Walmart I saw another thing that would add to the credibility of my motorhome conversion, namely a $30 microwave. I've only ever seen them at that price once before. Needless to say, one made it home. It's a no name brand and is 700W so cooking anything will take forever. I have experience of a Rival microwave. That cost me $50 and after 2 years light use was pretty well rested to bits. I expect no less of this one but it cost me only 3/5 of the price!

The goal is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that I can cook, bathe, sleep and live in my motorhome. That should mean retitling is pretty straightforward. There are already plenty facilities. All I have to do is to say I left my generator at home or just borrow a Harbor Freight generator. They might comment on the lack of hot water or the lack of a water inlet but I have workarounds for both. Pretty much the same goes for the toilet. Dry toilets are fine. I'd love a cassette toilet that could be plumbed in as needed. I don't think cassette toilets have become popular in America unlike in Europe where cassette toilets rule.

I had another go with the pretty average cleaner. I set it to go on the floor in the cockpit and it didn't seem to do too much to paint that had dripped on the rubber floor. That was pretty much to be expected - the easy jobs, it does reasonably well. The more challenging jobs that it would be awesome if it did, it won't touch.

While in Walmart I had a look at the lanterns. I see GE now has a slightly bigger and more powerful LED lantern that has a metal loop as opposed to the crappy plastic loop that broke on me. Nice but I already have more than enough underpowered lanterns. There was one lantern with adequate power (well, close enough to adequate to call adequate) it was 1,000 lumens. I'd say "adequate" was the same as a 100W light bulb or 1,200 lumens. Below that and you're just groping around in the dark like a savage. I can see how many divorces must start when two couples go camping and kiss under the light of a (popular) 200 lumen lantern where the husband kisses his wife and finds out that it's the other woman's husband. No, seriously - the vast majority of those LED lanterns really are no better than putting a glow fly in a glass jar!

As many of you know, I have a Walmart Straight Talk MiFi pad. I love it because it means I can access the internet from my tablet while sitting in my bus. As I have a somewhat tedious meeting to attend tomorrow I thought I'd put money on my MiFi pad only to find I can't get into the account. Looking at the Walmart site, it seems these MiFi pads have become a real rip off now. I can pay $40 for 4GB of data or $15 for 1GB. If I had a Straight Talk phone then I could get 8GB for $45. The problem is I don't ever need that much data. I never used 5GB when I had a straight talk phone. I'm going to say that Walmart has become too expensive. At $45 for 8GB, $15 should get me at least 2GB. But I think they're secretly trying to coerce people into dropping MiFi in favor of their pricy cellphone plans and their pricey cellphones. When I had a smartphone, I used it often as a MiFi pad. I just don't need that much data. When I used my MiFi pad daily, I barely used 4GB in two months!

Indeed, as those familiar with my progress know, I dumped smartphones because they don't last very long and are ridiculously expensive. Soon, I reaped the financial rewards of using a flip phone to the tune of paying a third of what I had been. Last month proved me so right since out of my 300 allotted minutes I used just one. Since I dumped smartphones and went flip phone I reckon I've saved $300. By not buying a new smartphone (my old one was $300) I think I must be into $600 savings by now.

Wifi is nice to have but as several of my friends have noticed, public wifi is so widespread that it's possible to be online in many areas without even purchasing a connection. In the old days, I'd write my emails and make a connection every other day to upload them. I believe the reason people are so much in debt is because they're addicted to the little, expensive,  valueless things like having your own connection available 24x7. Freedom is so nice. Maybe I should name my bus, Freedom?


Sunday, August 6, 2017

The French Maid

Today brought out the French Maid in me. Somewhat dubiously, I'd bought a bottle of some urine-colored cleaning spray in a dollar store that called itself "Awesome". Now normally I would just bypass anything with such a stupendously silly name. I figure that if something has to call itself "the best" or "better than anything else" then it has to be complete and utter garbage and the name and possibly a pretty packet are there to lure the guillable into parting with their money. It had been recommended by somebody I knew so I thought I'd give it a shot.
So, in the best tradition of French Maids, clad in their delectable white apron and their black minidress, heels and fishnets, I rolled up my sleeves and began scrubbing away. Had I actually worn a French Maid's outfit, I'd imagine I'd have looked like Brenda in the Plenty advert! (Brenda & Audrey - Bounty/Plenty paper towels advert.) In all truth though, the French are slightly less clean than my bus before I cleaned it. Back in 2001 I took a night train from Oostende in Belgium to Berlin. The French carriages were added to the train at Dijon. I was already having to sleep on the floor in the corridor because the train was overcrowded. The French when they got on, used the toilet and left the door open and didn't bother flushing nor washing their hands. One at least used the connecting corridor as a urinal. At least one pulled the window down and tried to stick their backside out in order to take a poo!

Well, the good news is it did actually clean some of the grime from the inside of the cockpit though not all of it. Stuff that looked caked on, came off easily but that looked more like tobacco residue than anything else. Need I mention this school bus came from Louisiana? Anyway, it cleaned the easier grime and residue fairly swiftly. The downside was that it didn't clear the stuff I wanted to clear - just the stuff I didn't much care about. It also had me choking on the fumes. Nowhere on the bottle does it say "use a respirator" or at least, if it does, the text is so small as to be worthless. The other downside is it removed some of the paint from my first aid box.
To be honest, this stuff does not deserve a name such as "Awesome". It should have a label that says "Average". If It had said "Average" then I might not have walked past it so much. The really stupid thing is while it removed the painted label from my first aid box, it did not remove dripped paint off my stainless steel handbasin.

My decision to use the bus body as the negative connection for the battery side of my power system seems to be good. I connected the front fan to my new fuse set up. I had hoped to use blade fuses but they don't seem to be available in values as low as 0.5A which for a 0.5A fan with fine wires is rather important. Radio Shack's bankruptcy sale helped out with fuse holders. As I said, I picked out things that would be useful like switches, fuse holders etc. I dodn't bother with the rubbish like relays, resistors, transistors, capacities etc. They're all well and good but by the time you've bought all the bits and got your device to work, I've bought something that does the job and was cheaper and been using it for a few weeks.

The bedroom fan I connected to one of my 7ah batteries (which was fully charged) and it does a wonderful job. I really do need to get under the bus as soon as practical to get the underbus wiring done. Somebody suggested spraying the area with some form of insecticide but I'm not sure I'd get all the hostiles in one go. The only way of doing it would be to drive North and spend a while in sub zero temperatures or just wait for winter and do everything that's doable inside until then.
I tried the unfortunately misnamed cleaner on my PVC planking floor in the bathroom. It didn't do a bad job though it's not perfect. I think it's just going to take time and elbow grease. I'm constantly amazed at the quantity of sand that gets into the bus. I swept the floor beforehand and though it's not been long since I last swept, a lot of sand was present.

Today I had all three fans going at the same time. The recorded temperature was 95F inside when I started but though I hadn't had the front fan going long, it was noticeable that the bedroom where I sat was hot and muggy while the galley was cooler. When the system is working fully, I think I might have something!

Meanwhile, in an email discussion with my dad, I mentioned that I seemed to have encountered a brick wall with heat; that I'd painted the roof white but that I figured I was into diminuishing returns without splurging on air conditioning. He mentioned that the flat rooves in Britain are usually painted with a silver reflective paint. That had me looking online for similar products. The only one I could see that was fairly similar was a $25 pot of Black Jack elastometric reflective roof coating. That has a silicone base so I never can put anything on top of it and expect it to stay on. That seems to be the one everybody is putting on RV rooves. There is a tar-based coating that people also use. I think I might try the Black Jack. A 3.6 quart can should do my entire roof. I recall using about half a gallon of white Rustoleum last time. This time I will get better masking tape. The last stuff I used looked like masking tape but was the Devil to get off as it probably wasn't.
That's how my fuse panel looks now. The fuse is actually 8A but I'll order some 0.5A fuses and some 2.5A fuses. I'll also have to order fuses for other things like my USB charging panel. That needs a box to mount it in too unless I just go and buy a USB charging panel that I can just screw into place. That wouldn't have the benefit of a voltmeter built in but that's not strictly essential. There are some very nice USB sockets that connect to 12V sold in the car stores for not that much money.

I went to the shed and found some wood with the idea of making a mount for the USB socket/voltage meter gizmo I ordered from China. After marking it out and getting tired of the mosquitoes outside, I went for a cup of tea. Returning, I found my hole saw needed adjustment so I completed the adjustments just in time for a torrential downpour.

I'd been thinking while I was indoors about whether I should install USB power sockets and whether perhaps I should install straight 12v power sockets instead. The pro of a straight 12v power socket is that I can use a great many other 12v things such as my 12v to 120v inverter. Sure, it only produces at most 200W but it might be good for something though quite what I'm not sure. Perhaps running a 120v lamp? The downside of a 12V socket is that if a spider crept in and caused a short circuit there could be a fire. I'd also have to get 12V to USB adaptors to instal in my 12v sockets. Equally, I could get a 12V USB dual socket and install more USB if I needed to. In the end, I think convenience wins and despite already having the stuff I bought from China, it looks like a better idea to install a read made dual or quad USB socket that has a mounting built into it - something I don't have to build into a panel. When I bought the stuff I did, I did so because the plan was to build them into my ammunition box battery packs.
I'm all for simplicity. I generally start with the most fiendishly complicated ideas and designs then end up building things far less complicated and lavish. Now that I took out the other two charge controllers, that looks a lot better! The wiring is clearer too.

When I first started the bus project, the first thing I installed was a 12V power socket and a USB socket. This was because I use GPS navigation and liked to keep my cellphone charged. It also now powers my GPS speedometer.
While these are most definitely not the prettiest objects in the galaxy, they are practical. With straight forward USB sockets, if I had 4 sockets at 2.1A each then I'd be able to say I'd need an 8.5A fuse though in all likelihood, I could get away with just an 8A fuse as not all would be in use simultaneously. I could mount those sockets on a cross beam, aimed down to keep dust and debris out. That looks quite promising!

One of the things I hate is not using stuff that I've bought. The problem is, for me, because I buy stuff on ebay it can't be returned. I don't return things just because I change my mind about using them either because to be frank, that's not the seller's fault.

My afternoon's work was curtailed by a sudden thunderstorm. I'd been out to put the now wet wood back in the shed when thunder began to roll and I heard the crackle of lightning. Thus I decided to sit out the storm in the nearest shelter which happened to be my bus. Knowing how South Carolina storms like to rumble on for hours, despite it being only 5pm, I called it a day.

I'd have liked to dash out to get a pair or more under dash USB connectors but given the storm and the fact I have to go on a training course tomorrow (which means I'll be out of the house anyway), I decided to save the fuel and wait until tomorrow. I have to hassle Walmart about my prints too - I've not heard a word about those yet despite the fact they were supposed to be in Walmart on Friday.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Real air conditioning and running water?

Last night as I read one of those internet groups that I so rarely participate in, there was a discussion about poertable AC units being ideal for bus conversions. Thus, intreagued, I read up on them. It seems that they pump the hot air out via a fairly substantial hose and also have a hose to release collected water. Looking at the sizes I became quite excited. They seem to be between 12 and 14 inches wide, about 16 inches deep and have a height of 27 inches.

Inside my motorhome I have a cupboard that measures 13 x 16 x 29. Whether that would be suitable remains to be seen but the possibility exists and that's what's interesting. Also interesting is the possibility of putting in a vent for a portable AC unit that can be closed off and the unit put away somewhere. I'd have to do some rearranging of my loose storage but I was going to rearrange that anyway.

That leads on to the fact that if I was going to lay in a power line for an AC unit then I'd also put in a power line for an instant water heater. That heater could easily fit under the handbasin and have a secondary line running to the shower. Needless to say, it would only function when water was supplied via a pipe. It's an interesting thought though.

Thinking about the problem of the overheated CPU fan, I realized I need local switches on all my electrical devices. I remembered I have a pile of switches from Radio Shack's going out of business sale. Most aren't suitable as they need to be put into an enclosure but I have some open knife switches that would work. They're only really designed for 0.5A 12v DC but I don't think my CPU fans are any more powerful than that.

Having had the one fuse do it's duty and blow, protecting my battery, I realized I need more fuses in my 12v house system. I need more than just one on the battery. I need one by each device and one on each power line from my charge controller. I should also put some directly between each solar panel and it's connection to my electrical system. Fortunately... I bought a ton of fuse holders in Radio Shack's going out of business sale. The fuse holders even have useful spade terminals. How fortuitous. It looks like my going nuts and buying a ton of stuff wasn't so nuts after all.

The project to add a switch began and I can honestly say that adding a switch into an existing circuit where the wires are glued down and where there's not much space was a little challenging. After tinning the ends of the very fine CPU fan wire, it just would not be gripped by the minuscule screws of the knife switch. I then tried the smallest eyehole red connectors and crimped them on the wires then screwed them to the switch, dropping the minuscule screws many times in the process before resorting to pipe glue to hold them to the screwdriver. Then the knife switch wouldn't close as the eyehole was blocking them. In the end I cut the eyeholes off, removed the screws and soldered the thing together. Now that I could have done on the desk in comparative ease!
While I'm sure you'll agree, that knife switch looks as ugly as sin as does the terminal block, it's an extra safety feature. I'll add the other safety feature of a block of fuses on the device side of the charge controller next. As when I fused my sockets on my 120v system, each socket had an individual fuse. It will be thus on my 12v system. I'll have three fans and one or maybe two USB charging setups. That'll be five separate lines and five separate fuses. I'll also have that timer on the extraction fan, limiting operation to 15 minutes of each hour.

I removed two of my charge controllers today. They were completely redundant and quite frankly added little to the system. My electrics are going to be negative grounded to the bus body in order to eliminate a few potential problems. I'll probably stick with the charge controller from the back of the bus but for the moment the front is using a PMT C02 controller that is specifically built for lead-acid batteries. That's currently charging my fan battery. Eventually, both solar arrays wil be connected into a single charge controller and the bigger battery. I'll probably have to drag my welder out to build a cage for the battery when the weather cools enough for me to get underneath the bus to measure everything.

Meanwhile, today there are no photos of my bus from Walmart. I sent off an online order and had an order confirmation, confirming I'd paid my $1.90 and that the prints would be ready today. Thus far I have had no text message confirming arrival. Indeed, I went to Walmart earlier on another mission. There was an experiment in progress on ordering groceries online, paying for them online and driving there to pick them up. Taking the opportunity, I went into the store and went to ask about my photos at the pickup desk.  Nobody was there. I pressed their little button thingy that had a sign that said "If nobody is here, press the button". Nobody came. Then a Walmart employee asked if anybody was seeing to my needs. I told him no and he radioed. Somebody said they'd come and never did. Several other employees walked past without a word. In the end, I walked away. The next stop was the bank but the line was ludicrous. So, I went to pick up my groceries. I gather the lady before me had been waiting 30 minutes. Anyway, her order arrived, shortly followed by mine. That worked. The next trick is to try Wamart's home delivery service! I guess I'll have to wait to see what happens about my prints. I can see the photos I sent off online but can't see my order - all very strange! Perhaps they spent my $1.90 on crack? Well, perhaps not - I suspect crack might be more expensive. They might get to sniff the crack of a down-at-heel hooker for that much though!

It seems that if I want to use my Chinese USB converters and voltmeters with my desktop powerpoints then I need to mount them in 30mm holes since they're panel mounting. That had me puzzling for a moment on how to get a drill bit of such an obscure size. Then I realized that I could probably use one of Harbor Freight's step bits for that. I already have two differently sized, smaller step bits and I can see myself getting a third.

The one place I need to charge phones etc is the bedroom. I'd wanted a portable charger rather than having to have loads of underbody wiring but since I seem to have underbody wiring anyway (and it wasn't nearly as unpleasant as I'd thought - despite the black widow bite), I might as well put a bit more. The one place that will be challenging is the kneehole desk side of the bus because as that's above the fuel tank, I'm somewhat limited in what I can do. Perhaps I'll stick with just one area for USB charging - unless I add a socket at the front or perhaps use a charge controller that offers USB charging.

Anyway, after my Walmart trip, I installed a second switch but this is for the bedroom fan. Now I can switch them on and off at will. That must surely save some battery power. I've already decided that the extraction fan will be on a timer. That's going to save even more power. If I put the USB charger and the volt meter into a small project box mounted on the desk or on the wall, I can add a switch so that I can switch it off in order to prevent those silly LEDs manufacturers like adding to things from burning up power or keeping me awake.
I'm sure you'll agree, that knife switch looks like an ugly cockroach climbing the wall. Having said that, it was the only switch I have that does not need to be built into an enclosure. I have several from Radio Shack's bankruptcy sale. In fact I made sure to get all the useful stuff - switches, connectors, fuse holders etc. I didn't waste my time on the electronic gizmos because Lord knows, I have enough problem with half-assed ready made electronics. I definitely don't need to be adding my own home built electronics into the mix. Electrics I can understand. Electronics I kinda-sorta understand but would have a better grasp of had the electronics teachers in school and the electronics whizz kids in school and in college/university not have rejected all my attempts to further my knowledge.

Before I finished for the day, I installed my fuse bank. I've not wired any of the fuse positions up yet nor have I inserted any fuses. In fact all my fuses are 8 amp which means they won't stop overloads - just short circuits. I'm fine with that for the moment but I do need to build up a supply of fuses for all the things I'm using. It would be nice to standardize on one kind of fuse but I have whatever fuse holders I can find at the time. I could do with a couple of fuse panels for full size blade fuses but I'm stumped as to where to get them.
As you can see, the other charge controllers are now gone - consigned to the old cardboard box. I have a diode set up protecting my solar panel though I desperately need a fuse in there too. The blue and yellow connectors lead to my CPU fan. Eventually they will go to the CPU fan via the fuse panel.

When I put the battery under the bus, that will also have a fuse fitted. The fuse will be right beside the battery unless I can put a little fuse access on the side of the bus. I won't be putting a battery compartment door. I'll likely just put the battery in an open cage, protected from spray by the waste barrel on one side and the battery compartment on the other and probably coat the terminals in spray on insulation. After all, the battery is waterproof or it'd leak acid!

I must admit, I like my little motorhome. It's turning out to be quite nice, even though some people would probably run screaming, calling it more basic than a tent in the middle of a field. I think this motorhome construction might look good on a resume even!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fannying around today.

Lets face it's: 88F and 54% humidity inside my motorhome isn't very comfortable but it's better than the 104 it was a couple of weeks ago. As my extraction fan isn't doing the job I hoped it would, I'm continuing to work on circulation fans. As I write this blog (using an elderly tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard), I am cooled by my current desktop fan. It is one of the bunch of O2Cool fans I bought in Walmart a year or so ago when I first started experimenting with ventilation. In fact, it's the only one of the four that I didn't dismantle. One was used as an induction fan, sucking cool air in from under the bus. That didn't really work all that well. The other two were used as exhaust fans which were then replaced by more powerful CPU fans and then by my current bilge blower. Meanwhile the two O2Cool fans that were used as exhaust fans got recycled into a powered window unit.
Today I'm trying to complete tasks as yet not completed. The stifling heat is really not helping too much. Somebody needs to drag South Carolina a few hundred miles further North into an acceptable climate zone! So, the things I wanted to complete today:
  • Complete construction of my bedroom CPU circulation fan and install it.
  • Complete gluing the wire for the galley CPU fan.
  • Charge both of my 7AH batteries.
  • Turn the 5AH battery over to running the CPU fan (as it did before)
  • Work on turning the 50 cal ammunition box into a carrier for my two 7AH batteries, including twin voltmeters and twin USB charging connections. That will be my version of a power bank.
Speaking of power banks, I saw one in Batteries Plus a few days ago. I think it was something ridiculous like 20AH. Had I not already got my bits and pieces for my own portable power bank, I'd probably have bought that. My mission there was not however to buy big batteries. I just wanted a watch battery. When I picked myself up off the floor after I heard the price, it was 50/50 over whether to just buy another watch instead. I paid something like $6.50 for my watch in a sale in Walmart something like a year ago. The battery was $5. I'd looked at watches in Walmart and found the selection they had was not easy to read in low light without pressing the light button. As I need to check the time when I'm at the helm of a bus full of screaming children at 6:30am or way before dawn, that wouldn't have worked. Thus I paid my five pounds of flesh and got a battery. While I was there I did have a good look at the batteries. I must say I was impressed by the size and weight of the lithium bombs. Having said that, if I were to go to lithium batteries, I'd want them in a pod behind the back wheels that could be quickly jettisoned in case of explosion or fire.
I'd like to claim that construction of my second circulation fan assembly went easily but I still could not find my aluminum rivets and ended up accidentally using a steel rivet. My Harbor Freight long handled riveter of course, didn't want to work. Thus I had to use a hand riveter which was quite a challenge with a steel rivet. In the end I had to press the riveter closed with all my force and use the bus floor to support the other handle.

Having done that I noticed my extraction fan gave only 6 minutes of extraction today as opposed to 15 to 20 yesterday. I suspect that is rather more to do with the overcast day than with a global plot against my solar setup though I cannot rule out global plots. In fact, I'm toying with the idea of getting a tee-shirt made that says "Area 51 Crash Survivor". I figure you lot are all bizarre enough that I have to be on the wrong planet!

My next task was to make some battery connectors. The first went together very nicely. The second fell apart. It must be that kind of day I figured. Sure enough. I connected the output of my solar panel to a second charge controller and hey presto... Nothing happened. Then I realized, the second charge countroller might be faulty. That was the one that had a bashed screen. I reconnected the wires and still though there is power flowing, the solar sign is not illuminating.
If you look carefully at the photo above at high resolution you'll see the solar panel symbol displayed at the bottom left of the LCD screen on the top charge controller but not on the bottom model. Disconnecting the battery displays an incorrect voltage from the solar panel. In the end I figured I have a duff charge controller. That didn't surprise me given the bashed screen. Without wasting further time on it, I removed it and eventually noticed I'd wired the solar panels to the output and the output to the battery. There was no harm done even though I blew the protective fuse in my battery pack (thank heavens for the fuse) and overheated my CPU fan, which fortunately still works. It also reminded me of exactly why I have several fire extinguishers aboard.

Going back to what I said yesterday, I'm giving the charge controllers and batteries that have been pretty well poo-poohed by Eric a good go. I have a 35AH battery to hand but if these can keep me going until winter when I can get under the bus to configure a single battery system then its great.

Interestingly, I noticed with two charge controllers connected to the same solar panel but to different batteries, the voltages displayed as battery voltages are identical despite the batteries being of very different voltages. I have very much a feeling that one has to use one charge controller and just combine the output of the solar panels. My controllers all claim 20A or 30A output. We'll see about that though. I am still not really convinced that these all in one gadgets such as solar controllers are really worthwhile.

I did manage to install my second CPU circulation fan. That's now mounted above the bedroom desk. As the fan is wider than the 2x4 that supports it, I had to go for a different design than the one I used for the mount on the other fan.
As can be seen, I had to offset one of the supports into empty space. That'll probably help with circulation. I'll just have to see how many arachnids think it's a clever idea to build a home behind it!

So, today I didn't get all my tasks completed. I did have to rethink my idea of charging extra batteries off a second charge controller attached to a single solar panel. In fact it's looking like the multiple battery idea just isn't going to work. I think I'm better off with the single 35AH battery, putting a timer on my ventilation fan so that it goes for just 15 minutes at a time with 45 minutes between runs. The door lock will for the moment remain as an AA powered device. I can't recall when I last charged those batteries save for that it must have been months ago. The CPU fans need individual on-off switches - more as a safety measure than anything else. I need to install a pair of USB charging hubs - one in the bedroom and one in the galley. As for total power usage, my extraction fan is 2.5A, my CPU fans are 0.5A each and the USB hubs (assuming both have two 2.1A sockets) will total 8.4A for a grand total of around 12A. I'm not too worried about the charge controller getting overloaded. I can easily use the controller output to power a relay to connect devices directly to the battery. That has the advantage that I can bypass the limitations of the relay while maintaining a safe environment.

The 50 cal box will remain a holder for my 35AH battery. That battery won't be used until I can get my solar panels linked and get down to a single charge controller. The redundant charge controllers will just have to go into a box. You might be correct for thinking I don't know what I'm doing. The fact is, I'm finding out as I go along by trial and error. If I build another motorhome then I will most likely do it completely differently, using the knowledge gleaned from this one to achieve Nirvana with the next.

So, aside from putting wiring down the beam for the new fan, I'm pretty much done. I'd like to install switches for safety so I can just cut the fans off individually if there's an overheating issue again. Other than that, my fans can remain using the 10AH and 5AH batteries. I won't put USB charging in place until I can get my single battery and wiring installed.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Are solar charge controllers a load of baloney?

You're probably already aware of my miserable experiences thus far with solar power. I have a pile of those all in one solar charge controllers and don't believe any of them is worth as much as a fart in an elevator.

According to what I've read, a 12v battery tops out at 12.8V and is discharged to 40% of its capacity by 11.9V. Going below that 40% apparently risks damaging the battery and thus shortening its life. My two latest charge controllers will not let me protect my battery. Their cut off cannot be raised to 11.9V. Their cut off can be set only between 9V and 11.3V. A battery is 100% depleted by 10.5V. Those Chinese charge controllers are designed to destroy batteries - probably so the Chinese can sell more batteries!
There they are. Totally useless as charge controllers. $20 blown on Chinese junk that I'll never get back. Chairman Mao is probably spending my money right now on snorting coke or on kinky whores.

The purpose of a charge controller is fourfold.
  • It protects the battery from overcharge (an overvoltage cutoff switch)
  • It protects the battery from overuse (a low voltage cutoff switch)
  • It provides for a threshold voltage that cuts power back on.
  • It protects the solar panels from the battery (a diode)
All my solar charge controllers claim to have "different charging algorithms" for different kinds of battery. Those claims are totally vacuous in my opinion. Electricity is often compared to water in most electrical textbooks and my question is... how many different ways are there to fill a bucket with water? Water goes in, reaches the top. Done!

I can honestly say I am distinctly unimpressed by the claims of these charge controllers. I'm thinking very much of just ditching charge controllers and going over to a simpler system. All my solar panels are double diode protected. They really should be fuse protected too. That eliminates one part of the charge controller system.

There are undervoltage cut off switches,  voltage trigger switches, over voltage cut off switches and diodes. Individually these are probably more costly and take up more space but they might be the way to go, considering these Chinese charge controllers are just so bloody hopeless. So many of these Chinese products are built as though they're middle school science projects, slapped into a pretty case and given Google auto translated instructions that are printed in minuscule text on paper everybody else would wrap around fish and chips.

Looking around I see exactly the same charge controllers - same form factor, different colors being sold by different companies at wildly different prices. I've seen the same thing going on eBay for $10 that has been in Walmart for $20, Home Depot for $50 and Harbor Freight for $80. Then I see charge controllers being sold for upwards of $1,000 in other places. Add in to that the fact you never really know the background of anything and it becomes almost impossible to know whether you're buying a Chinese lemon or an American star. I dare say it took the Chinese 50 years after everybody else to develop a space program because of their lousy attitude to quality.

So, thinking forward, if the charge controller that's supposed to arrive from California on Friday actually works, my next purchase will be a timer. That way I can set my extraction fan to go for precisely 15 minutes every hour. I already have a thermal switch on it so that it won't run in under 25C (77F). I might further add a low voltage cutout switch.

In fact, with the low voltage cutout, a timer and an over voltage cutout, aside from diodes on the solar panels, there would seem no point whatsoever in having a charge controller. Timers seem to go for about $10, low voltage cutouts for about $40 and over voltage cutouts for about the same. For my purposes, with my diode protected panels, all I really need is to protect the batteries from low voltage and put a timer of my extraction fan. Over voltage with 35W of solar power and (when I get my CPU fans wired into the curcuits) 10W of ventilation plus 30W of extraction fan is most likely not going to be a problem. Having said that, it's always worth putting in overvoltage protection.

Meanwhile, I set to and adjusted my charge controller settings on the extraction fan. I figured that the battery was probably already gone so dropping the cutoff voltage from 11.9 to 11.5v wouldn't do any more damage. I'd read on one of those authoritative battery websites that one should never discharge a battery below 11.9v as it would damage the battery. Discharged to 10.5v and the battery would be dead instantly. Not expecting much from it, I initially connected to my 7ah battery and found the extraction fan worked for quite a while before cutting off and recharging after which it worked for quite a while again. Mystified I disconnected the 7ah battery and reconnected my 10ah and left it going. It charged and discharged a couple of times with impressively long fan operation times. I'll have to see how long it keeps going like that.

Then I got on and glued more of my lightweight cable from my circulation fan to the wall and then joined it to a heavier cable that leads to my front charge controller. The fine cable was flimsy enough that a terminal block connection didn't work. The wire snapped off as soon as the screws were tightened. Thus I soldered the connection and put shrink on insulation sleeves. How I wish I'd discovered those 40 years ago! The cable was glued into place and passed through a hole in the partition. I connected it to the charge controller using spade terminals.

Setting the fan going took a few minutes and I had to read the charge controller manual. It was in the usual Chinese gibberish. Alas that charge controller is set to 11.3v cutoff voltage. Now it could be that the website that I obtained my charge level information was written by some joker that had a hidden agenda or he could have been a complete cretin. Equally, he could have been dead right. Only time will tell. I neglected to include a thermal sensor in my fan setup. I will have to add that later.
I'm hoping and praying that my small batteries last a while like this. Not least because if they die, I'll have to replace all my charge controllers. I do intend to switch over to my bigger battery but the plans I have for that also involve adding an external solar or wind power input, putting the battery (which is fairly bulky) under the bus in a custom built cradle. For that I'll probably have to get my welder out of storage and (carefully) weld some of the leftover steel angle to form a cage that can be bolted to the C section members underneath the bus. At the same time I'll put an extra cable from front to back to carry the solar charge to the front where it will be shared between all my devices and a cable from the extraction fan to the front. I'll also include a connection for a fan above my bedroom desk. Then I might include some USB power ports. Needless to say, having the extraction fan on for more than 10-15 minutes is costly in electricity and most likely entirely unnecessary. One complete change of air every hour should be plenty! For that I might need to obtain a timer.

Despite the fact I come across unforeseen issues and problems, I do master them. This bus project has been a series of problems, solutions, frustrations, frequent cursing and I am eternally glad that I have been able to do it. My dad brought me up around tools and showed me how to use many. I wish that my woodwork was better. My dad, of course, was brought up by a multi-skilled father whose claim to fame was that he was a ship's carpenter for some of his life. Sadly, he passed away before I arrived on the scene. I can well imagine his tut-tutting over my carpentry skills! I'm keen to try my bus out on a short camping trip. I'll probably do that after it's retitled and the new insurance is sorted out.

At the moment I'm waiting on Walmart to provide the prints I ordered. They should come in on Friday. Those prints will go together with my $15 dollars and my completed application to retitle my bus as a motorhome pretty quickly. It took the DMV a month to respond last time. This time, I hope they're far speedier. Mind, this time I'm surer of my situation. The bus has been improved substantially and I have a bus driving license now as well as more driving confidence as a consequence.

It seems the biggest thing I did in order to reduce the heat in the bus was to paint the roof white. I have a feeling my CPU fans though slower were probably better value as extraction fans than my big bilge blower. I have a feeling my idea of having CPU fans as circulation fans is probably a good idea.  The $5 window screen from Lowes (hiss, spit) isn't as good as the powered screen I built but stays in the windows earlier and wedging the window onto the screen with a 1 inch nut was a stroke of genius. School bus windows were not built to be very adjustable! There's no way, without air conditioning that I'm going to be able to get the temperature inside the bus much lower. Sure, there are elastometric coatings one can paint on the roof - the best example being Kool Seal which they put on the rooves of mobile homes. It's quite expensive and doesn't make enough difference over a gallon of ordinary white paint to be, in my opinion, worthwhile. The best defense against heat is to park in the shade.

Returning to my door alarm, I managed to put it in place so that it operates. From the front of the bus with both the fans going, I can't hear it but it'll surely scare the socks off any bad guy that tries to break in. The side door is more of a challenge as it has a wide rubber gasket.

At work I spoke with a painter whose comment about the paint peeling in patches on the bus was to scrape it off where it peeled then to do pretty much what I am. Where it peels I'm cleaning it and spraying with a self-etching primer then spraying with my usual paint. It means a little work every now and then but that's not a problem.

The latest on my extraction fan is I lowered the maximum charge to 12.9v as for some reason it wasn't reaching 13v and raised the minimum charge to 11.6v as the fan had been running for about 20 minutes. That's quite acceptable. As I said though, I feel CPU fans were a better choice as they ran pretty well constantly in the summer. They were very quiet and though they didn't shift quite as much air, I find that removing hot air doesn't help all that much. I thought it would. The fan setup doesn't half look impressive though!
At the end of the day I was thwarted. I'd started to build another fan assembley like the one in the galley but due to the partition in the bedroom being a different design, the fan assembley needed some extra tweaks. I used a 5/16 rivet on one end of one cross bar. That was fine - the other end and where the cross bar joins will be screwed to the woodwork. My problem was that though I know I have a full packet of 5/16 aluminum rivets I could not find them. Mind, having sweltered for most of the day in 93F while I both blogged and worked on the bus, I was in no mood by 7PM to go to hunt for them. That's a job for tomorrow. Once the next cross bar is secured, the new cross bar can be trimmed with my angle grinder and the overly long bottom bars of my fan holder can also be trimmed. Then it'll be a case of putting it up and waiting for cold weather to install the underbody wiring and to pass the wires through the floor to the new wire run.

I did have a crazy thought based along the lines of putting an LED rope light down the center of the aisle, attached to the ceiling. That could hide extra wires! Then I realized how crazy that idea was because my experience of LED lighting has been poor. This is precisely why I went for replaceable lanterns for my lighting.

Well, today has been one of rapidly changing opinions. I'd been totally dissatisfied with the Chinese battery control units and the batteries I'd bought. Then suddenly it all started to work. I end the day with reservations as to how long that setup will work but the prof of the pudding being the eating, I'll have to wait and see. I was very impressed by my USB circulation fan. I believe I will be equally impressed by the one in the bedroom when I get it installed and working. Once that is done, aside from the underbody stuff and making the battery cradle, I'm pretty much done. Or rather, done until I get another idea...