Saturday, November 27, 2010

Morning from Hell

I woke up about 5:00 and it was COLD. Stayed in bed until 6:00 trying to get back to sleep and didn't have any luck so got up to 37 degrees in here. I turned on the light and computer and the inverter cut out because of low battery voltage so I went out and started the charger. It ran out of gas no sooner than I finally got it started. Added gas and started it again so I'd have power until the sun comes up for the solar panels to start charging. Then I came in and put water on for coffee and kept waiting for the water to get hot. I noticed it never did so looked and the burner had gone out, but no propane was coming out. I just changed bottles yesterday! Next I notice the CHECK light on the fridge is on and it isn't working. I thought OK... it isn't getting propane, but I tried the burner on the stove again and it light with no trouble. Put the water back on for coffee and tried to get the fridge to fire up again and it wouldn't. Low voltage on the trailer's battery that the fridge gets its control voltage from. Looks like I'll be running the generator today to charge up that battery.

I've been thinking something is up with the batteries lately because they just don't hold up at night, but I just had an epiphany. It is Winter, the days are shorter, the sun is further away, its not hitting the solar panels at the correct angle for maximum charging and batteries don't like cold. This all equates to either going to bed real early and staying off the computer or using anything that will drain the batteries much. Either that or get used to using the charger and generator more in the evenings to top off the batteries because the solar panels couldn't.

Now this brings up a conversation JustMe and I had yesterday when I went over to pick up the siding. It was about AMPS at Volts. A lot of people seem to think that if an appliance pulls 1 AMP at 120 volts it also pulls the same at 12 volts. That is far from the truth. If an appliance pulls 1 AMP at 120 volts then it will pull about ten times that at 12 volts. You also have the overhead of the inverter which further adds insult to injury. Take the DSL modem here. I wasn't having trouble with inverter cut outs at night until it was installed. That coupled with the shorter days, the sun being further away and the sun hitting the panels at the wrong angle all cause problems I didn't have in the summer. About the only way to offset that would be to add more solar panels, setup a sun tracking mechanism for the panels to follow the sun or start running the charger and generator to take up the slack. Of course as mentioned before I could start going to bed earlier and cut back on the computer use at night, but that doesn't really appeal to me.

BTW the sun is now up and the solar panels charging the single RV battery are working giving the fridge enough voltage to work off of so its now working again.

Just something else to think about before moving off grid.


  1. Always a challenge of some kind, huh? It sorta sucks, but can be filed away for future reference!

    You have a great day, my friend!

  2. That sure doesn't sound like a fun morning. I've been working on what my electrical requirements will be for off-grid and it isn't easy. I keep rearranging stuff. I am a morning person so will not use lots of power into the night, lol, I crash around 9pm.

  3. HJ, yep a challenge for sure. Not sure what the info will do for me next winter, but maybe I'll come up with other stuff to help some. Maybe sun tracking for the panels or something like that? I don't think I'd be doing that until spring or summer though. Too many irons in the fire and I don't handle cold too well anymore.

    D-Rose, If I was to go to bed at 9:00 I'd be wide awake at 2:30 or 3:00 and not be able to go back to sleep. That usually happens anyway though, but at least I usually manage to get back to sleep.

  4. dont know how u did all that on a no coffee morning that early, too bad those problems cant wait till afterwards.

  5. I sleep straight through and always have except when my son was born. because I need at least eight good hours so have to hit the sack so that I can be up at 6am to get ready for work.

    Did you figure out what the problem was with the propane?

    Nick, I'm glad I don't need caffeine to get going in the morning. I'd never get out of bed, lol.

  6. Over the years I have lived off grid a number of times in my bus and on a boat. Here are some of the things I learned.
    Batteries cannot be depended on even if you know what your are doing and they don't like cold. I fixed that by having two large banks with staggered dates on them of at least six months.
    Expensive but I don't like inconvenience. Inconvenience happens only at night usually when it's raining or snowing. I'm running one battery now but it is back up for my on grid supply.
    Propane does not like cold and by that I mean below 50 degrees when it has a heavy draw like for heating. Heavy draw pulls the tank temp down even lower and will reduce the pressure enough to shut down most of the modern heaters I've used. The only stoves I have been able to keep going when I really need them is the kind sold in third world countries and to campers. The kind with no safeties. The stuff sold to Americans is so safe that it is often unusable. I finally resorted to keeping the tank inside with the heat source to keep it warm. Dangerous but you'll do crazy things when you are cold.
    I'm on grid now (6.5 cents kWh) and I have electric heat but I'm heating primarily with a 65 dollar wood burning tent stove. It requires attention but the temperature alerts me to that. It was 34 degrees F when I got up this morning. The dying embers in the stove kept it at 66 degrees inside the bus.
    I use and have used the same Coleman single burner white gas pressure stove for emergencies for over 30 years. It is very compact and has a black snap on hood for use as a heater. This thing throws out some serious heat and back in the 1970's when I was loading my own ammo I used it to melt lead and it didn't take long. The fuel is expensive but the gallon I bought in the 1980's leaked through the rusted can a year or so ago and there was probably about a quart left. I use it mostly for emergencies like when I run out of propane before my coffee or in the middle of frying my eggs. I used it for a while to take the morning chill off because it was so handy. I store it where I can get to it quickly in the box it came in. The box is 5.5 x 6.5 x 6.5 so it is compact. I have kept the box going with duck tape.
    My friend Hank used an under 1000 watt generator for when he wanted to stay up late. It was either a Honda or a Yamaha. It would run lights and stereo and if he had a computer I'm sure that too. It was so quite that it sat between us on the cockpit grating running and we could easily hold a conversation. If he moved it ten feet away on the other side of the cabin you couldn't hear it at all. He said it sipped gas. Another friend ran propane directly from an adjustable regulator to run his. He just adjusted it by hand until it ran good.
    Stay warm and remember "there ain't no short cuts".

  7. Nick, it wasn't easy, not easy at all.

    D-Rose, I used to be able to do that, but it was a LONG time ago. Over the counter sleeps pills help me for a while, but then they quit working. Haven't taken them since I've been down here, but may start again now for the winter. Sure isn't fun waking up and then if the power goes out have to get out and run the charger while its dark. Don't know what the deal was on the burner unless the regulator stuck shut, but then if that was the case it didn't stay that way.

    Oldfool, thanks for the added info. I'd sure like to have one of those little Honda generators, but they're way out of my price range. The Chinese junk doesn't last until the water gets hot.

  8. BTW had brunch at Bigfoot's & Littlefoot's place this morning and as usual it was great as usual! Tried to get the BBQ WiFi dish to work up there, but unfortunately it wouldn't pickup anything they could connect to so unless Bigfoot comes up with an 8 foot monster dish they are probably out of luck.

  9. When I had my older 32ft travel trailer, I used my stove for heat. I would just crack the kitchen window, living room window and the bedroom window...not much but enough. I always ended up getting up really early because it got really warm in there(i am warm natured).

    Have you thought about building an insulated box out of scrap wood for yer batteries? You can cut out a hole big enough to put on one of those computer cooling fans to let out the hydrogen gasses it produces. Just an idea.

    I also have a $10 one burner stove that I bought at a dollar store once. It takes fuel cylinders that look like the old aquanet hair spray cans. I stocked up on those fuel bottles too...just in case. I dont use that for heat but I imagine i could. I have it as a back up but when i bought it say about 7-8yrs ago, it was for our extended overnight fishing trips to make meals etc.

    If you need help with this solar/voltage stuff go to and post yer question. I know this guy and he runs his household completely off of solar. He will help with your questions. Some of the posts seem older because he was away from the forum a while. But I look at it often and if he hasnt been there a while I will tell him to go look at the question someone has. This guy knows his stuff. He's really cool. He is my go-to-guy for any 12v/solar questions.

  10. That's a lot of interesting information here. I hope you get your electrical, heat, and propane issues settled out soon. It's sure getting colder!

  11. Tffnguy

    We had a power blackout early one morning here in Corpus some months ago. All our houses being electric made things difficult for most people. I fired up my generator and hooked up my coffee pot as my nieghbors watched me with envy. I had Hot Coffee. No problem for me.

    Cabela's has a combination small propane heater, and cooker that you can heat a pot of water on. That thing uses the same cylinders as a MR. Heater unit. I think its only 30 or 40 bucks. It would make a good backup unit.

    hang in there Tffnguy and stay warm.

  12. I know how frigid it can get down your way. I am just greatful you are not in that cold dungeon anymore.

    A lot of people on this post have given some good advice. Wish I could be as knowledgeable as they are about amps, and other heat sources but I am clueless on those subjects.

    All I can offer is simple advice that has worked for me such as a zero degree rated sleeping bags...I know it's lame but it has made a big difference when camping out in COLD weather.

    Stay warm :-)

  13. Jen, one of my future projects will be to build an insulated box for the batteries and inverter. Just have too many irons in the fire for right now.

    Allen, for now I'm not there and enjoying some heating at RN and my sister's house. Frann is here to and we brought my trailer for her to get some of her stuff and buy more stuff she needs for down there. We picked up 4 new golf cart batteries today and RN and I got cables made for them so she will be good to go as far as a battery bank goes. Once she gets some solar panels she will be even better off.

    CC, I have a couple of sources for heat and three if I wanted to run the generator, but the trailer is so large it takes for ever to heat it once it gets cold in there.

    MsB, I don't use a sleeping bag, but I sure use a lot of blankets and quilts. I don't get cold while I'm in the rack... its getting out of it that is the problem. ;)

  14. Yep. It's the getting out of the warm bed that is the kicker. That's why my trailer is the smallest I could find. It almost stays warm with just my body heat...and the thermals, sweats and socks I sleep in.

  15. D-Rose, although the dungeon got really really cold at night heating it up in the morning wasn't bad at all. The big heater that takes for ever to heat the trailer would run me out of the dungeon in about 20 minutes, but of course the actually living area might have been a 4th of that in the trailer. Considering everything else is much better though I'd as soon not move back in the dungeon. ;)

  16. How big is your trailer?! The dungeon was 8x20? Ya, the trailer has more amenities and is more comfortable, definitely preferable : )

  17. D-Rose, the livable space in the dungeon was only about 7'6" x 11' because I had it partitioned for storage in the back part. I think this trailer is a 32 foot with a 12 foot slide out. Big difference!

    Back at the ranch now... We went straight to Frann's place and unloaded. I wired up her new batteries and added the inverter. Her new panel was there, but not the charge controller so no charging as of yet. Either I or someone else will wire that up when she gets it and life should improve for her a good bit. She dropped me off a little while ago and its nice to be home, but will be back to cold nights and alone again.

  18. "It's not the Volts...." nor the Amps, but both.

    It is a question of power (P). In electrical terms power is measured in Watts (W). An AC adaptor that plugs in to a 120 Volt AC socket has a current rating on it. For example, my Linksys WRT-54GL wireless router has an adaptor that says...
    Input 100 - 240 V AC 0.5 A
    Output 12 V DC 1.0A
    Keep in mind that these are maximum ratings. So for calculating Power we use the formula P=ExI, where P = Power in Watts(W), E = Electromotive force in Volts(V), and I = Current in Amps(A).

    For the output the calculation is easy.
    P = 12V x 1 A or 12 Watts. This means that the adaptor is capable of supplying a maximum of 12 Watts of power, not that the device it runs will actually draw that much.

    Now for the input, since the voltage range varies we have to choose the input voltage. For the USA we use 120 VAC. So the power,
    P = 120 V x .5A or 60 Watts.

    Now a router won't draw the full 12 Watts from the adaptor, but the adaptor may draw close to the full 60 Watts from the wall, depending on its construction. Older 'linear' power supplies can be anywhere from 20 to 75% efficient, where newer 'switch mode' power supplies can be be in the range of 80-90% efficient. If you have an AC adaptor that is warm even when it is not running anything then it is probably the 'Linear' type.

    You can run the router from the battery as long as you use 12 volt regulator. As you know, car batteries charge at 13.8 to 14.4 volts. This could kill the router. There are solutions to this...
    But this is for vehicle applications where the battery is always above 12V and stops working when the battery gets to 11 volts or lower.

    Ideally, what is needed is a DC/DC voltage converter that will 'step up' the voltage to 12 volts when a deep cycle battery's voltage gets below 12 volts. Luckily the technology exists and it is called a "Buck Boost Converter". The bad news, 60 Bucks...
    At least it can supply 10 amps so you can run up to 10 routers from it, or other sensitive 12 volt devices and it has a cool USB interface for monitoring the battery from a PC. It is also >95% efficient at 2 amps output.

    I am a big fan of cutting out the inverter, as this is another place where large amounts of energy is lost. But unless you can buy all electronics in 12 volt format, the inverter has to stay for the time being. Best you can do is slowly migrate away from the inverter by switching to 12v where you can. Warm wishes, Neil

  19. Neil, good information there. I know some of it, but not all. I'd suspect that the info will help others yet to make it down here and setup off grid.

    I've got an old device that works like the DC/DC voltage converter that I got off of ebay years ago. I think its supposed to regulate DC voltage from 90 volts down to about 5 volts and only put out 12 volts. Its old and looks like military so I don't know what it was actually made for. Problem is that it will only handle about .5 amps.

  20. BTW it was 36 degrees in here at 8:30 and took an hour for it to get up to 56 degrees with the heater going and sun shining in a few east facing windows.

    I'd disconnected the pump and drained the lines in here before Frann and I headed for Odessa. I guess it will stay that way until spring. Sure sucks not having running water in here.


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