Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Adding a second battery to your rig.

Adding a second battery does two things...

1. It allows you to run your extra van electronics longer and...
2. It ensures that your starting battery will have enough juice to get you going in the morning.

I have always had 2 batteries in my van but one of them was a jumpstart battery pack that I only used to power a small fan in the summer. I had a 12v solar panel to charge it and I would put it out during the day to charge. The battery pack worked but when I added the Edgestar fridge I quickly realized that I needed a second, high capacity battery to run it and a way to charge that battery.

I settled on a type 27 marine battery from Advance Auto Parts. I bought it and a plastic battery box and some heavy gauge hookup wire. I also ordered a battery isolating solenoid from Amazon.com.

I built a small tray inside the cabin of the van and although this is not the best place for the battery, it was all that was available. There was just no room under the hood. The battery box is vented since most batteries produce hydrogen gas (very explosive!!) when charging. My van is a conversion van and the interior lights, radio and CB run from a dedicated fuse box inside the van. There was a cable attached to the starting battery for this fuse box and instead of running a new wire I simply attached the existing cable to the house battery side of the solenoid....

Yes the SOLENOID. This is a very simple relay that makes a connection when 12v is applied to a terminal. Hooking the solenoid up is very easy. Mine grounds to the vehicle so I found a spot near my starting battery, scraped the paint away and screwed the solenoid in with self-tapping screws. On one of the main posts of the solenoid I added a heavy gauge battery cable to the positive terminal on my starting battery. On the other post of the solenoid I ran an 8 gauge cable to the positive terminal on my house battery. I grounded the house battery to the body and my second battery was almost ready to go. The solenoid needs to be turned on/off by the ignition. Under the hood of my van was a connector (for something) that was not hooked up. It had 6 connections and with a little trial and error I was able to find a connection that provided 12v when the ignition was turned. I ran a wire from this to the small post on the isolator and made sure it worked by listening for the solenoid to click when I turned the key on.

When I turn the van on the solenoid closes and connects the second battery to the first (and the alternator). When I turn the key off the second battery is isolated from the starting battery....simple right???

I also hooked up my solar charger to the second battery with a charge controller. The solar charger cuts in when the battery is low and turns off when the battery is fully charged. The charge controller is super simple and I mounted the solar panel on the roof and bought an extra long cable to hook it up.

From my second battery (house battery) I am running my fridge, a 3 way 12v plug for my cell charger and any extras, a 12v fan mounted over the drivers seat, another fan that clips on near the bed, my pump for my sink, and a 12v hand vacuum when needed.

Everything is also fused. I have a large fuse on the wire running from the solenoid to the second battery, a fuse between the second battery and the fridge, between the second battery and the pump, the interior lights are on a dedicated fuse panel and the fans both have fuses built into the 12v plugs. Everything should always be fused.

Here are a few things that I learned during my install...in no order whatsoever.

if you are running a cable through sheet metal, use some cable protection through the hole like a rubber grommet (this was a 200$)

make sure your grounds are good

fuse everything

use the heaviest cables you can afford and nothing less than 10 gauge

draw everything out on paper first

cable management is very important especially under the hood

label your cables

use the proper connections on the end of cables

don't electrocute yourself

disconnect both batteries while working on the system

learn how to reset the clock on your radio

That's it for now.....

Monday, October 17, 2011

....setting up a sink in your van.

....When I built my kitchen cabinet I struggled with the price of an rv sink. The units I found were in the mid 200$ range and I just couldn't swing it so I decided to build my own. I had just a few requirements...

1. Battery Operated
2. Hidden (mostly) when not in use
3. Cheap
4. A large water capacity

I wanted a push button sink. I had a hand pump sink in an old pop-up I had and it was always a PIA so this time around I got a 12v pump/faucet combo from Jabsco on Ebay. Here it is.

Installation was pretty straight forward for the electrics and a bit more problematic for the water supply. The pumps + wire attaches to the faucet switch's + wire and then to the +12v from the battery. The ground from the pump goes to the ground of the van. That's it for the electrical......now here comes the fun part.....Water source.....

A usable water container proved to be difficult. Sure, I can buy an RV fresh water tank but where is the fun DIY in that (honestly, I wish I had. My trial and error on this was costly). I ended up using a blue Reliance 6 gallon water jug which I modified the spigot end so I could hook a hose directly to it. Here is the jug...

Mine is a little different than this as it has a screw on breather cap. I got mine at Wallyworld. They make a smaller 4.5 gallon unit as well and that would be great for a setup that used less space.

The next step is connecting it all together. I ruined about 3 different containers (and different valves) trying to cut a hole in the water container and glue the right kind of connection in. One failed at night with a full jug of water and soaked my floors so I decided to go a different route. The Aqua-Tainer has an on/off spigot for the water. This spigot is two pieces. The big piece screws onto the container and the actual spigot part screw into this plastic ring. I unscrewed the spigot part and went shopping.....and did not write model numbers down so you'll have to do a little legwork. Sorry.
First, I bought a plastic thingy in the plumbing section (at lowes I think) that had the same threading as the inside of the plastic ring. This bit was also threaded on the inside (basically a reducer). I screwed this into the Aqua-Tainers plastic ring using some teflon tape. Then I found a screw in barbed connector (at Tractor Supply) that matched the inside of my reducer and screwed that in using teflon tape. This barbed fitting matched the inner diameter of the plastic hose coming from the pump (be sure to measure that!!! Once cut, you cannot return plastic hose). In my case I found one that was at a 90 degree angle, which worked for my shallow cabinet. The pump and faucet will need a connector hose too and I think that this is a smaller diameter than the pump inlet hose (maybe not, measure everything twice).

The whole thing has to be removed to fill the water which is a pain but there is a screw on breather cap that sits on the top of the water tank. I am thinking of attaching a hose to this which will get routed to the outside of the van with one of these...
.....so I can easily fill with a hose. Remember to close the breather cap while you are driving with a full tank because water will slosh out of it.

OK, so the pump and faucet are all hooked up. One of the things about the pump is that it needs to be below the water source (a little water pressure) to work. Sometimes mine is finicky if the breather cap and hose angle aren't just right but a little shimmying usually gets things going. The next step was the.......

Sink. I used a stainless steel bowl that I already had and cut a hole in the bottom and added a sink drain kit from Lowes. Cutting the stainless was a pain with a hole saw but it worked and the sink drain was pretty straight forward. I used plumbers putty around the hole and the whole thing works fine. I used a washing machine outlet hose for the drain and drilled a hole in the floor for it. The hose stays put with a little silicone and a rubber drain stopper closes off the exhaust fumes while I am driving.

I countersunk the sink Bowl and made a wooden plug that sits in the sink so I can use it as a counter top too. On the underside of the sink cover I mounted a knife sharpener. I spent a bunch more on this project than I should have because of trial and error but as a whole the system works great now. Just remember to close the breather hole while you are driving (I always forget!!!)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

....the case for cast iron.

....remember those old frying pans your grandma cooked on. Well, I tend to use nothing else. Cast iron is easy to cook on, heats evenly, is easy to clean, is durable, and for me, a bit nostalgic. I use several cast iron implements and over the years have stopped using anything else. Here is my cast iron collection...

6 qt Dutch Oven
10" fry pan
8" fry pan
reversible grill/griddle
12 qt. dutch oven

I also have a dutch oven tool (pot grabber).

Cleaning cast iron is as easy as scraping out any food with a metal scrubber, using a plastic scrubber and hot water, and rinsing. I always finish with a super light coating of veggie oil. Every once in awhile I will clean the pots with hot soapy water and re-season them in an oven (which I am doing as I write this). The pots are almost completely non-stick when properly seasoned an I never have to worry about teflon non-stick chipping of my pans.

There are a lot of cheap sources for cast iron but I tend to hunt at thrift stores for good brands such as Wagner, Griswold, and Lodge. My two dutch ovens are Lodge as is my griddle. My fry pans are Griswold and Wagner. The dutchies are great for soups and stews and can be set right in the fire. You can also bake bread and cakes in them as well as biscuits. Dee-Lic-Ous!