Solar Suitcase

If I have a choice I will park my trailer or van under the tree. Having solar panels permanently attached to the roof will make them less effective. This is a very realistic scenario in my case. Parks and mountains have trees and camping in wooded area is common unless you are in the desert. I decided that my van could use both, couple panels on the roof for convenience and couple portable panels to position where I want it. For this purpose I decided to build my own portable “suitcase”. Unlike commercially available systems I didn’t attach a charge controller to the panels. My plan is to have a higher end solar charge controller in the van handling both permanent roof panels and my portable system.

House Batteries

Battle Born Batteries are one of the best choices on the market for lithium ion batteries and they became extremely popular in RV world. No doubts in my mind they have very high quality product and they are my number one choice for lithium ion batteries. In addition their website provides lots of valuable information I recommend anyone interested in this topic should read. They also have variety of system bundles that include most of the major components one would want to build a very robust power system.

Why lithium? It is a better battery, in my opinion.

AGM. I think it is still a viable option in some cases. If you have limited power needs, you don’t camp off grid very often, or you are just a weekend warrior single AGM might suit your needs. Most of the class C rental RV’s come with single lead acid battery mainly charged white driving and from shore power. But if you are building your own adventure vehicle you are probably lithium material, ready for more capable system.

SketchUp

SketchUp is free for personal use. Someone said the best things in life are free. Well, they didn’t mean software but it is close enough. Yes it takes time to learn how to use SketchUp but you don’t have to be an expert. Sizing 3D shapes of elements you want to use in your project and putting them together to create a mockup is almost enough. I highly recommend it. It was invaluable tool when designing and building my lower kitchen cabinets. I wanted to fit a fridge, water heater and water tank inside of my kitchen cabinet and still have space for couple of spoons. It took several different ideas before picking my final design. It was a fun project and my design looks very promising.

TIP. Watch some tutorials first. It is very tempting to just learn as you go, to try to figure it out on your own. At the end you save time and have more fun if you have some skills.

Non-Ferrous Metal Blade

I have a very basic miter saw. It is Delta brand I purchased over 20 years ago. I was tempted to go out and buy a new saw but I decided to clean it up, square up the fence and give it a good test first. Knowing that I will be cutting aluminum I went online and bought non-ferrous metal blade. I decided to go with something relatively inexpensive and found Concord brand on amazon with good reviews. It worked like a charm. It was very easy to cut aluminum and I have no complains about the blade and quality of cuts. I recommend this blade, it is good bang for the buck. My old saw did the job and I will keep using for now.

Aluminum Brackets for 8020

If you are considering using t-slotted aluminum extrusions in your build you can save some money by making your own brackets. They are not expensive to buy if you only need a few. In my case I will need a lot. Being able to make them also saves time and shipping cost when reordering. This particular bracket is called 15 Series & Ready Tube 2 Hole – Inside Corner Bracket.

Material: 3/16″ Angle Aluminum 1 1/2″ leg
Tools: Non-Ferrous Metal Saw Blade
Supplier in Canada: www.acklandsgrainger.com

This short video shows basic technique to make accurate cuts safely. I use removable stop block for size consistency and also to eliminate miter saw kickback. It takes a little bit longer but it works.

TIP. Cut your brackets 1.25″ wide. This way they are a little bit narrower than 15 series profiles.

In the next video I drill to holes in the bracket. Simple jig made out of plywood makes this step quick and easy. It takes a few minutes to set it up to make sure the hole is in the middle.

TIP. I made my holes a little bit bigger to give myself a little margin for error. It won’t make the joint weaker but gives a bit of play room when aligning two profiles.

Gasoline Generator

I didn’t know much about generators before I bought one. I made a mistake of making an assumption that 2000 watts generator can handle 2000 watts. I was upset when I learned that in generator world watts advertised on the unit are not running watts but peak watts. And of course you can’t return a generator after you put gasoline in it. In my opinion this kind of marketing leads to confusion and mistakes, costly mistakes. I purchased Champion 2000 watts generator that is only capable of 1600 watts of continues power. I wish there was something on the box or on the generator itself to hint this important information. It didn’t help that the person at the retail location didn’t point it out, and probably didn’t know neither. Buyer be aware. Gasoline generator are rated to peak power unlike converter chargers.

I contacted Champion, but they didn’t care. Read the manual or fine print and the information is there. I also found out this practice of advertising peak power is common in this industry. When starting a compressor driven appliance surge watts are important factor. However I personally have no use for it. I never intended to run my AC with a small inverter generator.

What would it hurt to say 2000 watts peak on the box?