With almost 3 years of reading RV blogs of those who have gone before us we knew the dream of boon docking would require some type of solar power.   We previously had 4 panels setup to work in our house so it was just a matter of moving them to the top of the new-to-us motor toy.   Our research ahead of time pounded it well into our head to use lots of Dicor sealant on everything.   Once on top of the RV it was pretty easy to locate the panels and leave room for additional ones if we found it necessary.

On our 1999 Holiday Rambler Admiral the rear corner above the bedroom gave us easy access straight into the closet area, which then leads right into the bay area storage compartment for the batteries. The weather proof boots and grommets were something we had left over from some wireless internet radios we no longer used.

Four gel filled Optima units fit nicely in there and with a little securing from sliding around and we were set to go. (Only 3 shown here, the other 1 was added after this photo)

Installing the charge controller was a snap with plenty of space in that big bay.   A 100 foot spool of 8 gauge wire quickly disappeared with only a couple feet leftover.

We are truly enjoying retrofitting our minds and this older 99 RV into today’s lifestyle.  We both had some serious laughs to see the time and effort the factory put in to make sure this RV was neatly wired for phone and cable connections, but those days are fading fast and Wi-Fi is now the way of the world.   So as long as we were on the roof with all the tools strung out we decided the time was right to continue with some updated connectivity.   We had seen many installations with permanently mounted Wi-Fi antennas in a right angle fashion to the radio unit. We felt this was impractical and didn’t want some low hanging tree to come along and ruin the day.  So here on the roof we have an antenna that cranks up from the inside so why not utilize that technology to raise our technology and then put it safely back down when we are ready to hit the road.  A few minor welds and drilling holes made this bracket work very nicely and with an 8DBI Omni antenna connected to a 2.4 MHz Ubiquiti Bullet M2 we were making B/G/N connections we could never attain with just our router or laptop Wi-Fi.  The Cat 5 wire was fed to the front of our roof and another weather boot sealed the deal for dropping the wire directly into the overhead cabinets above the windshield.

The last step of our rooftop upgrades was the addition a cell phone booster. We used a Wilson Electronics 800/1900 MHz Magnet Mount Antenna with SMA Male Connector.   Most all the info we read about this booster installation recommended a metal base to help reflect the signal.  An old road sign provided a large base to meet those requirements, however, being aluminum we needed to add a smaller piece for the magnetic antenna to stick to.  The wire for this unit was also dropped into the same area as the Cat 5 cable in the overhead cabinets which made for a tidy install and easy access.

Cat 5 from the Omni along with the cell phone booster antenna wire, were run through the weather boot directly into overhead cabinet above the passenger seat.

In the overhead cabinet we used the TP Link Archer Long Range Access Point / router which allows for multiple secured device connections inside and outside our RV.  We used a Wilson Electronics – 460101 DT 4G – Cell Phone Signal Booster should we find our signals on the weak side which comes in very handy in some areas of the country.

Battery and Invertor Update

Our initial boon docking tests showed us right away that the Sunforce 11240 1000 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter was not going to be enough.

The Optima batteries, listed here, Optima Batteries 8052-161 D31M Blue Top Starting and Deep Cycle Battery, were also making us a little nervous.  Upon entering the RV we noticed a very strong rotten egg type of smell.  Tracking down this smell lead us to the storage bay where the Optima batteries we sitting.  We found one of the four batteries extremely hot and hence the source of the rotten egg smells.  This battery was so hot that welding gloves were required to handle it.  This blue top Optima unit has a 2 year warranty and of course we were just past that time by a couple of months but I still made a call to the manufacture to see what they had to say.  They did not seem at all surprised by the rotten egg smell or the heat of their product and only said it must have shorted itself on the inside.  As far as warranty it is a solid 2 years and that is the end.  No pro-rated anything just 2 years and you are done.  I was hoping for 232.00 dollars each there would be some type of compensation, but live and learn, and buyer beware!

Now we were down to just 3 of these Blue Top things and after pulling only a couple hundred watts for an hour or so we were seeing the invertor displaying an error code pointing to batteries.   This was the last straw for us regardless of how much money was wasted as the BlueTops were giving us the blues!

Further research into the RV solar world lead us to the purchase of four 6 volt golf cart batteries. Once they had a chance to be fully charged by the solar panels we started load testing them.  We turned things on one at a time until we were pulling over 900 watts and did not see any error codes from our invertor and inside power was very stable.  We got these Energizer Golf Cart Battery – Group Size GC2 at Sam’s club for 84.52 each.  There is also an 18.00 core charge but hey we will get that back when we give them the Blues.   So do the math here on this experience and choose wisely.

Moving forward considering our needs based on our load tests we decided we may be under powered on the invertor side.   More power came in the purchase of this unit, Go Power! GP-3000HD 3000-Watt Heavy Duty Modified Sine Wave Inverter.  As an added safety precaution we installed a computer power supply fan to aid in venting the battery compartment.  Progress has definitely been made in conjunction with our new / better batteries and 3000 watts at our receptacles.

Satisfied with our load tests and operation of our LED TV, laptops, and all other devices using modified sine wave from this big invertor we feel more confident than ever we could park anywhere.

We are now looking at the leftover Sunforce 1000 watt pure sine invertor and decided it should not go to waste.  We have 2 extra coach batteries in one of the rear storage bays and with a small shelf mounted above them we found a source for some extra juice should we need it.

Real World Results

5 days in the Sonoma desert was the proving ground for our setup.  Although our system was functioning we seemed to be using way more of our batteries than we anticipated.  After some investigation we realize our method of connecting the 30 amp plug to our 3000 watt invertor and leaving the RV convertor in play was causing a huge drain on our batteries.  In this scenario the solar was also charging the 2 additional coach batteries.  We unplugged the RV convertor to stop the extra draw on our system which greatly improved our supply of solar gained juice.

Now we were faced with the issue of no charge going to the coach batteries which we use to run our pure sine wave invertor to power our more sophisticated electronics.  We should point out here, UPS, (Uninterruptable Power Supply), or battery backups do not like modified sine wave invertor electricity and will go into constant beeping mode.  They only work well on standard power or a pure sine wave invertor.  So keep this in mind if you plan on adding a UPS to your setup.  We use a NAS, (Network Attached Storage), which is 2 mirrored hard drives in an enclosure for access to many of our important files and photos.  This unit requires proper shutdown procedures so a power failure could spell disaster, hence the UPS. Our digital mixing console and studio recording mic also deserve the extra protection should we have a power outage regardless of how we are electrically connected.

Some head scratching here and there lead us to purchase the Renogy 100 watt portable solar unit to use for just the coach batteries and the pure sine wave invertor.  It has 2 50 watt panels which fold into a suit case style carrying case complete with a charge controller and alligator clips for quick connectivity to the coach batteries.

Setup is quick and easy and it stores conveniently in one of our storage bays taking up very little room.  We also like the tilting aspect of the built in brackets to optimize the suns power.

We will continue to test and optimize our system and post back on the results. In fact, Rod is already dreaming up a way to tilt and rotate the roof panels!!

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