Tag Archives: AGM Batteries

A Trip to Presque Isle State Park, PA

So, on the 13th of July we set out for Presque Isle State Park in/by Erie, PA.  Our son had a day’s worth of homeschool classes on aquaculture, swamp & beach biomes, the geology of the park, and preservation and maintenance of the park.  While it was only two and a quarter hours away from Buffalo, as the classes started at 9 am, we decided to camp overnight.

Our trip was uneventful, except for the fact that I made the mistake of topping up the coolant level in the bus before we left.  Why was this a problem?  Because there was a small leak at the coolant reservoir that dripped down onto the alternator, frying the voltage regulator.  By the time we had hit the Angola Rest Area on the NYS Thruway/I-90, we were running on battery power.  But as on our Evangola trip, I knew that the engine would keep running fine, but unlike that previous trip I had the house batteries fully charged, and chargers for both the house and bus batteries that would work when we got to shore power.  But now I knew the reason WHY the alternator was failing.  Unfortunately, the fluctuations in voltage damaged the board in the fridge, though I got it to work for part of the time we were plugged in.

We stayed at Sara’s Campground, whose lands abut right up to both the Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.  Their grounds also have sites on both sides of Peninsula Drive/Route 832, the east side has sites for actual beach camping (in tents), and the west side is in the more forested area.

Sara's Campground Site Map
Sara’s Campground Site Map

So, we ended up getting Site 21 in the Forest Section.  It was our first stay in a private campground, and I was frankly surprised at the density of sites! The dashcam recorded our trip into our site, including the trepidation and worries I had of getting the bus in a place I’d have to back out of.

Sara’s Campground, Site 21, with the bus all settled.

But the site was fine.  The electric/water pole had a streetlight on it, so we had to put a blanket up over the windows on that side (thankfully magnets hold to bus steel wonderfully).  But there were no sites to our starboard side (where the firepit was), so it was a nice open site (next to a parking lot). And the concrete pad was very nicely level, so everything was comfortable.

Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.
Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.

But right across the street (via a crosswalk with speedbumps and a pushbutton controlled set of flashing lights to cross) was the start of Presque Isle’s beaches, and we walked all the way up past the first couple of breakwaters.  We did a little beachcombing, then returned and we made a fire and some lovely toastites for dinner.  We had some people stop by, interested in the bus, and we gave them the tour, and some skoolie info, as they had expressed interest in working up their own.

The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.
The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.

A little while later, as the sun was setting, we found that the sun was setting directly behind the bus, through the path to the beach.  It was, however, it was basically 9pm, so we were forced to get to bed before we felt we were ready.

Our next morning was fine, coffee and bowls of cereal for breakfast, and as the engine was running and I was doing our pre-trip, folks came over, interested in the bus. Alas, we didn’t have time for a tour, and weren’t returning, but they thought the concept was cool and were absolutely fine with us being there.

Unfortunately, given the short timing of us getting to the Tom Ridge Center for the aquaponics class, and then us getting from that class to our pontoon boat tour, I forgot to turn the dashcam on for those trips. But after the boat tour, I remembered to turn the cam on, so we have a video tour of Presque Isle, sped up 4x.  You miss out on a whole bunch of the cottonwood tree seeds floating about at that speed, but I recorded us getting from the tour to Barracks Beach, and then down the beach road to the Tom Ridge Center again, and then around the whole park once more.

 

Our trip back was uneventful, except for the one tractor-trailer driver who LOVED the train horn.  He paced us while we were still in PA, blew his horn and motioned for me to blow ours and gave a thumbs-up when I did, and hung out in front of us to break air for us until he got to the Angola, NY exit where he sounded his horn again and waved, and I sounded ours again.

Cold Weather Care and Feeding of Batteries

A recent discussion and some questions on the subject of batteries gave me the idea to sum up what I have on the subject in hopes that it will help other folks’ batteries to last longer.  For the RVer who wants to stay quiet, a good, reliable battery bank is the way to keep so many of those systems that make camping life so comfortable going, and most of us can’t afford and don’t want to buy those expensive new batteries often.

There are a number of strategies when choosing batteries for your RV/Camper.  Some people choose one single large battery, like this ‘universal replacement’: 

12v 200ah Solar Power Battery – Deep Cycle (Electronics)


List Price: $359.99 USD
New From: $359.97 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

This one has a rating of 200 Amp-hours (It would last for 200 hours under a constant 1 amp draw, or 1 hour at a 200 amp draw) at 12 volts DC, which is the usual power system for your regular vehicle and most RVs.

Some folks like to use golf cart batteries, as they can be obtained used, and even as 6 volt batteries, can be hooked up in series to make a 12 volt output and are often fairly cheap, like these (new):

Sealed AGM Gel Golf Cart Battery 12 Volt 35 Amp Hour – 4 Pack (Misc.)


List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

These, hooked up as two sets of series connections by a parallel connection would yield 140 Amp-hours at 12 Volts DC.

Now, the ones above are AGM (Absorbant Glass Mat) batteries. This technology became popular in the early 1980s as a sealed lead acid battery where the acid is absorbed by a very fine fiberglass mat, making the battery spill-proof, and means that it can be mounted in any direction. These batteries have very low internal resistance, are capable of delivering high currents on demand and offer a relatively long service life, even when deep-cycled.

AGM batteries are maintenance free, provide good electrical reliability, and are lighter than the flooded lead acid type (which I’ll mention in a moment). They stand up well to low temperatures and have a low self-discharge, but the major advantages are a charge that is up to five times faster than the flooded version, and the ability to deep cycle without ruining the battery. AGM batteries offers a depth-of-discharge (DoD) of 80 percent, while flooded batteries are specified at 50 percent DoD to attain the same cycle life.  The downsides are that they tend to be heavier/bigger per Amp-hour and higher costs than flooded batteries.

A flooded battery might be a cost- and weight-effective choice, looking something like this one: 

Trojan T-1275 12V 150Ah Flooded Lead Acid Golf Cart Battery FAST USA SHIP


List Price: $279.00 USD
New From: $279.00 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

This battery would give 150 Amp-hours at 12 Volts DC, but with a smaller, lighter battery.  The downside of this battery is that you have to make sure the battery is topped up with distilled water, as it will off-gas explosive hydrogen gas and other corrosive gases (so it has to be placed in a vented compartment). You can get around some of the work of topping your battery(ies) up with an automatic system like this one

RV Trailer Camper Electrical Battery Watering System Single MP-2010


List Price: $43.69 USD
New From: $43.69 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

which makes it a simple job with a a hand pump to fill once you install the hose to each of the cells of the battery(ies).

Another problem with flooded batteries is that a full discharge (50%) causes strain on the battery, and each discharge/charge cycle permanently robs the battery of a small amount of capacity (Unnoticable at first, but each subsequent discharge takes more capacity from the battery). Most of the flooded types will have a life of about 200-300 cycles, while the Lifeline batteries that we got are rated for 1000 cycles.

When it comes to cold weather, AGM batteries have another couple of advantages over flooded batteries in that they are much more likely to survive a freeze intact, and loose less of their charge over the same length of time.  This last is probably the most important of the two, as the trick to keeping a battery healthy over cold weather is keeping it charged.

As the weather gets colder, the effective Amp-hours in a battery drops, while at the same time, its voltage capacity rises.  This means that your charger has to be able to cope with this.  There are a number of ‘Smart Chargers’ out there, like these: 

NOCO Genius G3500 6V/12V 3.5A UltraSafe Smart Battery Charger (Automotive)


List Price: $59.95 USD
New From: $59.95 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

BLACK+DECKER BM3B 6V and 12V Battery Charger / Maintainer (Automotive)


List Price: $17.99 USD
New From: $16.79 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

NOCO Genius GENM2 8 Amp 2-Bank Waterproof Smart On-Board Battery Charger (Automotive)


List Price: $99.95 USD
New From: $99.95 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

or as units built into converters like this

PowerMax PM3-55 110 V to 12 V DC Power Supply Converter Charger for Rv Pm3-55, 55Amp (Wireless Phone Accessory)


List Price: $117.29 USD
New From: $104.95 USD In Stock
Used from: $90.90 USD In Stock

The thing about these ‘smart’ chargers is that they will automatically detect the charge that your battery has and adjust their output to give your battery what it needs, from ‘bulk charging’ (up to almost 90% charge) through the ‘absorption charge’ (to charge the last 10-15% of the battery) to ‘float charging’ (which keeps the battery full at a constant lower voltage) and even the maintenance cycle of ‘equalizing’ charging (which highly charges the battery to prolong the battery life by removing sulfur from the plates).  A regular charger like you might have in the garage for your  car generally has settings for either a ‘starting charge’ (lots of amps you use to try and get the car started with a dead battery), a ‘bulk charge’ (To bring the battery to a full or near full charge), and a ‘float charge’ (to keep the battery full), though it doesn’t pay any attention to the battery that it’s connected to and continues to do what the switch is selected to, which can easily over-charge a battery and leave you with sulfur corroded plates.

Some people winterize their system by removing the batteries from their RV/campers, and keeping them warm. This is a perfectly acceptable way to winterize, but for batteries with larger Amp-hour capacities (and especially those that are heavier AGM batteries or built into specialized compartments) this can be a lot of work. You still have to remember to keep the batteries charged, or you might lose a cycle of life through discharge as they sit.  Also, if you have the flooded batteries, taking them out is a great time to top them up, and pay more attention to keeping them charged, as they’ll discharge faster than the AGMs.

Also, if you’ve heard that you can’t store your batteries on concrete over winter, as long as your batteries are in a plastic case, you can disregard it.  This adage comes from the time when batteries were produced in wooden cases, and the wet wood sitting on the porous concrete meant that the concrete would slowly leach away the water from your battery.  The only concern with modern batteries is if you can get your fingers underneath to lift them back into their places so you can get going again in the warmer times of the year.

 

 

 

iLLumi Projections E26 Edison DC 12V-20V LED Light Bulbs *or* Electrics (Part IV)

Barring the installation of the DC circuit breaker panel that I mentioned before, I went about installing the first 12 volt DC light that would be powered by the house batteries.  The need for this was displayed on a short day-trip we took to help a friend clean out her old family’s house, and the boy was unable to read, and I had some trouble finishing loading and packing the bus because the lights that I had installed were AC, and I hadn’t enough cable to run electric power from the house we were cleaning.  I wasn’t going to just leave the key in the accessory position for the interior lights, because I’m a bit touchy now about running the bus batteries down after our Evangola trip.

A lovely gas-light looking electric fixture

Anyhow, I had found two of these lights at Buffalo Reuse, though only one of them had its glass globe, and they both had the original 1920-30’s fabric-coated wiring.  Toward that end, I disassembled the fixture, replaced the old wiring with 14-gauge plastic-coated wire, and installed a new light bulb socket.  (A tip to people who might want to try rewiring such a fixture – use a ball pull-chain as a wiring snake to get the wire through those support tubes.)  In retrospect, I probably could have used 18 gauge wire, but I tend toward overbuilding anyhow.

Unfortunately, the ‘cup’ that holds the globe was lightly cracked and I haven’t been able to find a replacement, as it’s smaller than standard.  It’s a usual thing for such lamps, however, as the older brass gets brittle.  I decided that it would be okay, though, as I was going to cushion the cup anyhow, so I went about that.  I used some vinyl electrical tape to circle the interior of the cup, and then to surround the base of the globe as well, as this would keep road vibration from causing any problems.  I then went about gently scraping all the old paint flecks from the brass and glass.

However, getting the light refurbished was the easy part.  I wanted the light to rest above where the table will be in the cabin area of the bus, and the ceiling there is, of course, curved.  I wanted to have a flat base (parallel to the floor, that is) to mount the light to, and I had the wood to work with, but the curve looked tricky.

The endcap!As a woodworker, I knew the importance of having a jig or template to help and didn’t want to do the ‘trial and error’ method of creating one, until I realized that I had one already – the rear interior endcap!

Cutting the template
Cutting the template

I used some MDF that I had about, and traced the endcap, and cut it out, making sure to draw on plenty of lines at 90 degree angles to the flat base of the endcap.  These were important, just in case the smaller bit of the template (where the MDF wasn’t wide enough to fit the whole of the endcap might not be exactly parallel to the base) …

The finished template for the curved ceiling.
The finished template for the curved ceiling.

So, armed with the new template, I worked out how far from the window edge the light needed to be and set about making a base that would fit the light AND the ceiling.  I had some 7/8″ thick oak to work with and cut it to 5 1/2″ squares, and traced the curve onto one.

The curve to fit the ceiling, the access core and the lamp fixture fitting.
The curve to fit the ceiling, the access core and the lamp fixture fitting.

Careful cutting on the bandsaw, and then shaping with the bench sander yielded a very nice fitting piece of curved oak.  A 2″ forstner bit cut a smooth access core down through the curved wood, setting the stage for the important attachment bit for the light fixture; the part with the screw fitting on it.

The light fixture mounting attachment in the chiseled channel.
The light fixture mounting attachment in the chiseled channel.

The ‘light fixture mounting attachment’ needed to be sunk into the wood, parallel to the flat base, and this was quickly undertaken with a wood chisel.  Since I was working with oak, and going with the grain of the wood, this wasn’t bad at all.

The bottom of the light base, with the access channel and some routing on the edges.
The bottom of the light base, with the access channel and some routing on the edges.

I put a second piece of oak under the curved one to give a nice solid base for the lamp.  I did this because the thin edge of the curved piece I had cut was really thin.  I was afraid that if I just attached the lamp to it, it would crack or pull the attaching screws right through the wood.  Plus the routing on the bottom would be another nice touch of decoration that would show in the bus.

Four countersunk screws hold the two pieces of oak together.
Four countersunk screws hold the two pieces of oak together.

Using a countersinking bit I put four #10 screws into the two pieces of oak together, and drilled some holes through to the bottom and countersunk from the bottom for the metal pan-head screws that would attach it to the ceiling.  I then gave it a coating of stain and let it rest while getting the rest of the job ready.

The hole saw for the ceiling.
The hole saw for the ceiling.
And the hole saw does its work as it should.  The extra hole is a placeholder for a pre-drilled hole for the wooden base.
And the hole saw does its work as it should. The extra hole is a placeholder for a pre-drilled hole for the wooden base.

 

 

 

 

Loading a drill just smaller than the metal screws that would affix the wood to the ceiling, I pre-drilled one hole, and marked the center of the access channel in the wooden base.  I then switched to the hole saw and cut through the metal of the ceiling to so the wires could be run.

The wooden lamp base in place!
The wooden lamp base in place!

Using a regular wire snake to run the wires, it was a simple thing to get power to the location.  I ran 12 gauge wire from the converter to where the switch was going to be at the windows, then ran the 14 gauge wire from there, as I planned on hooking more lights in on this same circuit.

A simple chain pull-switch to run the works for now.
A simple chain pull-switch to run the works for now.

While I’m really looking to run some manner of dimmer in on this circuit, for now, I just put in a pull-switch.  It was easy to drill a hole in the exposed ceiling sheet metal, and for now the circuit is grounded to the frame.

Finally, the light in place.
Finally, the light in place.

After that, it was a simple matter of connecting the wires at the lamp, and tightening the screw pole to cinch it up to the wood.

 

The really funky LED light bulb.
The really funky LED light bulb.

 

In trying to make the batteries last as long as possible, I wanted to have the most efficient lighting that I could, and went for some LED lights.  Most of the problems with LED lighting seem to be in that the LEDs only put out light in a relatively tight beam, making them tough to use in a standard fixture.  Toward dealing with this, I found this multi-directional style of bulb, in both 7 and 9 watts:

The LED bulb in all it's glory.
The LED bulb in all it’s glory.

I have to say that these are SUPER bright on 12 volts, and while they say that they’re rated up to 24 volts, I don’t think I’d want to see them – they’d be way too bright.  As it is, the bulb does stick up over the globe a little, but the upward-facing LEDs provide a lot of indirect light off the bus ceiling (and show the places where it really needs to be cleaned!).

Another view of the LED bulb in action.
Another view of the LED bulb in action.

These bulbs are the soft-white version, and the vendor that I got these from indicates that there’s a bright-white version, but these seem very white compared to an incandescent, or even CFL soft-white bulb.  I did light them up when it got dark as well, and got these results:

Looking from outside, the LED bulb is plenty bright.
Looking from outside, the LED bulb is plenty bright.
And a front view of the bus at night with the LED bulb lit.
And a front view of the bus at night with the LED bulb lit.