John and I began talking about the money we had left in our 401(k), and we knew at this point it would cost a lot to have the electrical system professionally repaired. We had issues off and on since day one of traveling. We had it looked at in Florida, Texas, Indiana (at the factory supposedly). Every-time we thought it was finally figured out it would work for a little while and then fail again. The first sign of problems was always our residential refrigerator (RR) not turning on. The second sign was the 12v mini breakers popping, we had to reset them monthly. We made many videos about these problems and received so much help. There were ideas all over the place, and we tried as many as we could afford. Sadly, they weren’t working. We knew we needed to hire someone who actually understood RV electrical systems, and who wasn’t part of a big dealer or manufacturer.
We felt lost.
Dealers and Manufacturers told us that their tests, with some kind of machine plugged into our rig, worked and said there were no problems. After several times of them telling us everything was just fine we wondered what they were even checking because we were still having the same problems.
We began to wonder why RV manufactures were using RR’s. After some research we found out that they are quite a bit cheaper for manufacturers to install, and customers generally like the idea of a fridge they’re used to. However, the honeymoon ends quickly once they start having issues with them. The common problems are with power because RR’s use A LOT of power. For over a year we’ve been asking ourselves how do we overcome this hurdle?
The first idea most people have is to just replace the RR with an RV propane fridge. It’s not a bad idea, except that switching TO gas instead of FROM is incredibly expensive. For reference, a propane/electric fridge of comparable size to our residential fridge costs about $3,500. That does’t include installation. IE running a new propane line, cutting vent holes in the slide, and removing a slide to bring the new fridge inside.
Many people argue that RR’s are easier to replace in the future (and cheaper). While this is true, I think it should be known that even though we have a smaller size RR, 28.5″ wide, our door frame is only 28″. We would have to disassemble the door frame or remove a slide to swap an RR. This is not as convenient as RV dealers and manufacturers make it sound. While we enjoy having an RR, there are serious downsides to having one in an RV.
It was time for us to make a decision. In order to stay somewhat comfortable while boondocking, and continue working, we needed reliable power. There was another twist in the plot though. Budget wise, we needed to stop relying on RV Parks immediately or we would run out of savings before the end of the year. These are the options we came up with:
- The least expensive option would have been to buy a bigger generator and get the rigs wiring fixed. Although, since we’re constantly filming, adding a larger generator was not our favorite option. And constantly running a generator doesn’t invite the neighbors over.
- The least desirable option was to switch over to a propane refrigerator. Replacing the RR would have cost approximately $6,000. This was our least favorite option and we still were not completely comfortable with the idea of splicing into the propane lines. All of that would have just been to have a working fridge without fixing any of the other problems. And we were pretty sure there was nothing wrong with the fridge. We were pretty sure something else was the culprit.
- The best, but most expensive, option was to repair the electrical system by replacing all the major components while installing solar. We initially planned for 1,000 watts because that’s the minimum to keep the residential refrigerator happy. However, we quickly changed our minds and decided that if we went the solar route we wanted enough panels and batteries that we could run basically anything we wanted.
Once we weighed our options we quickly realized that going solar was the best one. It wouldn’t cost much more than the other two options, but it would give us true freedom. When that decision was made we started looking for someone that could do the install, and fix our electrical system at the same time. We discussed this with our friend, John Nejedlo from GeoAstroRV because we trusted his guidance and attention to detail. He advised us to call the same person who installed his mega solar setup. Given his experience and how everything went for them we felt reassured that he would be able to figure out what was going on.
We setup a consult and looked at our finances. We estimated solar would cost between $7,000-$9,000 with labor. This was our favorite option, even though the price tag would take half of our remaning 401(k)s. Even though it was the most expensive option, we calculated that with boondocking instead of staying in RV parks solar would pay for itself in about six months.
The installer sent us a list of standard equipment he recommended for solar installs and we began gathering it immediately. He was kind enough to squeeze us in on his travels and we wanted to make sure we were ready to go when he got to us.
First, and most important, on the list were the batteries. He recommended using four Fullriver DC400-6 batteries for a total battery bank of of 830ah. They’re sealed AGM batteries so you don’t want to draw them below 70%, this would give us a total of 249 usable amp hours. They weigh 120lbs for a total weight of 480lbs. Although we removed our four Costco 6v batteries at 58lbs each so we only added 248lbs in batteries.
For the inverter/charger we chose a Magnum Hybrid 3000 watt. We chose this model because we can pair it with a generator and run heavier loads than either the batteries or the generator alone can handle. It can combine the power from the solar panels, battery, and generator to run heavy loads like an AC Unit. That can really come in handy over the next year, especially in very humid or hot environments. It will allow us to stay out of RV parks unless the weather is especially bad.
We also gathered the charge controllers, panels (which we ended up having to change out), wiring, and all the other needed items.
Northern Arizona Wind and Sun was instrumental in helping us gather these items quickly. We did have to change a few components after our initial purchase, but they were really easy to work with. They have installed many systems on RVs and had a good idea of what we were trying to accomplish, while also staying in budget. We really wanted to show our appreciation and we hope they had fun making this video with us.
At that point, this was our understanding of how our system would generally be setup: