Remember back when we decided to rip out our RV refrigerator because it kicked the bucket and lived out of a cooler for a year? Well folks, those days are long behind us. Currently, as we speak, our self-installed RV solar panels are completely running our new refrigerator. 24 hours a day, we have refrigerated food and it is damn glorious.
But here is the kicker...we did not install an RV-specific refrigerator. For a variety of reasons, which we explained in a previous post, we didn't see the need to spend an arm-and-a-torso on a propane guzzling, only-runs-when-plugged-in, temperamental-if-you're-on-an-incline Norcold RV fridge. Besides the fact Vanessa and I were very disenchanted with the Norcold products in general, the customer service wasn't too helpful and the price tag was less than stellar. So we decided instead to buy a glass for beverage cooler, and keep things simple. This is what that puppy looks like:
Feel free to click for more product info.
Now, in reality, if you're a family of four who likes to stock up on a lot of fridge products at any given moment, then this probably isn't the fridge for you. But, if you want something inexpensive, easy on the eyes, and able to be completely run off solar power, then YES, by all means.
Here's the thing...we bought a specific solar setup, and spent a looooong time learning and figuring out and factoring in all these equations and details to make sure our fridge would run solely off solar power. Truthfully, not many RV refrigerators can. That's why we went small. And the good news is, it works.
To get an idea about all the scribbles and thoughts and notes we came up with, this was only a snippet.
Honestly, we didn't know the first thing about solar power. We didn't know about wattage and amp draw and amp hours and voltage. But where there is the will to learn, you can teach yourself anything. So, we used a whole bunch of confusing math and figured everything out. Roughly, our fridge draws 1.3 amps per hour. Which when you consider the solar setup draws about 5 amps per hour total, we have a decent amount of amps per hour leftover to do with what we please.
We set up the solar panels, which we procured from Windy Nation. The thing about Windy Nation that I can say is that they provide a great basic startup kit. I have the word basic in bold because you do not get everything you need from the kit. Some extra things we purchased that were necessary that Windy Nation didn't supply includes but is not limited to:
(2) 12V 100ah deep cell rechargeable batteries
copper lug sleeves/electrical tape
3M VHB tape for panels
another set of red/black 2 gauge wires
fuses in order to safety guard your equipment
Here is the thing about Windy Nation that I want to stress: their starter kit is great. It does the job for what you need, despite the fact you have to buy a bunch more stuff. Like nearly $400 worth more stuff. We relied heavily on their customer service phone line to get tips and information from their serviceman. This guy ruled. SO unbelievably helpful in many ways, he really made the experience much less stressful then we were expecting. I cannot however, say the same about their Amazon customer support, who happened to be insanely rude and condescending, I have never had such a bad experience with customer support like that before. And if their Amazon guy and their phone guy happen to be the same person....well then what the f*$%, guys.
Okay, so all in all after research and setup and products arriving and being purchased to complete the kit, we were ready to roll. We chose to use 3M VHB tape, which was INCREDIBLE. We specifically decided NOT to drill into our roof to adhere solar panels. Not only does that seem very messy, but we also just simply don't feel comfortable putting holes in out fiberglass roof. The potential for disaster is quite large.
So we choose 3M VHB tape instead. Which, VHB stands for something--something really simple and fitting: Very High Bond. Turns out, that's pretty damn true. Vanessa and I recently went through two days of road travel with gusts of wind that rivaled Wizard of Oz and those bad boys stayed put. Here's the tape we purchased, which you can click for more product info:
Easy enough, right? So from there, we started adhering the panels. We used the brackets Windy Nation provides and screwed them onto the panels, then we took the 3M VHB tape and stuck that to the brackets then to the roof. By following the instructions from Windy Nation, we secured the wiring in parallel format and used the connectors they sent, too.
It really worked like gangbusters, and we couldn't be more thrilled.
Now for the inside, we have two 12V 100ah batteries daisy chained to each other, and then connected to the inverter and charge control. This is what our setup looks like:
We decided on the kitchen pantry for a few reasons:
1) Everything fit nicely
2) We already vented the back thanks to our new refrigerator and wooden box we built, so there is easy air flow
3) We could easily slide the solar wires down through the fridge vent on the roof and inside the space we cut through the thin walls (VERY important and extremely simple)
We had a couple of basic snafus with the wiring that needed some attention, but other than that, we got everything set up in just a few short hours. Seeing that full reading coming through for the very first time was nothing short of spectacular.
Finally, we were able to fully test the system with solar while on the road for three days. This is what we found...
We were completely able to run our fridge 24 hours a day at a very cold setting.
The inverter dipped from 13.8 (normal full battery charge) to only 12.6 while the fridge it on.
We were able to turn off the fridge with the click of a button to use other things:
Nutri Bullet (900 watts)
Charge a laptop
Charge a phone
Bissel Zing Vacuum
Now the inverter actually stayed hovering around 12.3 when the vacuum was on, and around 12.6 when the laptop and fridge were on together. The reason we turned the fridge off when using the Nurti Bullet, is that there is an initial surge in power that we just want to avoid. Also, you want to check the watts for each item you plug in to your inverter. Hair dryers, for example, sometimes run over 1500 watts, which means that would completely max out your inverter.
Beyond all the technical stuff, the most important part of the whole process was that we could keep food and beverages cold in our RV with simply the power of the sun. HOW COOL IS THAT?!
In case you're wondering some of the other products we used during the solar setup, click on the photos below. Also, if you have any questions, I can't say that we're solar experts whatsoever, but we can help you along the way with the knowledge we've gained from this project.
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