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Old 03-10-2008, 02:46 PM   #1
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Skoolie newbie: batteries

Hello,

I'm brand new here. I bought a Thomas short-bus last March (about a year ago now) and have done a bit of work on it. Mostly I've made it into a small mobile office to use around town. I have a pair of Interstate deep cycle golf cart batteries wired in a series, then linked in parallel to the starter batteries with a switch I open to close off the house batteries from the starter batteries when I'm stationary. I close the switch to allow the batteries to charge when I'm driving.

This is where I have a concern: I have the two batteries in a plastic trunk I bought at Walmart (for about $25) and I worry about the gases exploding because it's not venting to the outside (there is an oversized hole in the floor where the negative starter battery cable comes up to the small bank). I have holes all over the box, but it just vents into the interior.

I'm considering having a couple of boxes welded on the side, underneath the body next to the battery compartments and store them there. I'm also considering a small Honda generator (the EU1000i), but don't have anywhere to store it or the gas, either. My main question is: should I go the welding route or is there a way I can safely contain those batteries inside? I've seen some stuff on the Wiki regarding venting, but I'm still concerned; I'm not very comfortable with these batteries right there at this point (especially if my kids come along for the ride).

Advice? I'll try to get some pictures in the coming hours.

Thanks,
Hans
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Old 03-11-2008, 02:30 AM   #2
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

What is your vehicle battery doing inside in the first place? I'm not a big batter guy, (check with the_exprerience03... he really knows batteries), but there's a reason that automotive batteries are placed outside the driver's/passenger compartment. You know they produce hydrogen, (can you say Hindenberg???), during their charge.... I THINK its during the charge... Well either way.... I think you need to have them in a vented compartment that is isolated from the rest of the bus.....
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Old 03-11-2008, 12:10 PM   #3
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Re: Skoolie newbie: battery location

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldog12
What is your vehicle battery doing inside in the first place? I'm not a big batter guy, (check with the_exprerience03... he really knows batteries), but there's a reason that automotive batteries are placed outside the driver's/passenger compartment. You know they produce hydrogen, (can you say Hindenberg???), during their charge.... I THINK its during the charge... Well either way.... I think you need to have them in a vented compartment that is isolated from the rest of the bus.....
Yes, that's why I ask. The starter batteries are outside, it's just the two deep cycles that are in the box in the interior. I see a few people have built interior boxes for their batteries, but I'm not sure the best way to proceed. I'm thinking I need to build on an exterior underbody box to house the house batteries, too.

I'm also curious to see how people store generators. I'm thinking about buying the Honda EU1000i, which will give me enough power for the basics. But, I don't have anywhere but inside the bus to store it.

Thanks,
Hans
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Old 03-11-2008, 12:39 PM   #4
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

The only way I'd have flooded batteries inside the bus would be to have them inside a sealed box that is power-vented to the outside with a muffin fan (also with a fresh air intake from the outside).
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Old 03-11-2008, 02:16 PM   #5
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Those batteries should not be inside where there are human beings, or anything that you want to keep alive. If you go to a truck salvage or a truck shop you can get battery boxes that bolt to the side of your frame (used or order a new one)and they have nice covers if you want one. Don't weld to your frame unless it's absolutely neccessary or it's at least behind the rear axle. You could even get a battery box for 3 or 4 batteries and move your engine battery in with your deep cycle batteries to keep them all in the same spot for maintenance etc and share the ground. Then use the space where the engine battery was for something else. You can make your positive cable almost as long as you want, it's main purpose in life is to just start the engine. Just go up in gauge as you go up in length and you will have it covered. Welding cable works great for this and you can get clamps anywhere. I ran a #2 stranded wire back to my rear power panel and it has done well, especially since it was 4 times larger than I need, can't argue because it was free. sportyrick
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Old 03-11-2008, 03:25 PM   #6
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Thanks. I have been reading about AGM -- would I be able to store those where I have the others? I'd recycle the two 6volts and replace with 2-4 12v AGM 90amph, which I can get new locally for $149/each + tax. Would that be safe, or am I still in the same situation?

Thanks for your help,
Hans
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Old 03-11-2008, 06:10 PM   #7
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

AGM's can go inside, but dollar for dollar and amp hour for amp hour those wet cells are probably going to serve you better. The only real exception would be someone that fulltimes, can get them very cheap, or really doesn't want to do basic maintenance (and even then the big lead acid deep cycles really do rather well).

Also, AGM's are not foolproof. They will still outgas if something goes severely wrong during charging and the cases themselves CAN still explode. They are considered safe by all means, but they are not the end all. Mounting the batteries outside is pretty darn easy and gains you safety and floorspace at the same time.
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Old 03-11-2008, 06:24 PM   #8
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Thanks for the reply. I got your PM, too, but will post out here so your advice can be archived better. I like the idea of expanding the existing box. I've used bedframe, too, and find it to be very helpful. Maybe I'll do that after all. Do you have any pictures of your setup so I can see exactly what you have and try to duplicate it?

I've plan to use the bus almost every day, as a mobile office. Except when it's too hot, I work in it when it's parked at the house, too. I plan to use driving/bus alternator plus a 3-stage charger to charge, instead of a converter (I already have a small inverter and the charger, and, as does everyone... a budget ).

Thanks for the help.

Hans
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Old 03-11-2008, 10:04 PM   #9
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Looking through my photos I do not seem to have one of the setup, but it does not require much imagination to understand how it works. Like I said in the PM...I cut the floor out, bolted a piece of angle in each corner going down and built a perimeter frame that attaches to those corner angles which holds the plywood in place. If you want a picture I can try and get one for you, but like I said...it's just not much to look at.
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Old 03-13-2008, 10:02 AM   #10
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

If you put them in a box on the outside of the bus, how do you keep them warm in the winter?

I was thinking about building a box on the inside of the bus with a powered vent and fresh air intake to the outside. The box would be insulated by the floor and walls but receive the heat from the cabin. Try to make it easy to access for checking fluid levels and other basic maintenance. However, I also worry about any safety issues and off-gassing.

We're going to full-time it and use the batteries quite a lot (lots of solar / not many opportunities for shore power) so I'll be checking them often. We'll also be staying in cold climates during the winter and don't want to lose all our energy due to cold. (As there is also not as much solar light in the winter.)
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Old 03-13-2008, 01:03 PM   #11
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Quiet simply I do not keep them warm during the winter. MY bus sits the majority of the winter. A such I want my batteries to have a full charge and be as cold as possible. The cold greatly slows down the chemical reaction making self discharge ALMOST a non-issue. A fully charged battery with the standard 33% sulfuric acid mixture will not freeze until about -92 to -93 degrees. Fully discharged the water separates out and it will freeze just below 32 degrees. Therefore cold is a good thing, especially for long term storage.

The cold can be an issue in terms of capacity. At 32 degrees you're looking at a 20% loss in amp hour capacity. At around -20 it's down to 50% capacity. This could be an issue, but in my circumstances I have not found it to be. On the road the combination of alternator charging and inverter discharging does warm up the battery core temperature and really the batteries are only there to deal with current spikes from devices turning on anyway. I will gladly take the sacrifice in capacity in exchange for a self discharge rate around 1% per month as opposed to 5% or higher in warmer climates. Remember, sitting discharged is the enemy to batteries so I will do whatever possible to fight that over storage.

Now for a fulltimer the reduced capacity might be an issue. However, given that you are in California I really don't think cold is going to be an issue like it is for us in the northern climates. A 20% loss in capacity isn't that horrible, especially when you start looking at the increased overall life of the battery bank thanks to staying cold. A battery is going to gain a lot of output capacity in hot climates, but it comes at the expense of overall life.

Power venting seems like a reasonable option, but I propose this question. Keeping it warm will increase the capacity of it, no doubt, but how much capacity are you then using to run the power venting fan? Just some food for thought.
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Old 03-13-2008, 02:11 PM   #12
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

i think you guys worry too much!

I've had lead acid batteries inside each of my first two buses. I used them this way for years over tens of thousands of miles and never had a problem. Not saying it's the correct way to do things, but people get a little overly dramatic sometimes. Perhaps if your bus was sealed tighter than a drum and you had a perfect storm of events occur you could start something on fire. I think that having a pair of batteries as described by the original poster is probably much safer than having propane appliances inside your bus. How much unburned propane leaks out every time you go to light your stove? Granted propane has a very narrow flammable range compared to hydrogen, but he already has the batteries in a vented container near a hole vented to the outside.

putting your batteries outside in a separate compartment is the best idea, but having them inside isn't the same as standing on the smoking deck of the Hindenburg and asking for a light.
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Old 03-13-2008, 02:36 PM   #13
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

I'm with Jason on this one. There are lots of cars out there where the battery is underneath the back seat instead of in the engine compartment. I haven't heard of them killing anybody. I'm talking Oldsmobile's, Buick's, Lexus etc.

As for your generator, just buy the EU2000i. It's not much more expensive, and you get twice the power. Get a hitch welded onto your bus if there isn't one already. You can buy those platforms that plug right in to a 2x2 receiver hitch. They will hold something like 500 pounds. You could attach the generator to that by its feet. You could even build an anti-theft box around it. Or, just move the generator inside when you're not using it. The EU2000i is 48 pounds dry. Even my wife can pick one up. You could run it while you're going down the road too!
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Old 03-13-2008, 02:40 PM   #14
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

I have some batteries inside my bus in a container that is vented to the outside with PVC pipe.
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Old 03-13-2008, 10:43 PM   #15
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Quote:
Originally Posted by the_experience03
However, given that you are in California I really don't think cold is going to be an issue like it is for us in the northern climates.
I'm not sure about the original poster, but we're currently located in Vermont and plan to spend the winter between Vermont and Iowa.
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Old 03-16-2008, 09:25 AM   #16
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Re: Skoolie newbie: batteries

Thanks for all the replies. I've been checking in here but didn't want to reply until I had a clearer picture of what I wanted to do.

- Re: Exterior box. I love this idea. Get them out of the bus, use cheaper wet batteries, have more storage for more batteries or other stuff. But, since I have a short-bus, there really isn't that much room between the existing battery box and the rear tires. I'd also have to cut a big chunk of the box from that side. Bed frames have been hard to find around here lately, too. Additionally, I don't really need extra storage (don't flinch... I rarely use my skoolie for extended trips). I have a big aluminum rack on top and that slurps up almost all my extra storage needs. You could haul almost everything you need for a car trip up there. It's bigger than a minivan top, for sure.

So, I decided to stay "indoors" which means AGM as soon as I can afford it. Perhaps the "Hindenberg" comments were a little over-the-top, but since I'm going entirely on other people's experience here (other than basic auto maintenance, until getting this bus I had no experience with these larger batteries), I'm going to error on the side of caution. I'm going to estimate that AGM will cost me about three times as much as wet, but allow four times peace of mind.

- Matt, I really like the paint job on your bus. I had to go white top for heat issues, but my bus looks very redneck next to that thing.

- I don't use my bus like most of you do. I bought it to be more of a "home office" I can use wherever... at the beach windsurfing during breaks from work... working while the kids play at the park... pit-central for my son and I at RC car races on Saturday night... the hangout during a morning of disc golf... camping once-in-awhile... basically a variety of around-town uses. I just got to say, though, that this bus is so freaking cool. Not cool in the sense that random teenagers point and say "that's cool" (my two teens have quite the opposite opinion, in fact), but cool in the sense that it allows for a lot of freedom. With an air card and laptop I can work anywhere. Since it's nearly always in some sort of state of improvement or repair, I consider it to be the Millenium Falcon of busses. It doesn't do light speed + .5, but has greatly improved my life. So thanks to everyone who is converting; collectively you are helping improve my life and I thank you.

Hans
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