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Old 03-23-2004, 06:23 PM   #1
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: West Tennessee
Posts: 57
Very Kool, those things are built like a tank!

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Old 03-23-2004, 09:10 PM   #2
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Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Grundy, Virginia
Posts: 632
Year: 1985
Coachwork: ThomasBuilt
Chassis: International Harvester S-1700
Engine: 9L IHC V-8 Diesel 180HP
Rated Cap: 60
Off grid electric info

Good source of DIY off grid electric generation info, particularly homemade wind power, at

Lots of helpful folk there with off-grid specific info about inverters, battery charging, electric storage, and 12 volt systems.

Neat bus! Good luck!
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Old 03-23-2004, 10:35 PM   #3
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Location: near flint michigan
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I am quite amused by alternative energy sources, but like most folks that own a skoolie, the price is a big deturrent for me. A person can buy several years worth of gasoline for a small generator for the price of a good set of solar panels, or a good wind generator. Not to mention the charge controllers ect you'll need.

A honda EU 2000 will run between 4 and 15 hours on 1.1 gallons of fuel depending on the load. These generators are extremely quiet too.

Your battery bank could be charged by the vehicle alternator, or the generator (using a good multi stage battery charger) Once charged, you could go days before having to start an engine to make electricity.

Stay away from marine or RV batteries. Buy only fork lift or golf cart batteries. My golf cart batteries were just over 80 bucks each. make sure you have a good battery charger, that's a very important piece in making sure your batteries last a long time. The most important thing is never discharge your batteries. If you only use half the available power before recharging, your battery bank will most likely last longer than you.

If you can afford it, I think solar and wind are excellent ideas.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who will watch the watchmen?)
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Old 03-23-2004, 10:50 PM   #4
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Location: Whidbey Island, Washington (USA)
Posts: 465
Hi SoulTrader,

Nothing like asking just a small question about a subject like electrical systems .

Part of the reason everything isn't together is because it would be a doggone book! Been done before . I've been putting together electrical systems on boats for over 30 years now so a lot of what I say is based on that and the experience of trying to keep systems going in harsh environments.

YOU have to make the decision up front about what you're willing to put into a system; not only from a work standpoint but also from a monetary one. You can do it relatively cheaply with typical household type wire and fittings or you can develop a long-term, high efficiency system from higher quality marine type components. I am not here to tell you one is necessarily better that the other; just that they're quite different and you have to be the judge of what suits your needs. A long-term live-aboard bus would suggest different systems than a weekender/party/camping bus.

The primary consideration for your electrical system is that it's just that...a system. Every component in the system needs to balance with every other component in the system. No sense in having hundreds of amp-hours worth of batteries if you have no way to reasonably charge them. Where we usually start this whole process on a boat is to figure out what the energy requirements are...that is, what do you need on a daily basis to sustain your particular lifestyle. How many lights for how long, how much refrigeration, how about TV, stereo, video games, heat, air conditioning, coffee maker, microwave, computer, appliances, etc. If you don't know how much you're going to use it's pretty hard to figure out how much you need to supply.

I can tell you the secret to the best possible system is conservation; that is, using the least amount of electricity to start with. If you don't use it, you don't need to supply it. So high efficiency lighting can help; halogen and LEDs takes far less power than incandescent. Choose things like high efficiency refrigerators, low power fans, etc. Make every effort you can to reduce your need for electricity and the job of supplying (and replenishing it) gets much easier.

Make some early decisions about your big energy users; heating, hot water, cooking, and air conditioning. What's going to be electric, what's going to use propane, etc.

A lot of these decision will (or should) come from the type of use you'll give your rig. You want to live off-grid as much as possible but will you be close to other people; is running the generator going to bother them? What's going to be the easiest fuel to obtain; or the hardest? You can have a whomping big propane tank under the bus to supply the refrigerator, water heater, furnace and stove but when it runs low are you willing to drive the bus to somewhere to get the tank refilled (that's a major bummer if you're setup in some beautiful location). Maybe four refillable tanks in a compartment (like BruinGilda; on this site) is a better deal so the bus doesn't have to go to where the propane is. Maybe cranking up the big genset for running an electric stove is the easiest, best and cheapest method to cook. It's not inexpensive to get a really great electrical system setup with solar panels, wind generators, regulators, switches, monitors, high quality batteries and such. But maybe you hate the sound of that generator running and it's not an option except as a necessary evil.

Setting up a good 12-volt system to serve most of your needs is pretty straight forward. Ideally large, high efficiency cables (wire) will feed a central distribution panel that incorporates switches and circuit breakers (or fuses) for each of the circuits you need. DO NOT UNDERSIZE your wire; it's the single most ridiculous place to save money there is. Not only are the voltage drops (and therefor the efficiency) horrid but you create a lot of heat (wasted energy) and can potentially fry things (start fires).

There are some things that just don't translate to 12-volt use very well; like a microwave or coffee maker. Remember, for the sake of quick calculations you can figure a 12-volt gadget takes just about 10-times more amperage to run that does an AC gadget. The wire couldn't care less if the electricty if AC or DC; you can imagine then that carrying 10-times more current really takes much larger wire! Watts is watts; it doesn't make any difference whether it's AC or DC power. A 60-watt light bulb will consume the same about of power from either source. And watts is voltage times amperage. So a 60-watt light bulb running on 120-volts needs .5 amps; on a 12-volt system that same bulb needs 5 amps (there's that 10x factor). You can do the math on a 600-watt coffee maker...50 amps on a 12-volt system...that's some big draw!

Every conversion of energy loses something in the translation; so gas to electric, ac to dc, dc to ac all lose some efficiency. Knowing how to get the most efficient use of your energy is the key; and also the hardest thing to figure out. In the winter it's likely that a good water-cooled generator is the most efficient use of fuel if you also send hot water from the running generator to high effciency radiant heaters (like Heatercraft units). You're getting AC, DC and heat all from very little fuel. And while you might balk at the cost of fuel to do that if you figure the investment (and maintenance and replacement costs) of systems that do that in a different way you might be surprised at the outcome. Most of us don't want to listen to a generator that much so we seek other options like batteries. They're really inefficient, so much so that if we're relying solely on fossil fuel to replenish them you'd be money ahead burning the fuel to produce the energy directly. That's where wind and solar energy comes in; hopefully we'll capture some energy that way and not have to depend solely on fossil fuel. There a caveat here; in the boat world there's a saying that "the wind is free; catching it is not". In other words, those sails ain't cheap. So while catching the wind and harnessing the sun for our electrical system is 'free'; the equipment to do so is anything but. It's all a matter of balance.

If I were going to the trouble of putting together an 'all-round' system that incorporated power generation (from fossil fuel), wind generated power and solar generated power I would certainly build the 'best' (in terms of component quality) system I possibly could with high efficiency and low losses. This is using the 'good stuff' and it isn't going to be had in Lowes or Home Depot or Ace Hardware and it isn't going to be cheap.

You can certainly do it any number of ways and countless folks have put together a make-do system that does; it's your money and you get to spend it the way you want to. That's part of what makes it so hard to write about the 'correct' or 'best' electrical system; it can be different for everyone depending on what your priorities (and financail resources) are.

Anyway, I can give you some input on 'how' to implement your systems but you'll have to decide first 'what' systems you want and how big (or small) they need to be.

Here's some food for thought; if you have enough propane (that would be by your definition of how often you're willing to refill) you don't need electricity at all (except the starting batteries for the bus and the genset)...until you add something like a TV, a stereo, a computer, etc. I've seen some great propane lights so electricity is needed for those. So just how much stuff do you have to run (or do you need) that will force you to install the wind and solar systems? [This isn't a challenge; it's just for provoking thought about what we really need.]

This is getting way too long; I've got to stop here.
Les Lampman
1982 Thomas Saf-T-Liner Pusher "Illusion" Gallery
Illusion's SmugMug site
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Old 03-25-2004, 09:56 AM   #5
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 245
Hi Kevin....
I'm not sure which wind generator you're thinking about.
But if its an Southwest Windpower's AIR-403 or Air-X...then you tie the wind generator output leads directly to your batteries.
It's got it's own builtin Charge Controller so dont bother trying to tie it into your solar charging system. Not neccesary at all.

We've got one of these Wind Generators for our Bus.

On our last bus 'Home' we had a pretty small solar system ( 2-34 amp UniSolar modules) so we had a pretty rinky-dink charge controller.
With our new system , I picked up a very good charge controller made by RV power products

Here's the site we bought it from with all the specs and such

Michael & Millie
Are you questioning my Aaa-thoritttyy ?
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Old 03-25-2004, 10:32 AM   #6
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 245
I put together a halfway decent Alternative Energy System for just under $2000.00. Not Cheap …but not that outrageously expensive either.

Solar boost charge controller 199.00
Tri-metric battery monitor $135.00
Shunt 25.00
2-64 watt Uni-Solar Panels $680.00
2-32-34 watt Uni-Solar Panels $150.00 (used)
Air-403 Wind Generator approx. $530.00

Them I’m figuring the asst. Fuses & wiring has run me around $150.00-$175.00

So…the Total comes in at around $1869.00 ( not including Shipping)

Since were rigging up our new bus as a Fulltime off the Grid home …I think the price is worth it.

Sometime next week I should get the Aluminum tank I ordered to build our Solar water heater with…that will give us even more freedom and we’ll knock down our propane gas usage in the summer.
Are you questioning my Aaa-thoritttyy ?
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Old 03-26-2004, 12:12 PM   #7
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 245
Kevin I don’t know if that GMC for $3600.00 is worth it …its kind of hard to say when none of us are actually there to check out the condition of the bus.

It might be a great deal or a terrible one if the engine and tranny is shot.

I probably paid one of the highest prices ever heard of for a Schoolie …$7000.00.
But least I bought a pretty low mileage rig with an exceptionally well cared for engine & transmission.
So I can mostly trust our bus has a lot of years left.

The Alternative Energy Store has the Air-X wind generator on sale for $529.00
Here’s the link ... L&cc=&tpc=

We buy most of our Stuff from them …they have the best prices around .
Are you questioning my Aaa-thoritttyy ?
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Old 03-26-2004, 05:06 PM   #8
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Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Idaho
Posts: 448
I don't know much about the 4104 but I would join the Yahoo group for GMC buses, I have heard a lot of not so good things about the 671 engine the 6V92 is supposed to be a lot better. You will be ablel to get parts pretty cheap for the 671 though because they are common on buses. I would ask around the GMC bus group on yahoo for more info. Just my opinion.
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Old 03-26-2004, 07:49 PM   #9
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Minnesota
Posts: 39
Soul Trader

Whereabouts are you located? I'd like to see your bookmobile if I can - I'm in Minnesota. My dream is a motor home/book store.

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Old 03-27-2004, 10:00 PM   #10
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Location: near flint michigan
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5k seems like a lot of money to me. I paid $775 for my bus. It's a 1991 Ford/Ward 72 passenger with a 6.6 Liter Ford Diesel. I've driven over 10 thousand miles wihout any real mechanical problems.

For 5k, it better have a new diesel motor, new tires, and new brakes.
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