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Old 06-25-2020, 01:29 PM   #1
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New, help please!

My wife and I have been working on our bus for just over a year now without much help, working off of advice from here and youtube. We've been confident about everything we've done so far, but now we're on the electric, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you that that's the scary part! I feel like I've got a good grip on the interior stuff, and I get how the solar and batteries work, but where they meet, I feel like I'm not sure what I'm doing.

We want to run off solar most of the time, but also be able to use shore power when it's convenient. We plan to wire everything inside the bus just like a house up to the breaker box, and we already have the outlets, switches, wires, box, etc and have started installing all that. We haven't bought anything else for the electric yet, and that's what I was hoping for some advise on.

I'd like everything we buy to be available from Home Depot, because they're offering me 24 months no interest right now. I'm looking at this:
and wondering if it's a good idea. Is it a good use of money to get one of these, or would I better off getting the components separately? Does that wattage seem appropriate for my family (description below)? Does anyone have opinions on this specific brand or unit? What else do I need if I go with this, or what all do I need if I don't? Of course I know I need batteries and solar panels still, and I'm open to recommendations on those.

We are a four person family on a 40 ft bus. We aren't super power-savers, but we do try to be power conscious. The kids will probably be charging or using some sort of electronic at all times, my wife works on the computer all day, we watch quite a bit of tv. A/C is really important to me when we're in our native Florida, but we will probably spend the hot parts of the year somewhere cooler once were mobile. Heating needs are completely foreign to me. We'll probably have a decent size fridge, but no microwave. We'll have a countertop convection oven we probably won't use too often, and two induction burners. We're probably going to get a very small on-demand electric water heater and not regret it until we get somewhere freezing. (Advice on that would be good too. I don't want propane or 220v wiring.)
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Old 06-25-2020, 05:31 PM   #2
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Seems like a pretty heavy load for solar. Not saying it can not be done though. There are worksheets available online to help figure electrical loads. An electrical survey if you will. I would start with that before buying any equipment.
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Old 06-25-2020, 09:00 PM   #3
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That is a big load for solar. you will need 6 -10 grand or more min. I suspect. Why the hate for propane? Hot water heater by itself will draw up 15amp plus 1500w the toaster oven is 1500w plus.

The inverter charger I got was a POS, heavy bulky and the charger did not work
My Build Thread:
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Old 06-25-2020, 10:33 PM   #4
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There's a lot to digest here...

As others have said, I suspect you're asking too much of a complete off-grid solar setup. The statement "We aren't super power-savers, but we do try to be power conscious." is not compatible with an all-electric off-grid setup, and a number of things in your post would suggest that you need to reevaluate some of your choices...

Air conditioning:
It's important to you, but how important? In a bus that size, with average insulation, you're going to need at least a "ton" of A/C. That's 12,000btu. You can get that from a rooftop RV unit, but they are very power hungry and will likely run around 1,500 to 1800 watts during continuous use (up to 3,000 at startup). And that almost certainly won't be enough for a muggy Florida summer, where you could easily double that and still wish you had more (keep in mind, you're living in a tin twinkie with far more surface area per square foot of livable space). Of course, parking in the shade will help, but that kills your solar.

The very best choice you could make here would be a super-efficient (high SEER) mini-split dual-zone heat pump setup (this would also cover your heating needs in all but the coldest of climates). They don't have the high initial draw and do well in warmer climates. Perhaps you can get a full system that tops out around 1,000 watts in continuous use.

Is A/C important to you while you're driving, too? If so, have you left your factory air conditioners in place? Those mini-splits probably won't cut it while underway.

Water heater:
You mention having the smallest "on demand water heater". Are you talking about a small under-sink unit for tea and cocoa? Or something big enough to take showers? If showering, the very smallest electric tankless water heater will consume 8kw while running. For a family of four, even with quick showers (7-8 minutes each), you'll pull 4kw. That is enough to drain most house batteries, and more importantly, do it in a very unhealthy way. Most batteries - even deep cycle ones - can't handle quick cycling very well.

Induction burners:
I love these things, but they do suck the watts. Most top out at 1500 to 1800 watts, and I'm assuming that if you have two, it's because you need to use them both at the same time. Maybe you can get the job done on a "medium" setting... Maybe 2,000 watts between them?

With all that said, let's look at that inverter. The one you've linked is a good one, and the capacity would be enough for most people, but not your needs.
It's a 3,000 watt unit that can handle significant surge (9,000 watts for up to 20 seconds). If you drop your A/C and water heater out of the equation and be careful what else is running while cooking, it would almost certainly be enough for you. If you run those mini-splits instead of traditional A/C, you might even be able to keep the kitchen cool while cooking with one burner.

So you have some thinking to do... Are you willing to put $10,000 into solar panels and huge house battery banks to run showers? Or perhaps forego showers except when on shore power? Would you consider running a generator when using heavy-draw appliances? Can you skip A/C while driving? Are you willing to "follow the weather", making home where you'll be less likely to need heat and A/C? Could you perhaps consider a few non-electric appliances?
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Old 06-26-2020, 12:28 AM   #5
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^^ What he said.
The gist of it being, consider the trade-offs you are making.

Its somewhere between difficult+expensive and impossible to accomplish these three things simultaneously:

1. Power everything via solar + batteries
2. Have all electric appliances including heating and cooling
3. Keep the creature comforts and habits you are used to in a grid connected home
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Old 06-26-2020, 06:54 AM   #6
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There is a good thread on the forum about running a/c from solar. Might want to look up that thread.
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Old 06-26-2020, 08:51 AM   #7
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With all of those needs, you might want to consider using a gas generator.
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Old 06-26-2020, 09:45 AM   #8
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This is about as plain as I can say it:

No one can actually answer your questions in a way that will give you much benefit, because your power requirements/desires are as yet too undefined. You have some ideas, but no information with which to go forward. Fortunately, you can get great data very easily, and use that to plan your approach. Let the data drive the build.

I take it you are not living in the bus at this time. My advice is to start collecting detailed information about your electricity, water and environmental requirements right now. Buy a cheap watt meter that you plug appliances into and start a timeline of when and for how long you use electricity. You may discover lots of interesting things, like that y'all use a combined 9500 watts for a few minutes at the same time every morning, or that charging your devices takes next to no power, but your halogen reading light is a watt eater. Whatever. Meter and record every watt your family uses as you live today (or will in the bus, and see how you like that,) and you'll have a workable baseline.

Then track how much climate control you are using. Don't worry about the power consumption, just track the temperature you like and how often you use systems (fans, A/C units, furnace, etc.) to regulate your environment. You can always correct for the bus' different systems and power consumption later, just get the baseline data of your climate control use in your location as it is.

Then start tracking your shower times and temps, bath water temps, wash water temps etc. if you can- all of you. Can you wash dishes in cold water? Take lukewarm navy showers? Give it a try. I predict the first thing you'll discover is that you use far more water than you realize, both hot and cold, and your kids use even more than that. Most people are water constrained full-timing far more than they are power constrained, but I digress. You can figure out the water more or less the same way later if you must. Back to energy:

Once you document how much power you really use and when, you can get down to brass tacks about supplying that in the bus, which is really a project of efficiency and conservation. Even if money were no object, you'll want to reduce your power requirements and shape your usage patterns to make them easier and cheaper to address with electrical systems. If nothing else, conservation gains will net you increased reserve in overcapacity, but more likely you'll need to completely change your relationship to electricity to make living with a limited amount of it on a bus at 12V DC and 115V AC, and no other house energy supply. Getting there in a way that's economically viable will be a serious challenge at any power level for full-timing with a family.

To put a sharper point on it- answering any of the questions you have about systems is a complete waste of time until you get on top of your actual and projected consumption patterns and energy requirements. Conversely, knowing your true power (and environmental and water) minimum requirements will pretty much dictate what you can do within your budget for your bus to meet your needs. Doing it any other way means you will have to incrementally redo and revise and perhaps never get a good compromise, and you'll waste money and time getting there.

Its very simple, really, but nowhere near easy...
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advice needed, electrical, inverter, power, solar

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