Long overdue Equipment Update (Stimpy)

Soon after starting on our adventure, nearly two years ago, I posted an Equipment Update with notes on our (newly acquired) bus (Stimpy) and our Tow’d with pop-up camper (Ren). Here’s some updates:

“Stimpy” 2006 Fleetwood Revolution 40E LE Diesel Pusher

We’ve been really happy living in Stimpy. Our needs are met handsomely. It feels like home.

At the time of purchase, we were super pleased to have a second toilet  After living in the coach for a couple of years I’d rather have one toilet and more kitchen counter space. You learn to live with what you have.

At the time of purchase we HATED the carpet and planned to spend thousands to have it removed and replaced with laminate or vinyl. We’ve learned to live with it. We still wish we didn’t have it but it’s not such a big deal.

We’ve had service issues: replacing the cooling unit on the fridge, replacing slide topper awnings, repairs to the water heater and pesky (weak) basement slam latches. This fall we have scheduled repairs for a 12V circuit problem and one of our A/C heat pump units is not working. But, all in all, we bought a ten year old coach that’s now twelve years old. It continues to serve us well. Its solid construction is wearing well. 

All of these type of coaches require lots of repair and maintenance. They are very complicated machines.

Which brings me to our big big upgrade. Last summer we had AM Solar, in Springfield, OR, install a whiz-bang cutting edge solar/inverter/battery system in Stimpy. Here’s the stuff:

Victron MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50 VE Bus Inverter Charger 

Victron BlueSolar Smart MPPT 150/85-TR (85 amp) Solar Controller 

8 – 160 Watt Solar Panels (1,280 Watts)

3 – 200 AmpHour LiFePO4 Lithium battery banks (600 AH total, 480 AH useable)

Digital Multi-Colored Display control center installed in the bedroom (where our TV used to be)

All the switches, busses, magic bits and installation modifications required to make this happen on our roof, bedroom, and battery bay.

We also replaced the chassis twin batteries with suitable AGM batteries. Here is our battery bay before, and after.

Battery compartment (before)
Inverter compartment on top of the battery compartment (before)
Battery bay after the new system installed

This was not cheap. If you have an extra $25,000 laying around, you can do the same to your coach. Uncle Sam helped out by providing a 30% credit on our taxes last year so our total cost was around $17,500. Now, that’s better, right? Right…

Was it worth it? Well, that’s a very subjective question. Stimpy is our full-time home and it has changed the way we live in the coach. For the better. Yes, it’s worth it to us: your miles may vary — it’s a lot of money.

The inverter is always on. We never turn it off. Everything always works just like we were plugged in. Our home network is always up. Our HomePod speaker is always available. Device chargers are charging, everything is as it should always be. I can bake a pie (really) in my convection oven. I can microwave six potatoes. I can cook stew in the Instant Pot. I even boil water for coffee and dishes in my electric kettle. We can watch TV (we’ve got ‘hundreds’ of hours of video recorded on hard disks) ’till we’re tired of it. We monitor, but don’t obsess with our “State of Charge,” which we know exactly, by the way. 

Usually, by bedtime, which for us is pretty late, we are down to around 80-85% battery capacity. If we use our electric blanket for the night we might be down to 70-75% when the sun comes up. Our batteries are safe down to 20%. On a sunny day the solar will have us fully charged by noon or slightly after. In a worse case scenario (Winchester Bay, Oregon, last fall, full overcast, cold, dim and rainy), we still recharged quite a bit each day — but not fully. Each day we lost about 10%. We were there six days and never once had to use our generator.

We hate our generator. It stinks. It’s loud. When we have neighbors, it’s louder and stinkier for our neighbors than it us for us. We use it when traveling to run coach A/C. That’s it now. We never use it for recharging.

When not plugged in we use LP gas for refrigeration*, water heating, and space heating.

The system is also extremely useful when plugged into shore power that isn’t 50 amp. Stimpy is HUNGRY. He likes plenty of power. Things don’t really work right when there’s not enough. Breakers trip, things stop, electronics crash. No more. Our system can “boost” shore power using the batteries. When the high load is finished, the batteries get charged back up.

When we visit our friends in Welches, Oregon, we stay in Deb’s driveway (Thanks Deb!). We plug into her garage power. It’s a 20 amp circuit but she uses it for a small refrigerator. I can dial our system down so that it will only draw no more than 15 amps from the shore power. That’s enough to run one of our A/C units if it’s hot. If I turn on the microwave while the A/C is running, the system will supply battery power so that everything happens normally. When I’m through with the microwave the boosting stops. When the A/C compressor stops for a while, the full 15 amps available is directed to recharging the battery bank. We live like we were plugged into 50 amps** — but only have a 15 amp connection. This worked great when we toured the Canadian Rockies: almost everywhere we went had only 30 amp service***.

So for us, yes, we’d do it again.

One more thought on this. New coaches, like stumpy, are being built every day. Big, expensive coaches. Hungry for power. Most with compressor fridges and inductive cooktops. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have weak, inadequate lead/acid battery systems. An OEM installation of our system wouldn’t cost $25,000. Maybe half that – especially considering you can subtract the cost of their current installed components. You should be able to buy an option for a similar system for an extra $10-15,000. To not order this option on a new $175-600,000 coach would be crazy. WHY DON’T THEY OFFER IT?


*Our batteries will run our absorption type refrigerator on electricity, but the fridge takes a lot of juice – around 500 watts of 120 volt (inverted) power, running most of the time. Even with our big battery bank and our solar panels, this is a strain on the system. On sunny days we sometimes switch the fridge from gas to electric for a few hours after the batteries have been charged back up — switching back to propane later in the afternoon. We’ve generally decided it’s not worth the extra fussing — we leave it on gas. If we were, in the future, to convert our fridge to a modern compressor type we should be fine using our system to power it. The compressor fridges use way less power.

**Ok, not really. But mostly. I suppose what I just wrote makes it sound like magic. It’s not. Batteries and solar power are not the same as being plugged into the mains. For example we cut down on electric usage when skies are cloudy. Do you really need to boil water with the electric kettle? No, not when it’s cloudy. Do you really need to bake that cheesecake? (Yes, yes I do).  BUT- the inverter stays on, everything always works, we don’t obsess. We do what we want. After all, the worse case is we’ll need to run the generator a bit. So far – we haven’t ever needed to.

***So, to be completely accurate, not everything works when we’re unplugged. There are three things which are Dead To Us when we are not plugged in (Dead To Us means not supplied electricity by our Inverter/Charger). 1) Zone 1 A/C Heat Pump, 2) The electric part of our hot water heater (we use propane instead), and 3) the washer/dryer (which would be insane to use if you weren’t hooked up to water and sewer).

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