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coachmac9

Couple of Questions for Experienced Boondockers

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There is an ad for a volunteer/camp host position but one of the drawbacks is "no electricity"...just water and sewer. So I have two questions for those of you who might have more experience in that area that myself.

1. How long will it take the fridge to use up my gas? I realize this isn't a question with a specific answer but was just trying to get an idea if running it on gas is feasible.  Would I be running to fill up the tanks every week or could I make it longer...I have two tanks, 25 and 40 gallon. Does the fridge use gas like a 454 big block Chevy with a four barrel carb or is it somewhat frugal with the usage.   

2. Can I get by with one of the portable solar panels if I only use electricity for lights only ? How large of a solar panel would I need for this to work? 

All suggestions appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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Gas refrigerators are almost unbelievably stingy with propane.  The flame that provides the heat to run the cooling process is about the same size as your oven's pilot flame.  It should use about a gallon a week, plus or minus.  Your other propane uses (stove, water heater, etc) will determine when you need to fill the tanks.  Unless you use the furnace a lot, 65 gallons of propane should easily last all summer.

If I'm in a monthly site where I pay for electric, I often run the fridge on propane to save a couple of bucks.  The break-even point is 20:1.  If a gallon of propane is less than 20 x the price of a kWh of electricity, propane is the cheaper fuel.

Edited by Lou Schneider

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1. Depends on the weather, how big your reefer is, how full you keep it (fuller is better), how often you open/close it and if you're a "browser" (hmmmm...what looks good?) or a "grabber". Ballpark? ~1lb/day is a decent figure to start with until you get a feel for your particular usage habits. 1/2lb +/- is probably the most typical range.

2. To be sustainable? That's difficult to say without knowing what your rigs parasitic draw is. You won't need a water pump with shore water so lights and fans are likely to be your biggest expenditures. Power awning? Slides? The other factor to consider is the area. As a camp host, "where" you'll be instructed to park may not necessarily be solar friendly. Ie., the recent posting is in a somewhat wooded area.

Just starting out.... I wouldn't necessarily recommend going solar right out of the gate until you've had some time to research, determine your energy requirements and plan a solar system accordingly. A small portable generator with an amply sized battery bank would be your best bet. The portable generator would be something you would continue to use even if you "do" decide to go solar at a later date.

Battery-wise... in a longer term dry camping scenario... a 400ah+ battery bank (4-6v deep cycle batteries) would be advisable. You could do it on half of that (200ah's), but your gen time would increase. If you don't have the space for a 400ah bank then it's kind of a moot point anyway.

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10 minutes ago, Lou Schneider said:

Your other propane uses (stove, water heater, etc) will determine when you need to fill the tank, not the refrigerator.

If you do most of your cooking inside.. I would tend to agree. Your LP supply can be greatly extended by purchasing some of those little black rocks that get really hot when you put a match to them. ;)

I'm a solo and pack 2-30lb main LP tanks. Just out of habit, I'll top off whichever tank I've been using about once a month and rotate the tanks. I find I do better by making it part of my "1st of the month" routine. Probably more like every 30-45days when I'm doing my "re-stocking" trip, but it's the "1st of the month" to me.  :lol:

Contending with 1 tank at a time is much less of a chore and leaves a full LP tank at home to keep the reefer running while I'm gone. Never know what you may run in to on a "quick trip" to town. Ie., breakdown, etc. KWIM?

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I've been boondocking for over a year now travelling with no hookups living off of solar, dumping tanks every couple tanks, refilling water. A 30# tank lasts us 15-17 days running the hot water tank, fridge (Norcold 821), misc cooking on the stove/ oven. In summer with more sun hours we're able to switch over to electric and use solar for the fridge 6-12 hours then the 30# would last 19-21 days. 15 days would be a safe bet.

Edited by Itinerant1

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A gallon of propane weighs 4.05 lbs, so a 30 lb. tank contains 7.5 gallons.

The original poster said he had 25 and 40 GALLON  tanks (for winter heat?).  65 gallons, or  260 lbs. of propane should last at least a couple of months.  ;)

Edited by Lou Schneider

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8 hours ago, coachmac9 said:

There is an ad for a volunteer/camp host position but one of the drawbacks is "no electricity"...just water and sewer. So I have two questions for those of you who might have more experience in that area that myself.

1. How long will it take the fridge to use up my gas? I realize this isn't a question with a specific answer but was just trying to get an idea if running it on gas is feasible.  Would I be running to fill up the tanks every week or could I make it longer...I have two tanks, 25 and 40 gallon. Does the fridge use gas like a 454 big block Chevy with a four barrel carb or is it somewhat frugal with the usage.   

2. Can I get by with one of the portable solar panels if I only use electricity for lights only ? How large of a solar panel would I need for this to work? 

All suggestions appreciated. Thanks in advance.

If this is about the volunteer position near Huntington, UT.  The guy posting gave his email address, email him. 

Many places provide propane, in 100 pound (25 gallon) tanks or sometimes even larger tanks.

BTW, I am pretty sure you have 25 and 40 pound tanks. 25 gallons of propane is 100 pounds and another 50 pounds or so for the tank. (That is a guess on the weight of the tank, don't hold me to it.  Bottom line, it is one heavy dude.)

Edited by Al F

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Thanks for all the responses guys! As bad as I hate to admit it, I guess we are a year away from being able to take a position that doesn't have an electric hook-up. Definitely will be a top priority for next year.

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I boondock almost exclusively when traveling and have found my fridge (and water heater) run on a 30# propane tank for about 3 weeks for 1 person when showering every other day and cooking every other day on the stove top. For two people that would probably be closer to 2 weeks.

For just lights (and fridge) I could easily run on 100W solar panel and a low AH battery

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We are pretty new to boondocking, but just did 20+ straight days in AZ & CA. We do have 550 ah of batteries, but no inverter yet so we are totally reliant on the Honda EU2000 generator or the big 5500 Onan. We have two 30# propane tanks. We have a double fridge so I bet it takes a bit more than a single, plus we use the stove and oven a lot and we had to run the furnace some. I think we were getting about 10-12 days out of our propane with that setup. The furnace of course is the big hog of that. However my working hours meant I was using it more. While in PST, I was having to get up at 4am local time to work which is a couple hours before the sun and needed it during those times. If I would have been able to sleep longer, I don't think our furnace use would have been nearly as great. 

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5 hours ago, coachmac9 said:

Thanks for all the responses guys! As bad as I hate to admit it, I guess we are a year away from being able to take a position that doesn't have an electric hook-up.

The vast majority of places that seek RV volunteers do supply electricity, water, & sewer. We have been taking part in such programs since 20000 and in that time we have completed 35 tours in volunteer positions, in 30 different locations and we will be doing another in ND next summer. In every one of those positions we have had at least 30a power and most have 50a available. We do not accept positions that do not supply full hookups. We have also had only 3 positions that supplied us with propane and two others who reimbursed us the cost of our propane. 

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37 minutes ago, Kirk Wood said:

In every one of those positions we have had at least 30a power and most have 50a available. We do not accept positions that do not supply full hookups

That would kind of make sense then that all of the positions you have had "did" have electricity provided.. don't you think. :lol:

There are a number of unique opportunities in some very remote locations that, more often than not, may only provide water. Sometimes only in the form of a gravity fed water tank trailer. On occasion, LP might be available in one form or another. I've received vouchers for a local fill station and a couple of times it was just one of the rangers making an LP run into town once a week or so and offered to take mine in with theirs for a refill.

Volunteering opportunities for free camping is not only limited to park hosting or working the gift shop at a national park. 

 

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12 hours ago, Yarome said:

Volunteering opportunities for free camping is not only limited to park hosting or working the gift shop at a national park. 

We have only been park hosts 3 times and never have I worked in a gift shop. 

In my experience, the vast majority of locations have full hookups and many places offer other amenities. 

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My wife and I would love the peace and quiet (maybe that is a direct result of teaching high school kids!!) that boondocking offers and to find a camp host position that offers this would be a dream come true...we had the opportunity to camp host at a state park that was shut down due to flooding and we were the only ones there for almost three months and absolutely loved it...lack of phone service or internet would be no problem what so ever...just have to get the solar power going so we cold power a few items and we would be good to go!!! 

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6 hours ago, coachmac9 said:

.we had the opportunity to camp host at a state park that was shut down due to flooding and we were the only ones there for almost three months and absolutely loved it..

Nice! We stayed in a COE, day use area that is closed in winter for two months of the time it was closed. Provided security and did some maintenance work. But we did have full hookups.  

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I believe everybody has answered the fridge question.

The answer to solar or generator is BOTH. A 80-125 watt panel will keep your batteries charged enough for lights(LED), water pump, and other minor power draws. You need the generator for the microwave, TV, etc. and larger power draws. 

Solar panels are cheap. Get both.

More info here: http://usbackroads.blogspot.com/2012/06/solar-or-generator-for-camping.html

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I won't say that "some" rigs might be able to survive on under 125watts of solar, that is not at all typical. There is also a difference between being able to run a rig for several days without an active charge and get home with a fairly depleted battery and actually being long term sustainable.

Ie., you have 100ah available, you're burning 40ah/day but putting back 20 via solar. You're losing 20ah's capacity a day, but that's perfectly doable for 5 days or so. If you're only burning 30ah's/day your "stay time" increases.

With a single 80-125 panel... best case scenario... 15-25ah's of solar production per day. That's where the type of rig you have and the amenitites you have come in to play. Every rig will have "some" amount of parasitic energy draw. Obviously, a pop-up tent camper won't have the same parasitic draw as a 35' 5er. In a "modern" fully outfitted rig, your parasitic draw may be greater than 24ah's/day. In that case... with an 80-125watt panel you're fighting a losing battle without turning a single light on.

Bottom line... stating a "blanket" panel size to, "only run a few lights and the reefer" is pretty much impossible without putting in the homework time and doing the math.

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Having 125 watt solar panel takes the edge of the battery drain.

During the day I turn on lights, watch a small TV, use the water pump for showering and dishes, and the furnace fan if it is cold. At night, I run the generator for an hour or so while cooking dinner. The 125 watt panel does keep the battery from draining.

A lot depends on your RV. I don't have ANY parasitic draws in either the 5th wheel or the Casita. I don't run the fridge off the battery...it runs on propane. 

It isn't a blanket size for a panel. Larger is better. I used a 125-watt panel for fall camping. Currently, with the Casita I use this 80-watt panel setup. It is easy to set-up: https://www.amazon.com/Go-Power-GP-PSK-80-Portable-Controller/dp/B009MIPH36/ref=pd_sbs_263_3?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B009MIPH36&pd_rd_r=WG5SDW6ZM8W4RWPPGMXF&pd_rd_w=lRrem&pd_rd_wg=0j5Uq&psc=1&refRID=WG5SDW6ZM8W4RWPPGMXF&dpID=519rcc0NEUL&preST=_SX300_QL70_&dpSrc=detail

My point is that many people think the choice is between a generator and solar. I think you really need both to be comfortable. Also I hate generator noise so the solar does help minimize generator run-time particularly during the morning and day when it is most annoying.

During hunting season we run three RV's off one Honda 2000 generator. It generally loafs along especially since all three RV's have LED lights. Only request is to tell the other folks when you are going to run the microwave.

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17 minutes ago, Vladimir said:

I don't have ANY parasitic draws in either the 5th wheel or the Casita.

There may be more than you think. I've never met a 5'er that didn't have some amount of parasitic. Even a reefer running on LP requires 12v to run the control board (even when idle), thermostat and ignitor. The gas detectors, radio memory (if so equipped), power management monitors/remotes, WH board, sensors, etc... and just general line loss all contribute to "parasitic draw". Even 1/2amp doesn't seem like much, but that's 12ah's/day... or... 2+ hours of solar production off a 100watt panel out of ~5. Some rigs may have as much as a full amp+ (or 24+ah's/day without a single light on).

"My point is that many people think the choice is between a generator and solar. I think you really need both..."

Absolutely agree. Any amount of solar is good. More solar is even "more gooder", but even a well planned solar system with every "margin" added in will, occasionally, benefit from a cord.

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I have added 800 watts of solar (with a 120 watt portable 'suitcase' panel if we are parked under dense trees) and a 60 Amp Tracer controller to charge 200AH LiFePo4 house batteries connected to a 2500 watt PSW whole house inverter. We have boondocked for several weeks and never had to start the genset. Onboard propane is 64lbs with a 30lb backup tank. As long as we don't need the AC we have plenty of power for a long stretch, with water being the limiting factor (72gal). I do have a 40 gal water bladder with pump to make water runs in the TOAD. (providing we are somewhere it is OK to trickle the grey water) So you can go totally solar (minus AC use) as lone as you have sun.

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13 hours ago, Jesse S. said:

I have added 800 watts of solar (with a 120 watt portable 'suitcase' panel if we are parked under dense trees) and a 60 Amp Tracer controller to charge 200AH LiFePo4 house batteries connected to a 2500 watt PSW whole house inverter. We have boondocked for several weeks and never had to start the genset. Onboard propane is 64lbs with a 30lb backup tank. As long as we don't need the AC we have plenty of power for a long stretch, with water being the limiting factor (72gal). I do have a 40 gal water bladder with pump to make water runs in the TOAD. (providing we are somewhere it is OK to trickle the grey water) So you can go totally solar (minus AC use) as lone as you have sun.

As we can attest, as you have, it is very doable to go for long periods w/o electric hookups or running your generator.  

It is always so obvious the people who reply to various posts that you can't--or it is very difficult to-- dry camp or boondock relying only on battery and solar have NO experience in the real life use of solar and batteries.  

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of RV'ers who boondock comfortably for weeks and months at a time with solar and don't run their generator.  Just drop by the desert southwest in the winter in southern CA & southwestern AZ and you will see lots of RV's with their solar panels. 

On our trip to Alaska in 2016, just the part from when we crossed into Canada and then back into the lower 48, we went 147 of 149 days w/o elect hookups and only ran the generator for about 1.5 hours one day to charge our batteries.  We have 650 watts of solar in a pair of 325 watt residential panels and 400AH of lithium batteries. A 2000 watt inverter powers all our 120V electrical needs.  Sharon also uses a power wheel chair and we have a large 4 wheel power scooter for her as well.  Both are recharged w/o generator use. 

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We boondocked a lot. We only had 300w solar and we used a catalytic propane heater rather than the furnace (not overnight - we like it cold).  The propane heater doesn't use electric like a furnace and it's more economical on propane usage.  In the summer you really don't need heat.  Put on the stove top perculator in the morning for coffee and it will heat your RV up fast.  Our propane lasted all summer.

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7 hours ago, Al F said:

It is always so obvious the people who reply to various posts that you can't--or it is very difficult to-- dry camp or boondock relying only on battery and solar have NO experience in the real life use of solar and batteries.  

Here here! It's quite more than doable to live "very" comfortably on solar... and not only on 12vac alone. I'm not without my 120vac appliances. Portable ice maker, washing machine and spin dryer... TV, internet... use my nuker on occassion and "comfortably" keep my battery dependant accessories charged.

A bit of planning goes a long way utilizing full solar production, but it's certainly not rocket science. 😉 My rig hasn't touched a shore line more than 4 times in the past 7 years and rarely turn over my gensets more than once or twice a month.

For a boondocker... I would say the main limiting factors are waste tank capacity, refer storage space and fresh produce.

You "could" life on canned goods... but not a lifestyle I would chose. Fresh grocery and dumping tanks are generally what will drive me into town.

In the grand scheme of things... electricity is quite the least of my concerns. 

Edited by Yarome

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It's interesting to see this bumped up. I've been boondocking since January pretty exclusively. We were using a Honda 2k for 98% of the time and maybe fired up the Onan 5500 now and then to exercise it. Back in April, I finally got an inverter and then while boondocking with some friends, I got to borrow a 100w solar suitcase setup. If I was running my inverter and a few computers and things, the 100w wasn't enough to keep up, but it sure did keep me from running the genny as much and if I left the inverter off, in full sun, it would bring the batteries back up. 

about 3 weeks ago, I installed 800w of solar, bumped up to 6 6v batteries for 690ah total, plus a hybrid 2000w inverter. I haven't had to run a generator yet since I put the solar on and in full sun with my batteries at 100%, I can run my double fridge off electric for 5-7 hrs or so and not drag myself down. A few more panels would have made a nice difference. 

The solar is an absolute game changer for boondocking and I hate that I waited as long as I did. Now that it's installed the boondocking is even more amazing. I have kept a closer watch on my propane use and 14-18 days per 30# propane tank seems to be pretty normal. I can extend that of course if I run the fridge off electric some. 

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