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NavyKid

Basics of Boondocking

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**I didn’t see a post covering this specifically, but if there is feel free to delete this**

I’m a new owner of a toy hauler travel trailer, living full time in it, and hoping to take road trips here and there. I’m wondering what I need to keep in mind when staying somewhere without full hookups. For example, I’d like to get to an Atlanta Braves game this year and spend the night at their RV lot. I also plan to drive a few hours and take my motorcycle to track days around the area. The main thing I’d be concerned about is electricity for AC, I’m sure the gray/black water tanks are fine for a couple days.

 

Would the best option be to buy a generator? Any other boondocking tips would be appreciated! Thanks.

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The very simple answer is that if you don't at least have an electrical hook-up then you won't have the AC running unless you are prepared to run a generator continuously.  There's no practical way to run an AC off of batteries for very long even with a (very) large investment in solar arrays.  Yes, an inverter can make 120V out of 12V but not for very long when supplying power to an AC.

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Just to be "technical", what you are discussing is typically referred to as "dry camping" vs. "boondocking", but as DocJ said... your only real viable option for aircon is to run a properly sized inverter generator. What size generator would depend on the size (typically 13.5k or 15k BTU) and number of AC's you have on your rig.

Be aware that there may be restrictions on where, if and/or when you may be permitted to run a generator. Some of that is simply common sense. Ie., parking overnight in a Walmart parking lot or rest area would not be appropriate. There may also be requirements for a "gen-turi" type exhaust/venting system which pipes exhaust fumes above roof height vs. into your neighbors RV or campsite.

Contractor type generators should be avoided and may incure fines in some areas.

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Parking for games in Atlanta is a challenge. I would double check to see if over-nighting is possible. Get there really early and pay for parking ahead of time.

Get your hot dog at The Varsity along with a Frozen Orange.  (closest to the stadium)

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Ok I see, thanks for all the info. So a generator and inverter are the same things? Sorry this is all new to me 🙈.

 

I know Atlanta has a specific parking lot for RVs according to their website, but with them and other venues who accommodate RVs, I imagine there typically is not full hook ups. Thanks for the tips on food 😋

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20 minutes ago, NavyKid said:

So a generator and inverter are the same things? Sorry this is all new to me 🙈.

Not at all. We all started from page one. 😉 Don't hesitate if any questions come to mind. 

A generator motor produces direct current (DC). An inverter uses DC electricity to produce alternating current (AC).

So an inverter generator (or typically just "generator") is an "all-in-one"... producing 120v AC for direct use by plugging in to the generator. Like your RV's external electrical cord. As long as it's running you have uninterrupted AC power generation.

There are also stand-alone inverter devices. Those are generally used to supply AC power from stored DC power in your RV's battery bank... without having to run the generator.

The problem with an aircon off a stand-alone inverter though is that the power demands are so high that typical RV battery banks do not store enough energy to support the heavy power demand for any substantial length of time... and can also be damaging to your batteries.

In practical terms... no generator equates to no aircon.

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9 hours ago, Yarome said:

So an inverter generator (or typically just "generator") is an "all-in-one"... producing 120v AC for direct use by plugging in to the generator. Like your RV's external electrical cord. As long as it's running you have uninterrupted AC power generation.

It is important to note that when we speak of generators, there is more than one type of those as well. What most RV people are speaking of is the inverter/generator which is most commonly found in the RV community and which typically cost  $500 to $1000 for a 2000 watt unit with the most highly rated ones from Honda & Yamaha to the high end of that range. But there are far less expensive portable generators to be found at places like Lowe's or Home Depot that are far less expensive and have much higher output but they are also far louder, heavier to carry, and the quality of the power supplied is not generally considered to be good for modern electronic equipment. There are people who use the construction use generators for an RV but doing so will not make you popular and you need to be careful what you operate from one of them. 

10 hours ago, NavyKid said:

I know Atlanta has a specific parking lot for RVs according to their website, but with them and other venues who accommodate RVs, I imagine there typically is not full hook ups.

If they are like most such RV areas, they will have no connections of any kind, meaning no electricity, water, or sewer.

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10 hours ago, NavyKid said:

So a generator and inverter are the same things?

Actually what makes things even more confusing is that although inverters and generators are two different kinds of things, as has been explained in previous posts, most of the small generators you will encounter are called "inverter generators" because they actually produce DC power which is then "inverted" to AC as the output.  These generators have a variable speed rather than a fixed rate of rotation.  A "regular" generator has a fixed rotation rate in order to produce 60 cycle AC.  Generators in RVs can be of either type.

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15 hours ago, NavyKid said:

Would the best option be to buy a generator? Any other boondocking tips would be appreciated! Thanks.

 

15 hours ago, docj said:

The very simple answer is that if you don't at least have an electrical hook-up then you won't have the AC running unless you are prepared to run a generator continuously.  There's no practical way to run an AC off of batteries for very long even with a (very) large investment in solar arrays.

 

14 hours ago, Yarome said:

Just to be "technical", what you are discussing is typically referred to as "dry camping" vs. "boondocking", but as DocJ said... your only real viable option for aircon is to run a properly sized inverter generator. What size generator would depend on the size (typically 13.5k or 15k BTU) and number of AC's you have on your rig.

 

10 hours ago, Yarome said:

The problem with an aircon off a stand-alone inverter though is that the power demands are so high that typical RV battery banks do not store enough energy to support the heavy power demand for any substantial length of time... and can also be damaging to your batteries.In practical terms... no generator equates to no aircon.

Apparently the issue of running an air conditioner via solar has been looked into and is being done with success. It would seem that proper sizing of components and systems is all that's required, as is the case with many ventures.

 

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I'm no RV electrical person.  I know how to plug my RV in and I know how to start my gen set and that is about it.  But I have a pretty large battery bank (8 golf cart batteries) and I can run everything in my coach, including my microwave when dry camping.  The one thing that I can not run is my a/c units though.  

Not sure what type of solar/battery system it would take to run a/c but I'm thinking it would be large and expensive.

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It's not at all that you "can't" run an aircon off batteries... if you throw enough money, weight and solar "real estate" at the problem. It's also largely going to depend on what size of aircon you're trying to feed (5k referenced in the video vs. the more typical 13.5k and 15k AC's found in most RV's... sometimes multiples), how long you plan to feed it (30min's? 8hrs out of the day?), amount of space you are cooling, under what type of ambient temperatures and how "sustainable" it is.

The issue becomes what is "practical", within an averages persons budget and within an RV's lead/battery CCC. At some point there is a cost vs. return factor that puts running AC off battery out of reach for the greater majority of folks.

Ie., You can run your AC off battery "X" number of minutes or hours a day, but if your batteries are flat dead for day 2 with no hope of charge recovery (without a genset) then the "capability" is of little benefit.

The more practical and cost effective route, in general, is simply to go with a genset from the get-go (which many that dry camp quite freqently will have anyway). Albeit, with some limitations at times if genset usage rules limit or exclude their use.

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In the video Jim gave an approximate dollar amount of his system which based on my research and casual shopping seemed reasonable, and I'm so tight I squeak when I walk. I suppose at the root of discussions of this nature is the idea; never say never. There are real possibilities that exist that are not attempted, and to this I ask why. To some the glass is half full, to some the glass is half empty, and to some the glass is simply too big.

Edited by rm.w/aview

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25 minutes ago, rm.w/aview said:

...I suppose at the root of discussions of this nature is the idea; never say never. There are real possibilities that exist that are not attempted, and to this I ask why...

In my opinion it is a matter of practicality. The gentleman in the video has 1185 watts of solar to run a 5,000 BTU air conditioner. How many RVs have enough roof space for that amount of solar and how much more would be required to run one or two RV air conditioners? He has about one third of his solar on his tow vehicle which means he looses that capacity whenever he wants to go anywhere. He discusses tilting the panels and reorienting the truck throughout the day. I suppose one could assemble a large enough ground based solar array (7-8+ 160 watt suitcase panels) transported in a trailer behind a motorhome or the cargo area of a toy hauler.  He seems to remain located in the desert Southwest since he mentions 100+ temperatures. I wonder how well his system would work in Atlanta (where the OP wants to go) where the temperature and humidity can be very uncomfortable for some even without a lot of sunshine.

Edited by trailertraveler

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49 minutes ago, Yarome said:

The issue becomes what is "practical", within an averages persons budget and within an RV's lead/battery CCC. At some point there is a cost vs. return factor that puts running AC off battery out of reach for the greater majority of folks.The more practical and cost effective route, in general, is simply to go with a genset from the get-go (which many that dry camp quite freqently will have anyway). Albeit, with some limitations at times if genset usage rules limit or exclude their use.

 

8 minutes ago, trailertraveler said:

In my opinion it is a matter of practicality. 

Agreed. The issues of cost and practicality will nearly always present themselves, and they can stop or detour a project until a solution is found. This is where my mind goes, "What is a solution here?". I've always been one to ask why and as I read this thread I did it again. Individually we have our power needs & wants and I try to remember that it's much easier to conserve energy than it is to create it.

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Attempting to cool the inside of a small trailer with a 5,000BTU AC, used sparingly ("I" would still consider 85 degrees inside my home as uncomfortable)... is much more "practical" than trying to power an AC/AC's 3 times or more larger (13.5k-15k some RV's with duals) and maintain a constant "comfortable" inside temperature.

While not exactly... if you were to triple his power setup... 3,400watts (which most rigs won't have the real estate for), 1,300lb battery bank, of the type he is using, (where some RV's CCC may only be 1200-3000lbs)... is "generally" not as practical as spending $1000 on 80lbs of genset for on demand power regardless of other loads, region, time of year or shade/cloud cover.

Again... not saying it "can't" be done. It's more a question of, for the vast majority, does it make "sense" to do it.

That's a matter of opinion.

You can always beat the weight and battery bank capacity issues by moving to lithiums. But you'll also tack on another... how many thousands of $'s? You can also pack and setup an additional unmounted solar array of any size. If you don't mind the hassle... that's doable too.

There will ALWAYS be an expection. IF this, that and the other... right(?).

For the sake of the forum though I believe most of us take the "generally speaking" approach. Solar and battery bank for aircon vs. genset... costs, weights, practicality considered... there is a unilateral winner (at this point and time) for most.

That don't mean you can't go the solar/battery/inverter route if you so choose. 😉

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Ok, what I’m gathering from this is I should try to find an RV Park on little road trips until I can budget a G or so for a generator.

Thanks for all the information!!

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35 minutes ago, NavyKid said:

...until I can budget a G or so for a generator.

If aircon is required, then that does just about sum it up. 😉 Stepping back in time a bit... many find that proper use of ventilation, shade, window treatments and fans can keep living space fairly bearable. 

The actual $ amount would depend though. Foremost being what size of genset you would require. Some 13.5k BTU AC's and 2000watt portable inverter generator combinations will work. For those that don't there is also a very inexpensive (~$10) and simple modification that can be done (installing a "hard start" capacitor) to most RV AC's that may allow one to work with a 2000watt genset... or even if yours does... makes AC startup gentler.

There is also the MicroAir EasyStart that can be installed, but at a much higher cost (~$170-$300). The $170 option being a DIY more advanced install vs. the $300 option with "plug'n'play" wiring harness and all-weather box. That not only allows for lower power startups but is also a power efficiency manager.

I don't have hands-on experience with the MicroAir (haven't gotten around to installing it, yet), but everything I've heard indicates they work exactly as advertised and haven't heard anyone regretting their purchase. 

Both of the above can be installed in any size AC and are a benefit on genset -or- shore power (especially if you're on metered electric).

If a 2000watt is all you need there are less expensive genset options more in the $400-$600 range. "Slightly used" deals can also be had. For occassional dry camping they may prove suitable as long as you are aware that with portable gensets, like most things, you get what you pay for.

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1 minute ago, Yarome said:

The actual $ amount would depend though. Foremost being what size of genset you would require. Some 13.5k BTU AC's and 2000watt portable inverter generator combinations will work.

Let's note that Honda seems to have DISCONTINUED  their 2000 watt inverter genset and replaced it with a 2200 watt unit, which is even more likely to run an AC.

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On 6/11/2018 at 6:07 AM, FL-JOE said:

Not sure what type of solar/battery system it would take to run a/c but I'm thinking it would be large and expensive.

48v 100a Li battery, 835w solar, 4kw inverter.   Yeah, it's expensive.

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Another option is getting a Motorhome which is truly self-contained with a large Genset.  They are quiet and can provide full AC capability.  Albeit at a higher cost than a Trailer.

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1 hour ago, brunsje said:

Albeit at a higher cost than a Trailer.

I don't think that cost difference is nearly so great as most make it out to be. It is true that a Class A will cost more than a fifth wheel of equal quality, size, and amenities but the cost of the truck you need to tow the fifth wheel with is going to be several times the price of a small car to tow behind the motorhome. 

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