Monday, November 25, 2019

Freedom from the Grid! - Rambling RV Rat's Suite Retreat Solar Energy Project

As I mentioned in my last blog, Dad just completed the installation of 3200 watts of solar panels/15.2kWh Lithium Batteries/604 amps at 24 volts on our 2020 DRV Mobile Suites 40KSSB4 fifth wheel to facilitate our love of boondocking and our need for convenience.  The new system would be more technologically advanced than the systems Dad installed on our 2005 Nu-Wa Hitchhiker (which was our "weekender" unit during our sticks-and-bricks days) and 2011 Montana (which he then transferred over to our 2015 Montana.) 


Let me start off by explaining that Mom has always referred to Dad as Tim the Tool Man.  Like Tim Allen's character on Home Improvement, Dad believes wholeheartedly in the adage "bigger is better".  (For example, she once asked him to built a 3-foot Frosty the Snowman made of wood.   What she got was a 9-foot Bumble The Abominable Snowmonster!)  So when it was time to design a solar system for our new rig, Mom and I were worried.   The cheese wheels of Dad's brain were churning, as evidenced by the smoke billowing from his shiny bald head!  Did we unleash a Monster who could not be controlled?  I'm happy to say that we were able to keep Frankenstein reigned in and that our system is everything we wanted it to be.  


Mom kept Dad leashed so that he didn't create a system this large.  Ironically, though, this looks a little like my head, doesn't it?



But since my little stuffed rat brain can't wrap itself around explaining and discussing technology this complex, I'm going to let Dad tell you about his solar project personally while I go munch on some Cheese Nips.  Over to you, Dad...  




Thanks, Rambling RV Rat.  Let me start by saying that my biggest obstacle initially was working without a physical specimen (We went to several dealers to actually see a 40KSSB4, but most did not have any on their lot). I could not take measurements of the roof and the obstructions up there, nor take into consideration the basement configuration where all the major components would be situated.  So I was forced to make a lot of presumptions early on.  

From late September 2018 (when we took the DRV tour and decided they would be the manufacturer of our next rig) up to when I was able to examine our new fifth wheel at Bennett's Camping Center during pre-delivery inspection (PDI), I was sort of working blind. I had several design layouts configured just in case one or another did not work out.  To assist with what technologies were available and would work best with what we wanted to achieve….TOTAL FREEDOM FROM THE GRID…I contacted James Hall at Northern Arizona Wind and Solar (NAWS). I worked with NAWS several times over the last 14 years and was pleased with their products and services.

NAWS has been designing and installing solar systems since 1979, so they have the experience and knowledge to provide the answers I was looking for. When I contacted James initially, I explained what I wanted to do and how I wanted the system to perform.

So over the next 12 months James and I exchanged ideas, concepts, and estimates. I was diligent in doing my homework on the manufacturers and components available on the market. Regardless of what James or anyone else would advise, I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with what we were going to purchase and use. This was not going to be an inexpensive system, so it is an investment that needs to be right the first time. Each of the manufacturers and components I used I have provided links for reference.

WHAT DOES THE SYSTEM NEED TO DO

The first order of business was figuring out exactly what we wanted the system to do for us. Do we just want to be able to use a few choice appliances on occasion? What appliances would be used only on shore power (connected to the grid)? Do we want the ability to run our air conditioners on solar? Can it be done effectively? Can we get enough solar panels on the roof and enough batteries to handle such a task?

During the design phase, my wife and I discussed that if we were going to live off the grid, we did not want to be limited to using only a select few appliances at certain times or days. We knew we had generators as back up, but wanted to spend as much time enjoying living off the grid and out of RV parks without having to worry about firing up the generators every couple of days. Our previous solar system did not have the ability to run the air conditioners.  And although we were comfortable living off grid, there were still the days when we had to run the generators to catch up the batteries because there was not enough sun to charge them back up. That was one disadvantage I saw with having lead acid batteries, even the AGMs we had in the Montanas (I will discuss this further later on).

So with decisions made as to how we wanted the system to perform, I now turned to my discussions with NAWS. I expressed to James the ability to be able to stay off the grid completely with minimal generator use yet still be able to use everything on board. That meant the air conditioners, residential refrigerator, convection microwave (my wife cooks regularly), fireplace including heat, television and entertainment system, kitchen gadgets (we just bought an air fryer), and the list goes on. Can this be done? Have the systems and technologies advanced enough to allow this to be possible in an RV? After talking it through with James and advancing my own research, I knew it was possible but that you had to have the right components configured properly to make it happen.

One thing we did need to do in order to run the air conditioners efficiently and to not put a huge initial load on the system when we turned them on was to install soft starts on each unit. We purchased these from Micro-Air, and they were pretty easy to install. The soft starts slowly bring the compressors online, thus preventing a big amperage draw on the system.

The Micro-Air Easy Start being installed on the ACs.


THE SYSTEM DESIGN

This brings us to what components and what manufacturers to use. If one types into Google or any other search engine “solar panel systems” you will be pretty much overwhelmed with the amount of information that will come up. Who uses this battery? Who has this inverter? What does this charge controller do? You will get everything from soup to nuts with huge cost fluctuations.

Designing a solar energy system to have the most advanced technology does not mean you have to spend a king’s ransom to get it, you just have to be knowledgeable as to who and what will work for you!

After each discussion with James at NAWS, I would get online and investigate the various components he  recommended/proposed. I am going to list the components and how I determined what to use based on all the information I gathered.  As Rambling RV Rat's Mom always says, there is no one size fits all in this lifestyle.  Everyone's needs, tolerances, and budgets are different.  But here is what met our lifestyle requirements.


Solar System Wiring Diagram

Solar Panels

On our previous Montana fifth wheels, we had a total of 1200 watts of solar panels on the roof that were able to be tilted. But my wife stated emphatically that we were NOT climbing the roof to tilt the panels on this new system.  I must admit it was inconvenient for how many times we would be stationary enough to spend the time to perform that task. Another reason to not tilt the panels is that the amount of additional efficiency you pick up from tilting is only about 20%.  Coupled with the fact that you only will attain peak charging efficiency for about 4 or 5 hours a day, you are better off adding another panel or two to pick up that loss.

As most of you know when you look at an RV roof there is not much room to effectively place a large number of solar panels. Yes, you can place them along the edges and in between the air conditioners, vents, antennas, etc. One big problem with most system designs is when placing the panels they tend to be close to one of the aforementioned items on the roof, and therefore at some point in the day will be subject to shading from them.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Shading on a particular solar panel effectively shuts it off from charging. It does not take much; only a couple of inches of shading will greatly reduce the panel's ability to send energy to the batteries. This is a very costly mistake a lot of designs have built into them, basically rendering that $200-$350 panel useless.

With the ability to run air conditioners and no tilting involved, the challenge was going to be how many panels, how big and where are we putting them. Because we would have a high residential type electrical draw we would need to achieve, I would have to look at high wattage and voltage type solar panels. This would also be important so that the batteries would also get a lot of energy throughout the day to charge them back up quickly and efficiently, even with less than ideal conditions. During the research I looked at various manufacturers, both made here in the US and abroad. Now those who know me personally know that I make every effort to buy American. While there are numerous US-based solar companies, many are just start ups who may be buying overseas components and assembling them here. How can they offer effective warranties for the same? I say effective in the sense that many of the manufacturers offer 25 year warranties on solar panels but have only been around a few years. Will they be around in 25 years? 15 years? 10 years? I was looking for a company that has been performing in this market that can offer a warranty that is backed by a third party. This way if there were an issue and that company no longer existed in its present form I could have some recourse.

After discussing with James at NAWS, I agreed with his recommendation and decided to go with REC N-Peak Solar Panels. REC is out of Norway and has been producing solar panels and components since 1996. REC is considered one of the leading manufacturers of panels in the world. I selected the REC N-Peak 320. They have a peak power of 320 watts, a rated voltage of 32.2 volts with a rated current of 9.37 amps.

After deciding on which panels, I now had to decide the where and how many. Knowing we needed to have a lot of watts to produce a lot of energy to run our new coach, I landed on 10 panels. So that would give 3200 watts of energy on the roof. I would run two 5-panel configurations in series. This would give 161 volts at 9.37 amps on each array coming down to the charge controllers. Running in series will also allow me to keep our wiring leads from the panels at 10 AWG because we are running more volts than amps through them. If I ran all the panels in a parallel configuration, I would have more amps than volts and would need to increase the wire size to at least 8 AWG from the panels to a combiner box and then at least 4 AWG from the combiner box to the charge controllers (I will discuss these components shortly).

Now that the number of panels was determined, how am I  installing them on the RV roof? Well why not go right up the middle, above the air conditioners? Since the top of the air conditioners are at 13’4” above the ground, I would have to be almost right on top of them to keep below the 13’6” maximum height allowed on the interstates and major transportation roads.

To achieve this I designed an elaborate aluminum framing system to support the panels. This consisted of a combination of aluminum tubing and angles constructed in ladder frames that I could bring up to the roof pre-assembled and deploy into their configuration once up there. Here is one of the sketches I made to guide me during fabrication Roof Framing Schematic.  Whenever we are on our leased lot in Livingston, we like to use local vendors as much as possible when shopping for any item, and this was no exception. I found a great economical source for the aluminum in Metal Supermarkets in Houston, TX, and I purchased all fasteners from Fastenal  in Cleveland, TX.  Using vendors such as these is more practical and economical for the larger purchases then using a Home Depot or Lowes.

The anchors for the framing are held in place on the roof with 3/8” stainless steel lag bolts into the ½” plywood roof. In all, there are 44 anchor bolts at 22 anchor locations. All of the bolts, etc. on the framing are stainless steel.

The combined load spread over the roof at 22 points is approximately 550 pounds or 25 pounds per anchor point.

Everything is sealed with Dicor self-leveling sealant, which you can never use too much of!

My Outside Office

My Outside Shop Area

Frame fabrication in progress

One of 11 aluminum frames being fabricated


Frames all ready to be hoisted to the roof

Frame Laid Out and ready for Anchoring


Frames Anchored and Embedded in Dicor

Anchors sealed with Dicor

Panel Installation Progressing On To Framing

Panels Installed Looking Towards Rear of RV


Side View Showing Panel Anchorage


Although these 10 panels may look like the deck of an aircraft carrier, there will be no landing of drones or RC airplanes please!


Solar Combiner Boxes, Charge Controllers and Bussbars

Now that the solar panels are in place on the roof they need to bring that energy down to supply the batteries and inverters. Thankfully there was a tank vent located close with good access to the basement to be able to snake the wiring from the panels.

Cable Pulling Wire Alongside the Vent Tube 

10 AWG Lead Cables Fed Next to Vent Tube to Basement

Vent Cap Re-Installed and Sealed with Dicor


Once this was done and sealed up, each wire had to be pulled to the front basement where all the main components of the system would be housed. 

In order to support all of the major components of the system, I had to build two 3/4" plywood walls in the basement. We ordered the RV without any compartments in the basement (such as a generator box) so that I would be able to lay out the components in the most efficient method. The plywood was painted before the components were installed.




Because there are two panel arrays I needed to setup two solar combiner boxes where the wiring would enter. The positive leads would first connect to a 15 amp breaker then to the charge controller. The negative lead would go directly to the negative side of the controller for the panel inputs.

The boxes, called Baby Boxes, are made by Midnite Solar, and they provide both an input and an output breaker, thus  eliminating a need to have separate disconnects between the boxes and the controllers.

The charge controllers (CCs) are made by Victron Energy. I chose the Smartsolar charge controllers in a 250 volt/70 amp configuration as I would be bringing more volts than amps in them by wiring the panels in a series configuration. These are maximum power point tracking (MPPT) controllers, which means they are constantly looking for the highest energy point and will harvest this point to send to the batteries. These controllers are also Bluetooth smart so you can monitor from your smartphone and also link directly to the Victron Color Control GX monitor (more about that later).

Once the solar energy is supplied by the panels to the CCs they then send it into the batteries. They are wired back into the baby boxes with the positive lead passing through an 80 amp breaker to the bussbar and the negative passing straight through to the bussbar.

Because of the sophistication of the system and after consulting with NAWS, I opted to use Victron's Lynx Power Distribution System. It is very clean and easily expandable. For our system I needed a Power In load center where all the batteries tie into, a Lynx Shunt where all of the data is transmitted to the operating monitors and which also provides a catastrophic fuse in case anything was to go awry between the batteries and the main distribution bar. The final piece is the Lynx Distribution Bar, which is where the leads from the controllers connect, where the main leads for the DC systems will exit to provide the 12-volt power the RV needs, and also where the main leads will exit and connect to the two inverters.  Each lead on the Distribution Bar is also fuse protected. That is the beauty of the Victron system as there is a lot of safety redundancy.

All the Components Located in the Front Basement

Close up of the Lynx Bussbar System


Ready to Build Some Cables! 


Using a 16 Ton Crimper is the Only Way to Make Good Connections to the Lugs


Each End is Protected with Heat Shrink Tape 


Each Wire/Cable Run is Carefully Planned and Routed



All Cables Runs for Each Battery/Charge Controller/Inverter, etc. are the Same Length to Keep Resistance in Each Cable the Same for Each Component



The Finished Basement Compartment






Inverters

I opted for Victron Multiplus 24/3000/70 Inverters.  I used two of them in parallel which will provide 6000 watts at 50 amps to run everything in the RV including both air conditioners at once if we need or so choose. These inverters at 24 volt can each push 70 amps of charging into the batteries if necessary. They are fully programmable to pretty much any configuration you need, but for our system I have them configured to our 24 volt batteries.

They are each protected by a 200 amp breaker coming in from the batteries. They are also Bluetooth connected via the Victron V.E. Direct dongle.

The Parallel Inverters

In order to run them in parallel from both the shore and boondocking side, I opted to install an AC combiner box which can bring either shore power or battery power and distribute it to the main electric panel of the RV. There are other ways to achieve putting the inverters in parallel; but after discussing with NAWS, this was deemed the most practical and cleanest method.



Since all of the circuits of the RV I wanted to run are on the boondocking side, I only needed to run one side of the 50  amp service coming in from the shore power through to the AC combiner box. The other side of the 50 amp service stops at the 50 amp double pole breaker. If in the future I decide I need to extend that to a subpanel, it can be done easily.   But for now I do not think we need 12000 watts from the shore.

Ah, the Fun of Pulling Wires for the Disconnect, Main Panel and Monitor!


The New Disconnect and Main Breaker Panel


In the combiner box there are four bussbars, incoming AC, outgoing AC, Neutral and Ground. This provides a simple and clean solution to running the power leads.
Once the AC power is brought to the bussbar it is then split to both inverters. Because the inverters each have a 50 amp transfer switch built in there was no need for an exterior transfer switch or subpanel. The AC output from the inverters then goes to one bussbar which then supplies a lead to the main panel for all AC loads in the RV. All of the AC input and output share common neutrals and grounds. 

AC Combiner Box



We also installed a Progressive Emergency Management System (EMS) hardwired before the 50 amp disconnect which monitors and protects the RV when hooked up to shore power. This is located in the basement under the cabinet where the disconnect and main panel are located. The EMS will protect our RV from surges, bad pedestal wiring, etc. should we opt to connect to shore power. 

                                             


Batteries

During the design phase of the system, I had a lot of discussions with James at NAWS about what batteries to use, how many and who the various manufacturers were and what they offered.

I knew definitely that I would be going with Lithium based on what our overall power needs would be, but was uncertain of size, how many amps and at what voltage.

Because of the size of the panel array, 24 volts would be the most practical and energy efficient solution. It allowed for decreased wire sizes (more volts less amps equals smaller diameter wires). It is a function of Ohm’s Law of resistance. Using the formula Volts (V) x Amps (A) = Watts (W), take 24V x 50A = 1200W, to get the same watts at 12V x 100A = 1200W.

What this basically says is at 24 volts you are pushing less current A through the wire allowing you to use a smaller wire which has less resistance. In simple terms you can use a smaller pipe to bring the water to the source because the water pressure is less going through the pipe.

There are several good manufacturers in the market who could have provided what I needed.  But in the end I chose Simpliphi PHI 3.8 kWh 24 volt Lithium Ferro Phosphate. Simpliphi Battery  provided the best options and the biggest bang for the investment: a built in battery management system (BMS), a built in 80 amp DC breaker on/off switch, a 10-year warranty (from a company that has been around since 2000) 10,000 cycles at 80% depth of discharge (DOD)…..and these batteries are truly MADE IN THE USA! All components are designed, engineered, manufactured and assemble here! Additionally, Simpliphi has been a large Dept. of Defense contractor helping protect our troops overseas with their innovative solutions.

I used four of the Simpliphi batteries giving us 15.2 kWh, 604 amp hours at 24 volts. These four batteries weigh in at 312 lbs., about half of what a similar setup using lead acid batteries would weigh. More importantly, every single amp hour is usable on the lithium (where only 50% are usable on acid batteries), and lithium batteries charge considerably faster than acid batteries. 

Having a 24 volt system also means I have to use a DC to DC converter to step down the 24 volts to 12 volts for all of the typical RV house loads such as the lights, etc. Most importantly, the Lippert hydraulic system which runs the level up jacks and slide outs runs on 12 volts and uses high amps. I chose to use the Victron Orion 24V/12V 70 amp converter for that particular reason. I wired the converter directly into where the original house 6 volt battery connections were thus avoiding a lot of rewiring of the 12 volt system.

System Monitoring

So now that I have this high-end. sophisticated solar charging/energy system, I need to be able to monitor it to ensure it is operating properly, to know our energy consumption, and to know how much energy it is producing.

I chose to use Victron Color Control GX which is both Bluetooth and WiFi capable thus allowing on-the-fly monitoring and control. 

The Main Control Center with the GX in the Upper Right


A Snap Shot of the Color Control GX in Action while using one of the Air Conditioners


                                     

The GX connects directly to the Lynx Shunt and reports how much solar comes in, how much of that solar is going into the batteries, how much is consumed by the RV, where the battery state of charge stands, and how much DC and AC loads are being used.

The monitor will allow us to check and change the system parameters from anywhere as long as it has an internet connection and the use of the Victron VRM app on our smartphones.

The Completed System

From start to finish it took 17 days and 75 hours to layout, build and install all of the components. This includes installing walls in the basement to support the major components, building the rack system for the roof and constructing all of the wires and cables. All cables are hydraulic crimped and heat shrinked. All of the miscellaneous wire and cable runs are covered with split loom to protect them.


I put the system on line October 24 We went completely off the grid October 31. Since then we have been running the air conditioners when necessary.  We use all of the appliances regularly including the convection microwave and air fryer. We watch TV, have the residential frig running, and have used the furnace since we have had an arctic blast land on us here in Texas.

We are trying to push the system limits each day to see if there are any issues. We have not had to run the generators or reconnect to the grid in nearly a month. The lowest the batteries have been drawn down to is 50% by just going about our daily lives. We have had both bright sunny days and multiple cloudy rainy days where there was limited sun and yet the panels still charged the batteries fully on those days.

We are very happy with how the system is performing to date. I want to give a very big thank you to James at NAWS for his patience and the expertise that he provided during the design and implementation process.  


Thanks for making my head spin, Dad!  Well, there you have it folks.  The scoop, poop, and gobblygoop of our solar system.   We are ready to enjoy boondocking in Quartzsite in January!


I'll talk to you again soon!  Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!


We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:



Escapees RV Club



RVillage


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RV Dreams


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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Who Moved My Cheese? - Rambling RV Rat’s 2020 DRV Suite Retreat from Bennett’s Camping Center, Granbury, TX


Well, it has been months in the making, but the time finally arrived for us to take delivery of our 2020 DRV Mobile Suites 40KSSB4 from Bennett’s Camping Center in Granbury, TX (https://bennettsrv.com/).






I know that many of the DRV Owners’ Group (DOG) and Suite Owners International Club (SOITC) think there are only two dealers from which anyone should EVER purchase a DRV.  But we are proof positive that if you look hard enough (you can read about our search here:  Our Quest for a DRV Mobile Suites - MissionAccomplished)  you will find there are other reputable dealers out there, like Bennett’s Camping Center in Granbury,TX.



Bennett’s has been owned/operated by the same family for nearly 50 years.  Though they do not offer DRVs exclusively like Rolling Retreats, they were one of the first dealers to join DRV’s network of dealerships in 2003.  Sales Rep Scott Rash is very down to earth, accommodating, and a true, honest, Texan gentleman.  He is a smart businessman who knows how to close a deal—no back-peddling or hidden costs, no low-balling on our trade-in value, just fair pricing with no hassles or haggling.  Mom had a few out-of-the ordinary requests.  Scott didn’t just say “no” or try to dissuade her.  He went right to his sources at the plant to inquire—and DRV met all of her requests.  And since Bennett’s is within our home/domicile state, they handled inspection and registration for us. (It’s a bit odd that brand new vehicles must be inspected in TX—even over-regulated NJ did not require inspection for a vehicle within the last 2 model years).






We ordered our 40KSSB4 in March, and although it was available for delivery in early August, Bennett’s was accepting of our travel schedule which wouldn’t put us back in Texas until mid-September.  Unlike some dealers we visited who allocated only a few hours for a pre-delivery inspection (PDI), Bennett’s said, “take all the time you need and want.”   Although Bennett’s did their own comprehensive PDI, we believe in doing our own due diligence.  So, using a compilation of various checklists, including the one utilized for our three prior new RV purchases, and looking for specific issues/problems that were noted on DOG and SOITC Facebook pages, we did our own extensive PDI.

It took us two full days, but we tested every window, slide, shade, and electronic device.  We stretched, crawled, and squatted, checking every seal, nook, cranny, and crevice.  We left no stone unturned.  However, as prior owners of two newly-constructed sticks and bricks homes and 3 previous new fifth wheels, we learned from experience not to sweat the small, trivial cosmetic items, but to focus on the important structural/mechanical issues.  We were pleased with the results of our inspection—we had only about a dozen items on our list, many of which were seal/caulk related.  (Now mind you, we are not delusional.  We KNOW that like ALL RVers, and especially as full-timers, we will experience hiccups and encounter problems down the road.  Our home-on-wheels lifestyle is characterized best by Roseanne Rosannadanna, the beloved Saturday Night Live character played by Gilda Radnor, who said, "It's always something.")







The issues we found were resolved expeditiously by Bennett's.  The hospitable Scott treated us to a nice lunch.  Bennett’s presented us with welcome gifts, including a $30 gift certificate and a goody bag that contained all the makings for delicious smores!   They provided a complimentary site within their RV Park to transition our belongings from our 2015 Keystone Montana.  Unlike our prior move from a 2011 Montana to a 2015 Montana with similar layouts, this move required extensive space analysis and total rearrangement and placement of items.  It was a long process for my parents (we arrived on Sunday evening and left on Thursday morning).  Me, I just moved my coveted cheese!   We took some time for fun as well, enjoying the camaraderie of Matt and Sherry, Escapees buddies (and DOGs) who were in the area, and folks from Amazon we haven’t seen in 3 years, Bill and Sandy.   We enjoyed several meals at Belenty’s Love, a terrific Vegan Mexican restaurant that makes all homemade, wholesome meatless entrees and delectable desserts (Belenty’s gets a 5-faux-cheese rating from this Rambling RV Rat!).






My folks with Matt and Sherry, friends from Escapees and fellow DOGs.



The BEST by-product of having worked at Amazon--the great people we met!  Bill and Sandy with Mom and Dad.




Some delicious entrees at Belenty's Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant.



The cute interior of Belenty's Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant.  The only animals you find here are paintings on the wall!


We truly are pleased with our 40KSSB4.  It offers TONS of storage, albeit most of which Mom can’t reach.  But she solved that problem by buying a 3-step Gorilla Ladder that is so lightweight, she can lift it with 2 fingers!








Yours truly on Mom's lightweight 3-step Gorilla Ladder.




Mom, who admittedly spends more time cooking than she would like (too bad we all love to eat so much), is thrilled with the kitchen layout.   Though a bit shorter in length than what we had previously, the island offers a solid work space since the sink is in the slide, not within the island.  We opted out of the dishwasher, giving us more drawers within the kitchen.  Actually, Mom would have preferred cabinets rather than drawers in the island for more convenient storage of pots/pans.  Unfortunately, this was not something we considered during the ordering process.  But my Dad is quite a handy-dandy guy, so he could fix her up with that down the road.  And after having absolutely no viewing access on one entire side of our Montana, we all adore the addition of the kitchen window in the 40KSSB4.  Sales Rep Scott says he liked the look so much, he is going to add the window to future 40KSSB4 stock orders.  Mom has been learning the nuances of a different convection oven.  She better get up to snuff fast—she’s got to start baking my Christmas cookies!  









Those who are acquainted with my Mom personally know she is a bit anal retentive/OCD.  So, the irregular placement of a single medallion in the bedroom slide head trim drove her completely CRAZY!  Unfortunately, the medallion covers a gear box, so it could not be removed.  But DRV met her odd request and made a second medallion, giving her the symmetry that is so important to her.

Mom freaked out when she saw the single medallion on the left!  It wasn't centered over the bed, nor even centered within the room. Problem solved when DRV met her request to make a second medallion!




My parents highly recommend the Sleep Number bed.   Our tabby cat, who makes herself quite comfy on it, agrees wholeheartedly.  We had one in our sticks and bricks, which we brought with us in our first full-timing fifth wheel.  But with that bed being about 12 years old, it was time to order a new Sleep Number.  Once again, Mom’s quirkiness came into play.  By ordering a Queen vs King size bed, she was able to get the bed centered within two nightstands, rather than have only one nightstand and the King bed off-center.






We opted to remove the TV in the bedroom, giving us even more storage cupboards.  And by removing the vanity slide in the bedroom, the bureau is longer, hence larger drawers.





When determining which DRV model to get, Mom considered our pets.  Hence, our utility closet, which would normally house a washer/dryer, has now become the tabby cat hut.   (Mom was willing to forego the washer/dryer because of the bad experience we had with our unvented all-in-one Splendide unit, the fact that we boondock in Quartzsite for 2 months, and that our home-base RV Park asks that we refrain from using washing units within our rigs.  Not to mention that it’s an awful lot of weight to add within a slide.)  



The hall utility closet becomes...

...Our tabby cat "hut”.


Our tabby cat was a bit perturbed by the whole move, but once Mom presented her with a new blanket, she settled in nicely.   Deciding where to put our fish tank was another point we pondered.  But once we determined location, we requested the addition of a 12-volt plug.  Our fishies are now frolicking within their new, larger aquarium!



Our tabby cat sleeping on her tabby cat blanket!








Despite our tabby cat's protests, we opted to have as much carpeting removed as possible (DRV will not remove carpeting from within the slides) and replaced with laminate flooring throughout the rig.  Mom sure was glad she asked for frosted shower doors, even though they were not on the list of options available.  We had them in our Montanas, and they are so much easier to keep clean.  She was hell-bent on getting a solid entry door with peep hole—too bad she is too vertically challenged to see out of it!  In fact, even Dad has to stand on his toes to utilize it.  So take it from this Rambling RV Rat, be sure to specify the height at which to place the peep hole if you order one.  It was something we neglected to do.




Dad had his own "wish list" and was insistent that we get the Truma water heater, electric cord reel, and tank heating pads—all things we did not have in our Montana.





In our Montanas, I would sit on one of the kitchen chairs between my parents’ recliners.  Now that they have stadium seating, I am chilling out on the couch, wrapped in the beautiful quilt bestowed upon us by our warm and generous Escapees buddies (and DOGs, too!) the Meandering Monsons.  Carol is such a talented quilter, and her gift is truly a labor of love that we cherish.


Truth be told, there is one thing about our Mobile Suites 40KSSB4 that we all absolutely despise:  the macerator toilet!  This toilet has no foot pedal.  Instead, you push a button and the water swoops in and sucks out the waste.  It seems to take multiple flushes to accomplish removal of the waste.  Right now, we are pulling our black tanks every 4-5 days.  As folks who like to boondock, this is going to present a challenge.  We normally collect and reuse our shower water to flush our toilets when boondocking.  This toilet does not accommodate this method.  When we learned this was the type of toilet installed, we asked to replace it.  But apparently, that is not an option due to the way it is plumbed.  Guess we will be using the blue boy more frequently in Quartzsite this year! 





Speaking of Quartzsite, we have upgraded our 700-pound Bennche Cowboy 250 utility vehicle that we use on the desert trails.  Originally, we were very limited on the height/weight of an off-road vehicle because we were transporting it on top of the garage of Big Boomer, our medium duty truck, using a Spitzlift mini crane (rated for 900 pounds) to elevate it.   You can read all about our UTV transportation set up here Man VS Machine: How Dad Conquered Mom's Challenge for a UTV.  Let me tell ya, we were quite a spectacle driving down the road.   If I had a nickel for every time we were asked, “How’d ya get that thing up there?”, I’d have enough money to own my own cheese factory!  However, once we determined we were purchasing a DRV, we realized we could add a Swivel Wheel.   The Swivel Wheel receivers are welded to the body of the DRV.  Therefore, it has no articulation and is not considered double towing.   The Swivel Wheel is rated at 1,200 pounds.  Hence, we are excited to now own a 2019 Polaris 570 RZR EPS, which I have aptly named Rat Patrol II.


Swivel wheel stored temporarily under tree, Big Boomer, Rat Patrol II, motorcycles (which get transported within garage of Big Boomer) and Rambling RV Rat's Suite Retreat.





So it has been 6 weeks since we returned to our leased lot, and we have been busy beavers making d├ęcor changes/modifications to Rambling RV Rat’s Suite Retreat.   We took the sleeper out of our sofa for additional storage.  Rather than use shelving paper, we purchased inexpensive linoleum that Dad cut to size for all the drawers and cupboards.  We did this in our sticks and bricks homes, and it was much neater and easy to keep clean.  Mom wasn’t thrilled that you could see right through the frosted pantry doors (and you thought I was exaggerating when I told you she was anal!)  It took several attempts, but we found using a white frosted laminate layer AND a layer of black car window tinting resolved the issue adequately.  Now, you can’t see our belongings, but can still see the light shine through the cupboard doors.  We changed out the metal mini blind on our kitchen window to a pleated accordion fabric one.  Dad made covers using laminate flooring for all our vents.  And we put Lexan on our table and desk tops to protect from scratches.  Most importantly, Dad just finished installing a new solar energy system with 3200 watts of panels and 15.2 kWh of lithium batteries at 24 volts.  We are in test mode, off the grid for the last 2 weeks.  This system can run EVERYTHING—including air conditioners.  I’ll let Dad tell you about the install in an upcoming post since all that technical stuff makes my head spin.



That rack on top of my Suite Retreat holds 3200 watts of panels!




The front basement where the main Solar Components are housed.



So, for those contemplating purchasing a DRV, the moral of this post:  There are more than two games in town.  There ARE other DRV dealers like Bennett’s Camping Center who offer exemplary service.  They may not be as big or well known, but they certainly are just as capable and worthy of your business.



We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:



Escapees RV Club



RVillage


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RV Dreams



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