Installing A SoftStart On The Air Conditioner

In case you don’t know there are two ways to power devices in your recreational vehicle. There are batteries for running battery powered devices such as your lights, water pump, awning, and 12 volt TV if you have one of those. Then there is the AC power cord that plugs into the electrical service at the RV park. This runs basically two devices in my trailer: the microwave and the air conditioner. Since we do most of our camping primarily in the western US, we need an air conditioner! This limits us to camping where electricity is readily available.

But there’s another option, a generator! You can plug your trailer’s AC connection into a generator and run your air conditioner that way. There’s just one problem. You have to make sure that the generator has enough power to start the air conditioner, once the air conditioner is started, it uses far less power. It’s just that initial start. This is where the soft start module comes up. You see inside the air conditioner is an electrical motor that basically runs the pump that pumps all the freon around your air conditioner. When motors start, they generally use a ton of electrical current to get them going, and then once started, they use much less current. That initial kick of electrical current is called inrush current and will bog a generator down as the generator struggles to supple enough electrical current to meet the demand. Many smaller generators will just blow their breakers or shut themselves down.

But what if you could limit that inrush current to a manageable level that the smaller generator could keep up with? Then you wouldn’t have to buy that bigger more expensive generator. This is what the SoftStart module does.

Imagine electrical current as water. When you flip a switch to turn on your AC, it’s like turning your water faucet on full blast. When you flip the switch off, it’s like turning the faucet completely off. But what if you could just turn that faucet on slowly until it reaches full blast? This is what the Soft Start does. When you turn your air conditioner on, the fan comes on, and then a few seconds later the compressor comes on with a loud “thunk”. This is the motor responding to a full blast of electrical current, like the water faucet being turned on full blast, and the motor is trying to respond to that full blast of current. It’s hard on the motor and uses a lot of electrical current to FORCE that motor to start running at full speed almost instantly!

So the Soft Start ramps up the electrical current slowly so that the compressor’s motor comes on more slowly, thus using less electrical current and also being gentler on the motor and associated components. THIS means you can use a smaller generator than you normally would because it doesn’t have to supply as much current to start your air conditioner.

(For my sister, you can tell our brother than this device OBVIOUSLY uses TRIACS to limit the inrush current)

Installation was pretty easy. They have detailed instructions for every model of RV air conditioner out there complete with pictures. It’s a matter of mounting your Soft Start module inside the AC unit, finding the electrical box, and start wiring it in. All the wires are color coded and there are only 4 of them to connect so it’s hard to go wrong.

The Micro-Air EasyStart Soft Starter

I used strong, double-sided tape to mount it out of the air flow in my AC unit. I then routed the grey cable containing all the wiring over to the electrical box. I forgot to take pictures of my wiring but I’ll include a sample from the instruction manual.

This was all the wiring that was necessary. Connect a white wire where the other white wires are connected, connect an orange wire where all the red wires are connected. Connect the brown wire to the white wire going back to the compressor, then cut the blue wire (not the red wire, never the red wire) and splice the black wire into the middle. Tuck all the wiring away nicely. Remember you’re afraid of heights. Don’t fall off the trailer.

After it’s all connected up it’s time to “teach” the Soft Start device about your air conditioner. You do this by turning the AC on, wait until the compressor comes on, let it run for 30 seconds, then adjust the temp so that the compressor turns back off, adjust the temp again to make it come back on (it will make you wait 3 minutes before it turns back on but be patient, it will turn back on.) And then repeat this 2 more times. That’s it. The Soft Start module has now learned your AC’s inrush current particulars. You will notice that the compressor no longer “klunks” on. You just hear a gentle humming begin. Very nice.

Then it was just a matter of closing the AC back up and taking a nap! Now to shop for a generator.

Battery Monitor Install

BMV-700 - Victron Energy
BMV-702

I just completed another mod on my Lance 1995 travel trailer. I installed a Victron BMV-702 battery monitor. It’s a simple device that displays the charge state of your battery. Rather than measure the voltage level it measure the amount of current that flows into and out of your battery. It learns over time and will give you an accurate reading of how much battery power you have left.

It was a simple install but getting at all the locations I needed to get to was somewhat of a challenge for my bad back. The first decision was where to put the shunt. A shunt is used by an ammeter (a device that measures electrical current). Normally they are built into the instrument but with the current levels involved with two car batteries it’s just not practical. You install the shunt between the negative terminal on the battery and the trailer’s ground. A wire then goes from the shunt to the instrument head to provide power and current measurements.

Luckily for me there is a convenient access panel next to the bed where the negative terminals of the batteries connect to ground.

The black wire with the blue tape goes to ground. The other black wire goes to the 2nd battery. The black wire with the blue tape goes on one side of the shunt, and then a cable I made up goes from the other side of the shunt to the terminal with the unmarked black cable on it. This places the shunt between the batteries and ground.

First I had to mount the shunt. I screwed it to the side of the access compartment. The wood screws protrude into the wood block that the back of the nightstand drawers secure to. This made for a very sturdy mount for the 1 pound shunt. I also had to find a way to get the cable that connects the shunt to the instrument head down to the baggage compartment where I was going to mount the instrument. I did this by drilling a hole in the bottom of the access compartment down to the baggage compartment directly below.

Here is a photo of the connected instrument cable. The red wire goes to the positive side of the battery to provide power to the instrument. The only photo I forgot to take was of the battery grounds connected up.

The next challenge was mounting the instrument in the baggage compartment. I decided to put it next to the battery disconnect switch. It’s the first switch you turn on when taking the trailer out of storage so it made sense to put the battery monitor there. Why not mount it inside next to the other instruments? I didn’t want to run that wire all that way and if I messed up the install, I’d rather it be out of site in the baggage compartment!

I had to use a 2 inch hole saw to cut the hole. I then used a Dremmel tool to cut a small mouse hole at the top to run the cable through. I’ll use some clear RTV to secure the cable to the side of the baggage compartment. It took a little patience and some extra work with the Dremmel to get the main hole just right but in the end it all worked out. There is a bluetooth add on that I’m going to get so I can check the voltage from my phone inside the trailer. I’ll add that later. For now I’m just glad I can get a better idea of how the batteries are actually performing and when I need to charge them.

Trip To Hardin – Wrap Up

We are finally home after our partially successful trip to Hardin Missouri.  I say partially because we didn’t make it to Hardin.  I say successful because it was a fun memorable trip.  Not only did I get to cross some items off my bucket list and see some sites we never would have seen had we gone to Hardin, but we learned some things about our RV’ing style.

What I learned

  • We like RV parks
    Although I had planned to stay in some state parks along the way, and boondock at some Harvest Hosts, we really enjoyed the social aspects and easy of life at the RV parks.  You have unlimited electricity, water, and sewer.  It made life just that much easier and less “camp-like”.
  • We need a bigger trailer
    Duh.  If we’re going to do this full time, we will need a bigger trailer to live in.  We saw the exact unit we wanted camped right across the street from us at Distant Drums RV Resort.  When I talked to the gentleman who owned it the next morning I asked him what he did NOT like about the unit.  He said he wished he had bought the higher end unit rather than the middle of the line unit he had.  Good to know.
  • It’s all uphill
    I say this only slightly tongue in cheek; no matter which direction you drive in Arizona and New Mexico, it will be uphill.  If it’s not uphill it will be against the wind.
  • Never enough horsepower
    See the previous bullet point.  As a result, no matter what size trailer you get, make sure you get the maximum amount of horsepower you can to tow it.  You can’t have too much.  Especially with AZ an NM’s 75 MPH speed limit.  For ALL vehicles.  They don’t limit the speed of commercial trucks like they do in California.
  • Never too many plans
    I had a plan A, B, and C.  And when plan C fell through I came up with a plan D.  Always be flexible in your travels.  You never know what the weather is going to do.
  • Reservations never hurt
    One thing I didn’t take into account was the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  As a result for a month or more leading up to and a month after all RV resorts in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area had special “Fiesta Rates”.  In some case almost 50% higher than their normal rates.  And most parks did not have space.
  • Keep travel days short
    I found that when I planned for 4 hour travel days, they usually became over 5 hour travel days.  That’s.  Too.  Long.   In the future I’m only going to plan for three hours of travel.  Any more than that and it’s too fatiguing.  Plus you have time to do life once you arrive at your destination; laundry, email, bills, etc.
  • Travel less, stay longer
    Our next trip will be a short drive, and then a week’s stay.  Moving every couple of days is very tiring.
  • Keep track of time
    The days began to blur together.  We’re going to put a calendar in the trailer and mark off the days so we know what day it is and when we need to be where.  It was easy to forget.

That’s about it.  The last thing we found out is that we could very easily adapt to this lifestyle.  Cristy was somewhat worried to begin with but after about a week and a half she really began to enjoy herself.  If we could stay at our destinations longer she would absolutely love it.  I’m counting on that.

Oh, and we finally came up with a name for our trailer:

Little House on the Highway

 

Trip To Hardin – Day 22

Travel Day

This was just a travel day and not much to write about.  Other than the steep 6-8% uphill grade from Camp Verde 30 miles north up to Flagstaff.  It went better than I thought.  The truck performed better than I thought it would.  We stopped off in Kingman to make lunch in the trailer and then after lunch continued on to Needles to stay in the same park as before, Desert View RV Park.  We spent the afternoon catching up on phone calls and I took a much needed nap.  Then dinner, TV, and bed.

Trip To Hardin – Day 21

Sedona some more

This was our last full day in Sedona.  We decided to go back and do some more urban hiking in the downtown district.  It’s like any other touristy spot, like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, or Cannery Row in Monterey, but we really enjoyed it there.  It’s fun to look at all the “Indian jewelry” and “mystic crystals”.   Pretty but nothing mystical about beveled glass.  We had lunch at Wildflower Bakery near the Hyatt and enjoyed the cliff views from their balcony.  Then we slowly walked across the entire shopping district and then the art district of Tlaquepaque.  This was the extent of our hiking today.  Then back to the RV resort and the hot tub!

 

I really enjoyed the hot tub at this park.  It was large, clean, warm, and I had some of the best conversations with people that I’ve had in a long time.  Learning about where they are from, how they are travelling, and where they are going.  Like the Germans who had come from Detroit and were on their way to San Diego before flying home to Germany.  They rented a Class C RV and were scouring the country looking for girls.  They hadn’t found any as of yet.  They were the only ones other than me to see the giant green meteor with the orange tail streak across the sky as we were sitting in the hot tub.  Or the couple from Surprise, Arizona who just come over to Sedona to relax.  The couple from Hawaii that keep an RV in Las Vegas because flights are cheaper from Honolulu to Las Vegas for some reason.  They come stateside and travel for several weeks before going home.  There was the single woman who lived full time in her RV travelling between Texas and Colorado.  All of them were great conversations and it was hard to leave, even after soaking for three hours.  All that to say that even though this RV park was next to a freeway, and a casino, it was easily my favorite park and we will be back.

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Trip To Hardin – Day 20

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Our first stop in Sedona today was a trip to the Chapel of the Holy Cross.   An architectural wonder!  There is lots to read on it’s history on Wikipedia but nothing prepares you for actually seeing this wonder.  Or at the very least, the views from the chapel.   We didn’t take any pictures of the interior out of respect for those who were praying inside.

Airport Mesa Trail

Afterwards we drove up to the Sedona Airport (KSEZ) and walked about 1/4 of the airport loop trail.  The trail circumnavigates the runway down on the side of the mesa and provides stunning views of the red rocks surrounding Sedona.  There is a parking lot just outside the airport where you can park for $3.00.  However, (pro tip) you can continue just past that lot and you come to the airport parking lot which is free and only adds about 100 steps to your hike.

The trail drops one or two hundred feet before joining up with the main loop trail.  It’s VERY rocky so watch your step.  Otherwise it’s an easy hike.  Down at the airport loop trailhead there is a rock with a trail and steps leading to the top of it.  It’s called the Sedona Trail View Point on Google.  Think mini-Half Dome.  We climbed to the top of that and found the most stunning views of Sedona.   The airport loop trail was a let down after this rock

After eating lunch at the top of the rock we headed back up the trail to the airport.  The downhill hike we had enjoyed had now turned into a longer uphill hike.  Luckily I found a shortcut to the airport frontage road which cut a lot of time off our hike.  We found the airport terminal to use some CLEAN restrooms and then headed back down to town.

Just when we thought we were done taking pictures…

Tomorrow is our last day in Sedona.  We’re going to go back to our favorite places in town (which will most likely include Starbucks) and just chill.

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Trip To Hardin – Day 19

Sedona

This is the grand finale of our trip.  We have wanted to visit Sedona for years and finally we are here.  Today was tourist day.  We stopped at some of the scenic overlooks on the way into town but mostly spent our time on tourist row.  “Indoor hiking” as Cristy calls it.  We bought some gifts for family and continued to take in the magnificent views of the cliffs.  Tomorrow we’ll do some outdoor hiking.  For now, enjoy the photos we took…

And in town I saw this statue which I’m including in homage to the folks I work with at San Joaquin General Hospital.

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More pictures of Red Rock Country tomorrow…

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Trip To Hardin – Day 18

Travel Day

Today was the shortest travel day yet.  Only about an hour.  We traveled from Flagstaff down to Camp Verde, AZ.  After a little up and down hill driving there was a long 5 – 6% grade drive (18 miles) down into the Verde Valley.  We stopped at a scenic overlook prior to tackling the long downgrade.

We are staying at Distant Drums RV Resort.   They were gracious enough to let us arrive before normal check in time and were really helpful in taking us to our spot and guiding me into the back-in spot.

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We don’t have many pictures from today but expect some really good pictures from Sedona tomorrow.

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Trip To Hardin – Day 17

Flagstaff, AZ

Downtown

img_20191007_143929Today we spent the day strolling around downtown Prescott.  We checked out their visitors center which is built into an Amtrak station.  Far more freight trains went past than passenger trains.  The we strolled around the downtown area.  It reminded us very much of San Luis Obispo on the California coast.  Probably because this is a college town just like SLO.  We found a Thai restaurant and ate lunch there.

Lowell Observatory

Afterwards we headed up to Lowell Observatory.  We paid the admission and strolled around the observatory looking at the various buildings and exhibits.  They, like I, very much hold that Pluto is INDEED a planet.  Pluto was discovered at the Lowell Observatory.  Pluto and Mars both fascinated Lowell and there are many Pluto and Mars themes throughout the grounds.  Except for the library, it’s Saturn-themed because Lowell’s wife loved the planet Saturn.  Lowell is entombed onsite.  There is an amazing view of Prescott from his mausoleum.

Then we headed back home, hitting Starbucks on the way.  Our home, our Lance 1995 travel trailer which we have nicknamed, “Little House on the Highway.”

Tomorrow we head down to Sedona, AZ.

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Trip To Hardin – Day 15 and 16

Travel Day – Saturday

This was a good travel day.  It was only an hour and a half drive to our destination in Flagstaff, AZ.  On our way we decided to swing through Winslow so I could see the “Standin’ on the Corner” statue.

Standin’ On The Corner

As we approached the “corner” with our travel trailer in tow we saw that that street was blocked off up ahead.  I found a large gravel lot next to the Winslow Visitor’s Center and parked there.  We walked two blocks to where the road was closed and found they were having a vintage car show and had blocked the streets off.  Lots of really nice restored cars from the 40’s through the 70’s were there.  And eventually we made it to “Standin’ On The Corner”.

 

J and H RV Park

We had lunch in the gravel lot in the trailer and then moved on to Prescott to J & H RV Park.  A really nice little ’55 and over’ park.  It’s quiet and shady and no smoking allowed!  We love that part.  We’ll be here for three nights.

 

 

Lord’s Day – Sunday

This morning we slept in and then I cooked Cristy breakfast.  Scrambled eggs with shallots, onion salt, and Thai lime chile seasoning.  I also fried her some bread in butter on our skillet. After breakfast we went to a local church, Grace Community Church.  Then we went and got coffee at Starbucks, and grocery shopping at Sprouts.  Afterwards we headed back to the trailer and just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

Tomorrow, shopping in downtown Flagstaff and whatever else strikes our fancy.