Low Tech RVing
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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Protect Your Investment: Box That Battery

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, a battery in the box is worth at least two in the junk pile. Eh? If your rig doesn't provide "inside storage" for your house batteries, leaving them out in the weather, unprotected can be most unprofitable. A lot of older travel trailers have the house battery sit up near the hitch, well exposed to the elements.

What could the problem be? Exposure to the elements just ain't the greatest thing from the electrics. First, battery terminal connectors will oxidize at a much faster rate. Oxidized connectors make for resistance to electrical flow, and that's a real problem when you're trying to charge your battery--you want the best flow possible.

Next, as in the case of our battery illustrated here, road debris, tree leaves and needles, et al, can take up residence on the top of the battery. Add a little water and you have the makings for electrical current leakage. Yes, for real, a small amount of juice can begin to flow from the battery posts across the medium you're growing on the battery. Even small amounts can add up, reducing the available amount of juice for your use, and eventually killing off the battery.


So take the big plunge: Invest in a battery box to protect your leaded investment. For less than $10 a pop you too can liberate your 'lectrics from the fear of exposure.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Charging Batteries Safely

A news item out of Yuma, Arizona, last month points to a couple of reminders--and a product lead--that could affect your safety as an RVer.

Imagine waking up at one in the morning with your smoke detector going off, and that awful sound of a roaring fire outside your bedroom door. It happened in mid-June to a Yuma couple, who were planning an outing with their motorhome. Apparently having a low battery problem with the motorhome, the owner had hooked up a battery charger and left it. Sadly, the battery overcharged, and the resulting heat ignited a fire. In the end the motorhome and the family home were completely wiped out. You can find the whole story on the Yuma Sun website.

We've been around battery chargers since we were 'knee high to a married grasshopper' and some of the "oldy" chargers that our pappy's owned were probably hanging around when they were knee-highs themselves. It just seems like battery chargers are one of those products that rarely give up and die. As a result, many of us are limping along on ancient technology that may work--albeit inefficiently--but can (as it apparently did this time) lead to tragedy.

A lot of us use portable battery chargers, and many of these fall into the category of what's technically called an "unregulated charger." Hook it up, the charger delivers a charging voltage (higher than the "rated" voltage of the battery) and just keeps a charging. The battery voltage increases as it charges up, and it will eventually reach a point where the electrolyte will literally boil. An unregulated charger needs to be monitored. Yes, with this type of charging system, you would want to occasionally hit the boiling point to "equalize" the charge in the cells. However, if you "cook" them too long, you'll kill the battery, or even worse--lead to a fire danger.

A complete discussion of battery charging is an appropriate topic--and we'll cover it in a future blog entry. Now, however, we make this point: For many it's simply safer, and far more efficient, to use what is termed an "intelligent charger." An intelligent charger recognizes the state of the battery's charge, and supplies exactly what is required at any given stage in the recharge process. Enter the Xtreme Charge maintenance charger. A relatively inexpensive ($99 list) charger, Xtreme is an "intelligent charger" that also adds an additional benefit: This charger "pulse charges," inducing a wave into the charging current that breaks up sulfate crystals in batteries. These sulfate crystals, if left to themselves, will eventually kill off an otherwise good battery. The Xtreme can be left hooked up to the battery, and it will maintain a safe current level, along with the sulfate-eradicating pulse.

Xtreme's manufacturer sent us an evaluation unit a couple of months ago. While we're still testing it, so far we've been pleased with it. It's a small unit that can fit in many battery compartments, and even if it won't it's weather proof, so you don't need to worry about a passing rain shower shorting out your system. While the specs indicate the Xtreme is designed for battery systems up to 150 amp-hours, the company whiz-kids tell me that it will work with larger systems, but its relatively low (2.5 amp) maximum charge current will take a while. Amen to that. For a larger system, consider the Xtreme a good investment in battery maintenance, rather than full-scale charging. Find out more at the Pulsetech website.

There are also "intelligent charging" systems available on many after-market (and some OEM) RV converters--those little devices that convert shore power into low-voltage power, suitable for use by RV interior lighting and other uses. In any event, when you hook up a charging system to your RV batteries, make sure you keep an appropriate watch on it--particularly if it's an unregulated charger.

Fire Photo: Yuma Sun Charger: pulsetech.com

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Maintain That Expensive Battery Bank

Batteries are black boxes we don't think about much. Not until the rueful day comes when they don't respond as we want them to, and we're off to buy new ones--and maybe driving 50 miles 'out of the dingles' to do so. Maintaining your batteries saves money and frustration, and it doesn't take much to do.

First, the requisite word of caution: Whenever you work with batteries of electrical systems, even "low voltage" ones, take off your jewelry! Watches, rings, and bling-bling things. The potential energy in an RV battery is something to reckon with, and welding your ring to an electrical contact will ruin your whole day. Watch out with tools and other metals. The male of this writing duo once dropped a crescent wrench across a deep cycle battery--fortunately he was able to rescue it before it welded into place--narrowly avoiding a major fire.

Keep 'em Charged: A battery left in a low state is one that deteriorates.

Keep 'em Clean: That "little bit of dirt" across the top of the battery case can actually conduct electricity in the presence of moisture. A slight, but real discharge of juice can occur.

Keep 'em Filled: ALWAYS keep the top plates of "flooded" batteries covered with electrolyte. This means refilling to the "split ring" or about a half inch above the separators. ONLY USE distilled water, NEVER tap water. Don't over-fill.

Keep Out Intruders: Don't add "battery acid" or other additives. Thus far nothing has really proved up in the way of a miracle elixir that will give you more power, more potency, or more life to your batteries. There's no such thing as "Voltage Viagra."

We found a great tool to help us keep our batteries filled up. We have very little "head space" in the compartment above the top of the batteries, and they don't easily come out for service. A solar panel retailer sold us a battery fill tool, the "filler part" of which presses into the battery cell and fills until the correct level is reached. It's real skinny, as you can see, and fits right into those tight spaces. Alas! The retailer went belly up, and we've yet to find somebody else that sells them. They were a lot less expensive than the automated battery fill systems being marketed today. If you know anybody who carries these great tools, please post a reply!

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