Search

The DIY World Store

Make your own solar panels for $1 per watt
Get the book
The Complete DIY Solar Panel Book




Help us keep posting valuable experiments.

Archive for April, 2013

PostHeaderIcon Working On My Propane Fridge And Building An Office

Today I spent working on my propane fridge and building myself a better office space. It was cloudy and cool most of the day, but the sun came out in the afternoon to top off my solar battery bank

I turned the propane fridge on this morning and left it to run for a while to see if it was going to cool down inside. After a couple hours, it was very cold inside the 3 way RV fridge, so I shut it down and let it warm up again. I got a bucket of water with dish soap and bleach in it. Then I scrubbed the fridge well with a scrubber, sponge, hand brush and a rag. It was a lot of work and took a long time, but it was worth it in the end.

I also took some gray spray primer and painted all of the pipes and coils on the back of the fridge to protect it from further rusting. It was badly rusted in some areas and I want to protect it so it may last a few years.

The fridge looks nice and clean inside. All the mold and mildew is gone now. I was hoping to get the fridge inside the camper and install it today, but it will not fit through the bathroom entrance. I need to cut the camper skirting around the living room door, which I never use, in order to get the fridge into the camper through that door.

The camper is set up for a 3 way RV fridge, so I will put this fridge in the space that was meant for it. I will insulate the fridge well on both sides and seal it off on the back side for safety reasons. These absorption refrigerators use ammonia for cooling. If they leak, it is a bad health hazard. That is why they are vented to the outside and sealed off from the inside of the camper.

Dave sent me another package loaded with amazing things for the off grid camper. He sent some Off spray, some tick repellent, some wires, liquid emergency candles, aluminum tape (perfect for camper repairs), packing tape, a PIC controller and more. Thank you again Dave for such a nice package.

This afternoon I finally got tired of moving my printer around and moving it out of my way constantly. I has not had a permanent home in the camper yet and has just been moved from place to place. Today I build myself a new office area with a stand for my 32 inch flat screen LED tv and space underneath for my printer. I left enough room underneath the stand to put my printer paper and run my wires to the outlets down there.

It looks very good. Most importantly, my printer finally has a good home.

Yes, I am living off the grid, but I still live in a modern world and need to pay taxes and keep records just like everyone else. So I have a printer.

For now, my thermoelectric cooler is still my main way of preserving cold foods. Maybe tomorrow I can start using the real propane powered fridge full time. Lets see how the day goes.

PostHeaderIcon Dark Rainy Day And Working On My Propane Fridge

Today was very dark and raining all day again. Not good for solar power. I used the time today to work on my propane refrigerator. Working out in the rain is not fun, but when you live off the grid, in the forest, you have to work and use the time, no matter what the weather is like.

It was quite cold today too, with the temperature staying in the low 50s ouside and about the same inside. I have not been using heat much recently. I am getting used to the cold. At night it gets down in the 30s and 40s and is usually about 41 degrees F inside the camper in the morning.

It was so dark today that I had to use lights inside the whole day. To see anything at all I needed a light on.

I had the thermoelectric cooler running for a few hours in the midday to keep my cold food from spoiling, but shut it off before dark so I would not drain my already low batteries too badly. On sunny days I have more power than I can use and on cloudy days its not enough. I think I urgently need more batteries in order to soak up the extra power when the sun shines.

NYCamper62 sent me a Lowes gift card so I could get my gas fridge hooked up. I got some propane today and went into Lowes to get the regulator and fittings for my propane powered fridge. It is an old Swiss made 3 way RV fridge that was being used in a house for years on 120 volts AC. The owners gave it to me for free last year and I kept it. I am happy not that I did.

I was amazed to see that the flame fired right up immediately after I hooked up the propane. With such an old fridge sometimes you need to clean it a bit, but this one was never really used with propane much in its life and the burner was working well.

The fridge had a hard winter, sitting out most of the season with a tarp over it. Sometime in the winter the tarp blew off though. I am surprised that nothing was damaged. The heater did smoke and steam quite a bit when it was first lit up and it made me nervous. It also made some crackling sounds and some junk burnt and fell out.

After about an hour though the fridge settled down and got quiet and stopped steaming. It was also getting cold inside. I think this fridge is going to work well for me. I shut it off before dark though for safety. I want to watch it closely tomorrow to make sure it will be safe before I can trust it alone.

Tomorrow, if the fridge works well, I will shut it down and give it a very good cleaning inside and out. It is covered badly in mildew from neglect and needs some bleach and washing.

Even if the fridge works, I still plan to finish my experiments with the thermoelectric cooler. I want to insulate it better and put a thermostat in it to see if I can make it run less and save energy. Remember, I am also doing a lot of experiments to help others, so I will see it through to the end, even if I do not need it myself anymore.

I gave Baby some “special food”. This is a can of food that Althea sent me the other day. My cat gets all fluffed up and her fur stands on end when I talk about her special food. It is fun to watch her get so excited. Her tail gets huge and fluffed up.

Well, I cant wait to see what tomorrow brings. I may be able to bring my froze food home finally – I hope.

PostHeaderIcon Vehicle Maintenance Sun Tea And A Care Package

This weekend I worked on the truck, attempted to make sun tea and received a care package. Friday and Saturday was vehicle maintenance time. When you are running a vehicle all the time, the work adds up and eventually you have to get it all fixed.

Friday I already mentioned that the brake line got repaired by the mechanics. Then Saturday I went to a friend’s house where another friend joined us and we worked on our three trucks all day. Mine needed a new power steering pump. My pump has been loosing power steering fluid the whole time I have been driving it. I never had the chance to replace the power steering pump yet. I had purchased a new one a while ago, but just did not get it in yet.

Finally I started working on it. I also wanted to remove the old snow plow hydraulics and controls from my truck. An unused hydraulic pump is just robbing power from my engine and reducing gas mileage a bit. That had to come out first because it was really in the way of my power steering pump. I actually could not remove the power steering pump before removing the hydraulic pump.

It took half the day to remove all the hoses and controls from the hydraulic pump. There was also a light wiring harness the original owner had installed for the plow. I will sell the hydraulics in the classifieds.

When I finally got the power steering pump out, I compared it to the brand new one I had from the auto parts store and it was not the right pump. Now I had a mess on my hands. My truck was in pieces and I had the wrong part.

So I grabbed my JB Weld. I cleaned the power steering pump with a wire brush and some brake cleaner and patched the leak with my JB Weld. The pump was leaking from a rust hole. The original owner probably dinged it up badly when installing the snow plow hydraulics. He left it to rust and it rusted through where it had been weakened from the dent.

I got my truck all back together again and it works fine now. I can return the new power steering pump and get my money back. That is good.

I had a bear attack the camper on Friday night. It was about 11pm and I heard this horrible bang that shook the camper and rattled the camper skirting on the back side of the camper. Then I heard a distinct bear growl.

This of course raised the hairs on both my cat and myself. She sat there shivering violently like I have never seen before. It was so pitiful. I did the best thing I could think of. I shouted and stomped loudly on the floor of the camper to scare it off.

Bears do not like people and our noises and will generally leave a loud person alone. Banging noises will usually make them leave. I got lucky. A camper can be opened up like a tin can by a hungry bear. I think he was after my food out back in the cooler though.

In the morning I checked the area, but did not find any damage. He did not get to my cooler. He was probably checking things out first.

My Mom asked me if I could find any tracks. There are loose leaves all over back there. I am not a tracker. Sorry.

She said, well there is a little Indian in you. I said well, he must be a very little Indian then.

Sunday morning I made my favorite summer drink. Sun tea. I had purchased a sun tea last summer but never got to use it because I do not have a fridge to put it in. Someone on my comments said I could keep it outside at night when its cooler or keep it in the cold creek. That got me wanting some sun tea so I got my brand new sun tea jar out and washed it.

I made up a nice batch of sun tea with the large Lipton sun tea bags and tossed in a bag of peppermint tea for a nice flavor.

When I finished screwing on the cap, I noticed there was water running all over my table. The spout on the tea jar was leaking and I could not stop it. I had to put it in the sink and let it run out. So much for sun tea.

I had quite a mess to clean up.

This morning, Monday the 29th of April, it was raining hard and dark out. At 11 am I still only had 36 watts coming in from my solar panels. This is not good. My laptop uses 75 watts and the cooler uses 75 watts. That is a total of 150 watts that I need. And I need to use lights inside because its so dark out.

I urgently need to get a generator going.

I connected my third solar panel but it did not seem to make any difference at all. It just got darker outside and started to rain even harder. Its going to be a dark day with no solar.

And I am out of firewood again. Its all wet outside and I have nothing to dry it with. With no fire going, and it being all damp in the camper, its impossible to dry wet wood. I will just have to tough it out.

I got a care package from Althea all the way from Canada.

My cat was right there of course to watch me unpack the box, waiting for it to be empty so she could jump right in.

There were a lot of nice, usable items in the box. Althea sent me some coffee, toothpaste, soap, dish soap, snacks, noodles and sauce, spices and more. My cat even got a tin of food and a catnip toy on a string. I can hang this up for her to play with or hang it on my finger.

She loved it very much.

Thank you Althea!

PostHeaderIcon Hooking Up My Tristar MPPT Meter And New Wiring Plus A Visitor

Today was another sunny day, but still cooler out at a high of 60 degrees. The 70s they predicted never came. But I will take the sun any day. I spent some time hooking up my new Tristar MPPT solar charge controller meter which a fellow youtuber gave me yesterday. And there was a visitor at the off grid solar camper today.

I had an intruder in the night. Something had knocked over one of my posts outside next to my door. I think it was probably a raccoon. I keep finding tracks from him. It is a huge monster. I have seen him before. Last year he took a bunch of chickens and always escaped my attempts of trapping him. The war is back on.

I sadly had a break line blowout the other night and the auto parts stores did not have the part I needed. I had to get home, about 20 miles, so I got some JB Weld and patched up the leak. I waited an hour for it to cure and filled up the master cylinder with brake fluid. I drove home and the patch held.

I had an appointment this morning at the mechanics to properly cut and re-flange the brake line where it enters the master cylinder. Fluid had been blowing out between the tube and the nut that goes into the master cylinder. My patch held, but I did not want to press my luck. After a couple hours I finally had my truck back and was able to get to the off grid camper for some work.

Today was battery and charge controller day. I rewired the whole system again. This time I put the temperature sensor in the Tristar MPPT solar charge controller and fastened it to the batteries. This allows the charge controller to monitor the battery temperature and better maintain the proper charge on the batteries.

The new care package from Dave yesterday came in handy with all the wire and zip ties in the box.

I also hooked up the voltage sense lines inside the charge controller today so the controller has a more precise measurement of the actual battery voltage.

While I had everything disconnected, I used a larger wire between the solar panels and the charge controller where the wires enter the camper. I had a smaller gauge piece of wire in there before. That was a left over from my old system.

I also used heat shrink tubing on all the homemade crimp on end terminals I had put together. This will better protect the wires and release stress on the connections.

After all the wires were properly routed and connected back up, I used some zip ties to organize them neatly and closed the access panel on them. Then I put the towel back in to keep wind out. And to hopefully keep raccoons out.

Later in the afternoon the ManOfMany Thingz came over to celebrate my reaching 5,000 subs and a million views on youtube this week. He has been working on his jeep and got a lot accomplished since I last met him. He even has a fridge running in the jeep. I am jealous. He has one going in the jeep before I get one going in my camper. It is small, but it works.

My phone broke. For some reason people can call me and I can hear them, but they cannot hear me. The mute is not on, its just defective. That can be a good thing. If I still have insurance on the phone then I can get a new phone, I hope. This phone is horrible. Do not get a Droid Bionic. The eat the battery and need to be charged all the time.

PostHeaderIcon An Awesome Day At The Off Grid Solar Camper

Today was a very good day at the off grid solar camper. I got a part time job, which will pay my rent and bills. The sun was shining brightly all day. A nice care package arrived. And there was a very awesome gift given to the off grid camper.

The morning started out sunny but cold. It never really warmed up much today, but stayed sunny, which was good for the batteries. The batteries had been drained during the night down to about 12.1 volts by leaving the thermoelectric cooler running all night. This morning my half and half was starting to freeze a bit, so I had to unplug the cooler for a while. Later I plugged it back in for a few hours to ensure the food stayed cold.

I had to leave early this morning to head out for a job interview. I got the job! I will be working on some e-commerce sites and SEO for a company in a nearby town. It is only part time, 5 hours per week, but it will certainly pay the bills for now. Up to now, I have had help from my Mom. It is embarrassing to say, but my Mom has helped me through the past few months of hardships. If it was not for her, I would not even have the property I am staying at now. Thank you Mom!

So, Thursday mornings I will be doing some SEO work for 5 hours each week. Now I do not need to stress about paying the rent, car insurance, phone bill, internet hosting fees and gas. Let alone food. I have been living off my storage for a few months now. That and eating anything I could dig up out of the forest and meadow nearby.

When I got back home this afternoon, I started to work on my gas generator. I need to get the generator running on gas first, then convert it over to wood gas later to be truly off the grid. But I need a standby option for cloudy days when there is no solar power.

I found an old chain saw laying in the forest which provided me with a pull starter cable and handle. The rope was too short for the huge gas generator motor, but I had some dollar store rope laying around which works perfectly. I replaced the rope in the pull starter handle and have a good pull rope now to turn over the generator motor.

But, when trying to get the motor running, I discovered that gas was coming out of the carburetor. When trying to disassemble it I found that the gasket on the fuel bowl is missing. This is bad. This generator will not run without a carb rebuild kit and a fuel bowl gasket. I guess it off to ebay to search for parts.

I did some calculations and found that my thermoelectric cooler is draining my 4 golf cart batteries each night all on its own. It draws 1,800 watts per 24 hour period. It runs non stop because there is no control for temperature. It can freeze the food if left unattended too long. On warmer days and nights, the thing needs to run 24 hours, drawing the batteries down fully.

The 2 solar panels are putting out 400 watts total, max. But the sun is not fully overhead all day. It is only over the top of the panels for a few hours per day. So the solar panels are not putting out their maximum output all day long. The batteries are getting topped off during the day, but my cooler is draining them right back down overnight.

I need to insulate the cooler and put in a thermostat control to shut it off when the temperature gets cold enough inside. The insulation will help maintain the cold inside and help keep the motor from running all the time.

A care package arrived today from Dave, who sent me a package about a week ago. It was loaded with electronics and gadgets which are all going to be of great use in the off grid camper projects. Some of the items included solder, wire, fuses, meters and much more. Thank you again Dave for such a great pack of stuff. This is all very useful for the projects going on inside the camper.

Later I was invited into town to meet a fellow Youtuber who treated me to ice cream and gave me an incredible gift. Niel Shubert actually went out and got me the meter that matches my new solar charge controller. I cannot believe Niel went to all the trouble to get me this meter. This installs right on the front of the Tristar MPPT solar charge controller I just got from Northern Arizona Wind & Sun.

This meter will greatly help me monitor the status of my batteries, solar panels and charge controller output. It also has some diagnostics displays. I need to read the book to see all the details.

Thank you Niel.

I got home just in time to clean up my tools and put things away before it got too dark outside.

Then I had some internet problems with my phone. Sorry, that is part of the reason this video and blog post are so late today.

But I hope it was worth the wait for everyone.

I want to thank all the Youtube followers, friends and Youtube family I now have. This week I passed 5,000 subscribers and just today, 1,000,000 total video views.

Thank you all for your care, comments, advice and help. I could not do this without you all.

Thank you!

Here is today’s video: