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Old 09-10-2020, 09:33 PM   #1
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Arrow Van House Power trouble-shooting

Hey folks,

I appreciate all the different threads I've seen on this forum. Given me good context as a new Sportsmobile owner.

And, facing some house power issues.

The summary is that I suspect my battery is shot, there is something funky with my house inverter and there is a break in the circuit between my solar panel and Kyocera control panel.

I have this same write up, with a few pretty pictures, on my site

https://twicefire.com/van/housepower/

Otherwise, here is the text:

Writing out my house power/battery situation and my different options. Pile in with opinions as you like

### Brief context:
2001 Ford E350 Econoline.
  • - Probably converted to SMB in 2002/2003 (1st owner)
  • - Original setup detailed in the owners manual: engine battery + engine alternator + engine inverter, house battery (thermoil 1427), house inverter with Trace Engineering RC6 panel, house generator slung under van. Fridge, water pump, microwave, Starcool house AC (not that we use it), house lights, 12v outlets, US plug outlets etc on house power/battery.
  • - 1st owner added solar panel, connected to Kyocera Commander IV unit, I assume after initial build (no details in owners manual)
  • - 2nd owner switched in LED lights across house to limit power draw.
  • - 2nd owner has also replaced battery at least once. Not sure what brand but assuming typical 200 amp hour RV battery (Deka or ... LifeLong?? Whats the other common one?). The house battery is slung under the barn doors. Its a unit; best removed with a jack.
  • - Me, 3rd owner, still figuring out what each of these system components does and represents
  • - Engine battery voltage has always been strong, from the dash readout.
Maybe up to 14v or 15v? It reliably charges the house battery, acknowledging that this charging can be slower if things like the van AC are running.

So, when received in March 2020, the battery seemed solid and the solar panel was pushing about 2 solar amps into the system on a good day (best I ever saw was 2.5 solar amps; its a fairly old panel and its small).
### Issues
However, now I suspect at possibly three issues at play:
  • - fault between panel and Kyocera; Now the Kyocera shows 0 solar amps at all times
  • - battery misbehaving; doesn't seem to hold much charge
  • - House inverter misbehaving; I can get charge into the battery when the engine is running but not when the generator is running

On our first small trips, we weren't consciously managing power or thinking too hard about how much driving we were doing. Between the solar panel, driving, and messing around with the generator, we weren't really paying attention to battery levels. I have memories of the Kyocera and the RC6 reading the battery voltage as high as 13 or 13.5ish *but* I can't recall whether we were running the engine or generator at the time (which would then we telling us about the voltage output of the engine/gen-set, not the battery)

We have just returned from a longer trip (4 weeks roughly), and this is where these issues started to bubble up.

For one thing, we went backpacking for four days and three nights in the middle Sierras (at the very start of the trip). I wanted to test whether the battery would last that long, keeping the fridge on. The idea of a reheated curry at the trailhead was certainly enticing! Unfortunately, it didn't last and we lost the curry.

But after that, I started to notice some of these issues with the house battery. I was working under the assumption that the inverter would protect the house battery from load when it got too low (as described in the owner manual) but perhaps that was incorrect.

After the backpacking, we drove 6 hours home and after a few days at home (getting our motorcycle carrier setup), we also drove another 4 hours.
In the second week of the trip, we parked the van near Mt Shasta for several days and I noticed:
  • - The generator would not charge the house battery, only the engine (I had assumed the generator did charge the battery). The generator would still power the house appliances though (microwave being the very obvious example)
  • - In fact, the RC6 unit lights for bulk or float charge never come on.
  • - The solar panel was no longer showing any solar amps coming out of it what so ever.
  • - After a day, the battery couldn't keep the fridge on over night (despite running the engine and generator for over an hour to recharge it)

We got smoked out of Shasta and headed for the Oregon coast (This was mainly a PNW trip). As we bumped up towards North Washington, we had several days with different hours of driving, and I started taking notes about what voltage was coming out of the battery

After a longer day of driving (the 23rd), the battery voltage seemed to top out at 12 volts. The next morning (24th), the fridge had dropped it to 9.3. We drove less than 2 hours on the 24th, and the next morning (25th), we only had 7.9 volts and the fridge wasn't running. On the 26th we drove over four hours, getting the battery to 12 volts at the end of the day and it fell to 7.3 by the next morning (on this morning the RC6 was also flashing strangely... I assume an error code that isn't listed in the owners manual)

After this, we arrived at a relative's house in Washington, cleared out the fridge and turned it off for a week, with a bunch of driving.
In the last week back, we drove more per day, so avoided the fridge conking out. At this point, we were dodging the wildfires in Oregon that were coming up everywhere, and making tracks home to Northern California. The voltage at the end of all that driving (including over 9 hours on the last day) got up to 12.2 volts.

### Questions
  1. - What is a healthy voltage range coming out of house battery? I was expecting over 13 volts for a full charge. The RC6 manual states: "A completely dead battery will read about 11.6 volts or less in an at-rest position". So I suspect something is funky there for sure...
  2. - Should I expect the generator to charge the house battery?
  3. - Should one expect a correctly functioning inverter from discharging a house battery to a level that damages it? Again, the RC6 manual states that it ought to do this. But if the inverter is partially busted, perhaps some of its features aren't working.
  4. - Could there be a blown fuse between solar panel and Kyocera commander? Or just a bad wire?

### Possible actions to take
So, there is a mix of a few different issues here and I need to figure out how to resolve them.
Some options
  1. - Maintain the battery (check fluid level)
  2. - Replace the battery
  3. - Switch battery to DIY lithium battery
  4. - Replace inverter?
  5. - Upgrade solar panel (I want a bigger panel)

### Maintain or Replace battery
No change to the power setup here; just fixing or replacing stuff. Either way, I would need to figure out how to access the battery. Considering its bulk and position, I would need a hand (or a flat jack) and also I haven't figure out how to remove the battery from its carry cage under the van. Any links to youtube vids of someone doing that?

### Switch to lithium
So, a friend in Washington has set up their own bespoke lithium setup for their overlanding rig. Getting 2nd hand cells, testing them all, throwing them into a purpose built case and away you go. Well, of course there are important differences between the AGM and lithium batteries (AC/DC stuff I'm not fully aware of) and I suspect I will have to make changes to the inverter (but if the current one is already busted...)
Feels like a high effort, high risk, high reward possibility...

### Replace the inverter
Given the weird behavior, and the corrosion on the POWER SWITCH (is that the inverter?), I suspect something needs to be sorted on the inverter. Since the generator can still run the appliances but seemingly not charge the battery, I would guess there is a break in the circuit between inverter and house battery. But then how is the fridge pulling volts from the house battery?

### Upgrade the solar panel
So, I've been wanting to do this since before there were these power issues. I'm not sure whether I'll have to update the Kyocera Commander unit as well; the ideal would just be taking off the old panel, mounting the new ones on the roof tracks and plugging in new panel(s). But I have a vague recollection that the control unit can also have a big impact on what power you can get out of panels, so an update might be needed anyway?
That's basically where I am at today. Air quality is insanely bad outside right now, so I doubt I'm going to get to any of this on the weekend but I would love to hear from folks about what gaps I have in my understanding or plans.
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Old 09-11-2020, 06:31 AM   #2
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A couple of things to start on. Do you know what inverter you have, the remote panel is Trace, but this also could have been after Trace sold out. It may be Xantrex. In any even knowing the exact model number would aid in any help I could provide. Have you ever plugged in? if so did the inverter work when plugged in?

Yes, you are killing your battery, it may already be dead? The voltage level of the battery would somewhat depend on the type of battery it is. The problem with voltage levels are the most charts are based off a battery being disconnected, difficult in a sportsmobile. More important is to know what voltage levels your charging devices supply. You need to take into account that there will be voltage drop and possible temperature compensation if the charging device supports it.

It looks like the solar controller supports gel(14.1V) and flooded batteries(14.4), it doesn't even talk about a float stage so not sure it even supports it.

I would expect that the inverter/charger also supports the same 14.1 or 14.5 for bulk/absorption phase, and will have a float stage around 13.5. Again knowing the exact model would confirm what possible settings you have.

The voltage from the alternator will be the similar to what is going to your start battery, again you would need to take into account the voltage drop, possible diode if using an diode based isolator.

It doesn't sound like your inverter/charger is working, as I believe you have said that you have never seen the bulk or float indicators on. Is the only way that you get AC to an appliance while using generator? The inverter can protect it from draining the battery, but only when it is in invert mode. It would generally have a low voltage shut off voltage. It will not be able to protect the battery from any other DC loads.

The Power Switch appears to be a transfer switch for the generator / shore input. I wouldn't think the corrosion is the problem if it is just on the cable clamp, not that I wouldn't want to fix it. Since, the generator powers the AC appliances my first thought is that the power switch is fine. It is possible that the inverter has an internal breaker that needs to be reset.

Does the solar controller give you any lights or indication that it is on. The controller would get operation voltage from battery. My assumption is that it does have power because you say that the output is 0, but you didn't give out any LED info. That would indicate a possible issue between controller and panel. This could be a fuse, it really depends on the installer. I would put a new solar controller on your list especially if you are going with a new panel.

Taking the battery down is a pain but not difficult , you need the jack and some 4x4, 2x4 etc to bring it down to. I usually have a piece of plywood to cover the hole frame also. Remove the 4 bolts and slowly bring it down.

I guess my first action would be to get the invert/charger working, and go from there. If you have to replace things, make sure they support a future lithium upgrade, but I would generally recommend to stay away from the DIY lithium.

-greg
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Old 09-11-2020, 08:07 AM   #3
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Do you have a battery separator or a battery isolator? You can temporarily disconnect this to help troubleshoot issues. That separates the van battery from the house battery.



For the generator to charge the battery you need a transfer switch. The transfer switch will switch from alternator to generator when the generator is running. Sometimes they are built into the inverter...Scalf77 likely knows that answer...I'm not familiar with Trace products.


If your inverter is an inverter charger then the transfer switch is built in....if you have a separate inverter and charger, then you may have a separate transfer switch.
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Old 09-11-2020, 03:42 PM   #4
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No intention here in coming across as condescending, so please take this in stride: From some of your description in your initial post you mention "for the fridge one thing, we went backpacking for four days and three nights in the middle Sierras (at the very start of the trip). I wanted to test whether the battery would last that long, keeping the fridge on to run off the battery" - I have to question if you understand the basic parameters associated with an AGM battery?
In other words, if you have a 220amp/hr battery, do you realize you really only have 110amp/hr usage from it - should try not to take it below 50% or is starts to compromise the battery (life cycles).
So if your fridge & couple other appliances are collectively drawing 5amps per hour, then in a 24hr period of time you've already consumed 120amps...your battery will not power your fridge for multiple days without having a way to recharge. Here is where solar becomes convenient. BUT, if you have roof mount panels, and are intentionally parking your van under shade (as most of us do) then its really not going to help your situation.
At this stage I would suggest that when you begin the "upgrade' of your roof panel, you also consider including a solar suitcase combination.
Member Scalf77 has several great explanations & direction on this Forum that really help clarify all this. I would start with this one:
https://www.sportsmobileforum.com/fo...ing-21140.html
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Old 09-11-2020, 05:24 PM   #5
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@Twoxentrix, yeah no worries about coming across condescending, I appreciate your writing and time.

I get that house battery might not be suitable for multiple nights unattended with the fridge on. It was just an experiment and given that I had read that the inverter/charger would protect the house battery from being drained too low, I thought it was one worth taking. We parked for full solar exposure, acknowledging that this can heat the van up (making the fridge work harder). How hard the fridge works can vary its power consumption greatly and I don't recall seeing good numbers for a possible range. It is (I believe) a Norcold DE-441R (2CF) (Norcold DE-441). 121-DE441.NORCOLD REFRIGERATORS suggests power consumption is usually 1.4-2.8 amps on 12/24v DC

I actually ran into a couple and their daughter in a Sportsmobile with the solar suitcase setup on this trip. I'm inclined to stick with roof-top and get that both have their different pros and cons.

@Scalf77 /Greg: thanks for your input here and your other great threads, I've learnt a bunch and really appreciate your contributions.

"In any even knowing the exact model number would aid in any help I could provide. Have you ever plugged in? if so did the inverter work when plugged in?"

You saying this makes me wonder if I've used the wrong terminology here.... The way the 2nd owner talked about the inverter was that the RC6 needed to be switched on to run the appliance plugs or microwave off the house battery (not recommended!) but that all the charging management happened "behind the scenes".

I have read a long thread (https://www.sportsmobileforum.com/fo...0-a-26493.html) by you and come away with the belief that whatever the setup was in my van, that it was fairly hands-off (based on what the 2nd owner shared with me).

To answer some Qs:
- 2nd owner did say that one *could* run the microwave off the battery if it was fully charged but that it wasn't really a good idea. I think I tested that out once in the early days but in the last few months we've fired up the generator to use it.
- Owners manual states the inverter is a Trace Engineering Model M2512 but the manual is 17 years old and might not represent what is actually going on in the system (As I mentioned, manual makes no mention of the solar, so I assume that was all added after initial install). Just did an online search and... https://maxmarineelectronics.com/pro...arger-unknown/ it is listed as xantrex as well? Did one company buy out the other?
- The solar controller has current. It's default state is just a read-out of the voltage in the circuit, so the battery voltage most of the time but then also the voltage resulting from the engine or generator running

Now that I at least have a photo of the inverter/charger, I'll have a better chance of finding it! Time to go digging around in the van!
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Old 09-11-2020, 07:16 PM   #6
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Yes, Xantrex bought out Trace. So there should be a charger circuit breaker, it would be in the upper right hand corner #12



You are correct that if there is 120 volt AC present the charger should work, magically in the background. That circuit breaker could be one of the charger from working. Obviously bad input voltage could also do that. That is why it would be good try the charger on shore power. It should work on a 15 amp circuit. The inverter does have it's own internal transfer switch, if no AC is present and the inverter is on the ground bonding will happen at the inverter. If Ac is present, then the ground bond would be back at the shore distribution.

If you were on generator power, this is where the power switch come in, it would either be a transfer switch or just a source selector. Essentially this would be choosing shore or generator power. See if you can find a part number on the Power Switch, then maybe we can find some details about it. Either one could be applicable, because again the shore power ground bond comes back at the house, when using the generator, it will need to be there.

My first guess would be that the breaker is tripped. You may need to make sure that you drive around a bit to make sure the battery voltage is reasonable, because to low and the charger may not work. Since the remote RC6 panel does show us a voltage level we have to assume the fuse between the battery and inverter/charger is good.

Hopefully we can get some answers on the inverter/charger and then work from there.

-greg
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Old 09-11-2020, 08:19 PM   #7
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Went looking for a M2512 and I can't say I saw anything that looked like one...

Irks me that I can't find the inverter/charger, since its meant to be fairly sizable....

Here are some pictures of what I did find:



The biege panel on the image left here has the classic circuit breaker switches on the other side.



I'm pretty sure this yellow 'trace engineering' cable is running from the RC6... but it leads outside of the vehicle and disappears into a mass of bundled cables. Maybe it goes to battery? I assume that the RC6 panel must be connected to the inverter/charger and that the inverter/charger is probably *not* bolted to the outside of the vehicle... so either another cable is connecting or is my assumption about the inverter/charger incorrect?

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Old 09-11-2020, 10:30 PM   #8
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Van House Power trouble-shooting

My Trace 1500 inverter had a yellow cable like that with a battery temp sensor on one end (stuck to battery) and the other end plugged into the inverter. The RC6 has a similar cable and also plugs into the inverter. Where are your batteries located? With my remote, when I turned on the inverter remotely I could hear the inverter come on.

A 2500 inverter/charger will be large and hard to miss. It would also be in a cabinet that has some sort of ventilation and access. It will most certainly NOT be mounted outside. I didnít read through all your posts, are you certain the previous owner didnít remove it for some reason?

Also, I havenít heard of an inverter that will protect your batteries from drawing down too far while they are powering 12vdc appliances. Because in this case the inverter isnít even on. Now if itís on and and running 110vac appliances then yes, it may have a low voltage cut off.
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Old 09-12-2020, 10:50 AM   #9
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Also, I havenít heard of an inverter that will protect your batteries from drawing down too far while they are powering 12vdc appliances. Because in this case the inverter isnít even on. Now if itís on and and running 110vac appliances then yes, it may have a low voltage cut off.
Right, that makes sense. I didn't know that the fridge wouldn't be running through the inverter/charger. Of course, if I consider its operating behavior, it makes sense that it wouldn't be. The generic "the inverter protects against low battery states" line in the RC6 manual gave me a false confidence.

In other news, I remembered there was another compartment under the sound amp and found the inverter/charger!



An "Alpine" amp is also here. I think the 2nd owner said there are *two* sound amps in the back, and there is also a subwoofer.



And there is this 135A HI-AMP-BUSS switch, with what looks like a reset switch




So from Greg's comments, it sounds like I need to
  1. reset the breaker (assuming that the breaker switches under the bench seat are the ones in question, and that there isn't a breaker switch on the inverter/charger itself)
  2. drive around a bunch to get the battery into passable state, and then
  3. Try running the generator and seeing if the battery takes some sort of charge

Separately it sounds like my battery is in a bad way and that I will still need to either check and maintain the cell fluid levels or replace it. And otherwise still need to figure out what is the break in the circuit between the solar panel and the Kyocera solar commander (could there be a fuse between those two?)
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Old 09-12-2020, 11:46 AM   #10
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The breaker will be on the actual unit, most likely top right hand corner, per picture in previous post. If you can plug in that is even better, then you don't have to worry about generator path. I have included a pdf on the powerswitch also.

-greg
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