Solar Setup for Off-Grid RV Living | Lithium Battery, VoltStart, EcoTrek

Thank you guys for joining our campervan life Q&A Today we're gonna talk about RV solar and living off-grid and as always if you're joining us live we'd love to know where you're tuning in from

So leave us a note and before we get started I just want to say if you have general questions about living in a van we've answered a lot of those in a previous Q&A which you can find in our campervan life series video playlist So if you have questions about mpg for the van where do we shower how do we shower what is the layout of the van like tank capacity all of those much coffee do I drink that have been answer so check out that video And today we'll focus on RV solar and living off-grid Yep, hit me I'm ready everyone wants to know what kind of RV solar setup do we have in the van okay our solar setup we have 320 watts of solar on the roof now those 320 watts of solar feed energy into our 400 amp hours of lithium ion batteries those batteries or I should say we get the electricity from those batteries to all of our appliances in our outlets through a 2000 watt inverter we also have some 12 volt appliances our refrigerator for example is 12 volt and 110 so if I turn on the inverter it'll switch over but most of this stuff in here is 110 so we're able with the inverter on to charge all of our devices and things like that all right next question which is also another popular one okay can you run the air conditioner off solar this is a good one yes and no you cannot run you actually can't run anything off of solar so we've gotten this question a lot and I try to correct that question by saying we run everything off of our batteries the solar is there to charge the battery so again solar charges the batteries the batteries are what run everything else in the van now the AC does run directly off the batteries and since we don't necessarily need solar to do that we can run the AC at night the biggest benefit of having solar with the batteries is that while we're running the AC charging our laptop all of our devices or things like that the solar helps offset the loss from the battery you know or keep it charged if we're not using anything at all now how do you run the instant pot without plugging into Shore power another popular question same way we run the AC or any of our devices we turn on the inverter the inverter gets all of our outlets in here working and Kate can plug the instant pot right in now we have the duo mini correct well we downsized our instance yes we downsized everything including our instant pot so we now have the dual mini which is three quarts and I would say on average I used the instant pot once a day most days twice a day to either steam food or make stew soups and stews mm-hmm but the bigger instant pot was 1500 watts the smaller one I believe is 750 it's an it's definitely under a thousand so that is a smaller draw on our batteries another reason why we really like it and for the most part we weren't using the full size but yes we can we can run the instant pot off of our batteries now why didn't we get a generator for the van another popular question we didn't get a generator because we don't need one this van himer in particular comes with a secondary alternator it's a two hundred and eighty amp hour jet or alternator and we use this to charge our battery as well as a solar so on very cloudy days or even at night if we've used too much electricity all we have to do is turn the engine on and that'll start charging the battery most of the time our battery is charged when we're running our errands are going into town things like that but we also have volt start a lot of people have asked about volt start whether we use it how it works volt start is a system that it's just a switch you turn it on and it will sense when the battery gets down to a certain level once it hits that level volt start will turn the engine on run for 35 minutes charge the battery up and then shut down once your battery drops down again it'll run through that whole cycle for five times before you have to physically put a key in the ignition turn the ignition on to reset the system which leads to another question since we do have the Volt start system a lot of people have been asking for feedback how is it working out for us it's been working great it's very easy to use the only thing you have to do is turn the switch on and make sure the two front doors are closed and it'll automatically come on it's actually startled us a few times we've been sitting here working on a very cloudy day or at night if we've been using the instant pot a lot that'll draw the battery down and all of a sudden the engine will turn on and will jump or something I'll have to remind Kate its volt start don't worry I just have to take a quick pause because John frum facing West coffee roasters here and watching our livestream hold on John you don't understand Joe is in a very dark place ed ran out of really good coffee and your shipment that's what he's drinking right now this stuff is awesome I'm actually drinking the Geisha right at this moment this is what's keeping me powered through the live stream this guy yeah put this back keep it safe all right I just sorry I had to stop because I saw John was joining us so hi John thank you I really appreciate it I was in a dark place all right back on track so another really popular question is how people want to know and they ask all the time how much solar they should get for their RV mm-hmm that's a really good question but I have to say it depends it's really more about how you can what you plan to use in your RV be at a trailer a van a Class A whatever how much electricity you plan to use so for us in our when we had our class a we had a twenty nine foot motorhome and we had a hundred watt portable solar panel so we didn't have any solar on the roof or anything we were actually able to boondock with that for up to ten twelve days and never have to run the generator but at the same time we also had to conserve our energy there was no way we could have run the instant pot without turning to generator on because our inverter couldn't handle it we also had to be very cautious about when we charge devices turn lights on things like that we used to use candles and if you're fine with that a small portable panel might work for you with the van we have this huge solar array big battery bank and huge inverter which means we can do whatever we want and we don't have to worry about it I would say personally after this experience anything else we get going forward I would want to put as many batteries and solar on the roof as possible which is another important thing to remember it's not just about the solar it's also about your battery bank is your battery bank going to be big enough to handle all the solar you want to put on the roof it's an important question and something to consider and having the right system helps it less stay off grade yes so a lot of people want to know how often do we plug into Shore power and if we even plug in when we're at a campground mm-hmm we really don't have to plug in there are times when we go to campgrounds we don't plug in at all because it's not necessary when we do plug in there have been some times like when we were up in Oregon it was overcast we just weren't getting very much solar and we weren't driving around much so we wanted to plug in so we could use the electric heater for that it was great and it worked well otherwise we would have had to have run the engine so but otherwise with the solar with our secondary alternator we never have to plug in which is really nice it is I'd like not having to worry about that whereas we used to worry a bit more when we were in the class a yeah and something to think about when we are in a class aid we had a full sized generator there was one night where we had to run generator all night long because it was so hot and humid outside and after that I calculated how much gas we had used for the generator and said that it would have been cheaper for us to go spend a night at a campground plug in and run our a/c than it was running the generator all night so it's another thing to consider does the system charge well on a cloudy day yes you don't get as much of a charge but as long as the Sun is out you will get some I've noticed we'll even get a charge when we're semi in the shade some of the reflected light things like that will help but it's really not going to do much other than you know trying to keep the batteries topped off I would say consider that more like a trickle charge how do we keep Leo cool in the man Oh Leo he's passed out in the back right now otherwise we'd put him on camera for you guys um we either so what we're doing right now it's 94 degrees outside last I checked well mid-age okay we are parked in the shade next to a building so that's keeping us cool we have the windows open the sunroof is open in the fan on that keeps the van really cool and comfortable now if we're going to be parked in the Sun away from the van and it's hot what we do is we switch on both start turn the inverter on and then turn the a/c on because that AC with a fully charged battery will probably run us about 2 or 3 hours a couple hours and once it draws the battery down far enough the Volt start will kick on and we could be away from the van for hours and not have to worry but when it is that hot we don't like to leave in case something happened let's say the air conditioner stopped working whatever it is we don't want to be away too long one important thing to think about is this van in particular but RVs in general tend to be a lot better insulated than your standard car so I know a lot of people freak out and say you know if it's 80 degrees outside your car is going to turn into an oven that is correct in a van at least you can open windows our windows are double paned we have very good insulation in here so it'll actually stay cooler in the van than it is outside and then two more questions about solar so someone wants to know how our solar panels hold up during a hailstorm okay we did encounter a hail storm at Crater Lake and then also whether our RV solar system is standard or an aftermarket add-on got it okay Hale so our we were in Crater Lake yep and got into a bad hail storm the solar was fine I would say if it was any bigger you might start to run into a problem we weren't getting golf-ball-sized hail but I think if hail is gonna be enough to dent you know a metal the metal skin of a car it might be enough to damage the solar panels so you know I don't know if there's a way to protect them by throwing a sheet or something over a blanket to help but I wouldn't want to be in a large hailstorm now when we when we were in a bad hailstorm in Wisconsin in the Jeep we couldn't help the class a Motorhome but we drove the Jeep into a covered garage mm-hmm so that we could protect the top I'm getting damaged so I guess if there was a really bad hail storm and we could find a covered parking area that would accommodate our van we could go there yeah we are we actually had friends that had an Airstream at the time and they took it to a gas station that was closed so they pulled into the gas station they stayed there until the hell storm passed now the other question or the other question was are our solar panels standard did they come with the van or did we build the system aftermarket so the system we have on here is completely from the factory sorry they installed all the panels they installed the Volt start system and they have the or they installed the batteries in the back and everything else the system with himer and Roadtrek is called eco trek volt start is proprietary systems so you can order that all from them from the factory and I just want to say I noticed the chat is going really fast so if you guys have a question that you really want us to answer during the live stream check out the super chat option but I'm gonna switch gears and talk more about off-grid living okay but I do want to take a moment to say hi to Christina she said that she's enjoying your book very much Oh awesome thank you yeah so first question about sort of off-grid living is how do you get drinking water as you travel so we we fill up our tank from standard you know hose bibbs a lot of times we find those at gas stations businesses that will allow us to fill up friends and family's house or we'll go to a campground and fill up on water or something like that a lot of dump stations have them as well but you have to be careful you want to fill up with the potable water don't use non potable cuz you don't know what's been on that hose bib or anything else or where that water is coming from but that said we like to filter and purify all of our water so actually you can't really see it but right behind me is the is Arbor key we fill all of the water from our tank into our bure key which purifies it and we use that as our drinking water and someone would like to know how long we can stay off grid ooh that really depends so I would say if we had a full tank of fresh water empty cassette empty gray water tank and a lot of food we could probably stay out for a few weeks there's a lot of people have asked us how long the cassette will last if we're boondocking somewhere since the cassette so small as long as we have a place to go outside dig a hole and use the bathroom we don't have to worry about the cassette filling up so at that point we're really more worried about how much fresh water we have and that's gonna decrease not not only from our drinking washing dishes and if we're really staying off-grid taking showers in here I've done it it works and it actually doesn't use a lot of water I have to say well it depends on how much water you want to use this is true but that's really the limiting factor is water or if we're not we're not in a place where we can go outside to go to the bathroom probably a couple days with the cassette because that's gonna fill up pretty quickly but a lot of times we don't like to stay out that long I would say you know three four days and then we're probably driving into town you know we might dump the cassette there grab some more water food things like that and then go back out we've never really just stayed out someplace no let's see well with winter coming we've been getting a lot of questions about I'm doing off-grid winter camping and are we able to do it well yes we can but we would have to drain the tanks and winterize the van we haven't done that because we like to have the tank of water for washing dishes flushing the toilet and things like that also our drinking water but we've been down to 27 degrees up in Flagstaff that's the coldest so far we don't run the furnace I like to keep the propane for my coffee and if we ran the propane down and I ran out of I wasn't able to heat water for my coffee I would be in dire straits so what we do is when it's cold in a van we just throw an extra sweatshirt on we will have we have a down comforter along with extra blankets and we'll cuddle up at night stay nice and warm Leo loves the cold so there have been times I've checked the thermostat in the van and it's been 37 degrees in here he is happy let me tell you but in the morning when I wake up boil some water for coffee kate's tea it'll start warming van up pretty quickly and then as the Sun comes out we just opened the windows and that warms the van right up so we've been good yeah and I think a lot of people asked when we first got the van why did we choose a dark color wouldn't it be better to have a lighter color van and I will say that comes in handy when it's a cold day really the pointer marker paint really absorbs the Sun and it warms up faster yeah I will say it's easier to run from the heat sometimes it's harder to run from the cold as we found and I like the ability to warm the van through the outside does come in handy all right a big question especially for us since we work on the road a lot of people want to know what we do for a living and if you haven't watched that video we did make one about how we make money on the road so check that out but it's Internet access how do we get internet access when we travel ok we are using a Verizon unlimited plan now for those of you who saw our quick little Facebook live thing I did mention that unlimited doesn't mean unlimited so we found that after you hit a certain point with Verizon they will start throttling you we're using our phones as hotspots so all of the things that we're putting up online this for example is sucking down data like none other anytime we upload our videos they're anywhere from 4 to 5 gigs and between the two of us for our hotspot data we have a total of 30 gigabytes so 15 per phone and that goes really quickly last month we ran out and we're in the middle of uploading a video I had to call and beg them to give us some extra data so we're actually looking at getting a secondary plan either a Verizon hotspot or go with a different provider so that we have more data but I will say that is actually becoming a very big expensive ours yeah yeah good internet because a video that we upload on a Wednesday can range anywhere from 4 to 5 gigabytes and that eats through our plan really fast it does and I want to say a huge thank you to our patrons who are watching this on patreon you guys are awesome and you're helping us cover the cost of that and actually upgrade our data so we really appreciate that yeah and I definitely know Roberto is joining us so what's up Roberto ah all right one one of our patrons actually have a specific question about our RV weboost said it okay is how do we where do we have the antennas where is everything and how far do you have to put your phone next to the antenna to get the signal boost okay let's see so when I set up we boost I do it in a couple different ways we got originally the RV setup that we boost sells but I also have a few other little accessories that have picked up when we don't need like super internet I have the little magnetic antenna on top of the van and I actually store right above our heads here is where the booster goes and then the inside antenna comes right down onto this table I have to say though for those of you who don't know what weboost is and have no idea what I'm talking about it is a cell phone booster cell signal booster and what this does is when we're out places boondocking or just in cities that have really bad cell coverage this will take even if you have just a miniscule amount of cell data it'll take that boost it and many times to a working signal so it's gotten us out of trouble a lot of times if we can't get that then we have to drive into town find a place with Wi-Fi or something like that now when we're really out in the middle of nowhere and I need a good signal I have their large trucker's antenna and what I did was I rigged up a little clamp that goes on to a suction cup mount like they use for GoPros and things like that and I stick it on the back of the van I put that run the cord through one of the windows or the doors and then I put the antenna back here or actually over on the sink to my right a lot of times we're tethering from the phone so we put the phone right next to the antenna for the best signal but we've been five or six feet away from the antenna and it's worked fine it just I notice as I get closer you get a better signal and I will say that we boost like you said has saved us quite a few times and hey I definitely can't imagine not having it doing what we're doing which is traveling all the time yeah it's awesome all right now to go back to the solar aspect there were a few questions people want to know since we have the 400 amp hours of lithium ion battery okay our fan there is the 800 amp hour option would we consider upgrading I don't think so I know Roadtrek offers the 800 amp hour option I don't think they offer it yet for himer I haven't seen why we could be wrong it could be something they offer now if they offered it would we do it I would actually say probably not and the reason for that being with volt start and with the battery pack we have now we're good my concern with adding more battery would be that you have a lot more weight now and we just we simply don't need it I mean 400 amp hours of the lithium batteries last us a long time if we had no Sun we could probably go I would say three or four days without having to start the engine and recharge so it's it's impressive how well they work and I would say if we were switching to something that had AGM batteries I would probably want more AGM batteries because you can only draw an AGM battery down to 50 percent before it's time to recharge without damaging it the lithium batteries you can go I think it's 10 to 20 percent so you get a lot they're a lot more efficient and they work much better okay I think we're gonna switch gears and take a few off-topic questions yes by someone else mentioned that they're in the process of reading your book and they're very excited so for everyone watching who's purchased or in the process of reading our book or read it already thank you I guess now's a good a time as any to plug the book so there it is take risks one couples journey to quit their jobs and hit the open road it's pretty much available everywhere you can get it on paperback and Amazon and for everyone who's bought it read it and reviewed it guys thank you so much it's awesome I this is kind of yeah I wanted to share our story and I didn't know if anyone would actually read it and let alone enjoy it and to see all the positive you know thoughts and things that have come back about the book I really appreciate it and I did see I caught a glimpse of a question about composting toilets if you're if you read the book or you're gonna read the book there's a really funny chapter about that there's a chapter in the book about how we came up with the idea to do a homemade composting toilet we were looking at buying one and that experiment was very interesting yes it went horribly wrong so people have got a good laugh out of it at my expense yes I had a good laugh rereading it so did I and to everyone who's read the book are you reading it I'm actually in the middle of working on book two I'm hoping to have it out early next year okay so one of our patrons wanted to ask us about since we switched and how we eat a lot of you who have been following us for you know a long time when we were in the Class A or even earlier this year we were eating very differently and our patron wants to know what our calorie consumption zarnow because we are eating so differently so mine I got to a point I found my what's known as your maintenance calories I'm around 1,800 so if I eighteen hundred calories a day I won't gain or lose anyway when I was losing weight so I've lost about 40 to 45 pounds since February and a lot of people don't believe me but if you go back and watch some of the older videos it's pretty apparent but when I was doing that I I got down to 1,500 calories a day I tried not to go below that I've started working out again and quite heavily so went on days like that I try to stay in the mid-2000s if not a bit more and I try to go heavier on the protein as well you I don't eat no she really doesn't just kidding I don't know I'm kind of all over the place and I really don't track it that much since I've been so I eat more whole plant-based more so than Jojo will eat more like dairy eggs and things like that whereas I'm mostly plant-based and I'm sort of all over the place anywhere from 1,400 calories up to 2,000 calories it kind of depends on the day I would say you're but I eat as much as I want one full yeah and I enjoy the food so that's one thing I really like about it and a lot of people have been begging me to eat what they call real food so burgers pizza things like that you'll see some of that in an upcoming video and I've I kind of have I don't want to say I've made it a habit but for the last two months in a row on the 10th I've had a burger and not only a burger my first burger was it was a bacon cheeseburger half-pound patty and it was just absolutely amazing not my birthday it was on your birthday and then let's see today's the 22nd so on the 10th I had a a brisket burger so as a burger with brisket barbecue sauce and onion rings so when I go off the reservation I really take a ride for a while and get far away from you know what I realized that there are things in this world like barbecue ribs that I'm gonna have every now and again I don't care yeah it's nice to have a balance but for the most part I really enjoy the way we're eating I've lost weight I feel great so I'm happy with it yeah all right back to questions so someone at wants to know since we're spending 24 hours a day together all year what are we talking about well actually so it's a it's movie magic this line right here she's in a different van I'm here and I'm able to like split them together you know it's really about communication we keep from killing each other by talk all the time and by talking all the time we keep it interesting uh-huh a lot of a lot of our conversations are about work this YouTube channel you know what are we gonna make next for you guys and that sort of thing we talk a lot about where we're going what we want to do and sometimes just about our day so you know when we used to get home from work we would sit down and talk about our day actually we did because we didn't want to talk about our day now it's kind of fun to talk about our day so we'll recap things that happened talk about what we want to do the following day and you know what sometimes we don't talk we might lay in bed with our phones in each watch a different movie on Netflix or something like that and just yeah and just kind of spaced out for a while I think a really good investment for a van are those over the ear headphones because she can listen to her music your meditation stuff that drives me nuts watch TV up front without bothering me exactly so it's all about managing those things I know people that need to get away for a while take a run something like that we don't need it we're happy being around each other but we do need our own quiet time yeah and then every once in a while when we go to the gym sometimes I just don't feel like getting a workout in I'd rather hang out in the band with Leo so you'll get a workout in and that's sort of your private time it is time but a lot of times we go and we work out together that's that's where your guns are going from working out getting my muscles let's see what else oh the chats are going so fast Oh someone wants to know if we can convert the Vans bathroom into something else what would it be I would just if we were designing our own van I wouldn't want a bathroom I would just want one of those little toilet or porta-potties you can pull out and I would use it just to have more open space I think that's one thing I really like is having the open space with the windows and everything around I wouldn't want this wall behind me I would just want a nice open space into the bedroom maybe add another window a little cabinet or some you know put stuff on that's really about it simple and I do want to say hi to El yours it's good to have you on the livestream as a awesome patron of ours and I know a few people have been asking about the instant pot cook look again wait the problem is we have so many things we're trying to do for those of you who watched our livestream about how we make money you saw the head we probably spend about 60 hours a week working and that is on YouTube everything else we're doing with our website I'm writing a book Kate is working on things so it takes a lot of time there's a lot of front and back-end work to make a video and you know follow comments put it up on patreon Facebook Instagram oh if you guys are on Instagram we're the Russos follow us yeah well thank you guys so much for joining us thank you oh I've got to do my clothes yes I'm gonna do this completely off the cuff if I screw it up I'll try it again you guys feel free to laugh at me Okay okay let's do this, all right

Next time join us as we head to Costco and we show you why 90 square feet of van is not a reason you can't buy in bulk So we'll see you next Wednesday, bye guys

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