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Winter Boondocking

I have some thoughts on winter boondocking and power consumption after my experience living without hookups for most of the month of December 2010 in southern New Mexico.

Some thoughts on winter boondocking

On December 6th, 2010 I arrived at Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs NM and found my favorite site with hookups occupied and decided to set up on a nearby site with no electric and water hookups.

I thought this would be a temporary situation but in the end I decided to carry on for an extended period without hookups, partly because I liked the site and partly to get some extended winter boondocking experience. I didn't hook up again until the weather turned against me on Thursday, December 30, 2010 - LoW-HI RV Ranch, Deming NM.

Overall this bit of winter boondocking worked out well but there are a couple of systems in this old Lazy Daze RV that could stand some improving to make this a more comfortable experience. The coach electrical and heating systems came up short and need rethinking and improving. Everything else functioned just fine.

The easy solution to the shortcomings in both systems would be simply to hook up to shore power during the winter months. But knowing me I'll be making some changes around here.

Hooked Up, Site 11, Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs NM, January 22, 2009
Hooked Up, Site 11, Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs NM, January 22, 2009

The coach electrical system

Most everything in the house runs on 12 volts from the coach batteries. There is an inverter to supply 115vac to the few things that require it, mainly bricks to recharge electronics, including the MacBook Pro. Recharging the coach batteries is handled by a converter which is powered either by hooking up to a 30A shore power supply or by running the onboard Onan gas generator. In addition there are two solar panels on the roof that feed into the batteries.

So ultimately there are three sources of power, the external shore power grid (not available to the boondocker), the onboard generator (noisy) and the solar panels (nice and quiet), to replace whatever energy is drawn from the batteries to run the house.

Ideally I'd like to use the solar panels replace all the power consumed. That's a problem in December when the sun is low in the sky and solar output is significantly diminished.

The coach is equipped with an ammeter that reads net current flow into or out of the coach battery bank so I can turn things on & off and read the ammeter to see what draws significant power and what does not. There were some big surprises here. It surprised me to find my 15 inch MacBook Pro and the portable hard drive I keep my pictures on are by far the biggest power users in the rig. By far.

Let's look at some numbers

Here's the rough power consumption I was seeing on the ammeter (roughly - I didn't write any of this down):

 AmpsAmp-Hrs per Day
Misc idle systems0.410
LED task lights (ea)0.22-3
Desk 12v speakers0.01.0
Water pump, etc 1-2

TOTAL Amp-Hrs per day (running as needed) 15

So that's roughly 15 amp-hours per day to run the house.

I don't use much 120vac (at least I didn't think so). The main thing I use it for is to charge my MacBook Pro and, through it, to charge my iPod Touch and iPad. And to run the portable hard drive my pictures are stored on.

 AmpsAmp-Hrs per Day (24/7)
Inverter at idle0.512
MacBook Pro and portable hard drive2.5 - 3.570
WiFi router0.512

TOTAL Amp-Hrs per day (running 24/7) 90-100

Wow! So it takes roughly SIX TIMES as much power to run the laptop and WiFi continuously as it does to run everything else combined. That's quite a revelation.

What does this power consumption mean?

With the sun low in the sky this time of year I can capture only about 20 amp-hours per day from my solar panels. Deducting the 15 amp-hours per day to run the house from that leaves only about 5 amp-hours per day to run the computer etc. That's good for about an hour and a half of computer & internet time.

I had no idea the computer was such a relative power hog. I was immediately obvious that to balance my power usage to what the solar panels could replace I needed to ration my computer time. It was a real challenge to keep the laptop and router shut down. I'm addicted to the convenience of having them always on and training myself to shut everything down when I walk away proved to be quite a challenge.

The coach heating system

I'll get to this topic later.

Tags: RV Information