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Riggers

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I want to RV around the country this year and apparently I need a degree in solar energy and lithium batteries to understand what is or is not possible. I've given up and am resorting to this post.

Long term I'd like a Nitro XLR 407 and a big dually truck to pull it but the housing market started to collapse right when I listed a house for sale and now I'm stuck trying to figure out what I can afford TODAY that will suit my needs. I have found a few RVs my Jeep can pull that will fit us short term. Main issues-- I have pets and 2 children. We are homeschooling. The jeep can only pull 8k lbs. We like to stop at rest stops and sleep for the night here and there. Don't want the trouble of scheduling with RV parks, finding openings, and limiting my travel to where I can find open RV locations. RV MUST be able to run ac/heat when not attached to electricity. Why? I have 2 french bulldogs and they cannot handle extreme temps.

We considered travelling via airbnb for a while but I'd still need something behind me to carry all our stuff. At a few hundred dollars a month it might as well be an RV rather than a box trailer so it serves more function than just storage.

I am trying to imagine if we had the RV and installed some solar and lithium batteries and just hit up RV parks to recharge and wash clothes as needed... how long between parks could we last? How long would it take for my Jeep to charge up a lithium battery and how many batteries would I need to run the RV overnight WITH heat or air? Where I live there are free RV parks (they don't have any amenities just septic, water and electric) that you can stay up to 3 days. Do those exist around the country or only in my little neck of the woods?

For reference I drive a 2015 Ecodiesel Jeep grand Cherokee 2WD.
And I'm looking at getting something around 30 ft long and 6k lbs to travel with.
 

Mark_K5LXP

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Solar A/C requires a significant expense of solar and battery, and then at some point the energy used would need to be replenished somehow. A few hours here and there is fairly readily done, but not days. If your budget limits you to the tow vehicle you have, your budget would not allow for operating HVAC from battery. If you exchange the battery for a genset then your options increase dramatically.

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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Where I live there are free RV parks (they don't have any amenities just septic, water and electric) that you can stay up to 3 days. Do those exist around the country or only in my little neck of the woods?
They have water, electric, & sewer and are free for up to 3 days? I can confidently say you won't find that anywhere else. Or was that a typo of some sort?

Don't want the trouble of scheduling with RV parks, finding openings, and limiting my travel to where I can find open RV locations.
With smart cell phones and laptop computers, it's not really any trouble.

RV MUST be able to run ac/heat when not attached to electricity.
For 8-12 hours at a time? Every night? I doubt if you can carry that much battery (space and weight limits) nor would your limited budget buy that much of a lithium battery bank.

You don't need a degree in lithium batteries, but you do need to be able to balance a checkbook and do a budget. A battery bank is just like a checking account - you put energy(amp-hours) into the battery bank and hold it until needed, then take some out. You can't take out more than you put in, so you need to keep track of the ins and outs. And you need to put more energy back in before you can use it again.

Running lights and appliances requires withdrawals from your battery account. An air conditioner is expensive to operate, about 100 or so battery amps/hour. Electric heaters are much the same. Lighting and phone chargers and such are much less, less than 10 amps/hour. So do some guessing about how many things you need to operate and for how long, then divide the total amp-hours by a typical lithium battery size (100 amp-hours?) to come up with a number of batteries you need to buy and re-fill most every day. I think you will find the number sobering! Then figure how many hours of travel time your Jeep needs to replenish those amp-hours, say at 30-40 amps/hour. Even more sobering!
 
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Skookum

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Air conditioning will be your challenge.

Hot water, heat, and refrigeration can all be run off propane and minimal 12v electricity, which a typical battery setup can handle for days at a time.

Most AC units are pulling 10-15amps at 120v, and Gary did a rough conversion for you above what that might look like in terms of amp-hours on a 6v or 12v battery setup. The battery bank you're going to need is likely more than you will want to spend and maybe more than you can tow.

Have you had the whole family stuffed in an RV on a really hot (or cold) day and tried to do the homeschooling and remote working yet from places like a rest stop? If not, go do it before you make any big changes. :) Some people have to do it, others are hoping it's a fun experience and many of those people find out it's not tenable for any extended length of time.
 

Kevin Means

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Hi Riggers, and welcome. Most RV manufacturers equip their RVs for moderate boondocking - moderate climates, moderate lengths of stay etc. If you want to boondock comfortably for longer periods of time, or in more severe climates, it's important to consider a variety of factors.

Some RVs are better insulated than others, and do a bit better in colder or warmer temps. Having said that, no RV handles more extreme temps as well as a typical home. "Four season" RVs is more of a sales pitch than reality IMO, but some do better than others.

Solar and lithium batteries are a good way to go if you plan on boondocking a lot. It won't be cheap, but, as someone who loves to boondock, having all of your power needs taken care of, without having to listen to a generator droning away for hours on end, is worth it. Our generator used to be our primary power source when boondocking, now we rarely need it.

Running an air conditioner off battery power, and recharging with solar power is doable, but it's not very practical. A lot depends on what part of the country you're in, and the time of year. AC units consume a lot of power (compared to other RV devices) and they'll drain a battery bank very quickly unless its capacity has been increased significantly.

There are options for heating that can alleviate the relatively high power and propane requirements of LP furnaces - like catalytic heaters, but they don't heat large areas as well as ducted furnaces. They're very power and propane frugal though.

Another thing to consider is holding tank capacity. New RVers often buy their first RV with little thought to its holding tank capacities. I've always said, when the black tank is full, the camping trip is over. Running out of fresh water is no fun either.

There are a lot of experienced RV solar folks here, and when you start to get serious about that, ask a lot of questions here. It's easy to make an expensive mistake.

Kev
 

TonyL

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For what you are likely to spend to be able to run AC from lithium and solar, you could easily opt to have a hook up for the time you really need AC. For milder weather, you could use a desk top fan and inverter from the batteries, that's what we do. We haven't gone down the lithium route, still too expensive and the requirements to modify other components to suit them, but we run budget lead acid deep cycle batteries from Walmart that have done us proud for nearly 3 years already.
We do run a generator in the evenings just to help out the batteries, as we have a residential fridge/ freezer.
The furnace will use a fair chunk of battery capacity whilst running, but we tend to heat the van up during the evening when the generator is on, then set the thermostat back during the night to stop it getting too cold.
 

Isaac-1

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As mentioned above having enough solar power and battery capacity to effectively run air conditioning is going to be expensive, how expensive will really depend on how much air conditioning you need. The best option with a trailer would be to mount a mini-split unit on the back bumper and cover the entire roof with solar panels. As a DIY project this could probably be done for about $6,000 - $9,000. Of course there are other alternatives if you are going full time, spend most of the year chasing night weather for example.

On another point I don't think pulling a 30 ft trailer with a Grand Cherokee is a viable option, weight is only one factor in towing, and those numbers the car manufacturers publish about towing capacity imply you are pulling a flat utility trailer loaded down with bricks, not a big empty box with a lot of sail area. Something closer to 20 ft is a lot more realistic with a grand cherokee.
 

Riggers

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By genset do you mean a generator?

3 days with water, septic, electric... not a typo. When I looked it up there are quite a few in Texas that are overnight only.

Can you get a full recharge on an overnight stay hooked up to electricity?

I was worried about the weight/payload on the 30 ft'er as well. My 3rd option was possibly a very small camper just for sleeping along the way and less eating out while still using either airbnb or hotels until the house sells. I cannot get financing for the truck plus camper. Mostly because the house was a rental and I'd be taking on thousands in payments while simultaneously being short rent while the house sits on the market. I found a few for under 20k but I still need the AC to run overnight. Will the genset (which I am guessing is a generator) run the AC overnight as needed? How much would it cost in fuel to run a generator overnight? Will it recharge the batteries at the same time?

I was thinking that whatever I invested in lithium I could move to the larger RV once the house sold and I moved up. Might be harder to move over the solar but the batteries, inverters, etc shouldn't be difficult should it?

As to will I be able to live in such a small space.... absolutely. I lived in an RV with my husband for over a year while we built our house when the girls were smaller and there were more of us. 3 kids have already graduated and the hubby passed away. We love traveling and simple living already. We spent most of the summer camping and living out of the Jeep only getting hotels every few days for a hot shower and warm breakfast. I think the dogs have it the worst because it was so hot this summer they spent a lot of time in the Jeep.

I want to know why it isn't possible to use my diesel engine as a generator to the RV lol.
 

Mark_K5LXP

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Genset = generator set.

Running A/C from batteries is an order of magnitude larger, and more expensive, than most anything else you'd do with batteries in an RV. This is simply due to the power an A/C unit requires to operate. Most devices in an RV consume less than 100 watts, and most of those operate only intermittently so the total power drawn over a 24 hour period is fairly small. An A/C unit draws about 1500 watts, and especially in Texas in the summer, an A/C unit can run most if not all of those 24 hours. RV's are very poorly insulated compared to a permanent home so for the most part RV A/C units have to run nonstop just to maintain whatever degree of cooling they provide. So you go from a few hundred watts drawn over a 24 hour period to over 36,000. What might have been easily supplied by one or two batteries now requires 8 or 10 batteries - and that's just for one day. Three days would be times three - a bank of batteries you may not even see in an off-grid home. Battery A/C can, and has been done by a few RV'ers but it's not something you just get from amazon and plug in - it's requires a bit of engineering and equipment investment ((thousands) to make even a few hours' worth of A/C possible. Aside from the equipment expense there is the logistical consideration of filling those batteries back up after they're depleted, especially in the 3-day operating scenario. For a 36 kilowatt hour per day A/C times 3 days is over 100kWh of energy that would need to be restored to the batteries. That would take a full day of recharge time at typical charge rates and it's way more power than any rooftop solar could ever provide. See where this is going here? No matter how many of any kind of battery you may have, at some point you have to plug in, or run a generator to charge them back up. All the batteries do is allow you delay plugging in by some number of hours, but plug in you must. That's why running a generator to run A/C is the most common and practical solution for RV A/C - it eliminates the overhead of buying and managing a large battery bank and inverter. Your jeep could serve as a power source, I did it for years with my pickup when I tent and trailer camped. But that was to operate a few small things and charge a battery or two, not run A/C. Even if you added a large alternator to the engine along with a large inverter ($) it would be a pretty inefficient system. You'd go through a lot of fuel and put a lot of wear and tear on the engine because it would be running all the time. A self contained generator would be way more cost effective. I would estimate one quart of gas per hour of operation for a ~3kW genset, and know that for many units the oil change interval is at 100 hours, so that'd be every few days in constant use. Once you contemplate the options, having sites with utilities is the most practical, with occasional stops running on genset manageable.

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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3 days with water, septic, electric... not a typo. When I looked it up there are quite a few in Texas that are overnight only.
I found this article on free campsites in Texas that have hook-ups. You will find freebies elsewhere, but not with hook-ups.

But you said finding/scheduling a campsite was too much hassle and too restrictive on your travel. Isn't locating the even more rare freebie site a bigger hassle. And a huge constraint on your itinerary?
 

Martian

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As someone who made a lot of mistakes as an RV'er, I have learned that research and more research BEFORE making a move is the best way to make sure your decisions are going to work. IMHO you have a long way to go before you actually buy anything. This is not a sport where you can make decisions on a whim. Bad decisions will take a big bite out of both your butt and your wallet and even then the issues may not get resolved. Too small of a trailer cannot be fixed cheaply and too big of a trailer for the tow rig will cost in repairs.
Figure out what you need first as far as sleeping, work and relaxing areas and what your tow vehicle is capable of. That will be a starting point. Then you can see how many of your wants you can get in a unit that fits your needs. Keep us posted.
 

Isaac-1

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From my travels the free / cheap (circa $5-$10 per night) municipal campgrounds with power water and dump station seems to be a regional thing, and is fairly common in smaller towns in NW Texas, eastern New Mexico, eastern Colorado, Kansas, and at lest some parts of Nebraska. In my experience the ones that offer free sites typically have a 1 to 3 night max stay limit, most are 20 or 30 amp only and are typically located in city parks, by recreation buildings, etc. we stayed at a fairly nice free on in Texas last year behind their chamber of commerce building, it was a large freshly paved parking lot with 6 water and electric sites, and a single dump station. On the same trip we spent 2 nights at nice city park in another small Texas town that also had 6-7 sites for $15 per night.

On to running a generator, you will need at least a 3000 watt generator to run a single RV air conditioner even though the generator running load is only around 1500 watts due to the startup surge loading, if you are getting a travel trailer you best option is probably an inverter generator to take advantage of fuel economy. Something like this might be a good option on a budget 3500 Watt SUPER QUIET Inverter Generator with CO SECURE Technology note it weighs just over 100 pounds, realistically expect its 2.3 fuel gallon tank to last about 7-8 hours while running an air conditioner, depending on how the compressor cycles. With todays gas prices those cheap $15 per night or less camping sites with at least water and electric may be looking attractive during hot weather.

As mentioned above water and waste water tank capacity are often limiting factors, for comfort sake I try to plan on water usage at about 10 gallons per day per person, sure I know there are people that say they can go a month boondocking on 80 gallons of water, but I prefer my luxuries like a 1-3 minute shower every day vs using a wet cloth for bathing.
 

Riggers

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I was thinking something like this at first but you guys have me rethinking it... plus this specific model is too heavy.


This seems like a good option and is much lighter.


We will still have our main home and will go home for periods of time. Until the rent house gets sold and we have the cash to buy a dually/5th wheel then our plan is to stay at airbnbs/hotels and just use the RV overnights when we're actually on the road.

As an example... we just drove to NC and back. On the 3 days over and 3 days back we slept in the Jeep at rest stops. We couldn't camp bc the dogs can't take the heat in the summer months. It would have been really nice to just stop when and where we wanted and take a driving break OUT OF THE JEEP. To have a place for the dogs to chill while we do things without them. We could stop at a sit-down restaurant if it had street parking and leave the dogs in the RV while we enjoy dinner. We cannot do that in the Jeep. But again, we must have some sort of AC while we eat.

Anyway, the more I think about it... the more the dogs are the real problem LOL. Unfortunately, they are show dogs and part of what we want to do is travel around to shows so they really can't stay behind.

I had to drag my BMW from Houston to Lubbock this summer with the Jeep and at one point I was stopped at a red light on a hill. The jeep rolled backwards as soon as I let off the brake. Which tells me a 4k lb BMW plus auto trailer was a lot for the Jeep to handle. The wheels kind of spun out when I hit the gas to get up the hill. I plan on changing out the brakes and rotors before dragging anything again.

That generator might work for us for sleeping overnight. I have owned/lived in an RV before but I've never run one off of a generator. Do modern generators kick on/off themselves or does it have to be manually turned on/off? So once I turn it on to cool off the RV, will it kick off itself once the Rv isn't drawing electricity anymore or will I have to turn it off to stop it from running until it runs out of fuel?
 

Isaac-1

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I still think that is going to be heavy for your Jeep Grand Cherokee, remember you not only have to stay within your towing capacity, but also need to stay under your 720 pound tongue weight, and that tongue weight counts towards your GVWR, this thread on a jeep forum suggests https://www.jeepforum.com/threads/2015-jeep-grand-cherokee-3-0-l-eco-diesel-towing.3797362/ suggests that your cargo capacity for the Jeep is only around 1,500 pounds for passengers and cargo. So 1,500 - 720 (tongue weight) only leaves about 780 pounds total for passengers and cargo. Even then you are right at your max limit, and that 7200 pound towing capacity is based on a flat trailer, not a big box.

p.s. have you considered something like a Jayco Hybrid X22N, X22B or X23E? Or some other brand of hybrid trailer with a GVWR in the 5,500-6,200 range?
 
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Riggers

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O1dSoldier

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Hi @Riggers

Disclosure, I’m new to pthe Motorhome world which is what brought me to this site but not new to towing, trailers, etc.

I’ve read through this thread a couple times and I’ve noticed a couple times your mention of needing a trailer just for sleeping yet at the start you said you want a 30 foot trailer and keep posting links to trailers that are for much more than sleeping and that after loading will be very close to the max tow capacity of your rig.

A few thoughts:
  • Your rig may have a towing capacity of 7000 pounds but it isn’t wise to max it out. You’ll quickly find yourself needing a new transmission. Because it can tow 7000 pounds does not mean it should. At least not consistently. Sure it’s a diesel which is what is getting you that 7000 pound towing capacity but don’t mistake that diesel for what you find in pickup trucks. Your rig may say Jeep on the front but it’s a car and while I didn’t go look it up I’m betting the Diesel engine is really a converted gas engine which is a practice many auto manufacturers did and do and they shouldn’t. A typical car engine block cannot withstand the high compression needs of a Diesel engine for very long. They simply aren’t made for that.
  • You’ll likely not find a trailer in the size your rig can (comfortably) handle that has a generator or could carry the amount of batteries you would need to run an a/c for even a few hours let alone all night. I have a 32 foot boat with twin diesels and no generator. I have a 450 amp hour house battery which is what powers the boat when the engines aren’t running. Lights, fridge, etc. Even with no generator those batteries take up a fair amount of space and a couple hundred pounds to the boat. It takes multiple batteries to get to 450 amp hours. 450 sounds like a big number but it isn’t. Of that 450 amp hours only about 200 are useable. Regularly draining them to less than 50% will ruin them quickly. The reason for this is that batteries aren’t designed to be drawn down to less than 50% of their charging capacity. Put a volt meter on a “dead” AA battery and you’ll see it still has a lot juice left in it. You just can’t use it. Anyway, with my 450 amp hours I can power my boat while at anchor with the engines off for a day maybe and then I have to run the engines (for several hours) to charge them. An a/c, if I could even get it started would drain my batteries in a few minutes.
  • So, thinking you can run an a/c overnight on batteries is, well technically you can but it just isn’t feasible for many reasons which is why nobody is doing in the yachting world or in RVs. You simply can’t carry enough batteries to have the amp hours needed to do so. Not in a 30 foot travel trailer anyway.
  • I can appreciate your needs being influenced by your dogs, we have two 3 year old German Shepherds that will travel with us and it is a contributing factor to the size of motorhome we want. Our plan is, in a couple years to sell the house and spend a year or more traveling the country so space for them to be comfortable and able to move around is important. Plus bigger size means more creature comforts which I will admit I have come to enjoy as I age.
  • No offense intended but you seem to know very little about travel trailers and have some not unreasonable expectations in general but certainly unreasonable for your current rig.
If I were you I’d look at the pop up camper trailers, a portable Honda quiet generator, and a small room-size free-standing a/c.
 

Mark_K5LXP

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Of that 450 amp hours only about 200 are useable. Regularly draining them to less than 50% will ruin them quickly.
This is false. All of the battery's Ah are usable, and using all of them is not going to ruin them. There are valid reasons for choosing arbitrary discharge limits during operation but using a battery within rated specification will not ruin them.

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
 

O1dSoldier

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This is false. All of the battery's Ah are usable, and using all of them is not going to ruin them. There are valid reasons for choosing arbitrary discharge limits during operation but using a battery within rated specification will not ruin them.

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
I will only say that there is a reason why you should either attach a trickle charger to your battery or fully disconnect it when left for long periods of time. The reason for this is to prevent sulfation which will kill your battery over time either through excessive build on the plates causing the plates to touch and/or warp or by decreasing the amount of charge a battery will accept or both. It’s pretty well known and documented.
 
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