We love our RV air conditioner…except when it’s really hot and we’re boondocking or moochdocking and we don’t have enough RV battery power to run it. That's where SoftStartRV comes in.
This week on the RV Podcast we dig deeply into RV battery and power management challenges faced by those who enjoy off-the-grid boondocking or moochdocking (camping in the driveways of friends and relatives) and want to run their RV air conditioner. Our guest in the RV Podcast interview segment is a top RV electrical expert who breaks down our power needs and tells us about a way we can run those RV air conditioners under low power with a device called SoftStartRV.
Plus, we have RV news of the week… we answer a question on why we’re getting a new Rv in a couple of weeks …and Tom and Patti Burkett stop by with a great off the beaten path report.
RV PODCAST UPDATE ON WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
This episode comes from the road…
We’re in Jacksonville, FL, staying at Hanna Park on the Atlantic, just east of town.
We share what we’re doing here and look forward to our travel to Michigan next week and, at the end of the month, our purchase of a new RV… the 2021 Wonder by Leisure Travel Vans, built on the new Ford Transit chassis. We’ll share the reasons we’re making the switch when we answer one of our listener questions coming up in a few minutes,
RV PODCAST NEWS OF THE WEEK
If traveling to Alaska, expect to take COVID-19 test
If you are thinking of visiting Alaska this summer, the state now requires a COVID-19 test before t]raveling around the state. The new rules took effect Saturday. The COVID-19 test is required within 72 hours before flying into Alaska. But, if you are unable to do that for some reason, or you are driving there, you will need to quarantine at your own expense for 14 days once you arrive or take a COVID-19 test at the airport and quarantine until the results are back. You may not quarantine in an RV, and you may not go out for groceries or anything other than medical care during this time. We recently interviewed someone about ways to get your RV to Alaska while the Canadian border is closed (click here) and wanted to share this, too. For the complete list of Alaska rules, click here.
President Trump and the first lady hitting the road in an RV? Well, that's what he said
At a press conference last weekend about the economy starting to rebound after COVID-19, President Donald Trump said he might get an RV, and head to upstate NY with the first lady. While that off-the-cuff comment may have drawn the headlines, we have to reiterate it again – LOTS of newbies are buying and renting RVs right now. They are making travel plans to camp because of COVID-19 safety concerns about airplanes, cruises, and hotel rooms. To see more about why many say this is the year of the RV, click here.
Here is a new one: Man buys an Airstream trailer for studio office during quarantine
Speaking of newbies, we saw a story last week out of California about a man in the Silicon Valley who bought a 22-foot Airstream trailer for his office. He parked it in his yard,and set it up to be his office with a souped up conference table. The trailer, on a 30-year-loan, costs $370 a month, is a deductible business expense, and he can sell it when he is done. This is the first time we have seen a story of someone buying a camper for zoom calls, but in these times, we see how it makes sense!
More campgrounds continue to open, but check before you go
Again, more and more states are starting to permit camping. California is expected to start opening campgrounds June 12, Wisconsin state parks are open today, June 10, Oregon opened more campgrounds yesterday, June 9 ,while other states, like Michigan, remain closed for a few more weeks. As always, if you are heading out, check ahead. The best place we have found for knowing what is open is Campendium which you can access by clicking here.
If heading out camping, be sure to protect yourself from ticks
It is tick season in much of the country, and as you prepare to get outside, and maybe even enjoy a campground, be sure to protect yourself from ticks. Ticks are showing up in more and more places throughout the country, Jennifer and I have observed, and the nasty creatures can carry a host of diseases. Best thing to do is wear long sleeves and pants when heading out, spray yourself with bug spray, and do a tick search of yourself and your pet after hitting the trails. And if you have one on you, be sure to remove it with sharp tweezers by grabbing its head, and yanking it out. To see more tips, click here or here.
This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes, America's #1 e-bike brand, offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping
RV PODCAST LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
Was wondering if there is a particular CB channel that RV'ers use when they are traveling? Thank you. – Ed
Ch 13 supposedly is the RV'ers channel, but since most road information is found on the truckers channel 19, that's where most travelers listen.
I have been watching your channel back to back for last few days. I totally, love you guys. I have 2 questions for you. First, Why did you choose Ford over Mercedes motor home from leisure travel for your new RV? I want to know with respect to maintenance cost and fuel efficiency. Second, Do you think it is easier to get gas over diesel while on the road? Is there any restriction in city for the size of motor-home that can be driven during a certain time of the day? Thanks – Vicky
We explain the features we like… the new Ford Transit chassis grades, availability of all-wheel drive, a gas engine, twin rear beds (something we really want), massive garage storage and to get experience on a different chassis besides the Mercedes Benz Sprinter.
Do you have a question you’d like us to answer or a comment on the things we’re discussing on the RV Podcast? If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990. Or, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.
This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at https://rvlifestyle.com/lithium
RV PODCAST INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Understanding RV batteries and how to run an RV air conditioner while boondocking or moochdocking
SoftStartRV is the solution
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Okay. It's summertime. It's hot. And that means we depend on our air conditioner a lot. The problem is we're not always plugged into electricity and because air conditioners take so much startup energy to get them running, to get that compressor going, many times we are stuck not being able to run it.
We just don't have enough power with our coach batteries or if we're moochdocking, we don't have anything except maybe a 110 volt outlet from a neighbor or relative's garage and that's not enough to run the air conditioning. At least it hasn't been until now. Now there's a new product called SoftStartRV. And we are going to talk about that in this interview of the week.
We're going to show you what it looks like and how it works and why, for those of us who like to boondock and moochdock, it is a game-changer. Our special guest is Mike Sokol. Mike is an engineer and he is the guy who literally he's got a book out, wrote the book on RV electrical safety.
Here's the video version of the interview about running an Rv air conditioner with the SoftStartRV:
Here's the transcript of the interview:
Mike Wendland: We are lucky to have as our guest on this part of the podcast and the video, Mike Sokol. Mike's an old friend. He is an expert on all things electrical involving the RV and much more. And he joins us from his mad scientist lair, somewhere in North America. Hey Mike, how are you?
Mike Sokol: Well, very good. It's actually, it's high atop Funkstown Hill in Funkstown Maryland. I can oversee the Antietam down there. Yes, it is the lair, I like that.
Mike Wendland: I like it. Well, hidden out there somewhere. Mike, I got this SoftStartRV just on basically hearing about it and I'm right in between RVs now. I'm not going to put on the one I'm selling in the week, but I'm going to put it on my new one. But this is, as I wrote in the blog the other day, I think a game-changer for those who like to boondock, who like to moochdock, but are frustrated every summer by not being able to run the air conditioner. Would you explain in layman terms how this works and why this indeed is a game-changer?
Mike Sokol: Certainly. The first part of this is that RV air conditioners are pretty big because RVs don't have the best insulation. Something that can barely cool your RV, you could hang meat if you were doing this in your living room. They take a fair amount of power to run. It's not really the power that you need to run that gets you into trouble, it's the power that you need to actually get it started, which is the real problem. I can even draw a little diagram if you want to see.
Mike Wendland: Yeah, Let's do this.
Mike Sokol: Okay. Let me go ahead and we have a compressor running on an RV. It's going to have a steady state current. It's going to be somewhere around 11 to maybe 14 amps of current. And you can say, “Okay, that's not so bad, because I got a 20 amp outlet. What's the problem?” The problem is it doesn't just stay steady state like that. What happens is when you, and I'm going to draw a little zero line down here. When you first start it up, there'll be a little ramp up. There'll be maybe three or four amps of current. And that's just a fan running. But when it compressor kicks in, it'll do this kind of a trick. It'll actually jump up and jump down. It'll jump up to maybe 34 amps of current. And then after a half a second, it'll go back down to maybe that 11 to 14 amps. Where you get into trouble.
Mike Wendland: A spike up, Mike is when we hear that big clunk.
Mike Sokol: The big clunk.
Mike Wendland: You turn on the air and you hear the fan, then it goes clunk. And that's when the compressor is on.
Mike Sokol: That's exactly right. It's like revving up the engine on your car and dropping the clutch. It's this big bang that tries to start this thing up quickly. And because it's doing it quickly, it's got to have a lot of juice in there. That's what makes generators trip out. That's what trips 20 amp circuit breakers if you're moochdocking and that can in fact trip, even trip 30 amp services, if you've got other things running at a campground. Make sense?
Mike Wendland: Yeah, it does. It does.
Mike Sokol: What that does, now what? What they've done in the SoftStartRV technology is rather than having, I'm just going to draw all this thing here with this great big peak that comes up like this. What they've done. See if I can make a smaller size, there it is. What they've done is the same thing here. It goes up half as high but for longer time. And then it goes back to the same thing. If you can see that. What that means is it's taken a little longer to spin the compressor up, but instead of using say, 35 amps of current, it may only use 17 amps on startup. It's pretty ingenious because what it does is it smooths out this startup cycle. Think of it as kind of an automatic transmission where it just kind of smooths you into the thing. And it does it by chopping up the amount of current that's going in to start this up.
Mike Wendland: Let's talk about this in practical terms. And I'll use the system I have on my current RV, and then I'll have on my next one, which is I have two 100 amp lithium batteries. And then on the roof I have 400 watts of solar, which usually does a pretty good job of keeping them all topped off during the day. If it's sun. Now, I have always had to start the generator, 35k generator on my RV to be able to use the air conditioner. How will this work with just, when I'm out boondocking or on somebody's driveway, moochdocking? How can I at least get that air conditioner to cool off, get the vehicle cool by using that SoftStartRV system?
Mike Sokol: Well, that will allow you to actually get your air conditioner started with a smaller inverter. You can probably started up with a 2,000 watt inverter.
Mike Wendland: That's what I have. That's what I have.
Mike Sokol: But, it's the runtime that gets you. SoftStartRV technology does not reduce the amount of power while the air conditioner is running. What it does is it gets it started. Let's create a battery. I'm going to go ahead and make my battery over here. Okay. I'll put a couple terminals up on top. And let's just say you got one battery, that's a 100 amp hours. And it's going to be 12 volts obviously. The only thing that really counts is watt hours of current. It's this wattage kind of a stuff and how long we can run it. If we're going to go do that, let's go say, okay, how many watt hours is that? It's actually pretty simple. All you got to do is you take your 100 amps and you multiply it times 12 volts. What that means is I have 1,200 watt hours of power. That's our first thing we just have to know, okay, how much we've got. If you've got two of these units, if you got two batteries, guess how much watt hours you've got?
Mike Wendland: I got 2,400 watt hours.
Mike Sokol: 2,400. This is really, really simple arithmetic. It really is. Now let's go see what that air conditioner would take to run. Let's just say, it's going to draw 12 amps of current while it's running. Again, this has got nothing to do with SoftStart technology. This is just air conditioner running. 12 amps and, but now this time we're going to have to say, we're at what voltage? A 120 volts, because it's plugged in. If we would like to know how many watts that is, 12 times 12 is 144. It's 1,440 watts to run that air conditioner. Guess what? How much would we need if we want to run it for an hour and it's taking 1,400 watts to run, guess how many watt hours it's going to take to run that air conditioner for an hour?
Mike Wendland: That's going to take.
Mike Sokol: 1,440.
Mike Wendland: Yeah. There's no getting around the number.
Mike Sokol: This is real simple arithmetic. I can actually do most of this in my head. Say watt hours. Now how many watt hours do we have in our battery?
Mike Wendland: We've got 2,400 to 100.
Mike Sokol: You have 2,400. Now that's assuming that you've got lithium batteries, you could take them all the way down to zero.
Mike Wendland: Yeah. For one second, and that's just a good point to make many people have AGM batteries. And we should also, one of the reasons my lithium is so good because unlike AGMs. Explain what AGMs do.
Mike Sokol: Absorbed glass mat and flooded cell are both very similar in how they work. You really should not discharge them lower than about 50% of their capacity. Because if you do that enough times, you'll destroy the battery. A lot of people take them down flat. If you take any of an AGM or a flooded cell battery down flat a few dozen times, you've killed it. You might as well just go buy new batteries.
Mike Wendland: This is another reason why so many people are turning to lithium these days, because they're so much more efficient.
Mike Sokol: You can discharge them down to zero thousands of times.
Mike Wendland: All right. Now we've got a rough idea with two, 100 amp lithium batteries. I've got 2,400 a watt hours. I'm losing about 1,440 watt hours so I've got a little less than two hours that I can.
Mike Sokol: 2,400 divided by, we said 1,440 is equal to what? I'm not going to do this in my head. Call up my little calculator here. …2,400…
Mike Wendland: You know there are people doing this in their head now. They're saying, Well everybody can.
Mike Sokol: Equals 1.75 hours of runtime. That's assuming that they were fully charged. You've got nothing else going on, no other losses in the system. Realistically, it might be an hour and a half if you were going to do that. Now that is also assuming a 100% duty cycle on the air conditioner. It's really hot and that thing's running the whole time.
Mike Wendland: And it doesn't usually do that. Well, it does when it's really, really, really hot.
Mike Sokol: I consider 50% duty cycles. You might, you might get three hours of runtime out of that. Maybe.
Mike Wendland: What I usually do is I will start the air conditioner after dark. And it will draw in all that humidity, which is really what makes it so uncomfortable. And then it will cool it down. And then just before I go to bed, I'll turn the air off. And sometimes I'll even pop up a window and put the fan on. And it's usually more than enough to sleep comfortably through the night. But without some sort of air, without being able to run the air and cool it off, it is a long and vicious night out there when it's hot.
Mike Sokol: Long and miserable. I do understand that. Now, so the realistic numbers are, if you have a single flooded cell battery, you might get 20 minutes out of this before you flatten that thing. Or down to 50%, no further than you should go. If you have a pair of lithium's and you have a 2,000 watt inverter, your SoftStartRV technology, you could realistically maybe run that for an hour probably. And then you still have enough power left over to run. 50% of my readers have CPAP machines. 50%. those things take 500 watts to run. You don't want that thing dying in the middle of the night either.
Mike Wendland: But the point for a lot of people who do that boondocking, this will allow you not to have to run the generator. You can always use the generator to cool it off and then turn the generator off and then just work on the SoftStartRV as well and get more hours.
Mike Sokol: Yes. And because and a duty cycle is just the percentage of time that the compressor is running to kind of maintain the coolness. In the middle of the day, I guarantee you that thing's at a 100%. At night, it may only is running at maybe a 30% duty cycle. And you might be able to comfortably stretch two or three hours out of this without depleting your batteries too much.
Mike Wendland: There's some benefits for people who have larger RVs as well. The big class A's, the toy haulers, the fifth wheels that have two air conditioners, or maybe three air conditioners. How could somebody in a class A or somebody who has more than one air conditioner, I suppose they could put one of these SoftStartRVs on each air conditioner and get a pretty good benefit.
Mike Sokol: Yes. You would need to have one for each air conditioner. And so basically, sometimes they'll have various things that'll turn them on in sequence. You don't want to run all your air conditioners off of one thermostat. You don't want all of them hitting at the same time. The other thing that's interesting, and most people don't understand that when your pedestal is in the sunlight and the sun's beating down on that thing and just so hot that you can't touch the pedestal, that is actually heating up the circuit breaker so it thinks, it'll trip sooner in the hot weather, just because the sun's beating on the circuit breaker.
Mike Wendland: Something never occurred to me before. Mike, how hard is the SoftStartRV to install? Is this a easy DIY or should most people get a little help?
Mike Sokol: Well, so here's the thing. Even though the wiring is fairly simple and straightforward to do, remember, you're going to be up on top of something that's 13 feet high. Now, I don't know if any of you have taken a fall from 13 feet. I have, and it is not fun. The first thing you want to do is make sure that you are safe to climb up onto that roof of that RV. If you are not, then you're going to want to get a technician to help you. Once you're up there, you're going to make sure that everything's powered down. And then at that point it's actually probably a 30 to 45 minute kind of a gig. It's not terribly complicated. They've got it all color coded. You can go on the site. They've got really nice diagrams for dozens of air conditioners that might be out there.
I'm an engineer so I'm used to looking at schematics. I did this on my test bench, probably in 20 or 30 minutes. I think that at a scale, this is not like plugging a light bulb in, I'd say on a scale from zero to 10, this is about a seven. They also offer a really interesting service where they will come on top of your RV with you virtually. That is you take your phone or iPad and they will help talk you through the wiring, which I think is a really, really good thing. They have this service that they can assist you if you get into trouble. I would say that any RV technician, any electrician would easily be able to do this for you if you're comfortable climbing up on the top. And if you've changed out your battery. I get guys do this all the time. I'm swapping in, instead of this, I'm putting it in. If you've installed an inverter, not any more complicated than that, really.
Mike Wendland: Mike, tell our audience how they can get a hold of you and follow. You mentioned your newsletter and there's a lot of questions I'm sure everybody has about electricity and RV and you are the guy to go to.
Mike Sokol: Yeah, by default, I guess. The vast majority of things you can find that I've written is over on rvtravel.com. I'm also migrating a lot of my earlier stuff to rvelectricity.com. You can find a lot of stuff on RV electricity. If you just go onto rvtravel.com and just search on Sokol, you will find, I have close to 400 articles just sitting right there. Probably the easiest way from an email standpoint is firstname.lastname@example.org. And that hits me everywhere.
Mike Wendland: All right, Mike Sokol has been our guest and Mike, thanks for walking us through this SoftStartRV. And we'll have some fun with it. We'll obviously be following up with a lot of videos on our end as we install it and as we go out there and use it. But I think for all our viewers, but especially those who like to boondock and moochdock, this is a pretty neat thing to have. And I knew if anybody would know how it works, you would be the guy. Thanks, Mike for being with us.
Mike Sokol: Thanks other Mike.
The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country
RV PODCAST OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT
By Tom & Patty Burkett
It was one of those picture perfect October days, late in the afternoon, when we pulled into the parking lot of Storybook Land in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “Storybook Railroad closed for the season,” the sign read at the entrance, as if to ward off oncoming disappointment from a carload of children. From the parking lot, a yellow brick road leads into a landscape of perfectly trimmed trees and manicured lawns. Pass beyond a turn and the land opens up before you, replete with characters from nearly every nursery rhyme you can remember from your childhood, and many of those favorite stories as well.
There are many similar places around the USA, parks with nursery rhyme themes or faded children’s amusement parks. This one, however, has a story set in more modern times. Set in Aberdeen’s Wylie Park, it began as a tribute to L. Frank Baum who wrote the Wizard of Oz books. Sure enough, there are ten characters from the book gathered in one section of the park, where work began about fifty years ago. Local civic groups got behind the project and soon it included figures from more than two dozen fairy tales. Next came Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which contains an outdoor stage, and does double duty to house Rapunzel when approached from a certain side.
As you walk the paved paths, friendly to wheelchairs, baby buggies, scooters, and rollerblades, pass beneath the rainbow into the land of Oz, where you can step into Dorothy’s house, stroll through the talking apple tree orchard, peek into the Lion’s den, and even take a ride on the Wizard’s balloon. Before you leave, whirl around on the carousel, and size up the munchkins bustling around Emerald City. Take the path outside the train tracks that circle the park and you can see a variety of South Dakota fauna, as well as llamas, sika deer, and a yak.
Storybook Land has become the public face of Aberdeen, which uses the castle as part of its city logo and flag. The more than sixty ‘sets’ are beloved by community members, many of whom had a hand in building them and have now enjoyed them for nearly three generations. “And it doesn’t stop there,” says Tom Agnitsch, of the Sertoma Club, “we’re planning a gravity coaster and giant shade toadstools around the castles and more bridges with surprises underneath.” There’s already a new visitor center and concession area.
There are other similar parks around the country, as you might imagine. One in Egg Harbor, New Jersey is still going strong as a children’s amusement park. You can poke through the remains of a storybook park behind the Enchanted Forest shopping center in Ellicott City, Maryland. There are still a few bits and pieces of Story Book Land in Woodbridge, Virginia on US 1, and Story Book Forest is still alive, now part of the much larger Idlewild Amusement Park in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
So keep your eyes open. You might just run across the crooked little man in his crooked little house or old Humpty Dumpty, either sitting on a wall or busted up at the bottom of it. They’re all out here, off the beaten path.
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