I tried to find a more current (get it?) thread on an RV forum directly
related to using the solar panels on an RV to power some of the
appliances in a house when the motorhome or trailer is sitting out in
the driveway but this is the closest I could come.
The principle is the same -- going "off-grid" by using solar
panels or a generator that is just sitting there, waiting for the next
trip in the RV. Why not take advantage of some free or
inexpensive power, either in a power outage or just to save money?
Jim has this down to a science. Fortunately, we've never had to use
the camper generator or solar panels during a long power outage. We've
just used them to save some $$$.
Jim is attaching brackets he
devised so the camper solar panels will tilt. (3-5-12)
WHAT IS A "STICK HOUSE?"
Although we travel in our Cameo 5th-wheel coach nine to ten months a
year we still have a "stick house" in Virginia that we visit in the
spring and fall. "Stick house" is the term RVers often use when they
refer to their dwelling that is affixed to some dirt somewhere.
As I've mentioned on this website several times previously, because
of the lousy real estate market we haven't tried to sell our stick house
and travel full-time in our rolling residence. We want to do that when
the housing market improves.
We returned to our house near Roanoke on April 1 and left this
for our grand summer adventure to Alaska. During those six weeks Jim
once again hooked up the solar panels on our camper -- now 485
watts strong -- to run the TV and some lights in the house while
we were there.
Preparing the wires for the solar
The idea to use power from the RV came to Jim in the middle of the
night five or
six years ago when severe thunderstorms were rolling through the Roanoke
He was concerned about the power going off for an extended
period of time and wanted to be able to keep food in the
refrigerator and freezer cold. He knew some folks purchase a generator
such emergencies, but he reckoned we should be able to use the one we
already had in the camper.
The next day he figured out how to wire the generator from the HitchHiker 5er we had
at the time to the breaker box in the garage of the house.
Although he has the electrical skills to install a special box and
automatic switch, he never did that. He figured if we had a power outage it was easy enough to
just manually plug in to the generator (after turning off the
main breaker). We've never had more than a brief power outage when we've been at the
house so he's never actually hooked up the HitchHiker or Cameo generator
to the house. He knows he can.
HARNESSING THE SUN
About the same time he came up with an even better idea -- using silent, free power from
the camper solar panels during an emergency . . . or simply to save money.
The generator could be still used as a back-up in an emergency if it was
too cloudy to collect enough solar energy. Even our relatively quiet
Yamaha 3000 generator is noisy, however, and it uses gasoline. So it is
not our first line of defense.
Jim (shadow) takes a picture of the solar
panels he installed on the roof of the Cameo.
All five panels can lay flat or tilt to catch the
sun's rays better.
Jim took this picture before he installed all the
The HitchHiker had two solar panels generating 160 watts of power,
which was enough to run my computer and the lights in two bedrooms of
the house for several years when we were there in the spring and fall.
With the four new panels he installed on the roof of the Cameo this
summer (plus one of the old panels) we now generate 485 watts of power
at max. That can run more stuff in the stick house.
Jim turns off the circuit in the
main breaker that connects to the circuit he wants to power with the
solar panels. Then he plugs in the extension cord running from the
camper to the house into the circuit where he wants the power to
go. For the past six weeks he's been using it for the
TV and lights in the large open space that contains the family room and
Voila! Free power!
On days that are sunny enough, that is. About a third of the time we were
at the house this spring it was raining or too overcast to produce
enough power to run even the TV and some lights. In that case Jim
unplugged the cord from the house to the solar panels, reset the breaker, and used
electricity from the house. He still collected as much solar power as
possible in the camper batteries, however.
This concept works in reverse, too. Sometimes we've needed power in the
camper and it's too cloudy to get enough solar power. Then Jim runs an
electrical cord from the house to power the RV refrigerator, vacuum
cleaner, or whatever.
Last fall we experimented with leaving the Cameo out West when we
returned to our house in Virginia. I explained in an earlier entry why that didn't
turn out as well as we'd hoped.
Among other things, it's much easier for Jim to do maintenance on the
camper when it's sitting in our back yard or in the driveway than when
we're in a campground. Yes, he was able to install the new solar panels
and shackles/wet bolt kit out in the desert at Imperial Dam in
February-March, but he never could have done the messy,
time-consuming shackle job in a "real"
A neighbor at Imperial Dam came
over to watch Jim work on the shackles/wet bolts for a little while.
Out with the old (L), in with the
new wet bolt kit (R); Jim can lube the "wet" bolts.
Unfinished on left, finished on
right. Jim used little supplemental jacks under the wheels
but the Cameo's BigFoot levelers
(not shown) held the weight of the camper.
Jim knew from the shackle/wet bolt job that the brakes needed repairing, too.
He didn't want to do that in all the wind and dust in the desert.
Sitting in the grass in our back yard was much more appealing:
So we hauled the Cameo from Arizona to Virginia once again. And we'll
haul it to Colorado this week (then up to Alaska). We're both glad we
kept it with us.
Jim not only did some extensive brake work on the camper, he also
greased the bearings, rotated the tires, made some adjustments to the
solar panels, equalized the batteries, re-caulked seams and holes (for
wiring, etc.) on
the roof, thoroughly cleaned and waxed the exterior,
April 15 at the stick house . . .
cleaned the water heater element and water pump filter, lubed the slide
motors and gaskets, replaced 14 halogen lights with LEDs, and vacuumed/shampooed
Whew! He spent a lot of time out there working on the camper the last
I helped by staying out of his way and doing other jobs like weeding
and painting that he didn't want to do. I helped him shampoo the carpet
and did a thorough clean-up of the interior of the coach.
TRUCK & VAN MAINTENANCE
Jim was also busy with maintenance on the truck (2008 2WD Dodge Ram
2500 diesel). He replaced the fuel filter, drained and replaced
the oil in the differential, thoroughly cleaned the truck inside and out, and waxed the exterior.
In addition, we have a new camper hitch head in the truck.
Jim had been having some trouble with the 16-ton Curt hitch he
purchased separately when we bought the Cameo in early 2010 so he called
the manufacturer a couple weeks ago. A representative for Curt
acknowledged that some customers have had the same problem. He promptly
sent us a new head for the hitch mount at no cost. It was easier for Jim
to install it himself than to find someone local to do the work before
we wanted to leave town.
Old and new hitch heads
Working on the hitch in the
garage on a rainy day
There was a small "hitch" with the new hitch but a little filing of some
metal did the trick. Jim called the company to make sure his fix was
appropriate (it was). The current model is a tiny bit different than the
one we had but it appeared to do the job after a test drive with the
Jim postponed changing the oil and filter because it's too soon. He'll do that at
the auto hobby shop at the USAF Academy when we get to Colorado Springs next
week. When we're traveling the best place for Jim to do work on the camper and
truck is at the military posts/bases where we sometimes camp.
It's amazing how much money Jim saves us by doing so much maintenance
himself. He's a very handy guy to have around! <grin>
Differential with the cover off,
after Jim drained the old fluid
Our 2002 Honda Odyssey van remains at the house in Virginia when we
travel. We still manage to put about 1,000 miles on it each spring
and fall when we're there because we live about 20 miles out in the
country from downtown Roanoke. The van has over 100,000 miles on it now
but it still runs well, thanks to all of Jim's regular maintenance. He
changed the oil and filter while we were there this time.
PACKING & RE-PACKING THE CAMPER
Knowing what to take with us on each extended trip has been a
learning curve over the years. By now we're able to leave more things in
the camper each time we take it to the house -- like clothes and
kitchen items -- and we take less new stuff with us when we
leave, especially food and items we can easily purchase along the way..
There are still a lot of things we take into the garage or house each
time we go back. The refrigerator must be emptied, we need some kitchen
utensils that aren't duplicates, some clothes need to be washed and/or
exchanged for others, Jim needs to use most of the tools he carries on
We both still end up hauling a bunch of stuff up and down the stairs
each time we come and go. It's just less each time.
One partially finished side of a
new Carriage 5th-wheel at the factory in Indiana. If anything,
the company incorporated TOO much
storage space in its coaches, encouraging overloading.
There are some items that are trip-specific, such as the travel
information we take (maps, AAA tour and camping books, etc.). We
increasingly rely on the internet, topo software, and our Garmin vehicle
GPS for travel information, however.
You'd think that our clothing needs would be different for our
"summer" and "winter" trips but they aren't. Keep in mind that we live
in the "Dandelion Time Warp" as much as possible, where we're just as
likely to run into chilly weather in the summer as warm weather in the
winter. We take versatile clothing like convertible pants with legs that
zip off and lightweight fleece jackets that can be layered.
We are taking a few more "winter" clothes with us this summer,
though. Unlike most of the rest of the country, Alaska had a tough
winter with record-breaking levels of snow in some of the places we plan to
Hooked up and ready to go . . .
it looks like summer in Virginia already. (5-12-12)
I think we're ready clothes-wise for whatever weather we encounter in
Canada and Alaska.
Hopefully, the camper and truck can withstand the long distance and the road
conditions. Jim has kept both vehicles in excellent shape and all the
tires are relatively new.
The more we travel in our RV, the less we've learned to live with.
It's amazing how much we've simplified our lives by reducing the "stuff"
That's one reason why it won't be all that hard to sell
our house and get rid of many of our possessions there. If we can live
without them for nine or ten months of the year, we can probably live
without them, period.
Next entry: the grand summer trip plan
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil