In the last three blogs, I discussed Blue's rather elaborate electrical system. This week, I'll talk about how and where I mounted all that gear.
All those years aboard Nine of Cups has taught me a number of lessons about electrical systems and electronics, and how difficult it is to ensure that not only are the gear and wiring installed safely and reliably, but remain that way. Much of what applies to boat electrics also applies to van electrics, and in fact, I tried to adhere to the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards for electrical systems as I installed and wired everything.
BTW, my brother Paul was my co-conspirator on most of the work. He spent an impressive number of man-hours helping on the project, and Blue would have been a whole lot more basic at this point without his help.
To begin with, we built two boxes to house the gear. One is directly behind and above the front seats and attached to the ceiling and side ribs. It could be a real disaster if this box came loose if ever we were in an accident, so it is attached to the ceiling ribs in eight places and to the side ribs in four places, all with 1/4-20 bolts driven into rivnuts. This box is home to the breaker panels and system monitors, none of which weigh much.
Access to the equipment and wiring is important; I hold no illusions that our needs will never change nor that all this stuff will work flawlessly for as long as we hang on to Blue. The upper box has a hinged door that opens downward, allowing access to all the internal equipment and wiring. The bottom box has a hinged top. When the top is opened and the seats pulled forward, all the gear mounted in the lower box is accessible.
The interconnecting wiring between the two boxes is routed along the wall to the left and behind the driver's seat. At this point, the wiring is visible, but we'll construct an enclosed, but accessible, wiring guide in Rev 2.0.
The other box is mounted to the floor and sides of the van directly behind the front seats. It is trapezoidal shaped to match the angle of the seats when they are moved fully back. This box houses the heavy gear – inverters, solar controllers and batteries.
The really heavy gear, the batteries and the Magnum inverter/transfer switch/charger, are bolted to the floor, again using rivnuts and 1/4-20 bolts. One battery is located under Marcie's seat. This took the better part of a day to manage. I originally thought I could get two batteries under the seat. The jack is mounted there, which could be relocated, but there is also some sort of computer module located there. I am pretty sure I could have moved the computer module, leaving just enough room for two batteries, but I was worried about voiding the warranty, so I left it alone. By re-positioning the jack, I was, however, able to fit one Group 31 battery alongside the computer module. The jack is accessible by sliding the seat fully forward, and is easier to remove and replace than it was in its original position. The seat must be removed to access the battery, however. This task is pretty straightforward, and is the same task required to remove the starter batteries located under the driver's seat, BTW. The whole job of mounting the battery was quite a bit of work, and I'm working on a video that shows the process in more detail. I'll present it in a later blog.
The other two batteries are mounted directly behind Marcie's seat and bolted to the floor. I bought 8” long steel straps, the kind intended for rafters and wall construction from Home Depot, along with 1/4-20 steel threaded rod cut to size, to secure the batteries to the floor. By keeping the batteries close together, the heavy wiring needed to interconnect the three batteries was kept to a minimum.
The Magnum inverter/transfer switch/charger is also quite heavy, and was bolted to the floor behind the driver's seat. Since all these holes I was merrily drilling through the floor, as well as the rivnuts themselves, are prone to rust, I sprayed everything from both the top and bottom with primer prior to installing the bolts.
I used the rear wall of the lower box to mount the smaller Xantrex inverter, the Renogy solar controller, the Magnum battery monitor and shunt, as well as the various fuses and terminal blocks. All the cables were cut to size. For the cables ranging in size from AWG 10 to AWG 1/0, I used a lug crimper and large hammer to attach the ring terminals. The large ring terminals needed for all these connections were bought on Amazon. I used a lot of them and it probably cost close to $100. The smaller terminals were the standard red, blue and yellow ring terminals used for wiring ranging from AWG 12 to AWG 18.
As I write this blog, we are camped in Davy Brown Campground in Los Padres National Forest. There is a small stream not 20 feet from the picnic table at which I'm seated. Marcie has just begun making dinner, and it's cooling down such that I may need to start a fire soon. Things could be worse.
If I can manage it, I'll do the video on mounting a battery under the passenger seat for next week's blog, but for now, I have to go light a fire.