Living with solar in Luna.

Part of living full-time in a travel coach means being somewhat independent. Solar voltaic energy has always been a dream for us. Once Luna became a place we planned to live, solar was at the top of the list. Solar energy installed onboard has provided plenty of 12 volt and 110 volt electricity, to allow us a completely comfortable life. Except for A/C, we utilize electricity in our lives very similar to a normal home. Everything you can imagine gets charged, we sleep on a heated mattress pad, bake bread in an electric countertop oven, watch movies on a big TV, and cook, make coffee, dry hair, defrost the fridge, and all kinds of other stuff on the solar system. We started by doing an energy audit on our belongings, utilities, and accessories. Listing every electric item in the house, we estimated how many hours a day, week, or month we thought we use it. Everything was listed by voltage, wattage, and/or amperage. We sent the audit to Battleborn Batteries where they estimate a 4-5 battery system, including Victron electronics. Christina and I had already estimated a 4-600 amp hour system, so this sounded just about right. We purchased 5, 100 amp hour batteries and all the electronic components, the charge controller, battery monitor, Multiplus, and various smaller components.

After determining the wire gauge and length I ordered it, wire lugs, heat shrink, big fuses, shut-offs, a rachet drive crimper, by-pass cutters and dug out the heat gun. Our panels came from HighTec Solar. 5, 200 watt PV panels are up there now. We installed all of the batteries and electronics on the curbside, just inside the rear of the wheel well, under the cabinetry, and just inside an exterior access door, that used to reach under the bed. I strapped the batteries, mounted on black pipe insulation as a pad, to the floor.

Once I wired the inside of the battery/electronics compartment, I pulled the old converter, glass fuse panel, and 110V breakers, replacing them with a new 12 position, spade fuse panel, a new 30amp main breaker, and new A/C and outlet breakers, all in new boxes.

I installed an electrical management system between the main breaker and the exterior 30 amp connector, which is installed just outside the access door and allows the coach to be connected to shore power, without a cord hanging out the access door.

The new A/C breaker is fed from the Victron Multiplus, auxiliary output, and the outlets’ breaker is fed by the Multiplus main output. Both are backed up by the Multiplus, and battery bank in the case of a shore power reduction. However, that only works if the electric management system is bypassed, as the EMS shuts down shore power at 104 volts anyway. All of the electronics and neutral bus bars are grounded to a freshly bright spot on the trailer frame, directly below the compartment. The compartment is ventilated to the interior for air movement, and a smoke detector is installed inside. None of the components are on top of the wheel well cover, nor directly behind it. The solar charging wire goes up the same route the greywater vent stack takes, to a boot on the roof, leading to a junction box, leading then to each panel.

Each panel is wired with an in-line 30 amp fuse. These panels are wired in parallel. This system works great and we use a lot of electricity, however, we will soon order 3 more panels and wire those in 4 parallel sets of 2 series. It’s a long story, but we camp in a lot of cold, cloudy weather, so we are “over paneling”. I mounted the panels to the roof, low and close. None of the rooftop accessories are covered. The mounting brackets are made from 1/8″ sheet aluminum. I made them at Machine Head in Kansas City, and use stainless steel fasteners on the assembly and installation. All the wiring between the roof and panels is suspended using lots of black zip ties. We keep a Honda 2000 inverter generator on the van and use it when we find ourselves in long cloudy spells and short winter days. Adding 3 more panels will reduce that need somewhat. The crew at Battleborn always answer quickly or call us back, when we have questions. The electronics come pre-programmed, and when we did need to make one adjustment they did it with us over the phone, through our phone app blue tooth connection. We love the freedom the system provides. We don’t watch much TV during the days but watch movies at night. All of the light bulbs in the coach have been replaced with LEDs, the fridge is built for solar living, so it runs on 12v, and can run on 110 if we plug it in. The fridge/freezer has run on solar for over 18 months, 24/7. In sunny weather in the summer, we can’t burn through enough electricity to run the system low. In rainy, cloudy weather or short winter days, we are careful to time and conserve our electric usage.

Overall the solar system has provided a lot of freedom, and comfort. If we stop overnight in a Walmart, we can watch movies, bake food, charge everything and sleep warm, without firing up a generator. When we stay at state parks we park in sites with no hook-ups saving a lot of money. And of course, boon docking in amazing locations is made comfortable with solar. It’s one of our favorite investments.

Cooking, Sleeping, and the Tiny Life of Work.

Our house does not lack amenities; it’s just really small.  Cooking, eating, bathing, and sleeping areas seem small, but that’s just another word for cozy.  Our layout is simple, walking in the front door and you’re looking straight at our kitchen.  It’s just a single countertop full of the sink, cooktop, and kitchen gadgets.  Just like a regular kitchen in a house, just way smaller.  The bed is to the right, built into the front window area of the coach. A 1979 Avion 34 V, we call Luna.  It’s our first king-size bed. With windows on three sides, a built-in TV and pillows on both sides, lounge style, it’s multi-functional.  At the opposite end of the house is the bathroom, filling the first 5’ of the back of the coach, full width, 8′.  In the travel trailer world, that’s a pretty good size bathroom. Two cabinets are in the bathroom, so all our essentials are at hand.  Since the walls are vinyl over aluminum and the ceiling and bulkhead are fiberglass, the whole room serves as a place to shave, bathe and relax.   When the furnace runs, it’s the warmest room in the house. 

 We’ve lived in Luna for just over 18 months, during which we remodeled one space from a bed to a desk, moved all kinds of things all over the place, and changed a table to a bench.  We’ve laughed at how many things we’ve re-done, and how many skills we’ve had to learn, to manage changing weather, temperatures, and surroundings.  As predicted, we work on this house just as much as the one we sold in 2019.  Well, maybe a little less, but still.  The nice part of getting so many things dialed in becomes apparent as we finish ticking off our to-do checklist.  The projects we are working on now, are cooler.  Projects that deliver exactness of personal preference.  Things that make the living space tricked out and tweaked.  Whatever you call it, that place when the house is singing.  

We reached that point just recently, after dialing in two workspaces.  A standing one for me, and the art desk for Christina.  She has the desk totally laid out for the work she does.  Everything from managing paperwork, to working on watercolor illustrations.  It looks like a professional designer’s office.  My standing desk sets over the bed, utilizing a re-purposed art table.  Same here, flatwork when I want and tilted for artwork.  In between,  the kitchen, bench, and warm fireplace.  In our marriage, this is basically a dream come true.  Separate workspaces, with a lovely home tying it all together.  A space we occupy together for long hours, relaxed and comfortable.  Doing our thing.  It’s practically magic.  These are the moments we understand as foundational.  When we realize our good fortune.  And hold it close. 

Our ability to work, and to live comfortably like real people, means living in a tiny house achieves our goal. To have less house and have more life.  Living more, thinking more, looking more, and seeing more.  And in the center of it all, a little kitchen and two cozy drawing tables.  

This tiny life is huge.

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About our Luna

Avion travel trailers were built from 1955 to 2002.  Ours is a 1979, 34V, built on a 2” x 6” steel frame, with bumper hitch. The body is built of an interior aluminum skin, coated in vinyl to look like canvas wallpaper, riveted to an aluminum frame.  The lower exterior walls are storage compartments all around the coach, and a rear trunk holds the spare tire, freshwater hoses and access to the bathroom plumbing.  The outside of the frame is covered in anodized aluminum. The cavities between the skins are filled with spray foam insulation. The belly pan is enclosed and the floor is a layer of rigid foam sandwiched between two layers of plywood for insulation. We rebuilt the roof of the coach. Stripping a white latex coating, repairing and resealing all the seams, rivets, and joints, and adding all-new utilities to the roof.  Bath vent, both cabin roof vents, the A/C and all the vent covers were replaced. Over 415 rivets were replaced on the roof alone. Five 200-watt solar panels are installed at the back of the roof coach. The windows are jalousie style and provide a lot of ventilation, even in the rain. All the awnings are ZipDee. The 22’ main awning is brand new, and all the other awnings have new fabric. We went with a really bright and cheery yellow awning, and certainly don’t regret the choice.

All the interior utilities have been replaced. Water is heated by a PrecisionTemp on-demand hot water heater. The LP furnace is the Suburban, 32K BTU. The fridge is a NorKool from Canada, 12V over 110V. It operates on 12 volts, drawing only 4.3 amps. A tinywoodstove.com wood burning stove is located just inside the door. It works like a charm. 

The countertops in the kitchen area are made from cherry wood harvested and milled at our house. About 80% of the cabinetry is original, and has been painted. One of my favorite parts is that the drawers are nice dovetail joint boxes and on ball bearing glides. We sleep in the front of the coach, on the first king-size bed we’ve had as a married couple. The bed doubles as a lounge during waking hours. All the sinks, tub and toilet have been replaced. We use a Natures Head composting toilet in the bathroom. The liquid waste part of the toilet is plumbed into the black tank or can be collected in the factory pail. We operate off the freshwater tank most of the time, rarely hooking up to city water. All supply lines have been replaced with PEX. A carbon block water filter is located under the kitchen sink for drinking and cooking. A 55-gallon freshwater tank is located over the axles, the 30-gallon grey water tank is fore, and the 30-gallon black water tank aft.  The freshwater and city water inlet has been upgraded and an outdoor shower was added to the curbside, rear. The back access door also gave us a sweet spot to bathe our pal, Indie.

Five 100AH lithium Battleborn batteries are located below the rear twin bed, along with the Victron solar charge controller and 3000-watt Multi-plus inverter. The electrical system is 30 amp. We installed a Progressive Systems EMS and an exterior weather boot for the shore cable.

The coach sets fairly low, and the overall height is only 10’. Two 40 pound LP bottles are mounted on the tongue, near the hand crank tongue jack.  The only battery on the tongue is a small battery powering the emergency breakaway switch. The suspension has been rebuilt with Dexter Easy Flex Equalizers and aligned, and all the brakes, drums and hubs are new. I was happy to find the coach included all 7 aluminum tire rims when we bought it. Since the coach is low to the ground, with rounded corners, and three axles, it tows quite nicely. We don’t feel the effect of trucks passing and wind like other taller coaches do.  A hardwired camera is located at the back of the coach, and is viewable, along with a second camera on the van, on a large color screen in the cab. All the running lights, brake lights, and lenses have been replaced. We are impressed with the stability of the coach. Items in the interior are in their places after a day of travel, and the coach feels solid when we are parked in high wind. We tow the coach with our van, Sunny. We’ll include a run-down of the van soon.