Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

April 22, 2014

Reinstall Refrigerator

The outside air for refrigerator ventilation I rigged up really didn't work well due to the very hot summers we have. The fridge is made to use air under 110F. I sealed up the lower vent and insulated the upper vent cavity and put a piece of  vinyl flashing around it.  I used the good aluminum duct tape to secure the insulation better and decided the refrigerator doesn't need extra insulation on the top if I'm using the inside air for ventilation. The current configuration forms a seal at the top of the refrigerator fan on the back and that brings the air under the refrigerator, up the back, thru the fan and over the compressor and out the top.
Sealed and insulated van wall in fridge cavity
Upper rear of cavity
The blue box is the cover for the terminals
After all of that and tidying up the wires with copious numbers of wire ties, I reinstalled the fridge cavity base and the 3/4” high rails on which the fridge sits to ensure plenty of air space. I did a better job of sealing off the old propane fridge vents to the outside with vinyl flashing taped and sealed with aluminum duct tape and secured the insulation layer ion the van wall, leaving about an inch and a half of airspace behind the fridge. The fridge is made to use inside air for ventilation that enters at the bottom and a fan at the back draws it up the back and over the compressor then vents out the top. I put the fridge into the cavity and using a piece of the vinyl flashing to help the slightly projecting coils slip past the cavity frame. Before I pushed it into the cavity, I hooked up the power and switch wires and turned it on. It came on just like it is supposed to. Yay!!
Ready to push into the cavity
Vinyl flashing to protect the coils as it goes past the frame. There's an inch inside for the coils to have air flow
Mounting L bracket
I found a couple of shallow electrical boxes to use to cover the wiring terminals for the refrigerator wires to protect them. I used Velcro to adhere them to the top of the cavity and still make them easily removable.
The metal tab that holds the top of the door pin had gotten scratched up with all my pulling the fridge in and out of the cavity so I sanded it smooth and spray painted it with the bronze paint and did the tap that holds the swivel lock on the other side.
I had cut a piece of metal decorative grill to form a base for the things I want on the top of the fridge like the remote switch, the on/off switch I wired last year, the indoor/outdoor thermometer I use to monitor the inside temperature, and a little clock.  I secured it with 3 small screws on the top that I painted in the bronze paint so they are not obvious.  I secured the remote switch with #6 screws and nuts instead of the wood screw it came with.  I made little thin strips of metal flashing and bent to a S to make hooks for the thermometer and clock.

Open Cavity - I Get Busy

With the refrigerator out of the van and the cavity open, I had easy access to the electric cavity from above by taking out the cavity floor.
In the meantime, I decided I was tired of clocking my head on the cabinet handles that stick out and got new ones to replace them. I found some very pretty ones that are a bail type (like on furniture) that also only drop down 1”. The hard part was finding ones with the screws 3 3/4” apart as most handles are 3”. The new ones stick out just 1/2” and are quite a bit prettier than the plain C ones that came with it. I also found ring handles for the lower cabinets and drawers that go well with the handles. Then I needed to do something about the other hole. I found 1” back plates that I can screw in after I paint the head to match. After I got the new handles, I decided that I would like the bail handles on the bath door better than the smaller rings, so I ordered a few more. It changes the character of van decor, and once again, I notice how much the cabinets need to be refinished. (Bonus! I can get the refrigerator thru the aisle now without taking off the cabinet doors thanks to the non-protruding new pulls.)
Old cabinet pull with New bail pulls to show the difference
The lower flat finger pulls on the cabinets and drawers.
New brown LP & CO Alarm unit in base.

Since the refrigerator was out of the cavity, I decided it would be a good time to add some electrical conveniences. One is a new AC outlet on the other side of the wall where I have my small desk area. There is one near the floor on the front of the bench on that side but it means I have the computer plugs going into that. Since I no longer have a 3-way fridge, I tapped into the AC outlet in the back of the fridge cavity to get the power for it. Took about a foot of wire and a new wire grommet in the box to make the tap.

There’s a USB charging port on my inverter so I thought it would be handy to run a wire thru the electrical cavity and up the wall to the top of the bench wall. Otherwise, I would have to run a wire along the aisle. Took me forever to find something to neaten the hole needed to put the USB cable thru but I found a 3/4” grommet made for wire in the electrical sections with faint lettering on the flange. It was gray but a sharp knife to gently take the lettering off, some fine sandpaper to smooth it up, and some bronze spray paint made it look quite presentable. But then it kept falling out of the hole. Hmmm. Some caulk and some tape to hold it tight fixed it right up. I also decided to change the romex wire running from the inverter to the inverter powered outlet, mostly because the plug I wired on the end is big. I got a cord made to replace a power tool in 14 gauge and with 3 wires. It isn’t as stiff as the romex and in vehicles, it is generally considered best to use stranded wire because of the vibration.

One of the annoying things is a dearth of 12V sockets to power the things when running on battery power. My van came with one on the TV antenna switch and one on the shroud holding the thermostat and CO alarm at the end of the counter. With all the electronics these days, that just isn’t enough. I like to read stuff on my smartphone before going to sleep and I like to have it charging at night but the cord is tight to go from that socket to the end of the bed. I string a cord from the socket near the door across the counter to run a portable 12V fan. Earlier, I wired the cigarette lighter in the cab with a switch and removed the ashtray so I could fit a 3-socket extension in there to run the things like the GPS and phone charger and I wired a 12V socket to the wires under the passenger seat to run the chest refrigerator/freezer I got last year.

I ordered 5 marine 12V sockets from an Amazon seller ($16 and change including the shipping) and wired them all in the bench area. One went on the other side of the fridge wall above the AC outlets and below the USB hole. Two more went to the back of each bench and on the rear of the benches facing the aisle for a total of 4 in the rear of the van. I wired them all to an empty fuse that was labeled for the electric seat/bed that I don’t have (and am very glad that I don’t as I find the benches much more versatile). There’s a wire for it but I can’t find the other end of it. I hope they have it taped off on the other end, wherever it is.

Each junction, I connected with wire nuts and used a small cable tie to secure the wires and then wrapped with electrical tape to be sure they stay together. The socket in the fridge wall branches from the wire to the rear sockets. I made another bridge at the end of the driver’s side bench to run the wires to the battery box, out a hole, under the van and up the other battery box to the edge of the van wall and to the other two outlets on the passenger side bench. The alternative to that would be drilling a hole in the van floor and I didn’t want to do that. I encased the wires in 3/8” wire tubing to protect them and secured them to the top of the bench frame with clips screwed in. The outlets and junctions are all at the very top of the bench and in the upper corners to have the least chance of getting bumped or abraided by things I have stored in the bench cavities. Taking advantage of gravity, ya know? I like to label all the wires so I can tell where they go to and use lots of cable ties to keep them neat. The rat’s nest that results in not doing that is a nightmare to deal with. I ran all the new wires to the back of the electrical cavity over the outside utility box and water heater and tied them together in a neat bundle. Rather than drilling yet another hole in the wall, I fed the 12V outlet wires thru the existing holes for the water pump and then back to the van side wall. Takes a little more wire that way but not any space as I got a plastic basket to provide a cover for the water pump.

I got the bright idea of adding a second 12V socket in the thermostat/CO shroud. I just tapped into the existing wire to add another socket. All these sockets probably couldn’t be used at once with a bunch of high voltage things, but having them where I need them is worth the effort to put them in. Most things aren’t very high voltage, like the phone charger but I do have to be cognizant of what electricity I use in the van.

That makes 9 12V sockets in the house part of the van and 2 more in the cab when originally there were 2 in the house and 1 in the cab.
12V socket wire inside cable protector and running around the top of the bench.
I used the existing access hole for the water pump behind the grill (to protect it from things stored in the bench.
Rear of fridge cavity with new 12 volt socket, inverter switch, old inverter outlet, new AC outlet
Wires nicely tidied with many cable ties under refrigerator

My CO and LP alarms started beeping and wouldn’t do the test so I replaced them. Seeing how expensive they are ($60-70 or more for each), I decided to replace them with a single dual unit. It has to be near the floor for the LP as LP is heavier than air and will collect on the floor if there is a leak. The new unit is a little longer than the single unit but there was room on the bench wall so got my trusty multitool with the saw blade and cut a bit longer hole for it. They used clips that I couldn't find ends for, so I cut the old alarm wires and crimped new connectors to power the new alarm with. The new alarm is the brown color so I painted the screws from the old alarm brown and they match nicely.

Having both alarms in the single unit means I have a cavity in the thermostat shroud and it is bigger than is now needed. I found a shadow box frame at one of the local hobby shops (NOT Hobby Lobby!) 6x8x1½ inches thick for amazingly cheap. I trimmed the wood back to fit the front of the frame and discarded the glass. I cut holes for the thermostat and phone wires to connect. I drilled 2 holes in the bottom of the frame for the 12V outlets. Glued the wood face to the frame. I used the copper and bronze spray paint to match the tin galley backsplash. I then cut a U shape plywood support to fit the inside of the box so I could screw it into the van wall. Then after connecting the thermostat wires, the phone jack wire (not really needed but it is there), and the 12V sockets, I slipped the box over the frame and secure it with 2 screws on each side going into the U support. Not nearly as ugly as the plastic shroud that was there.
Shadow box finished with phone jack installed and painted
Rear of shroud with 2 DC sockets phone jack and the mounting board
Mounting board screwed into the old shroud screw holes.
Thermostat, phone, and DC socket wires
Thermostat mounted
All wired up
New shroud with thermostat, phone jack, and 2 DC sockets in base.
And Mission Creep
While down on my knees working on the wiring, I noticed the paint on the cover for the electric panel is bumpy.  A little scraping and the paint flakes off and there's lots of rust. I get all the loose paint off and decide that I'd better get the rest off or it will look terrible repainted.  (A garbage bag with the Citrisolve paint remover and the cover inside took care of that nicely. The interesting thing is there was rust under the good paint too.  Interesting how the paint doesn't really stop the rust growing.  I use my favorite rust treatment that converts rust to a black inert substance and forms a film to prevent more rust. After it dries, I sanded it and used the scraper to get it smooth and find more rust underneath. Several rounds of that later, and it looks like all the rust is treated. 
I saw the furnace grill is dented and decide to take it off and push it back into shape and find - popcorn old maid kernels in the base of the furnace.  Oh joy. And the grill has bumpy paint indicating rust, and it is the same story as the electrical panel cover. There's some rust spots on the furnace metal so I painted it with the rust treatment too. I have never looked inside the furnace before.  I looked but did not find the tell tale mouse droppings but they must have been the culprit for the popcorn.  The hole in the van floor for the propane pipes is easily big enuf for mice to enter and unlike the other access holes, there is no foam insulation to seal it.  I think, I can fix that with some steel wool to deter mouse entry.  But later, I remember that propane is heavier than air and any propane unit must have a gravity fed hole to let any potential leaks drain out and not build up to cause a fire explosion. Oh yeah, it is open for that reason and must remain so. So the steel wool is removed.
Furnace with tell tale popcorn
There is a vent screwed to the inverter door for ventilation for the units in there and it isn't in bad shape at all.  But since all the other metal covers are getting rehabbed, I decide to remove it and paint it to match along with the white vent above the furnace.  I painted all the covers with the Rusteoleum Hammered Bronze paint.  It is far more decorative than the plain black or plain brown paint that was originally used and now they all match. Given enough time to fully cure, it is a pretty good paint.  I also stick all the screws into cardboard and paint their tops so they all match.
And I see that many of the plastic button cabinet bumpers are smashed and there's spots under most of them where the melamine finish is pulled off.  That is a big fail for the vehicle cabinets choice. 
I got felt bumpers to replace them after using wood putty to smooth the finish and some paint to cover the messes. Melamine is a crap finish as is particle board but re-doing the cabinets in plywood is a bigger job than I want to tackle right now. The felt should not deteriorate and damage the finish over time.
Bad choice for cabinet bumpers
Whew! I think I'm finally ready to clean it all up and reinstall the refrigerator.

April 21, 2014

LiFePO4 Batteries - First Experience


The batteries were left with the van sitting and not doing anything after the batteries were installed. I pulled the fuse on the CO and LP monitors because they are not working and beeping. After about 2.5 weeks, the battery monitor said they were at 12.5V and the next morning, they had shut down entirely. The Battery Management System (BMS) is supposed to do that with a bit of battery left. The volt meter showed zero volts, which it should in a shut down situation.

In the meantime, I noticed the shore power AC neutral (white) wire nut was charred and fused. Anytime I see that, it worries me so I replaced the shore power wire. Fortunately, Lowes has the 30amp 10 gauge outdoor wire with 3 leads so it was easy to get.

When I plugged in the shore power, the new charger blinked the 30% light and continued for several minutes. That means it can’t detect any power on the battery end or less than 2%. So I guess if the BMS goes to shutdown mode, the charger can’t get going. I attached my manual battery charger and plugged it in. I got an immediate loud noise and unplugged it. Not sure what that was about. But the charger started charging showing 10%light and the battery monitor showed 11.2V and rapidly rising. After about an hour the monitor says 12.5V. Since the 2 batteries are in a banks, it will take longer to charge them up than it did for a single battery.

It seemed to me that there were more amps being used than there should have been with nothing going on. I put the volt meter on my engine battery and it was fully charged so my guess is that my trick-l-charge device that shunts a little juice to top off the engine battery when plugged into shore power was using the LiFePO4 batteries to top off the AGM battery and thus used a lot more juice than it should have.

My brother thinks that the engine batteries are not healthy and that they are needing more topping off than they should. I have had incidences of them not having enuf juice to start the engine. He thinks that is evidence of them failing. I’ve been thinking they need to be tested and might be the same age as the house AGMs and are not in good shape.

SprinterFest East is scheduled for May 3rd so I am going to try to have a little session with the repair shop to replace my serpentine belt and check and possibly replace the battery. Everyone says the Sun shop in Harrisburg is the best of the best, or at least right up at the top of the quality.

Charging time on a 15 amp circuit:
11.2V 10% as it came on
12.5V 10% +1 hr
12.9V 30% +2 hrs
13.0V 30% +3 hrs
13.2V 30% +7.5 hrs
Next morning:
13.3V 30% 3 lights flashing indicating more than 16 hours of charge time when it automatically shuts off.
Unplugged shore power and plugged it back in to restart the charge cycle:
13.3V 30% as it came on
13.4V 50% +:15 mins
13.4V 50% +:1 hr
13.5V 50% +:3 hrs
13.6V 50% +:7 hrs
Restart the cycle: 11:30p
13.6 in the am with green light indicating the charger is shut off and the batteries are fully charged

I tried starting my generator without success. That burned the batteries down to 13.4V. I plugged the charger back in after finishing the tidying for the new shore power cord – cable tie the wires, screw down the wire boxes. This time it didn’t take long for the batteries to get back to fully charged:

Started at
13.4V 30%
14.4V 90%
15.6V 90% blinking as it finished up
14.4V after it finished with the green light
13.6V after about an hour later

After a week with the Trik-L-Charge disconnected, The batteries showed 13.3V and the AH used were about 50. That included having the ceiling fan on full speed all night accidently. The new charger does not trickle charger the batteries but when power is cut off and restored, it goes thru a charge cycle. So it appears that the Trik-L-Charge was siphoning power from the LiFePO4 batteries to the engine battery because they hold a higher charge.

78.6AH 13.29V 4/5/14

Refrigerator sent to Indel Webasto 3/15, arrived 3/18. Came back on 3/26.

They replaced: Condensing (Pin) unit BD35F with electronic, schr valve, filter, couplings, fan.

March 13, 2014

LiFePO4 Batteries

I decided to go ahead with replacing my very dead Group 31 AGM batteries with LiFePO4 batteries of the same size. I contacted Smartbattery.com and they were very responsive to all my questions. They weren't the very cheapest I found on the Internet but they seemed to be one of the few who have a clear business and support their product. After a couple of days, I got handed off to their distributor in North Carolina who was also very responsive to all my questions and who went the extra mile in finding the correct answer for me and my specific set up. When I ordered them, I called the guy and gave him my credit card number on a Friday afternoon. I told him I didn’t need instant service and could wait until Monday. He had a different person call me for the details and I got the call back by 4pm which was too late for them to go out that day. But they went out on Monday and I got them via UPS on the following Wednesday. Very fast delivery.

February 10, 2014

House Batteries - Going to Lithium

It is time. My two 3+ year old 100AH AGM house batteries are toast (I found a date on the sides after I pulled them out). Using the shore power and the converter/charger, they haven't got up above 11.1 volts. On the off chance that there is something wrong with the charger, I attached a regular charger and got same thing. They won't charge so they are dead. Time to replace them.  This may well be the cause of my refrigerator failure last summer (It wasn't). I can't test that out until I replace them.

LTE Runaway

Last month, I got an AT&T hotspot and was quite happy with it. I have the 5GB/$50/month thing. My house is among the many places where there is very limited Internet options. The AT&T signal is good there and most of them time I get good speed with it. In all of January, I used about 2.5GB of data. Quite good since it even included streaming a single TV program.

A few days ago, I suddenly started getting emails from AT&T that I had used 3.5GB, shortly after that, 5GB and they added a gig for +$10. I shut off my hotspot (airplane mode) at the 5.99GB mark.  I had a few web pages open but no streaming and I have ad blockers to cut that kind of data usage. My firewalls and virus scanners were up and I ran them afterwards to check my system and it was clean. It had run thru 5.5GB of data inside of 2 hours and I was not doing anything that should have eaten that kind of data. Yikes!

I called AT&T Tech support and all I got was that they registered a sudden increase in data download and too bad for me. They insisted it could not be their meters going haywire (I believe Technomadia had an episode of this with their Millicom hotspot). The only suggestion is that I turn the hotspot off when I'm not using data - something I already do.  It is clear that AT&T will do nothing about it in true Telco fashion  - their motto is it is always the consumer's fault. And they really don't care. They have zero incentive to fix such problems. To them, they just charged me an extra $10 and didn't have to provide anything for it.

What I suspect happened is that the big ice storm did something to their network and in the repairs, someone did something that triggered a false data download and I am screwed. There is just no way I could have legitimately downloaded 5.5GB of data inside of 2 hours. Even streaming wouldn't chew up that much data so fast and I don't stream.

I worked for years in computer systems and I know how easy it is to make an error and screw up networks. Especially when the shit is hitting the fan and you are scrambling to get things working again - exactly the situation after the ice storm.  Most of the weekend was dropped down to the HSPA+ network on my phone so it is clear they were having problems.

So the bottom line is, LTE is great but watch out. Caveat emptor, indeed.

January 14, 2014

Purging on

My dump run was 660 pounds of old door and trim, the vinyl and underlayment pieces for my hall and powder room and a lot of accumulated household trash. Nice to have it gone but there's a lot more.

I've been in this house for 20 years. 20 years of accumulated stuff. We really do expand our stuff to the space we have. And then some. I've been clearing out the family room, my main room that I've lived in for all that time. I cleared out the bookcase, cleaned it and moved it to a corner of the new living room. I put back about half the books but they probably should be gotten rid of.  I have a lot of gardening, field guides, and construction books but nowadays, when I want to find out about something, I google it. I learned a ton from those books. How we have changed how our minds learn. It used to be that one had to have a library or go to a library to learn about something. Not anymore.  It is mostly all on the web or can be gotten in a digital format that weighs little and takes little space.

I decided that my old stereo should go. I had a nice pair of speakers, a receiver, tape, and gasp, LP player because I still have a library of old vinyl LPs. I found the manuals for them too along with the manuals of several old and long discarded pieces. This stuff is over 20 years old! The tape player hasn't worked right in years so it can go to the recycling center - more loading up the van. The speakers are big and the receiver still works so they went to Goodwill. I haven't used the stereo in years because I now use a smaller much more modern unit.

I still have a VCR and old CRT TV. I thought I had a few Jane Austen shows on VHS tapes that I would like to copy to DVD but in the purge, I found that I had already bought them on DVD so those went to my neighbor who wanted them. In my cabinet, I had a ton of old movies that I had taped off analog TV. I have not had the VCR running in years and years now, so they all can be dumped. The picture quality won't be worth trying to copy them. I couldn't get the VCR to show on the TV anyway so they both went to the van to be taken to the recycling center.

That leaves some old cassette tapes and the LPs. Before I retired, I bought one of those all in one LP, tape record to CD machines that also has a radio in it meaning to digitize the old media to CDs. I hadn't ever started that project. But now, I will. I moved that unit into the new living room along with the cabinet and started it. It works pretty well altho using a program like Audacity to clean up the recording and convert it to MP3s is time-consuming. I got a pack of CD labels and used the on-line Avery program to make some labels for the CDs. That works well but I do have to pay attention to which tracks actually recorded on the CD. Sometimes, the machine adds extra tracks with nothing but static.

Pulling out the furniture that had been there for so many years is rather disgusting. The Asian brown marmolated stink bug invasion that started a few years ago left quite a collection of their carcases under it. I have a big computer Armour that has quite an accumulation of computer stuff. Most of that will be trashed because it is old now. I even found floppy disks and zip disks.  I don't think I have anything that can read the old floppies anymore.  I found a zip drive so I will have to see if there is anything on those disks that I've been wondering where they got to.  If my Win 7 computer can run that thing.  Funny how we went to technology after technology trying to squeeze more and more data onto portable media.  Now even CDs are old school and terabytes of data storage are cheap to get.

I have had a big old computer armour that I no longer want or use. After I cleared it out, my neighbor said she wanted it so she sent her son and husband to haul it out. Yay!! In my mind, having someone take it out was worth giving it away, even if I could have gotten a few dollars for it.

When I stripped the ugly wallpaper, I got a surprise that almost all of it came off easily. All the wall paper in the rest of house is like it was put on with super glue and is a horrible job. I  stripped the trim, and scrubbed the walls about 5 times to get the old paste off. The old carpet is pulled and the van is loaded up again for the dump. Then it is patching it all and then painting.  It is amazing how much bigger a room looks with white walls and no ugly wall paper.  Then it is onto the kitchen rehab before I lay the flooring in the back part of the house.

I kept getting stink bugs coming out of the mantel as I was stripping it. These are the invasion of the Asian ones that hit the east coat.  I finally pried it off the wall and found hundreds of them behind the mantel! Yuck.  When I put the mantel back on, it is going to get plenty of caulk to keep that from happening again!

Purging is an exercise in self control. As I go thru this stuff accumulated thru my life, I have to resist the urge to keep it because once I wanted it and used it. I keep reminding myself how long it has been sitting around unused. It is time to clean it out and pass it onto someone who will use it or just trash it.

Got a beautiful full double rainbow - horizon to horizon today! Couldn't get the whole thing in one pic. The sky was a perfect prism.