Battery hygiene

Airstream batteries on charge

I wish this was a post about installing Lithium batteries and a $12,000 solar setup. Sadly what follows are rather more mundane observations about battery maintenance.

Our Airstream shipped with two fairly inexpensive Interstate SRM-24 deep cycle batteries. These retail for about $120 each. I have great respect for them – they kept us going for over two days in a blizzard.

Unfortunately the lifespan for deep cycle batteries in RV applications seems to be about two years and they don’t age gracefully. This is a function of two things:

  1. The standard factory installed charging systems are poor and never fully charge the batteries, which leads to death by sulphation. One of the best resources I have found on this topic is HandyBob’s blog.

    The remedy is to install a three-stage charging system. Outback chargers are highly regarded but costly at $1,700.

  2. Boondockers in particular tend to discharge batteries more than they should. Guidance on discharge cycles and effect on lifespan can be found directly from the battery manufacturer. For the SRM-24s, find a helpful document here . A rule of thumb is not to discharge batteries more than 50%.

    To monitor charge state properly you’ll need a real battery monitor. The factory installed one that also measures the holding tank status is insufficient. The Bogart Engineering Trimetric TM-2030RV-F is a good one – I bought it myself.

If you aren’t into boondocking it’s not unreasonable to simply regard batteries as disposable. After all, for the $1,700 cost of an Outback charger you could buy 7 sets of SRM-24s. If you get two years out of each set, that’s 14 years worth of batteries.

But if you are into boondocking, battery life is material. And the thing is, batteries don’t get to two years and then die. They die slowly, reducing the time you can run without shore power. So at some point you’ll find yourself running your generator 20 hours a day.

If we found ourselves living on the road again (you never know), then I’d probably invest in a 3-stage charger/inverter.

What about weekender boondocking? That’s the sort of boondocking we’re doing these days. Our goal is to be off the grid for two or three nights and run the generator infrequently. Even quiet generators are loud.

Our batteries were new in December, 2012. I know that because it’s printed on a label on the top of the battery. At nearly three years old they are still working well. We haven’t made any modifications to the factory power setup.

Airstream batteries

This is what I do.

  1. At the end of a trip remove the batteries and take them home. Tip: before yanking them out, take a picture so you can wire them back up! I have some clear plastic contractor glasses I wear when messing with batteries. 10 minute task.

  2. Ensure the electrolyte levels are correct. Pop open the two caps and peek into the individual cells. Top off with distilled water if necessary. Wear eye protection! 2 minute task.

  3. Leave them on charge in the garage using a BatteryMINDer 3-stage charger. $140. It is conceivable you could get a build up of explosive gas storing and charging in a small enclosed space.  Our garage is big and the door is opened quite often. I probably wouldn’t do this in a closet in the basement.

    The very first time I used the BatteryMINDer I de-sulphated the batteries one at a time over a period of several days. Simply follow the directions. I then connected the batteries together in parallel and now use this device to re-charge/maintain the charge when the Airstream is in storage.

  4. When we head off for a trip, I take the batteries back and re-install them. 10 minute task.

On September 14th, after taking the batteries off charge and letting them sit for 12 hours, I then tested them using a Schumacher Electric BTF-250. Results below.

Ratings
MCA: 690
CCA: 550

Test Results

Battery A
12.87V
702 MCA
586 SAE (CCA)

Battery B
12.78V
696 MCA
562 SAE (CCA)

The local Interstate Battery dealer will also perform a load test. If I get around to that I’ll post the results.

Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

Domain thing

Lake Anita State Park. Anita, Iowa.

If you see a notice about domain expiration, I’m sorry. I moved our domain from WordPress to Google and have upset the balance of the universe. I’m sure it will go away soon. That’s a sure strategy.

In other news, #all3 of us are spending the weekend at Lake Anita State Park. So far not too busy. We’ll see how this unfolds in the next 24 hours. It’s only Friday morning.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

Running around

Airstream. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

We rolled in to Lake Anita State Park on Friday evening. The weather was nice. 78 degrees and no wind.

So naturally the place is busy with “Weekenders” – streamer_j’s term. There are people who only drink astonishing volumes of alcohol on special occasions, like St. Patrick’s day. It’s exciting for them. “Weekenders” are like that but with camping. They have enormous fires, blaring radios, lots of kids and dogs. Concerningly, the kids are always off leash.

But there is a refuge at Lake Anita though where all of this can be avoided – the primitive camping area. Armed with a full fresh water tank and a quiet generator to top off the battery, here we — Alfred and me — are, with the nearest tent camper about a quarter of a mile away.

After this third cup of coffee we will head off for a run around the lake, which is what we do here. I also tow him around in a dog trailer behind my fold up bike.

Alfred in his trailer. Lake Anita State Park. Anita, Iowa.

He also loves fetch. Loves. Even more exciting is playing fetch from the beach into the lake.

Chuck-it at the beach, Pomona State Park, Kansas

Running around

This post is an unnecessary continuation of a scribble I wrote in September last year.

To start with, a metric. I checked in to the Airstream in late 2013 at 6′ 0″ and 197 lbs. Today I hover around 165 lbs. That is a reduction of about 30 lbs. How was this accomplished? Running around.

Running around is fun. I enjoy it. I think that’s the most important thing. If I enjoyed cycling more I’d probably do that instead.

Data adds to the fun, for me. It may not for you.

Today I am not entirely concerned by distance but more concerned with pace, but to begin with I stretched myself through distance. Can I run 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles, 5 miles? That was fun, particularly introducing new locations to the mix. I had lots of fun running while listening to “Zombies Run!” which integrates into a fantastic app. called Runkeeper.

I found this strategy led to me chronically hurting myself. I’d go all out then be barely able to walk for three days.

Then I discovered Runkeeper’s training programs. These are created by professional coaches. Say you want to run a 10K. It automagically creates a training schedule. So I signed up for the 16 week 10K program. Through this I built slowly but consistently and my weekly mileage went up dramatically.

I ran a 5K in Des Moines and won it. That was (a) not an accomplishment and (b) fun mainly because there was a free beer at the end. I’d do more races but not to win. They are fun to participate in.

I hit a battery wall around 8 – 9 miles. Or when it was cold. My iPhone battery can’t survive more than 4 seconds exposed to Iowa. On a good day – at the precise temperature required for the iPhone to work – with the GPS going (for Runkeeper) it would die off at about the 9 mile mark.

For that reason I switched to a Garmin 310XT, which has a battery life of about 20 hours, in Iowa, in winter. I am not selling Garmin here. I would prefer not to have an extra gadget. It was a battery decision. As an aside, I do think Garmin produces far too many redundant bits of hardware and should massively pare down their portfolio and focus on software quality.

To spice things up a bit I have started running in different locations to break up a long and boring series of Iowan trails.

How about a jog around Central Park at Christmas?

Or a 10K around the Washington Monument?

I have other fun locations planned.

Fun with data collection

The data is not just about maps, distance, time, heart rate and calories. Throw in a Wi-Fi enabled scale, blood pressure monitor and a step counter (I use the Garmin Vivofit but it doesn’t matter).

Bam! Now that’s fun. I run. Weight goes down. Fat % goes down. Blood pressure goes down.

In May of 2013 my corporate-sponsored blood pressure was hovering around 138 over 86. Today it’s about 121 over 74.

By the way, I used MyFitnessPal to automatically connect Withings to Garmin and CopyMySports to automatically drop it all in to Runkeeper.

There is a also social aspect. Through Garmin Connect I am part of a few groups and have a bit of friendly steps competition with work colleagues.

Does any of this data matter? Obviously not. If you run (and don’t binge on beer afterwards), you will lose weight. Your blood pressure will come down. You don’t need to measure that for it to occur. And I may not bother measuring it in the future. For now it is fun and motivating to see the results.

So what else? I played around with tracking calories using MyFitnessPal. That was fun. But it’s futile in my opinion. All the other data is collected by sensor. It’s consistent. Food tracking is not. To be accurate really does mean measuring every bite and knowing precisely what’s in it. That’s fun . . . (?)

There is a much better way. You know what’s good for you and what’s not. There really is very little need for the “in moderation” qualifier.

Smoking is bad for you. Don’t do that.

Drinking alcohol is bad for you. Don’t do that (nobody has one glass of red wine – if you do you’re missing the point).

Vegetables are good for you. Eat those.

These decisions are binary. They are yes/no. You don’t need to track them. You can eat as many vegetables as you want! No need to track that. If you choose not to drink nor to eat junk food, there really is no need to track what you eat. Your body will thank you.

This applies to exercise too. Exercise is good. Do that. I only track that because the data is fun for me, so that’s it. Perhaps tracking food is fun for you, if so, do that.

So I could sum up the dietary aspect of all this as follows: give up drinking and go vegan.

Perfect score every day? Absolutely not. But we’re not counting. There is no trending. No unbroken streak. No concept of cheating. Each decision I make is simply binary in the moment. If I had a cream cheese bagel for breakfast that doesn’t impact the right decision of a vegan salad packed with micro-nutrients for lunch.

Funnily enough, when you take out all the tracking, trending, pressure, guilt, whatever around caloric intake and clean eating, and simply make decisions in the moment and forget about them – you tend to make the right decision most of the time.

Good and bad

When I started writing this post I was going to show a map of running around somewhere and call it good. I’ve strayed a bit off course here. So I might as well conclude the thought.

I don’t propose here that there is any intrinsic good or bad in a decision to be a runner, a cyclist, to live in an Airstream, to be thin, fat, a smoker, a drinker, a whatever or nothing at all. You might make an argument about the impact of your decisions on others, say your family. That probably has merit. You might even delve into the spiritual and the obligation you have to your body and the life around you. Or perhaps take a more altruistic perspective and ask whether society has an obligation to support your health decisions through the health system. All interesting points and with merit. I suppose what I’m saying is your lifestyle is not for me to judge unless you’re directly causing harm to others.

But I do propose that there is a good and bad about what you eat. Our method of producing meat in the volume our species feeds on it is disgraceful. It is clearly evil. Please be careful reading this. I am being precise in saying our method of producing meat is evil. There is a great deal of writing on this topic. One well written view is here.

If evil is not of great concern, then it is also indescribably inhumane and crippling to the environment. There just isn’t a single meritorious argument, scientific, moral or spiritual, to support factory farming.

So when it comes to food, I don’t count or track, but I do try to make a good decision with each meal. I think everyone would agree that if we choose to eat meat (including fish and dairy), we have an obligation to support meat that is farmed as humanely as possible.

So that’s it. Now I’m off to run around with Alfred.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

Our most popular post

Alfred on the Airstream bed. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

I was browsing through the site statistics and was surprised to see that our most popular post is this one, Is living in an Airstream a bad idea?

Now to the question I’m sure you’re asking. Why do you have a sleeping bag on the bed?

streamer_j is enrolled in a course with several all-day weekend classes. Poor streamer_j. But not poor streamer_a and Alfred! We’re going anyway. When it’s just me and the furry one I don’t burn propane running the furnace at night, unless it’s forecast to drop below 30-ish. I leave a window open, fresh air and it’s nice and toasty in the bag. As a side benefit I don’t have to clean the sheets or make the bed. Alfred likes it cold.

I picked this technique up winter camping with Alfred. I’d have to run the furnace to keep the lines from freezing but using a sleeping bag means I can set the furnace at 40 (the lowest it will go).

The bag is a REI Lumen.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

The great blog breakout project

Best mirror view

I’ll state up front this post has nothing to do with Airstreaming. But if you’re thinking of starting a blog about your Airstream adventures you might find something in this.

We started this blog using WordPress.com. It was fun scribbling about our experiences and playing with layouts and themes.

Then in latter part of 2013 we – I, unilaterally – decided we needed more doodads on the site. Twitter feeds. Flickr feeds. A weather widget. A map showing our location at all times. One thing lead to another and before long I was editing theme code and self-hosting my blog.

As a result about a year later we had a blog that was entirely inflexible and starting to smell like a legacy enterprise IT application. It was only a matter of time before I introduced an Internet Explorer 6 dependency and instituted change control.

To tell the truth I had turned this fun little writing outlet into a bit of a chore. We are good at doing that to ourselves, aren’t we?

Then came the Young House Love implosion which affirmed it. Quitting blogging was now fashionable! So I basically did that on December 1st, 2014.

My plan was to create a book from the blog simply to retain the memories and then let the thing die by not renewing the hosting.

But after a short break I found I quite enjoyed sitting in my Airstream and writing notes after a run or a ride, with Alfred napping behind on the couch.

So I undertook the great blog breakout project to free the content from its dependencies and relieve myself of the technical curation burden. Back to WordPress.com where the writing’s easy.

It took a few hours over several weeks but here’s what I did:

(1) Eliminated all widgets and shortcodes. They don’t add anything of value.

(2) Externalized all images into Flickr.

(3) Externalized all files (PDFs mainly) into Google Drive.

(4) Video was already externalized in Youtube.

Once these steps were complete, which required editing every blog post, I was able to export the blog. Then I imported it to WordPress.com. I then pointed glamourstream.com at my WordPress.com blog instead of the previous host.

Easy. And I’ve noticed the site loads more quickly too.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

Factory repairs

Our Airstream. Jackson Center, Ohio.

On March 10 I drove the 584 miles to Jackson Center, Ohio, to deliver our Airstream to its makers.

It was recovered 19 days later, all shiny and new. They left it outside for me to pick up on a Sunday. Fantastic service from beginning to end.

Doing this is straight forward. You request an appointment date on Airstream’s web site and are contacted by email with instructions shortly after. You’ll have to show up at 7am on the day of the appointment.

I drove the day before and stayed overnight in a town called Lima, Ohio, where the nearest Marriott property is. If doing likewise stay at the Courtyard not the Fairfield. Parking at the Fairfield is too tight for a trailer. I chose the low carb., low cholesterol, low calorie option for dinner with a meal consisting entirely of hots wings and Blue Moon at the Lima Buffalo Wild Wings, which has a parking lot big enough for the trailer.

At the service center I had a single page print out with the trailer’s serial number at the top, and all the repair items listed (see my list below). At the service center these will be typed up into individual repair orders.

Shortly after they will then pull the trailer into a service bay using a small tractor and you’ll do a walk through with a technician to cover all the items in more detail.

Then you’re on your way. An email estimate will be sent within a few hours and it’s a yes/no proposition. I found the estimate was almost exactly what my expectation was – no surprises at all.

One thing to note is you can’t really get a time estimate until you show up. In my case the repairs took 5 days but there wasn’t a firm estimate when I dropped it off. So I drove home to Iowa and came back for it a few weeks later on the weekend. Airstream will store the trailer at no cost for as long as you want — I suppose there is a limit on that statement — provided you pay the bill within 30 days. The point here is this isn’t a Ford QuickLane. Expect to do two trips.

Here’s a copy/paste of my one-pager:

Warranty

  • Repair wheel well gap on curb side.
  • Water found seeping under bathroom cabinetry – may be related to wheel well issue above.
  • Repair exterior light above entry door. Works intermittently. Bulb has been replaced. Suspect wiring.
  • Examine tears in fresh water tank belly pan near wheels. Seal if appropriate.
  • Examine air conditioning unit mount. Occasional interior leaking specifically during wind and rain.
  • Shower door alignment.
  • Investigate source of water evidence at back of primary closet.
  • Investigate source of water under hot water tank bypass pipe.
  • Fresh water tank straps.

Non-warranty

  • Inspect exterior caulking and seals, including roof and belly pan. Evidence of water penetration noticed back of clothes closet.
  • Replace door and screen door.
  • Replace tongue jack.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

Towing gas mileage

Airstream over the Mississippi

Based on the search terms leading to this blog I see a few people are interested in our gas mileage.

Note that our truck is a 3.5L Ecoboost “Max Tow” King Ranch package. So the gearing is different (3.73) and its heavy.

Not towing we get around 13MPG.

While towing we average about 10MPG on the flat at reasonable speeds (70MPH).

This drops to about 8MPG at 75MPH (which is legal in many places where we drive, albeit ill-advised when towing).

On grades/severe headwinds/absurd speeds I have seen as low as 6MPG. We have tested all three conditions simultaneously – see next note.

Going up Wolf Pass in Colorado at 70MPH we must have averaged something around 0.1MPG. Maybe less – the MPG graph in the dashboard wouldn’t populate.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa