Heading Inland to Catch a Little Sun…

IMG_0897Anyone who knows me knows I don’t make large purchases easily.  For example, it took me almost two years to buy my rig, but once I found it, the honeymoon is still on.  The indecisive Libra in me makes me feel compelled to survey everyone I know and trust before I end up with what I feel is the best decision for me.  The knowledgeable, helpful, unflappable folks at AM Solar got a taste of my MO this past week as I vacillated on solar options like a shifting cloud cover on a springtime day.

When I first heard last winter that AM Solar would be presenting at the Canyonville Rally, I called to make an appointment for the install, but got scared off by “sticker shock.”  I had heard stories of people in the desert, whether it be Quartzite, Slab City, or Yuma, who would install at half the price.  So I decided against scheduling AM Solar for the job.  At the time, my intent was to make the Skinnie Winnie rally in Quartzite, so I had plans to find an installer there.   But plans got delayed, and I reached the desert long after the installers had migrated north for the summer.

I continued to affirm that I would find myself in the right place at the right time, until I ended up in AM Solar’s back yard, still with no panels.  Not only that, but I was down to only being able to run my work equipment for about three hours on my current batteries before having to start the dreaded generator.  I had to do something soon.

The "Menu Board."  ;-)

The “Menu Board.” ;-)

Greg and his wife Debbie, the AM Solar owners, came down to the Canyonville Skinnie Winnie Rally, and brought with them all the components required for solar installation.  Greg went piece by piece, explaining how yes, they are the same panels, but here is how their set-ups differ.   He painstakingly explained each part that had been custom ordered or designed, from marine grade wiring to flexible mounts to scalable boxes on the roof making it easy to add more watts down the road.   So I left the rally once again, as my friend Lynne teased, “Drinking the Kool-Aid!”

But AM Solar’s kits came so highly endorsed by bloggers who have become friends over the years.  I knew after Greg’s presentation, I wanted to go with an AM Solar kit.   All I needed was an installer.   I have the best there is built in to my own family, but my Einstein of a brother is headed to his own “happy place” in Mexico for the summer.  Who knows how long it will be before Don, the Winnie, and I will all three be in the same place at the same time again?

So I called AM Solar back, and asked for a “consultation appointment” with the intent to see if they had a system that would fit my budget.   This was going to be one of my infamous “one-toe-in-the-water-at-a-time” processes if there ever was one.

Hooked up in the driveway...

Hooked up in the driveway…

I was “invited” to overnight in AM Solar’s driveway the night before my 8:00am appointment.  I arrived a bit early, so I was introduced to “Marv,” who would be assessing my needs, my lifestyle, making recommendations, and overseeing the install.   Although the sign on the door said we were 15 minutes until closing time, Marv spent an extra hour, sitting in my rig, assessing my use and abuse of power.  😉

As I turned in for the night, I was still not quite committed to my decision.   I am not cheap, but I am frugal, and I knew there were less expensive options.   So I thought, “Let me go on Nina and Paul’s blog, and see who did their solar…they are the ‘go-to’ source for RV Boondockers, and I have come to trust their advice.”   Well, there on the Wheelinit blog was a picture of “Marvelous Marvin!”  My installer!  It was a sign!  LOL!!

"Marvelous Marvin"

“Marvelous Marvin”

Marv was patient, thorough, and an excellent listener.  But most importantly, he made me feel assured that I was making the right decision to support my lifestyle.  He came across very seriously, but had a sly side as well.  I laughed as we were standing in the rig, and I voiced the concern on every RV owner’s mind, “Where are you going to drill the hole in my roof?”   As we stood beneath the open 12″ X 18″ skylight overhead, Marv looked upward, smiled, and said, “Don’t worry.  Manufactures put all kinds of holes in the roof.”

Marv unceremoniously drilling the hole in the roof.

Marv unceremoniously drilling the hole in the roof.

I have never been treated so well as I was by these guys.   From the waiting room full of RV books and magazines to the shelves of local maps to menus, and even a stash of chocolate in the fridge, I was made to feel at home.

Ray preparing my panels...

Ray preparing my panels…

But by far, my favorite part was the upstairs viewing window where I could go whenever I wanted and stay as long as I wanted to watch the install taking place below.   Their work space is so immaculate, instead of worrying that someone would track dirt into my rolling home, it was just the opposite.

Before -- my panels coming over on the forklift.

“Before” — my panels coming over on the forklift.

Our Views don't have as much "real estate" as larger rigs.   Any more than three panels, and the TV Antenna must be swapped out for smaller type.

Our Views don’t have as much “real estate” as larger rigs. Any more than three panels, and the TV Antenna must be swapped out for smaller type.

After -- 300 watts should do me.

“After” — 300 watts should do me.

Marv and the team were competent and confident, and helped impart the same on me.  Marv spent at least an hour helping me understand how to operate my system, and get the most out of my new found freedom from the pole.

My beautiful new AGMs -- No more battery maintenance!! YIPPEEEE!

My beautiful new AGMs — No more battery maintenance!! YIPPEEEE!

Believe it or not, I am actually having fun watching the numbers fluctuate on my Controller Remote panel.  Just as I find it a thrill harnessing the wind for power on a sailboat, I am finding the same thrill harnessing the sun.   Already, I am enjoying the benefit, as I feel so much more relaxed no longer having to keep one eye on the battery monitor and count the remaining minutes left on my two draining laptop batteries.  I haven’t been plugged in since I left AM Solar’s driveway six days ago, and haven’t yet dropped below 88%.

This opens up a whole new chapter…

“Tomorrow may rain so…I’ll follow the sun.”  ~ Lennon and McCartney

18 thoughts on “Heading Inland to Catch a Little Sun…

  1. Good for you for taking the plunge! We rarely boondock, though I would love to, because I cannot stand the sound of the generator and Hans likes his TV at night. We don’t want to invest in solar on this rig because we may not fulltime for years and years…thus, we stay in parks with hookups. Enjoy your freedom!

  2. Here I thought I was the only person that is indecisive. :)

    That is a great system. I had them listed on my list of RV mods after reading Nina’s blog about it when they had them installed. I have also thought, when the time comes, to have it done in Arizona for a cheaper price but based on your blog and photos of the job, it would sure be hard not to use AM Solar as the installer.

    Thanks for all of this great information and photos.

  3. Perfect! AM solar is one of the best, for sure. I’m so happy you “went for it.”

    I DO use my generator when I use my Keurig coffee maker or microwave, but this time of year with the sun so high in the sky, there’s no need to top off the batteries. I love this time of year. You are going to love the freedom, and even though a solar system is expensive, I KNOW I’ve more than paid for mine because I just don’t use private RV parks. Haven’t for almost 3 years. And I can boon dock or dry camp in so many different places,usually with a lot of room around me. I’ll be interested in how your solar power experience is. :)

  4. Yay! I am so happy for you! You have just opened up a whole new world of possibilities. We are also huge fans of AM Solar. Even though Tim did the install himself, we bought a kit from them with everything we needed from the panels down to the tiniest wire. We were incredibly impressed by our visit to the shop, and left with more tips on local restaurants and things to do around Eugene then we could fit into our short stay. There’s a reason why so many people recommend them. By the way, we also have 3 panels and even with both of us charging laptops and various other electronics 8 hours a day, we still have plenty of power. This time of year we’re back up to 100% by 10 or 11 everyday. You’re going to love the new set up!

  5. We do like our solar and AM Solar is the place to go.

    One thing to check though. Keep an eye on the battery connections. Lazy Daze started using AGMs a few years back. A friend who does some RV work and owns an LD has seen lots of corrosion at the terminals. Not sure if that is a universal problem or not. I believe that LD is using Lifeline batts. It wouldn’t hurt to spray the terminals with anti-corrosion stuff.

    Jim

  6. Congratulations. We enjoy having solar. It’s true what Marv said about putting holes in RV’s. Our brand new first RV ( not the one you saw ) was in storage for a few months between trips. Little did we know that there was a 4 inch circular hole in the roof. The manufacturer had made a hole for something then put the pipe elsewhere but did not seal the hole. When we finally got back into the RV we found the rain had ruined the bedroom, the wall and the carpet and of course there was mold all over the walls. It was repaired under warranty but what a mess.

  7. Yours sure was a piece of cake compared to ours and in a few years you won’t remember the financial part of it at all. Now all you have to figure out is where to take on water and dump your tanks. Let the boondocking begin.

  8. Perfect timing – I am starting to obsess over my trailer purchase and whether or not solar is worth it. I look forward to learning more about how it works for you (and if you can “work” longer that way). :)

  9. Its like the adage, its worth paying for a job well done and those guys looked very professional. Whilst I know nothing about solar panels I can see the huge advantage for those who are full time. Freedom and being self sufficient is a thrill in itself. We only use our van for holidays and dont free camp so it wouldn’t warrent the installation costs. As a Libran I can fully appreciate and understand the angst you go through before making the decsion to install and then the choice of installer. Us Librans dont do impulse!!

  10. Thanks everyone for the great support and advice! So far, I am loving it! I am running a bit behind in the blog, but I am now in Astoria, OR at a city RV Park where I negotiated $10 a night off for not using their hook-ups. 😉 Today starts “Day Nine” since the install without plugging into the pole! YEAAAAHHH!!!

  11. Hi!
    A question concerning your solar panel installation: AM Solar and Marvin have advocated using 3M VHB 2-sided tape mounting feet rather than drilling holes in the roof. A perfect example of this is the installation done on “Wheeling It’s” Holiday Rambler. They have had no issues but it looks like you had your panels installed with the old “drill and screws” method. Why was this method used? Has AM Solar had problems with 3m VHB? The reason I’m asking is because I am currently awaiting pick-up of my rig from having solar installed using 3M VHB on Wheeling It’s recommendation and am now concerned I have made a bad decision.
    Pat H

    • Hi, Pat — No bad decision. My only drilling was one hole to drop the wire from the connector box, since the refrigerator vent was not an option for the Winnie View (wrong side.) For the panels, they used the 3M tape, sealed off with a little bit of Dikor. When Greg (owner) came to the Skinnie Winnie rally in Canyonville, he talked about this tape, and how successful it had been. He said they had never once had one come “unstuck,” even in wind and rain and 70mph. He couldn’t say enough good things about it’s versatility…sticks when you want it to, but comes off when it has to…(with a lot of work, but still.) So I was quite happy that only one hole had to be drilled….Feel good you are on the right track! Thanks for reading the blog.

  12. Marv installed our solar system about 7 months ago – just before we went full time. We still get giddy when we watch it work. I do a lot of ‘happy dancing,’ now. Love your blog – I catch up whenever I can.

    • Dahkota — Thanks for visiting the blog! Yes, me too! I love watching it hit 100% for the day! Happy dancing right along with you…thanks for following.

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