2011-05-11 12noon – Installation of marine batteries as “house” electricity.

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(Be forewarned – this is a L-O-N-G Post.)

I’ve had help with building the van (as a small RV). My son, Joe, installed the plywood floors for me and he built the bed for me. He had helped me a lot and has said that he will help with whatever I need – but, he said that it would take him a long time to install the batteries, isolator and inverter. I had read on a previous vandweller post that the best place to have that equipment installed is at an car audio shop. So, I called my local, nearby, audio installation shop and made an appointment for today. Joe had purchased a couple of Sears marine batteries for me and he also bought the plastic box that you would use for protecting them. I had purchased a ‘kit’ of wires from Harbor Freight called inverter wires. I had ordered an Aims pure-sine wave inverter from an internet store. I had previously been to the audio shop and they told me to order 25 feet of 0 gauge wire and an isolator. (The 0 gauge wire is very thick and in my pictures, it is coated with a red insulation.)  I got a web-store from the shop and compared the web-store prices to some vendor prices on ebay. So, …, I ended up ordering the wire and isolator from ebay.

The “Tech” at the audio installation shop was named “T”. He had installed an isolator in a previous van and knew the location of the battery under the hood. He had to take the battery out and find room near it – but 18″ away for the isolator. He had in the shop inventory, a heavy-duty fuse that the isolator needed. It was the type fuse used by big amplifiers. He installed the fuse near the alternator.


My house electricity set-up will allow the van alternator to charge the marine batteries when I drive the van. The isolator allows the marine batteries to be separate from the van battery when in-use. The problem with the electrical flow is that the alternator is driven harder by the additional charging and will, most likely, wear out sooner. When the current alternator is replaced, the van will need to have a ‘heavy-duty’ type installed. After “T” completed his work, I took a picture of the isolator under the hood – but, it was under the fender and so close to the battery, the picture didn’t turn-out well.

Note: the location of the batteries was behind the passenger seat so that the length of the 0 gauge wires was minimal.

Additional note: Marine batteries are designed for ‘slow discharge’ as needed by the electrical requirements of vandwelling. These types of batteries are the opposite of the van battery which has high-capacity needed for cold starting.

After I turned over the van keys to “T” at the shop, he said that I could wait in the side area or go shopping. I shopped for a while and returned a couple of  hours later. I sat in the waiting area for a while and could hear drilling and see “T” working under the hood. After waiting in the room for a while, I asked “T” if I could come in the shop area and he said ‘yes’. I wanted to see what he had done so far and looked at the fuse and isolator under the hood. He was now working on the 0 gauge wires and running them under the fender front panel and van passenger foot-well plastic step-place. He had to take apart the radio in order to place a wire from the radio to the isolator. This wire allows the isolator to know when the van is being driven – i.e., time to charge the battery. The isolator also ensures that the house batteries are not over-charged.

“T” was nearing completion of the 0 gauge wires to the batteries and he asked what I intended next. I asked him to show me how to wire the inverter. He had seen the inverter and knew that attaching the batteries to the inverter would be relatively easy. He also knew that to complete the installation, he needed to test the equipment to make sure that it was all installed properly and working. He had seen my dorm refrigerator and microwave on top of it. He not only installed the inverter for me, but also he adapted the inverter wires to a 110-volt plug and mounted it on the bottom of the kitchen countertop. He then tested the microvave and it all worked as designed. YAH!

Note: I sometimes call the inverter – a converter. That’s because it converts the 12-volt car-type electrical current to 110-volt house-type current.

Next, “T” asked me what else I had in mind. I had an ‘old’ car radio that I had brought and I planned to install it in the ‘house area’. I like to listen to a radio at night and the use of the old radio in the back of the van seemed appropriate. He took the radio and adapted some mounting material to place it under the kitchen countertop. He found some extra wire and an old antenna. He put the antenna on the countertop and put in a toggle-switch for the wiring. He told me that the house radio will not act as a van radio in that it will not keep-in-memory the programmed stations – due to the fact that it was not to have any electricity when turned-off. When the house radio test was successful, I was extremely ‘happy’. “T” had spent several hours working on it and his work was complete. It was after 6pm and past time for him to go home – but, he didn’t seem to mind. I was very pleased with his work and filled in a customer survey to the company and mentioned his name. I hope that he receives some recognition for his effort.

Additional note: In studying other internet information about batteries, I learned that when converting 12-volt current to 110-volt current by the inverter, there is a loss of electrical efficiency. Therefore, I wanted a car radio installed in the house area.

By the way, when I made the appointment for the installation, “T” knew that it was a lot of work and that it would take a long time. He installed not only the isolator and inverter, he found parts for the radio and installed it too.

P.S. I also ordered a Honda 1000 generator from the web. After comparing prices, I determined that it was a little cheaper to order from the web than to go to the local store. To charge the batteries, the inverter can be used by connecting to shore power. If  I am away-from-the-grid, I can use the Honda generator to charge the house batteries. (My reading indicates that it will have to run several hours to charge to the full-level.) I have a lot to learn about van-camping. For example, how many hours can I camp before I have to charge the house batteries. And, how long does it take for the house batteries to be charged to full by either using shore power or the generator?