On our big road trip, we discovered that our favorite campgrounds didn’t have hookups. In fact, many of the best places to camp don’t have a place to plug in. While we enjoy being off the grid, we still need a power source for a few things like lights and water. 🙂
Our battery did a great job powering the Santa Fe–sometimes for five days at a time. While the battery never left us without power, there were several times where we were unsure just how much juice we had left. We weren’t sure about our usage, and we had forgotten to bring a good voltmeter to check the battery. We also realized that the battery was located under the king bed side, and when popped up, the bunkend would make it difficult to access and check our power source. So when our summer fun was over, we tackled our first post-trip project: a battery monitor.
The Pop Up Portal has all kinds of takes on this project. All you really need is an LCD voltmeter and a toggle or momentary switch. For our project, we used this 7.5v-20v Blue LCD Digital Voltmeter Volt Panel Meter from Amazon, a toggle switch from Radio Shack, a nylon switch plate, and approximately two feet each of 16ga black and red electrical wire. Honestly, Mr. TypeTwoFun did this whole project alone. I just took pictures. 🙂 But he isn’t an electrician by any means, and he says the project is really quite simple.
The first thing Mr. TypeTwoFun did was use a conical grinding bit on the drill so the toggle switch would fit in the plate. We looked high and low for a switch that we could use in the face plate without any modification, but we didn’t find anything. Be very careful when enlarging the opening for the toggle switch. Some of the switches don’t have very much overlap, and you can easily make your hole too big very quickly.
Once you have your openings large enough to accommodate your toggle switch and voltmeter, you can attach your switch and voltmeter to the switch plate. We just used a little bit of epoxy to do that. Then you are ready to solder your lengths of electrical wire into place. This is the part that makes my brain hurt, so I had Mr. TypeTwoFun draw up a sketch to explain it.
Now, once you’ve got your switch and voltmeter all wired up, you want to install it. We decided to tap into the wiring from the porch light near the door. It seemed like the easiest way to go, and placing it next to the outlet by that door would make it easy to access. We had to cut an opening into the wall of the inside of the camper to access the wiring, but it is hidden inside the cabinetry. You’d never know it was there.
Then, to mount the plate, we used the jigsaw to cut an opening wide enough to fit our electrical components.
Once everything fit nicely, Mr. TypeTwoFun used a wire nut to connect the red wire from the switch to the black wire from the porch light. Then he connected the black wire from the voltmeter to the white (ground) wire, also from the porch light.
Then we popped the switch plate into place and used wood screws to secure it. The wood screws were silver, so I just dabbed a little white nail polish on the heads to help conceal them.
Once you are all wired up, flip the switch, and you can see how much battery you have left. If you are like me, all those numbers look like a foreign language. I had no idea what they meant. I did a little research, and found several charts that helped me figure out all those numbers. I plugged them all in to a little graphic and made a little chart to help me translate.
Now I know that I’ve got just under 60% of my battery left. I printed this chart off, and I keep it in the cabinet near the battery monitor. I’m sure after awhile, those numbers will become second nature to me, but for the time being, I’m going to rely on this little chart a lot. Our new battery monitor is going to come in so handy when we are dry camping!
Just a few helpful tips for using the voltmeter to check your battery life…
- The best time to check your voltage is when you aren’t using any power. You want to make sure you aren’t drawing from the battery when checking the state of your charge.
- The switch is there to keep your LCD panel from drawing from the battery constantly. Remember to switch the voltmeter off after you have checked the battery charge. If you have a momentary switch, you won’t need to worry about this.
- You don’t necessarily have to tap into the porch light if you have a more convenient place to access your trailer wiring. I’ve seen people put their voltmeters near their converter panels under the dinette or even behind the sink. Just remember… the closer you are to the battery, the less chance you have of something disrupting your reading, and thus it will be more accurate.
Everything fairly clear? If you have installed a voltmeter to monitor your camper battery life, I’d love to hear your comments! 🙂