Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

After a massive cleanup operation, my next major goal was to install enough of an electrical system in the new van to enable roof vent operation. This would help significantly with temperature control and comfort inside while I figure out the rest of the interior layout and electrical system.

I moved just one of my batteries from the old van to the new one, leaving the other one behind to continue powering lights and fans. I don’t need their massive storage capacity right now, so as long as I leave enough space to add the second battery later, running just one is no problem. I have no need for off-grid redundancy at the moment because I moved into the house during the build.

I removed my 20-amp battery charger from the old van, hooked it up to the battery in the new one, and plugged in my shore power connection. The charger sprang to life, meaning that I’ll be able to keep the battery charged once I’m running things off it. I bumped the charger down to five amps for now, since I only need to keep the battery topped off.

While I was in the old van, I also removed the original charger I used, which ran both solar and alternator charging. I’ll continue to use it in Smokey II for alternator charging, especially since the starter battery is right under the driver’s seat for easy access. I doubt I’ll have a need to add even more solar to what my new charge controller can handle, but the option is there. I physically installed it to the wall, but haven’t hooked anything up yet. Gaining access to the starter battery is a decent-sized job for another day.

I installed my 12-circuit fuse block, then realized that I should install my new 60-amp charge controller even though I don’t have my solar panels installed yet. The reason is that I wanted to connect the fuse block to the “load” output from the charge controller. So I did that, connected it all together, set up the charge controller for lithium batteries, and set its load output to be always on. The result is what you see in the top photo. Yes, it’s messy right now. I’ll tidy up the wiring as more of it gets installed. But for right now, it all works.

Then I got out my leftover wire collection from the first van build and ran a pair from the fuse box all the way to the roof vent in back. I stuck a 10-amp fuse into the right place, and the fan came to life.

As I’d hoped, this makes a huge difference in the comfort level inside, even with all the doors shut and the front window vents installed. I think just the one fan may be enough. But I didn’t get to leave it on long enough to find out.

After a victory coffee, I went back out to experiment with it. I found both the remote control and the buttons on the vent itself to be completely non-responsive. The only control I had was the manual open/close knob and disconnecting the wiring. A little research turned up a bug “feature” where the Maxxair fan isn’t designed to run on more than 13.6 volts. A charged lithium battery rests at 14 volts and can rise even higher while charging. Considering the behavior I’m experiencing, and the fact that there is absolutely no other load on the battery to drop the voltage, I’m convinced that my fan’s control circuitry fried, leaving it stuck in the last setting I selected.

It’s ridiculous that Maxxair fans are designed this way. Even with standard lead acid or AGM batteries, the voltage can exceed 13.6 while charging. Why would they design a circuit that can’t handle voltages normally seen in any RV or camper van electrical system? This is becoming even more of a problem with higher-voltage lithium batteries becoming more affordable and popular. Would it hurt Maxxair that much to add a voltage regulator that would prevent this problem from happening?

That’s exactly how I plan to solve this problem for myself. I ordered a voltage regulator that I will connect to my roof vent circuit to make sure the voltage doesn’t go higher than it can handle. Because Amazon seems to work at the speed of light in central Florida, I should have it tomorrow. It’s a 10-amp regulator, so it should be able to handle a second vent if I add one someday. Meanwhile, I’ve contacted Maxxair support to see what they suggest. I’ve only been using this roof vent for two months, so hopefully, they can repair or replace it for me while I’m working on other parts of the build.

In the meantime, AFTER I’ve installed the regulator into the circuit, I can easily swap the manual fan I put in the old van into the new one. It won’t open or close automatically, but its automatic fan mode should help control the temperature inside while I continue the build. The fried fan can go in the old van to plug up the hole, and to act as a vent only. If Maxxair gets me a working fan, I can always put the automatic fan back into the new van before leaving Florida.

I’ve had another disappointing moment, too. The cot that was supposed to give me a “good enough for now” bed doesn’t fit nearly as well as I expected it to. It’s quite short, so under-bed storage won’t really exist. Even worse, it’s not tall enough to clear the wheel well, which makes it stick out from the wall much farther than I wanted. I’m wondering if I can find some bed risers that would work to lift it high enough for my temporary needs. I’m still not sure where I want the bed yet, and would rather avoid building a permanent one until I figure that out.

I should be more excited right now than I am. I legitimately made some excellent progress today, and have the beginning of a house electrical system. That’s a huge step. It’s just frustrating that my two-month-old automatic roof vent is fried because of what I consider a major design flaw. It doesn’t help that what was supposed to be an easy temporary bed solution turns out to be not so easy after all. The two problems are interlinked because I can’t add outlets and accessories until I have an idea where I’m going to want them, at least for starters. So here I am, complaining about it on the internet and getting that frustration out of my system. I’m sure everything will work out in the end. I’m just having an off day because of these setbacks.

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