Alite Improvements

Chandelier.  Since I added one to our Aliner Classic, a chandelier has been my signature mod.  So the Alite had to have one, too!  At Home Depot one day, a small low-voltage pendent lamp, intended for residential use, caught my eye.  It was a good color for the Alite decor and low voltage was perfect.  This was a light I could run from the battery.  I removed the canopy (the part that goes on the ceiling) and disconnected the socket wire from the transformer inside.  The cord from the 12v bulb socket to the canopy was an insulated hot wire with an outer braided wire as the neutral lead.  I slipped a piece of small plastic tubing over the cord, made a loop at the right spot to hang the light from my center pole, and pushed the loop through a large bead to create a loop for an S-hook. 

To the end of the cord, I added a 2-wire 12v automotive plug, connecting the hot wire to the male leg (the exposed pin on the plug) and the braided neutral wire to the female leg (the socket on the plug).  I put the other half of the 2-wire plug on a length of regular lamp cord, connecting the ribbed wire to the male leg of the plug and the smooth wire to the female leg.  Heat shrink tubing makes a neat insulated cover over the wire connections - you just have to be sure to slip the tubing over the wire BEFORE making the connection!  I crimped ring terminals on the bare ends of the lamp cord and added an in-line switch to the hot (smooth) wire of the lamp cord.  The switched lamp cord stays connected to the battery terminals (smooth wire to positive and ribbed wire to neutral!)  When the cord isn't connected to the chandelier, I put a screw cover on the exposed pin (male leg), although it's the neutral lead and I wouldn't really need to cover it.  I hang the lamp from the center pole, run the cord through wire clips along the edge of the A wall, and connect the trailer plug to the switched lamp cord.  For storage, I put the lamp fixture in a small square bucket (Dollar Tree) that's velcroed to the top of the doorside wheel well. 

NOTE:  the 12v 50w bulb that came with the fixture was too bright and too hot for the small camper.  I replaced it with a 12v 30w bulb that's much better.

Kitchen light.  The original fixture on the door-side A, over what became my kitchen sink, had 2 incandescent automotive bulbs.  I wanted to change to LED bulbs, but couldn't find any with the right base.  I finally replaced the entire fixture with one that accomodates LED bulbs and has a switch for 2 bulbs, 1 bulb, or off.  I bought 1 each of the warm white and the cool white LED arrays.  The warm white bulb is the one that comes on alone; with both warm and cool bulbs together, I have very good lighting in the kitchen. 

Water heater.  The Eemax 120v 20amp tankless water heater required the addition of an additional 20amp circuit.  Since there was an empty slot in the Elixer distribution panel, this was easy to do.  The hard part was running the 10awg wire into the converter.  I had to open a knockout in the side of the box, cushion the edges with a rubber grommet, and work the stiff wire through.  From the converter, the wire runs along the water line across the back of the camper and down into the sink cabinet.  I knew that making wiring connections in that small space would be almost impossible.  So before installing the sink, I wired the new circuit to a GFCI outlet and mounted the outlet inside the cabinet.  Then I added a 3-prong plug to the water heater.  For the final electrical connection, all I had to do was plug the heater to the outlet.

Converter fan.  Even with extra wood cut from the bench lid over the converter, I was concerned about heat accumulation in that area.  I mounted a small cooling fan to the top of the converter, connecting it to a switch in the cabinet wall.  With the fan turned on, warm air is blown out through the wastebasket opening.

Heater.  A portable cube heater was OK for heating this small camper, but it took up valuable "kitchen counter" space.  When another owner mentioned installing a "kickspace" heater in his Aliner, I saw possibilities for the Alite!  Kickspace heaters are designed for installation in tight quarters, and a google search turned up a heater that would fit in the space next to the porta-potty - the only cabinet space available.  The 120v 1500w/750w Qmark QTS1500T has a built-in thermostat and measures 3.5H x 9D x 15W.  Electrical connections were simple.  On the heater, I pulled the jumper connecting the 2 heating elements (750w is all I need and this would keep the heater a bit cooler) and I wired it to the male end of a utility extension cord.  I already had a nearby junction box, where I'd had to splice a 120v wire to modify the porta-potty cabinet ,so I replaced the junction with an outlet.  Allowed spacing for the heater is as close as 1/2" to the finished floor, but I set it on 3" wood spacers to protect the camper floor and rubber-backed rugs.  (The specs also specify 12" from a corner; that was not an option for me, but the adjacent panel does not get overly warm.)  The heater grill does not cover the top or bottom edges of the cabinet hole, so I measured very carefully before cutting the opening with a utility knife.  The heater is held in place with only 2 screws through the grill and paneling, but I reinforced them with wood strips on the back side.  It feels very solid.  Although the heater takes away some of the storage space in that cabinet, I still have room behind it for my boxes of baggies, saran wrap, and aluminum foil.  Two wooden strips, screwed from the front for stability, provide ventilation space between the heater and a plastic tub on top of it which holds canned and dry food.  An aluminum strip, screwed to the frame, holds the food tub in place at the rear of the cabinet, and away from the warmest part of the heater.  To remove the tub, I just swivel the strip upward out of the way.

New 12v outlets.  I added a 12v outlet in the cabinet near the converter, to power my "fridge", a 12v cooler.  In the first picture, you can see the new outlet next to the converter, below the switch for the additional converter fan.  In the second photo, you can see a plug-in battery monitor in the original OEM 12v outlet.  That outlet in the front cabinet came with a very thin plastic faceplate that flexed every time I used the plug.  I replaced it with a rigid brown blank faceplate in which I drilled a hole to fit the outlet.  It's much firmer now.

With a 12v tire pump and a 12v post lamp next to the door, it was about time I added an exterior 12v outlet.  It wasn't easy to find one with a cap and a good faceplate, but I located one at Advance Auto.  The next problem was where to locate it.  The outlet is longer than the thickness of the exterior wall, and I didn't want it to stick out into a storage area where it would be in the way or get damaged.  I also wanted it near the battery. The best spot was next to the shore-power outlet, in the rear corner.  After I measured carefully inside and out, I drilled a 1" hole in the exterior camper wall, ran a bead of caulk around it, and set the outlet into the hole.  It's secured at each corner with small through-bolts and nuts.  I'd previously installed a 12v switch for a small converter cooling fan.  When I replaced the old Elixir converter, I took out the fan and left the switch.  Now it's perfect for the outside outlet.  If I'm ready for bed and realize I didn't turn off the post lamp outside, no problem.  I can turn off the outlet from inside!

New 110v outlet.  I found that I needed an outlet in the "kitchen" for appliances.  I added one to the front of the kitchen cabinet, wiring it to the male end of a heavy-duty extension cord that I plugged into the new-circuit outlet inside the cabinet.  I just have to be careful not to run hot water and a hotplate at the same time, or I could trip the breaker!  The 2 brown spots on the front of the cabinet are covers for the water-heater screws.

Detachable power cord.  One of the first things I did to the Alite was make the power cord detachable, using a Marinco conversion kit.  It's been as convenient in the Alite as it has been in the Aliner Classic, freeing storage space in the electrical compartment.  For travel, I coil the detached cord and store it in the front bin.

AGM battery.  I replaced the original battery with an AGM battery that doesn't need maintenance or venting.  Removing the vent left that hole available to use for a water inlet.

Charging access.  The battery is located underneath the bench and difficult to reach should I want to a separate battery charger.  Repeating an improvement I'd made to our old Classic Aliner, I added a "charging outlet" just inside the Alite baggage door. I mounted a standard household outlet (for ordinary 3-prong plugs) in a box on the wall frame where it's reachable from the open baggage door, and wired the hot and neutral contacts directly to the hot and ground battery terminals, fusing the hot wire near the battery end. The outlet cover plate is clearly marked "FOR BATTERY ONLY".  To make my charger "outlet friendly", I cut off the battery clamps and added a male 3-prong plug to the remaining cord.  To the clamps, I wired a matching female plug.  My battery connection for the charger is now simple - plug it into the "charging outlet" inside the baggage door. To use the charger on any other accessible battery, I plug the battery clamps back onto the charger cord and I'm set. 

Solar panel.  I knew nothing about solar power, but it seemed a great option to add. At a 2011 Aliner Owners Club rally, I was inspired by a solar mod done by Dave Michaels. I ordered a 50w panel by Ramsond ($155 on eBay) and found it very easy to connect. I used small crimped ring terminals to connect the solar contacts to the hot and neutral screws of a female 3-prong plug (ignoring the ground screw on the plug). Note: I wanted a female plug on the solar panel so I wouldn't worry about exposed contacts).  The panel base is a plastic collapsible crate. I used my Dremel cutting wheel to make horizontal slots through both ends of each long rail at the top of the crate. Through these slots, I fed strips of perforated pipe strap hanger (copper strapping had more closely-spaced holes than galvanized). I slipped the ends of the straps under pre-existing holes in the solar-panel frame and bolted them in place. It is a bit awkward to pull out the sides of the crate to set it up, but a couple of zip-ties make good fingerholds. The crate can be set flat on the ground, or tipped to let the panel face the sun. A rock or jug of water inside the crate gives it weight and stability. The end of a 25' length of 3/32" cable is fastened to a new hole in the corner of the panel frame, and this security cable can be locked to the camper.

The female plug on the solar panel must connect to the female "charging outlet" (see above) in the camper. Since I already carry a 25' extension cord, I didn't want to add another cord with 2 male ends, dedicated to the solar panel. Instead, I made an adaptor with 10" of wire and a male plug on each end. With this adaptor added to either the solar panel or the charging outlet, I can use any standard male-female extension cord. 

To protect the solar panel during travel, I cut 2 pieces of pegboard to the dimensions of the solar frame. On the back side of one piece, I glued felt to protect the solar surface.. On the back side of the other piece, I taped a piece of non-skid carpet pad, then overlaid vertical and horizontal straps on the fother side, making "belt loops" from zip ties.  The straps terminate in plastic buckles which hold the resulting "sandwich" firmly together.  The strapped package weighs about 18 pounds. 

Post lamp.  In the Alinering world, there's a certain amount of "keeping up with the Joneses".  So when I saw the clever tongue-jack-mounted 12v post lamps sported by a couple of other campers, I decided I needed one for the Alite.  The first problem was finding the right kind of light.  Regular residential lamps (modified with a 12v bulb socket) are fine for larger campers, but they dwarfed the little Alite.  I saw exactly what I needed in the Landscape Lighting area of Lowe's.  The lamp itself needed little modifying.  I removed the short screw-on pipe, added a length of regular lamp cord to the existing wire, and reattached the pipe, which now hides the wire nuts.  To the other end of the new cord, I added a 12v male plug.  Finally, I added an in-line switch to the new cord. 

Next problem was where to put the lamp.  It didn't look right on the tongue, but was perfect next to the kitchen window.  And since I put my camp chair there, it would be good lighting for sitting outside at night.  But how to attach it?  In my collection of "stuff", I had a rigid tapered fiberglass pole.  I have no idea what it was, originally, or where it came from.  But it was perfect to support the post lamp.  The tapered end slips into the short metal pipe and the resulting lamp height is just right.  The pole supports the weight of the lamp, but I needed some way to stabilize it to the camper.  A galvanized pipe clamp worked.  Using the  hole meant for attaching the clamp to a wall, I screwed a 5" aluminum strip.  I put hook velcro on the back side of the strip and matching loop velcro on the camper.  To the carriage bolt that tightens the bracket, I added a wingnut.  Then I spray-painted the whole thing black.  With this bracket velcroed to the camper, I set the pole in it, up against the carriage bolt, and tighten the wingnut.  I slip the lamp pipe over the top of the pole and plug the cord into an exterior 12v outlet on the back side of the camper.  Perfect!

Travel and storage proved to be another issue.  The thick glass globe surrounding the bulb wiggled loose during travel, and the 6 glass panels rattled.  Not a problem - just stuff some plastic bags inside the fixture.  But the lid of the lamp was screwed in place, and I wasn't going to use a screwdriver each time I set up and packed up!  I removed the 2 lid screws, nipped off the sharp ends of 2 roofing nails, and epoxied the nails in the holes of the lid.  The nails act as pins, so I can lift off the lid easily, add or remove the travel stuffing, and set the lid back on the lamp.  To hold the lid in place during travel, I slip a small mesh bag over the light.  I threaded a cord through the mesh at the bottom of the lamp, with a cord-stop (Joanne Fabrics), so I can pull it tight around the lamp.  The fiberglass pole travels inside a bumper storage tube, and the lamp fits nicely in a narrow space next to the battery.  Easy setup, easy storage.  And it's awfully cute!