Classic (DL) Electrical Improvements

Chandelier.  When we told a relative about all the amenities in our new Aliner, she laughingly said all it lacked was a crystal chandelier.  Soon after, I saw a very small chandelier at Lowe’s – with a price equaling my birthday money.  Taking that as a sign, I brought it home and rewired it for the camper.  I took off most of the chain and put a small s-hook in the last link, which I hang from a picture-hanger eye in the peak of the roof.  Velcro clips on the cord stick to velcro squares along the peak and down the side by the door, where I have an inline switch.  Then the cord runs along the shelf over the AC and down to the outlet.  Although it was just for fun, our chandelier really does provide good overall light with a single 40-watt bulb.  It travels suspended in a bucket stored on the wheel-well cover under the sink. 

Better 110v access.  Since we leave the rear bed made up, the 110v outlet located under the bed is very inconvenient.  I fastened a power-strip extension cord to the side of the AC cabinet, next to the outside wall, where it’s much easier to reach. 

We were frustrated with the lack of electrical outlets in the dinette area; the only outlet on that side of the camper was in front of the sink.  But how and where to install one?  Snagging electrical wires around those small spaces is not easy!  In the process of removing the countertop over the refrigerator to add some insulation (we don't have a built-in stove), I discovered that there was just enough space in the dinette wall above the fridge to mount a sideways outlet.  And it would be easy to run a wire from there to the single outlet behind the fridge.  It was soon obvious that opening that fridge receptacle, or changing it to a double one, would be a real chore, but adding multiple plug accomplished the same thing.  I cut the female end from an air-conditioner extension cord and wired it to my new dinette outlet.  The I ran the male end down behind the fridge to the multiple plug.  Now we have a handy outlet right next to the dinette.

New 12v outlet.  We had no 12v outlet in the camper, so I added one on the side of the fridge cabinet.  I ran a fused wire from the battery under the dinette seat, through the wiring hole in the fridge cabinet, and up the other side.  There was enough space behind the fridge for me to drill the hole and hook up the outlet.  We use it to power our 5” TV and our 12v reading light (Radio Shack).  It’s also the perfect spot to plug in our 12v battery monitor.

TV cable jack.  In addition to the 12v outlet, I used the fridge cabinet wall for our TV cable jack.  With a right-angle adaptor, the cable is kept flat against the wall.

You can see in the photo below that I used a scrap of aluminum as reinforcement for the bottom screw of the faceplate; the top screw went into a framing piece. 

I didn’t want to drill through the outside camper wall, so I just pulled a piece of weatherproof cable from the back of the jack through the vent panel, where the end is protected with a plastic cap and held in place with a self-adhesive cable clamp.  We carry a long piece of weatherproof cable to connect to the campground outlet.

Optima battery.  I confess - standard 12v batteries scare me .... all those warnings about eye protection and explosions and gases and acid.  Then there's the problem of adding water and protecting it from freezing.  With all that in mind, I replaced our dealer-installed battery with a "maintenance-free" Optima yellow-top battery.  One of the nicest things about this battery is that there's no need to vent it.  That frees up space in the battery cabinet and means one less access point for "critters".  I used the original battery box to hold the Optima, and just set the lid on top to protect it.  I added a knife-type disconnect to the terminals, which has come in handy when I've done other electrical work.

Inverter.  Forrest uses a CPAP (breathing machine) at night, so we knew that when we camped without utilities we would need to run a 110v appliance off the 12v battery.  Since the bedside cabinet was the idea location for it, I mounted an inverter (Vector 750 watt from Lowe's) on 1x2 strips bolted to the floor of the door-side wheel-well.  The face (outlets and switch) are exposed through a hole I cut in the paneling.  The faceplate is a piece of rigid plastic from an art supply store, cut to fit around the inverter face, and covered with contact paper.

To run from the inverter to the battery, I used two 15' lengths of #4 welding wire.  Ring terminals were from a car audio supplier.  Soldering the connections defeated me, but I got a good crimp with this trick: put a large nail across both sides of the part to be crimped and squeeze it tightly in a vice.  Running the wire was the hardest part.  I didn't have to cut any new holes, but enlarged several existing wiring holes with drill, nippers, utility knife, anything that would work.  The cables run from the wheel-well into the back hatch, across the top of the hatch wall past the water tank, through the hose hole into the converter cabinet, then into the sink cabinet, up to the framing under the countertop, above/behind the furnace and into the space behind the fridge (accessible from outside with the vent door off), then into the battery cabinet.  Whew!  I secured the cables with plastic cable ties - sometimes to existing wire bundles, sometimes to small nail-in cable clamps where I could reach.

Fuse - the 60/80/100 inline fuse holder from Radio Shack worked like a dream. The stripped wire is held in place with a set-screw - easy, neat and tight.  Although the inverter manual suggests a 150 amp fuse, I'm using a 100 amp fuse ordered online - I couldn't find anything that heavy in the local stores.

I was a bit concerned about ventilation around the inverter and decided to install a small muffin fan in the area.  You can see it in the bottom left of the first picture above; the fan switch is on the lower right.  The fan makes little noise, so I used an LED switch for my on-off control.  I can't hear the fan, but I can see the light.  The LED switch is to the left of the inverter in the photo below.

Here is something I wrote as I started this project:

Ah-ha #1 (wire size):  It's finally sinking in that "voltage" in electricity equals "water pressure" in plumbing, and wire size/gauge equals pipe diameter.  Lower water pressure requires a larger pipe, and lower voltage requires a larger wire.  That's why wire for a 12v system is so much larger than what's needed for the same application in a 24v system.  Likewise, longer distance requires larger pipe/wire.  Since I want the inverter about 12 feet from the battery, I need to use 4 gauge wire (the lower the number, the larger the wire).  Our local electrical supply dealer recommended #4 stranded WELDING cable (at 68 cents/foot!) – more smaller strands than the cheaper, stiffer wire Lowe's carries.

Ah-ha #2 (car audio supplies):  I couldn't find the right size ring terminals (the metal circles that slip over the battery posts) at the electrical supply, Lowe's, or even Advance Auto.  Looking for them online gave me my second Ah-ha – it's all CAR AUDIO stuff!   We don't do car audio, so I had no idea that these terminals, cables, fuses, etc are what people use to install those muscle speakers in cars.  Once I knew where to look, I found a 100-amp inline fuse holder for #4 wire at Radio Shack for about $6 (will have to order the fuses online) and gold-plated ring terminals at a local audio store (where I also could have bought cable – and in colors instead of "contractor black").

Detachable power cord.  In less than a year of use, several "fingers" around the factory pull-out power cord opening had broken off.  It was a standing invitation to "critters" to move in.  I changed the cord to a detachable one, using a Marinco kit.  Although cutting through the original factory power cord was a heart-stopping moment, the kit installed beautifully and we've been pleased with it.  No more critter access there!

Extension cord plug protector.  At home, we leave the camper pluged into an extension cord from household current.  Keeping the connection dry was a concern until I saw this handy tip from "Trailer Life" magazine.  I purchased a $1 small plastic box with a hinged lid and drilled holes in opposite sides to accommodate the trailer cord and the extension cord.  With heavy-duty shears, I cut slots from the top edge of the box to the holes so that the cords would drop inside.  A few small holes drilled in the bottom provide drainage for any water that gets into the box.  Now the connection is well-protected from snow and rain.

Battery-box wrench.  Though we no longer need this with our new, unvented battery, it may help someone else.  Unscrewing the lid from the battery box was bad enough, but impossible when the right wrench wasn't handy.  I finally attached a socket wrench, with a 10" extension, to the top of the battery box, using cable clamps to hold it in place.  No more, "Where the *&%^%* is the wrench!?"