Blog takeover: Dave's Drift Adventures
"After a year of installing my Fogstar 300Ah Lithium battery, I think I am able to provide a pretty accurate picture of how it has changed the way we use our motorhome and the benefit has given, the changes/additions I have made to compliment the battery and what I will probably change or add in the future.
My first comment would be to advise anyone considering buying from Fogstar, I can say their advice and support prior to purchase was excellent. post purchase I have to say it's been non existent BUT that's only because the battery has performed exactly as they suggested it would and I haven't needed to contact them at all with issues or problems!! How can I rate a service when it's not been required?
My first order was for the Fogstar 460Ah battery but I changed it with no fuss, no song and dance, to a Fogstar 300Ah on the basis that I thought it would be a tight fit and a little too heavy for me to manage. What I should have done was to drive our motorhome to them and try it!! We are more than happy with the Fogstar 300Ah and it's done everything we have asked of it, but part of me regrets not 'going large', although I have to add, we have never ran out of battery power even though we have not limited when and where we have used it, so perhaps the Fogstar 460Ah should be considered as a ‘would like’ as opposed to a ‘must have’ in our experience.
Why Fogstar though and not one of the other well respected brands? Price was a large factor, but there’s little point in saving money on initial (major) purchase if it fails to deliver. The guarantee of 10 years and its estimated 4500 cycles gave me confidence in the product and a couple of telephone conversations and email exchange with Becs and Ben made the decision to ‘go Fogstar’ an easy one! Anyway, I fitted the battery easily enough in the space available, changed a bit of on board wiring as I knew I would be adding some additional ‘toys’ and in it went. Simples! I had already decided I wanted to be able to add a microwave to my motorhome so purchased a 2kw inverter. I needed to do a bit of changing on board wiring to ensure that the microwave would work via both 240v EHU and the inverter. It was achieved by a simple plug swap arrangement until I could work out a better solution and see if the battery would deliver (I later found I could have done a much simpler method, had I gone for a different inverter, but more on that later).
I also added an additional socket near the kitchen area, which meant we could also use an electric kettle instead of using a kettle on the gas stove. Being able to use an electric kettle might seem a very trivial gain for such a large financial investment, but being able to jump out of bed, flick a switch and jump back in again until it boiled is exactly what we wanted. At this point we had no solar and were relying purely on driving to top up the battery, we managed this for around a week in Brittany before returning home as planned, but realised we were going to need more ways to recharge the battery than relying on the built in charger via the alternator, which was providing around 15 amps per hour of driving. To boil the kettle takes around 5 Ah, so it was enough with driving around, but not enough to make me feel comfortable.
Off-grid location in Brittany just 100m from the Sea at a free Aire
My first addition when we got home was to install second hand 200w of solar (2 x 100w Renogy panels) and a reduced price Votronic 250 Duo MPPT, which would charge the vehicle battery and the leisure battery. I also bought a second hand folding solar panel of 150w (but haven't used it yet as I want to install a simple method of connecting and disconnecting it, possibly through Anderson connectors, but that’s a job for winter this year!).
One issue after installing the battery though soon became apparent when we tried to use the kettle and microwave at the same time, would the battery be able to provide sufficient power? Yes it was, BUT the inverter tripped! It seems the battery was willing but the inverter's flesh was weak! Was it a real problem? Well for us it was an inconvenience enough to require a change.
After a bit of research I settled on a Renogy 3kw inverter. An added advantage was that it had a built in pass through, which means that if the inverter was turned off and we were connected to EHU (Electric Hook Up on site), then all the sockets supplied by the inverter would work without having to manually do a ‘plug switch’, again, not exactly an issue, but you might have realised by now that I do like things to work without having to do anything to make them work! Lazy? Perhaps! The Renogy comes with two UK plug sockets and I used each socket to feed a different circuit. Circuit one has an additional socket in the kitchen area and near the lounge seating, circuit two supplies just the microwave at the moment, but will also feed one of my next projects, an external socket. If I had bought the Renogy inverter initially, I could have routed all the electrical sockets through the two circuits, just ensuring that I split the sockets up so as to split the loads. Another wiring change soon accommodated the inverter and so to the test, would it work? YES, it did and after checking the Fogstar app, we were using around 2.2kw with them both on at the same time and could still use the water pump, lights and ancillary eqpt via 12v at the same time.
In terms of investment and cost, I don’t think the savings made by not having to pay additional fees for EHU are ever going to provide full payback for the battery and the purchases and installation of the inverter, solar panels, extra sockets etc. But when set against the freedom to park up and use whatever we want wherever we are, that cost is more than covered in our minds. We have even put the kettle on whilst in a major road hold up (ignition off and vehicle not moving for an hour or two) as well as waiting to board the Eurotunnel, having gone past the gas cylinder checkpoint, again another minor plus point, but they all add up! We do tend to decant any excess boiled water into a flask during the daytime, so we can use it for washing up or for our next drink, but that's from habit and not necessity!
Enjoying the beautiful scenery in Switzerland
Having worked out that the battery had enough power to supply both the kettle and microwave at the same time, I decided to add the water heater/heating to the same circuit as the kettle. At a 1kw rating on the lower setting, we can now have hot water via the taps (and shower) without using gas to heat it if needed. I have also fitted an external shower point that gives us hot water for washing up outside. On the 1kw setting it takes around 20 minutes to heat the water sufficiently to shower or wash up.
It was at this point that I knew we could reduce our gas consumption quite a lot, so long as we had a reliable method of recharging the battery, without going onto EHU, though of course if the EHU wasn’t charged at per kilowatt and included in a pitch price, then that was still an option. We just don’t turn the inverter on and everything powered by electricity (240v) works perfectly due to the pass through facility. I have however fitted an anti surge device for those infrequent times that we would use EHU on site. The next home appliance we started to use was an Air Fryer, not a large one, just something big enough for two. At around 1kw we found a Tower Air Fryer was small enough to carry around but big enough for our needs. A toaster soon found its way into the motorhome and we were quite happy with our slow move to using electrical appliances, utilising free electricity from the sun or travelling, for our needs.
When browsing through the Facebook marketplace pages on my wife's phone, I came across an electric pizza oven for £20! I quickly checked its power rating and at around 1.2kw with both top and bottom elements, I thought it’s worth a try at that price. If it was just a gimmick and didn’t work, it’s no great loss, much better than paying over £100 for one to find out it doesn’t work. I would add that previous to that we have always used a gas Cadac BBQ for both BBQing and to cook pizzas, using a pizza stone and utilising the lid to create an oven effect, I have to admit cooking pizzas on the Cadac really was easy, giving a crispy base (no one likes a soggy bottom!) and perfectly cooked topping. Would an electric pizza oven produce the same result and would the battery and inverter be able to cook several pizzas, one after the other, without reducing the battery level too low. Simple answer was yes it would!
As most couples, we do like different pizzas and quickly worked out that if we cut each of our pizzas into half and cooked those as one, we could both enjoy that half while the other half was cooking unattended, being notified by the ‘ping’ when it was ready! If I could replace the Cadac as a pizza oven, could I replace it as a BBQ? You can perhaps realise at this point (as I was doing) that the more we could do with free electricity, the less reliant we would be in having to find somewhere to top our refillable gas system.
I remembered that years ago, when one of our daughters was at University, she bought herself (from the bank of mum and dad of course) a George Foreman grill. Not only was it easy to use and healthy but easy to keep clean. So, quickly onto marketplace again, I found one for £10, hardly used, still in the box and it was the large one with an additional side hot plate! Result ! But I wanted to use it as a BBQ and wanted to use it outside (we already have a gas BBQ point). Rather than fit an external electric socket until I had checked it all worked, I picked up a camping trailing socket with four sockets protected by circuit breakers. Although I would already have protection via the motorhome's protective devices, I decided it wouldn't hurt to have extra protection, so I utilised one of the internal sockets supplied by the inverter (so it also worked on pass through when on EHU). It worked exactly as I had hoped, it cooked really well, was easy to use and clean and allowed me to cook using both the George Foreman, the pizza oven, and if necessary even the air fryer outside of the motorhome.
So now we have reduced my reliance on gas when not on EHU, to just the fridge, so long as I can replenish the battery power. I haven’t quite brought myself to the point of getting rid of the Cadac altogether, as we also have the ‘Trio’ attachment where we can use the Cadac away from the motorhome, so it could still have benefits.
Having just returned from a short three week trip around the EU though, we didn’t use it once so will no longer carry it around with us! We had previously looked at lots of motorhomes without an oven and thought they were missing a crucial element for leisure life and we would never have bought one, but we are now in the opposite camp and should we ever change our motorhome, would seriously consider an ovenless motorhome if it delivered everything else we needed or wanted. We would also consider whether a motorhome with a large compressor fridge and freezer would also be better, but as of yet, I don't really know a lot about them in terms of power consumption, I would need to look a lot deeper into them.
Enjoying off-grid life in Germany
So my next couple of jobs are to fit a large Battery to Battery (DC - DC) charger so I can recharge at a much higher rate when driving. As I don't have an actual lithium battery setting on my existing motorhome installation (Nordelecrica 237), I will look to have it upgraded by Apuljack Engineering (£140) as although the current lead acid setting has worked fine and charged my lithium up to 98% when on EHU. I understand that the charging rate is not healthy for the inbuilt charging system itself, so it makes sense to have it adapted, or does it? My thoughts are that if I do fit a decent sized B2B and drive every other day, as we tend to do, then the lithium should get up to nearly fully charged, so if we did go to a site for EHU, then the N237 wouldn't be working that hard to put in a small charge? I will also fit an external 240v socket for outside cooking. I know some people are happy to run an extension lead from an internal socket or from an open locker, but I don’t want that. I want to remove the potential of an unnecessary trip hazard and reduce the potential of mosquitos etc getting in through gaps and open lockers. I will keep the four socket protected outlet though to use outside though, it also has two inbuilt USB outlets, which I’m sure will be utilised at some point! .
So in the end, the question is (as I am happy with all my ‘stuff’ and what it gives me), would I have done anything differently? In terms of purchases, I think I should have gone for as big a lithium battery as I could fit. I wish I had tried to see if the Fogstar 460Ah actually fitted, even if it meant getting someone to help me lift it into the motorhome. I wish I had known about the Renogy 3kw with pass through as that would have saved me a lot of head scratching and buying smaller inverters before realising what i actually needed!
I wish I had done a lot more sitting down and thinking and planning what I actually wanted, which would have helped me focus and stop me from wasting time making changes. In terms of buying things I didn't need, as I tried to buy most things ‘pre loved’, I was able to get the money back for most of what i had bought and not needed, not all of it but a pretty good proportion of it, however, I can't get back the time that I wasted in changing layouts, wiring changes and additions to suit what I had initially bought, and then changing them to suit their replacements. It did however force me into learning more about how the parts of the puzzle fit together, which I suppose isn't such a bad thing. It's a learning curve that I made more difficult for myself than I should have done.
Hopefully you will have gained something from my experiences, I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in either motorhoming or on board electrical systems, but I do know that the Fogstar 300Ah battery is the main addition to our motorhome that actually makes it a motorHOME!"