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Discussion Starter #61
So I guess the most important question to ask now is; How in the hell did you get all this work done?
It didn't happen quickly. It involved almost four years of initial and ongoing planning. During the last two years of the ongoing planning I did the build in pieces.

I have one almost non-related question for you....
I wanted to add a rear door handle to my hatch but havent really found a good way to attach an oem handle. You wouldnt happen to have pictures of how the hatch handle is installed, would you?
Since Ursa Minor installed the rear door hatch handle, and since I never had a reason to remove the plastic trim on the rear hatch, I don't have any photos to show you the handle install. However, a quick search of the forum finds this thread, which show numerous installs of inside hatch openers:

http://www.elementownersclub.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10932
 

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Discussion Starter #62
Further forward on the passenger side I built a strong base piece that would attach to the floor, and another piece that would attach to the pillar behind the suicide door. The base piece would support frames above which together with the pillar piece would support shelves and a countertop. The base and the pillar pieces needed to be aligned to each other to bring all of this together.

Here is the front of the piece that will attach to the pillar. The three holes are for bolts that will hold it in place:



This is the back of the same piece. The metal pillar has indentations and obstructions on it, and it wasn’t exactly vertical. Therefore the back of this piece needed areas cut away and areas built up so that when bolted to the metal pillar, it would align properly with other parts of the framework:



Here is the piece attached to the pillar. The two upper bolts screw into threaded inserts that I had installed into the metal pillar. The lowest bolt threads into a strong existing metric nut welded into the pillar at the factory. The top rail will provide some support for the countertop. The bottom rail will provide support for an interior shelf. The vertical piece on the left will provide a thicker edge that eventually a panel will cover:



Another view:



Here is the base piece that I built that will be bolted into threaded inserts in the floor. It is plenty strong, so I drilled large holes in it to shave off some weight. The large cutout that looks like a shark took a bite needs to be there to clear the lip of sheet metal around the rear upper shock mount. The 3/4” pieces around the perimeter will support a sliding tray upon which two heavy water storage containers will sit:



The bottom side of the base. This base needed to sit flat on the floor, but it was being mounted over the rubber/vinyl flooring with insulation/padding beneath, on a metal floor with ribs and indents. I had to build up and shave down some areas to get it to sit flat. Also visible is a T-nut that a piece above will thread into:



This is a panel that will be hinged onto the base to allow access to the water storage containers:



Rear view of panel:



Base bolted to floor with panel attached via a piano hinge. The base is bolted down with stainless steel machine screws and washers. The tops of the 3/4” pieces have HDPE runners glued onto them for the water container storage tray to slide over. (HDPE is High Density Polyethylene):



Another view with panel hinged up to closed position:

 

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Discussion Starter #63
Next on the passenger side are support frames that will be attached to the base piece that is bolted to the floor.

I built two frames out of 3/4” baltic birch plywood with half-lap construction to fit onto the base piece. I nailed and glued the frames at a right angle to each other. After adding some other support/attachment features, drilling holes, test fitting some hardware, removing the hardware, sanding and several coats of varnish, I ended up with the following:



The bottom rails of the frame will attach to the base piece. The middle rails will support a shelf, and the top rails will support a countertop:



Here the frame is set into place on the base piece but is not yet bolted down. It will be bolted down at four locations to the base piece. In addition it will be bolted to the sheet metal at the right side of the photo:



Another view of the frame set into place:



The water containers will be placed on a tray that slides in over the base piece with the holes drilled in it. The containers are rectangular, and in order to hold them in place, a vertical panel needs to be installed. This is the vertical panel, drilled, with a T-nut inserted, sanded and varnished:



Another view. The cutout area is to clear the top of the rear shock and a metal bracket:



The vertical divider panel in place. It will be held with two bolts to the frame and one bolt to the base piece. In addition, a shelf installed above it will lock it into place in a vertical orientation:



Another view of the vertical panel, with the hinged access door closed:



The two rectangular water jugs sit on top of a wood tray that slides in and out of the cabinet. This is a top view of the tray. A small section had to be cut away at the upper right in the photo, in order for the tray to clear the top threads on the shock:



Bottom view of the tray. The small rail is to keep the tray aligned straight as it runs along the guide rails mounted on the base piece:



The two water containers sitting on the tray for a test fit. I built this in such a manner that the water containers couldn’t freely move around when stored in the cabinet:

 

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Discussion Starter #64
More passenger side cabinet details.

There is a shelf above the water storage compartment. It not only serves as a shelf, but it also holds the vertical divider panel upright. First is a bottom view of the shelf. The glued/nailed on block attaches to the vertical divider panel, and the corner cutouts are to fit around the frames:



In this top view, there is a T-nut. A bolt up through the rail on the piece attached to the pillar will screw into this T-nut from below:



Shelf in place:



Another view of the shelf which also shows one of the two screen window clips that hold the hinged door closed:



View from under the shelf with hinged door open, showing attachment machine screws:



Panel that will cover part of frame above the shelf:



Panel held in place with screws:



View from another angle:



These aluminum J-Molds are used to hold panels and provide neat finished edges. They had previously been fitted, and then removed for sanding and varnishing of the frame, then added back:



Aluminum trim edge visible at corner of cabinet:



Access door on hinges opened, with water containers resting on pull out tray:



Tray partially pulled out:



Cover for aisle side of water storage compartment:



Back of cover. It is made of 1/8” plywood to save weight with additional 1/8” built up edges to add some stiffness and fit in J-Molds:



Panel in place, with two edges held by J-Mold. The lower part of the panel, not shown, has a screw at the bottom holding it in place:



Panel door for small cabinet above water:



It is made of 1/8” construction, similar to lower door:



One end of panel door is held by J-Mold, while bottom edge rests on top of outer edge of J-Mold. Right end held in place by window screen clip:



I need to add some sort of device here to be able to pull the door open when the window screen clip is turned 180 degrees to free the door. I don't want to add a knob or handle to the door, as it would extend out into the aisle and could be caught on things. I may add a little loop of nylon, or put some springy material behind the right edge of the door so that the door pops open when the window screen clip is rotated 180 degrees.
 

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Discussion Starter #65
Passenger side shelf and countertop.

Here is a shelf for the rear portion of the passenger side cabinet, sanded and varnished:



Bottom of shelf, which has built up pieces to stiffen it and make edges look more substantial:



Before the shelf was sanded and varnished, and before holes were drilled for mounting screws, here is the shelf test fitted into place:



The passenger side countertop is made of 3/8” plywood with built up edges and other areas also out of 3/8” plywood:



The countertop would rest on top of the frames, as well as the upper rail on this piece attached to the pillar:



In addition, two holes were drilled into the sheet metal below the rear passenger window:



And two fitted blocks were attached into these holes (the blocks later had threaded inserts placed into their tops, so that the countertop could be screwed down onto them):



Countertop fitted into place:



Another view:



Another view:



View of bottom of countertop after numerous T-nuts and some other spacers have been added, then it was sanded and several coats of varnish applied:



Top side of countertop. The T-nut installed on the top will be used by a bolt threaded into a rail from below, to hold the countertop down. The small wooden block will be used to help position and hold a small cabinet that runs up the pillar to the headliner. The two chamfered holes at the far edge are for machine screws that will screw down into threaded inserts in the blocks shown previously that are attached to the sloped sheet metal below the window. Finally, the numerous holes have T-nuts installed below and can be used with screw-eyes with nylon webbing attached, when it is necessary to tie down bulky cargo such as backpacks or duffel bags. Normally the countertop would not have things stored on it, so the screw-eye tie downs are removable:

 

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Discussion Starter #66
Passenger side upper pillar cabinet, switches and wiring.

In an earlier post, I showed the lighting attached to the headliner and the lighting inside the driver side cabinets. There will also be lighting in the passenger side cabinets. All of the wiring for the lighting comes together above the countertop at the pillar on the passenger side:



I planned for a small cabinet covering the pillar, from the countertop up to the headliner. I built a panel in which I mounted switches to control the lighting, as well as a 12 VDC outlet and 120 VAC shore power outlet. I connected the wiring to the switches and outlets. All of the switches and outlets were added to a panel that would be removable from the upper cabinet, so that the cabinet could be removed without disconnecting wiring. Photo of the back of the wired panel, along with brass ground tab connections visible on the sheet metal next to the window:



Another shot of the panel. Five of the switches had LED indicator lights on them, so they also needed a ground wire on each:



Another shot of the panel and in the background a bundle of black ground wires go to the brass ground tab:



Front of panel. I didn’t leave enough room for the 120 VAC outlet mounting tabs, so I had to angle the outlet to get it to fit:



Panel mounted into pillar cabinet with indicator LEDs lit:



Pillar cabinet installed. This cabinet consists of two sides and a front. The front was scribed and cut to match the headliner above. The sides were fitted to match the curves of the headliner as well as the pillar door frame and the window glass. The pieces were glued and nailed together with corner reinforcements, and two triangular pieces at the base help keep its shape. Unfortunately it was so much trouble to make and fit, I forgot to photograph its construction. It is held in place on the countertop by a machine screw through a triangular piece on its base (not visible), and is also held onto a block glued on the countertop by the machine screw at the bottom right:



There is wasted space inside the pillar cabinet, so I routed a second opening to match the switch panel opening, and this would allow small items to be stored inside. The piece of wood visible inside the cabinet is the piece that I had previously mounted to the pillar:



I placed labels on the switches and outlets. At the left are five indicator switches for controlling the lighting. The top switch is a master switch that controls all of the lighting, and the other switches control various groups of lights. The l O ll switch determines the source of power for the 12 VDC outlet above. The ON/OFF switch turns the 120 VAC shore power on or off for the outlet below:



After initial installation, I removed the cabinet and made some modifications, and then re-installed it. Inside, I put a vertical divider (barely visible) between the storage section and the switch/electrical section. I also put in a small horizontal shelf to create two storage compartments. I also attached a holder for a fire extinguisher to the cabinet:



Another view:



Another view, and the vertical divider is visible inside of the storage compartment:



A small door needed to be built to cover the storage compartment. Top view of door:



Rear view of door:



Side view of door:



Here a small window screen latch has been mounted to hold the door in place. The LED indicator lights on the light switches are on:



Door locked closed:



Door removed with some nylon webbing stored in the cabinet:

 

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Discussion Starter #67
Cabinet lights and various panels on passenger side.

I installed LED lights under the countertop and under the main shelf, as well as on the rearmost pillar, same as on the driver side of the vehicle. The wiring all came together with disconnects and the excess was stuffed into the cavity formerly occupied by the rear seat belt retractor reel:



Inside the storage area above the water storage. A Coroplast panel was inserted at the back, and a LED light’s leads were taped underneath the countertop:



Further back in the vehicle, another LED light under the countertop, a Coroplast panel has been fitted covering the wiring, and 1/2” webbing is visible for tying down the Porta-potti that will eventually be stored here:



Another view:



Here a 1/8” plywood divider panel has been added to the frame between the forward and rearward upper cabinets. The Coroplast has a nylon trim clip attached to hold it to the sheet metal behind:



Lower rear cabinet, with a 1/8” panel added to the frame as a divider:



This is the lighting in the cabinet above the water storage area. At the left are two large plastic containers that can be used to store cereal, etc., and there are three nesting plastic tubs that can be used for food storage, washing, rinsing, etc. Underneath are several thin plastic cutting boards that can also double as placemats on the countertop:



At the forward end of the passenger side cabinet near the suicide door, there was an unfinished area that needed to be enclosed:



Another view. An LED light has been installed in this area, and I have added some Coroplast to seal off the rollover airbag sensor from damage:



Another view:



In order to enclose this area, I made up several pieces. First a piece that would fill the rectangular opening at the top:



View of back of piece:



Piece installed:



Another view:

 

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Discussion Starter #68
Triangular piece at passenger suicide door pillar.

To enclose the main area, and to fit into the rubber trim around the door opening, match up against the floor and fit under the end of the door sill trim piece, I fashioned up a complex triangular piece out of multiple parts, then glued and nailed it together, then sanded and applied multiple coats of varnish:



Another view. The T-nuts are to be used with bolts in the adjacent wood frame to hold the piece in place:



Another view:



Back view of access panel that will cover the triangular piece:



Front view:



Access panel fitted into place:



Triangular piece bolted into position:



Another view:



Adjacent water storage area with 1/2” nylon webbing holding water containers in place:



Buckle on nylon webbing un-fastened, and tray pulled part way out:



Tray further out, with one water container lifted off of it:



Top front of triangular piece with rear earth magnets gorilla glued into place:



Rear of access panel with matching rare earth magnets:



Two REI folding lightweight FLEXLITE chairs:



Both chairs placed into cabinet:



Access panel in place over chairs. The panel snaps into place with the magnets holding it:



Another view:



Access panel removed at night:



One chair removed at night:

 

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Discussion Starter #69
Electrical at rear passenger side:

A lot of the electrical comes together at the rear passenger side of the vehicle. The LiFePO4 house battery is there, as well as its charger, an inverter, a solar charge controller, numerous switches and outlets, and connections for 120 VAC shore power and for connecting a solar panel. I added a weatherproof outlet box with weatherproof flip cover under the Element at the passenger rear in order to provide shore power and solar panel connections. These outlet boxes are often used on the exterior of houses to place switches or outlets inside of them. I attached the one I used with two mounting tabs and screws into the sheet metal underneath:



Here the box’s spring loaded cover is flipped open, and the circular opening goes up into the inside of the Element:



A 1/2” male PVC adapter is threaded through a hole in the floor into the 1/2” threads of an opening on the outlet box mounted below, helping hold the box in place. The ends of bolts and the nuts visible nearby are also holding the box in place below via mounting tabs:



The panel that sits in the sub-frame at the passenger side rear of the vehicle has a hole drilled in it to clear the PVC adapter:



Although a spring closes the weatherproof cover lid, I added a hitch pin to provide a mechanical lock for the cover:



Another view. The pin is easy to remove by hand, but should hold the lid in place on even very bumpy roads:



Here is a close up of the solar panel wiring and the 120 VAC shore wiring (inside a loom) coming up through the PVC adapter. They join with additional wiring looms that run to the shelf above, where many of the electrical components will be placed:



View of the weatherproof box from below. The 120 VAC shore power connection is shown, along with an SAE connector that matches the SAE connector on the end of the wiring of the solar panel. These ends are stuffed back into the box when not in use:



Here are some electrical items that will be carried in the camper. At the left is a 25’ grounded extension cord for hooking up shore power. At the top is a GFCI circuit breaker, if connecting to sources that don’t have GFCI. The bag contains various amperage 12 V fuses in the two sizes that are used in my build and elsewhere in the Element. At the right is a 120 VAC cord that can be used in a hotel room if the Dometic refrigerator is removed from the vehicle and carried into the hotel room:



I realized that if the floor panel was going to be removable with the permanent wiring in place, then I needed to jigsaw an opening into the drilled hole:



Floor panel back in place:



To cover up a gap between the rear passenger frame and the sheet metal at the rear of the vehicle, I made this 1/8” plywood trim panel after first making a cardboard template:



Trim panel in place and two LEDs visible mounted to pillar sheet metal:



View from inside of cabinet:



This 1/4” panel was constructed to cover the lower opening in the rearmost passenger side frame:



It is held in place with a J-Mold at the bottom and a window screen latch at the top:

 

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Discussion Starter #70
Rear passenger side electrical part 1.

Much of the wiring of the build either emanates from or ends up at the rear passenger side, where bundles of wiring were already in place generally in looms and marked. On the rear passenger side, at the back of the vehicle, on the shelf inside the cabinet, there would be numerous electrical devices. I realized that it would be easier to build and wire most of these things outside the vehicle, rather than in place. I also realized that I wanted to be able to later remove and replace electrical items, without cutting into the wiring that I had in place in the vehicle. Therefore I brought all of the necessary 12 V build wiring that was already in place in the vehicle into one side of a terminal block:



I also used a smaller terminal block for the 120 VAC shore power that came into the vehicle and was distributed to various locations:



This way I could construct and internally wire all of the electrical outside of the Element, then place it into the Element, then use the terminal blocks to connect it.

The middle shelf that was going to hold the electrical items at the rear of the vehicle would also carry a Porta-potti further forward. There would need to be a vertical divider between the two. The barrier I constructed would bolt onto the shelf, as well as onto a wooden electrical box I would build. The box would also bolt to the shelf, providing a solid support for the vertical divider. The divider has a tab at its base with a T-nut that allows it to bolt to the shelf. The tab at the middle left has a T-nut and is one attachment point for an electrical box. Many of the numerous holes have T-nuts behind, to be used to fasten terminal blocks, the electrical box and a fuse panel:



Back view of divider panel:



The electrical box I constructed was going to be open at the back, where it would bolt against the vertical divider panel. It was also going to be open at the bottom, where it would bolt against the shelf. I made the box out of two right angle sections, with some triangular reinforcing and mounting tabs. Inside view of the section with switches and outlets installed:



Another view. Notice the one DPDT switch with six terminals in a very small area. It was going to be very crowded wiring all of this, and would be much easier to do at a workbench instead of in place in the vehicle:



Outside view of the section. The cutout at the bottom of this section allows wiring to pass from inside the box to a solar controller that will be mounted on this panel:



Another outside view:



Inside view of the other section that would connect to the first section, completing the box:



Outside view of the same item. The cutaways along two edges are to allow clearance for wiring to pass into the box when it is mounted on the vertical panel:



The two sections temporarily fitted together, forming the complete box:

 

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Discussion Starter #71
Rear passenger side electrical part 2.

As I ran the wiring to all of the switches and outlets in the box, I was so absorbed at getting it correct that I didn’t stop to take photos along the way. So the following photos show the box wired, but the wiring has not yet been tied into the terminal block.

Here the section of the box that has the switches and outlets has been mounted onto the vertical divider panel. The solar controller is the black object at the left, a fuse/grounding panel is just below center, and the charger for the LiFePO4 house battery is near the top:



Looking down from above. The other section will be added later, enclosing the back of the switches:



The wiring from behind. It was difficult to get all of the wiring in place on the switch terminals with fairly heavy gauge wiring in some cases. If I was doing this commercially, I would set aside a larger volume for the wiring and more carefully bundle associated wiring together. This looks to be random wiring, but I am carefully following a hand drawn wiring diagram that I had created over time:



Close up of wiring from above:



12 VDC outlet, various switches and solar controller:



Fuse panel and grounding block. All of the loads in the build that use the house battery are fused through this panel. The various needed grounds come together at the grounding block, and later, a ground wire will run from the ground block to the chassis sheet metal:



Another view of the grounding block and the fuse panel. The black wiring is ground wiring:



Another view of the wiring:



The other section was attached onto the box, and I mounted the inverter and charger on to it. I bent aluminum straps to hold the LiFePO4 charger in place (at right), and the inverter in place (at the top):



View more clearly showing aluminum strap around the charger:



The 180 W inverter (blue) has a strap holding it down. It is fed 12 VDC via the red and black banana plugs:



The solar controller is specifically designed for LiFePO4 batteries, and is mounted with spacers (for air circulation behind) and four screws:



Another view showing aluminum strapping:

 

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Discussion Starter #72
Installing divider panel and electrical box on shelf at rear of passenger side.

The next picture shows the LiFePO4 house battery in place on the rear shelf on the passenger side, held down with strong Dyneema cord. Also shown is the 12 VDC wiring terminal with all of the wiring that goes into the chassis attached:



Next, the vertical divider panel along with its electrical box was set into place. It is held onto the shelf by one screw on a tab attached to the vertical panel, and two screws into the electrical box. There was very little room to work, so I designed the system so that I could attach it to the shelf with one screw at the tab, then swing the aisle side of the panel and electrical box forward in the vehicle to gain working room around the wiring terminals and fuse block. The next view shows the panel with the 120 VAC and 12 VDC wiring terminals attached to it:



The next picture shows the 120 VAC wiring connected, and some of the 12 VDC wiring connected:



All of the wiring connected:



I then pivoted the vertical panel backwards, and from underneath the shelf attached two additional machine screws into the electrical box to hold everything in place:



Here is a view from the rear showing everything in place:



A view from the aisle side:



I decided I’d rather have nylon webbing hold the battery down instead of Dyneema cord, so my wife sewed some webbing into an eyebolt:



The battery in place with webbing and buckles:



The buckles latched and the webbing tightened down, firmly holding the battery:



Another view:



Everything in place:

 

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Discussion Starter #73
What all the switches do.

I designed this system to do all of the things that I might want it to do. If I were making something commercial, I would come up with something simpler, more foolproof, but less versatile. One of the complications was that I was using a LiFePO4 house battery, instead of a standard lead acid house battery, so that meant I couldn’t just use the vehicle’s charging system to charge it, as is done in some campers. I had to use a specific charger for LiFePO4 batteries, which operated off of 120 VAC. I was able to find some multi-chemistry chargers used in the RC toy industry that ran off of 12 VDC that could charge LiFePO4 batteries, but they had many settings, and it wasn’t clear if you had to reset the settings each time the charger was powered on. Therefore I went with the 120 VAC charger that came with the LiFePO4 battery. That meant that I needed to add a 12 VDC to 120 VAC inverter so that the LiFePO4 charger could operate from the vehicle’s 12 VDC system while driving the Element. I figured I might occasionally need 120 VAC power for other purposes while driving, so the inverter would be multi-purpose.

I added labels to all of the switches. The panel visible from the rear of the vehicle (the various labels will be described after the picture):



At the top right is the 120 VAC shore power outlet which the LiFePO4 battery charger is plugged into at home or in a campground with 120 VAC shore power available. The ON/OFF switch below it turns the 120 VAC power to the charger off or on. To the left of the 120 VAC outlet is a l O switch which connects or disconnects the LiFePO4 house battery and the charger.

When driving on a long road trip, to keep the LiFePO4 house battery charged, you would move the 120 VAC plug from the outlet shown to the 120 VAC outlet on the inverter on top of the wooden electrical box. (Not shown in this photo, but shown in previous photos as the blue box.) The l O switch at the middle left connects or disconnects the inverter and the 12 VDC. I have a 10 gauge line running straight to the starting battery, and then through a relay that is energized when the engine is on, completing the circuit and providing plenty of amps with little voltage loss to the inverter.

At the bottom, the l O ll switch chooses either the starting battery or the house battery to power the 12 VDC outlet at the right.


The next photo shows the panel visible from the aisle of the vehicle, when the cabinet cover panel is removed:



The main item at the bottom of the photo is the solar charge controller for LiFePO4 batteries, with a small LCD display and a control button. At the bottom of the controller are +/- connections for the solar panel, the LiFePO4 house battery, and the Load.

Notice that all of the labels are in red, as a warning. This equipment is behind the cabinet cover panel, and would generally not be accessed unless using the solar panel. Randomly pushing these switches is not a good idea.

At the top left is a 12 VDC outlet and a l O switch for powering the outlet. This outlet is connected directly to the starting battery without a relay, and so will be live even with the ignition off. Therefore it has the DIRECT START BATT DRAIN!! warning in red, as anything connected could completely drain the starting battery. I decided to install this outlet, as there might be times I do want to directly access the starting battery with the engine off.

In the middle top is a blank switch that is a DPDT (Double Pole Double Throw) switch. The LEFT position is NORMAL and the RIGHT position is SOLAR. Normally the LiFePO4 house battery is connected to the 120 VAC charger that charges it. However, when using the solar panel and solar charge controller, the wiring needs to be reconfigured. The LiFePO4 house battery now needs to be disconnected from the 120 VAC charger and connected to the battery connector on the solar charge controller, so that the solar panel can charge the battery. The DPDT switch makes that switch. The reason that a double pole switch is needed instead of a single pole is that the connections on the Solar Charge Controller have separate grounds (they aren’t tied together), so both + and - must both be switched.

The l O ll SPST HOUSE switch to the right of the blank switch switches the Load from the LiFePO4 house battery (l or NORMAL setting) to the solar charge controller (ll or SOLAR setting), or O (off). This is used in combination with the DPDT switch when using the solar panel.

The l O ll switch at the far right determines the 12 VDC source for powering the inverter. The NORMAL position would be l, which would mean that the inverter powers off the starting battery. That would be what would be used almost always. However, I decided to add some flexibility into the system for emergency use. It would be possible to unplug the 120 VAC cord for the LiFePO4 charger from the inverter, then plug in (via an extension cord into the 120 VAC outlet on the inverter) the 120 VAC cord from the Battery Tender that can charge the car battery. By setting the switch at the upper right to ll, the inverter would be powered by the LiFePO4 house battery, which would then create 120 VAC power for the Battery Tender, which would then charge the starting battery so that the car could be started after an hour or two. I will probably never use this feature, but I certainly will appreciate having it if the starting battery is accidentally drained at some campsite and no one else is around to give a jump.

The system would have been slightly simpler if I just kept the LiFePO4 house battery always connected to the solar charge controller, and the solar charge controller always on. That would work OK if the battery had a huge capacity, but the solar charge controller draws some current from the battery when it is on, which would mean that the smaller capacity (and lighter weight) battery that I have would drain over some period of time. I went with a somewhat more complex system to prevent this.
 

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Discussion Starter #74
Panel cover and solar panel holder for passenger side cabinet.

A large panel door is needed on the aisle side of the passenger side cabinet. The small cutout is needed for a window screen latch. Front view:



Rear view with top of panel at top of picture. The two dark rectangles are steel plates for magnetic catches attached to the cabinet frame:



Rear view of panel with bottom of panel at the top of the picture. Notice that the bottom panel rail is rabbeted in order to hold the solar panel in place:



Nylon webbing and buckles added to strap solar panel in place for storage:



Semi-flexible solar panel placed in the rabbet at the bottom of the door panel:



Foam padding that the panel shipped with used as protection for the panel:



Solar panel wiring coiled in place and held by nylon webbing:



What the panel fits over. At the left is an aluminum J-Mold that will hold the panel, and at the right are magnetic catches and a window screen latch to hold the panel. The Porta-Potti is strapped into place:



The panel in place. You slide it into the J-Mold and then bring it toward the rear frame, and the magnetic catches hold it with a solid “thunk”. The screen window latch is for extra mechanical hold. With the window screen latch engaged, the panel can not be slid backwards out of the J-Mold:



Another view:



A view at night with all of the panels removed and all of the lighting off except for the interior cabinet lights. I have added some inexpensive plastic crates in the lower cabinet from the 99 cent store that are held in place by nylon webbing:



Another night view with only interior cabinet lighting:



Night view with all interior lighting on, and folding seating/step stool in aisle:

 

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> I designed the system so that I could attach it to the shelf with one
> screw at the tab, then swing the aisle side of the panel and electrical
> box forward in the vehicle to gain working room around the wiring
> terminals and fuse block.

Designing with future maintenance/access in mind: An extra 1,000 points. Of course at this stage, there's no keeping score. It's off the chart.
 

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Discussion Starter #76
Miles per gallon.

After completing the build as shown in this thread (still some minor things to do), I took a trip in early October from Southern California to Zion National Park in Utah, then the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then back to Zion and Southern California. My wife did not go, but I had the car fairly heavily loaded, and occasionally had a passenger in Utah and Arizona, where I met up with some friends from college.

On the drive from L.A. to Zion, the highway speed limits varied from 65 up to 80 mph. I generally drove at or slightly above the speed limit, and the weather was hot, so I had the AC on. The drive from Zion to the Grand Canyon and back to Zion involved some travel at up to 65 mph, but also lots of slower travel. When I drove from Zion back through Las Vegas to L.A., I decided to experiment and I generally traveled a little under the speed limit. For example, I went 75 in an 80 zone, and 65 in a 70 zone, but still had the AC on. I did this in a safe and considerate way - only on sections of freeway that had multiple lanes and light traffic. If traffic was heavy (such as going through Las Vegas), I sped up or slowed down to go with the flow of traffic. I don’t drive with a lead foot, and I don’t try to do jack-rabbit starts. I generally try to anticipate stops to get better mileage. I realize that the Element with the Ecamper and all of my cabinetry and equipment/supplies is nearing the GVWR, so I drive it like I would drive a camper, and not a sports car.

The total miles, gallons and mpg for the trip were:

Miles, Gallons, MPG
1192.0, 45.568, 26.2

The breakdown for each fill up was:

Miles, Gallons, MPG
114.3, 4.772, 24.0
281.8, 12.236, 23.0
90.2, 3.809, 23.7
235.3, 7.769, 30.3
242.4, 8.807, 27.5
228.0, 8.175, 27.9

I would fill up the tank, zero the trip odometer, and then when re-filling the tank at the next fill up, I recorded the miles driven and the gallons added to fill up. I have stock size tires, and I think at one point in the past I used a GPS to verify that the miles traveled are reasonably accurate.

In the list above the first two fill ups represent generally high speed freeway (65 to 80 mph speed limits) driving from L.A. to Utah. The third fill up was driving around southern Utah to northern Arizona. The fourth fill up, in which I got 30.3 mpg, involved secondary highways in northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon area, and southern Utah, with some big elevation changes. The speeds were lower, maybe 35 to 55 mph in general. The last two fill ups were from Southern Utah back to L.A., but driving a little slower as explained above.

All in all I am happy with averaging 26.2 mpg for the entire trip. The Ecamper conversion itself doesn’t really seem to add any significant drag. How you drive and the speed you drive at seems to have the biggest effect on mpg, which should come as no surprise to anyone.
 

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Discussion Starter #77
> I designed the system so that I could attach it to the shelf with one
> screw at the tab, then swing the aisle side of the panel and electrical
> box forward in the vehicle to gain working room around the wiring
> terminals and fuse block.

Designing with future maintenance/access in mind: An extra 1,000 points. Of course at this stage, there's no keeping score. It's off the chart.
I'm fairly confident I could access the upper rear shock mounts in a matter of minutes, and I could probably get to the access hatch in the floor above the gas tank in less than an hour.

As for the divider panel and electrical box, shortly after installing it and bolting it down, I ended up removing two bolts and swinging it out of the way to replace the Dyneema cord holding the battery down with nylon webbing. Also, at some point I plan to upgrade the LiFePO4 battery with a higher amp-hour battery, perhaps when the prices come down some more.
 

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I did a quick google search, and didn't come up with an answer.

Why do you need a special charger for the LiFePo4? I saw a list of advantages, which is impressive, but nothing on charging specifics. If I have any complaints on your system (and at this point A: I'm nitpicking, and B: you mentioned this yourself) the charging system seems unnecessarily complicated.

My curiosity is grounded in a desire to add a second battery, so I'm trying to learn (as opposed to being a hater)
 

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Discussion Starter #79
I did a quick google search, and didn't come up with an answer.

Why do you need a special charger for the LiFePo4? I saw a list of advantages, which is impressive, but nothing on charging specifics. If I have any complaints on your system (and at this point A: I'm nitpicking, and B: you mentioned this yourself) the charging system seems unnecessarily complicated.

My curiosity is grounded in a desire to add a second battery, so I'm trying to learn (as opposed to being a hater)
Good question, and one that I pondered.

Let me quote from one of the FAQ's on this page (I bought my battery and charger from Bienno Power):

http://www.bioennopower.com/pages/faq-lifepo4-batteries

"Bioenno Power does not recommend using lead acid chargers for LiFePO4 batteries. Lead acid batteries charge at 2.30V to 2.45V per cell whereas LiFePO4 batteries require 3.60V per cell. Your battery would potentially be undercharged, so you will not get use of the full capacity of the LiFePO4 battery, nor will balancing be triggered in the LiFePO4 battery pack, both of which are not desired. Furthermore, the floating charge of the lead acid charger is not expected by the battery and can cause problems. We recommend purchasing the battery with the bundled charger."

I have seen LiFePO4 batteries sold at other websites, here is one for example:

http://www.powerstream.com/LLLF-12v.htm

which are claimed to be direct replacements for lead acid storage batteries and are claimed to be chargeable with standard lead acid chargers. However, note that the powerstream website also sells specific LiFePO4 chargers for LiFePO4 batteries:

http://www.powerstream.com/lithium-iron-phosphate-charger-4-cell-3a.htm

They give specific information about voltage characteristics of the LiFePO4 charger.

Also, you might want to look at:

http://www.batterystuff.com/blog/can-i-use-a-battery-tender-on-my-shorai-.html

which explains why you might not want to use standard lead acid charging for a LiFePO4 battery.

I found that and many other links by googling "Can you charge a LiFePO4 battery with a lead acid charger?"

Some of the links pointed out that certain lead acid chargers can actually damage LiFePO4 batteries.

After considering these things, I concluded that I didn't want to take the chance of damaging the LiFePO4 battery, or shortening its useful cycle life, and I also wanted to make sure that the charger could bring it to a maximum state of charge, so I decided to go with a specific LiFePO4 charger. I bought the LiFePO4 battery, the charger and the solar charge controller from Bienno Power, as they were able to answer my detailed questions about all three items, and they were relatively local to me.

Of course so far I have discussed 120 VAC powered chargers, be they for lead acid or LiFePO4 batteries. What about the separate issue of simply using the alternator and 12 VDC charging circuit in the car to not only charge the starting battery, but also the house battery? This is commonly done on truck campers, RV's, etc., using a simple switch or various forms of battery isolators, or even dual alternators, to charge lead acid house batteries. Again, scanning through sources, I came to the conclusion that this might lead to battery damage, and would certainly lead to the LiFePO4 battery not getting 100% charged. Hence I decided that using the specific 120 VAC LiFePO4 charger running off the inverter when driving, made the most sense for me, even if it was more complex than I would have preferred. I was also concerned that the Element charging circuit might dump more charging amps into my relatively small capacity LiFePO4 battery than it was designed to take.

LiFePO4 batteries are evolving and are coming into more widespread use. They are apparently used as starting batteries on some motorcycles and race cars to save weight, and as mainstream auto manufacturers need to keep cutting weight to improve MPGs, I think that LiFePO4 batteries might be more commonly used in cars, especially if the battery prices keep coming down. If this is the case, I think that all of the charging issues will be ironed out (No pun intended) for LiFePO4 batteries.

If you want an integrated system with a LiFePO4 house battery, you might want to consider:

http://www.aspectsolar.com/energybar250-power-inverter-battery.html

It charges from 120 VAC, 12 VDC and solar power, and provides USB power, 12 VDC power and 120 VAC power. I probably would have gone with this system in my build, but I'm not sure if it was even available when I initially designed my electrical system, and even if it was, I didn't know about it.
 

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Wow! Thank you. That is a world of information.

9lbs for 20AH is an amazing set up. @380 for the entire set up (battery, inverter, charger) that energy bar isn't a bad price. My hypothetical DIY system spec'd out at around $150, didn't include my install or fabrication time and weighed 30lbs (and didn't incorporate an inverter at all - I was going to make the sacrifice of running everything at 12v - 12V macbook charger, 12v electric cooler, 12v speakers and lights & 50AH, which sounds like functionally only slightly more than a 20AH LiFePO4). Which wouldn't have been that bad.

So add a decent inverter and you are only paying an extra $100 or so and you can take the thing out of the car and use it anywhere (tent, worksite, whatever).

Very tempting.

A thought - Can you use the energy bar charger to charge your LiFePO4? its 12V and should put out the correct voltage. scratch that looks like the EnergyBar converts 15V @4A down to the correct charge voltage internally.
 
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