Sunday, August 9, 2015

11 days till freedom

The time is getting close.   Though I will probably spend a little more time getting my affairs together and doing some work on the van, the 20th is the day i leave my job of ten years.   I am both nervous and excited.   Im off this weekend and I'm visiting the family and getting some videos done, including my kayak video.  Which has roosters screaming in the background.

I have a lot of respect now for those who make youtube videos, it takes a lot of work and a lot of time rendering even a smaller video.   I'm disabling adblock on youtube in the future. lol

I have plans to revisit my 'easy van conversion', and do a video of my actually installing a version of it in my van, since it is pretty much empty awaiting me to (re)convert it into a home.   So look forward to that probably around the beginning of next month.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Van Life Hack: Keep Dry!

I decided to do a youtube series of little tips and tricks or "life hacks" that apply to people who live in a van or other tiny spaces.  This first van life hack tells you how I avoid mildew spells in the van while still having fun in the water. 

Enjoy, and be sure to subscribe while you are there, I have a lot more vids coming!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: Grapesolar Glacier 1.1cu Fridge (GS-CF-1.1-FAB1)

The Grape Solar Glacier 1.1cu ft DC refrigerator (model # GS-CF-1.1-FAB1), hereafter known as the Glacier for brevity, is a newer entrant into the world of energy sipping DC refrigerators.   Grape Solar is a well known and liked company in the solar game, so I was interested to see what this lower priced fridge had to offer.

View of the Glacier 1.1 cu/ft fridge, juice bottle added for scale

Upon discovery of this unit, I did what any good vandweller would do, I immediately looked for reviews.   Unfortunately, they were few and far between, with literally less than 5 that i could find between various stores and amazon.  Even the mighty youtube failed me, only turning up product promos from retailers.

The handle is extremely rugged, the latch not so much. It seals tight though.
With savings of at least $200 in this size fridge, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to purchase one and review it.  I purchased the Glacier from walmart, because they offered a rather enticing extended warranty (should I decide to keep it), and returns would be very easy (if I don't).  They were also the cheapest option.  With $44 dollar warranty and including all taxes, I paid $450.63. Its selling for 445 before warranty and taxes now, but still cheaper than elsewhere. Cranking up prices for summer I guess.

The fridge arrived well packaged, with no notable damage or issues.  The unit comes with both the cigarette style DC cord (never plug this into the actual car lighter, however) and an AC house plug/option as well.  Also included were a rather sparse but effective manual and not much else.

Upper Compartment of the Glacier fridge,lots of room.
The first thing I noticed about the fridge is it is big and heavy.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect in size (I don't know what 1.1 cu/ft translates too in reality) but I thought for sure these style refrigerators would be light, but it was heavier than the 3.2 cu/ft 2 door dorm fridge I had used in the past.

The lower compartment for colder items, tall items too if you remove basket
The fridge contained 2 inner compartments, sperated by a wire basket.  Since it is a top loading fridge (chest style), the lower compartment will naturally get colder, so items you want especially cold or frozen can go there.   Or if you have very tall items, such as my juice bottle demonstrated here, remove the basket all together.  

Digital temperature display, power and setting buttons

There is a digital panel on top that lets you set the desired temperature with up and down arrows, and it displays the internal temperature any other time.  Pretty dandy.

So how did it run in the van?  Well, unfortunately I wouldn't be able to find out right away.  My house batteries were about 2 years old, and in my naivety I damaged them pretty well.   I thought they still should have enough power to supply the fridge, and I believe they could run it, if not for one of the first quirks of the fridge that I discovered.

WARNING:  Technobabble Incoming!
In order to protect batteries from damage, the refrigerator has very strict voltage requirements, not bothering to run if the voltage drops below a certain point, even for a second.  So when the compressor first kicks on, the voltage would drop too low and it would fail to run, even if the battery still had juice.  The same sort of thing could occur if your cabling is not thick enough for the distance the power has to travel to get to the fridge (my cabling was much thicker than the fridge specifies that it needs, and indeed thicker than the cord they provide).  This fridge is a little too demanding, considering the actual power it uses is so little.

Not the best out there, but its 90AH and will do the job for cheap.
No problem, I had been meaning to grab a new battery, so I tossed a walmart marine in there.  Hooked the fridge up and zoom, off we go.  I set the temperature, as per the instructions, to zero degrees and watched, finally, as the internal temperature slowly dropped.  It took about 45 mins to reach zero degrees in about 75-80 degree temps, with some bottle water thrown in to fill some space.  My battery was blinking float (read: almost full) even when the fridge was running (the sun was out, so solar was helping)

Filling the fridge with low risk test food.
So far so good, I dialed it back to a more fridge like 35 degrees and put some food in.   Fast forward to the next day.

It was a hot the following day.  As the day went on and temperatures steadily rose to 90, things began to go wrong.   I looked to find the fridge was clear into the 50s.   For a compressor run fridge, this was totally unacceptable.   I checked the battery state, but it was well charged due to the sun.  

The fridge just wasn't seeming to run enough to reach the temperature it was set at.   I noticed the fridge had a 'turbo button', never explained, so I engaged that.   After a while, the temperature began to drop as the compressor kicked on to bring it down near my requested setting.  I am not sure what the purpose of the turbo button is, but shouldn't the fridge do this all the time anyway?

Fridge in hot van, struggling to get down to temperature.
Eventually i got it down to near where it was supposed to be, I had set it to 29, and it was around 33.   I left it be for a while.  When i returned it had creeped back up to 37 degrees. 

And so it went throughout the day, I would adjust it down far below my desired temp, it would drop some, and though it wouldn't skyrocket to 50+ like before, it seemed to really struggle to maintain temperature.   I can understand a few degrees, I am pretty sure all fridges do this, but this was 7-10 degree differences, which could result in food spoilage.

Though I believe you can get the job done with this fridge, at quite a bit of savings, it will require too much tending for my tastes.   In an environment like a van, and with me leaving it unattended regularly, that's a risk I can't justify. Couple that with its very demanding low voltage cut off issues (what if my battery degrades over time, as they inevitably do?), I decided to return the Glacier.

UPDATE 8/19/15:   I do believe part of the problems i encountered here could be solved by running solid wire (no butt connections) straight from battery to plug/fridge.   I ran my 12v receptacle through my fuse box, and it has thinner wire that came with it, that I butted in line with the thicker wire I used.   I discovered this after installing another fridge.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out my youtube review video as well where I discuss some of these issues and give you an in action view of the fridge.