Why We Upgraded Our Solar Batteries

Why We Upgraded Our Solar Batteries

It’s expensive to capture the sun (but worth it)

I didn’t do my due diligence when buying Vanna. I knew I wanted to live my dream of vanlife and just had to pull the trigger on buying a van to make it happen. Well, my expediency and excitement has already bitten us in the ass a few times. One of those times was with the battery system. Good news is, the more imperfections and inefficiencies we learn about the van, the more we learn. And I love learning. Here’s why we upgraded from flooded batteries to sealed lead acid batteries.
Our old solar batteries (6V golf cart batteries) - replaced August 2017
Our old 6V golf cart batteries
We were getting terrible performance out of our old batteries. We have a small, energy efficient dorm fridge and even in full sunlight, our 400 watt solar system with (4) 6V golf cart batteries (wired in series parallel for a 12V output) was barely keeping up. I wasn’t sure if the fridge was bad, the batteries were bad, or maybe solar power just plain sucks. When we started digging into the battery system we found that three out of the four batteries seemed good to go. We made sure they were fully charged, topped them off with distilled water, and felt pretty good about them. Then we got to battery number four… I opened up the screw top to check water level and what did I find? Bent, corroded, white, gnarled sheets of lead inside the plastic battery casing. Uh oh. What else did I find? Acid stains around where the batteries had been sitting. Uh oh. What else did I find? A screw hole in the battery casing. Let me repeat myself. I found a man made drain plug bored into the side of the battery. This means that the guy I bought the van from drilled a screw into the side of the battery. Doh! And I didn’t notice it when checking out the van for purchase. Double doh!
What you do NOT what to see when you look inside your solar battery
Golf cart battery used for solar in the van - We had battery acid leaking from one of the old batteries (not good)
But hey, maybe this was just the push we needed to upgrade to a sealed battery system (warning: I can be obnoxiously optimistic). Even if the original batteries hadn’t been damaged, we feel good about upgrading to the sealed lead acid for a few reasons. And if you’re in the Bay Area, I’d recommend calling the guys at Battery Systems SF– they helped educate me, talked me through my options and made the process less painful than it could have been. Anyways, here’s why we made the switch.

Sealed lead acid batteries don’t emit toxic gasses (because they are sealed). Our options if we were going to keep the cheap lead acid batteries would be to put them in a sealed box and ventilate them to outside of the van OR just breathe in toxic gasses day after day, night after night. We probably would have ended our trip with ears growing out of our elbows or something (prediction not based on science.).

Sealed lead acid batteries don’t require ANY maintenance. No checking water levels, no gassing, no dealing with toxic junk. Just set them up in right with the charge controller from the get go and enjoy your powered home on wheels! This is my favorite part about them. No time spent on maintenance means more time spent on fun things.

Our old solar flooded batteries
This stain is from the battery acid leaking from the screw hole
Our new sealed lead acid batteries (swoon)
The new sealed lead acid batteries (sorry about the dark photo…we installed the new batteries at midnight!)

You can set them up in any position you want. If it made more sense for you to store them on their their sides, you could do that. We ended up putting them right side up, just like the old batteries, but flexibility in a small space is important.

There’s only one thing that I’ve found I don’t like about the new sealed batteries – the cost. We paid about $1200 for all four. Replacement lead acid batteries with the same specs could have been as cheap as $450.

But hey! $1200 is worth it not to have my girl breathing in toxic fumes. Money well spent.

Our solar batteries are stored in the back of the van under the bed
During one of our project weekends, we also  decided to move the batteries from the right to left side of van to limit the amount of wires & cables that were draped across the back of the van. We also built a new battery box for extra stability.  This was the ‘before’.
By | 2017-08-22T23:41:59+00:00 August 14th, 2017|#vanlife, All|0 Comments

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