Battery System Upgrade

Electrical issues, both 12 volt and 120 volt
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FranGuy
Newbie
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Nov 21, 2023 9:53 pm
B190 Year: 1999

Battery System Upgrade

Post by FranGuy »

Hi All,

I recently decided to ditch the lead acid coach battery on my 1999 B190. I'd like to share my experience for anyone else looking to make a similar upgrade.
My van, solar panels deployed
My van, solar panels deployed
IMG_1986.jpg (3.48 MiB) Viewed 3733 times
Background
First a little color on why I decided to do the upgrade (if you want to skip to the build details, scroll down, I wont be offended). I currently live out of the B190 full time, as I can work remotely and I always wanted to visit the west coast to surf. I digress... In my case, I rarely stay at powered camp sites. I like camping in more secluded areas like BLM owned land or state parks. So usually no shore power. Next, the generator in my B190 has been incredibly unreliable the entire time I have owned it. I know some people swear by their Onan generators but my experience has been a nightmare and I have been burned by it too many times to rely on it. I haven't given up entirely; I'm still trying to get it working. My Onan struggles could fill a whole other thread. Suffice it to say, that I don't rely on my generator. Plus its very noisy and pretty well destroys any serenity that nature offers when its running. For the last few months, I got most of my electricity from 2 220 watt solar panels hooked up to an ECOFLOW Delta 2 with an expansion battery (2000 WH total). The ECOFLOW supplies me with enough AC power for 2 days of remote work (laptop, satellite internet, phone, portable speaker, etc.) and can be topped of with 1 day of bright sunshine. That said, any extended foul weather will puts me in a tight bind with lack of stored power. All these appliances, excluding the internet, could charge of DC power if it was available, meaning the ECOFLOW could last much longer. If only I could charge them off the van's DC power instead...

This brings me to the OEM battery setup for my B190.
Airstream OEM 12V LAYOUT
Airstream OEM 12V LAYOUT
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Not sure how much this system differs from earlier B190s but I am sure what remains the constant across all B190s is that the coach battery is not very strong. It cannot handle more than running the propane heater, the water pump and the lights, and none of those for more than a 24 hours without a recharge (at best). I noticed if the heater was on most of the night, the battery was usually pretty low in the morning. Also this means that running any additional DC appliances or charging a smart phone, or my ECOFLOW off of the house battery is out of the question. For reference, modern phones pull around 80 watts with a fast charger; the heater only pulls around 60 watts. Now you might say, "Hey why don't you turn on the engine? That will charge the battery with power to spare to charge your phone and run the appliances." Yes, that is correct, but you run into the same noise issue you get the the generator. On top of that, running a v10 just to turn an alternator is just too inefficient for me to stomach.

So... considering all this I decided the best incremental step toward energy freedom was expanding my battery capacity. I initially considered just dropping in a lithium battery the same size a my deep cycle lead acid and calling it a day. This would effectively double the energy supply because lithium battery's can be cycled from 100% to 5%. Doing the same to a lead acid battery would kill it. This solution could work, but it might shorten the service life of my lithium battery a little because it would not get the proper charge profile. Also this really isn't a very meaningful expansion of power. I want to be able to boondock for several days without having to run the van or generator. For these reasons, I decided to for a larger battery setup. To support the significantly larger batteries and accommodate lithium battery charging profiles, I paired the new batteries with a DC-DC charger to pull power from the alternator when the van is running and a modern AC/DC charger for when I am plugged in to shore power.

Before I get into the detailed setup, one final thing. I think Airstream did a great job configuring these vans. I love the look and feel of them on the inside. One of my goals with the upgrade was to keep everything inside the van as OEM as possible. This upgrade is designed to be minimally invasive and completely reversable. Now with that out of the way...

Build Details
Updated 12V LAYOUT (updated by me not AIRSTREAM)
Updated 12V LAYOUT (updated by me not AIRSTREAM)
IMG_2806.jpg (2.33 MiB) Viewed 3733 times
For my upgraded setup, I decided the for with the following parts:
  • 2 LiTime LiFePO4 230Ah batteries w/low temp cut off
  • Victron Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC Charger (Isolated)
  • Victron Blue Smart IP22 Charger
  • 30ft 6awg wire (both red and black), the finer the strands the better*
  • Lots of heavy duty ring ends to create the busses and attach battery leads*
  • a couple heavy duty butt splices*
* A note on the wires, ends and splices: Do your research and get the right stuff. Getting too light of wire and cheep flimsy ends and splices could turn your van in a smoldering crisp.

I went with Victron for chargers because based on my research they have a good reputation and I wanted both chargers to work with the same Bluetooth app. For the batteries, I went with LiTime for affordability. They are a Chinese company, but the Chinese make the most lithium batteries of any country on the planet so they probably have a good handle on it...
2 LiFePO4 230Ah batteries, OEM Power Switch, Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC Charger, Blue Smart IP22 AC Charger
2 LiFePO4 230Ah batteries, OEM Power Switch, Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC Charger, Blue Smart IP22 AC Charger
IMG_2775 Copy.jpg (4 MiB) Viewed 3733 times
I decided to put my batteries in the back, just inside the right rear door. There is a little cubby in my van that fits the batteries perfectly. No cutting or fabricating required.
Batteries in place, positive bus in a little plastic box on the left
Batteries in place, positive bus in a little plastic box on the left
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I cut the foam that the batteries came packaged in to fit the space snugly so that batteries will not slide around while on the road. For the busses used to hook the batteries up to the chargers, the RV, and the ground, I put stainless steel bolts/nuts through the ring ends that I attached to all the cables. This does require lots of ring ends, but it makes it easy to take stuff apart later.

I mounted the chargers above and to the left of the batteries. I wanted to keep the chargers as close to the batteries as possible so as to minimize voltage drop over the cables. Probably not a concern with 6 gauge cable but want to play it safe. Plus its nice to have everything in one spot. For wiring the DC charger, I ran a wire from the auto battery/alternator back the the charger. I also broke the connection between the RV 12v system and the alternator. This way the DC-DC charger regulates all power to the RV house systems. Running these wires is pretty easy. I just had to crawl under the van for a while. Running the AC power cord from the back of the power station to the new AC charger in the back of the van was another story. I ending up fishing it down the left side of the van under the fridge. Took forever but in the end was worth it because its invisible from inside or outside. To preserve the OEM function of the power station, I disconnected the OEM charger from its 20 amp breaker and capped the ends. I left it in place in the power station in case I want to revert later. I then wired then wired the extension cord I fished from the back of the van to the breaker where the old charger was attached.

Finish Install
Power Switch, 50amp breaker, chargers, positive bus, batteries directly below
Power Switch, 50amp breaker, chargers, positive bus, batteries directly below
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The above picture is the finished install. I'm happy with how it turned out. So far everything inside the van works the same as before. Batteries and chargers are all working as expected. Excited to test it out on the road. I hope this post if helpful to some of you folks out here upgrading your vans! Comment if you have any questions, I'll try to answer. Happy trails and thanks for reading!
Last edited by FranGuy on Tue Mar 12, 2024 9:01 am, edited 3 times in total.
1999 Airstream B190 - bought, 2023;
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skater
Site Admin
Posts: 2580
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 1:00 am
B190 Year: 1991
WBCCI: 13270
Location: Annapolis, MD

Re: Battery System Upgrade

Post by skater »

Nice build, looks good. If you're boondocking a lot, and it sounds like you are, this is definitely a good way to go.
1991 Airstream B190 - bought, 2005; sold, 2011; bought 2017
1995 Airstream Excella 30' trailer

WBCCI #13270, Washington, DC Unit
FranGuy
Newbie
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Nov 21, 2023 9:53 pm
B190 Year: 1999

Re: Battery System Upgrade

Post by FranGuy »

skater wrote:
Tue Mar 12, 2024 7:15 am
Nice build, looks good. If you're boondocking a lot, and it sounds like you are, this is definitely a good way to go.
Thanks skater! I'll post some updates once I have tested for a few months
1999 Airstream B190 - bought, 2023;
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