Heiser RV Solar & Electric
I am a retired law enforcement officer who has been RV’ing in one form or another for most of my life. I began RV’ing with my family as a child and fell in love with the lifestyle. I purchased my first RV as an adult when I was around 30 years old and have owned one continuously ever since.
My first RV was a cabover camper. I bought it because I was tired of pitching a tent and wanted something self-contained. I also had a boat at the time and wanted to be able to take the boat with me when “camping”. The cabover fit the bill perfectly. I already owned a diesel pick up and it was a good match for the cabover. It was an 8.5 foot long Artic Fox with a dinette slide. It worked great for me, and I enjoyed taking it out to the lake and other fun destinations. As my family grew however, the cabover started to get a bit small.
In 2003, I decided we needed something a bit bigger. I traded in the cabover and my boat for our first 5th wheel, a Montana Big Sky. We went from an 8.5-foot long cabover to a 35 foot long 5th wheel. It was a big jump up in size and conveniences. We had that 5th wheel for seven years of great memories. We travelled all over the western United States with it. Unfortunately, my wife and I both worked full time so we could only take one or two long trips a year, but we made a point of getting away somewhere locally at least once a month in addition to those longer trips.
In late 2010, we were coming home from a cross country RV trip after visiting family and sightseeing for a few weeks. We stopped in Reno, NV for the night before heading home. The next morning, we decided to go by the local Montana RV dealer to see what the latest and greatest models looked like. We always enjoy going through different RV’s to see what is new on the market. The dealer had a beautiful Montana Big Sky 358RLT sitting on the lot. We walked through it and instantly fell in love with it. Mind you, we were not in the market to buy a new RV at the time. We just liked to “look.” After several hours of “looking” at the new Big Sky, we decided to finally ask, “How much?” The salesman quoted a price we weren’t willing to pay. I countered with a low ball offer just for fun. To our surprise, they accepted the offer. We weren’t really prepared for that, but we went for it.
We loved our new Big Sky, and we made a lot of happy memories traveling in it. I am a “tinkerer” by nature and, as with my previous RV’s, I started tinkering with the Big Sky almost immediately. I eventually decided we needed more power available when dry camping. Some of our favorite destinations were no hook camp grounds at the coast or the lake. I came up with a plan to build a full battery, inverter, and solar system in stages. I had a background in electrical from working with my father, a master electrician, when I was young. This was nowhere near the most complicated thing I had ever wired up, so I decided to tackle the project on my own.
I started with a large battery bank of eight 6-volt lead acid batteries for a total of 928-amp hours of storage. I then added a 2800-watt Magnum inverter with advanced remote and battery monitor kit. My wife wasn’t quite sure what I was doing and wasn’t happy with the money I was spending until our first trip with the new set up. When she discovered all she had to do was push a button to get power to make her coffee in the morning instead of going outside and starting up the portable generator (she is an early riser and I am a late sleeper), she was sold.
After I installed this set up, my friends started asking me how I was able to power my trailer without a generator. They were intrigued by my system, and they wanted my help upgrading their RV’s. I installed a few more systems of varying sizes and capabilities in their RV’s. They were just as happy as I was with their newfound freedom of not being tied to a power pedestal or generator. This led to me giving people advice and guidance on their own installations, both in person and remotely. I became somewhat of an “expert” and people began referring to me as such on several RV forums where I participated. I also began giving presentations on the topic at rallies.
In 2012, I made the jump into the HDT world and bought a Kenworth T2000 to tow my 5th wheel. I added a 2000-watt Magnum inverter with remote to power a TV, microwave, and refrigerator in the sleeper of the Kenworth. The Kenworth’s chassis battery bank was not up to powering this system, so I installed a “house” battery bank consisting of two large 12-volt AGM batteries, giving me 430-amp hours of battery capacity to keep the inverter going. I added a smart charge system to allow the truck’s alternator to charge both battery banks as we travelled down the road.
We got a lot of use out of the systems in our Big Sky and the Kenworth, but I never got around to adding the final phase of solar to the roof of the 5th wheel. I did build a small ground mount panel system I used occasionally though. There was no particular reason why I never added solar to the roof of the Montana. I was spending time helping friends build their systems after I built out the first phases of my system and I just never got around to finishing mine. Then we ended up selling the Big Sky and factory ordered a new DRV 5th wheel in late 2016, so there was no need to finish the Montana.
I started planning the new “full” system for the DRV before the trailer even went into production at the factory. I had long conversations with the dealer I ordered the DRV from, Rolling Retreats, and DRV engineers about what I wanted and how they could provide it. I also talked with them about the components I was going to add after I took delivery. I accumulated parts for my own installation and had DRV add some of the basic components as part of the build. DRV installed a Magnum 3012 Hybrid inverter, a Magnum BMK battery monitor, a Magnum AGS and a Magnum Advanced Remote. I had the factory tweak their standard wiring set up to make the changes I planned to make to the 5th wheel easier once I took possession of it. I also had them add additional framing in the basement during construction to support the weight of the large battery bank I planned to add. When the trailer was finally delivered to Rolling Retreats in early 2017, I loaded up some of my parts and headed out to pick it up.
Once I arrived, I got to work immediately. I added four 12-volt 8D AGM batteries and custom battery boxes I pre-built at home. This gave me 1040-amp hours of battery capacity right out of the gate. I completely rewired most of the 12-volt connections between my new battery bank and the rest of the trailer’s systems. I added shut offs, bus bars, circuit protection and an additional 1000-watt inverter dedicated to the residential refrigerator. Finally, I installed a Magnum PT-100 solar charge controller in preparation for adding solar panels when I got the trailer home. Rolling Retreats was so impressed with the work I did while there, they asked if I would be willing to be a resource for them if they had customers who wanted to know more about solar and the related systems. I happily agreed and they have called me and referred several of their customers to me for advice since then.
Once I was done at Rolling retreats shaking down all the systems, I headed home. The first thing I did once I was home was add 1410-watts of solar to the roof of the trailer and finish off the rest of the installation. Here is a link to a discussion thread I started on the Escapees RVNetwork forum about the complete build out of my system and here is a link to the description of the system locally on my website.
We have been served very well by this system since I built it, but I am always looking to the future. In late 2021, I decided to upgrade the solar array. I changed out the original panels for larger ones. I now have 2190-watts of solar on the roof. I didn’t always get the production I needed to cover our usage from the original panels. I’m not much of a conservationist when it comes to using power in my RV. Even as I do upgrades to my current RV, I also have my next “system” planned for the next RV. I don’t know exactly when I will get to build it for myself (if my wife has anything to say about it, it will be well out in the future), but it is nice to dream. In the meantime, I am enjoying designing and building systems for others.
Now that I am retired, this once experiment – now passion of mine – is turning into a new career path. I have officially started a business venture installing and consulting on RV solar, inverter and battery systems. My company is Heiser RV Solar & Electric. If you are thinking about building your own system and want/need some advice or just want someone to do it for you, I am available. Get in touch with me and we can discuss it.
UPDATE: Since the business started in May of 2021, the vast majority of my customers have asked for Victron based systems in their RV’s. That “next system” I mentioned above that I had in my head for my “next RV” was going to be a Victron based system as well. I decided why wait for the “next RV” to build it. In November of 2021 I upgraded my Magnum based system to a Victron based system. My Victron system is a bit overkill for an RV system, but it does double duty for me. It allows us to boondock and power our RV like it is plugged in (whether we have a shore power source or not) and it is an excellent demonstration system I can use to show customers. It has all the bells and whistles and lets me show people what is possible. Here is a link to the new system locally on my website. Check it out and let me know what you think.