Straight after the Christmas issue of RV went to print we drove to Auckland and headed to Starfish Interiors in Avondale. We had been there weeks earlier and had the vehicle measured up for new curtains and picked out our fabrics – roman blinds for me all day long in an RV. I love them in RnR especially, because we used a blackout fabric that looks a lovely light oyster colour, but at night seals off any exterior lighting brilliantly – I like to sleep in the dark in the motorhome.

The solar panels are sucking up the energy, but have a low profile and fitted pretty well on the small space available on the roof

It was time for them to be installed and I was really excited – there’s no bigger transformation you can make to the interior of the motorhome than changing the squabs, seats and curtains. We had originally wanted to support a local upholstering firm in Martinborough, but after getting a few quotes and then comparing them, there was no question; it was a better deal from Starfish by a significant amount, so off to Auckland we went.

We worked with Starfish Interiors when we bought our own motorhome, RocknRobyn the truck-based vehicle we have owned for over five years now. At that time we had them make new seats, squabs, luton squabs, new roman blind curtains for the windows and curtains to close off the cab – the full nine yards in fact. We have loved the bright green and colourful stripes that look lovely with the light-coloured curtains – five years on, people still step into her and exclaim how happy and summery it feels. We agree. We still love the colours and the quality of the fabric and foam, all looking 98 per cent as good today as it was five years back. A couple of years later we went back to Starfish and had our front truck seats refurbished, all new foam, supports put in, new fabric and our logo on the head rests, just for a bit of personality.

High five’s all round with Olivia Orr, our consultant at Starfish Interiors

Starfish Interiors are owned by Stephen Dunn and Steven Cherrie, who took over ownership back in 2015. Starfish have been in business since 2003, working specifically on the motorhome and caravan refurbishment business and supplying to some of New Zealand’s biggest motorhome rental market manufacturers. Today they have earned a reputation in the market for supplying new seats, soft furnishings and refurbishment to the wider transport industry.

The little Omni aerial sticks up from the roof, and has a cute blue LED light at night

As part of their service they have consultants who work with you to choose fabrics, look at curtains and discuss your full requirements and what you expect from your furnishings. Olivia Orr was a new person on the team back in 2015, so it was great to walk into the office to be greeted by Olivia and to work with her on our choices. Many RVers will likely recognise Olivia as she has worked many a Covi show over the years.

Love the light blue and contrasting stripes with lines of green to add life, goes really well with the existing dark blue floor, bench and table, and light blue cupboards- so no more work to do there. The blinds are blackout as well and super happy with them

It was high fives and ‘Yay’s all around as the cushions went in and the curtains went up – the change was just so magic really – our little Rosie has been transformed into a cool little lady, ready for another 600,000km. She went straight on the rental website in early January after we had enjoyed her ourselves for a few weeks, and currently she is rented out for a month to some mature French–Canadians who are cruising the South Island in her. She doesn’t have signwriting as yet, but look out for her on the road in the future.

With a whirlwind of change and activity over the last couple of months – so many magazine deadlines prior to Christmas – I was just too busy to write our column in the last issue. Sorry about that.

Under the seats in the back left corner are all the monitors, chargers - controllers plus one of the large new batteries. The second battery is installed under the opposite seat, but still has storage room as well

My last column in Issue 73 had us heading north to Auckland in Rosie, our older 1998 Ford Transit four-berth motorhome, with plans for a bit of upgrade and renovation work to her power systems and interior décor. We had already spent around $10k on the exterior work and fix-ups so were happy she was water-tight with re-sealed joins and windows, rust proofed, serviced and ready to go anywhere. However, the interior and the outdated electrical systems and batteries needed an upgrade, and we definitely wanted solar power, bigger batteries and an inverter to run our devices.

These are our seats in RocknRobyn that starfish rebuilt a few years back, they still look this good today and are comfortable as well

We intend to rent Rosie on the ShareACamper rental site, as we do with our RocknRobyn Mitsubishi truck-based motorhome, but we also intend to use her ourselves for some of our shorter road trips here and there. As she’s under 5.5m long and 3500kg GVM we like being able to do 100km now and then, cruising up the hills in fourth gear rather than second as in the truck.

With two different types of use required we sat down with the team at AA Solar in Silverdale north of Auckland to work out what our personal maximum power requirements in the vehicle would be.

No new seats for Rosie - Yet - but these seat covers from Supercheap Auto certainly snazzed her up to match the back area

We went through the electrical components in the vehicle, and a chart was developed to work out what each appliance might use per day, how long our computers may take to charge up if working on a deadline and how many hours of TV we’d watch on average. Eek! When you get up at 6am and watch the Breakfast Show, factor in the midday, 6pm and 10.30pm news, add in Shortland Street and Coronation Street on some nights let alone a movie in between, the figure was embarrassing and probably not even the truth at five hours. The fridge in Rosie is a 12V compressor fridge that runs on electricity alone. We thought we would put in a heater at some stage – we are in New Zealand after all and freedom camping is our thing, so better to future-proof for this possible installation at this stage. Our computers, camera and phones don’t draw significant power daily so came under miscellaneous.

Caspar checked out the luton with the old squabs and curtains, bit smelly in here he thought

The final specifications were based around having the capacity to provide a reliable off-grid daily electrical output in the North Island (yes it makes a difference) of 140Ah (plus) in summer and 90Ah (plus) over winter, the difference due to less sunshine hours.

New squabs for the luton, in a fabric made for the job. Curtains on the small windows, and a privacy curtain to close you off if that is how you like to sleep

We required a reliable stable power supply for:
• 12V TV usage for up to five hours per day (300 Wh)
• 12V fridge (beer, wine, and some food) (600 Wh)
• Gas heater (intermittent duty cycle to five hours per day) (180 Wh)
• Miscellaneous load (100 Wh)

Original squabs when we first purchased Rosie

An inspection of our current set-up resulted in a complete replacement of the basics and building the system to meet our needs. This meant solar panels to collect energy, a controller to manage power input from the solar panels and engine via the battery charging – with the requirement for a battery switch unit and battery monitor system as well. Two new AGM 260Ah batteries were also needed to store the amount of power we wanted to access, while a sine wave inverter was installed so we could access the stored power for our computers and cameras, and access up to 400 watts continuously for other low-wattage appliances.

When adding anything to an RV of any sort you need to be aware of the weight; the kilograms can add up quite fast and suck up your payload for the vehicle if you’re not aware.

PV Solar panel

The two Simax PV solar panels supplied are manufactured using Mono Crystalline Silicon Photo Voltaic Cells that carry a manufacturer’s life expectancy of 25 years, each one with a rated output of 280 watts. Maintenance is limited to occasional inspection for accidental damage, integrity of mounting hardware, and cleaning. Simax Solar Module Size 1640x992x40mm, weight 17.5kg

Solar controller

The eTracer is a high-quality intelligent MPPT (Maximum-Power-Point) solar-charge controller that continuously monitors and harvests the maximum power yield of the solar module. It provides ultra-fast accurate tracking and guaranteed efficiency of no less than 99.5%. Spec’s: eTracer 45A BND 4415 MPPT 12VDC/24VDC, 9–32V batt. 45A max.

Batteries

The AGM batteries are sealed lead-acid batteries that don’t require maintenance, do not off-gas, will not leak and will outlive conventional lead-acid batteries by a significant amount. They have a very low self-discharge rate (LSDR), deep-discharge recovery rate, and no memory effect after repeated high usage or discharge. AGM C12v260 260Ah, 522 x 240 x 218mm, 61kg (ea.)

Battery Monitor

The programmable Votronic Battery Monitor/Computer allows you to manage your power usage and achieve maximum system performance. It is your ‘fuel gauge’ for the battery. It continuously displays the battery residual capacity either as a percentage or in ampere hours (Ah). It can display all charging and discharge currents and operate the main battery switch as required. Votronic 12/24V LCD 100S Programmable up to 100A (100A shunt)

Battery Charger

The TBB Battery Charger will continuously manage the battery condition and deliver the correct charging current. A temperature sensor continuously monitors the battery temperature and automatically applies temperature compensation. It provides protection against over-temperature, battery over-temperature, short-circuit, overload, reverse-polarity and shore-power surge protection. TBB 1240 A-33 Port 230V Charger c/w temp sensor. 40A.

Battery Switch Unit

The Votronic Switch Unit is a module able to switch high DC load currents. It is wired to the LCD100 Battery Monitor to cut off loads to save the battery from damage. It won’t disconnect the chargers. The unit will allow a continuous battery load current of up to 100 amps, or 150 amps for up to 10 seconds. Votronic 100A 12V 2072 and 24V 12/24V isolating relay.

Sine Wave Inverter

Power for the 230V AC loads such as TVs, laptops, etc. is produced from the 12V DC (from the solar panel and the batteries) by the Studer AJ Series inverter. This high-performance inverter can deliver 400 watts continuously, or 500 watts for up to 30 minutes. The output voltage is a pure sine wave at 230V ± 10%. Safety features include overheat and overload protection, short-circuit and reverse-polarity protection. Studer AJ Series 500–12 12V – 230 VAC ± 10% 400W continuous.

TV, aerial and LED lighting

We had factored in watching TV in Rosie, but didn’t actually have one. We talked about it quite a bit and decided that investing thousands of dollars in a satellite dish just couldn’t be justified, and size-wise a big TV was out of the question as Rosie is a compact little lady. However, a timely phone call from Terry at BluLink gave us the opportunity to look at a new Uniden High Definition widescreen 19˝ LED TV with built in DVD, that runs on 12V to 24V DC input, made for mobile situations and designed to handle harsh marine conditions, so boats and RVs are ideal candidates for these new models.

Terry sent through the spec’s and we couldn’t find fault; the Uniden TV offered everything we wanted with satellite and terrestrial tuners to receive digital broadcasts with an 8-day Freeview-compatible electronic program guide, allowing you to record and playback programmes using the USB flash-drive socket. It had a DVD player (which TVs are going away from) and a headphone jack so one of us could watch TV or listen to music while the other sleeps. It came with a TV stand as well as a wall-mount bracket that offered movement of the TV to suit viewing, plus a remote, and it only weighed 3.3kg – and all under $500.

An aerial was the next question; I can sort that as well, Terry told us. Once again he pointed us to a product well used in the marine industry, the AT 8022 – Omnipro UHF TV antenna. Marine and RV TV antennas have to be omnidirectional (able to receive TV signals from any direction) because a boat under way or swinging at anchor is constantly changing its bearing to the TV transmitter – similar to travelling vehicles also. Okay, it wouldn’t be perfect, he told us, so if we were in a bay surrounded by hills or a remote campsite on the fringe of coverage the signal would likely be weak and variable, but even the best aerial can’t produce a picture if there is no coverage. The satellite dish we had on our first motorhome was a push-button model with a big round cover over it. At times, the amount of driving we did around a campsite to find coverage was hilarious, and if you got rain on one side of it that would also affect reception, so losing coverage really wasn’t an issue in this vehicle. And the TV has a DVD player and USB port for movies so that didn’t really concern us either. Once again the price was a winner at under $190, so we ran with this suggestion as well, and were both happy to have an entertainment set up for less than $700 – thanks Terry.

We have used Rosie a few times now and 90 per cent of the time have been able to watch TV with no problems at all even down at Ngawi on the south Wairarapa coast and a few places on the way to Auckland, so we’re happy campers so far. At night-time the aerial is visible with a blue LED light. It’s actually cute and a bit of a marker for us walking back along the dark beach, like a beacon to aim for.

We asked AA Solar to install this system for us, as well as getting them to replace the standard light fittings with LED lights throughout most of the motorhome. All in all we are over the moon with what AA Solar have done for Rosie. The process of discussing our requirements and breaking down our actual usage was great, and they actually gave us three price options with different batteries like lithium (reading the $3200 quote had us choking on our coffees) and components to match it, down to lower usage figures and batteries that wouldn’t really do the job we truly asked for.

If you are thinking of upgrading anything in your RV or Caravan or want some advice on your solar or battery setup, give AA Solar a call or visit them at the Covi Motorhome Super Show, March 15-16-17.