Installations, fixes and upgrades

Since buying the 'Mac shack' we have made some changes to it to make life in it more comfortable, safe and secure.

Here are some of our upgrades. (Writing in green = hyperlink)


SPLIT CHARGE RELAY (VSR)

When we bought the 'Mac shack' the 12 volt system was quite basic and we have upgraded this as the years progressed and as the finances allowed.

The most recent upgrade to this area was to install a split charge relay. This peice of magical equipment allows us to charge the leisure battery as well as the vehicle battery whilst we are driving.

Here are three short videos showing the installation process.

FIRE TV

The Mac shack had an Alba 12 volt TV which was connected to a very good digital aerial and where ever we parked up we could usually re-tune the TV and receive up to 150 TV and radio channels but we had no way of watching 'catch up' TV. 

When lived in our last house we were used to having Sky TV so we did our research and decided to buy an Amazon fire stick

The fire stick takes its power from the USB socket of the TV and plugs into the HDMI socket to deliver the channels. The fire stick needs a wifi signal as it streams the content from the web so, at the moment we are 'hot spotting' from our phones and using our data allowance with ee. 

Diesel heater

You will read here that we moved into the Mac shack in January 2021 in Covid-19 lock down and froze until April 12th , freedom day when we were eventually allowed to drive it. I think it was because of that three months with just the gas heating system that we decided to install a diesel heater. At first we wired it up to the vehicle battery but that didn't work too well as it drained it too quickly so we then rewired it to the leisure battery. Now we are warm as toast on even the coldest of days/nights.

Solar security lights

When we were parking in dark and lonely lay-bys or in the forest we felt that we needed some extra security or deterent if any uninvited visitors turned up so we bought four solar powered movement detection security lights from Amazon. We installed these, one on each corner of the Mac shack with Sikaflex and set them to detect movement if anything moves within 3 metres of us. These lights are great and so easy to install and they have made life on the road much less stressful.

Door locks

The doors on the Mac shack needed upgrading so we looked at the Fiama locks at the NEC in Birmingham. There were different lockes for different doors and they were made specifically for each make of van. We choose the Fiama habitation door and locker door locks so that all three doors would be secure.

Window locks

We were made aware that the windows in our van were a weak spot and that potential thieves would find it very easy to gain entry via a window. Luckily, we had friends who had started a company which made window locks for motorhomes and caravans, Lock M out! We met them at the Warner's show in Peterborough and they showed us the locks and explained how they work. We bought nine and fitted them as soon as we got back to the van the same day. No tools needed, they just slip over the original locks to secure the window.

Cameras

The next obvious upgrade to the security of the Mac shack was going to have to be external cameras. Now that we had the lights it would be great if we could see what had set them off without getting out of the van! We had seen a review of some cameras on Youtube and so we bought four and of course the monitor and cables. 

Andy got started on the installation staight away. The most stressful part of this was when he had to drill the holes in the van. Once installed and the holes were sealed with good old Sikaflex we switched on the monitor and hey presto, four beautifully clear 360 degree views of the area all around our home on wheels.

Tracker

We were parking our beloved Mac shack in all sorts of places on our travels and some park ups were not as secure as we would have like them to be but we couldn't always afford to use camp sites so when we left the van parked and went exploring we worried about it being stolen so we investigated tracker options and decided on Trackimo from Amazon. Trackimo is an affordable device which uses GPS and 3G to track the van and notify us of it's where abouts in real time. After testing it thoroughly for a few months we then installed it covertly and hard wired it to the leisure battery via a suitable fuse. You can control it via an app on our phones and we set it to notify us by text and email as soon as it moves out of a pre selected geo fence area. We can then follow it on a map and see exactly where it is. It is important that you hide the trackimo in your vehicle so that it can't easily be found and disconnected!

Solar panels

As we were living on the Mac shack since January 2021 we realised that we were not going to be able to afford to stay on official camp sites and pay for the electric hook up every night so we decided to upgrade our solar 12 volt system from 100 watts to 200 watts and add a second lead acid battery giving us double the storage capability of 12 volt power as we were going to wire them in parrallel. 

Andy bought the new panels, battery and cabling from Amazon and he installed everything himself after lots of hours researching wiring diagrams and youtube videos. We were amazed at how efficient the new panels were and with two batteries storing the power we now felt much more confident living our mainly off grid life.

Lithium battery and Victron

Our new solar panels were doing very well but the lead acid batteries now needed upgrading to lithium so off we went to the Motorhome and caravan show at the N.E.C. in Birmingham.

We checked out a few battery manufacturer stalls on the Friday and Saturday and Andy quizzed the tech guys about cells and bluetooth capability and whether the battery could be monitored via an app on an Android phone and generally picked their brains clean and after gleening as much information as he could we returned to BBL batteries on Sunday and managed to get a 100 Amp hour lithium battery for the 'show price' of £600 which included delivery!

As soon as the battery was delivered Andy started work on installing it. We wired the system through a new Victron 75/15 (volts/amps) charge controller which we could check on via an Android app and found that even on a cloudy day the panels were delivering up to 30 volts which the new Victron controller stepped down to the 14.4 volts which the new lithium battery required. The lithium battery voltage now never gets low enough to set the EC200 system alarm off as the old batteries used to! Off grid life should be more fun now.

EC200 to EC328 POWER SUPPLY UNITS

We had a problem with the Power Supply Unit which controls the 12 volt and 240 volt supply in the habitation area. The control panel kept beeping to warn of low 12 volt supply and then would not allow the supply of 12 volts from the lithium battery! To get power to the habitation area from the battery we had to switch the battery charger on to bring the voltage back up to above the minimum required. Plainly we couldn't do this whilst off grid and that wasn't how we wanted to continue our life on the van.

We contacted Sargent who make and supply the units and after multiple support tickets were raised they suggested that because our EC200 PSU was no longer supported due to its age we should buy a new EC328 unit and the universal control panel to go with it. £576!

On their advice we bought and installed the new equipment but the fault was still with us. Back to Sargent support who would now help as we had a new PSU etc and they got Andy to test the voltage coming from the battery at the plug which connects at the rear of the PSU. This was 11.2 volts, not high enough for the PSU to recognise. We suspected mouse damage to the original cable. We didn't relish trying to trace the damage cable so Andy disconnected it from the supply and ran a new cable from the fuse box at the lithium battery and spliced it into the plug and hey presto! All good. We were a bit annoyed that we had spent the money on equipment that we didn't need but decided to keep it as we knew that it would be supported. We sold the perfectly good EC200 and control panel so we got some of the money back.