Thursday, 22 December 2016

Batteries, bins and tvs

Phil has been in a phase of ordering and organising (so he tells us!) as the next stage involves fitting many of the bits and pieces that go to make up a modern narrowboat.

We have been putting our minds to a few particular aspects where we have to make some decisions before long - and thanks to those who posted helpful suggestions onto our last blog entry.

Batteries: this is perhaps the area where we have always been a bit nervous having previously been very conscious of what happens when there is insufficient capacity overnight to run everything that we wanted. We always monitored battery consumption very closely, recording each morning's readout on the Sterling Battery Management System. The two things that gave us the most attention were the fridge and the Eberspacher heater, both of which cut out when the voltage at their end of the cable falls below around 10.6V. Although the above readout rarely approached this we still had a number of occasions when cutout occurred.

The fridge improved when we replaced it a couple of years ago. The engineer who fitted it discovered the previous one had been connected by far too thin a cable and he replaced it, also connecting back much closer to the battery bank itself. Since then we had far fewer problems.

Latterly, the Eberspacher had also been cutting out but, as readers to the last few weeks of the Take Five blog will know, we ended up having to replace much of it - for other reasons - and we did not have enough experience with it to know whether the former experiences would be repeated. The heater failing to come on early morning is the more uncomfortable of the two - at least the fridge on a cold morning still keeps its contents cool enough, even the freezer did not defrost.

The other issue was when Christine used her hair dryer after her early shower and hair wash. As a mains appliance this involved having to turn on the inverter. Not infrequently, this would drag the voltage down so that the inverter also cut out but this was easily solved by turning on the main engine.

As a result of all of this we had been paying particular attention to what batteries were to be installed. The agreed specification called for four 130Ah lead acid batteries although the supplier has now reduced the specification of these to 120Ah. Lead acid batteries are based on technology that is a mass produced item (although slightly oriented to the specific characteristics of the cabin services supply which are different from the starter, which quite separate) so that their cost is comparatively low (still £130 each, typically, to replace and all four should be done at the same time!)

At our last visit we had asked about the possibility of having a greater capacity and both we and Phil investigated the options. The electrical installer did  some calculations and we did our own in parallel. Alternative battery technologies were investigated but the cost implication is substantial - perhaps four times for not a huge gain) In the end we settled for the four 120Ah batteries which should have a total usable capacity of around 240Ah whilst our worst case overnight calculation is around 140Ah. Of course, this assumes that we start off quite soon in the morning but if we do not then, as ever, we have to turn on the engine to recharge the batteries. However, we have asked that the battery tray be designed so that an upgrade is possible in the future if we decide it is worth doing. After all, a lot of development is going into battery technology at the moment and who knows what the market will offer in a few years time.

The next issue is that of a rubbish bin. This might seem a small matter but it looms large in our thinking as our solution on Take Five was somewhat primitive. Although we bought a small pedal bin there was nowhere to locate it convenient for use when preparing food - the main source of stuff to go into the rubbish bags. As a result we resorted, almost right from the outset, to hanging a supermarket carrier bag over the cupboard door knob nearest the rear steps. This worked well if a little inelegant. Of course, the new plastic bag charge threatened the source but we still had some of our stock left when we sold up!

We have been trying to devise a better solution but this involves working out the best compromise in terms of allocating the relatively small amount of storage that there is in a narrowboat galley. (There is never enough, but our tendency to cook 'from scratch' demands quite a good stock of ingredients and utensils!)

At the moment we have held off agreeing to anything too fixed but Christine has ordered a small bin that is designed to hang on the rear of a cupboard door so that we can try it out next visit whilst Mike has now, eventually, tracked down a small pull out unit that we may go for later. Most seem to take up much of a single cupboard.

And so to televisions. Originally on Take Five, we had an Omnimax terrestrial aerial but found that it was often not able to locate a suitable signal and several years ago we switched to a satellite dish. We have never felt the need for more than the FreeSat range of channels but it can receive a usable signal more frequently. In the last year or so we also invested in a good signal detector, one that gives a read out at the dish. Previously we were dependent on knowing whether the tv itself was showing a picture. This usually involved a lot of shouting from inside to outside - not always happily! The new device was so much better and we rarely failed to find a signal unless we had had to moor in amongst a lot of tall buildings or surrounded by very tall trees with leaves on them.

This setup required a separate MaxView satellite decoder. Both it and the television connected to mains voltage which was often the only reason for having the inverter on during the late evening. (It is important to note that the inverter draws current even if no appliance is switched on. When one is, the efficiency of the conversion process itself uses up battery power)

We have been looking for a suitable sized tv that incorporates the decoder but it seems that, at the moment, these are generally only built into the larger displays - not sure why, but perhaps the smaller end of the market is more price sensitive. Whilst some boaters, usually those living aboard permanently, do install larger screens, most - including ourselves - do not want to devote that much of the limited space to something that is only used at the end of the day - and then only if there is something worth watching!

We have managed to find a supplier to the caravan market that does offer suitably sized tvs that have a satellite decoder and also run from 12v directly. (Ironic really in that the tv itself will almost certainly be transforming the mains supply down to a low voltage before it drives any electronics!) The down side is that, as a specialist market and as with most 12v appliances, it is a lot more expensive, perhaps almost twice. The same goes for fridges and freezers. A decision yet to be made but we will need to finalise the size at our next visit to the boat.

OK, so none of these debates is large scale - rather different from the things that Phil is juggling - but at least it helps to assuage our frustration at not being able to spend time aboard this Christmas and New Year. It would have been good to do what we were a little frustrated with last year and have a proper Christmas Day - Boxing day or longer cruise out from the marina but that will have to wait until next year. This time we are renting a cottage near to London for a week so that we can take two grandchildren to a theatre as a Christmas present and also to have them to stay for New Year's Eve.

At the end of that cottage stay we hope to make our next trip to Stafford when we will call on the flooring and upholstery suppliers to make some decisions on those items.

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