Back in November when I was working at Amazon, I placed an order for the solar equipment, propane heater (I don’t have a furnace), and other odds and ends needed for boondock this winter. I wrote quite a bit about it all when it arrived but I couldn’t give a review of how well things worked at that point as I hadn’t been able to test it. I’ve had several requests from readers for a proper review, and now that I’ve been boondocking for a month I feel comfortable doing so.
Actually, I still haven’t run the Little Buddy heater (smallest of the Mr. Buddy line) more than two nights, I have a good sleeping bag under my covers and stay plenty warm. It runs exclusively on the small propane bottles, for the larger units an adapter can be purchased to make it run off a 20lb tank and I suppose one could do that for the Little Buddy too, but you’d have to craft a stand for it as it sits on top of the bottle the way it is.
It is a very good little heater though. It’s rated at 3,800 BTU/hour and has no problem heating the Casita. When I woke up the morning the cold front had passed through and it was 37 inside I fired up the Little Buddy and in 30 minutes the temperature had risen to 60 degrees in the far corner of the trailer, warmer near the heater itself. It’s the kind of heater that warms up the air rather than the objects close to it, if you set it on the floor like I do and put your hands over it they’ll get warm pretty quick.
It does produce CO and ventilation is required. I crack open a window when I run it, and bought a CO monitor along with it. Supposedly it has a low-oxygen safety shut off feature, but I don’t want to test it, you know? It also produces moisture, and cracking the window helps with that too. Out here in the desert the extra moisture is welcome, but in more humid environments I’d probably want a dehumidifier.
With the stand that you put around the base of the propane bottle, it is pretty sturdy despite being top heavy. While not large, it’s definitely bigger than my small ceramic heaters that run on electric. When not in use, the directions say to cover up the plate so it doesn’t get full of dust and unscrew the propane bottle, I keep it stored in its box under my bed.
The Renogy 100 watt portable suitcase kit is keeping up with my meager energy needs very well. I don’t have numbers and technical details to share with you all on it’s performance as I am not electric-savvy and I don’t have a true battery monitor, I can only say that when I use my voltmeter to test the battery in the morning before the sun comes up when it’s been resting all night, I’m always at 12.4 or 12.5, so it must be working.
My single battery is a Walmart Group 27 12 volt Marine battery, so it’s neither a starter nor a deep cycle but something in between. True deep cycle batteries are recommended as house batteries for RVs, but alas will not fit inside the battery compartment of Casitas.
It was actually pronounced damaged with a bad cell when I had it tested at Auto Zone last year following it’s depletion due to a mistake made at the Casita factory when installing my new water heater. Recommendations were to get it replaced, but I’m happy I’ve held onto it as it’s been a great test battery: if it turns out 100 watts hadn’t been enough I would have been damaging an already damaged battery and not really out anything.
For electric draws, I only have my LED lights, water pump, a tiny bit of electric to power the control panel on the fridge, charging my laptop and smartphone, and occasional use of the Fantastic Fan when cooking. I do as much of my gadget charging during the day as I can and minimize electric use after dark.
When everything arrived, I mentioned how the alligator clips that came with the Renogy kit wouldn’t work for hooking it up to my battery because of the tightness of the compartment. Well, when I visited Little House Customs at the end of December, Larry put an Anderson style connector on the wires coming from the panel and charger, and modified the way my battery hooks up to accommodate that. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve included pictures taken shortly after the modification when I was still in Texas.
Through research browsing the Casita forums, I discovered I had to do a little setting up on the charge controller that came with the kit to optimize it for a Casita. By default it’s set to 200 AH and Sealed type batteries, and I heard I should change it to 96 AH and Flooded. The menu has eight options that you scroll through using the orange buttons. Option 5 is where you can change these numbers, but when you hit enter it asks for a password!
From reviews of the kit, it looks like this is the number 1 complaint people have with the product. No paperwork comes with the kit that explains what the password is, but it’s always all 0’s.
If you have further questions about my boondocking gear feel free to ask. I may not know technical answers, but other people who read my blog and do might chime in!