By Dave Helgeson
Flattening the curve is a phrase we have all become familiar with during the COVID-19 outbreak. The principle behind flattening an epidemiological curve is to spread out the number of people getting sick over a longer period of time to avoid overwhelming the available healthcare services.
The same concept is used by the new SoftStartRV™ product allowing RVers to start up and operate one or two air conditioners on their RV without overwhelming the available electrical supply. This easy-to-install revolutionary product allows RVers to run two roof top air conditioners on 30 amps of service or one air conditioner on 20 amps of service regardless of whether it is shore power or delivered via a generator. No more tripped circuit breakers or overloaded generators. For a dry camper like myself that chooses not to lug around a heavy generator this is a game changer.
After seeing this product recently introduced on RV Travel, I quickly obtained and installed one on my RV rooftop air conditioner. I am impressed!
Below is my experience with installing the product and my first impressions of its operation. This summer, after I have had a chance to field test it far and wide under varying conditions (especially higher elevations*), I will share my findings and experience.
Start by thoroughly reading the instructions and watching the installation video (more than once is a good idea) you will find one online at the company’s website.
In addition to what is included in the video and written instructions, here are some additional tips and observations I would like to share to make the installation even easier:
- Reminder: De-energize the power to your air conditioner before beginning by disconnecting shore power and/or turning off the circuit breaker to the air conditioner.
- To avoid unneeded trips up and down the ladder to the roof of your RV, round up all the tools and supplies you will need in advance and have them ready. Following is what I suggest:
- Wire strippers
- Wire crimpers
- Wire cutters
- Screwdrivers (Philips and hex for a Brisk Air) for removing the cover, run capacitor cover and unstrapping the run capacitor
- Drill and bit to drill a pilot hole for the screws that will attach the SoftStartRV to the air conditioner housing**
- Soldering iron and solder***
- Several extra yellow spade terminals designed for 12 – 10 AWG wire for three reasons: 1.) In the event that you lose one that comes in the installation package as you fumble around on your roof. 2) In the event you didn’t choose the wiring path wisely and find yourself needing to cut one off to reroute, as I did. 3.) I found the insulated jacket on the spade terminal that came with the install kit wouldn’t fully slide onto the capacitor terminal due to interference from an insulation ring around the capacitor terminal. A spade connector that didn’t contain a jacket around the spade portion slid right on.
- Extra tie straps to secure wires. The installation kit includes two tie straps to secure the wires, which is probably sufficient in most installations. In my case, I mounted the SoftStartRV on the opposite side of the air conditioner from the compressor and run capacitor. I used extra tie straps for the following: 1.) To assure the wires could not travel into the path of the exhaust fan. 2.) Since I cut the factory zip ties loose from the wire bundle allowing me to clearly trace the wires from the compressor to other points, I had to replace them.
- Electrical tape to help eliminate the possibility of rain or snow getting into the wire splices.
- Carefully plan the route for the wires before you start connecting things. The instructions will tell you not to attach the SoftStartRV until everything is wired together. In addition to the SoftStartRV unit being loose per the instructions, you will likely have to remove the run capacitor from its housing/mounting bracket to gain access to the terminals. With these two items loose and exposed along with the wires from the compressor readily accessible, you can quickly and easily attach the five wires from the SoftStartRV. For me, the problem arose when I tried to reinstall the run capacitor and mount the SoftStartRV to the air conditioning housing. It was then that I discovered I routed the wires on the wrong side of the copper tubing and the wires from the SoftStartRV weren’t as long as I thought, necessitating a more direct path. Even after I thought I corrected the problem once, I still had to go back and do it again! Luckily it just involved the spade connections and removing/reinstalling the run capacitor – thankfully, not the soldered and crimped connections.
The final steps for me included the following:
- Double-check that I had the wires hooked to the correct places.
- Applied electrical tape to the splices to further secure them together and keep moisture out of the connection.
- Made sure the crimp connectors were aimed up so that water has no chance to pool in them if it were to enter. (I live in the Pacific Northwest and rain or condensation gets into everything!)
- Used extra zip ties to make sure all wiring was secure from movement and potential wear points.
Before you reinstall the cover on the air conditioner, I suggest you test the operation of the SoftStartRV/Air Conditioner via shore power to make sure you installed the unit correctly. Be forewarned that the SoftStartRV does a great job at eliminating/softening the “bang” and low vibrations/hum you are accustomed to hearing when the compressor starts up in your air conditioner. Initially, I thought I had installed it wrong as I didn’t hear the compressor kick in, but after a few moments I could feel cold air flowing out of the vents.
This is where things get exciting. Prior to installing the SoftStartRV on my RV’s air conditioner, I plugged my RV into my 2,200-watt Honda generator and hooked an amp clamp to measure amperage draw. Starting the generator running in ECO mode I started the air conditioner several times to measure the amps required to get the air conditioner started. (Click here to see pre-SoftStart installation video.) The current required varied between 26 – 28 amps and in one instance the generator went into “overload”. After installing the SoftStartRV I ran the same test and the start-up amperage was approximately 12.5 amps on average, or less than HALF what was required before installation of the SoftStartRV. (Click here to see post-SoftStart video.)
My first impression of the unit is very positive. It does what it says it will do. The compressor in the air conditioner doesn’t work as hard, which will extend the life of the compressor, and the compressor makes less noise during startup, which will make it easier to sleep during operation. The huge reduction in startup power equates to less power management on my part and plenty of margin for my generator to still do the job at higher elevations.
Stay tuned for my field test report later this summer.
If you’d like to learn more about SoftStartRV, or purchase your own, click here.
*The internal combustion engine in your generator loses approximately 3% power for every thousand feet of elevation gain. While those of you in the lowlands of the SE might get away with a smaller generator and no SoftStartRV, those of us in the West, like me, might run okay at home (140 ft. elevation) but not when I am camping at 6,000 ft. in Montana, where the engine in my generator is producing almost 20% less (6 x 3%) power to turn the electrical generation portion of my generator.
**While the install kit includes self-tapping screws, I found that the sheet metal where I wanted to secure the SoftStartRV had too much “give,” prohibiting me from applying enough pressure to the screw to get it started without excessive deflection of the sheet metal. Pilot holes made this much easier.
***While the install kit comes with wire crimps, I chose to go a step further and solder the wire splices as I tend to travel rough roads and didn’t want to risk the connections coming loose. I then installed the crimps over the solder joint for extra strength and to insulate the connection. Note: If you elect to solder, please keep your RV’s rubber roof in mind as a hot soldering iron or solder drips could damage your roof.