Houseboat Inverter/Charger settings question

Discussion in 'Lake Powell Recreation' started by Frostman, Oct 24, 2016.

  1. Frostman

    Frostman Member

    The inverter/charger on our Sumerset houseboat at Bullfrog Marina is bubbling the lead acid golf cart battery bank electrolyte out through the vent caps and or seams between the battery top and reservoir. We seem to lose about a gallon a month in total in the 8 golf cart battery bank, which seems excessive in the Float charge stage.

    This is my first year on the houseboat and am gradually coming up to speed on all of its systems. There is little info on board about the settings that should be in use. I suspect that part of the problem is the batteries are 3 years old and may have some dead cell issues as well.

    I searched the issue on the internet in a variety of ways and really haven't found a discussion that parallels our situation. I finally came upon a houseboat forum and noticed another Wordling (Endurance) in its roster. Any guidance or suggestions on where the experts can be contacted would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Endurance

    Endurance Well-Known Member

    Here's some good news: in many ways, the inverter industry is still a few small businesses where you can place a phone call and talk to an engineer. Often times, it will be the same engineer that designed the product you have.

    As I understand it, most of the current inverter companies stem from a company called Trace Engineering in the Pacific Northwest. Xantrex came in and bought Trace which and made it more "corporate." Some of the engineers didn't like the new corporate environment so they met "out back" and started Outback Power. Others started Magnum Energy. Others had late night meetings that eventually grew into Midnite Solar.

    Even Xantrex, the most corporate of the common inverter suppliers, has reasonably good customer support. Outback of even better. My favorite is Magnum. Midnite would be equally good with Magnum, but they aren't yet fully in the inverter market.

    The starting point is a thorough looking at your inverter for its model number, serial number, and a date code if there is one. Armed with that, you can then go to the website for the company that made it and download a PDF owner's manual and grab a phone number for technical support. If reading and following the manual don't yield the results you need, you're ready for a phone call to someone at the company who will undoubtedly appreciate that you made the effort to read the manual before making a phone call.

    If your inverter is one of the older Trace models, you would go to the Xantrex website and call them for support. The only way you might be out of luck is if you have something off brand. Good luck!
  3. Pegasus

    Pegasus Well-Known Member

    Endurance's direction is right as there are many possibilities, but in a nutshell, I'd check your 'float' or 'absorb' settings and/or 'time' charging on your inverter/charger as it sounds like they are too high or too long. I don't know what batteries you're using, but there is great information on proper voltage charging at and also great general information on that has been very useful to me over the years.

    FYI-I just topped off my 16 lead acid golf cart battery bank with 1.5 gallons of distilled water - it was last done in March. Of course use and number of times charged would impact how much water is used over 6 months, but your 1 gl per month number does seem very high - especially if they are constantly boiling something is definitely wrong. And 3 year old inverter batteries are not old at all if properly cared for. I usually get +7 years out of my welled cared-for batteries.
  4. Frostman

    Frostman Member

    Our inverter is the Trace 2512 with upgraded 4.01 software. I'd called the Trace number in June and was informed of the change in ownership. I called the Xantec service center 3 times and finally someone returned my call and directed me to the download for the owner's manual. Unfortunately their web version does not contain the troubleshooting manual section I later found on board.

    The Settings section gives the factory default settings and shows a range spanning either side of the default setting. Nowhere in either manual is there any direction as to why one would choose a higher or lower setting.

    The settings currently in use are somewhat lower than the default settings. There are 6 set points:
    Low Battery Cut Out Factory default 11.0 vDC is set at 10 vDC
    Low Battery Cut Out Delay Factory default is 10 minutes. Ours is set at 5 minutes
    Low Battery Cut In Factory default is 13.0v. Ours is set at 11.5 v
    High Battery Cutout Factory default is 16.0. Ours is 15.0
    Search watts is 48 in both cases
    Search spacing is 59 in both cases.
    I don't see anywhere where there's a setting for limiting the time the charger is active.

    I'll track down the numbers for your suggested companies and see if I can come up with a solution.

    The batteries currently (pun intended or not) are Interstate Deep Cycle Extreme 6 V with 4 pairs of 2 in series for 12V output. They have a history of being overfilled in the past. It took 11 boxes of baking soda to neutralize the acid in the containment the first time I checked them. Mice had chewed on the cable for the battery surface temperature sensor which could also be a problem if the wires are shorted out.

    What batteries do you use on Pegasus?

    Thanks for all your suggestions!
  5. Endurance

    Endurance Well-Known Member

    The settings you provided have more to do with inverting than with charging, so they shouldn't have much to do with overcharging. I would suggest some tweaks to the inverter settings you mentioned and we can talk more about that if you want. Your focus now sounds like it's more toward charging settings, so here are your likely charge settings and some thoughts on how to set them:

    "Max Charge Amps" Your settings should be from 0 to about 120 amps. You have a big enough battery bank to handle the full rated Amperage of 120, so I would set this at 120. This setting is not likely your problem.

    "Bulk V" This is the voltage that your charger will use for a bulk charge. I would expect settings from 14.1 to 14.7 volts. For your flooded lead acid batteries, 14.6 should be about right. Even if you had it set at the maximum of 14.7, this is unlikely to be your problem.

    "Float V" This is the voltage that your charger will use for a float charge. I would expect settings from 12.9 to 13.5 volts. For your flooded lead acid batteries, 13.4 should be about right. Even if you had it set at the maximum of 13.5, this is unlikely to be your problem.

    "Return Amps" This is the Amperage at which your charger switches from bulk and acceptance charging down to float charging. I would expect settings from 0 to 20 Amps. This setting should typically be 2 to 4 percent of your total battery bank capacity. With a bank of eight golf cart batteries, you should have a capacity of about 800 Amp hours at 12 volts. The 2% to 4% figure for this would put you in the range of 16 to 32 as your return amps. I would set this at your maximum setting of 20 Amps. If you have your Return Amps at anything below 16, this is your problem since your charger will continue trying to push its bulk charge voltage of 14.6 or 14.7 volts at your batteries when it should be dialing back to a float charge voltage of 13.4 volts.

    "Eq Start" This initiates equalization, which is a controlled overcharging that you would normally do on a houseboat with flooded lead acid batteries about once a year. If anyone inadvertently hit this button, it would blast 15 or 16 volts at your batteries. You should only do equalization with all your loads shut off since you don't want your 12 volt devices damaged by hitting them with equalization voltage. More to your point, repeatedly bumping the Eq Start button would boil your electrolyte off in short order. This could be another source of your problem.

    Hope this helps!
    botnb likes this.
  6. Frostman

    Frostman Member

    Thank you so much! I found another downloadable owners manual that is the complete PDF I'd been searching for. I'd only recorded the initial settings as the abbreviated manual only took me that far.

    I recommened that the partner that wintwerized the system turn the inverter off for the season as the freezer, refrigerator and hot water tanks have all been drained dried and shut down for the season, but I am not sure yet how he left it. I am really concerned with what might happen if the inverter batteries run dry and the charger keeps pushing on them.

    I learned this morning that the battery temperature sensor is supposed to be mounted between two of the batteries below the electrolyte level to get the correct reading.

    I've truly enjoyed reading your posts on the houseboat forum b y the way. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
  7. Frostman

    Frostman Member

  8. Frostman

    Frostman Member

    Thanks again Endurance for your help. We swapped out our batteries and hooked them up with cables from Greg and tweaked all the settings per your recommendations as much as we could. Our inverter/charger has a maximum output charge amperage of 25 so I was unable to go above it. I am happy to report that all 3 of our systems are showing float charge settings.

    The Genius 4 tender has performed well for us in the engine compartment. We have a separate tender circuit for each engine and generator starting batteries and have a couple of spares tied in parallel so we have a backup for the runabouts or someone in need. We originally had the 4th tender circuit servicing the house batteries and soon realized that was a big no-no. The house batteries have their own separate charging system and the tender was telling the charger everything was OK voltagewise when it really wasn't. Once we figured out our error the house battery charger is pulling its load like it should.
  9. Randy Helzer

    Randy Helzer Active Member

    I certainly won't compete with the knowledge on this thread (I am always impressed with vast experience and wisdom on WW). But I have had a little experience with a similar situation. It only takes on bad cell in one battery to get the condition you are encountering. With one bad cell the charger (even a smart charger) will over charge since the bad cell will make it impossible to get to the 13.7 (approx) voltage where the charger will sufficiently back off to prevent boil off of the battery water. If you are still having problems I would suggest isolating all batteries and see if one has a bad cell (6v would show about 4v with one bad cell), or you can check each cell with hydrometer.

    Our last boat had a Xantrex 3000 with a 135 amp charger and we could go as much as a month of fairly heavy use with 8 6v batteries without needing to add water (with good batteries).