SoCal RV Doctor / TEAM LABEDA TEST / Incorrectly installed solar charging system, among other things
I spent nearly $18, 000 with SoCal RV Doctor. While most of the work was done well, the solar and electrical work performed actually created a dangerous fire hazard. Beyond the shoddy work, my direct interactions with the staff and owner, Curtis Labeda, have really left a bad taste in my mouth.
See the entire letter, with photos: http://goo.gl/6iaA6b
This timeline of events with SoCal RV Doctor details an improperly installed solar charging array.
The installation was originally completed with the incorrect wire gauge, not only was this a fire hazard but effectively rendered the solar array useless. Only after numerous discussions was the wire rerun. Upon further inspection, after receiving delivery of the RV, I documented several additional dangerous, and incorrect installation errors.
1. The solar combiner located on the roof was incorrectly installed. As a result, when removed the lid for inspection, the electrical combiner was filled with water. Electricity and water do not mix.
2. The polarity of the solar panels were reversed, a result of wiring the panels backwards.
3. The new length of wire was run behind the refrigerator; it was neither secured, nor protected and as a result, bare wire was exposed.
SOCAL RV DOCTOR / TEAM LABEDA TEST
Mr. CURTIS LABEDA
29910 OHANA CIRCLE
LAKE ELSINORE, CA US 92532
Prior to and leading up to, 9/14/2014
Many back and forth discussions leading up to a quote totaling approximately $18, 000 which included a frame bracing, numerous repairs, and coach enhancements.
I attach and diagram how the RV solar panel and charging system should be installed. I make it explicitly clear that we need to use 2 gauge wire.
Julie responds to me, “You mentioned wanting to use the 2 gauge wire - but this gauge of wiring is too big to fit into the panels and the control board for the panels.”
10/2/2014 to 10/7/2014
During this time we exchange emails. SoCal RV Doctor tells me they need more parts or they are missing parts to install the solar panels. I order and ship the requested parts. SoCal RV Doctor tells me they don’t need the additional parts because they found them in the original boxes the solar panels came in.
I’ve made a few phone calls to SoCal RV Doctor expressing some concerns about the electrical work being done; particularly regarding the transfer switch they installed. They also are unable to hook up all outlets to the inverter claiming the inverter that was provided cannot handle all the power.
SoCal RV Doctor follows up with an email “OK. I have been trying to get a good understanding of what is going on with the transfer switch so I can explain it to you. Yes - they did end up installing the 30 AMP transfer switch and it is linked to only on leg of the generator power. They are saying that the 50 Amp transfer switch would have allowed too much amperage to go through because of the size of your inverter?”
After seeing photos from the solar panel install I am deeply concerned. I send the following email:
“It makes sense why the 30 amp transfer switch was run, but I would have liked to have had inverter power available to all the outlets. It appears only the kitchen, bathroom, and TVs are on inverter power now? Not the garage, or bedroom? The ACs do not need to run off inverters.
Second, and this is very important. The 100' of wire I sent is 10 gauge, and meant for the solar panels to the combiner. It was not meant to be run from the combiner down to the battery compartment. Assuming a 25' one way run from the combiner to the battery compartment using the 10 gauge wire that was meant for the solar panels results in a 12% voltage drop, this is not acceptable. The standard, accepted voltage drop is 3%. To achieve this, on the safe side 2 gauge wire needs to be used; I don't mean to be difficult, but I was very clear that we needed to use 0 gauge to eliminate any voltage drop. I've highlighted in red the maximum wire run acceptable for 10 gauge wire; in green is the maximum one way run for 24, and 38 feet at 30 amps; the four panels on the roof are pushing closer to 36 amps. Please advise. “
I attach the following diagram, highlights my own.
Julie at SoCal RV Doctor responds,
“I have talked to Kevin as well and tried to get some answers on all of this. He is going to look at the inverter wiring and see what could be changed to give more options for the outlets - I will get back to you on this. This may be something better talked over with you in person when you arrive to pick it up - then we can make any changes if they are possible/
As far as the wiring for the solar panels - they keep explaining to me that nothing bigger than the 10 gauge wiring will fit into the combiner box buss bars and the interior solar controller panel. Even the option of 2 gauge wiring will not work with this application. This solar panel kit was designed for 10 gauge wiring only. When you purchased these panels were you told differently that they could accept a larger spec on the wiring?
Call me if you need to and I will continue to get as much info as I can for you.
Also - Kevin mentioned you told him that you were coming Saturday?“
“I would like to get everything wrapped up before I make the long ride down. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury to wait if additional works need to be done at that time. Please let me know what can be done with the outlets.
Maybe there is a bit of miscommunication here. Here is the combiner that I provided (link to Am Solar): Attached is a photo of the same box in action.
It is perfectly acceptable to run 10 gauge wire from the solar panels, connecting each other, to the combiner. This is okay because the wire run length is not a great distance (thus, minimal voltage drop). What causes the voltage drop is the long run from the roof, to the battery compartment. This is where the combiner comes in, the wires from the solar panels feed into the combiner; from the combiner we can run a heavy gauge wire down to the battery compartment. The charge controller will not accept the heavy gauge wire, so an additional buss or distribution block will be needed to step down. Again, the run to the charge controller from the distribution block is short, so voltage drop is minimal. If you were to pull the trailer out into the sun, test the voltage at the roof; then test again at the battery compartment you'd see the voltage drop is so great that the batteries would have difficulty charging. Hope this was helpful, I will call you soon. Thank you again for all the help!”
I receive a phone call stating that they will rerun with 2 gauge.
I have the trailer picked up.
First weekend with the trailer. I send an email to SoCal RV Doctor,
“1. With the water pump on, the toilet seems to have a small leak somewhere near the flushing lever. I haven't had a chance to look into this yet. I stuck a plastic container under it amount that drips varies, but it's not a lot.
2. I had a chance to drain down the battery system since there was no shore power. There seems to be an issue the solar panel voltage. The system didn't seem to be charging properly in the sunlight so I took a multimeter out and checked a few connections. At the roof combiner and pre-charge controller the voltage in full sunlight is barely 0.3V (we should be reading above 12v)I haven't had a chance to check each individual panel. Any idea what could be causing this?”
No response from SoCal RV Doctor. Follow up email sent.
Shawn Mapes, the service manager handling my RV has been dodging my calls and emails. Additionally, I find the toilet now leaks; I had SoCal RV Doctor remove the toilet and replace the carpet in the bathroom with linoleum.
With no communication from SoCal RV Doctor, I begin diagnoses of the problems myself. What I find horrifies me. I send an email to SoCal RV Doctor with my findings.
I covered all the panels and disconnected the two solar banks at the J-box. One bank was wired correctly while the other was wired backwards. From there, I tested each individual panel and was seeing 17-20V for each and 5+ amps.
No response from SoCal RV Doctor; I send a follow up.
The same day Shawn Mapes responds, “So what’s the latest? it would appear that it’s charging now???”
I send him an email, “I'm waiting for a new solar controller...the voltage regulator was shorted. The manufacturer is still investigating, but they are guessing it was because of the reversed polarity. Toilet is still leaking as well.”
Shawn responds, “They aren’t making you pay for one are they? The toilet, where is it leaking from? can you shoot me a photo of the lever??? It may be just the valve…”
This is the last time I will hear from Shawn.
I send Shawn photos of the leaking toilet.
Ralph Hiesey of Bogart Engineering sends me an email confirming the shoddy work done by SoCal RV Doctor.
“Dear Mr. Ng
This email is in response for a request for your request information about a recent problem you had with your photovoltaic system in your vehicle.
Recently you described a problem that you had when you connected the two wires that went to the solar panels installed in your vehicle to our SC2030 charge controller. When you connected the wires to the SC2030 you found that the voltage across the solar panels (when sun was shining on them) went down from approximately 20Volts to only about 1 Volt. The normal voltage in the case should have been from about 12 to 20 volts, so obviously there was a problem.
At first you (and I) suspected a problem with the SC2030 charge controller. However before long, after sending the SC2030 here to be examined, I determined that a fault with the SC2030 couldn't have been the cause of this problem.
Before long I guessed that there was an error in the installation of the solar panels. I guessed that when it was installed, there was a short from some point on the solar panels to the chassis. It is very important that the electrical connection wires that come from the solar panels not be connected to the chassis. The reason is that usually the negative wire is eventually connected to the chassis, but only at the same point that the battery is connected to the chassis. Any other connection before this could cause the panels to be shorted out, rendering them useless.
I guessed that the reason the voltage dropped to 1 volt was that the solar panel wire "positive" wire had a short to the chassis somewhere in its travel from panel to the solar controller. I did not personally verify this, but when I asked Jonathan to verify this he found this to be the case.
It would be very easy for anyone, including the original installer of these panels, to to determine if this is, or is not the problem as follows:
This must be done on a day when solar energy is shining on the panels. First disconnect BOTH wires from the solar panels at the ends that are intended to go to the charge controller.
Then, using the "amps" setting of a multimeter (on a multimeter that is designed to not be damaged by the maximum amps that could be supplied by the panels), put the NEGATIVE of the two meter probes to the chassis of the vehicle (usually, for example at the grounded negative post of the battery.) Put the positive meter probe to first ONE of the two unconnected ends of the wires to the solar panel and measure amps. Then disconnect the positive meter probe from THAT end and connect it to the OTHER unconnected solar end. During this test, it is important that the the solar panel wire that is not being measured is NOT connected to anything (such as the chassis). In both cases the amps value should be ZERO. If amps are non zero in either case that would indicate a short, which means the installation was defective.
This is essentially the task that I asked Mr Ng to do, and when he did he found that there was an amps reading greater than zero with the probe on the "negative" end, indicating a problem with a short somewhere from the solar panels, or solar panel wires to the chassis, probably from the positive wire, indicating an error in the installation. It would be very easy for anyone else to do, including the original installer, to verify his observation.
Ralph follows up the same day to clarify, “I realize the test I asked you to do with using the "volts" on your meter instead of "amps"--because I was concerned that you would damage your meter if you used "amps" if it exceeded the rating of the Fluke. But the very most technically correct would be to use the amps function as I described in the email, which I'm sure would have given the same result.”
I file a credit card dispute for the cost of the solar installation.
Further inspection reveals that not only were the panels wired backwards, but the solar combiner box was incorrectly installed; as a result the entire box filled with rainwater.
Seeing this fire hazard, I double check everything. As I go through SoCal RV Doctor’s installation, I find another major hazard. During the installation of the 2 gauge wire from the solar combiner down to the charge controller and battery bank they managed to damage the wire by running it under a metal mounting bracket.
I remove the existing fire hazard created by SoCal RV Doctor and replace the damaged wire with new 2 gauge and correctly install the combiner box.
Afterwards, both voltage and amps are within the manufactures specifications.
Prior to this date SoCal RV Doctor calls me, they tell me they’ve seen a credit card dispute show up and would like to see photos. I send along photos.
Julie at SoCal RV Doctor responds that she will go over the photos with Curtis Labeda, the owner.
No response from SoCal RV Doctor; I send a follow up email.
I receive a same day response, “Hi Jonathan,
I did look at photos with Curtis - but I was unaware you were still waiting on a response from him. He has been handling the correspondence with you directly - I apologize.
I will catch up with him in the morning and remind him of this. I know he was gone for a few days last week for an event.
I will follow up with you in the morning.”
No response from SoCal RV Doctor; I send a follow up email.
This is the last email I receive from SoCal RV Doctor.
Curtis Labeda, owner of SoCal RV Doctor, does call me. He explains that Shawn Mapes was fired, and as the owner he feels horrible and will do whatever he can to rectify the situation. He seems like a reasonable person. He suggests I cancel the credit card dispute so we can resolve this amicably. I agree to do so.
Afterwards, our phone calls become increasingly infrequent after I cancel my credit card dispute. Both SoCalRV Doctor and Curtis Labeda ignore my phone calls and emails.
I send a demand letter via email and FedEx overnight requesting to be reimbursed for the improperly done work by 9/5/2015 or I will move the matter to small claims court. The letter is delivered and signed for by G. LABEDA.
FedEx tracking number: [protected]
No phone calls, emails, or physical letters from SoCal RV Doctor.