By Mike Sokol
I’ll use this week’s column in a two-fold manner: 1) As a review of where we are in this 12-part series on RV electrical safety; and 2) As a call to action.
We’ve now completed Part VIII of this series, and have only four more RV safety articles scheduled. (See below for what’s been covered so far.) Part IX will be on GFCI troubleshooting; Part X on extension cord rewiring; and Part XII will be on basic CPR techniques — in the event of an electrocution. (I haven’t decided what Part XI will be just yet, but perhaps it will touch on electrical safety around boat docks since many of you also enjoy boating.)
I’m glad to study and write about electrical safety, and have received many positive comments about the clarity and benefit of these articles. I would like to continue to add more articles in the future. So here’s how you can help.
#1) Let us know any topics you’d like to see covered in future articles. For example, portable generator grounding is a big issue, and topics such as 12-volt DC battery safety are vitally important, especially around RV house batteries and inverters. If you have any electrically-related areas of concern, please send me an e-mail.
#2) Please pass along the RVtravel.com and NoShockZone.org links to any other forums you belong to. We see referrals from a diverse group of RV forums such as RVtravel.com, Airstream, Monaco, RVing Women, etc., but the more the merrier.
#3) Suggest any RV-oriented magazines that might run these articles in any form. Any magazine or print suggestions or referrals would be appreciated.
#4) We are looking for experts in the various electrical fields to confer with us on these and more advanced topics. For instance, an EE designer who builds portable generators for the RV industry could answer questions on grounding for us all.
#5) We’re looking for invitations to present NoShockZone clinics across the country. We’ve already talked to a few large campgrounds, but if you know of any places that could act as a host site, we’re all ears. We see NSZ clinics as a valuable addition to trade shows, RV dealerships and RV rallies of all sorts. Since I already travel all over the country teaching hands-on sound mixing classes (www.HowToSound.com) it would be possible to schedule an afternoon at a campground for a NSZ clinic as I’m driving through around Texas or Oregon or Florida. Hey, I drove 50,000 miles last year alone, so this would be a nice break from seat time on the road.
#6) Sponsorship support for these clinics is what’s really needed. You can see that www.NoShockZone.org is a new site that presently has zero sponsors. These electrical safety articles are written for no compensation except for the knowledge that we’re educating folks and quite possibly saving lives. And Chuck Woodbury from RVtravel.com sees this as having such importance that he’s created an entire NoShockZone area for past and future articles on his site.
However, to put these clinics on the road we’ll require sponsorship support. Manufacturers of many types should be interested in providing such support. Those of you who have read this series so far know that its purpose is to protect the typical RV user by informing them on how to identify and avoid dangerous electrical situations. Companies that manufacture electrical test equipment or electrical cables and extension cords or even insurance companies should jump onboard our educational safety RV.
And we know that many of you are also concerned about damage to your RV’s electrical appliances and the cost of their replacement. With that in mind I would suggest that personal shock safety and RV appliance damage really involve the same skill sets. A properly connected RV is intrinsically safe for both its appliances and occupants. So everyone wins if more people understand the basics of electricity and how to properly inspect an RV electrical hookup.
If you know of a RV manufacturer, educational grant or safety foundation that might lend monetary support to the NoShockZone clinics, tell them about us, and please introduce us to them. We really need your help to put these educational safety clinics on the road. Contact me at [email protected] and I’ll get back to you within a day.
RV Electrical Safety: Part VIII — GFCI
No it’s not the name of an insurance company or a European sports car, GFCI is an abbreviation for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or G-F-C-I. They’ve been required in many localities for electrical outlets located near sinks or the outside of your house for the last 10 years or more.
RV Electrical Safety: Part VII — Wattage
If you’ve been reading along this far in the series you already know about voltage (electrical pressure) and amperage (current flow). You also know how to measure voltage using a DMM (Digital Multi Meter) and how to size extension cords for sufficient amperage (current) capacity. But in the end it all comes down to wattage.
RV Electrical Safety: Part VI — Voltage Drop
We’ve all heard about how hooking up an RV on too long or too skinny of an extension cord can force its appliances to run on 100 volts instead of the regular 120 volts, thereby burning out the motors or other components. But before we get into the reality of what happens to gear running on 100 volts rather then a full 120 volts, let’s figure out why this voltage drop thing happens in the first place.
RV Electrical Safety: Part V — Amperage
For those of you unfamiliar with extension cord and wire specifications, the lower the number of the gauge, the thicker the wire and the more current that can flow through it without overheating. For example, a 14-gauge extension cord might be rated for only 15 amperes of current flow, while a 10-gauge extension cord could be rated for 30 amperes of current, depending on total length of the cable and type of insulation.
RV Electrical Safety: Part IV — Hot Skin
An RV Hot-Skin condition occurs when the frame and body of the vehicle is no longer at the same voltage potential as the earth around it. This is usually due to an improper power plug connection at a campsite or garage AC outlet. So what follows are two ways to determine if the skin of your RV has been electrified. The first method uses a voltmeter for testing, while the second method uses a non-contact AC tester like electricians use to check for live outlets.
RV Electrical Safety: Part III — Outlets
Today’s RVs have much greater power requirements than those of even 10 years ago. You have many appliances, so that single 20-amp outlet can’t provide enough current. This is when you need to step up to 30- or even 50-amp outlets at the campsite. Let’s see how they’re wired.
RV Electrical Safety: Part II — Meters
Remember when you were a child and first started to help with baking there were all sorts of measuring devices and abbreviations to take into consideration? There was a Tablespoon (tbsp), teaspoon (tsp), Ounce (oz.), with 8 oz. in a cup, and so on. And you better not get your tsp and tbsp mixed up or bad things would happen to your cake. The same types of rules apply when measuring electrical values. You just need to know how to use a few electrical measuring tools and then you’re ready to test your RV power.
RV Electrical Safety: Part I — Volts
While RVs as wired from the factory are inherently safe, they can become silent-but-deadly killers if plugged into an improperly wired extension cord or campsite outlet. This is because RVs are basically a big cage of metal insulated from the ground by rubber tires. It’s up to you, the RVer, to make sure the frame and body of your RV is never electrified due to poor maintenance, bad connections or reversed polarity in a power plug. This so called Hot-Skin problem is what causes a tingle when you touch the doorknob or metal steps of your RV while standing on the ground.
The Shocking Truth About RVs
We had been trying to locate a study on just how many RV owners have been shocked by their recreational vehicles, but search as we might, nobody seemed to have done a study. So in July 2010 we asked www.RVtravel.com to run a simple 10-second survey directed to their 85,000 opted-in newsletter readers, and we found that 21% of you report getting shocked from your RV.
Mike Sokol is the chief instructor for the HOW-TO Sound Workshops (www.howtosound.com) and the HOW-TO Church Sound Workshops. He is also an electrical and professional sound expert with 40 years in the industry. Visit www.NoShockZone.org for more electrical safety tips for both RVers and musicians. Contact him at [email protected].
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