Battle brewing between campers, RV parks on electricity usage

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By Andy Zipser

Andy is the owner of the Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park in Staunton, Virginia.

You’d think most adults would realize that nothing is free. You’d be wrong.

Under the headline “Newbie LP conservation tips,” RVTravel recently counseled readers to “conserve propane by switching on your electric water heater instead of propane.” It further suggested that another way to conserve propane is to “use an electric space heater instead of the furnace to stay warm.”

Elsewhere, the advice has been more blatant, with RVers encouraging others to use electric heaters when at campgrounds because the electricity is “free,” unlike the propane that would otherwise keep them warm.

Meanwhile, the February issue of Woodall’s Campground Management — a monthly trade publication targeted at campground owners — concurrently ran an article headlined, “More Owners Metering Sites as Cost of Electricity Continues to Climb.” The subhead quotes Wade Elliott, owner of Utility Supply Group, a major supplier of electric pedestals and related campground equipment, as saying that “somebody coming in to spend a night or two” is “going to use as much electricity in those two nights as the person staying for an extended period.”

Clearly, then, there’s a collision in the making between campers trying to save on costs and campground owners unwilling to pay for those savings.

Back in the day, when electricity was relatively cheap and campground electric demand was modest enough to be met with 20 amp service, there was no more reason to meter kilowatt consumption than there was to measure water usage. Yet both those variables have changed. Twenty amp service is anachronistic, 30 amp will serve only the smaller end of the market, and even 50 amps is becoming insufficient for some of the most power-hungry behemoths. The cost of electricity, meanwhile, climbed 15% over the past decade.

The combination of rising costs and rising demand is now threatening the underlying concept of bundled services that is typical of most campgrounds. We already have campers demanding a la carte pricing, claiming that they shouldn’t have to pay for amenities they’re not going to use, be it WiFi or the swimming pool.

Now they may find the same logic biting them back, as campground owners conclude they’ll be better off charging a separate fee for each service and utility. Taken to its extreme, perhaps we’ll see a revival of once ubiquitous coin-operated showers!

Walnut Hills RV Park
Andy’s Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park in Staunton, Virginia

ONE POSSIBLE RESPONSE, of course, is for campground owners to raise site rates across the board to cover their increased electric costs. But that means simply that the cost of “free” electricity consumed by some RV campers is spread among all RV campers — including, ironically, the same bunch who want to pay for everything on an a la carte basis. Moreover, spreading the costs in this fashion encourages the kind of wastefulness that results from the “but it’s free” mentality.

That isn’t a merely speculative observation. At our campground, all our monthly sites are metered — but in addition, every time we replace a pedestal we do so with a metered one. As a result, we have some pretty interesting data to compare usage patterns between those who pay directly for what they consume — our month-to-month campers — and our overnighters, who don’t.

The upshot? Those who don’t pay for electric consumption use nearly twice as much juice as those who do.

Right now those metered overnight sites are like that for our own internal monitoring purposes. But as our costs keep rising — our monthly electric bill currently averages a bit more than $6,000, which is a whole mess of overnight fees — the thought of electric usage fees is never far from our minds.

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Kevin
6 months ago

Is renting a campsite much different than renting a hotel room? I am 49 years of age and bought my first camper in 2016. Way before I got involved in camping, campers have had air conditioners, microwaves and other electronics. Since campers have these items, I assumed that individuals used them as they pleased, as we do in our homes and hotels. I believed that using these items was normal. When I bought my camper, I bought one that had all these conveniences with the expectation of using them. Therefore, I use these items as little or as much as I want. I don’t turn on the air conditioning with the windows open and I don’t leave the lights and TV on all day long, but I use these items as I would at my home or hotel, no more or no less. My house is heated 24/7 during the winter and cooled 24/7 during the summer. This happens whether I’m home or not. When I am staying at a hotel, I do the same. We all do. When I stay in the camper, why would it be any different? When I rent a hotel room for x dollars, I use the electricity I need for heating and cooling, TV viewing and cell phone charging. I use the water I need for showers. I flush waste down the sewer as needed. I’m not charged separately for the amount I use. It’s included. The fact that I don’t pay separately for utilities doesn’t make me use more or less of the utilities. There’s no “but its free” mentality. I don’t turn the heat way up or the cooling way down or take 30 minute showers or leave the TV and lights on when I leave the room. I believe this is how the majority of people who stay at hotels behave with some using less and some using more, some rooms are bigger, some rooms are smaller, some rooms have big families, some rooms have one person, some people are more conservative, others are irresponsible. When I stay at a campground for x dollars, I expect to use the electricity, water and sewer, if available, as needed, no more or no less. I believe this is how the majority of today’s RVers behave, with some using more and some using less, some having small campers, some having big campers, some with big families using more utilities, some with small families using less. I don’t know the economics of a campground any more than I do for a hotel. The business owner is responsible for understanding the economics and charging a reasonable fee that covers their expenses and provides a reasonable profit. If a campsite cost $25 a night, then I’m going to assume that this satisfies the economics of that campground based on the majority of its renters and as the campground’s costs increase, I’m not going to be surprised if the campsite cost $30 next year. As a consumer, I do not like nickle and diming. I prefer to pay a reasonable flat fee that covers everything. When I stay at a hotel, my nightly charge may include the use of the pool, fitness center, business center, etc. and I may or may not use these items. As a consumer, I have the choice of staying at a bare bones hotel or at a hotel that has many amenities. Campers have the same choice. I don’t see a difference between renting a campsite or renting a hotel room other than when I rent a campsite, I’m bearing the expense of providing my own room, bathroom and heater/air conditioner.

Denny wagaman
4 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Many CG that I stay in DO charge an extra fee for 50 amp service. I don’t have a problem with that as I have 4 TV’s, a residential refer, a fireplace, 2 electric toilets, aqua hot that can run on electric or diesel or a combo of both, toaster, blender, 2 iPads, 2 cell phones, a lap top, electric clock, on and on.

Whoever said owning an RV is a cheap way to travel it not true.

By the time you amortize the initial cost of the RV the maintenance. (Don’t forget the tires) the fuel, the storage, the insurance, it’s not cheap. Then add for the cost of CG ( or not if you stay on BLM land) I don’t blame CG owners charging extra and I would do the same if I owned a campground wouldn’t you?

What I object to is being crammed into a space that is so narrow I can hear the toilet flush (or worse). At least give me a corner space and yes I have been charged extra for that too. I have Also been charged extra to set in the front row for an ocean view site as compared to the back rows with no view for less money.

What’s the other thing people say “nothing in life is free”?

Oh maybe it’s staying on BLM land. I bet actually that all taxpayers in America are paying for that too😊.

Michelle
12 days ago
Reply to  Kevin

I read your post with interest as we’re thinking about building an RV park designated for 55 & Older residents where we can also have up to 20% single adults with no children. We have a big 5th wheel and are guilty of leaving the AC on when we go out as it takes a while to cool it down and after the first RV we had blew up (fridge exploded) we bought an electric heater to avoid another gas explosion. I don’t think the idea is to make money from charging for utilities (or at least it’s not for us) but to cover the costs of the utilities and if an individual is staying long term, the more frugal they are, the less they’ll pay. With what is being charged even on a monthly rate here in Texas, it’s $400 to $650/month less than even the smallest apartment and no long-term committment so I still think living in an RV has got to be cheaper than renting or owning and paying property taxes. A mortgage is a mortgage regardless of whether it’s for an RV or house!

Roy Ellithorpe
6 months ago

The thing that I find funny is that ad for “cheap heat”. They want you to spend $1500. to add an electric element to your propane furnace. Most people I meet rent by the month, so they’re paying for the power. The ones who pay by the day or week may get their power included, but they will be a long time paying off their “cheap heat”.

Gary
6 months ago

Can you give me some thoughts on what vehicle is the best to pull a 30’ 5th wheel? We heard of lots opinions from Ram, Ford etc. what is used most of the time and why?
Thanks

Montgomery Bonner
6 months ago

Only a matter of time where it will be legal. Thousand Trails has been charging a 3 dollar daily extra fee for years for 50A service, and that is acceptable to me. A flat one time fee for electric service might be good, or some fair way to assess the actual fees. It should be noted, many RV’s are huge, need 50A service, and are decked out like a sticks and bricks home. So usage and amounts used are going up for those too. And yes, guilty, use the electric element on my heating system way more than my diesel burner, but then it’s not nice when campers around me come over and complain about the diesel smell. Suggest we all learn to live with systems installed in RV’s since I think the propane devices stink as well.

Jim Knoch
6 months ago

I do not see the parks going to individual short term electric metering here in Louisiana because the Louisiana Public Service Commission does not allow the resale of electricity by any non-utility. Over my tenure with an in-state electric utility (37 years) I have seen many occasions with large rental spaces in buildings wishing to sub meter space as well as with a marina making requests to sub meter, only to see them all rejected by the LaPSC. Only another electric utility would be allowed to sub meter, and I don’t see the likelihood of a campground meeting the requirements of the State Law and LaPSC reporting requirements. Since water systems and waste water systems also fall under LaPSC jurisdiction, I don’t see water ever going to a sub metered reality here in Louisiana, either.

Mojo
6 months ago

Went to metered electrical sites 35 years ago for all seasonal campers – just could not keep up with the increasing ‘free’ electrical use. Difference between conservative sites and energy hogs was in some cases as much as 8:1. Now beginning to meter water/sewerage on seasonal sites. The newer large units are not camping, they are movable mobile homes and the fees should reflect that. The days of simple family camping,for the most part, went away years ago.

Denny Wagaman
4 months ago
Reply to  Mojo

Oh here we go again what you deem camping is (or should be) and what I deem Camping is.

I am an RV’er not a camper.
Different strokes for different folks.

I don’t drive a camper I drive an RV.

Steve
10 months ago

I have already commented but I will add a little more. I think everyone should realize that the profit margin in a campground is not making anyone rich. If it was, we would have an abundance of campgrounds and available campsites. Think about the cost to build a 50 or 100 site campground with the amenities many want, a pool, individual showers and big store, playgrounds and a fishing pond plus level concrete pads and full hookups. I am guessing $1MM- $1.5MM for a 50 site campground. (and I might be low) What do you think it would cost to build a single site like this at your S&B location. $10K? $20K? A CG is not cheap to build, now staff it 24-7 with several people, life guards, store keepers, etc and then pay income and property sales tax plus insurance to cover our sue happy population. Now pay the loan you took out to build the place. I have never seen a rich owner.

Then you pull in with your $50K – $200K rigs and complain about paying for power.

Have any of you gone to Disneyland in the last few years. Now that’s sticker shock! Don’t stay at the CG if you are not happy. Your choice!

Steve
10 months ago

I don’t have not problem paying for what I use. In fact, I would like the writer to expound on the differential of power used by “one nighters” compared to extended stay campers. His comment did not surprise me at all. A graph or chart of usage might open some eyes. Along that line, one thing I find is CG’s seem to feel they have to pander to the “family” camping trip and have all the stuff for the kid, and that costs money. Maybe that is because so many want the seasonal family campers. I prefer a simple campground- but my kids are grown. A camper with a permanent porch and cabana is not camping in my opinion. It is a cheap cabin on a campsite. But that’s my opinion – kill me if you want!

I think about my income and the cost increases of everything over the last 40 years. Camping is still pretty cheap. If camping had increased by the same ratio as the cost of a car or house or your wages, you would be paying well over $100 per night on average. There is no free lunch – pay me now or pay me later. PEACE

Winnebago Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve

The same reason Motel 6 is no longer $6 a night. Most chain motels are over $100 plus a night.

Darrel
10 months ago

If you want me to pay seperate for metered electricity on stays of less than one week, then I want a discount for all the stuff we never use. We never use pools, hot tubs, restrooms, tennis courts, etc.

We just want a space with FHU. Everything else we want is self contained or not inside the RV park.

Now on **discounted** stays of one month metered electric is fine. I simply have no desire to be waiting around for meter reading, and waiting to pay the electric bill on the way out for short stays.

Chuck Woodall
10 months ago

I have no issue with paying for what I use. At a site we stay at a lot, we do not pay electric for a month but pay substantially more for a 3 month stay. Since they have meters, we monitor our use and have never, ever, used more than 60 dollars in electricity. But the 3 month rate adds almost 300 dollars a month. The park is basically ripping us off. We agree to the contract so we have no right to complain. But if they want to add electric cost, then make the nightly cost more reasonable. And make the cost of electricity fair. Do not add surcharges, meter reading fees, handling fees, and a host of other garbage just to make me pay more. I know we are not the average camper. We actually try to use only what we need. And we have also heard the folks say just use it, it is included. I do not agree with them and they are the ones that cause us all issues. Just my thoughts.

M.J.
10 months ago

I wouldn’t mind paying for my electricity, when the parks go back to $15. a night, or $20. a night for the nice parks with cement pads and pools and working jacuzzis. But paying $75. a night for a piece of dirt covered in ants and ticks and then electric is ridiculous.

Ronl
10 months ago

Walnut Hills Campground in Staunton, VA is one of the nicest, cleanest, most well designed places we have stayed. We were in the area pictured in this article overlooking the small lake and all the constant duck and bird activity. Very peaceful, quiet and relaxing.

Tom Champagne
10 months ago
Reply to  Ronl

This comment has absolutely nothing to do with the topic. Sounds like a commercial to me. I hope you paid someone to post this?

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom Champagne

Hi, Tom. That article was written by Andy Zipser, the owner of the Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park in Staunton, Virginia (as indicated at the top of the article), which Ronl mentioned. So, yes, it’s quite appropriate that he gave his opinion of that campground (which also happens to be one of editor Chuck Woodbury’s favorite campgrounds). So, just because someone has good things to say about a campground it’s because we paid them to say it, and it’s thus a “commercial”? Sheesh! —Diane at RVtravel.com

Steve
10 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Sorry Diane – But I agree with Tom. This comment section is pointed at the metered electric issue. The comment praising a campground seems out of place and really sounds like hyping the campground. This is an open forum, but come on. The commenter never even mentions electricity. Had they said “And the electric is free” OK but nada!

Fox
10 months ago

I have long said that the cheap skates are going to ruin it for everyone with this sort of an attitude. If I built an RV park today everything in it would be coin-operated the power coming into your RV the water even the dump station everything would be an alicart pricing and it would be clean op. for use

Michael Allen
10 months ago

Quit whining! Running a campground is a commercial business, I assume. If you’re not a non-profit, and you can’t figure out how to balance demand, income and expenses and still appeal to your target market, perhaps you should look for a different line of work.
We spent last year on the road traveling the country and staying in a variety of campgrounds, from Mom and Pop to resorts. Not once did I worry about whether or not they were covering their costs.

Donald N Wright
10 months ago

My Aliner Popup doesn’t have a built in heater. If I have hookups, I use a shoebox sized electric heater from walmart, only when I am in the trailer. I do have the “Cool Cat” which probably uses a lot more power. Without hookups, I run in a gas line and use my Buddy heater.

Rick
10 months ago

The cost of running a camp ground never goes down. It ALWAYS goes up. Taxes go up, utilities go up, maintenance goes up, repairs go up. Who would think that rental costs should go down or even remain the same? The cost of life continues to go up and so will staying at RV parks or campgrounds. And yes the cost of staying at a camping “RESORT” will go up even more! Prepare for it, plan for it or boondock (if you can find a spot) but the days of “CHEAP” camping are just about over.

Billbo
10 months ago

I see this issue as another way to chase customers away, and out of the RV lifestyle. Along with RV resorts that fill half of the sites with little houses and glamor tents, RV’ing as we know is going bye-bye.

Peggy
10 months ago

I would prefer to pay for my own usage. I’ve seen people sitting outside their campers, door wide open with the air running – in a state park!

T Hartman
1 year ago

Do RV parks charge different rates for summer users than for winter users? Of course not. So why should they complain about heating with electricity during the winter any more than they would complain about AC usage? They know that restricting AC usage will cost them customers. I feel that I am paying an upcharge for a site with 50 amp electric service, to use that same service should be expected. Metering for daily users is going to just be an excuse to hit renters with exorbitant electrical charges.

Basslaker
1 year ago

We operate a little Mom and Pop resort, with 5 seasonal cabins and 14 campsites in northern MN, and are relatively new to the RV thing. At $159.75 a pop for meters, it’s easier for us to charge an across the board fee for electric. That being said, I cringe when I see/hear the A/C running in a camper in August, and the tenants aren’t even in camp! The occasional tenant, who lives 150 miles away and comes once or twice a month, paying the same as the local who’s here daily is a travesty, but what are we to do?

Ronl
10 months ago
Reply to  Basslaker

The A/C is usually running for a pet(s) inside and so the owners don’t return to a warm RV. Still wasteful.

Darrel
10 months ago
Reply to  Basslaker

They may have pets in that RV in that August heat.

Mathew Freng
10 months ago
Reply to  Basslaker

I just recentrly purchased a campground and the wastefulness of the electricity astounds me. I am converting the pedestals to metered. I believe we can install the meters ourselves easily. The cost for the conversion kit and the meters for the pedestals is going to run under $75 per site.