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.

Your comments are welcome.

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Steve

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

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

Darrel

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

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.

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

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.

Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Kern

I have no problem with metered sites when we travel. Yes, take a pic of the meter before and after. Hopefully, if the park is metered, the pedestals should be up to electrical standards for our safety. The only reason I would leave the A/C on is because we have 2 cats that stay in the camper when we leave for a few hours, and the outside temp is hovering between 90 degrees and 110 degrees West of the Mississippi. Meter the sites.\!

Gwyn Blake

Here is my spin on this matter. I have no problem with a meter. However the RV parks or resort has lets say established a fee of 700.00 a month with electric . Ok now the same parks are going to meter your electricity and not adjust down for the built in charge they have on electricity . The parks are becoming very greedy due to supply and demand. It will force more folks to boondock or completely give it up. Hope this makes sense!

John Koenig

I would PREFER to be at a metered site. Pay a lower “base rate” for the site and then, pay only for the electricity that I use. I expect that many parks would have to upgrade their pedestals (which should be a good thing). I’ve used metered sites in the past and know to take a meter reading before I plug in (I snap a photo on my iPhone). I snap a second photo when I unplug. Show the photos to the camp office staff and, I pay for just the electricity that I used.

Peter T Morgenstern

I am a full timer and I travel from campground to campground never staying more than a month at any one campground and I’ve seen all examples of utility misuse: air conditioners running all day when occupants are out sightseeing all day; watching people washing dishes with full sinks and the water running full blast to rinse; awning lights and bogey lights running all night. How many of these people would chastise family members for doing the same thing at the old stick n mortar? My father used to do that lot!
Why do we think we are owed something for free that we pay for in our own homes?? I for one would rather pay for actual use of utilities than be charged a flat fee that includes paying some of what another camper wastes just because it is free. My father often said that there is no free lunch.
The use of electricity is a variable expense for the campground owner that is hard to budget for. If the owner can’t make a profit, he or she will get out the business. Think it’s getting harder to find sites to use now??

Mike Sokol

I predict that more and more campgrounds are going to begin metering, so best to arm yourself with calculations. If anyone is interested I could write an iPhone app or create an online spreadsheet that would compare the cost of propane and electricity, plus factor in an efficiency rating for each brand and model of RV furnace. That would give you a SWAG (Scientific Wild A** Guess) to determine if it’s more expensive to heat with electricity or propane at a particular campground. Yeah, I know you want the app to be free, but apps cost money to publish so at the least I would have to put in a few ads or charge a minimal fee. Or I can create an online spreadsheet that wouldn’t cost anything to publish and also be Android happy, but then you’ll need to use a little cellular or wifi bandwidth to access it. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. What do you think?

Sherri L

Have the rv park fee include a reasonable amount of electricity. If you use more than the baseline, you pay more in fees. There is no free lunch.