Issue 1 • November 26, 2017
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Everything you wanted to know about RV electrical systems but were afraid to ask…
OK, you all asked for it. The more I write about RV electrical systems, the more questions you have. So here’s my first monthly issue of RV Electricity / No~Shock~Zone which we’ll post the last Sunday of each month. If you ask a question, I’ll answer it. And since I’m a college professor who teaches technology I’m accustomed to answering really simple or seemingly silly questions. Notice that I didn’t say “stupid questions,” because I believe that all honestly asked questions have merit. Please send your questions and comments to mike (at) noshockzone.org with “Newsletter” in the subject line and I’ll put you in the queue. And if possible include, your phone number and time zone since I might call you for clarification on complex issues.
Let’s play safe out there…
P.S. And just a quick note that this newsletter is made possible by the voluntary pledges of the readers of RVtravel.com. We could not bring this to you without their support. If you deem what we provide to you here and at RVtravel.com to be of special value and would like to be a part of our effort, please consider pledging a voluntary subscription. More information is here. We will include you in special emails, articles and videos exclusively for our supporters.
Heat your RV with Electricity, not Propane!
SAVE $$$! Until now, the standard for heating recreation vehicles of all types has been to use bottled propane (LPG). With the CheapHeat™ system there’s a better option. Now you have a choice to change the central heating system between gas and electric with the flip of a switch. When you choose to run on electric heat rather than gas, your coach will be heated by the electricity provided by the RV park. Learn more.
Hungry, Hungry Hippo…
Just how much power DO you need?
I remember camping with a Cox pop-up trailer back in the ’60s in places with NO power. We had a Coleman gas lantern, a Coleman gas stove, a battery-powered radio, and that was it. But now we take all of our electrical gadgets and appliances with us. While you used to be able to get by with a single 20-amp service, that soon gave way to a 30-amp shore power connection, and now we have 50-amp/240-volt shore power plugs on all large RVs. And sometimes that’s barely enough for our RV air conditioners, microwave ovens, stoves, hair dryers, heat pumps, etc. I guess we CAN take it with us. So in this first issues of RV Electricity – No~Shock~Zone I’m taking a survey (below) to learn how many of you use 20-, 30- or 50-amp shore power, and if you also have a generator or solar panels for when you’re “off the grid.” Feel free to include additional comments about your power requirements at the bottom of the page. I want to know what you want to know. Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
Truma AquaGo®: Instant, Constant and Endless Hot Water
The revolutionary Truma AquaGo® hybrid instant water heater provides instant, constant and endless hot water. The Truma AquaGo® is the only RV water heater that can be decalcified to extend product life and maintain performance. And its “Easy Drain Lever” makes winterization simple. Use the Truma AquaGo® to replace any 6 – 16 gallon water heater. Find a dealer at www.truma.net.
I’ve been discussing the possibility of creating a yearly certification test for all campground pedestals. It’s not just sticking a meter probe in the outlet and measuring the voltage. A proper pedestal certification should include a load-bank test for voltage drop, as well as checking the ground bus for a low enough impedance back to the service panel’s neutral bonding point. Right now the COE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) is beginning to ban RV owners from using their own voltmeters to check pedestals before connecting their shore power plugs. So that’s exactly who I’m starting the discussion with. Wish me luck. — Mike
What are your power needs for your RV?
How much power do you normally want when traveling with your RV? Do you need all you can get — preferably a 50-amp shore power hookup? Or can you get along with 30 amps? Or are you perfectly fine with your onboard 12-volt system, maybe using solar power to keep your batteries charged? TAKE THE 30-SECOND SURVEY.
Read all of our past surveys here.
Tools and Other Devices
Essential for avoiding dangerous hot skin conditions
From Mike: “I highly recommend this Fluke Non Contact Voltage Tester (NCVT) for both hot-skin voltage detection and hot-neutral polarity testing. Even though it’s rated for 90 to 1,000 volts, it will detect a hot-skin condition down to 40 volts simply due to the huge surface of your RV that’s potentially energized. And the sensitivity is just right for quick checking a receptacle for reversed hot/neutral wires, as well as detecting a hot-ground caused by any number of miswiring conditions. This is the go-to NCVT in my own tool box. Fluke is simply the best test gear out there.” Learn more or order at Amazon.
Last Month’s RVtravel.com Posts
DIY – Safely Welding On Your RV
Welding on an RV can be done without damage to its electrical system, but there are a few simple precautions you need to take first. While you yourself may never have to weld your own RV, read this so you can tell your mechanic/welder what to watch out for. Go here for the full article.
Portable Space Heater Safety, Part 1
Just a few weeks ago there was a house fire near where I live in western Maryland, which resulted in the deaths of a mother and her adult son. Fire investigators ruled the cause of this fire to be a surge strip that was overloaded by a portable space heater. This two-part article covers the precautions you need to observe if you plan to use a portable space heater in your RV or home. Read it here.
Portable Space Heater Safety, Part 2
Part 2 of this important article about using electric space heaters in your RV or home. Read the full article here.
Surge Protector Survey Results
How many of you use a smart surge protector, and what brands do you trust? I wasn’t too surprised by the results, except that I don’t believe only 20 percent of you DO NOT use any kind of surge protector. Take a look at our survey from last month.
Don’t come up short!
Sometimes your 50-amp power cord is not quite long enough! That’s when this 15-foot extension cord will come in very handy. Sure, you can use a wimpy orange extension cord with an adapter — and risk burning up the cord, ruining appliances, or maybe even burn up your rig! With this cord along you’ll be all set. Learn more or order.
Q&A’s from Forums
I spend a lot of time on dozens of other RV forums answering questions about electricity. Here are two of them:
From the Heartland Forum:
Q: Here is my question to Mike. I have heard if you put your landing gear on the ground that you solve the open ground problem. This does not seem correct to me. What do you say? Will this solve the problem? I normally put my landing gear on boards so this would insulate it from the ground.
A: Nope … putting your jacks on the ground will do NOTHING to actually “ground” your RV. The only real ground connection is through your RV’s shore power plug. And even then it needs to have a solid electrical path all the way back to the campground’s electrical service panel. Even a ground rod directly bolted to your RV chassis will not “ground” your RV. It’s all in the code book. —Mike
From the Forest River Forum:
Q: Went to a Corps of Engineers (COE) park the last weekend of October. When I plugged in my portable surge protection and it indicated “Reverse Polarity” I stopped setting up and notified the host that I needed a tech to look at my post. It took a little over an hour for the tech to show up and correct the problem. During this time a couple of campers strolled over to ask what was wrong? One of them asked me, “What could it hurt?” I stared at him thinking, “Wow! The indicator lights on my surge protector are telling me that it’s a Reverse Polarity outlet, so I assume it must be an important or dangerous condition.” So the question still stands. What can Reverse Polarity do? Is it important or dangerous?
A: By itself, reversed polarity in a campground pedestal (swapped hot and neutral) isn’t really that dangerous and should never be able to create a hot-skin voltage or blow up any of your RV’s electrical systems. However, if it occurs along with any number of secondary wiring problems it can cause potential shock issues and possibly damage your RV’s electrical system. But what it really suggests is that whoever wired that power pedestal didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t even know how to use a meter, so who knows what else is wrong? You did the right thing. —Mike
Camco Store at Amazon.com
There isn’t much you need for your RV that Camco doesn’t have. If you think we’re kidding, then click through to the Camco store on Amazon where you’ll find some of their best-selling products — all for your RV or for you to make your RVing better. Click here and you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store.
#1) Always turn off the circuit breaker on the campground pedestal BEFORE you plug or unplug your shore power line. This simple action will prevent you from making an arc (spark) on your plug contacts any time you plug or unplug under load. Those pretty little sparks are actually tiny bits of flaming copper from your plug that will eventually erode the contacts. And that copper erosion will lead to overheating, which will require eventual replacement of your shore power plug. See my full article here.
#2) If there’s a lightning storm on the way it’s best to disconnect your RV from shore power and ride out the storm on battery. However, if you have an on-board generator, that should be perfectly OK to run. While the safest place for you and your family to be is in a large and properly grounded building, any full-metal-skin RV should be safe as well. That’s because the metal RV skin forms a Faraday Shield which will protect everything inside of it from lightning. However, fiberglass skin over stick constructed RVs won’t protect you from lightning at all, so either get to a campground building or simply go sit in your car. Again, the metal surrounding you in a car or metal-skin RV is what protects you from lightning, NOT the rubber tires. That’s an old wives’ tale that just won’t go away. See my full article.
The best book on RV electricity, hands down!
RV Travel contributor Mike Sokol is America’s leading expert on RV electricity. Mike has taken his 40+ years of experience to write this book about RV electricity that nearly anyone can understand. Covers the basics of Voltage, Amperage, Wattage and Grounding, with additional chapters on RV Hot-Skin testing, GFCI operation, portable generator hookups and troubleshooting RV electrical systems. This should be essential reading for all RVers. Learn more or order
Videos by Mike about RV Electricity
Give gift cards to your favorite stores and restaurants
You can’t go wrong giving a gift card for the holidays — or any other occasion. Here’s where to order most of America’s most popular gift cards.
My Other Life
Ever wonder just how much current a 2/0 camlok can carry? How about sizing the neutral for a big lighting system to prevent triplen currents? Maybe the Trans Siberian Orchestra is coming to town and you need to rent in and properly ground a generator for their show. Or you’re simply curious about how concert production really works. Then you should sign up for my AC Power & Grounding Forum at ProSoundWeb.com. I’m the moderator there and we discuss all aspects of electrical power and grounding for the pro-sound industry. You know I’ve done sound for acts like Black Sabbath, REM, Jimmy Buffet, and Oprah, right? (Seriously, I have.) Check out my other life here.
Road Signs by Mike Sokol
Of course, Thanksgiving is about great food and family time. And I certainly have been blessed with a score of memorable Thanksgivings in my own home. After all, holidays become even more special when you can share them with your own children. However, one Thanksgiving always comes to mind amid the hustle and bustle of cooking turkey and ham for the 20 guests that typically share that meal with us. It was a rather humble Thanksgiving meal I ate alone at a Gulf gas station when I was 18 years old. Yes, it was my first Thanksgiving spent away from my family, but it wasn’t all bad. In fact, I learned a lot about the spirit of holiday giving and what it means to include others in your celebration. Read more.
Editor: Mike Sokol, firstname.lastname@example.org. RVtravel.com publisher: Chuck Woodbury. Managing editor: Diane McGovern.
Everything in this newsletter is true to the best of our knowledge. But we may occasionally get something wrong. So always double check with your own technician, electrician or other professional first before undertaking projects that could involve danger if not done properly. Tips and/or comments in this newsletter are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of RVtravel.com..
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