Issue 15 • January 27, 2019
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By Mike Sokol
Back to the Future!
I just discovered that Part 1 of my article series on the ABCs of campground power and grounding was never published on RVelectricity.com, only on RVtravel.com. So to keep everything consistent I’m reprinting Part 1 of it below. Part 2 was published in last month’s RVelectricity #14, so now you have both articles in the same newsletter series. If you think you’re confused, realize how confusing it must be for me. So it’s Back to the Future….
RV Electricity – The ABCs of campground power and grounding – Part 1
AC power and grounding from the electric pole to your RV
I recently realized after trying to explain to an electrician the facts of how electricity gets from the electric pole into your RV outlets, that there were no basic diagrams to be found. So I’ve started making drawings of the entire layout, which I’ll publish here. While this looks complicated at first glance, it’s really pretty straightforward. Part 1 will cover how it’s all hooked up according to the National Electrical Code, which also shows how the neutral and ground wires are bonded (connected) together in the power company incoming service panel, but nowhere else. And Part 2 from last month’s RV Electricity newsletter covered all the various load and fault current paths, including how to integrate a generator with a floating neutral into your RV’s electrical system.
On another matter: I’ve agreed to begin direct consulting with RV Travel readers on your RV electrical issues. Chuck Woodbury will set up a consulting page where you can hire me on an hourly basis for the price of an RV technician to help troubleshoot the electrical problems your RV technician can’t repair. I’ve been electrical troubleshooting for well over 50 years, so I’m sure I can help you when others can’t. More on this soon.
P.S. And just a quick note that this newsletter is made possible by the voluntary contributions of the readers of RVtravel.com. We could not bring this to you without your 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 Member readers.
Save your knees when working under your RV
Do you ever need to reach under your RV to grab something, adjust something, add air to a tire, or remove a leveling block? If you’re parked on dirt, gravel, hot pavement or other uncomfortable surfaces, your knees can take a beating! This pad will save the day! The RVtravel.com staff uses it all the time. Learn more or order.
Q&A’s from other forums
I spend a lot of time on dozens of other RV forums answering questions about electricity. Here is one really interesting topic that’s getting a lot of attention: Just how do you ground a sub-panel?
From the Montana Owners Club:
Read the rest of the question and Mike’s answer here.
Did you miss?
• The last issue of the RV Electricity Newsletter? Read it here.
• Yesterday’s RV Travel Newsletter? Read it here.
• The most recent issue of RV Daily Tips? Read it here.
• The most recent issue of the New RVer Newsletter? Read it here.
RVelectricity Podcasts with Mike Sokol –
The future of hybrid/electric RVs
Ford F-150 Hybrid Interview with Eric Foellmer from XL
This 14-minute interview goes into the details and operation of the new Ford F-150 pickup plug-in hybrid conversion as well as discusses when you might get an all-electric RV. Listen on audio only directly below, or watch the video if you have some extra bandwidth.
Audio only Podcast:
What kind of bulbs do you use for interior RV lighting?
Last month’s survey results:
How do you provide shore power for your RV when it’s sitting in your home driveway or backyard?
OK, so I forgot to put in a category for solar power, but otherwise the results of this survey are very interesting.
Nearly half (46%) of those responding to the survey have a dedicated 30- or 50-amp RV pedestal installed near their RV parking spot. I think that’s great, since that will allow you to use your RV as an extended guest room for when extra relatives or friends show up for the party. And as long as this isn’t a motorhome, it’s a great place to put up your friends for the night who might have consumed a little too much adult refreshments at your party. You can give them the keys to their own private lodge in your backyard, and send them home in the morning. It’s the responsible thing to do.
But the other 46% of you power your RVs from an extension cord plugged into a 15- or 20-amp outlet on the side of your house or run out the window. This is less than ideal since in many instances these may be lightweight extension cords that can easily overheat if you draw too much amperage in the RV. The orange 50′ or 100′ cords really are the last thing you want to use to power your RV.
Plus, remember to always confirm that the power outlet you’re plugging into has a solid ground connection, and check the skin of your RV for a hot-skin/stray-voltage any time you plug in. I’ve had a few cheap extension cord failures where the ground pin broke off inside of the molded plug and even though it looked like it was fine, in reality there was no ground connection. That’s a recipe for a shock or electrocution. ALWAYS check for proper grounding and no stray voltage.
Some of you don’t bother to power your RV while parked, and that’s OK as long as you pull the battery(s) and put them on a float charger in your garage. Letting your RV’s house batteries go flat over the winter will surely reduce their lifespan, and I don’t have to tell you that RV batteries are expensive.
Tools and Other Devices
Handi-Cut to the rescue
Admittedly, I didn’t think much of the Handi-Cut when my dad gave me one for Christmas a few years ago. It languished in my tool bag forever, never even being tried by me. But last year my general contractor friend Karl was helping me install some narrow molding in the house and he pulled out his own Handi-Cut. What?!
This thing actually works great for cutting small wood, plastic and rubber pieces that would normally be destroyed with a saber saw or flattened with a pair of diagonal wire cutters. You just have to be careful not to twist sideways when cutting or you’ll break a chunk out of the hardened steel blade. But even if you do, not to worry since you’ll find a few replacement blades in the handle. This is now one of the tag-along tools in my road kit since I never know when I’m going to need to cut or trim something during an install or repair. Learn more or order at Amazon.
Last Month’s RVtravel.com Posts
• Stray Voltage Patrol finds neutral problem on pedestal.
• Advanced RV Electricity Seminars.
• The ABCs of campground power and grounding – Part 2.
• Don’t backfeed power to your RV!
Amazon Deals of the Day!
Here are more than 1,000 special deals, just for today. And the items just keep on changing. If you can’t find a great deal here on something you want, then, well, you must not need anything. If nothing else, it sure is fun to poke around here to see the incredible array of cool stuff that’s available today at bargain prices! Click here for today’s deals!
Technical training from Sears (of all places)
I never expected to find anything related to electrical training at Sears, but they’re offering three short videos on how to read and understand electrical schematics, which are really quite good. While they primarily focus on appliances (such as your residential refrigerator), the general principles apply to all schematic reading and understanding.
Part 1: Wiring Schematic Symbols Explained
Part 2: How to Read a Schematic
Part 3: How to Use a Wiring Schematic to Trace a Current
Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
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.
RV Electricity Seminars in 2019
by Mike Sokol
Advanced 3-hour Training Class in Hershey confirmed, Sept. 14. More information and preregistration HERE
RVillage Rally in Live Oak, FL: March 29, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Understanding RV Power & Surge Protection (free seminar)
Alumapalooza 10 in Jackson Center, Ohio: May 31 (Friday), 2:30 to 3:30 pm. Understanding RV Power & Surge Protection (free seminar). For more info on Alumapalooza click HERE.
Heartland Rally in Goshen, IN: June 11 & 12, seminar time TBA. Session 1 – Understanding RV Power & Surge Protection; Session 2 – Hot-Skin/Stray-Voltage testing (free 60-minute seminars)
Enumclaw Expo RV Show near Seattle, WA: Aug. 1-5, seminar dates and times TBA. Advanced 3-hour classes will also be offered.
Hershey RV Show in Hershey, PA: Sept. 11-15, 9 am to 10 am. Understanding RV Power & Surge Protection (free seminars)
Holiday Inn Harrisburg/Grantville, PA: Sept. 14, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m./5 p.m. Advanced RV Electrical Troubleshooting. 3-hour class plus 1-hour Q&A ($125 per seat). More information and preregistration HERE
New & interesting finds at Amazon.com
See what really cool stuff Amazon is featuring today. It’s a whole lot of fun just browsing through all these great items. The selection changes every day, so check back often. You never know what you will find, which is part of the fun of visiting here. Check it out.
Road Signs – “Soft” Retirement?
By Mike Sokol
OK, I’m rapidly approaching the age when I can completely retire if I like, and many of my friends and family are urging me to take retirement and simply travel. My twin brother just retired last year, and my younger sister just retired a month ago. My dad retired some 30 years ago and still seems perfectly happy to live in the woods sawing down trees with his variety of chain saws. Read more.
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 40+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
Editor: Mike Sokol. 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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Just stayed in a small campground we have visited for years. This year they removed their single 5th wheel rental to make another open RV space. Unlike the other spaces, however, the pedestal had a lower panel that shoves up and in at the top, and had a loop for a padlock to secure the bottom. There was no padlock, and plugging in the compartment above caused the lower panel top fall open onto the ground. This exposed three large AU-2/0 type lugs with hot wires on two of them. I notified the owner who was unaware of the difference in this one pedestal and he applied the padlock at once.
Thanks for this discussion on grounding. Certainly helps to clarify things.
I have a little different situation. I spend the summer at a non-electrified campsite. For a couple of years we relied on a Honda 3000 generator when we need power but last summer we added a solar system to provide power all the time. We still use the Honda occasionally for the AC and during long cloudy periods. The two systems are connected through a transfer switch with a small distribution panel for the 30A trailer circuit and a couple of 15A circuits for the shed.
But there is no earth ground.
So my question is, “do I need an earth ground and, if so, where should it go – at the generator, on the solar system somewhere, on the transfer switch or the distribution panel.” I have to add that the ground is quite rocky so the chance of getting a rod deeper than a couple of feet will be a real struggle.
Thanks for any help you can offer.
Except for some small bullet lights I seldom use, the main lighting in my motorhome is flourescent. That uses much less electricity than incandescent to start with. I don’t know how much more efficient LED is than flourescent, but replacing those bulbs is rather expensive. I plan on replacing the few tungsten bulbs as i can, as soon as I can figure out how to get to them.
Am I to understand that the old format of RV Travel is gone for Saturdays? Saturday used to be the “big daddy” day and there was tons of information about RVing. Not that I don’t think that Mike Sokol’s information is important, but miss hearing about something other than electricity on my Saturday morning read.
Well, good morning, Robbie! Today is Sunday. 😀 Here’s the link to yesterday’s “big daddy” RV Travel Newsletter: https://www.rvtravel.com/rv-travel-newsletter-issue-881/ (since you seem to have missed it, and the day, somehow). Have a great day! 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com
Re entertainment wiring: what kind of business can I go to that could “fix” the wiring for my entertainment system? We bought a used Itasca that had at one time a very complete system with 2 TVs, Dish satellite, Home theater, Dvd, comprehensive control panel with lots of buttons. etc. All the wiring looks to have been done in a very professional and workmanship way so it all had a well thought out purpose
But it looks like they replaced the original TVs for Samsung smart TVs, a Samsung DVD player, a Dish satellite, Sirius and who knows what else. When trying to operate the system I cant tell if any of them are wired into the control panel. When I went to the back of the TV and the storage compartment I find a nightmare mess (to me) of wires and with a lot of loose ends. I pulled out wires attached to nothing.
So I cant even figure out even the basic information I need to run the system let alone wiring in solar panels and inverter which it didnt have before but were working on.
Help! I don’t have the knowledge to make sense of this but dont know if a regular RV repair shop does either. We are new to this and just want to use the TVs for Netflix type streaming, radios, and DVD players.
Thanks, Kenna Hoyser (Currently parked near Las Vegas but home is Central Oregon.)
Mike – In the first paragraph of the response about dedicated 30- or 50-amp RV pedestal installed near their RV parking spot, you go on to say “as long as it isn’t a motorhome”. Why?
Liz, You need to give me more of a hint. I can vaguely remember saying that, but I’ve done a word search on the hundreds of articles I have on this site and nothing shows up. Can you send me the title or link to the article? That will simplify my search process.
Mike: It’s in this weeks post; above! 1/27/2019.
Ah, Diane found it. My point was that if you use your RV as an overnight guest house for your drinking (or drunk) friends, you may not want to give them the keys to anything with a motor and wheels that can be started up and driven away. But perhaps your drinking friends are more responsible than mine…
Liz:: You don’t give the keys to a motor vehicle, of any kind, to someone who has imbibed to much!
As I read Mike’s comment I believe he was referring to using the RV as a guest room. Visitors could imbibe as they please in a towable, but a Motor Home would have the possibility of being driven – undesirable if one has been drinking.
A good survey question, however, I cannot answer it. I want to change out the tungsten for LED but I’ve read that it is not just a simple ‘pull and replace’ task. It appears I have only two bulb types in my rig — one type, sort of recessed in the sleeping area for reading, and all the rest within our 23′ rig are the second type which I call ‘typical/normal RV lights’. An article on the subject would be appreciated. If an article already exists, please direct me/readers to it. The last thing I want to do is create an electrical problem. Thanks
JBC – That’s a great topic for an article, so I’ll put it on my to-do list.
Yes, its already right on the site here, complete with my video how-to. Prices for these bulbs have dropped since.
Regarding the Handi Cut –
I was installing additional batteries and expanding my RV solar when I learned that the Handi Cut works great for cutting through heavy duty cables such as the 1/0 cable I used. When making cables I originally used a hacksaw to cut through them but that was incredibly slow and messy, but when I tried the Handi Cut it sliced right through the copper strands with no problem at all. Because of that I now keep the Handy Cut as part of my electrical tool kit.
Most RV’ers I encounter don’t understand the purpose of a neutral and ground. Perhaps you can enlighten them to the purpose of a neutral line, and its importance. Most also don’t understand how critical having a good neutral circuit is.
Joe, that topic is part of my advanced RV-Electricity class, which Chuck and I may video and netcast when I’m doing seminars in Seattle this summer.