Issue 3 • January 28, 2018
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Many things are happening with the No~Shock~Zone and the RV Electricity Newsletter. Thanks to you we’re now up to 6,500 subscribers for this monthly publication, plus everything I write here goes on the RVtravel.com weekly newsletter with more than 60,000 subscribers. So I’m cranking out a lot of articles and videos, which I love to do.
But it seems that you want MORE and have suggested I turn this into a weekly newsletter. So here’s the deal I’ll make with you… Tell everyone you know with an RV about this newsletter (the actual web address is https://www.rvtravel.com/electricity3 ) and ask them to subscribe. Once we reach 10,000 subscribers I’ll increase this publication to twice a month. And if you’ll also help get the RV Travel Newsletter up to 100,000 subscribers I’ll publish this RV Electricity Newsletter once a week. How’s that for incentive?
Also, I’ve just launched my new Mike-on-Mic video series which should begin weekly publication next month. What is Mike-on-Mic? Well, it’s me (Mike) talking on a microphone (mic) about all sorts of RV things. Each 2-minute video will cover a single topic on RV technology and electricity. For instance, here’s my first Mike-on-Mic video about feeling a shock when your RV is parked under high-tension power lines, but not connected to any shore power.
I plan to make Mike-on-Mic videos on all sorts of topics such as the new 10-year lithium battery smoke alarms, basic compression-only CPR, how to use a digital voltmeter, etc. There are literally hundreds of topics that could be covered in a weekly 2-minute video. My list of topics is well underway.
And the exciting news is that sometime this spring I’ll launch a weekly educational series called Tiny-Class®. This is aimed at RV owners and technicians who want to completely understand electricity and electrical troubleshooting. Each Tiny-Class will consist of a 3-minute video, a 1,200- to 1,500-word companion article, and a 10- to 15-question self-test. Yes, the test results will be anonymous, so don’t worry about competing with your significant other.
I’ll catalog these Tiny-Classes in a Tiny-University section on the No~Shock~Zone and create a syllabus with certificate of completion for technicians who need continuing education credits. So you can learn as little or as much as you want. Yes, I really am an adjunct college professor in the conservatory wing of a large university, so I know all about tests and syllabi. But I also know a lot about teaching and take my responsibility very seriously.
Both of these educational series and this RV Electricity Newsletter will always be free to you, so don’t worry about the costs. But we do need to get our subscription count up to attract enough corporate sponsors to make them happen. And please don’t worry about me selling out to a manufacturer who wants to promote a sub-standard product. That’s not how I roll. In fact I’ve literally stood toe-to-toe with some of the largest pro-sound manufacturers in the world and refused their money to promote gear that didn’t meet my standards.
You’ve only known me in the RV industry for the last eight years or so, but I’ve been writing for the largest pro-sound publications for more than 30 years. If you want to see something really scary, just Google “Mike Sokol Sound” or “Mike Sokol Surround” and you’ll see my actual writing and teaching background. I will always write the truth as I understand it, and if I’m wrong about something I’ll make a correction. That’s my promise to you.
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.
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.
New truck automatically backs up your trailer
I’m covering more than just electricity in this newsletter. I’m also a technology consultant and instructor who drives all over the country, typically more than 50,000 miles a year. And many times I’m towing a trailer through all kinds of poor weather conditions and need to back it into tight spots. So when I saw an advertisement for the Ford F-150 Pro Trailer Back-Up Assist System, I became very curious. Basically it’s a computer program built into your truck’s navigation system that uses the backup camera already on the truck to simplify backing up a trailer. You just put a marker target on the trailer hitch, input the measurements of your trailer into the computer, and do a few calibration adjustments.
Then you can back up and steer your trailer by turning a small knob on the dashboard. The computer turns the steering wheel on the truck and it auto-corrects for any side drift as you’re backing up. Want the trailer to go left, just turn the knob left and it steers and counter-steers the truck to follow your desired trailer path. Want it to go right, then turn the knob right. Want it to back up straight, just let go of the steering knob and the truck magically counter-steers the trailer so it keeps going in a straight line, something that’s not automatic or intuitive to a newbie trailer tower.
Now, before you seasoned truck drivers out there take me to task for not backing up my own trailer manually, be assured that I have hundreds of thousands of driving miles pulling a trailer, and I pride myself on being able to back a trailer into any tight spot. However, for many new RV owners who have rarely backed up a trailer, this could be just the thing to reduce the anxiety from trying to back an RV trailer into a campsite. I’m asking Ford for a demo of this technology to try out for myself, but in the meantime, here’s an official Ford video on the system. —Mike
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Choose Americas Mailbox! It’s the best, endorsed by RVtravel.com which has toured its South Dakota facility and interviewed its very customer-oriented owner. Many plans available. Learn more. Or view the video interview RV Travel editor Chuck Woodbury conducted with Americas Mailbox owner Don Humes.
Would you attend a free No~Shock~Zone Seminar?
I’m not just a writer, I’m also a seminar instructor and have presented more than 1,000 technical workshops around the country over the last 20 years. My No~Shock~Zone seminar is full of cool hands-on demonstrations and easy-to-understand instruction about RV electricity. Plus, you get to ask me anything you want face-to-face. RVtravel.com editor Chuck Woodbury and I are discussing booking me into several of the major RV shows around the country to do some presentations. Would you attend?
Read all of our past No~Shock~Zone surveys here.
The right screwdriver for (most) jobs
How many times have you grabbed the wrong screwdriver and had to return to your toolbox for a different one? That happened to me a lot while I was up in the scaffolding hooking up something and had to climb down a ladder to make the switch. Then I discovered 11-in-1 screwdrivers. This Klein version isn’t a cheap import type with the bits floating around in the handle. These multi-purpose tools are made with hardened steel and have the tips stored inside the shaft itself. So a simple flip will get you a different size Phillips, straight, Allen, or nut driver. The Klein 11-in-1 is what I use in my own toolkit, as do many of my pro-sound colleagues.
Last Month’s RVtravel.com Posts
What’s all this electrical “ground” stuff about?
I had a problem a few months ago where the campground pedestal lost its ground, which gave my RV a hot-skin voltage. But I had my jacks down on the ground, so why didn’t that ground my RV? Are there different grounds or what? —Frank S.
Can water puddles shock you?
I have a major concern. We host at a popular state park that has allowed some conditions to develop at several sites that allows water to stand after a rain that covers the pad and extends to around the power pedestal for a depth of several inches. The result is a camper is an island with its power cord in the water extending up to the electric plugs. This can last for 6-10 hours after a rain of only an inch or so. Park staff knows about this as the condition has existed for several years. My thought is that this is totally not safe. Park staff responds that it will drain and dry up. How best to address this? —Michael F.
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Electrical reference graphics to print and save
First… Thank you for your No~Shock~Zone book on RV Electrical Safety. I’m only half through and love it. The way you explain things is wonderful and easy to understand. I also follow you on RVtravel.
My question is, your book is black and white and I would really like to make some quick reference guides (laminated) to keep with my electrical RV cord and test equipment. Is there a location (internet) showing all the colored Quick Reference Guides in the back of your book that I can print? Thank you. —John Renicker
Is this non-contact voltage tester on?
I have a 30-amp outlet on the side of my house and I decided to check it with the techniques you described in your book. There are two outlets in the box, the 30 amp and a 20 amp. I checked both with the non-contact tester and it showed no hot contacts. I assumed the breaker had tripped. I then plugged in a 3-light tester and it showed the 20-amp outlet was correctly wired. Is this tester self-powered or does it need power from the contacts to operate? If the latter, I don’t understand the reading from the non-contact tester. My NCVT is a Fluke VoltAlert 1AC-A II. I got it for Christmas and used it inside the house to check some wall outlets and it worked fine (and so did the outlets). I’m pretty sure it was turned on, but I’ll go test the RV outlets again and check the circuit breaker. —Bruce
Last month’s survey
We were curious how many readers of this newsletter were also musicians. How many of you drag along a keyboard, guitar, harmonica or even an accordion? I would love to jam with any of you in a campground (as long as we don’t do it during quiet hours). Click here for the results and to read the comments.
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 Teardrops and Tiny Trailers:
Q: This week we were camping in Oregon with other Teardroppers and I hooked up our Teardrop to the 20-amp duplex campground GFCI receptacle. It kept on snapping our GFCI and the campground one. I tried the 30-amp RV outlet with my adapter and had the same results. The campground maintenance man thought the problem was that we had a 15-amp vs. their 20-amp GFCI. I wasn’t buying into his theory since we have hooked up the same way in other campgrounds including Oregon campgrounds without any problems. Got any ideas?
A: First of all, if you’re talking about a GFCI outlet with the built-in TRIP and RESET buttons, then the total amperage draw has nothing to do with this. In fact, that type of outlet needs to be fed by its own circuit breaker, typically rated for 20 amp even though the GFCI outlet may not have the sideways T-shaped contact of a 20-amp version. But any of the 15-amp receptacles can safely carry 20 amps of current as long as the wiring and breaker feeding them are rated for 20 amperes. See my article on GFCI theory.
Be aware that GFCIs are tripped by any more than a 6mA (milli-amp) imbalance of incoming and outgoing current. So anything that leaks even a little current to the frame ground of the RV is suspect. One thing that’s often the culprit is the basic surge protector power strip. The MOV (Metal Oxide Varistor) inside can leak 1 to 3 mA (milli-amperes) of current between the hot and ground wires. And those leakage currents are additive, so while a single surge strip may not cause a GFCI to trip, two surge strips plugged into your RV can often add up to more than the 6 mA tripping point. Also, any kind of moisture in a junction box can cause this type of leakage and random tripping as well. I’ve seen a number of RVs with a torn gasket on a junction box that allowed water to accumulate in the bottom, and that was enough to cause the GFCI to trip. —Mike
From The Open Roads Forum:
Q: Hi, I have a 1996 30-ft. camper. I’m having a hot skin issue where 50 volts is leaking from the shell of the camper to ground. Each of the six breakers I have on my camper reduce this voltage as I shut each of them off (each drops hot skin voltage about 8-10 volts) and eventually when I have all the breakers off besides the main the breaker the voltage drops to 1 volt. I also get increasingly more voltage up to the 50-volt hot skin issue when touching my volt meter between separate neutral bar and separate ground bar in electric panel (each breaker I turn on increases voltage between ground bar and neutral bar 8-10 volts). How do I isolate what is causing this problem if all breakers are leaking voltage? Thanks.
A: The primary issue is that your shore power’s ground wire is somehow broken, disconnected or loosely attached to the frame of your RV. Those changing voltages will never happen if your RV is properly bonded (grounded) to the service panel grounding point. The reason you’re seeing these changing voltages on the RV chassis as you flip circuit breakers on and off is that every appliance plugged into a 120-volt circuit leaks just a little current to its chassis ground. Most of the time this is a high-impedance leakage with fault currents below 1 milli-amp and not dangerous at all since it will be shunted to ground via your safety ground wire, officially called an Equipment Grounding Conductor or EGC for short. However, without a properly connected EGC this normally small amount leakage can easily turn into a high fault current which is VERY dangerous.
So the real lesson is that you should NEVER measure any more than a volt or two between your RV skin or chassis and the earth ground. Any more voltage than that indicates a failed EGC (safety ground), which is typically caused by a broken connection in an extension cord, pedestal outlet or dog-bone adapter. NEVER accept feeling a shock from your RV, as that’s a sure sign that your safety ground has somehow failed and your RV’s skin voltage can be elevated up to 120 volts by an insulation failure in something as simple as your refrigerator or microwave. —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.
#5) Back pocket tip
I like to say there are OLD electricians and BOLD electricians, but not many OLD and BOLD electricians. One of the ways we stay safe is to never use two hands to measure anything that could be powered on. We’re taught to put one hand in our back pocket and use the other hand to meter an electrical outlet. That way if you accidentally slip and contact a live wire you won’t take a shock from hand-to-hand, which places your heart in the middle of the fault current.
#6) Electric brake wiring gauge
Don’t use too small of a gauge wire to connect the brake controller in your tow vehicle to the electric brakes on your trailer. Certainly #14 gauge is too small, and #12 gauge might be acceptable for a single axle trailer. But if you’re running tandem axles, then you’ll probably want to go to #10 gauge wiring. The reason is that the higher the gauge number, the smaller the wire diameter, and the more voltage drop you have going to the brake solenoids. And that voltage drop translates into lost stopping power.
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
Stop rust and corrosion
Of the many gremlins that attack your RV —like mold, mildew, leaks and black streaks — rust will attack your hand tools, spare parts, door hinges & other vulnerable metal surfaces & moving parts over time. STA-BIL® Rust Stopper prevents rust & corrosion by protecting metal surfaces with a long-lasting barrier while lubricating parts & tools to stop squeaks & sticking. Learn more.
I teach a lot of pro-sound seminars where we drag in up to half a million dollars worth of gear and do a live webcast to dozens of countries around the world, in addition to the sound technicians attending in the physical audience. I just love the interaction of the crowd, plus it really exercises my brain to answer technical questions on the fly. Here’s a pic from one of my seminars last year on digital mixing consoles. I was teaching in 68 countries at the same time without leaving my chair. I love technology….
Life lessons are all around us, if only we pay attention to them. A few years ago on a 1,100-mile solo drive back from Florida to Maryland, I witnessed something that reminded me of a Pat Benatar concert I once worked. I’ll start with Rose at the Comfort Inn first.
TODAY’S DEALS AT AMAZON.COM. Click.
If you’re a manufacturer that’s interested in sponsoring part of this newsletter or additional video content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to discuss marketing opportunities. — Mike
Editor: Mike Sokol. RVtravel.com publisher: Chuck Woodbury. Managing editor: Diane McGovern. Staff writer: Emily Woodbury.
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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