Issue 30 • May 3, 2020
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Read back issues of this newsletter and many other articles by Mike Sokol on RVtravel.com. Warning: There is a lot to learn here.
By Mike Sokol
The word for the day is “boondocking” (remember that), and I believe that it’s the future of camping, at least until the COVID-19 Pandemic is completely under control. Until then there’s likely to be even more limited campground spots when the industry was already short on them.
As of this writing it appears that nearly all state campgrounds are shut down, and many private campgrounds are severely limiting access. If you thought finding a nice (or even any) spot in a campground was difficult last year, it’s going to be even worse this season. More and more of my readers seem to be heading for the “woods” – perhaps not literally the woods, but non-traditional camping spots without water or electricity, and maybe even other campers around them. Hey, that’s how I started camping with my family back in the 1960s in a Cox pop-up camper.
With that in mind, I’ve been studying technologies and techniques that can help keep you and your family safe while boondocking without ready access to power or medical care. Check out my extended report on the Vitrifrigo Danfoss compressor refrigerator paired with a Briter Products Lithium Battery. This is Part II of my Saturday RVelectricity piece in RVtravel where I reported on the basics. It’s at least twice as efficient in terms of battery usage as an equivalent residential refrigerator with a conventional compressor. So it could be possible to use many less solar panels and batteries than might be required for a residential refrigerator. Read more about how Danfoss compressor technology works in this article.
And now that I’ve become deeply involved with monitoring cardiac problems for my 91-year-old father, I’ve found a portable ECG unit that’s the size of a pack of chewing gum, connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and produces a 6-lead ECG of your heart beats, all without having to attach those sticky leads to your chest. And it’s been FDA approved and is now being used by leading cardiologists to help monitor their patients. That means that even if you’re thousands of miles away from your cardiologist you can send him or her a daily 6-Lead ECG that will help keep track of that all-important muscle in the center of your chest. Yes, I’ve already contacted the developer of the KardioMobile 6L and they’re sending me a review sample next week, so I’ll be reporting on it soon.
Also, I’m announcing the beginning of my study to determine if SnapPads for your leveling jacks might just help reduce electrical damage to your RV in the event of a nearby lightning ground strike. Yes, for years I’ve assumed (and wrote) that insulating pads under your jacks would do nothing to help keep your RV safe in a lightning storm, but now I’m not so sure. Here’s my chance to prove myself wrong, which I really love to do.
Why am I so happy when I’m wrong? Well, it means I can study something new that I didn’t already know, and come up with new theories on how it works. Hey, if it was good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for me. Read my SnapPad Lightning study below.
Finally, read my Road Signs piece about the last cross-country camping trip I took with my parents when I was 15 years old and heard the lunar landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969, using nothing more than a battery-powered AM radio. And as you might guess, I was sitting in our pop-up camper building an Estes model rocket while listening to the landing. Good times….
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.
Staying safe in a lightning storm
Can RV SnapPads under your leveling jacks help reduce damage to your RV’s electrical system from a nearby lightning ground strike?
I’m beginning to study this concept just in time for lightning season. For many years I made the claim that insulating pads under your RV jack stands would do nothing to protect your RV from electrical damage in the event of a direct lightning strike. And I believe that is still true, having performed a recent insurance inspection for a $500,000 coach that suffered a direct lightning strike on its roof.
However, for every direct strike, there are probably hundreds of smaller lightning ground strikes in the area that energizes the campground wiring. And it’s possible that insulating jack pads could prevent something I’m now referring to as a whiplash effect through the ground and where a DC pulse lightning current damages more of your electrical system due to secondarily grounding your RV, rather than insulating it from the ground. Join me as I begin to study this phenomenon and review technical papers on how insulating your leveling jacks might reduce electrical damage to your RV.
Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
Run two air conditioners on 30 amps – Wow!
When the temperature really gets sizzling and your 50-amp rig is stuck with a 30-amp hookup, you’re out of luck if you want to run two air conditioners. That is, unless you have a state-of-the-art SoftStartRV. It’s inexpensive, simple to install, and works just as promised. Don’t miss watching the short video by RV electricity expert Mike Sokol. Learn more or order at a special discount.
Watch Mike’s 30-minute recorded webcasts. Here are my RVelectricity Basics seminars Parts 1, 2 and 3.
Yes, I have no live seminars scheduled this year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but I’ve been able to convert them all into live webinars, through the wonder of the Internet and a YouTube channel. Hey, I look pretty good on the small screen, I think…
• RVelectricity Basics Part 1: Volts, Ohms, Watts and Meters
• RVelectricity Basics Part 2: Campground Pedestals and Surge Protectors
• RVelectricity Basics Part 3: Generators, DC-DC Chargers and Lightning Protection
Could there be a Danfoss compressor in your next RV refrigerator?
Just yesterday I posted my first report on how a Vitrifrigo Danfoss BD compressor refrigerator and a Briter Products 100 amp-hour lithium battery run over 36 hours on a single charge, more than tripling the time that a residential refrigerator could run on the same battery technology. So what exactly is a Danfoss compressor and what makes it a better technology for RV refrigerators?
Will you be camping this summer? If so, where?
Troubleshoot with an AC/DC clamp meter
You see me use a lot of AC/DC clamp meters while troubleshooting all kinds of RV electrical systems, both short circuits as well as why a battery is discharging too quickly. Here’s the one I use that has never let me down, a Southwire 21050T, which you can find at many Lowe’s Stores or on Amazon HERE.
Last month’s survey results:
Are you interested in RVelectricity™ boondocking information?
Looks like 44% of you who responded to the survey want more boondocking-specific information, and 49% are a maybe. Only 8% of you aren’t interested in boondocking info, which I’m guessing is due to the probability that you don’t plan to boondock. Fair enough… But the 92% of you that want boondocking info at some level are a great target audience. That means more information on Lithium vs. AGM batteries, solar panel selection and installation, and inverter reviews. Plus I can think of a ton of other topics to cover for those of you who want to cut the umbilical cord and camp away from campgrounds. Can’t say that I blame you because my first family camping trips were definitely “off the grid.” Read my Road Signs piece below for more information on that.
A 6-lead pocket ECG tester from AliveCor is not much bigger than a pack of gum.
Just add a smartphone to begin testing your own heart for problems, no matter where you happen to be camping or sheltering in place. This can save your life!
Last Month’s RVtravel.com Posts
These articles are rated Moderate to understand for most RVers.
• Surge protectors: basic vs. advanced.
• Quick 30-amp outlet tester for cheap.
• Don’t build this DIY dogbone: It can kill you!
Last Month’s JAM (Just Ask Mike) Session posts:
These articles are rated Easy to understand for beginners.
• Reader asks meaning of AC power, and Mike explains.
• Think rubber tires will protect your RV from lightning? Think again! Why are you protected in some RVs but not at all in others? Find out here.
• Is a warm electrical outlet cause for concern? Mike explains why anytime you feel an outlet or wiring getting warm, that’s time for concern.
• Do I need a generator grounding rod? A reader asks Mike if he has to ground his new generator to a ground electrode, as the manual says.
Q&A’s from my readers:
I’m getting a lot of interesting emails and questions about generators on my RVelectricity Facebook Group and comments from my RVelectricity YouTube Channel. Here are a couple:
Q: Do you know anything about how loud a contractor generator is? There’s a really good deal on them at my local hardware store, but I’m worried about it being too loud for other campers. I’m nearly deaf so it won’t bother me, but I don’t want to be a bad neighbor. —Sam
A: Indeed I do. As I’ve noted before I’m a live-sound professor at a major university where I regularly teach about and measure loud sounds. I know that rock-n-roll and generators don’t seem like the same thing, but as far as my decibel measurement tools are concerned, they most certainly are.
The basics are this…, Every portable contractor generator that I’ve looked at is too loud for camping. Click on the image to watch (and listen to) a calibrated comparison of the noise difference between a Honda inverter generator and a typical contractor generator. While the prices of contractor generators may be attractive, the noise levels certainly are not. While Honda is the leading manufacturer of portable inverter generators, there are now many competitors making more affordable inverter generators. However, you get what you pay for, and some of the inverter generators I’ve looked at seem to have inflated wattage numbers, so they won’t perform as well as the higher priced one. Sorry, but TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). But there are indeed Honda alternatives that should get the job done – I just haven’t reviewed them yet.
In the meantime, please read the article HERE that I published on RVtravel.com last week comparing the different classes of generators, including the CarGenerator™, which might be ideal for those of you who just need an occasional hour or two of generator power to augment your solar panels but don’t have the room to haul around a dedicated generator with a gas can, etc. And it can be quieter than a Honda inverter generator if your tow vehicle hasn’t had its mufflers removed. —Mike
Q: Can I use the built-in generator in my RV coach to power my house if the power goes out. What are the basics?
A: Whatever you do, never use some sort of male-to-male back feeding extension cord to power your house from your RV generator. I think the best way to accomplish this would be to add a circuit-breaker protected NEMA 14-50 FEMALE outlet inside of your RV’s access panel that’s connected to your generator transfer switch. Then install a proper twist-lock MALE inlet on the side of your house that’s connected to your home’s electrical service panel via a proper generator transfer switch. What you can get away with for this home connection depends on your local electrical code, so I can’t tell you exactly what you need for inspection, but you’ll need to pull a permit and get it inspected – don’t do this on your own.
Finally, get a Male 50-amp NEMA 14-50 to Female twist lock dogbone adapter to connect into your home inlet. Once you have all of this done you can connect your existing RV’s shore power cordset in reverse from the outlet inside of your RV’s generator compartment to the inlet on your house. When you run your RV generator it can then power your house safely. Please let me know if you would all like an extended article on how to do this. It’s all in my head right now, but my head’s been doing this sort of thing for 50 years. —Mike
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 50+ 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
Mike’s Video Quick Tips
• Review of different surge protector types – 9 minutes
• What does a soft-start motor controller do? – 3 minutes
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.
What do model rockets and the first lunar landing have to do with camping? Turns out, quite a lot….
Yes, like many of you I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon for the first time in history back in 1969. I was 15 years old camping in a Cox Pop-Up camper somewhere in Canada building my own model rocket. Where were you?
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ 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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A July trip to Boulder Junction in northern Wisconsin to visit a high school friend, camping with a local club two weekends, and the handicapped Travel Club annual Rally, held this year in early September in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All is tentative as [I hope] the Corona Virus will gradually disappear. Not holding my breath, though.
I have come across an issue that I never imagined could happen. My Norcold fridge would shut down and I could not turn it back on, neither LP or electric. but an hour or so later, it would come back on and work fine. This happened several times. With a lot of counseling from several RV techs, someone finally asked if any of my fluorescent lights were flickering or out? This was the case. It seems that when a fluorescent light ballast goes out, it can cause interference with the fridge and EMS system. I shut the light off and everything has worked perfectly since. Have you heard of this before?
Have you done a newsletter on Transfer switch? If so, where can I Find it
I couldn’t answer the poll about our camping plans for the summer. That”s because we haven’t made any yet. We normally travel to Vermont in the summer to visit my son (driveway camping) and tour around a little. Right now, we are hanging in, watching to see what will happen. Since we don’t make very tight plans (and rarely make reservations) in the first place, this isn’t very much different than usual, though it is a little worrisome.
Hi Mike, your taking on a hard subject with testing of Jack pad insulating from a lightning strike. So many variables to consider, such as soil type, dampness, strength of strike and etc. what are you going to use for a voltage source? About the only thing I could think of is a Hipot machine, a high voltage megohmmeter that as far as I know can reach upwards of 15-20,000 volts or maybe, just maybe doble testing equipment but that is usually used on transformers and motors for power factor testing.
I’m going to rent an 80,000 volt hipot unit for basic testing. Should be some real fun.
Do I plan to camp this year? Yes but not until the Fall when Texas is cooler, and to see if “things” settle down.
Have you heard of Dutch Aire or JC Refrigeration? They make replacement backs for RV refrigerators. My Norcold 1200 was failing last year so I replaced the refrigeration unit on the back with one of their AC units. (They have an upgraded RV back and a DC back as well.) It is far superior to the old unit and consumes about 90 watts of electricity at 80 degrees ambient temp. Even now, at 100 degrees plus, it keeps the fridge cold and the freezer ice cream frozen solid. Replacing the back for $900 was an easy choice over the cost of a new unit. The install took two people simply because of the size of the Norcold 1200 (a 4 door unit). Instructions were fairly clear and the company offers great, if not speedy, help. Once engaged, support was over the phone and via email. They seem to take pride in their work and so far the unit has operated flawlessly.
Yes, once again the poll needs more choices. We are full-timers and will be in multiple places.
I see that you speak well of the SoftStart RV unit. Will it allow me to run my RV air conditioner on a 20 amp house circuit with #12 wire (understanding that it will be the only thing running)
Very likely it will work. But you’ll want to measure the running voltage on that branch circuit. If it’s getting much below 110 volts (105 being the lowest you ever want to go) then you have too long of a run of 12 gauge.
Love the shot of Eagle 1.
That’s one of my screen backgrounds.
Also, I thought of a 5th choice for your survey.
5. Yes, I have reservations each month this summer, and will camp unless they are still shutdown.
For your survey, I will be doing some boondocking (only 1 planned so far) and I looking to go out in July and August but have not planned any campgrounds yet.
re: Boondocking – Would love to go boondocking if I can find available land on which this allowed. I know that many states, while closing their state Parks, also immediately closed all boondocking areas. Very troubling and puzzling as boondockers are best equipped to remove themselves from urban areas, get away from crowded RV parks, and place themselves in remote areas where we can self-isolate and distance ourselves from many others.
Here in southern CA there is no place to go – they have even closed virtually all private RV parks to any new reservations.. I just heard that Idaho has closed all public lands for boondocking, and I know that New Mexico did so months ago. Have heard that many other states have followed suit – they just copy each other! In fact – the only area which I have heard is open (and very crowded) is the BLM land around Quartzsite, AZ. Great area to boondock in – in fall, winter, and spring – but it is already starting to heat up there, heading towards typical summertime temps. So most of those folks will be heading for cooler temps very soon – if they can figure out where to go.
We were planning to spend this summer visiting the Western Mountain states as much as possible. Our rig is well setup for boondocking, and we would love to use public lands in our travels as much as possible – but right now does not seem to be much open. Only thing we can do is wait and see what’s available in another month.
NM and ID may have closed their state land to boondocking, but federal land is not closed. I’m at Quartzsite now. The desert boondocking areas are not crowded at all.
The “SoftStartRV” device appears to be the answer to my dilemma of wanting to use a/c while boondocking but not wanting or able to lift in/out a needed-size inverter generator. I’ve watched several complete installation videos and the task appears somewhat time consuming but easy enough….even for a “mature” woman! I especially like the inclusion of all-needed installation items; excluding tools, of course! Thanks, Mike, for your explanation and recommendation!
I am not a full-timer, but have a seasonal site for the summer. None of the survey selections came close to fitting. I couldn’t be alone.
Mike over two years ago you made the comment that you cannot connect 2 different makes of inverter style generators together my buddy and I both asked why? you said you would get to that soon and we’re still waiting for a reply. maybe you could address it very soon?
For now all I can say is that none of the generator manufacturers say you can do it and this could possibly void the warranty. But I’ll ask around a bit more. I think I know, but I don’t want to post something I can’t back up with documentation.
We have our own little private campground in North Central MN. Since we are fulltimers we usually spend most of the summer there. We set it up with 2 pedestals, 20,30,50 amp and the same on the farm board where the distribution breaker panel and meter are at. Yes, we allow guests to camp when we’re there.
Mike, your survey needs another choice. Full Time RVer who NEEDS to find a SAFE campground. Just before Memorial Day, I may have to leave the campground I’ve been “isolating in place” since March. Said park is fully booked but they don’t know what, if any, cancellations may occur. After Memorial Day, there’ll be Father’s Day and 4th of July. Now that more people are venturing out, I fully expect the “curve” to rise. SOOO many knuckleheads who refuse to follow basic safe practices while outside like simply wearing a mask or following aisle direction arrows in stores. I guess these folks think that they’re “special” and safety measures apply only to other people.
Just saw this article yesterday. It might offer some help. Good luck. I totally agree with your sentiment!
Sorry. Forgot the link.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I ran extension cords to both my frig and my neighbors frig. We were able to save our food supply. All this, while sitting in my RV, enjoying A/C, and TV.
I would never consider tieing my RV genset into the house. If this was to be a big issue, I would purchase a whole house system.
As a heart patient and avid longtime RV’er, I can say you’re going to find the new Kardia device invaluable. My cardiologist suggested I get one and it’s paid for itself already in terms of getting diagnostics without exposing myself to ER’s. We teleconference and exchange tests/info from wherever I am.
That’s the plan for my dad…