Our electrical near-disaster yields lessons

6

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A few weeks ago, in the height of the Desert Southwest summer, we were trying to relax under the over-burdened air-conditioning. Suddenly, “she” turns to “he” and says those fateful words that every man hates to hear: “Do you smell that?”

He: “Smell what?”
She: “It smells like burnt rubber!”
He: [Who really had smelled something but, like most of the male species, wanted to ignore it] Sniffs air. “Smells more like ozone to me.”

What followed was a discussion of just what might make this unwelcome odor. She pointed out that the smell seemed stronger in the bedroom area. Nevertheless, it had pervaded the entire RV. A further discussion of just what sort of creek we might be up, if the situation were ignored, followed. “He” went up the ladder with a tool bag to the roof. Mind you, it was close to high noon, and the outside temperatures were somewhere near 115 degrees.

Just getting the shroud off the air conditioner was a chore. Subsequent checks of components with an infrared temperature gauge proved nothing. Shutting down the unit and prying open the electrical junction box showed no carbonized wires. Nor was there any other evidence of bumed connections. The quart of ice-cold “don’t get dehydrated” solution was gone by the time he managed to get started on putting the shroud back on. By that time, dizziness was having an effect. Just getting those 12 screws lined up and back in the shroud took nearly a half-hour.

Coming down the ladder was a study in stupidity – we’ll say nothing more about it. Inside, the burning rubber/ozone odor was still present, but he figured it must be better. And he promptly took a long nap. By evening time, the odor was but a memory.

A couple of days later, he, the appointed systems technician, noticed another problem. The battery bank voltage level was way down. The solar controller indicated a teeny-tiny fraction of the current that should be flowing into the batteries from the full-sun-on solar panels was getting in. Less than an amp. A current check showed that at the same time, the batteries were kicking out nearly seven amps. He then figured the solar controller was the cause. The best way to prove that was simply to wire the solar panels directly to the battery bank and see how much current flowed.

Crawling into the closet, which was where the wiring for the solar controller was accessed, led to another discovery. The fuse holder that was the go-between for the battery bank and the solar controller was a misshapen mass of melted plastic. Aha! The source of that evil smell really was in the bedroom. Evidently, somebody (who shall remain anonymous) hadn’t thoroughly torqued down the fitting that scrunched onto the hot wire. This led to a loose connection that, of course, got hot. Perhaps it was divine providence that the fuse holder hadn’t actually caught fire, torched the closet full of clothes, and left this writing team looking for a new home … at best.

To her credit, “she” did not harp on the fact that her nasal sensitivities had indeed pointed out earlier that the odor in question was stronger in the bedroom.

Lessons learned: Always double- (maybe triple-) check wiring connections, even on “low voltage” installations. And always listen to your wife’s nose when it speaks.

##RVT960

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CJS
3 months ago

 “And always listen to your wife’s nose when it speaks.” The most wise words ever spoken! Glad to hear at least ONE man has gotten it figured out. 🙂

Joan Richardson
3 months ago

My story is mind blowing. (At least to me, it is). At end of last summer workamping I took my beautiful 2001 Dynamax 28′ to be serviced and worked on. 6 new tires, 4 air-ride shocks replaced, water pump replaced, windshield cracked while at service dept….so that was replaced. I had an expensive reverse camera with side cameras, too. The monitor was installed on left side of dash. They had it 7 months. They drove it back to me and the next day the total inside gutted- burned and melted from dash to bed in back. 2 fuses installed were 25 amp instead of 5 amp as written! This all happened in June. I am out a lot of $$ (for repairs) and the amt insurance gave isn’t going to even touch another used rv with the way costs have gone up. I don’t want a payment. On fixed income… I gotta say this year really sucks!!

Teri
3 months ago

Wow!!!! Hopefully you can do something!!! Hugs!!!

Wolfe
3 months ago

Man, you were lucky Russ… If I smell smoke, I will spend the entire day/night/whatever chasing it because I’ve had some close-calls myself. The most recent one being my LP kitchen stove at home, that decided to short out the igniter circuit under the gas valves. Some genius designer simply passed the 240V through reed switches on the back of each LP valve, meaning that when it shorted there was a nice arc inside the control panel right against the gas supply. My wife turned on the stove, said “It kinda smells like burning plast…” and then a 5 foot flare as the top of the stove “whumped” upward and the electronic control panel itself maintained the flame. Happily, I’m PARANOID about fire extringuishers and have 2 in every room of my cabin, which kept it controlled long enough to get the main LP shut off (no way I was getting to the appliance cutoff behind the flaming stove). Appliance salesman thought I was nuts looking at how the gas lines were routed in the replacement!!

Lisa Adcox
3 months ago

Smelling smoke is scary.
Last bv year I was sitting on couch and I heard what sounded like gun fire. We were workamping. I jumped up to see what was going on. Smoke and flames were shooting in air from plug. I hollered for husband who was in office close by. We could not find anyone who had the plug for an RV anywhere in Lake Charles. My husband is a former electrician so he got a dryer plug and fixed it temporarily till new one came that we had to order. Surge protector had not indicated an issue. Was scary. RV was only 5 months old.
Fire or smoke gets your attention fast.

William Duff
3 months ago

Good article. We had the same thing happen to us twice with a transfer switch that was located under the bed. First time was at a rally at Lazy Days Campground near Tampa. It took awhile to find the source since the smoke odor was trapped and traveled thru voids to the kitchen.The transfer switch was replaced under warranty and I installed a lithium battery powered smoke alarm under the bed for early detection.

The second time was a couple of years later about 7 AM when the under the bed smoke alarm sounded and alerted us to the problem. This time I had a mobile RV tech replace it with a different brand of transfer switch. The new one has hex head lugs instead of flat head screws so I feel the connection is much tighter.

By the way, I was having a discussion with a well known “fire guy” at a major RV rally in Indiana after the first incident and he told me the smoke alarm would never go off. Stay safe and make sure you check your connections periodically.