By Mike Sokol
This is a recap of what I published on hot-skin/contact-voltage over the last few weeks, along with some extra information on why this is an important topic.
Here’s the basic version of What is RV hot-skin voltage? – Part 1.
Here’s the advanced version of What is RV hot-skin voltage? – Part 2.
Here’s the in-depth study I did on how Hot-Skin Voltage happens for RV Education 101.
I’ll be adding a J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) session on hot-skin shocks next week.
So why is this topic so important that I devote thousands of words and dozens of hours to it? Just why should anyone care about a little shock? Well, because any little shock can turn into a big shock at any time.
Here’s perhaps the main reason for all the confusion about hot-skin/contact-voltages. Getting shocked is considered to be a joke and is often portrayed with lots of lightning special effects, especially as shown by the entertainment industry.
First of all, the technical errors in how shocks and electrocution occur are rampant in Hollywood on the small and silver screens. I saw this again in last week’s episode of “MacGyver” where the hero (Angus MacGyver) is crawling around in high voltage electrical lines, his narration voice saying how dangerous 5,000 volts could be. However, he was actually on a 500,000-volt (half-a-million-volt) power line. He fell (dramatically, I might add) and grabbed the wires with his bare hands, but somehow survived with only a shower of sparks, then went on later in the show to rescue the dumb college students who had previously scaled that same tower and wrote their names on the high-voltage insulators with a Sharpie pen. Seriously? Do you think that anyone would make it through that situation alive? I don’t think so.
Also there was an episode of “CSI” named “Unshockable” (see more info HERE) where a member of the country band Rascal Flatts was “electrocuted” by his guitar on stage and stopped liking country music, switching to reggae instead. The hero/scientist looked at the burnt flesh on the strings of the bass guitar and proclaimed that 120 volts wasn’t enough to “electrocute” anyone (however, because he was still alive, nobody was electrocuted, only shocked), and it must have been 240 volts to alter his musical preferences. Say what?
Oh, yes, the video of the musician getting shocked showed blue lightning bolts several inches long flying off his lips where they touched the microphone. Again, pure fabrication that suggest viewers that 120 volts is safe, and it takes 240 volts to make you like reggae music. Of course, 5,000 or even 500,000 volts isn’t dangerous if you let go quickly enough (and have a perfectly coiffed mullet haircut).
When I show my hot-skin/contact-voltage demonstration at seminars everyone comments that there’s no blue glow, sparks or even hum from my mini-RV model, like we’re conditioned to see in any movie or television show. Instead there’s no warning at all of a dangerous hot-skin/contact-voltage that could seriously shock or kill you.
That’s exactly what happened recently to a pair of teenagers who were attempting to rescue a dog from a drainage ditch and reached up to a metal walkway above the water. The bridge was electrified with either 120 volts or 208 volts (I’m not sure which, just yet), and the teens were electrocuted (killed) by what the power company calls “low voltage.” Yes, anything under 600 volts is considered “low voltage” by electricians but is certainly deadly. In fact, anything over 30- or 40-volts AC under the right circumstances (wet hands and feet) can become lethal. Read more about it HERE.
So, what to do? Well, if you feel a shock while touching an appliance or anything metal on your RV, UNPLUG it from power RIGHT NOW, and get a professional electrician or technician to look at it before plugging it back in.
And remember: No matter how much you pay for your RV, whether it’s a $500,000 diesel pusher or a $5,000 pop-up camper, it’s still at the mercy of what you plug it into. So the campground pedestal or your home outlet can be the source of the fault current which causes a hot-skin voltage. And I’ve even discovered a condition I call a “Reflected Hot-Skin Condition” that no existing surge protector can disconnect you from.
I don’t make this stuff up, folks. These are from hundreds of emails and conversations I’ve had with readers like yourself, as well as electricians and campground maintenance personnel.
Don’t wait for the blue glow like in the movies. If you feel a shock while touching your RV, STOP what you’re doing and UNPLUG from shore power immediately. Your life, and the lives of your family and friends, depend on your quick action.
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.