By Mike Sokol
Welcome to my J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) Session, a weekly column where I answer your basic electrical questions. If you’re a newbie who’s never plugged in a shore power cord (or ask – what’s a shore power cord?), or wonder why your daughter’s hair dryer keeps tripping the circuit breaker, this column is for you. Send your questions to Mike Sokol at mike (at) noshockzone.org with the subject line – JAM.
I am about to go boondocking with my new pop-up for the first time and I have a new inverter generator to try out. Its manual says to be sure to ground it (the generator) to a ground electrode buried in the ground. What? I need an electrode and another cable? There is a “ground terminal” on the control surface. Please advise, as I’m new to this and not so savvy with the electrical side of things. Thanks. —Feral
The topic of RV generator grounding is something I’ve covered many times before, but don’t feel bad about your question because even electricians and some generator manufacturers don’t seem to understand how it works. So here’s the quick answer followed by a few links to deeper articles.
First off, the big answer is NO. You do not need to drive in any kind of ground rod for any single RV powered from either a portable or onboard generator. While it’s true that you would need a ground rod if you had a large generator that could power several RVs connected to it at the same time, you simply don’t need one for your situation. What you have created with a single RV running from a generator is something called a local ground plane, which means your entire RV and tow vehicle is its own ground, and doesn’t need to be connected to the earth.
But what about when you plug your EMS/TEP (Total Electrical Protection) surge protector into an inverter generator and it shows a “ground” code or error. Well, what that really means is that you have no Neutral/Ground Bond, which doesn’t have anything to do with being “grounded” to the earth at all. It’s an electrical condition where the generator (or pedestal) needs to provide power with the neutral and ground wires at nearly the same voltage (not floating).
If you get that no-ground error, all you need to do is get a simple Neutral/Ground Bonding plug I invented about 10 years ago. Looks like a plug without a wire, and it provides an internal jumper between the neutral and ground screws to create a local neutral bonding point. Just plug it into any unused 15- or 20-amp outlet on the generator (NOT in the RV) and you’re good to go.
Finally, NEVER drive any grounding rod in the earth without getting a proper inspection from your local Miss Utility (call before you dig – 811). Remember, there are all kinds of buried water pipes and electrical wires at any campground, and many homes also have buried natural gas pipes. You don’t want to punch through any of those pipes with an 8-ft. grounding rod. The results can be a deadly shock or explosion. So you don’t need a ground rod, and you’re not allowed to drive one anyway. Make sense?
For more information on this please watch the Webcast Video I did last year on it HERE.
And here’s an article where I cover this topic in great detail, just in case your local inspector tries to require you to drive a ground rod. Read it HERE.
This is where you can purchase an approved Neutral/Ground bonding plug from Amazon. Yes, it’s the one I designed.
OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.
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.
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