RV Electricity – Just Ask Mike (J.A.M.): GFCIs are different in an RV than a house

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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


Dear Mike,

When I tripped a GFCI outlet back in the bathroom, the electrical outlet in my kitchen went dead. Are RVs supposed to be wired this way? The outlets in my home don’t work like that. —Flora

Dear Flora,

Welcome to the wonderful world of RV wiring. While the National Electrical Code for home wiring requires that there are totally separate GFCI-protected circuit breakers in any room with water, such as your kitchen, bathroom, basement and outside outlets, the RV version of this same Electrical Code doesn’t require separate circuit breakers. So it’s typical to find a single GFCI outlet in one room (perhaps the bathroom) that also powers your kitchen outlets and any exterior convenience outlets. That’s not only irritating when you trip the GFCI in the bathroom and wonder why your kitchen outlet went dead, but it can be hard to find the source of the outage.

This is why you have to manage power (total amps) on each circuit in your RV. For example, if you have a water kettle in the kitchen drawing 1,500 watts (12 amps of current) and your daughter is using her 1,500-watt hair dryer in the bathroom (12 amps of current), then you’re asking that 15-or 20-amp circuit breaker to provide 24 amperes of current. It will do it for a few seconds to possibly a minute or two before tripping. Then you have to find and reset the breaker to get the power back on.

Just remember that the GFCI outlet itself is only there to prevent electrical shocks (like dropping a hair dryer in a sink of water) and will not trip from too much current. The 15- or 20-amp circuit breaker in your RV’s AC/DC distribution panel has the job of monitoring the 15- or 20-amp current limit in that particular wire and will trip if you exceed the limit. This prevents the wire in the walls of your RV from overheating and possibly starting a fire.

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 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.

##RVDT1112; ##RVT900

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Mike Sokol

I’m rewiring my kid’s basement right now as a man-cave, and code now requires AFCI breakers on every circuit, including the overhead lights in the ceiling. But since it’s now a finished basement without a slop sink or bathroom, no GFCIs are required. This is in Washington County, MD, so your mileage may vary. You need to confirm any of this with your AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction aka the Local Inspector) since they have the final say.

Bob Godfrey

It has been my experience that many boats are wired the same way with the GFCI in the “head” controlling the entire vessel.

Jeannie

I couldn’t find anything in the 2017 NEC 210-8 that states that one can’t have outlets in rooms downstream of the bathroom outlets or that the GFCI outlet even has to be in the bathroom itself. My mobile home has several rooms on the same circuit with the bathroom being in the middle of the circuit. Why wouldn’t a GFCI outlet at the beginning of the circuit be able to protect all downstream outlets, including the bathroom?