Friday, June 2, 2023

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

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 â€“ 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 â€”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. â€”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.

Letâ€™s play safe out thereâ€¦.

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 40+ years in the industry. His excellent bookÂ RV Electrical SafetyÂ is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert,Â click here.

##RVDT1112; ##RVT900

Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
Mary Kay Sevier
1 year ago

Hi Mike
I have 2018 winnebago travato.
The outlets on the passenger side of the motorhome don’t work. They are all connected to the gfci breaker.
When I plug the motorhome into my home outlet, I can go in and hit the gfci switch and the green light comes on and all outlets work. As soon as I disconect the power from the house. The gfci trips and none of the outlets work.
I have tested every outlet when I’m plugged in and they all work.
I am stumped.

SJ Witt
2 years ago

Out of the blue the GFCI has been tripping. It hasn’t ever done it before and now it trips. For example, I will be watching TV, nothing else except the TV and refrigerator will be plugged in and it trips. The travel trailer is brand new, I’ve had it for less then 5 months. It’s never tripped before when more things were plugged in. How can I fix this? What is the issue?

Mike Sokol
3 years ago

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.

Jeannie
3 years ago

You can get combination AFCI/GFCI outlets and breakers. Even if you don’t legally need GFCI protection, it’s not a bad idea to have it anyway.

Bob Godfrey
3 years ago

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

Jeannie
3 years ago

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?

Dr4Film
3 years ago

My house built in 1999 is wired similarly. The GFCI outlet in one bathroom is also wired to an exterior outlet on the outside of the house downstream from the bathroom.

Robert Coleman
3 years ago

A GFCI receptacle can only protect and carry the load/line of a set amount of receptacles for a given length of travel.
If you read the NEC it should have covered that topic in more detail than I have just given.
Good luck.

Robert Coleman
3 years ago

Also, is your mobile home aluminum wiring? Another factor to consider when doing any wiring project. It requires different approach and materials than a regular home.

Mike Sokol
3 years ago

Remember, this is not the place to go for home and mobile home wiring practices. While comparisons between RVs and houses are often made, that’s really to foster understanding between residential electricians and RV technicians. Always consult with your local Electrical Inspector (the AHJ) for any final say in wiring practices. And yes, aluminum wiring can be dangerous if not terminated correctly. It can be a real fire hazard.

Jeannie
3 years ago

Nope. All copper (thankfully!).

Mike Sokol
3 years ago

This was a comparison of sticks and bricks homes vs RV wiring. While code does allow leniency in how you extend a GFCI bathroom receptacle as a branch circuit, best practices don’t suggest you should run it elsewhere. And I’m pretty sure there are no exceptions allowing a GFCI in a house kitchen to run to another part of the house for a bathroom receptacle. However, you might be able to get away with protecting a bathroom adjoining the kitchen. Remember, the NEC is just a suggestion and every state has their own variations of what they will or will not accept. Also note that there’s an entirely different set of codes for mobile homes. Read NFPA 1192 for RV builds and 1194 for campground codes

Jeannie
3 years ago