RV Electricity – Just Ask Mike (J.A.M.): Would you plug into this pedestal?

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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,

Saw this last week. Awe inspiring … but not confidence inspiring. Notice the racer-tape anti-breaker-pop system. This is what makes a $250 surge/circuit protector worth the money. —Ed S.

Dear Ed,

Thanks for sending this in. I’m going to start by saying that I would NEVER trust my RV’s electrical system to a pedestal in this condition without an EMS/intelligent surge protector. And even then, it’s doubtful I would plug into it at all. Let’s count the danger signs.

First of all, there’s a lot of really bad things going on with the circuit breakers in this pedestal. While the tape across the  breaker should not stop it tripping due to excessive current, I can’t see what the current rating is, so it could be rated 50 amps, which would allow you to overheat your shore power cordset without tripping.

Plus, you can’t turn off the breaker for connecting to it and you’ll need to plug in “hot,” which wears out the contacts in the outlet. Worn contacts in the pedestal are the leading cause of burning up the plug on your shore power cord or portable surge protector. YES, the campground will likely blame you for your burnt shore power cord. And NO, they won’t pay you for a new one.

Secondly, the white neutral wire doesn’t appear to be terminated under a proper screw lug. Looks like it’s just jammed into a spring clip on the lower right side of the neutral (white) bus bar. While not as dangerous as an open neutral on a 50-amp outlet, it looks like this neutral could overheat and burn up inside of the box. Not good, since your RV could be experiencing substantial voltage drop which could cause your air conditioner compressor and residential refrigerator to overheat and damage their compressors.

Plus, I see a small-gauge white and black wire in the upper left corner of the box that appear to be directly connected to the 100+ ampere bus without a circuit breaker. But I really can’t be sure at this point. Ugh!

And finally, I don’t see a ground wire hooked up up to the outlet. Maybe it’s under a rusty screw somewhere inside, but I’m not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about this pedestal. The ground wire is your only real protection from a hot-skin/contact-voltage which can be life-threatening. You really don’t want to plug into a pedestal that could electrify the entire chassis and skin of your RV with 120 volts AC. That’s easily enough to injure or kill you or a family member/friend who casually touches your RV while standing on wet ground.

So, as they used to say on Lost in Space, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” While it might work well enough with an EMS to protect you and not have much current draw, this pedestal really needs to be completely replaced by the campground owner to protect the next camper who doesn’t have an EMS/intelligent surge protector.

You see, this isn’t only about protecting ourselves, it’s about protecting the next family who might not know as much as you do. So if you see something, say something to the campground manager, and follow up with a letter and picture to the franchise company (in this case, KOA). That’s the only way these campgrounds will ever get their acts together and provide safe power for everyone.

OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.

See you all next week. In the meantime, 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.

##RVDT 1128; ##RVT904

 

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Bill J

Mike –

As you mentioned, it is worth noting that one of the mandatory specs for manufacturers of circuit breakers is that “the device cannot be held ON against a fault”. In other words, if there is a fault, the breaker will trip even if you physically hold the handle in the ON position.

My guess is that the tape isn’t intended to defeat the breaker’s function, but is instead a “request” from the campground that the RVer not turn the breaker off manually. There are a number of reasons for such a request. One of the most common, especially in cold weather, is that the breaker controls a heat tape which prevents the water supply riser from freezing. That is a reasonable request, I think. I’ve also seen the request when the breaker controls a pedestal illumination light – a handy thing in many campgrounds.

Aside from that, you are right – the pedestal is a mess.

Bill

Wolfe

It’s unclear if this is how the camper found the receptacle or after opening the panel campers don’t normally open, but either way “ugly looking” as shown. I wouldn’t connect if there was a choice, and at least use my internal breaker to “cold plug” instead of touching that mess more than needed.

Mike: can you weigh in (more? again?) on the practice of flipping your own main breaker off while connecting/ disconnecting? It seems it would help with contact arc-pitting of the plug in questionable cases like this, but may prematurely wear your own breaker, yes?

Would it be better to switch off my main breaker before unplugging to leave and turn it back on after EMS “approves” the next pedestal? I know EMS shouldn’t allow power through that fails checks, but it still feels safer to my redundant safeties mind.

Also, wouldn’t the EMS prevent arc-pitting of live receptacles since its not allowing much power through until after the check and compressor delay?

Drew

That’s a real hum-dinger! It looks a little like this pedestal feeds two locations…the two neutrals together, etc. Also, I can’t see exactly what’s going on with the hots. Looks like more than one there too. Wish there was a better close up of everything in there. But, I’m in agreement with everyone regarding apprehension about using this thing. It looks as if there also might be an adapter there but again, not enough detail to see. This campground looks as if there’s some deferred maintenance- over time it’s just been fiddled with to make do. In my case, if I lived anywhere close or intended to stay there awhile, I’d offer to help fix this- at no charge, as I’ve done in the past.

Jeff

Was there No Safety Cover over the Breaker Switch to Cover the Wires and Breaker. YIKES! Don’t think I’d want to stick my hand in there to touch the Breaker!

And this was a KOA too? But then, I’ve seen some really RUN Down KOA’s in the past few years, that I will never consider going to again. Writing a Letter MIGHT help, but it’s doubtful, since KOA’s are privately owned and they don’t want to spend any money on maintenance.

Too Bad!

Keep these pictures coming, they are FUN and Extremely Scary!