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 new to the world of RVs and have purchased a 2014 Springdale 28′ RV for our daughter, Loree, who lives and works full-time in Pacific City, Oregon. Housing is impossible for service workers to find in that area. We have been learning through YouTube videos, talking to friends, and taking classes at the local RV dealer here in Portland. This is not the dealer where we purchased the trailer.
The RV park is old and the utilities are a constant problem. Recently, her electrical pedestal failed with an open neutral. Luckily we had a good surge protector in place which prevented any damage to the RV. Because of the defective pedestal the warranty would not cover the replacement of the surge suppressor.
A local electrician repaired the pedestal wiring, but I was still dismayed that nothing was done about the height of the pedestal. I have attached a picture showing how low it is to the ground, requiring us to be on hands and knees to do anything inside the box.
You will notice that the surge suppressor is very low to the ground. In fact we originally had to dig down about a foot at the base of the pedestal, and filled it part way with gravel to even get the surge suppressor into place. I have searched the NEC, to no avail, trying to find anything that would address this issue. Can you help with any code or other information that would help us build a case, to convince the park owners, to correct this problem? —Harold S.
Cue Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder
Well, the first part of your question is easy, and probably something everyone should be prepared to do any time they find a campground pedestal too low to plug in a Surge Protector or EMS without it sitting on the ground (and maybe in the water).
I think the best way to deal with a pedestal that’s too close to the ground for EMS/Surge Protector is to add a 10 ft. extension cord from the pedestal outlet to the surge protector. Then simply hang the surge protector up on the pedestal using theatrical tie line so that it’s high enough above the ground to avoid the possibility of water reaching it. Here are two good examples of 10 ft. 30- and 50-amp extension cords that aren’t very expensive, but which you can keep in your storage bin for that eventual time when you find yourself in a campground with low pedestals.
And if you’ve never used theatrical tie line, then let me tell you how great this stuff is for hanging all sorts of things around camp. We use this if we need to lash a tent down to ground stakes, hang lights from an awning and, yes, secure a surge protector to a pedestal. No, it’s not a security deterrent and and you’ll still need to know how to tie a decent knot. But just like gaff tape, most rock concerts would grind to a halt without tie line (and gaffers tape) holding everything together backstage. I would say you should get at least the 300 ft. spool for RVing, and I like the 500 and 1,000 ft. spools for my own gigs. But I assure you, once you use real theatrical tie line, you won’t want to use anything else. Get some HERE.
Now to the second part of your question about code requirement; that one’s a little more complex. But here are the basics for now, which I’ll have to answer more completely later. The reason that so many campgrounds have the pedestals too low to the ground was that when they were originally built (and maybe even inspected) there were no such things as surge protectors. So as long as you had enough clearance to stick in a plug all was well.
However, we all should be using an intelligent EMS surge protector for exactly the type of scenario you found yourself in (an open neutral). But because of the grandfathering in of old wiring, there’s nothing that forces campgrounds to bring their wiring up to the latest code, unless they’re doing major renovations or expansion that catches the eye of the local electrical inspector (the AHJ, for Authority Having Jurisdiction).
But here’s where you can find the latest information on campground wiring code requirements. It’s called NFPA 1194 (National Fire Protection Association), and there’s an online version free to the public (you just need to register). Here’s information on the publicly available NEC codes.
Now, the print or pdf versions of the various NFPA publications are much easier to handle, but costs $70 or more. And while the online version of these codes are free to view, the print function has been disabled and it’s a bit clunky to look through. However, you will get to research this and bring the information to the campground owner’s attention. However, don’t expect them to jump on this because it could cost a lot of upgrade money to do this because once they start, they could likely be forced to upgrade the entire campground to the latest code. And doing that could easily put them out of business.
I’ll go ahead and look up the latest height requirements for pedestals in campgrounds next week (yes, I paid for all these books myself) and cover it in a future discussion. But in the meantime get yourself a 10 ft. extension cord and some tie-line and get that EMS/Surge-Protector up off the ground and out of the water.
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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