By Mike Sokol
I’m looking at purchasing a surge protector for my RV and there seems to be a big difference in price. Many of them are in the $75 to $100 range, while others cost more than $300 or so. Does the extra money buy you more protection, or is that a bunch of advertising malarkey? —Steve S.
That’s a great question. Here’s a quick review of what surge protectors actually do.
#1 Absorb voltage spikes (surges) that result from nearby lightning strikes, power company line switching, and big electric motors in the area starting and stopping
#2 Provide visual indicators of pedestal outlet miswiring conditions including open-ground and reversed hot-neutral polarity
#3 Monitor over-voltage conditions and open-neutrals, and will shut down the power going to your RV to prevent damage to your appliances and electronics
#4 Monitor under-voltage conditions and shut down the power to protect your air conditioner and refrigerator compressors from over-current damage
#5 Display current usage on each leg of power from the pedestal
#6 Provide a restart delay in case of power interruption to prevent your air conditioner compressor from attempting a hot-start under head pressure
#7 Detect open-ground conditions which can allow hot-skin/contact-voltage conditions to occur that can be deadly to humans
All of these are good things, but not all surge protectors do all of them. So if you purchase a basic $100 surge protector (like the one on the left), then you get #1 and #2 above. It will protect your RV from voltage spikes (surges) and give you indicator lights that show basic polarity and ground connections. But it can’t disconnect your RV from power if something goes wrong in the middle of the night, and it can’t measure voltage or current usage.
On the other hand, the $300+ Advanced/EMS surge protectors (like the one on the right) can do #1 thru #7 listed above, so they not only protect your RV from voltage spikes (surges) due to nearby lightning strikes and power company switching, they also monitor the pedestal power for under and over-voltage conditions as well as test the ground connection.
And if something goes wrong with the power at any time, they include a big internal relay (called a contactor) which will go “clunk” and disconnect your RV from shore power. This function can save you many thousands of dollars especially if the 30-amp cordset from your RV is plugged into a TT-30 outlet that was accidentally miswired with 240-volts (I get emails about this happening every week). Read about it HERE.
So is a $100 basic surge protector a good investment? Yes it is, but it can’t protect your RV (and you) from 90% of the bad stuff out there. A $300 to $400 Intelligent/EMS surge protector is a much better investment because it can not only save your RV’s electrical system from damage, it can also detect open ground conditions and disconnect power to your RV in a fraction of a second. And that can save lives.
What do I recommend? While Progressive Industries and Surge Guard both make great products, I’ve got to give the edge to Surge Guard. I believe they have superior engineering in their advanced units, especially the 50-amp versions which can detect open neutral conditions inside of your RV. That’s right… It can find an open neutral on a 50-amp shore power connection downstream of itself even using a portable pole-mounted unit.
I can’t really recommend the Camco surge protectors since their design seems to be at least a few generations back. And there are a few other units being offered in both flavors from companies such as Hughes, but I’ve not had a chance to open one up yet and put it on the bench for testing so I can’t make a judgment one way or another. But as soon as they’ll send me one for testing I’ll have a go at deconstructing it.
Also, most manufacturers make install versions of their surge protectors, so you can mount them in your electrical compartment and run a wire to a remote display inside of your RV. That’s really handy and does eliminate one thing that can be stolen. But I like the portable units for testing campground pedestals before accepting the campsite.
Just remember that if you have electrical damage to your RV on a trip, you’ll not only lose the cost of replacing things like your air conditioner, microwave and refrigerator, you can also lose your entire vacation time. And you just can’t put a monetary price on lost time with your family.
Hope that explains the differences.
See you 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.