Issue 36 • November 1, 2020
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Welcome to the RV winterizing issue
By Mike Sokol
Since the frost will soon be on the pumpkin and many of you will be putting your RVs to bed for the winter, now is the perfect time to take care of electrical maintenance issues so they don’t catch you by surprise in the spring. You see, in addition to blowing out the water lines and such, now is the best time to repair any electrical issues as well as perform periodic maintenance on your RV’s electrical system.
Torque those screws
Yes, this is the best time to check and re-torque the terminating screws in your power distribution panel, generator transfer switch, shore power cord, batteries, and all kinds of other important electrical systems.
But don’t just grab a big screwdriver and start twisting them with all your might. That can lead to stripped screws and broken terminals. Learn the best way to torque electrical screws below.
Should you bring your batteries inside or just leave them in the RV and hope for the best? Do batteries care about the cold or not? And how do you remember how all those wires are hooked up? Make the wrong decision and you could be spending money on new batteries or an inverter in the springtime. We’ll go over how to keep your batteries healthy with a tender/maintainer. Read more below.
Electric space heater outlets
Do you ever run a portable space heater in your RV? Do you use an extension cord or power strip to power them? Are you tempted to leave a space heater running in the belly of your RV to keep the holding tanks from freezing?
Remember, electric heaters put an extra load on your RV electrical system, so there are a few more things to check for safety during your camping downtime. Read my previous article about RV electrical outlet failures and how to repair them HERE.
Water heater elements
Yes, there’s no such thing as a HOT water heater since hot water doesn’t need to be heated (hah!). So this is also a great time to inspect your (hot hot) water heater elements for problems as well as replace the sacrificial element, if need be. Read my previous article about testing for damaged electric water heater elements HERE.
Check your grounds
I’m going to show you an inexpensive test procedure that I invented that will properly load your RV’s grounding system with fault current. It uses your RV’s 12-volt battery to back-feed 2 amperes of current through your RV’s grounding system.
This is my own mad-scientist invention that I’ve used over the years, but it’s perfectly safe and far superior to any basic meter test. Here’s what I published several years ago, which I’ve upgraded over time. But this first article will get you started. Read more about it HERE.
Winter lightning storms do occur, and I’ve seen a few serious strikes last year around this time. If you do plug in your RV to keep the batteries charged, is there anything else you can do to protect its electrical system from a nearby lightning strike? Read more below.
So read on, and let’s play safe out there…
P.S. And just a quick note that this newsletter is made possible by the voluntary pledges of the readers of RVtravel.com. We could not bring this to you without their support. If you deem what we provide to you here and at RVtravel.com to be of special value and would like to be a part of our effort, please consider pledging a voluntary subscription. More information is here.
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(More than 10,900 members and counting.)
Lightning strike study
Is is better to have your stabilizing jacks on the dirt or insulated from the ground? That’s the question that SnapPad RV asked me to answer.
While it’s hard to know when and where lightning will strike (except for in “Back to the Future”), there are a few things you can do to help limit the damage when it does strike near your RV. Read my next Lightning Strike Study HERE.
Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
Industry Update: Battery Tenders
Battery Tender introduces a new model that does EVERYTHING!
Here’s the latest version of the Battery Tender which not only includes settings for all battery chemistries, it’s also a 10/6/2-amp battery charger and maintainer. So do you really need to carry those heavy batteries into the garage for the winter, or is it safe to leave them in place with your RV plugged into a home outlet?
Read all about winter battery maintenance here
Last month’s survey results:
So, more than half of you in this survey (51%) have had some sort of RV electrical problem that interrupted a camping trip. And while 38% reported no damage from a campground problem, some 9% said it was a show stopper. That is, something went so wrong that you had to pull up stakes and head out. And 4% of those surveyed had their RV’s electrical system damaged by campground power. I think this is one of the best reasons to get a full protection surge protector, and use it every time you plug in, even with your house power.
The big three manufacturers are Hughes, Progressive Industries and Southwire/SurgeGuard, and they all offer something called an EMS Surge Protector that will monitor and disconnect your RV from high or low voltages, reverse polarity, open grounds and other important parameters. Watch my video about how Full Protection Surge protectors work HERE.
I’m partial to the Surge Guard products because I’ve tested all major brands and models and think their engineering is superior. However, Progressive Industries makes a solid product that many of you own, and the Hughes Power Watchdog has a pretty cool Bluetooth iPhone App that works quite well. Expect to pay between $250 and $400 for one of these advanced protection systems that may save your bacon one day. Yes, it’s a few bucks, but Christmas is right around the corner and I know your RV has been very good this year.
Tools and Other Devices
Don’t guess the proper torque – get a proper torque limiting screwdriver….
An RV is basically a rolling vibration machine. Let’s face it, you’ve probably seen all kinds of things loosen up in your RV. But what about those all-important electrical screws in your power panel and generator transfer switch? How often should you check them, and how hard should you tighten them? Watch my video on how to properly torque electrical termination screws HERE and read how to torque the ATS screws properly HERE.
Last Month’s RVtravel.com Posts
These articles are rated Moderate to understand for most RVers.
• Get your RV ready for winter maintenance.
• Updates on Hughes Autoformer, Dometic 12-volt fridge, SoftStartRV on a solar panel.
• Hughes Autoformer testing – Part 2.
• Avoid space heater danger: What you need to know.
• Hybrid inverter-powered air conditioner.
Last Month’s JAM (Just Ask Mike) Session posts:
These articles are rated Easy to understand for beginners.
• My WAG chart on solar panels and air conditioners.
• Generator carbon monoxide reminder.
• Dogbone adapter confusion cleared up – Part 2.
• Dogbone adapter confusion cleared up – Part 1.
• Solar-powered air conditioner update.
The best book on RV electricity, hands down!
Mike Sokol is America’s leading expert on RV electricity. Mike has taken his 50+ years of experience to write this book about RV electricity that nearly anyone can understand. Covers the basics of Voltage, Amperage, Wattage and Grounding, with additional chapters on RV Hot-Skin testing, GFCI operation, portable generator hookups and troubleshooting RV electrical systems. This should be essential reading for all RVers. Learn more or order
Mike’s (new) Video Quick Tips
• SoftStartRV installation – 8 minutes
• Mike selects mics for Zoom – 3 minutes
Camco Store at Amazon.com
There isn’t much you need for your RV that Camco doesn’t have. If you think we’re kidding, then click through to the Camco store on Amazon where you’ll find some of their best-selling products — all for your RV or for you to make your RVing better. Click here and you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store.
By Mike Sokol
Here we are now, entertain us….
Last week I was picking up some vintage test gear for my continued studies on electrical systems, and almost as an afterthought the nice gentleman selling me the test gear asked if I would like an old radio that belonged to his father.
At first blush it didn’t look like much, but I recognized that it must be some sort of 1-tube receiver similar to the first crystal radio I built when I was 6 years old or so. And after a little research I soon discovered it was a Westinghouse Aeriola Senior receiver from 1923, which I believe marked the beginning of the home entertainment systems. What does that have to do with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana? Well, read on and find out.
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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Editor: Mike Sokol. RVtravel.com publisher: Chuck Woodbury. Managing editor: Diane McGovern.
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So it seems to me that if you know you might be in a location that will be experiencing lightning strikes that simply by disconnecting from the pedestal (and storing your cable) and raising your levelers….will prevent any strikes (near or far) from having any effect on your motorhome’s electrical system. Of course with a direct hit, all bets are off.
Care to comment on this Mike?
On the poll about your battery, you needed an additional option. Many of us have our own rv garage that is equipped to handle the rv over the winter. Simply by plugging the rv into the garage’s shore power, and if your rv is equipped with an inverter/charger, it will keep the batteries charged. Monthly inspection of water level is all that is needed.
Hi Mike. I didn’t vote in the poll re: what to do with your batteries in the winter because I full-time so I’m always connected to shore power somewhere. If I were storing my rv I would most likely pull the batteries and store them in the garage.
Battery Tenders/Chargers/ why? I understood that all RV converters now have a battery float/storage function?
Spending 3 winter months in south Florida so the only concern is getting on the road before the first freeze.
Also, I have 320 watts of solar panels to keep the batteries charged. The peace of mind is worth the price of the panels and controller.
I found the “DO you disconnect your batteries?” question interesting. I think you left out an answer that I’d opt for. Let me explain…….Here in California we don’t freeze up so much. So I leave my batteries in….both engine and house batteries. However, I do disconnect them all. The temp here gets down to the 40’s sometimes which doesn’t hurt them at all. I do like to check the motorhome every month at some point and fire up the generator, the heater etc. We do use it all year here since winter here is mild. Just to throw it out there the batteries are all (Interstate) AGM’s and going on the 5 year.
In the Deep South, no need to treat batteries special. I do have a trickle charger if needed. Plus the coach is going down the road somewhere almost every month.
I did like the featured trickle charger and am going to go looking for it. I want to up-grade my house battery to a LiPo, but need a different charging system.
Those were some awesome lightning pictures!
On the subject of bad Pedestal Power, we went camping at Oregon’s Detroit Lake State Park. Beautiful park, hot weather and many other good campers. The problem was that when I hooked the Surge Guard up to the Pedestal, it would not allow us to access power. I looked down the line of campers, and almost everyone had newer rigs trying to run their A/C. I spoke with Park management and they acknowledged power problems with that loop. I did try to at least inform other campers, but because of them being new campers, the desire to cool off and use their electronics, it did fall on deaf ears. The power failed and had to restart many times that weekend. We simply switched to our alternate power sources. I’m am thankful that we had something that could check the power line for us before it damaged our system.
Another great edition of your newsletter- thank you! So many explanations of lightening strikes and their effects- nice to know. I guess at the very least, we should be unplugging from shore power during these events.
Once again, thanks!
Mike, thanks for being a great voice on electrical safety. Virtually every month of the year you can find recalls for power strips and extensions cords also all too many times I read about a house fire that was started by an overloaded cord or power strip. In my previous working life as a Facilities Supervisor we constantly battled recalls of power strips and extension cords and not to mention the unauthorized use of employee purchased strips and cords. On one occasion we had a call for loss of power at work station, what the technicians found was an overload circuit that melted a wire nut causing the wires to separate. What caused it was the use of several power strips with more than 1 appliance plugged into them and then plugged into several receptacles all on the same circuit. I realize that private individuals are not held to OSHA standards, however they define the use of an extension cord as temporary use only and that would also take in the use of power strips.
I’m fulltime in our motorhome, so except for my regular battery maintenance the batteries are in my motorhome 24/7/365. No need to remove them for winter, and we normally don’t spend more than 3 months in one location.