By: Ron Francoeur, RV Life Coach
Today’s RVs contain all the sophisticated electronics and electrical appliances of our modern-day bricks and sticks homes.
Unlike our homes which are connected to a stable power grid, many with surge protection already built in, we connect our RVs to whatever receptacle is presented to us at the campsite trusting that the power is properly wired and with the correct polarity and amplitude. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and serious damage to your RV electrical system and appliances can result.
RVs come in two flavors of electrical power, 30 amp/ 120 volt, and 50 amp / 120 volt on two separate circuits. A 30 Amp RV has the capacity for 3600 watts of power while a 50 Amp RV has the capacity of 12000 watts (two circuits at 6000 watts each)
There are several failure/fault mechanisms that can occur with a campground power panel that can cause serious damage to your RV or present a life/safety hazard to you.
· Wired incorrectly: With the ground pin at the top, the hot lead is on the left of a 30-amp receptacle and on the left and right of a 50-amp receptacle. Always verify that it is wired correctly *before* connecting your RV to the pedestal.
· Open Ground/Missing Ground: The absence of a good ground connection presents a life/safety hazard to you. Should there be a hot skin condition on your RV (the metal exterior items become energized) then without a ground connection, you become the ‘ground’ when you touch the RV while standing outside. This can electrocute you.
· Open, loose, or missing neutral: Without a good neutral connection there is no return path for electron flow, and this can cause serious problems not the least of which is excessive heat and possible fire. (See Figure Two)
Loose Connection: With repeated use, the campground receptacles can become fatigued over time and the contact blades cease to make a solid connection to the plug when inserted. Loose connections generate heat and excessive heat can cause a fire. I recall a campground in rural Georgia where the 30-amp receptacle was so worn out that my plug fell out as soon as it was plugged in.
· Dirty Connections: Not all campers are meticulous when handling their RV power cord. I have seen the plug contacts dragged through the mud, dirt and wet grass and shoved into the RV pedestal socket. This can prevent a solid connection which generates heat and excessive heat can cause a fire. At a recently remodeled campground the pedestals were left face down on the ground while the camp site was graded etc. The rain, mud and dirt took its toll on the plugs to the extent that voltage was present on the hot, neutral, and ground connections when tested prior to plugging in the RV.
· Corroded/Pitted Connections: Many campers pull their plug without first deenergizing the circuit by turning off the breaker and/or shutting down RV power draw items first. This creates arcing at the socket which causes pitting on the connections which prevents a solid connection for the next camper.
· Low Voltage: Some campgrounds when at full capacity are unable to provide full power to all campsites during peak demand and a localized brown out occurs. Too low a voltage can damage sensitive electronics and appliances. Voltage less than 105 volts is too low to operate the RV without damage.
· High Voltage: As campground demand fluctuates the power presented to your RV can also fluctuate. Voltage of 135 volts or more can damage the RV.
· Electrical Surge and Spikes: Power surges and voltage spikes occur for a variety of reasons: lightning, storms, accidents, or the sudden shut down of a heavy power draw item. These surge/spikes can take out your RV appliances faster than the circuit breaker or a fuse can blow.
So how do you protect yourself and your RV? There are a few steps you need to take when you arrive at your campsite before you plug in.
1) Have the right equipment to hook up your RV electrical connections. You can use the Surge/EMS protector alone or in combination with these tools. The multimeter and NCV testers are both handy to have in your RV tool arsenal for diagnosing and correcting power issues that come up from time to time.
a. Non-Contact Voltage Tester. This won’t tell you the whole story about the pedestal, but it will tell you if there is voltage present where it should be.
b. Multimeter. This is preferred over the NCV tester if you are comfortable using it. This will tell if voltage is present at the correct connection points and how much. It will also tell you if the ground connection is good.
c. Surge Protector or EMS/Surge Protector. You must have, at a minimum, the Surge Protector connected between the pedestal and your RV once you have verified the pedestal is acceptable. The EMS (Electrical Management System) will not only protect your RV from surges and spikes, it will also shut down when low or high voltage is present. The EMS is the preferred device.
Non-Contact Voltage Tester
NCV indicating power is present at the correct location.
2) If the pedestal is not wired correctly, get with the campground host to correct the situation, or transfer you to another campsite.
3) If the pedestal is acceptable, then with the breakers OFF check to make sure the connections on the pedestal power receptacles are tight when you plug your Surge/EMS in. If they are loose and your Surge/EMS plug falls out, get with the campground host to replace the worn-out plug, or get you to a new campsite.
4) Make sure your EMS does not sit on the ground where it can be exposed to water.
5) It is good practice to always use a contact cleaner on your EMS plug and RV plug before plugging in.
Deoxit D5 Contact Cleaner
6) Once connections are made, make sure there are no heavy power draw items on in the RV and turn on the breakers in the pedestal. If you have an EMS it will run a diagnostic that, depending on the brand/model, can take as long as two minutes to complete. If the pedestal power passes the diagnostic, the EMS will transfer power to the RV. Should a fault condition occur, the EMS will disconnect power to the RV to provide protection until the fault condition resets.
Summary: Proper RV Power Etiquette
· Always make sure the pedestal breakers are OFF before connecting.
· Always Turn off RV power draw appliances before disconnecting.
· Always turn off the pedestal breakers before disconnecting.
· Never plug a dirty power plug into the pedestal.
· Never allow your EMS or power plug connections to be in a position where they could become wet or submerged in pooled water.
· Don’t take chances with your life or safety. If the power pedestal is hinky have them fix it or move to a better site. If they refuse, you are mobile – get out of there. Hopefully, they will refund your fee.
When purchasing an RV, new or used, always have it inspected by a Certified RV Inspector from the NRVIA. This inspection exhaustively checks all the electrical systems as part of the inspection process, and the report will flag any Life/Safety issues that must be corrected before the RV is occupied.
Check out http://www.NRVIA.org to find an inspector near you.
Check out our web site for the NRVIA code of ethics and points of inspection detail as well as a sample report for review.
I hope the information in this Blog is helpful to you.
Sherlock RV Inspection Service, LLC
Office: 352 – 224 – 9477
Text: 678 – 360 - 6883