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Plugging In and Not Blowing OutAs the RV industry continues to explode in sales, so does the diversity of how people are using their rigs.  When I first entered the RV industry “YEARS” ago, there were basically two types of RVers, the snowbirds who retired and either went South for the winter or became full timers traveling the country, or the family that did weekends and an occasional vacation then the unit sat in storage for 6 months.

Times have changed, people are using their RVs to support their hobbies such as quilting, dog shows, flea markets, and others.  It makes sense. Why fly or drive to an event and stay in a hotel paying way too much money for a room someone else slept in last night?  Why stay 20-30 minutes away from your hobby destination and fight traffic and high priced restaurants?  Staying close to the event, cooking your own meals, and sleeping in your own bed makes way more sense!

However this also means at times you will not be able to plug into an electrical source that is designed for your rig.  The typical RV runs on a 30 amp system which provides 120-volt power to the distribution center for appliances such as the roof AC, refrigerator on electric, and outlets that power the microwave and other items.  It also supplies power to the converter which charges your 12-volt house battery/batteries.  This supplies power to the roof vents, interior lights, and any appliance that runs off LP.

If you are going to be staying at any location that is not equipped for RVs you need to know your power requirements as well as what power they have available.  Most residential electrical outlets provide 120-volt power with 15 amps and are typically “ganged” to other outlets so this reduces the power available.  Your RV will need:

  • 14 amps to run one roof AC
  • 8 amps for a refrigerator on the electric mode
  • 9 amps for the converter to charge the house batteries, not counting any other appliance you have plugged into an outlet!

If you plug into this residential outlet, you will risk blowing the circuit or even worse, a fire.

If you do need to plug into a residential outlet there are some precautions you can take.  First, identify what amperage is available at the outlet.   This can be done by verifying the circuit breaker the outlet is connected to at the electrical panel.  Most garage outlets are 15 amps but as stated earlier, they can be “ganged” to other outlets in the garage for a freezer, air compressor, and other items.  Outlets at a fairplex parking lot or other outlets attached to a light pole are typically the same.  So these outlets will not have enough power for you to run everything in your RV.

  • Do not run the roof AC if possible as it will draw 14 amps at maximum capacity.
  • Open the roof vents, side windows, and park in a shaded area if possible.
  • If you need to run the roof AC, run a generator!
  • Run you refrigerator on LP mode instead of Auto as this will default to the 120-volt operation and draw amps.
  • On the LP mode it will draw power from the house batteries which hopefully will last a couple of days before needing to be recharged.
  • Make coffee on the stove top or campfire rather than using an electrical coffee maker.
  • Don’t use the microwave, get creative with the stove top, grills, or campfire.
  • Do not use an electrical ceramic heater, these draw a huge amount of power!  It’s better to use a catalytic heater such as the Olympic or Camco version which uses a small LP cylinder.  These are very safe for interior heating as they do not reduce oxygen and create very little condensation.

Another important issue is to use the proper extension cord to plug into the outlet and the distance.  If you are plugging into a 15 amp outlet, make sure the cord is rated to 15 amps and no longer than 25’ total length from your shoreline cord to the outlet, otherwise you will get a drop in power and risk an overheating situation.  If you need to go with a longer cord you will need to use a heavier gauge extension cord.

About the author:

Dave Solberg: Managing Editor, RV Repair Club

For the last 25 years, Dave has conducted RV maintenance and safety seminars, developed dealer and owner training programs, written RV safety and handyman articles, authored an RV handbook reference guide and logged over 100,000 miles on the road in an RV.

RV Repair ClubRV Repair Club is your go-to online resource for enthusiasts who want quality RV maintenance, repair, and upgrade information – a community where passionate RVers can come together to gather knowledge and share their experiences.

Learn more about RV Repair Club.

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