One of the main reasons people get RVs is electricity. Being able to run an air conditioner, make coffee, and use a microwave while camping is a huge plus. If misused, however, electricity can be dangerous. It is important to remember that the electrical system in your RV is not exactly like the one in a “sticks and bricks” home. Let’s take a look at some RV electrical safety tips to ensure you have a safe and comfortable RVing adventure.
Check your plug and socket before plugging in.
Before plugging your RV into anything, you should take a look at your plug. Look at all of the prongs and note if there are any scorch marks or damage. Make sure there are no chips or missing parts on the prongs. If there are, it may indicate that you had plugged into a socket that caused enough arcing to damage the prongs at one point.
Arcing causes heat, so check the plastic/rubber around your plug. Check for any scorch marks or evidence that melting has occurred. If any part of the plug has melted, then you know at some point, that plug got hot. Loose connections in park receptacles is a common fault that causes heat.
It is not unusual for plugs and even cords to wear out over time, and you may notice a small amount of warping where the prongs meet the body of the plug. If there is a lot of damage and you are not knowledgeable with electrical wiring, you should have a technician take a look at the plug. External plugs and wires are usually easy and quick for a qualified person to replace.
In addition to your plug, you should inspect the socket you are about to plug your RV into. Look for scorch marks, broken pieces of the socket, etc. If there is any indication that the socket has passed its useful life, let the park know. In many cases, they will be able to move you, or they may have someone on staff replace the socket with a new one.
Make sure the park is safe to plug into.
Whenever you plug your RV into a power pedestal at a park, you are trusting that their system is up to code and functioning normally. The potential danger and liability of improperly wired or faulty electrical components prompt many parks to ensure their electrical system is worked on by professionals. There are always exceptions to the rule, and after full-time RVing for over six years now, I have learned that just because a park looks well taken care of doesn’t mean that is the case.
Many products allow you to check the wiring of a socket you are about to plug into. Many of the inexpensive RV surge protectors will tell you if the wiring is correct. The inexpensive ones won’t stop you from using a socket with faulty wiring, but it will inform you about it.
There are more expensive systems that are called EMSs, which stand for electronic management system. Check out 5 Reasons Every RVer Should Invest in a Surge Protector/EMS if you are interested in learning more about the different types of wiring faults and EMSs. Regardless of what method you use, to prevent injury or damage to your RV, make sure the outlet you are plugging into is wired correctly.
Use the right cord.
So let’s say you are visiting friends or family, and one of them has told you to park your RV in the driveway for a free spot. When you arrive, you find the closest power receptacle is about 50 feet away. Your friend offers you a 50-foot extension cord intended to be used in a standard 20 amp household plug. You thank your friend and pull out your plug adapter.
This scenario is common and can result in damaged equipment if you are not careful. A typical household extension cord is only intended to run about 15 to 20 amps. That means that you are not going to be able to run all of the appliances you regularly use. Trying to pull too much power from an inappropriately rated cord can cause heat. Heat can melt things and even cause fires.
Watch your amps.
It is important to have an idea of how many amps you are running at one time, especially if you have a 30 amp RV or are plugged into a 30 amp socket. The cheapest way to do this is to know how many watts you have available to use. Below are common breaker amperage ratings and their max wattage on a standard 120-volt socket.
- 15 amp = 1,800 watts
- 20 amp = 2,400 watts
- 30 amp = 3,600 watts
- 50 amp = 12,000 watts
Most appliances have their wattage written on them somewhere. If you add up all the appliance wattage you have running at once, you can tell how close to your limit you are getting. You may notice that there is quite a jump in available watts when you go from 30 amp to 50 amp. That is because there are actually two 50 amp lines on a 50 amp hookup.
When my wife and I first started RVing, we put little red stickers on all appliances that took 1000 watts and over to run, including the air conditioner. We have a 30 amp RV, so our rule was no more than two 1000+ watt appliances could be run at once.
In addition to not going over your available wattage/amps, you don’t want to consistently push your RV to the limit. This can wear down motors in things like fans and air conditioners, but it can also cause a lot of heat and damage things like plugs and cords. If you want to learn about the formulas used to calculate wattage and more details about how a 30 amp and 50 amp RV system work, I wrote an in-depth article on that here.
Monitor your voltage.
Just like keeping track of your amp/watt usage, it is a good idea to monitor the voltage being supplied to your RV. Appliances can be damaged if the voltage is too high or too low. A quality EMS will prevent dangerous voltage levels from being used in your RV, but they are not cheap.
For those on a budget, a simple voltage monitoring device can be plugged into a wall socket and checked periodically. Most RV parks will not have a problem with the voltage being too high, but you should not run electronics if your voltage starts reading lower than 110.
Electricity is an integral part of our lives. It is easy to forget that it can be a dangerous force when not used properly. Keeping these safety tips in mind may help keep you and your RV safe.
About The Author: Natalie Henley and her husband, Levi, have been full-time RVers for over 5 years. They have also been Coach-Net customers for the same amount of time. They travel and workcamp around the U.S. in their 26-foot Itasca Sunstar motorhome with their two cats. They write for multiple RV-related publications and recently co-wrote “Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It.” You can follow their adventures on the road at henleyshappytrails.com.
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