Friday, July 22, 2016

Don't Blow Your Breaker

Take a minute and see how many AMPS you could be using in your RV's 30 or 50 amp electrical systems. It's surprising how fast the amps add up which causes your breaker or the resort's breaker to trip. Knowing the amperage of all the electrical appliances in your RV can help you manage electrical use and prevent the inconvenience of:

The following is a list of the typical appliances used and the average amps required to operate them:
Air conditioner-15,000 BTU 12.5 amps
Refrigerator 2.7 amps
Electric Frying Pan 10 amps
Electric Water Heater-8 gallons 12.5 amps
Iron 10 amps
Microwave Oven 12.8 amps
Food Processor 6 amps
Electric Coffee Pot 9 amps
Crock Pot 1.5 amps
Toaster 10 amps
Heating Pad .5 amps
Hair Dryer 10 amps
110 Watt Heater 10 amps
TV 2 amps
In the morning if you start your air conditioner and the hot water heater is on, and then you start your coffee pot, make some toast and watch TV-you're pulling 55 amps with all of these appliances operating at maximum. If you also cook some bacon in the microwave at the same time, LOOK OUT! Many RV's have a switch so you can only run the microwave OR the water heater at one time, but some RV's do not have this feature.
Most electrical products show how many watts or amps it takes to operate the appliance printed on the product itself or in the instruction manual. If it shows the watts, divide the watts by 120 (volts) and that gives you the amps. To get the watts, multiply the amps by the 120 (volts).
I have found that if we are parked in a 30 amp site I can run two major electrical appliances at one time without setting off the circuit breaker, such as my electric water heater and the microwave. Using the toaster is possible also. But to run the central vacuum cleaner while cooking breakfast? Not going to happen. If it's hot outside and I want to run the air conditioner while on 30 amps, then I'll switch the electric water heater over to propane or simply turn it off until right before I need hot water and make sure I'm not using another appliance that pulls a lot of amps. It's a balancing act but it's easy to deal with once you get into the habit. Because if you set off those circuit breakers too many times, chances are you're going to be damaging the circuit boards of your appliances at the same time which is not a good thing. Even with a 50 amp site you have to be careful, although 50 amps normally allows you to add the use of one more large amperage appliance to the things you can run at one time. It's a matter of taking a moment to think about what you have running and what you want to operate before you start turning things on.
Be safe!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lessons in Electricity

There is a learning curve when it comes to electrical systems in a RV.  You have your AC power which is the type of electricity most commonly used in homes and offices.  Then you have your DC power which is the type of electrical power that is produced by fuel cells, batteries, and generators equipped with commutators.  In your RV your microwave, TV, DVD player, computer and other electronic equipment run off AC power (items that are plugged into an electrical socket.)  Your overhead lights, your bathroom and Fantastic fans in the living areas, your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and your refrigerator in transit are powered by DC current provided by your house batteries in your RV.  All of this is possible due to shore line power provided by campgrounds in 20, 30 or 50 amp current or by a converter in your rig which changes the AC power to DC current which can be used by those accessories that run off the batteries.  Of course, there is also the power provided by generators when there is no electric power available, as when you boon dock, but that's a whole different thing and not what I'm concerned with for today.

 In your travels you will eventually run across a campground that has problems with its electrical power or have an outlet that's been wired backwards or the ground has come loose.  Or you may just have a power surge from a local storm.  What Denny and I have found handy are the following items:

A digital monitor of some sort.  This one pictured below plugs into a wall outlet.  I have mine plugged into an outlet on our kitchen island that I can see as I enter the rig so I know if there is a problem as soon as Denny plugs in the 50 amp power cord.  There is not only a read out on the screen showing the problem but an alarm sounds to get your attention.

In our current fifth wheel our 50 amp power cord is on an electrically powered reel; you push a button and the cord rewinds itself for travel.  While these are wonderfully handy, they can also cause a problem if you just allow the cord to be pulled all the way in by the power winder, which can cause the plug end to be pulled/dragged against the roller brace.  That in turn can pull on the plug and loosen the wires, which we have discovered to our chagrin.  Our original power cord looked like the one pictured below, but we had a bad plug which allowed a lot of voltage to go through our electrical lines and that in turn fried the electronic devices in the rig that had "instant on" connections like the TV, microwave, DVD player, Wii as well as our central vac and washing machine.  
We took the trailer to a local Heartland dealer for the repair to the electrical system and they replaced the power plug with one made by Camco which looked similar to the ones pictured below:

Unfortunately, we were to eventually learn that the internal clamps that hold the wiring  inside this power plug are smooth sided which allowed the wires to be pulled loose from the contacts.  This in turn allowed the wires to touch, creating a 220 volt arc which fried more appliances.  Twice.  What saved some of the electronic components like the TVs and the computers is the fact that we have added individual surge protectors to individual outlets within the trailer that we use for our sensitive equipment.  This protected most of our items on our last power fiasco; the only thing we lost was the microwave/convection oven and we had neglected to put a surge protector on that outlet.  Live and learn.

Now some of you will say, "but Linda, don't you have a surge protector on your power cord?"  And yes, we do.  However, the outdoor surge protector is only good for protecting you if the power source from the campground is bad.  If your own power cord is bad or has broken wiring inside it, that problem starts after the surge protector and therefore is not protected by it. 
So; external surge protector for the campground power post/outlet, digital voltage meter of some sort to quickly check the quality of the electrical connection to the campground's power supply, internal individual surge protectors on those outlets that will have valuable and sensitive electronic equipment plugged into them.  Believe me, the cost is a lot cheaper than replacing a bunch of appliances and electronic equipment--we know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Should You Buy a Private Campground Membership?

When Denny and I hit the road as full time RVers, the only camping organizations we had joined were FMCA (Family Motorcoach of America), Good Sam, Escapees and Passport America. We used FMCA as our mail forwarding service (remember, when we started off as fulltimers we had a 1994 Bounder motorhome) and for the first year I planned our route almost exclusively using the half-price Passport America campgrounds. Way back then in 1998 most of the campgrounds that were a part of Passport America allowed week long to month long to unlimited stays, simply to try to pull in business.

In December of 1999, we purchased our first fifth wheel and included in that sale was a "free" membership to the Thousand Trails organization, with a home park in Unadilla, Georgia. Since we had just bought the fifth wheel trailer and had to purchase a new truck to pull it, we just didn't want to spend the $500 extra dollars for the first year's membership dues. Big mistake. At that time (pre-Internet access) I was under the impression that Thousand Trails parks were mostly nature preserves that had only water and electric hook ups and we like having full hook ups to be able to use our washer and dryer. After all, that is why we have a washer and dryer. So we passed on that offer.

This worked for us for several years, until we finally decided to try wintering in Arizona and there we picked up a "free" four day stay coupon at a local Camping World display. And thus, we ended up buying into the Colorado River Adventures organization, which had seven campgrounds in its pool of locations plus an affiliation with the Coast to Coast campground organization. So now for $X for the initial buy-in and $x for the annual membership we had "free" camping plus access to a large number of private campgrounds for $8 a night through Coast to Coast. And for the next year once we left Arizona I used Coast to Coast parks almost exclusively in our travels.

The following winter we had gone on a day trip to Los Algodones while staying at the CRA park in Yuma, Arizona and before we crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande a gentleman standing at the side of the road handed us a coupon for a week's stay at yet another private membership club; Western Horizons resorts. Hey, we'll give it a try--nothing says we have to buy in, right? *sigh* Listening to the sales pitch, we could actually see the benefit; for about the same cost as our seven campground CRA membership, we could purchase a Western Horizons membership which gave us access to their twenty-seven campgrounds, plus the chance to join Resorts of Distinction (ROD), Sunbelt and Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR). Camping at the Western Horizon and ROD parks would be free, the Sunbelt and AOR parks would have a nightly fee of $8. Western Horizon/ROD parks extended up the western coast all the way to Washington which would allow us to explore that area, all of which was new to us. Okay, we bit the bullet once again and signed up. In the year 2005, Denny and I traveled from Arizona to Washington between January and June and only paid for a campground a couple of times as we came up through Idaho. The private member campgrounds were working out quite well.

Enter our friends Don and Vicki who became full timers and were given a free TT membership at the time of their purchase of a toy hauler. When the two of them came to Ohio from Georgia to visit friends and family they stayed at the Wilmington, Ohio TT preserve and invited us over to visit. That's when Denny and I realized that Thousand Trails campgrounds came with full hook up sites (there are a few that are water/electric only) and started looking into that organization because TT had fifty-two campgrounds on its roster, as well as affiliations with ROD and Resort Parks International (RPI). It just keeps going, right?

Long story short, we ended up with the TT membership, purchased though eBay and then upgraded through TT. To wade through all the letters, we at one time had Good Sam, PA, Escapees, Happy Camper (another half price/discounted campground organization), CRA, C2C, WH, ROD, AOR, Sunbelt, TT, RPI, OW (Outdoor World) and Enjoy America. Whew. We've since dropped Happy Camper (which we had gotten free because I did blog posts about them), Sunbelt and RPI/Enjoy America. A few years ago Western Horizon offered a "lifetime" membership payoff which we took advantage of and now we have no annual membership dues on that. Years ago Passport America did the same and we paid for that, which paid for itself in three campground stays.

Having these memberships has allowed us to stretch our camping budget quit a bit, especially in the years when diesel fuel goes up to ridiculous numbers. In the off season we can stay two to three weeks at a campground and during peak season we can stay two weeks at a time. At most of the affiliate parks you are allowed to stay only one week in peak season. You have to research and ask questions for each organization because the types of memberships sold varies within each organization and there are as many different types of membership as there are campgrounds within the system. TT is especially notorious for this. However, the Thousand Trails organization has come up with a new offer called Zone Camping where you don't have to "buy in" with a membership, you simply pay an annual dues/fee to obtain 30 days free use of a number of campgrounds within a zone (they divide the US into four zones) and then any additional days you camp you pay $3 a day.

And of course, next month that may all change. Campground memberships can be a bit of a gamble these days. While our Colorado River Adventures membership has stayed the same at seven campgrounds, Western Horizons has sold fourteen of its original twenty-seven parks and has most of the rest of them up for sale. What they are doing is selling the campgrounds and then "renting" spots from the new owners for use by its members. Since Denny and I haven't been in Arizona for a couple of winters I'm not quite sure how this is going to work out for us so we'll see this year and the next. The Thousand Trails organization has maintained the number of parks it owns/manages so far. And of course there are other private membership organizations out there that might work for you, depending on where you want to travel. Ocean Properties seems to be very stable and has purchased some of the Western Horizon parks for its system. Your main consideration will simply be, investigate carefully, ask a lot of questions to make sure you understand just what you are purchasing and what your particular membership allows you to do, camping-wise. Check out membership resale organizations or look in the back of any of the RV/camping magazines for memberships that are for sale, or go online on eBay to see what's being offered. After several years of owning three private campground memberships Denny and I figure we are ahead of the game. When we first purchased our CRA membership in 2003, each time we stayed at a CRA park we credited ourselves with a $20 a day fee (figuring that's what we would pay at a public campground) so at the end of our first year we felt we had cut the cost of the original membership price way down. And we continued that for a couple of years until we realized campground prices had jumped so we adjusted our daily credit to $30 a day. At that rate it doesn't take long to figure that our memberships have not only paid for themselves, even including yearly dues, but that we are now well ahead of what we paid. And after having paid daily campground rates of $45 to $47 (with Good Sam discounts but no weekly rates) in Maine this past summer, the advantage of "free" membership park usage sounds even better.

Of course, there are always city, county and state campgrounds, Core of Engineer parks, Elks clubs, fairgrounds, boondocking on US land or in the parking lot of your favorite big box store to camp less expensively or free if you boondock. For Denny and I, private membership works.