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.