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Friday, March 2, 2012

Electrical Surges, Spikes and Brownouts: What to do?

Typical RV Park Power Post
It's a sad fact of RV life that electrical power where we camp isn't always the (mostly) clean power we get from the good old electrical outlet at home or the office. There are gremlins in those sockets just waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting RV'er who doesn't take some basic precautions. Yes, I'll admit, I'm a bit paranoid when it comes to shorting out, blowing up or otherwise melting my wiring. I don't see that as a BAD thing!



First off, before you plug in to any outlet, you should at least plug in a basic polarity and ground tester. They are available at pretty much every home warehouse and hardware store for around 5-7 dollars. It's just a simple grounded plug with a few lights on it to tell you if the outlet is wired correctly. If it isn't, there could be serious trouble. Especially if it's wet!


Next is the surge protector and/or electrical system protectors. There are many versions from several companies that mostly boil down to additional features after you get past the 30 AMP or 50 AMP selection. There are portable versions that simply plug into the end of your shore power cord and then into the socket. There are hard wired ones that usually get wired into the other end of the shore power cord. I like the hard wired ones since they are much less likely to "walk away." that doesn't mean you can't figure out a way to use a portable version inside your RV...





Now on to various features. Here you can have a lot of variety. Let's start with the type of fault display. Some have none, which I wouldn't touch with an insulated 10 foot pole. Most of the basic types have one or more color coded L.E.D's that tell you the status of your connection. The typical mis-wiring faults are there and sometimes under or over voltage as well. Then you can get versions that have a built in digital display that will let you know the actual voltage you are receiving. Some of the more advanced units, usually the hard wired kind, have a remote display that you can mount somewhere to check the voltage easily. This is often an extra-cost option.

Things to worry about when dealing with campground or RV park power:

High Voltage
Low Voltage
Voltage Surges
Reverse Polarity
Open Neutral
Open Ground
AC Frequency too High or Low
Accidentally plugging into 240V !


Not that we don't have enough to worry about already! Any of these conditions can really ruin your day and some can be downright dangerous! Some kind of power protection is a lower cost investment in your own safety and the protection of the expensive stuff plugged into the AC side of your RV.

Your air conditioner is particularly sensitive to AC problems, especially when the power shuts off and then comes back on abruptly. The motor that runs your compressor (and the compressor itself) do not like quick shut downs and restarts. (This is due to head pressure which we'll talk about that in an article about RV A/C) Many of the products available will delay the re-application of power for a set (or variable) time so you don't hurt anything expensive. As a side, not many automatic transfer switches have a time delay built into them as well. It wouldn't hurt a bit to have double protection, kind of a "belt & suspenders" attitude.

The most expensive power protection systems have the ability to boost low voltage from the socket. These units tend to be large and quite heavy, but will save your bacon when on a hot day everyone is using their air conditioners and the parks voltage drops very low. The power protection system will disconnect power when this happens, but the voltage booster will keep the voltage stable, allowing you to continue enjoying the cool air.

I believe that the best power protection system you have is your own brain! If you check for problems before you hook up your expensive RV electrical system to an unknown source you'll avoid most problems. I do believe that a power protection device, either portable or hard wired, is extra insurance for someone else's mistakes and is a solid investment. Electrical repairs can be costly and often difficult since RV wiring can be hard to get to in the first place. Why not protect yourself from misery?

Be Seeing You......Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"
http://www.thewanderman.com

2 comments:

  1. "The most expensive power protection systems have the ability to boost low voltage from the socket. These units tend to be large and quite heavy, but will save your bacon when on a hot day everyone is using their air conditioners and the parks voltage drops very low. The power protection system will disconnect power when this happens, but the voltage booster will keep the voltage stable, allowing you to continue enjoying the cool air."
    I invested in one of these, I had it hard wired this winter, while being a new fulltimer I hoped I would see some benefit this passed winter at some older parks on the Oregon Coast, the 30 amp sites. I could tell no benefit at all? Did I waste my money? Has anyone not selling these noticed an improvement?
    It really is a pain to get up and have to go out to trip breaker at half passed A.M..
    Thanks
    Eric

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eric,
      I know that low voltage is a killer for RV systems, especially with Air Conditioners. If your voltage booster "fills in the gap" when park voltage goes low for over-demand, you are saving yourself a lot of headaches.

      As for the Early AM wakeups... perhaps a 2 minute timer relay to reset the device is in order?

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete

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