Thursday, May 17, 2012

Electric Dreams or Adding A 12 Volt Socket By the Bed

It began as a simple enough idea, put a 12 volt socket near my bed so I could charge my phone overnight or in the morning. Yeah, simple.

On the surface, installing a 12 volt outlet is easy. find a spot, make a hole (make sure you can get to the back of the space where the hole is. Run some wires...and Voila! power for the asking. Yup, that would work for other folks. No problems. For me, as usual...nothing is easy. Odd, since I'm a pretty good "karma" should be pretty good. Perhaps a previous life??? Naaaahhhh!

Looking Into The Access Panel Opening
OK so here we go. Near the head of my bed in the RV is a magazine rack. It's really good at smacking me in the head at night. I figured it should be a cinch to remove and cover the 4 small screw holes thus fixing my cranial problems (no, not THOSE problems....if you have a couch and a LOT of time...maybe).

So I removed the screws pulled off the rack and BEHOLD there was another reason for it being there. It covers the access to the shower plumbing! OK, I'll admit that it was a good idea to have access to this. I'm sure it will eventually leak and need fixing.

I knew I was essentially stuck with the magazine rack now. I could have just covered the hole with a piece of something, though it would never match and I really didn't want a mirror next to my head. Especially given that I would have to see myself early in the morning, waking up. NOT a good thing, trust me. Truth be told, I've been using the magazine rack as a spot to store my cell phone...tablet, etc. overnight. I figured it would be nice to be able to plug them in to charge as well. The nearest 12 Volt outlet was under the vanity sink on the facing. I was plugging in there, but the cord runs across the bathroom door. Not much fun for middle of the night bathroom visits!
Vanity 12 Volt Socket
Nice Hole!
I took the, now removed, magazine rack outside and drilled a hole that was almost the diameter of the inner section of the 12 Volt socket. It was an odd size, and all I had was 3/4" or 1". Then filed the hole to fit the socket snugly -- all done outside to keep the bits of wood and sawdust inside to a minimum.

 I thought I was being smart and proactive!

The outer sleeve of the socket screws onto the inner sleeve and clamps down on the wood surrounding the hole. I screwed it down and realized the wood veneer used as the back of the magazine rack was far too thin to allow the socket to be tightened properly. I resorted to using a couple of large o-rings to bridge the gap. This works OK, for now, but I will likely cut a small block of wood and bore a whole for the inner socket at a later date. I can also screw this to the frame of the magazine rack so it will have more strength to resist plugging and unplugging chargers without cracking or breaking.

Back Of The Magazine Rack
I placed the rack back against the hole. Sort of. Seems that the cold water pipe to the back of the shower valve was blocking the socket. Oh good. I managed to move the old grey piping over a few inches toward the hot water pipe and taped them together; after it was all fitted I would have used a couple of zip ties to secure everything. That's when I realized the 4 screws on the magazine rack wouldn't line up! What was really happening was the access hole is MUCH smaller then the outside edges of the magazine rack. I had to cut a slot on the bottom left side to accommodate the 12 volt socket. At least I could release the water pipes! I didn't like that they would be under additional stress anyway.

Cutting the thin veneer paneling made a huge mess of wood chips and sawdust that, of course, was now all over the bed. Figures. At least it fit in properly now. Now to wire it all up and test.

Uncovered Wiring
Luckily there were already 12 Volt wires I could access through this opening. They're used for the wall sconce by the bed and the sealed light in the shower wall itself. I don't like to cut wires that are working so I shaved off the insulation on one side of each wire, made sure I knew which was positive and which was negative, then tapped into it with a "T."

I soldered them...did I mention I use heat shrink Yes. I forgot to put that on the first wire and had to take the joint apart to slide it on, then re-solder. I have this 7 "P" rule. Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Piss, Poor, Performance. I try to follow that, most of the time I am successful. The second wire joint worked out much easier. Make sure that the fuse to the existing wires will handle the additional load and the wires are sized to carry the load you will be drawing from the socket. Mine was OK.

Badly Photographed Finished Product
Once replaced and screwed all together I plugged in a few chargers to make sure everything was working. It worked! Looked OK too.

For an easy project, it wasn't so easy. Not because the steps are complicated, just that you never know what problems will come up and have to be solved to reach the finish line.

Now for a good night sleep. I'll have to watch my head, but at least I have power and an unobstructed path to the bathroom!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


  1. Heh, this is why I simply got a deep surface mount outlet box and a cigarette outlet that came mounted in a standard face plate, then I simply had to do was make a hole for the wires and mount the box and the outlet over the top :).

    1. Big Matt,
      Yes, but that would be WAY too easy ;)

      Rich "The Wanderman"

  2. My concern has always been where to find the wiring in the coach. We have a class C and have no clue where the wiring is. Would love to put in a 12v socket next to the bed so when we are not hooked up to shore power I can use my inverter to run my CPAP machine. I currently run an extension cord to the front of the rig where there is a 12v socket. Should I simply run some wiring under the rig to the fuse pane which is under a corner of the bed box? That seems the simplest route.

  3. Anon,
    Every coach is different...that being said, the easiest way to find 12 Volt wiring is to look for existing fixtures (eyeball lamps, overheads, etc) usually there is a line going to that fixture. For a medical device, such as a CPAP machine (running on an inverter) I would likely run a NEW line from the fuse panel to wherever you'd like it to be. Make sure the wire is sized so that whatever your inverter will pull, currentwise will not melt the wire, cause a fire or blow the fuse.

    Rich "The Wanderman"

  4. The story is good timing as I want to do this as well, so I can have power to my CPAP which by the way will run on 12V. I do not have to have the inverter running. This saves me from using too much power. Thanks for a good article. :-)

    1. Anon,
      Glad that worked out. So few things do!

      Rich "The Wanderman"


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