Killing Your Power Pig


There’s an angry monster beneath the floors of your RV!

Meet the Power Pig
Meet the Power Pig

Meet the Power Pig!  He’s with you every where you go and some RV’ers don’t even know he travels with them.  Most of the time he’s pretty quiet until you here his universal anger call:  “Click” — heard right at the time he bites into your power cable and trips the breaker when you’ve been using too much electricity.

Ok — if you always pull into posh RV campgrounds you may never have met him.  But if you mooch-dock in the driveways of friends and family, so that you have to live with 15 amps of electric service then you have surely met him/her — I have never been sure whether power pigs reproduce asexually, or not.  Anyway….

201108061058FAMILY2217
The power center in our Winnebago (note the gauge second from the top)
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The power panel in our Holiday Rambler (note the top gauge)

Taking time to learn about your (a.) power consumption and (b.) what each circuit breaker in your RV controls is good for anyone who RV’s.  Sometimes it’s easier  to know how much power you’re consuming if you pay attention to the power panel in your RV.  If yours is like ours when you are on anything but 50 amp service you’ll get a readout of how much power you are using.  If you note the amount of draw before turning on another appliance and then note the amount of power being consumed AFTER turning it on you can subtract one from the other and determine the electric draw of that appliance.  If you have NOTHING turned on you can determine your parasitic draw — those things that are always on:  fridge, CO monitor, clocks, pilot lights, etc..

The Kill-a-Watt will help you determine your power usage.
The Kill-a-Watt will help you determine your power usage.

Another, slightly more accurate and boys-toyishly elegant is to use something like a Kill-a-Watt meter.  These are available from the likes of The Home Depot and Lowes, as well as Amazon.com and hardware stores across the land.

These handheld size meters plug into the wall receptacle on the back side, and you plug your appliance into the front plug and voila — instant usage info.

Those of us who boondock — whether it’s just overnights en route with Wallyworld or Uncle Cabela’s, or weeks at a time on BLM property — pay a little bit more attention to how much power we’re pulling.  Even though it’s rude and impolite to be extending leveling jacks and slide-outs when you’re overnighting at Uncle Cabela’s , or at Wallyworld,  it’s no fun to awaken in the morning and discover that you’re worn and old batteries gave up their last gasp during the night and now you can’t retract those slides that you shouldn’t have extended in the first place because you’ve got no battery juice left.    Or, even worse, you’ve been boondocking for 5 days, you’re ready to leave and you haven’t got enough power even with your Momentary switch thrown to crank up the generator or your engine.   If talking about the ‘momentary’ switch throws you for a loop — look around on your dashboard — a lot of us have a switch up there somewhere that is designed just for those weak battery days.  The switch is spring loaded — you don’t want to leave it on very long — and it couples your house and chassis batteries together long enough to give your starter motor an extra kick and get your engine started.

Take some time to learn about your usage!

You may not always be able to find a 50 amp plug in.  Sometimes — we’ve discovered this at Corps of Engineer campgrounds out there in more remote locations — those 50 amp power posts aren’t really delivering 50 amps.  Sometimes they are delivering only 30 amps even though they are labeled 50 amps.  Knowing what you can run on limited power is key to enjoying your RV time to the max.EMS-PT50C

We use an RV 50 amp line monitor.  In the first place, the monitor checks the power before it ever allows juice into the RV — for 126 seconds it simply monitors what’s happening to the delivered power, checking volts, ground, differential between the two power legs, etc.  If the power is too dirty it won’t open the valve to the coach.  If the power is within parameters in 2 minutes.  The box will also cut power to the coach if something happens on the supply side, and there’s a little readout that tell you the voltage on each leg (your 50 amp 220V power supply is sort of like two different 110 volt power supplies hooked together — simplified), and how much current you are drawing on each leg, as well as monitoring for various faults.

don't use this one
We were NOT happy with this one. When it failed prematurely, we did not replace it with like kind.

We used to have a different power protector.  I don’t recommend this one.  We bought it while we were in Oregon.  It lasted a few months and failed.  We might have been able to get it replaced but we realized there were some serious design issues that made it impractical for us.

This less than satisfactory device is LONG — longer than several of the power stands were high off the ground, meaning that your plug to the coach was always lying on the ground; down there where it gets damp.  (Specially in Oregon)  Secondly, the device says it wants to operate vertically.  Don’t support it so that it’s laying horizontally.  Once it failed I found what we think is a better solution; the one I first mentioned.  power regulator

There is another model that I almost tried.  Now, I almost wish I had gone with this one instead.  It has a longer cord to attach to the power post, it has feet to raise it off the ground, in case of little puddles, and it’s supposed to actually REGULATE power, instead of just turning off dirty power.

Now — I’m not an electrician.  In fact, electricity scares the heeby-jeebies out of me.  But I’m big on protection.  We have been in parks where power surges have burnt out electrical systems in multiple RV’s in short order.  We have heard of power posts wired wrong,  and on the Forest (while in Oregon) we lived with some serious line voltage problems — so from here on we’re taking the attitude that a pound of prevention is better than a kilogram of cure!

So, there you have my wanderings for Tuesday.  Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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2 Comments

  1. Very nicely done, Peter! Lots of good info here. We also invested in a digital readout surge protector for our RV last year, and so far, it discovered a power pole that had issues at one of our favorite state park camping sites. It was our first time to pull in that particular site, so we just boondocked overnight and changed sites the next morning when the office opened. We have since noticed that the park folks repaired that pole, too. We are definitely sold on using one of these devices now.

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    1. Yup. Just because the site may be at a reputable location does not mean that the site is up to snuff. Mistakes happen. One of our local Corps campgrounds contracted a major re-plumbing after getting flooded out. The licensed contractor came in and did the job. The following spring they tore everything up and did the job over again because someone forgot to glue all the PVC joints — just cuz you hire someone to do the job who SHOULD know how to do it does not mean they will do what they should — regardless the trade.

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