Old Diary, Travel

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….


The power center in our Winnebago (note the gauge second from the top)


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.

Old Diary, Travel

That OTHER Circuit Breaker

The other day I commented about the fact that when our friend Debbie and her dad came to visit that we had electrical problems.

Circuit Breakers

It’s a cute little breaker box, isn’t it!

I’m contemplating the vagaries of motorhome design.  Our new-to-us coach has a very conveniently located electrical panel. The panel is in a covered overhead storage bay on the curbside of the coach just forward of the back wall.  That makes sense because the batteries and inverter live directly below — in the rear two curbside storage bays.  In our Winnebago the electrical panel was on the end of the bed, down on the floor, behind a metal cover hinged at the top which kept trying to close while you were laying on the ground trying to see the circuit breakers.  [mumble, mumble, mumble]Our Electrical Cabinets

And the question comes to mind:
Given the fact that there is a perfectly nice electrical panel with excess space to the right, why did the engineers put all of the lounge outlets onto a circuit that terminates not in the electrical panel, but in a separate sub-panel on the side of the Inverter?

Magnum-InverterThe  inverter is a nice enough piece of electronics.  The original one (before our addition of solar panels) was a modified sine wave inverter, our new one is a true sine wave inverter but both of them had the same external circuit breaker setup.  And why they would put that OUTSIDE the coach is beyond me.

pure sine_mod sineI know some of you who are (like me) not terribly savvy about electronics may not know a lot about RV electric power.  If you have batteries in your RV and you want to run regular household appliances you need to convert that 12 VDC power into 110-120 VAC current.  The inverter is the machinery that does that work for you.  So, seeing as the inverter’s job is to change one kind of electricity into another — just why they put a 110 V circuit breaker down there on the the equipment that converts one kind of power into another is an obscure mystery.

The difference between the two forms of electrical waves is that the modified sine wave is cheaper to produce (cost of original equipment) but it gives you a voltage with … for the lack of a better term …. sudden jolts.  The power goes from zero volts to +110 volts instantly, then instantly back to zero volts and then instantly to  -110 volts.  A Pure Sine Wave inverter gives you the same 0 to 110 to 0 to -110 to 0 pattern, but in a smooth wave form, and not that jarring form that can be hard on different kinds of electrical power.  The more electronics you run the more susceptible you may be to problems.  Many machines will work just fine with modified sine wave; and as the modified sine wave inverters are developed and electronics are improved the problems seem to be lessened but they can still result in premature appliance failure.

The long and the short of it is that we found where our extra two circuit breakers are.  And now if we trip a breaker and we can’t find a tripped breaker INSIDE the coach we just go OUTSIDE and sure enough — there’s the little troublemaker!

And thus endeth our dissertation on strangely placed circuit breakers.  Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.