RV Electricity

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UNDER CONSTRUCTION,  updated 08/25/2020

A lot of us are unsure of how our RV electricity works and what we need, to get our appliances running. All is well as long as it does what it needs to do but once there is a problem we need to know how it works because that is the way we can troubleshoot. In this post, we explain RV electricity with easy to understand terms and examples. We first start out naming the various components of the 120 volts and the 12 volts systems and a little explanation. Later on, we dive deeper into the electricity functions of each individual part.

CONTENT:

TOOLS
AC
DC


TOOLS

Every RVer should have some multimeters to test the pedestal and use it as a troubleshooting tool.
See this video link  Basic uses of a multimeter for RVers

The best multi-meters to use I my opinion are these;

 

Proster 6000 Counts Clamp Multimeter Digital Auto-Ranging Tester AC DC Current Voltage Clamp Meter with Temperature NCV TRMS Continuity Capacitance Resistance Frequency Diode Hz Test

https://www.amazon.com/Proster-Auto-Ranging-Capacitance-Temperature-Non-Contact/dp/B075Z1GH5L/
(It has a clamp to measure amps and auto range for voltages and resistance.)

Using a clamp meter :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-KfZvbjyBY to measure Amps (current)
Using a multimeter to measure voltage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc-iqwJRokk

Non-Contact Voltage Tester 100-600V
To detect voltage without touching anything!

How-To RV Hot-Skin Shock Demonstration
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtT3te_XNBM

And if you want to test GFCI sockets this one;
I also use this one to just see if a socket is working.

How to check a regular Wall Outlet using this tester: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6ilpnbWt_I


To start with the RV electricity there are 2 distinct different sources, AC and DC

AC or alternating current
this takes care of running the microwave, coffee machine, instant pot, and the TV. In general everything you can plug into a wall socket but also your air conditioner.

AC is 120 volts like at home.

DC or direct current
this takes care of our lights, control boards, slide outs, and levelers to name a few.

DC is 12 volts and mainly provided by the batteries

Alternating current (AC) (120 volts)

 
120 volts AC

 

AC 120 volts is needed for:

Air conditioner
Microwave/convection oven
Water heater on electric
Refridgerator on electric
Converter (Makes 12 volts out of 120 volts)
Washer/Dryer
OPTIONAL:
Coffee machine, TV/DVD player, Instant pot, Charger for phone, camera, laptop, and everything else you would plug into a wall socket like at home.

RV pedestal
Pedestal
To run all our 120-volt appliances and gadgets we need to get 120 volts from somewhere, the easiest method is from the campground pedestal, using a so-called “dog bone” if necessary. First, make sure that you test the power, then plug in the cable and flip the breaker.  Usually, the pedestal is on the driver side.See this link to read about “dog bones” and how to test a pedestal. Campground power (shore power) can be flaky because the load will vary depending on the weather (many air conditioners running) and the constant plugin and unplug on the pedestal it is less reliable than at home. A pedestal is always outside and may have insects inside that can make it unusable. Therefore you need to test it but also have a surge protector or EMS to prevent damaging the RV.See this link for a surge protector and EMS discussion

Generator
Generator
A generator will provide you with the same 120 volts as a cable but uses the fuel you have to provide. Depending on your RV you have to plug the power cable into a different socket or directly into the generator. Motorhomes generally have an auto transfer switch that can automatically provide the power from the shore power or generator. Some built-in generators use the fuel that is also running your engine. They will stop if there is only 1/4 tank left so you do not get stranded.

Inverter
Inverter
An inverter can make 120 volts AC out of your 12 volts DC battery bank. Make sure you have enough batteries to provide enough power. The bigger the inverter the more overhead power it needs. Don’t mix up an inverter with a converter, the converter makes 12 volts DC out of 120 volts AC, the inverter makes 120 volts AC out of 12 volts DC.Watch this video and read the article to learn about Inverters and ConvertersPower inverters explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIqhAX0I7lI

Auto Transfer Switch
ATS (Auto Transfer Switch) (Not used in all RVs)
An auto transfer switch will automatically switch power without changing the cable between the generator and shore power. Most ATS will favor the generator and will not switch to shore power unless you stop the generator. In case you need to replace an ATS make sure you use the same amps.More about the ATS via this link from Mike Sokol

Breakers 20 amp/30 amp
Circuit Breakers
120-volt connections are protected by breakers. To reset a breaker switch it all the way to Off and then to On again, you should hear a click.
GFCI outlet contains a sensor that monitors the flow of the electrical current through the wires, and when it senses a ground fault (in electrical terms, “fault” means any variation from the normal current), the GFCI, which also contains an internal switch, shuts off the flow of electricity in the outlet.

In RVs here are multiple outlets daisy-chained so you need to know where every outlet is and check all of them. When one is tripped upstream then all the downstream outlets will not work.

Direct current (DC) 12 volts

DC explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV6tZ3Aqfuc

Deep-cycle RV battery
Depending on your RV the (house) batteries provide 12 volts for;

Inverter (Makes 120 volts out of 12 volts)
Lights (Inside/Outside)
Thermostat (Heater or air conditioner)
Furnace control board and fan
Refrigerator/freezer control board (And fans if so equipped)
Ice machine water valve
Water heater control board
Slideouts
Levelers/Stabilizers
Outside doorstep
Remote door lock and/or Storage locks
Generator start
Electric awnings
Water pump
Bathroom and kitchen fan
LP/CO alarm, Smoke detector (Unless on batteries)

NOTE: Most motorized RVs have one or two separate starter batteries, they are only used for starting the engine.

Want to know what to buy? Follow this link from Thomas to a great article that explains the cost and usage.
Also, watch his video on Youtube

How a (car) battery works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnPRX5zQWLw

Converter
CONVERTER
A converter provides 12 volts in case you have 120 volts via shore power or the generator. It converts the 120 volts AC to 12 volts DC and takes over from the batteries and/or charges the batteries.
(See batteries for 12 volts consumers)NOTE: The converter will not work when there is no 120 volts.Watch this video and read the article to learn about Inverters and Converters

Battery charger
Charging the batteries
You surely can charge your batteries using a battery charger. We do that in the winter when we remove the batteries and store them in the garage.
Other options are:
While driving the engine alternator charges the batteries
Solar panels will also charge the batteries
Generator via the converter or inverter-charger
Shore power via the converter or inverter-charger
NOTE:
A converter makes 12 volts DC from 120 volts AC

RV Solar
 A note about solar panels;
Solar panels are only for charging batteries, nothing runs directly from the solar panel. In addition to the panels, you need a charge controller that regulates the charge voltage and sufficient batteries to store the power that the panels generate. Often times they also talk about the inverter although it is technically not part of a solar panel setup it is sized to match the power consumption and the battery’s capacity.A great 15 video series about solar by Thomas from I’m Not Lost I’m RVing click here!.

FUSES Automotive
A lot of 12 volts lights and vehicle functions are protected with blade type fuses
Fuses other than automotive
There are a lot of different fuse types for 12 volts. Sometimes an inline fuse, a glass fuse, or just a resettable fuse. Inline fuses are often used in water heaters and furnaces or fuses that are accessible on a control board. Whenever you find a fuse or fuse box take a picture and save it on your computer, in that way you can find it again when needed.

 

COMPONENTS CHECK Coming soon

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