Campground power pedestal failures (Reader Poll included)

Campground power pedestal failures (Reader Poll included)

 

My column last week on open pedestal grounds (Campsite power pedestal safety: “open ground” danger) must have caused quite a stir with our readers since my inbox has received a bunch of questions and stories about similar incidents around the country. Here’s just one of them:

“For the first time in a year of full-timing my EMS protector gave an error code of “open ground.” I informed the campground owner, who did not understand the warning. I was able to plug into the site next to us, which was OK. Although the owner said an electrician would show up the next day, one did not appear for the week we were there. I hope the next users of that site have a protector.” —Steven Scheinin

There are way too many questions to answer in a single column, so I’m going to have to break them down into a spreadsheet to make sure I cover everything properly over the next several issues. But here are my initial thoughts on this situation.

There are three main parties responsible for keeping your RV electrically safe so that it won’t shock or electrocute anyone.

MH electrical panel

First, there are the manufacturers, and the electrical codes that specify how they’re built. Having studied a lot of modern RV electrical systems in general, I would say that as RVs come from the factory they are electrically very safe. I’ve only seen one or two RVs that had an electrical failure due to a poor build on the assembly line. So, as designed by the manufacturers and built in their factories, all (or at least 99.9%) modern RV are extremely safe electrically. So I would give them an A for their part in electrical safety for RVs.

Campground pedestal

Second, there are the campgrounds. As specified by the NEC (National Electrical Code), all campground electrical pedestals are designed and built to be safe. However, during campsite installation some of them appear to be miswired and never properly tested. And there seems to be little or no maintenance on the vast majority of older campground pedestals.

To top it off, most campground “electricians” seem to have very little understanding of how RV electrical systems work and ways to troubleshoot any problems such as an open ground. I have hundreds of emails in my files from readers where campground electricians said their was nothing wrong with a pedestal that was shocking an RV owner, or giving their EMS (electrical management systems) an open ground code. Unfortunately I don’t have a list of campgrounds with dangerous pedestals, so I can’t flunk that part of the industry as a whole. (You all know I’m an adjunct professor, right?) However, I can give the campground industry a D for electrical safety since they don’t seem to be doing their job or taking it seriously.   

Electrical testers

Third, it’s you the camper who are ultimately responsible for your own electrical safety. And that can mean purchasing voltage testers and aftermarket products such as surge protectors and electrical management systems, as well as visually monitoring campground pedestals for obvious signs of wear. Plus, you should never accept a campsite with a pedestal that doesn’t pass basic electrical tests for voltage and grounding. And this goes BIG TIME when you plug into a friend’s house or even your own garage outlet for an RV sitting in the driveway. While a simple wall outlet looks less dangerous than a 50-amp/240-volt shore power plug, it’s just as dangerous in terms of shock potential.

To help educate you all, I’ve written hundreds of articles on how to test electrical outlets for proper voltage and grounding, and I developed the test of using a NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Tester) as a final check on your RV’s ground. Plus, I’ve answered hundreds of questions about what causes an RV hot-skin voltage and how to troubleshoot them. You must be learning, since many of you are answering others correctly about measuring outlets safely.

So, because many of my readers on RVtravel.com are actually trying to be safe, I’m going to give you a C+ (maybe B-) grade. Yes, you could be doing a lot better, but the majority of time you seem to be hooking up to shore power safely. However, anyone who feels a shock from the RV and doesn’t immediately disconnect from shore power until the problem is fixed gets an automatic F for failure. There’s simply no excuse for allowing a dangerous shock situation to exist.

So please take the poll below and answer if you’ve ever found a campground pedestal that showed it had a failed ground, low or high voltage, reversed polarity, or anything else unsafe. Then feel free to leave your comments and/or questions below.

Let’s play safe out there….

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 40 years in the industry. Visit NoShockZone.org for more electrical safety tips. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.

##RVT806

 

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24 thoughts on “Campground power pedestal failures (Reader Poll included)

  1. CB Roberts

    I have been using one of these for years – quick and easy – I rigged up a way to use two of them to quickly test 50 amp outlets – I used to buy them directly from the company but now they can be found on Amazon

    Prime Products 12-4058 AC Power Line Monitor
    Wiring tester
    Voltage monitor
    For your personal safety and appliance protection
    Outlet surge voltage protection
    3 digit digital AC voltage display

    This will not only test for correct polarity and ground but will show voltage – under $30

  2. JB

    I can’t stress the proper use of an EMS enough. One time you don’t have it and BOOM…you will wish you did. If anyone thinks a good quality EMS is costly…try replacing blown out circuit boards on appliances a time or two. Nothing about RV’s is cheap anymore so why take chances?

    1. Mike Sokol

      If your insurance deductible is $500, then an EMS is a no-brainer. Remember, an inexpensive “Surge Protector” is not the same thing since it can’t disconnect your RV from an over-voltage source. Expect to pay $250 to $400 for a real EMS. I’ll do an article on how to tell the difference in a future piece.

  3. DaveG

    We have had a Progressive Industries hardwired unit for years. Recently it saved us from problems that would have cost many times the units price to repair. We checked in to a CG near Joshua Tree NP. When we plugged in the Progressive unit indicated no ground. I contacted the CG office and they moved me to another site in the same row. Same indication, so I called the office back, they told me my Progressive unit was defective and that they had seen many problems like that, go ahead and stay at the site there will be no problems. Well I believe my Progressive unit, not the desk clerk. I moved to another row and had no problems indicated. That told me there was a ground problem at the sub panel for the row.

    Bottom line, get power protection and use it.

    1. Mike Sokol

      That can create a very dangerous “reflected hot-skin” condition. If any of the RVs in that row of campground had a live-to-ground short, it would have electrified the chassis of EVERY RV in that row. And even though your Progressive EMS would have shut down your power and alerted you to a failed ground, it can’t disconnect you from a “hot” ground. Both UL and the NEC won’t allow an EGC Safety Ground (Equipment Grounding Conductor) to be switched off with a relay, so the EMS can only warn you about it, not disconnect you from it. For more information on this dangerous condition see my previous column at https://rvtravel.com/beware-of-dangerous-reflected-hot-skin-condition/. And if you look and can’t find the name Reflected Hot Skin (RHS) listed anywhere else, it’s because I had to identify and name this condition myself. It’s not really identified or named in the code, so I had to come up with my own verbiage. But believe me, it does exist.

  4. Bob Godfrey

    Mike,
    We just encountered an unusual situation at a COE park in northern Pennsylvania and that is that the park does not allow testing of their power pedestals whatsoever. Since we use a surge protector I simply plugged in and made sure we had the correct lights on the device but I was surprised that the COE has such a policy.

    1. Mike Sokol

      What’s the name and location of this park? I’m really curious.

      1. Bob Godfrey

        Lake Hammond COE park in Tioga, PA. It specifically stated that no device of any kind other than a plug could be used on their pedestals to include testing devices if I remember correctly.

        1. Wolfe

          “Try to stop me.”

          After investing 5 digits in my rig, and “kinda wanting” to stay alive, I’ll test anything I suspect needs testing, anytime or place.

          1. Mike Sokol

            They’re a 4 hour drive from me, so I can’t just jump in my truck to visit them. But I will call the campground to confirm what their testing policy actually is.

  5. Diane

    After over 20 years of motorhoming finally did something. Thanks to all these articles lately just bought a 50AMP Progressive unit. Didn’t wait for my husband, I ordered it. Will try it at home as we park our motorhome on our property. Leaving soon for 2 weeks at a RV park that is very nice, but never really sure about being up to date or their maintenance practices. Will be interesting. We have had same site for 8 years. One issue we have had that no one has been able to answer. At some campgrounds, not all, we get a clicking sound coming from our power box from a solenoid after plugging in. It eventually stops. Anyone know what this might be?

  6. Joel Lefkowitz

    I have had many instances of open ground readings on my progressive industries EMS unit. Seems to be happening more frequently or else I am choosing CG’s poorly. My coach uses a 30 amp connection..The last time I had a problem there were no more open sites at the CG so I tried plugging into the 50 amp side with a dog bone adapter and got a safe reading. Utilized that source until the CG could correct the problem.

    1. Mike Sokol

      That’s likely because the 30-amp outlets get a lot more use than the 50-amp outlets at this campground, so they’re more worn out. Once the outlet contacts lose spring tension the chances of getting a poor connections goes way up.

  7. Bill

    Have seen low voltage a few times, hot and neutral reversed, had a hot skin when plugged in at my parent’s house, and often trip GFCI breakers if I plug in to a 15 or 20 amp just to keep the batteries charged – does the bonded ground on the generator do that?

    1. Mike Sokol

      Bill, from your description I would guess that you have a hot-to-chassis leakage current inside your RV. It could be from something like a pin-hole leak in your hot water heater element, a microwave with a aging power transformer, water in a junction box, or even a secondary neutral-ground bond inside your RV electrical system. BTW a secondary G-N bond is a big no-no and very dangerous. A generator Neutral-Ground bond won’t cause GFCI tripping because it should be disconnected from your RV’s electrical system when you’re running from shore power, either by your transfer switch or by unplugging it from the shore power plug.

  8. Wolfe

    Statistically, i think Mike should have asked “per X sites, how many…” Since some folks park for long periods. I move every 3-4 days when not home, and average finding an open ground every 7-8 sites, or about every month here in central NY. Therefore open grounds are COMMON.

    I’ve only found Reverse Polarity (would have hot chassis’d) at one site in past 5 years.

    1. Mike Sokol

      I might have to do another poll to gather that additional information. When I dreamed this up I thought that maybe a few percent of campers had experienced power issues at campgrounds. But now that we’re seeing over 50%, that’s a new situation entirely. This is a really important topic to discuss.

  9. George

    I find it difficult to fathom so few campers have found problems. In my 42 years of RVing I have encountered more than a dozen campgrounds with issues. Is everyone testing the way they should?? Your safety is up to you.

    1. Mike Sokol

      60% is significant, but I agree that most campers are not testing their power properly. So the actual percentage is probably higher.

  10. Bill

    So far I have not come across any of the four situations asked by your question, but I have seen a few pedestals with cracked, broken or scorched receptacles. I let the campground owners know right away and move to another spot. My background is 25+ years in the aircraft maintenance business and I know all to well what open ground situations can cause.

    1. Mike Sokol

      Visual inspection is your first line of testing. If something looks iffy, then you should do extra testing to assure the power is safe. Brand new outlets are also suspect since they may never have been tested at all.

  11. Kate

    We always check on any complaints before using the site again. They always check OK. One camper came in and had a bad report on his system checker and so he tried another pedestal with the same report, and then said he had had a bad reading at his previous campground. He called the store he had bought the system checker and they said that they had had some bad ones and overnighted a new one which gave perfect readings. Also I have also been able to correct the problem by having the camper disconnect and reconnect. Often they have not plugged in solidly, especially at twist-lock connections. Also their plug will show having been previously overheated, especially if they are using an adapter. My electrician is good about checking things out and usually finds fault with the RV cord. He understands RV electricity as he has owned a RV sales and service business also. Twice the problem was in pedestals under a year old that had a loose wire. Another time the problem was in an RV electrical system which had been redone by an amateur electrician the owner had loaned his rig to. When the owner redid it to original configuration everything was fine. He was not happy with his brother-in-law.

  12. Tom G

    Have a hard-wired protection system. Went to an RV Park in Yuma arriving on a Saturday. As typical for a certain resort chain the office closes at noon Saturday. Went to my assigned site and plugged in to the 50-amp service. Had a bad ground indication that wouldn’t allow electricity to flow. Called emergency number on office door and they said they’d have soomeone look at it on Monday. [We were leaving Monday morning so that wouldn’t help.] They said they would send an electrician out to look at it.Showed him the problem and he said the pedestal and said it was correct. Showed him the fault indicator and he said my fault system was faulty and he wouldn’t do anything. I found out the 30-amp plug was wired correctly so I only used one AC unit on my 38-foot rig in a bazing hot sun. Needless to say I now try and aviod that particular resort system.

  13. Grumpyoldtimer

    We have had low voltage issues at several CGs, usually in hot weather when everyone is running their air conditioners. We have never(so far) experienced any other issues in over 5 years with this coach.. We have a Progressive Industries EMS hard wired in our coach. The only other issues we have experienced is the EMS shutting off the power when there is lightening in the area, either a spike or temporary power outage.
    I highly recommend the Progressive EMS.

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