Campground power pedestal testing, Part 2 (with Reader Poll)

Campground power pedestal testing, Part 2 (with Reader Poll)

 

This is the follow-up article to my column from two weeks ago when I asked how many of you had measured electrical problems for your shore power. Here’s a link to the original article and survey

As you can see, of the 813 readers who took the survey, 57% of them had encountered low or high voltage, reversed hot-neutral polarity, or a failed ground. Of course this was a simple 10-second survey, so I’ll need a little more information before I can speculate exactly what is going on. But that seems like a really high percentage.

So here’s the follow-up poll. Please click on your response and you’ll see how readers have responded so far. Feel free to add comments below.

Another interesting thing happened from the first survey. If you look at the comments section below the article, one reader noted that a COE (Corps of Engineers) campground in Pennsylvania wouldn’t allow them to use a meter to test pedestal voltages, as follows:

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.
It’s Lake Hammond COE park in Tioga, PA. They 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. —Bob Godfrey

Thanks, Bob…

So, me being me, I called this particular campground and asked them if it was the policy that you couldn’t meter the pedestal voltage. I talked to Ranger George, who was able to fill me in on the situation.

Indeed, this particular COE campground and the neighboring COE campgrounds in the Baltimore district have enacted a policy as of last year NOT to allow campers to use a meter to “probe” the pedestal outlets for voltage. The reason for this is that the COE now requires that anyone measuring pedestal outlets with a meter and probes is required to be trained, and to wear PPE gear (Personal Protection Equipment) such as safety glasses and non-polyester clothing. This is to prevent anyone from being burned by something called an Arc Flash, which is a big fireball of super-heated copper vapor. Very bad stuff that we have to watch out for with high power electrical system. Really cheap volt meters and ones set to the wrong function can literally explode if they’re used incorrectly.

So these COE campgrounds now hire an outside electrical contractor to test every single pedestal each spring before camping season kicks in. Plus, NOBODY is allowed to replace a damaged pedestal themselves, and work campers are never allowed to wire in a replacement pedestal. I did ask what voltage, current and ground resistance tests were being performed, but the ranger didn’t know. I will follow up with the contractor to determine if they’re actually doing a Ground Loop Impedance Test, which is the Gold Standard for electrical outlet testing.

This campground DOES allow you to use a plug-in meter of your choice to test power. So any EMS unit such as Progressive Surge Protector with a voltage readout is OK to use, as would be any plug-in tester such as the Prime Products AC Power Line Monitor.

Of course, you’ll need to add a dog-bone adapter of some sort to plug the Prime Products tester into a 30- or 50-amp outlet. Bottom line is that they’re trying to protect campers from endangering themselves by using a volt-meter with probes incorrectly.

So, do I think this is a good idea? Well, since they’re now performing yearly tests on every single pedestal using a licensed contractor, and they’re only allowing licensed electricians to perform maintenance on the pedestals, and you can still check the outlet voltage yourself with a plug-in type tester, I think this is a great step in the right direction. In fact, I’ve often said that ALL campgrounds should adopt a policy of yearly pedestal outlet testing and maintenance by licensed contractors.

In summary, if yearly voltage and ground testing was being done on all pedestals in a campground by a licensed contractor, and only licensed electricians were allowed to rewire or replace pedestals, and all I had to give up was my mulit-meter with probes, them I’m in 100%. However, I would like to see a tag and date system so you could see when each pedestal was tested and the initials of the technician performing the test. And you can still use your NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Tester) to check the final connection into your RV for a hot-skin voltage.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Not sure? Let me know and I’ll include the best comments in a future column. In the meantime, 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.

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17 thoughts on “Campground power pedestal testing, Part 2 (with Reader Poll)

  1. T, Barone

    As a retired industrial maintenance electrician who worked for a major US industrial company our practice was only fully trained and qualified personnel could check any electrical source with a meter or test any electrical circuit for a de-energized state for LOTO. Additionally no testing could be performed on any equipment or electrical circuit no mater what the voltage with out wearing NFPA 70E approved arc flash clothing and personnel protective equipment . This included your underware had to cotton, and all outer wear had be FR rated for the potential arc flash hazard. All personnel were also required to wear a hard hat with flash shield, balaclava, and electrical rated rubber gloves with leather protectors rated for the source voltage. Why all this, it’s the rule and I have seen personnel burned from an arc flash from 120 volt 20 amp short circuits to as large as 4160 volt 800 amp short circuits. The results can be minor burns to devastating injuries, fortunately no one died but one man is severely handicap from his error. In addition I have seen people receive a shock from holding wet or damaged probes, or just touching the metal probe and not aware. We had not had an electrical injury after the implementation of NFPA 70E rules. Me I carry a hard hat with face shield, gloves rated to 600 volts and I have FR rated coveralls for any electrical testing I perform, and I have a progressive surge protector in my coach. I may look a bit odd, but I’m alive. So I agree with the campground rule, but as previously stated some type of ID tag with the electricians license number and date on every electrical outlet would give some assurance of qualification and an annual state inspection for verification.

    1. Mike Sokol

      Back in the mid 70’s I was an EE working at a large warehouse, and in charge of training our electricians for safety protocols. This was back when OSHA was first established, so they were making the rounds at big industrial facilities to familiarize us with electrical safety issues. One of the things they were adamant about was arc-flash safety. So I had to look at dozens of photographs of electricians who had suffered through those horrible burns from arc-flash explosions. Of course, many of them died as well. Since then I’ve been VERY careful about any sort of electrical measurements and connections/disconnects. That’s another reason I won’t use cheap meters…. Get one across a high voltage accidentally and it can turn into a bomb right in your hands.

  2. erid devolin

    We had a 37′ 5th wheel that I installed a 50 amp PD unit in and had it shut down the electric system quite a few times before we sold it. We downsized to a slide in truck camper and I purchased a 30 amp PD plug in unit which has shut down the electrical system over the past 3 years at least 6 times with both high & low voltages. and open grounds. I think that all camp grounds should have to do at least a yearly check by a licenced independent electrician with written doc. posted. In 2015 we stopped over night at a KOA with a serviced site and after checking in our PD unit showed an open ground, which led to a verbal assault by the office staff about my ability to inform them that they had a problem on the site which nobody previously complained about. A park worker appeared and wanted me to hook up to the other side of the pedestal which when I did showed the same problem. After a half hour of screwing around another worker appeared and I watched him remove the cover and to his amazement the ground wires were by the looks never connected. Later that evening we were visited by the owner and thanked for not leaving when this occurred. At the time I informed him that I would report this to KOA’s head office, and his reply was he didn’t care as they would do nothing as they had already done their inspection for the season. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!

  3. Sherry Dawson

    Thanks for this article. I’m capable with many things, but don’t know enough about electrical safety, so I read all your articles and those from other experts.

    I will initially be traveling in a small motorhome which uses only the 15 amp (household current) plug-in. I don’t feel comfortable testing the pedestal with a meter and probes. What do you recommend I buy to test with and to protect my camper? Also, may I safely use a short, heavy-duty extension cord with 3 outlets on the end so I can plug in other electrical items outdoors?

    1. Mike Sokol

      Sherry, good to hear from you. So does your RV have a 15-amp shore power plug, just like you would plug into a home wall outlet?

      1. Sherry Dawson

        Yes, it is original equipment with the camper–a heavy-duty 15′ cord.

  4. Phil Atterbery

    A COE lawyer must have just settled a liability case involving an RV and a park electrical system.
    My recent purchase of a EMS device has paid for itself already. Once in a low voltage condition and once in an open ground condition.
    I’m a believer. I don’t want to be that guy that allows the “magic smoke” that is electricity to escape.

  5. Don Rose

    The second question should be four separate responses. Low voltage is all I’ve ever seen.

  6. mike

    I have a Progressive, so I usually just leave it to that. A plug in device should be fine for most folks. If you want to use your DVM, plug in your cord, then make your measurements on the trailer end of the cord. They can’t stop you from doing that.

  7. Wolfe

    This may be philosophical, but I don’t give a hoot for Nanny policies. My property, my life at risk, I’ll check however I see fit. If a newb blows up his meter, not my issue (and provided the pedestal wasn’t wrong, not the campsite’s issue either). Maybe a “test at your own risk policy” is OK, but not a supposed ban.

  8. Robbie

    They’ll have a hard time prying my voltage tester out of my hand, anywhere. Not allowing the pedestals to be checked, sets them up for being sued for repairs and more.

  9. Petro

    Depending on the length of time the campground is open (seasonal to all year) I would think that the pedestals should be check more often the longer the season is. Once a year doesn’t seem good enough when the sites could be used year round. How many “rookies” are going to be using the site and what mistakes / damage can be done to the electrical system between “checkups”?

  10. Jeff

    I can’t believe the number of people who DO NOT check the Power Pedestal before plugging in. I use a Progressive Industries 50 Surge Protector with Voltage readout. An Excellent product and has saved my Bacon Or RV several times. From reversed polarity to protecting my RV from a Lightning Strike at my Home. IT IS WORTH EVERY PENNY TO INVEST IN A QUALITY ONE! Progressive Industries have the best and there is a Life Time Warranty on them as well.

    As for my experience with the Lightning Strike at my home: My RV is parked in a Large Shed, completely covered from the Elements. It is wired for 50 Amp Service and I have the RV plugged in all the time. Anyway, I had a major Thunderstorm come thru one evening and a LARGE Bolt of lightning struck in my back yard. WHAT A CRACK that was! Long story short, I went out in the morning to check the RV. I found that the back of the Surge Protector Case was actually BLOWN off the unit! The lightning also tripped my 60 Amp breaker at the power pole. The surge was strong enough to toast the Surge protector and caused the rear of the case to blow off. The RV was OK and the Surge Guard did it’s job. The Surge Guard was toast! I sent it back to Progressive Industries and they replaced it with a Brand New one. Thank you Progressive Industries.

    At any rate, I think people are very foolish for not having these devices on their very expensive RV’s! It is a worthwhile INVESTMENT!

    GET ONE FOR YOUR RV TODAY!

  11. JB

    I would NEVER plug anything into an RV pedestal without checking voltage first…and using a good quality EMS,one time not doing it and the electric monster will bite you in the wallet when you least expect it. You would be surprised at the RV parks out there that have no idea,or cover up the facts,about their pedestal power.I have ran into a few.

  12. Bob Sobolewski

    My family just stayed at Hammond Dam last week. I was surprised that you couldn’t check the pedestal voltage. When I asked I received the same answer. Ther wasn’t a problem using a surge protector. By the way it’s a great campground.

  13. BlueMoose

    Very interesting that it was the Ives Run campground st Lake Hammond in Tioga PA. We stayed there in late October 2016 for a couple of days. Our Motorhome has a hard-wired Progressive EMS. Every night the EMS would trip several times. When I would check the error code on the panel it was always due to high voltage, over 132v. I reported it to the camp host. Never saw a ranger. Wasn’t fixed before we left.

  14. Darrel

    We have a built in EMS that does the testing for us when we plug in. Power does not pass into the coach if there is an issue.

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