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:
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
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.