Campsite power pedestal safety: “open ground” danger

Campsite power pedestal safety: “open ground” danger

 

I just received this email from one of my readers who happens to be a Progressive Industries Surge Protector owner. I’ll explain why this situation is so dangerous after his email.

Mike,
Yesterday we arrived at a Corps of Engineers campground in Florida and after connecting our 50-amp power cable with a Progressive Industries Surge Protector, we had the power to the coach shut off. I checked the Progressive unit and it was indicating an error code PE2 — Open Ground. I immediately informed the office at the campground, by phone, of the problem. A short while later I walked to the office and spoke with the desk personnel there about the problem and briefly described the potential for RV hot skin, fire and/or electrocution that can be a result of an open ground. The individual seemed to have knowledge of these issues but told me that an electrician would not be coming to troubleshoot the pedestal until the next day. She also said that the people in the RV that had just left the site had not reported a problem.

When I described the warnings on our Progressive, she asked what it was. Soon thereafter a maintenance man showed up at our coach and I described the problem to him. Once again, he did not understand the problem. He even stated that he did not understand how this could potentially cause a shock hazard and also said that the electrician would be coming the next day. He asked if the Progressive Unit actually would show us what the problem was (open ground). Unwilling to risk any damages to mechanics, electric systems or people, we made a decision to leave the park and stay elsewhere. As we were leaving, we said goodbye to the people in the RV next to us, and they indicated that they were having problems with power surges.

Today I am going to contact the park and ask for a refund — we will see how that goes, given the lack of concern for an immediate fix for the problem. In ten years of full-timing, this is the second time we have discovered an open ground. The first time we got the same response from the campground folks; however, it was on a military installation and when I told them that I would go to the CO of the base, they sent an electrician quickly and it took him several hours to actually replace the pedestal and correct the problem.  —Max

Max,

Campground pedestal

Thanks for your detailed email. And you did exactly the right thing.

Progressive Industries EMS Surge Protector

The takeaway for your email is, never accept an open ground on a campsite power pedestal. While it might not be dangerous this time, you can never be sure that your RV won’t have developed a dangerous amount of leakage current inside its electrical system. For instance, the microwave oven can develop a leaky power transformer over time. Or the water heater element can have a pinhole leak due to corrosion. Or an extension cord can be hanging over a sharp piece of metal and cut through the insulation. Without a proper electrical safety ground from the campground pedestal through your pedestal power cable, the chassis and skin of your RV could then be electrified with a dangerous amount of fault current at 120 volts.

Any of the above (and similar scenarios) would be rendered harmless by a properly grounded pedestal connected to your RV’s chassis. But any of these same situations could become lethal without a ground in your shore power connection. Then all it would take is for you to be standing on the wet earth while you touch the door handle or steps of your RV. That’s when you could suffer a severe shock or even electrocution.

That’s why products like the Progressive Industries EMS Surge Protectors are so important to the safety of you and your family. Every time you plug your RV into a new pedestal you’ve created a new electrical system. And that system should always be tested for electrical safety.

Let’s play safe out there… Mike Sokol

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.

##RVT805

 

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19 thoughts on “Campsite power pedestal safety: “open ground” danger

  1. Marcel Ethier

    We have a Camping World surge protector but it does show if there is a ground fault. It only happened to us at one campground and when we called the office, they sent over a maintenance man who fixed the problem in no time at all. After he was finished, I plugged in the surge protector and it indicated clean power. Just to show you that some rv campgrounds take this matter seriously and to always have a surge protector. My previous protector was fried on a surge but was replaced (under warranty) by a better one.

    1. Mike Sokol

      What brand and model surge protector are you using now?

  2. nathan gilpin

    will a hot skin be prevented by an add-on such as Progressive. I use a Fluke tester.

    1. Mike Sokol

      Well, there’s two situations where a Progressive EMS won’t protect you from a hot-skin condition. First, if you have a loose ground wire inside of your RV’s circuit breaker panel, then because the EMS is upstream of the problem, there’s no way for it to find that condition. I’ve seen this a number of times when road vibration loosens the screws inside of the RV’s electrical box. The second condition is when there’s an outside hot ground. While the Progressive EMS will disconnect your hot leg(s) from the pedestal, it can’t disconnect the ground wire. So if you plug into an outlet miswired with an RPBG condition, then your RV power won’t come on, but its chassis and skin will be directly connected to the 120-volt line with full amperage available for a fault. Secondly, if you’re plugged into a pedestal loop that’s lost its ground/bond back to the service panel, then any other RV on that loop can energize all the RVs on that loop with a hot-skin voltage. It’s still best to use a NCVT as a quick test.

  3. Steven Scheinin

    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.

  4. Wolfe

    Here’s a weird one for the “RV wiring Gods”: open ground turning something on?

    I visited a KOA last month where my DIY wiring checker kept killing power for open ground and then resetting. Checked with my 3-light tester and confirmed open ground was *flickering*. I figured a corroded/weak (but present) ground, so (discrete surge guard being separate) I boldly plugged in anyway. Turned on AC at 65, and went to sleep. When I woke, the trailer was FRIGID, compressor on at any temperature. I assumed broken thermostat, and set non-AC fan only mode, and left for morning. Returned to trailer even colder yet. Pulled and tested the thermostat, and it switched contacts perfectly when on my bench. Put it back, FAN ONLY mode still locks on the compressor. Strange?

    I finally had time to talk to office about weak grounding, and they said I could plug into the next site’s correct pedestal. Still pondering my thermostat, I tried AC again and TADA… AC thermo worked normally again (no compressor for FAN, and has temp control). In the month since, AC worked normally again on any proper power.

    From my understanding of the AC controls, open ground shouldn’t be ABLE to power up the compressor (unless something else is very wrong under the AC shroud), so what the heck was going on here, and (not wanting to intentionally miswire my RV power to duplicate the problem) what else could I check for? Thanks!

    1. Mike Sokol

      Interestingly, some electronics won’t function properly without an operating ground. They monitor the Ground-to-Neutral voltage, and unless it’s very close to zero volts, they won’t operate. I’ve seen this on some RV refrigerators as well as RV and Home furnaces with electronic controls. It’s entirely possible that the computer control of your air conditioners temperate monitor has that issue and couldn’t shut off the compressor.

      The real lesson is to never plug your RV into an outlet with a poor ground. That can not only cause some electronics to malfunction, it can also create a hot-skin voltage which can be deadly under the right conditions.

  5. Mike Sokol

    Wow, that’s a lot of questions. I’m going to answer all of them in next week’s column to avoid confusion.

  6. Renee G

    We too have an onboard Progressive surge protector and had the exact same error at three different campgrounds in one trip! At two, they claimed it was our rig and not the pedestal Well, my husband ran the generator to prove to them that it was not our system. At one CG, they reimbursed us our full hookup rate and charged us only a dry camping site rate since we stayed in the spot and just used our generator. At the second and third CGs, they fixed the pedestals.

  7. Tommy Molnar

    I don’t have a surge protector but DO have one of those gizmos that you plug in and it shows how much power and how it’s wired (open neutral, open ground etc). I always use it before I plug in our trailer. My concern with the really good surge protectors is theft. What if I bought one of these, plugged it in when we first arrived, and once the system looks good, put it away and just plug in to the pedestal? We’re not new RV’ers. We’ve been in the game for over 20 years.

    1. Chuck Woodbury

      Tommy, I have a lock and chain on mine.

      1. Wolfe

        I am absolutely NOT joking, but last week I saw a shoebox-size 50A Progressive surge protector wrapped in tinfoil. When I asked the owner, he said the foil was shunted to the hot lead to prevent theft.

        A few weeks ago I made a (bad) joke about wiring your bicycle like this… This idiot seems to have taken it seriously. I’m wondering how he plugs/unplugs like that…

        1. Mike Sokol

          Wiring up anything like a bicycle or foil on a surge protector to 120 volts is very dangerous and could kill someone. And you would open yourself up to all kinds of liability issues (lawsuits) and potential prosecution (jail time). This is nothing like a fence charger which is current limited with short electrical pulses.
          If you’re worried about someone stealing your Surge Protector at a campground, then get an install version which mounts inside of your RV. They also have a remote panel which you can mount inside, allowing you to monitor voltage changes during the day.

          1. Wolfe

            >> ABSOLUTELY <<

            There was nothing funny about seeing this, and I gave him a similar lecture to above. Even worse, I think his SP had a security loop for a chain built right in. I did say "idiot."

  8. E J Devolin

    This has happened to us a few times over the years, with the last time a couple of years ago on a trip to the east coast of Canada. At a KOA in Quebec I plugged in our P/D EMS unit and went about other hook ups while waiting for it to cycle to find it reading E-3, open ground and the park owner said to use the next site hook up. At that point I said NO and said if this site has an improper electrical hook up that I want a refund and would take it up with KOA’s head office. A electrical contractor was brought in and found that many of the park sites had no grounding. The owner came around later in the evening and offered our money back as he was in the dark about this problem. I’m a retired plumber and tried to explain that there are laws that had been bypassed to get his campground up and running. We did not take his offer of return of our site cost as I’m hoping he learned safety was more important.

  9. Jeffrey Frederick

    I just had the same thing at a campground in Colorado. They said the system had been checked by an electrician several times and they could not locate a problem. They gave the following suggestion and it worked: Unplug surge protector, plug in the camper directly, then unplug the camper and then plug in the surge protector. However, the next day my surge protector blocked the power while I was out. I had to repeat the process. Luckily I was only there 2 nights.

    1. Mike Sokol

      That makes no sense. There must have been some sort of loose connection for it to operate that way. Your EMS blocked the power because something was still wrong with the pedestal outlet.

  10. Merl Bell

    Even worse was our experiences at a Fl park where lightning had burned the neutral on the 50 amp circuit. This put 250 v on the coach and burned out my inverter/converter, TV, and small freezer before I realized it and tripped the breaker. My cheap surge protector did not cut the power. Needless to say I immediately bought a good one.

    1. Mike Sokol

      I’m going to be writing an article on exactly what a surge protector is and how it operates. Let me just say that the word “surge protector” is very misleading since none of them are really designed to prevent what I would classify as a voltage “surge”. The cheaper ones will protect you from voltage “spikes”, while the more expensive versions will protect you from over-voltage and under-voltage conditions, as well as monitor your ground connection. But hey, I don’t like the word “Hot Skin” either since it’s really the chassis of the RV that’s being electrified, and the “skin” of the RV just goes along for the ride.

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