RV Electricity – The Stray Voltage Patrol is now up to 200 members!

Dear Readers,
stray voltage patrolHere’s an update on the Stray Voltage Patrol, as well as a few pictures of why Chuck Woodbury and I think that RV electrical safety is so important to write about. 

Yes, we have 200 SVP members signed up
The Stray Voltage Patrol has now reached 200 members. So for those of you just joining us, this is a grassroots effort to collect data on campground electrical systems across the country, then put the information into an online database that anyone can search to find out if a campground they’re planning to visit has acceptable power or not. Only RV Electricity readers who have signed up to be a patrol member are allowed to post information about low or high voltage, open grounds, loose outlets or whatever, as well as if the campground management was responsive about fixing any problems.

Yes, we want you to report the good and the bad

Our Wunderkind programmer Jess added a bunch more drop-downs to the SVP reporting page, but I forgot to tell her to add a selection for “no problems detected” as well as “other.” Here it is with the latest edits. (Click on the image to see it full size.)

If you can report when pedestals are properly wired (as well as miswired) we’ll be able to get some actual percentages of pedestal power problems in a few months. And if you do find a failure I haven’t thought of yet (duh!), then please add it in the comments section of f your report. I need everyone’s feedback to make sure we’re gathering every piece of data possible. 

However, this entire process isn’t an overnight endeavor, especially since Chuck and I don’t have any sponsorship for the Stray Voltage Patrol beyond your generous contributions – which also help keep all the rest of these newsletters running. Now please don’t think this is a pitch for more support from you, our readership. What we really need is manufacturer support so that I can afford to devote more time to writing about RV electrical hookups and traveling to RV trade shows (such as Hershey), rallies (such as FROG) and performing campground inspections. I’m sure a grant or major sponsor will come along at some point, but in the meantime this database process is going a little slower than we would like. But as I’ve noted a few times recently, Chuck and I want to create this database in the best and most useful way possible, not rush into things that waste all of our time. With your help and input this will become a very important resource for ALL of us. So, steady as she goes, as it were…

Yes, I have a preliminary test protocol 

Here it is. This isn’t a tutorial on how to do a pedestal test. But it shows the proper testing sequence to gather data. More training will follow later. 

Now for why we do this
We just received these pictures (click on them for a full-size photo) of a pedestal at a campground in New Mexico. Now, we’re not going to start naming names (yet), but this is just one example out of thousands of similar (or worse) pedestals in the U.S. Plus I’ve been receiving emails and pictures of pedestals from my readers in Canada, which look even worse (yikes!).

First of all, this is just one more reason why you need an intelligent/EMS surge protector and a NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Tester), and be prepared to run from a generator or battery power if things are too bad at the pedestal. But as long as we all accept this level of poor pedestal maintenance at campgrounds, then it will continue. Only after enough of you refuse to check in or leave the campground early and tell the management WHY you left will anything be done about it.

I assume that some older campground owners just assume that the pedestals should last forever, and maybe a handyman will fix one that’s sparking (yes, I’ve received that in an email recently). And maybe newer campgrounds that expanded beyond their original electrical system capacity didn’t get good advice from a contractor who “upgraded” their power distribution system incorrectly.

But in any case, these are dangerous situations – dangerous to your RV’s electrical system, and dangerous to you and your family. Chuck and I are dedicating a lot of bandwidth to help correct this situation every way we can, so thanks for your patience. But these latest SVP reports and pictures have been a real eye-opener for both of us.

Keep sending us your pictures of pedestals behaving badly, and sign up for the Stray Voltage Patrol HERE. Once you’re signed up, begin entering information on badly installed and maintained pedestals HERE. I’m trying to get a quick “attach” function running on the report form so you can begin uploading pictures as well. Hopefully in a few weeks we can begin formatting the search function so you can begin to see the data that’s been entered so far. But I’m not going to get ahead of things just yet since that could spoil the end product. You all know me well enough that I won’t write about something until I’m 100% sure of the facts. But it’s getting really close. 

In the meantime, as I’ve written hundreds of times already on dozens of other forums – you should NEVER feel a shock from an RV that’s plugged into pedestal or house power. If you do, then your RV’s grounding system (specifically, your Equipment Grounding Conductor) is broken, loose, corroded or disconnected, and the next shock could be fatal. So if you DO feel a shock, even a tingle, unplug your RV from shore power immediately until the source of the Hot-Skin/Stray-Voltage can be found and corrected. 

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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9 Thoughts to “RV Electricity – The Stray Voltage Patrol is now up to 200 members!”

  1. Mike Sokol

    From casual reading I see that in order to pass NEMA tests, receptacles must be able to withstand 100+ times of hot-plugging and unplugging under 150% of max rated load. While that seems like a lot, consider how many times a pedestal is plugged and unplugged every year. Even 50 times a year of being plugged/unplugged under load will destroy the contacts in a few years. And it only takes a few hours of powering a dirty/oxidized plug to reduce the spring tension to the point of overheating. Campground pedestals live a tough life, which is why so many of them have connection problems.

  2. Sherry Dawson

    Mike, you often mention that there should never be the tiniest shock when touching the RV, but I don’t recall your saying how to test for electrical shock before touching the RV. Could you mention that whenever you are talking about hot-skin conditions? I’m guessing that after checking my power pedestal and safely plugging in with my smart surge protector, I should use a non-contact voltage tester on the RV before opening the door? Is that correct? If so, do I walk around the RV and test in different places, or is one test location sufficient?

    1. Mike Sokol

      Yes, after testing the pedestal power, powering off the pedestal circuit breaker, plugging in shore power, and turning on the breaker, use your NCVT to test ANYTHING metal on the RV. You can use the bumper, a wheel, the hitch, any part of the frame, even the attached tow vehicle. If the NCVT beeps, then you have at least 30-volts of hot-skin/stray-voltage. Now, this may not even be enough to feel a tingle if the ground and your hands are dry. But it’s certainly dangerous and could easily be deadly. So best to unplug from shore power until you figure out the source of the problem. NEVER ignore a shock (even a tingle) from an RV that’s plugged into any kind of shore power.

    2. Oh, and don’t do like one of my students, who found a stray voltage on a sound system mixing board using a NCVT, then touched the mixing board with his fingers to confirm there was a voltage. He said he got one heck of a shock…

      If you do get an indication of a Hot-Skin/Stray-Voltage with an NCVT, the next test should be with a voltmeter between the chassis and a screwdriver stuck in the ground. Use a meter, NOT your body for the next test!

  3. Jeff Arthur

    Recent trip to a Colorado state park ( prairie plains area) temps were near 100 degrees and no shade in our loop that was at less than half full. As a large camper hooked up to power the loop went dead. So with this & the rattle snake in the restroom. I started packing . Just as we were leaving a ranger came by he said all good now I reset the breaker! I stated it will happen again if that’s all you did as this was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. But hay they got 2 days entry fees & 2 days camping fees & reservation fee all for less than 2hrs in the park. Sorry no refunds

    1. The problem is, most campgrounds don’t design for 100% power utilization. Heck, some of them start voltage sagging and tripping breakers at 50% of capacity. So if there’s a crowded weekend coming up with high heat, the results of low voltage and tripped breakers are inevitable. But to really test a campground for voltage drop under power there needs to be an actual power draw, not just a voltmeter. I’m looking for a grant that would allow me to do a few serious campground inspections, but no traction yet. This is not something you can do casually since it takes about $10,000 worth of gear to do proper load testing. But it really should be done before any campground passes electrical inspection. I’m 99.99% sure this is never done in the real world.

  4. Bill

    Recently checked into a campground in central Pennsylvania along I-80 and was asked if I wanted 110 or 220 power. I said I wanted 50 amps. Clerk said they were both 50 amps. I said a 50 amp plug should be 120/240. She said she didn’t know anything about that, but some were 110 and some were 220. I took a 220 and found it to be properly wired, but expect the 110 sites have both legs on the same phase.

    1. Mike Sokol

      While it’s theoretically possible to wire up a 50-amp/120-volt outlet, it’s NEVER done for RV pedestals. It’s either 20-amp/120-volts, 30-amp/120-volts or 50-amp/120/240-volt. When I explain to them that a 50-amp outlet is actually 100-amps (50-amps times 2 legs equals 100 amps at 120-volts) they sometimes argue with me and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

      I do have a question about your comment of “but expect the 110 sites have both legs on the same phase.” It should be a neutral and one phase. Or am I misunderstanding what you’re saying?

  5. Jeff

    I just ran across a problem, which I know Mike has spoken about before.

    Make sure you check the Campground Pedestal with a NON Contact detector and also check the Power at the Pedestal with a Smart Surge Protector.

    And before plugging anything into the Pedestal, make sure the Circuit Breakers are OFF! This prevents Arcing and potential damage or electrocution.

    Our last trip I was preparing to plug in after doing all my checks and found the 50 Amp breaker was ON! This means that someone just yanked their plug out and didn’t bother turning off the power! I want to thank that person for being so INCONSIDERATE!

    There is NO COMPROMISE for SAFETY! Please be safe when it comes to Electricity!

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