RV Electricity: What’s “the Code”? Find out here

RV Electricity: What’s “the Code”? Find out here

Dear Mike,
Everyone says you have to do this or that because its “the Code,” referring to the NEC [National Electrical Code], of course. For RVs, this gets even more interesting. The “Code” has no legal authority unless adopted by a local AHJ, as you are aware. And each AHJ can adopt, reject or modify “Code” provisions at will. Like I said, for RVs it’s incorrect to say “GFCIs are required by CODE,” because there is no local AHJ that governs RVs, so it’s not the Code of the local town. So maybe you could clarify the “Codes” that RVs must adhere to, and who is the “AHJ”? Is it RVIA? —Bill

Dear Bill,

You are correct on all counts, but some clarification of exactly what “Code” is might be needed. I’m writing this for all the other readers not as well versed in code as you are – so everybody, buckle up as it gets a little confusing.

What we commonly refer to as electrical “Code” for home wiring is actually NFPA 70 (the NFPA is the National Fire Protection Association). Note that this code doesn’t really have the force of law behind it, but because it’s been worked on by thousands of really smart engineers over the last 100 years, it’s generally accepted as gospel for all home electrical builds and lawsuits. Read about the history of the code here.

The NFPA creates safety code for a lot more than just wiring including the transport of chemicals, how to mark and dispose of various sorts of wastes, where to place fire sprinklers, etc. But for home wiring it’s NFPA 70, which has a code cycle of 3 years. That is, every 3 years there’s a new version of the code book which includes the latest safety and hookup information for things like hot tubs, AFCIs, etc. Read a free version of NFPA 70 here. You’ll just have to create a free login name for access.

Now, each state can choose which year’s revision of the code to comply with, and also which parts of the code they choose to reject. For example, in the states of Indiana and Michigan, their inspection agencies have rejected the requirement for AFCIs (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters) in new home bedrooms on the grounds that they cost too much and would be a hardship for new home buyers. In reality, a $100,000 home would only require an extra $300 at the time it was built to include AFCI breakers and comply with national code. But it’s not required in two states due to their interpretation of that part of the code.

That’s just at the state level. At the local level you have an entity called the AHJ for “Authority Having Jurisdiction,” basically the local electrical inspector who can interpret the national electrical code any way they feel like, and eliminate or add whatever they deem fit. And this AHJ has the authority to shut down an entire music performance in a theater, or even an RV trade show’s power generators if they don’t like something. So it pays to find out standard practices for a particular AHJ in advance.

Now, to answer your real question/comment. While it’s true that your RV will be driven through and hooked up to pedestals in perhaps hundreds of different code jurisdictions over its lifetime on the road, there is an NFPA code book specifically dealing with how RVs are wired. It’s called NFPA 1192, which you can read here.

And there’s something similar for campground wiring called NFPA 1194, which you can read here. The RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) requires that all manufacturers displaying the RVIA tag comply with NFPA 1192, which is basically electrical code for RVs. And because state and local jurisdictions don’t have a specific code countermanding RV electrical code, then the NFPA Code  supersedes anything you may find in NFPA 70 or even a local AHJ.  That is, a local Authority Having Jurisdiction can’t make you rewire the internal wiring of your RV as long as it was built to comply with NFPA 1192 in its year of manufacture.

Whew…

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.

##RVT835

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14 thoughts on “RV Electricity: What’s “the Code”? Find out here

  1. Ron

    Thanks Mike for the detailed articles on electricity written in a simple way for us/me to understand. It makes sense when it is broken down to the laymen terms. Job well done Mike 👍. Thank You Sir…..

  2. John Koenig

    GREAT information Mike. Thanks for including those links!

  3. John Connaughton

    What’s AHJ?

    1. “Authority Having Jurisdiction.” It’s in the third paragraph from the bottom in Mike’s response. Thanks for asking, John. 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com (Ha! Beat you to it, Mike! 😉 )

  4. Butch

    I was under the impression that the electrical requirements were covered by the NEC, National Electrical Code.

    1. RV build code is generally covered under NFPA-70 (which is the National Electrical Code), but there’s additional requirements for RVs which are detailed in NFPA 1192.

  5. mike gardner

    So, I scanned through the 1192 document and found noting on electrical. Propane, water, rails, safety – but not electrical. Did I miss something?

    I’ve found horrendous wiring problems in the three Forest River RV’s I’ve owned or worked on. I wish the standards were freely available instead of through keyhole web pages or expensive books.

    The RVIA points to 12-Volt Electrical Requirements as specified by ANSI/RVIA LV Low Voltage System Standard.

    And sections of NFPA 70.

    1. You’ll note that in 1192 they reference specific sections on NFPA 70, and there’s details on how many circuit breakers and receptacles must be supplied for 30 and 50 amp service. But yes, the “free” access is a pain since it’s only available online, and not printable (IIRC). I can probably scare up the RVIA Low Voltage standard, but I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to freely post it. More to study and discuss.

    2. Also, 1192 includes all sorts of details on RV chassis/ground bonding of the various propane, plumbing and electrical systems.

  6. Bill Lampkin

    Thanks for clearing up some things about the Code! Now, on to my next pet peeve-blade type RV cords. If you have used 30a or 50a blade type RV cords they have been overheated. Just look at the blade ends (you can’t see the female ends, but they’ve been affected by heat too!) Fire hazard. I had our MH hooked up to my 30a RV service at the house and I had to use one, blade type 30a cord to reach the outlet. After an hour or so, with no AC on in the MH, I checked that blade-type connection and boy, was it hot!! I went and grabbed my IR thermometer, but of course, I can’t recall now what the reading was, but the connection was too hot to touch. Now the rest of my cord layout all had twist-lock 30a connections and were at ambient temp, even the one next to the hot blade connection. These blade-type cords are a hazard and the RV mfgs must know it as the 2012 TT I own uses a detachable cord set that uses TWIST LOCK 30a connections. Boat owners won’t tolerate bad AC shore power connections, that’s why marinas all use twist type power pedestals. When will the RV world step up and use a 21st century cordset. Even contractors use twist lock connections, exclusively, on their generators!

    Wake up RV mfgs!

    and thanks for letting me rant!!

  7. Claud Addicott

    Trivial, I know, but NFPA is actually the National Fire Protection Association (not Agency).

    1. Oops. Thanks for catching that. Sometimes my fingers type faster than my brain works. I’ll fix it now.

  8. Ray Houghtaling

    Mike, great information you provide., thanks.
    Something that has been bugging me concerns this tiny house movement. Is there a code such as NFPA 11192 ? They are basicly a RV/mobile home.
    Thanks for your great site, the RV community needs that.

    1. I’ve not been able to get a definitive answer yet. Actually, A Tiny-House is more of a mobile home than an RV, so there’s all kinds of zoning issues being sorted out about them as well. I’ll do an article on this topic in the future once I know more.

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