Before You Lose Your Cool
(or lights, hot water or other appliances)
Managing Your RVs Electrical System
Have you ever blown a fuse or tripped a circuit breaker in your RV or at the campground electrical service? Well, join the club. There are those of us that have done this and there are those of us that will do this in the future. It is somewhat inevitable. Let’s examine a typical RV electrical system and learn how to eliminate those tripped breakers.
All RVs have two electrical systems – 12 volt or battery power and 120 volt or household current. The 12 volt system powers most of the lights, central heat, refrigerator, water pump and powered jacks or landing gear. Even if you are plugged into 120 volt electricity these items operate on 12 volt battery power via the converter which keeps the battery charged. It is possible to camp in an RV without 120 volt electrical service or “shore power” using only the 12 volt system as long as you have a good and fully charged battery. This is commonly called dry camping or “boondocking”. The fuses for the 12 volt system are small knife blade automotive type fuses and you will seldom have any issues with this system. You should never blow a fuse unless there is a short circuit somewhere. The other and more primary source of electrical power is the 120 volt system that is found in full or partial hook-up campsites. This is where the ugly circuit breaker gremlin may rear its ugly head so let’s discus this in more detail. Here we go.
The electrical power provided in a campground with electrical hook-ups is either 30 amp or 50 amp. Some smaller RVs with only one air conditioner and few appliances will do pretty well on just 30 amp service while many of today’s larger fifth wheels and motor coaches will need 50 amp service in order to run all of the electrical devices that may be used. Still, there are times when a breaker will trip. On rare occasions a breaker on board the RV will trip if there is a short circuit or an overload. A much more common problem is tripping the breaker on the campground’s electrical hook-up where there is a post typically with outlets for 30 amp and/or 50 amp plugs, a pair of 20 amp outlets just like those found in the home and circuit breakers for all of these outlets. These breakers should be the first place that you check when some electrical device stops working because more than likely you have too many appliances running at the same time. You will rarely overload anything in the coach because there is usually an onboard circuit breaker for each device or sometimes there may be two or three small appliances or lights on the same breaker, but usually not enough to trip the breaker unless there is a short circuit.
The concept is really pretty simple. In order to prevent tripping a breaker on the campground post all you have to do is keep your electrical consumption below either 30 amps or 50 amps – whichever service you have. Actually, you wouldn’t trip a 30 amp breaker until you draw about 35 amps or so and a 50 amp breaker wouldn’t trip until somewhere around 55 amps. The fact is that we trip breakers because we are ignorant of the electrical demand for each appliance that we use. Let’s look at a list of typical appliances in an RV and the normal electrical demand for each of them. Here we go.
Here is a list of some commonly used appliances in an RV and the average amps required to operate them.
Air Conditioner (15,000 BTU) 12.5 amps
Food Processor 6 amps
Electric water heater 12.5 amps
Crock Pot 1.5 amps
Microwave Oven 12.8 amps
Toaster 10 amps
Space Heater (1100 watt) 10 amps
Space Heater (750 watt) 6.5 amps
Coffee Pot 9 amps
Box Fan 2.5 amps
Hair Dryer 10 amps
Curling Iron 10 amps
Small Hand held Vacuum 2 amps
Clock Radio .5 amp
Electric Frying Pan 10 amps
Refrigerator 5.2 amps
The list could go on some more, but you get the idea. If you are running the air conditioner, water heater and a few other small things like a fan and clock you could very easily trip a 30 amp breaker when you plug in the coffee pot or fire up the microwave. It might be a good idea to print the above list and post it somewhere in the RV for quick reference so that you will know what to turn off to keep the breaker from tripping. You might consider switching the water heater over to propane or turning it off (temporarily) if you anticipate a heavy electrical load such as primping women (hair dryers and curling irons).
You can learn how many amps your appliances require because most electrical products will have the amperage requirements or the watts printed on the appliance itself or in the instruction book. To get the amps divide the watts by 120 (volts). If you know the amps and are curious about the watts just multiply the amps by the volts (120).
Well friends, there you have it – my total knowledge of electricity in 1,000 words or less. I do know a couple of more things. Electricity is invisible and electricity can kill you. Unless you are a qualified electrician you need to let the pros handle any problems especially with the 120 volt circuit that require more than just resetting a breaker. Also, use the above list and learn the amperage requirements of your appliances so that you can manage your electrical usage and avoid those pesky tripped breakers.