RV Electrical Safety Part IX – In Review

Oct 12th, 2010 | By | Category: RV Safety

No Shock Zone RV in Review

I’m using this week’s column in a two-fold manner: 1) As a review of where we are in this 12-part series on RV electrical safety; and 2) As a call to action.

We’ve now completed Part VIII of this series, and have only four more RV safety articles scheduled. (See below for what’s been covered so far.) Part IX will be on GFCI troubleshooting; Part X on extension cord rewiring; and Part XII will be on basic CPR techniques — in the event of an electrocution. (I haven’t decided what Part XI will be just yet, but perhaps it will touch on electrical safety around boat docks since many of you also enjoy boating.)

I’m glad to study and write about electrical safety, and have received many positive comments about the clarity and benefit of these articles. I would like to continue to add more articles in the future. So here’s how you can help.

  1. Let us know any topics you’d like to see covered in future articles. For example, portable generator grounding is a big issue, and topics such as 12-volt DC battery safety are vitally important, especially around RV house batteries and inverters. If you have any electrically-related areas of concern, please send me an e-mail.
  2. Please pass along the www.RVtravel.com  and www.NoShockZone.org links to any other forums you belong to. We see referrals from a diverse group of RV forums such as Airstream, Monaco, Women in RVs, etc, but the more the merrier.
  3. Suggest any RV-oriented magazines that might run these articles in any form. Any magazine or print suggestions or referrals would be appreciated.
  4. We are looking for experts in the various electrical fields to confer with us on these and more advanced topics. For instance, an EE designer who builds portable generators for the RV industry could answer questions on grounding for us all.
  5. We’re looking for invitations to present NoShockZone clinics across the country. We’ve already talked to a few large campgrounds, but if you know of any places that could act as a host site, we’re all ears. We see NSZ clinics as a valuable addition to trade shows, RV dealerships and RV Rallies of all sorts. Since I already travel all over the country teaching hands-on sound mixing classes (www.HowToSound.com) it would be possible to schedule an afternoon at a campground for a NSZ clinic as I’m driving through around Texas or Oregon or Florida. Hey, I drove 50,000 miles last year alone, so this would be a nice break from seat time on the road.
  6. Sponsorship support for these clinics is what’s really needed. You can see that www.NoShockZone.org is a new site that presently has zero sponsors. These electrical safety articles are written for no compensation except for the knowledge that we’re educating folks and quite possibly saving lives. And Chuck Woodbury from RVtravel.com sees this as having such importance that he’s created an entire NoShockZone area for past and future articles on his site.

However, to put these clinics on the road in 2011 we’ll require sponsorship support. Manufacturers of many types should be interested in providing such support. Those of you who have read this series so far know that its purpose is to protect the typical RV user by informing them on how to identify and avoid dangerous electrical situations. Companies that manufacture electrical test equipment or electrical cables and extension cords or even insurance companies should jump onboard our educational safety RV.
And we know that many of you are also concerned about damage to your RV’s electrical appliances and the cost of their replacement.

With that in mind I would suggest that personal shock safety and RV appliance damage really involve the same skill sets. A properly connected RV is intrinsically safe for both its appliances and occupants. So everyone wins if more people understand the basics of electricity and how to properly inspect an RV electrical hookup.

If you know of a RV manufacturer, educational grant or safety foundation that might lend monetary support to the NoShockZone clinics, tell them about us, and please introduce us to them. We really need your help to put these educational safety clinics on the road. Contact me at mike@NoShockZone.org and I’ll get back to you within a day.

Thanks for your suggestions, and thanks for reading.

Mike Sokol

NSZ-RV Review

RV Electrical Safety: Part VIII – GFCI

No it’s not the name of an insurance company or a European sports car, GCFI is an abbreviation for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or G-F-C-I. They’ve been required in many localities for electrical outlets located near sinks or the outside of your house for the last 10 years or more.

RV Electrical Safety: Part VII – Wattage

If you’ve been reading along this far in the series you already know about voltage (electrical pressure) and amperage (current flow). You also know how to measure voltage using a DMM (Digital Multi Meter) and how to size extension cords for sufficient amperage (current) capacity. But in the end it all comes down to wattage.

RV Electrical Safety: Part VI – Voltage Drop

We’ve all heard about how hooking up an RV on too long or too skinny of an extension cord can force its appliances to run on 100 volts instead of the regular 120 volts, thereby burning out the motors or other components. But before we get into the reality of what happens to gear running on 100 volts rather then a full 120 volts, let’s figure out why this voltage drop thing happens in the first place.

RV Electrical Safety: Part V – Amperage

For those of you unfamiliar with extension cord and wire specifications, the lower the number of the gauge, the thicker the wire and the more current that can flow through it without overheating. For example, a 14-gauge extension cord might be rated for only 15 amperes of current flow, while a 10-gauge extension cord could be rated for 30 amperes of current, depending on total length of the cable and type of insulation.

RV Electrical Safety: Part IV – Hot Skin

An RV Hot-Skin condition occurs when the frame and body of the vehicle is no longer at the same voltage potential as the earth around it. This is usually due to an improper power plug connection at a campsite or garage AC outlet. So what follows are two ways to determine if the skin of your RV has been electrified. The first method uses a voltmeter for testing, while the second method uses a non-contact AC tester like electricians use to check for live outlets.

RV Electrical Safety: Part III – Outlets

Today’s RVs have much greater power requirements than those of even 10 years ago. You’ve got lots of appliances, so that single 20-amp outlet can’t provide enough current. This is when you need to step up to 30- or even 50-amp outlets at the campsite. Let’s see how they’re wired.

RV Electrical Safety: Part II – Meters

Remember when you were a child and first started to help with baking there were all sorts of measuring devices and abbreviations to take into consideration? There was a Tablespoon (Tbsp), teaspoon (tsp), Ounce (oz.), with 8 oz. in a cup, and so on. And you better not get your tsp and Tbsp mixed up or bad things would happen to your cake. The same types of rules apply when you’re measuring any electrical values. You just need to know how to use a few electrical measuring tools and then you’re ready to test your RV power.

RV Electrical Safety: Part I – Volts

While RV’s as wired from the factory are inherently safe, they can become silent-but-deadly killers if plugged into an improperly wired extension cord or campsite outlet. This is because RV’s are basically a big cage of metal insulated from the ground by rubber tires. It’s up to you, the RVer, to make sure the frame and body of your RV is never electrified due to poor maintenance, bad connections, or reversed polarity in a power plug. This so called Hot-Skin problem is what causes a tingle when you touch the doorknob or metal steps of your RV while standing on the ground.

The Shocking Truth About RVs

We’ve been trying to locate a study on just how many RV owners have been shocked by their recreational vehicles, but search as we might, nobody seems to have done a study. So last July we asked www.RVtravel.com to run a simple 10-second survey directed to their 85,000 opted-in newsletter readers, and we found that 21% of you report getting shocked from your RV.

2 Comments to “RV Electrical Safety Part IX – In Review”

  1. David Wilson says:

    The Shocking Truth about RVs has some misleading assumptions. Running a simple 10 second survey on the RVTravel website does not give an accurate idea of how many RVs have shocked people. This type of survey cannot give you a percentage of people who have been shocked. It can only tell you what percentage of people who respond to the survey were shocked. People respond to surveys that they are interested in. People who have been shocked are far more likely to respond to this survey. The percentage of shocked responses will be artificially high. The only way to get a fairly accurate percentage would be to call RVers at random and ask them the question. You can’t rely on website type surveys to get accurate data. These surveys are only for entertainment purposes. Those of us who are in the hard sciences have strict rules that we must follow when doing research and when taking surveys or polls. You can learn about how to create a more accurate poll at many online websites.
    Also note that the title of your article, The Shocking Truth About RV’s, should not have an apostrophe in RV’s. Check a grammar website to see the proper use of an apostrophe.

    • Mike Sokol says:


      Thanks for your response.

      I do happen to know something about statistical analysis and surveys, having built and analyzed nuclear missile guidance system failures in the 80s and participated in a number of ABX listening tests of pro-audio gear a few decades later. So I would agree that it’s very easy to slew poll results one way or another depending on how the questions are asked. That being said, I’ve also presented about a dozen seminars for RV owners over the last several years, and have asked every audience for a show of hands as to how many have been shocked by an RV. And I generally comes up with about 2 hands per 10 in the room. So a room of 50 attendees might have 10 that say they’ve been shocked. That’s a 20% positive response using this more “fair” survey since these were general RV maintenance seminars populated by average RV owners. So is that a biased result? Maybe, maybe not. To know for sure I would have to carefully pose the question choosing the properly neutral phrase, etc. However, I’m not too worried about this since I have received hundreds of emails from readers telling me they had been shocked by their RVs and that my articles and videos probably saved their lives. So I’m OK with a possibly biased poll as long as it gets the attention of RV owners and teaches them that feeling any kind of shock from an appliance or RV is definitely not OK.

      As far as the title’s incorrect use of an apostrophe, that had been fixed in later edits, but wasn’t corrected in this early edition of the article which I’ve since corrected. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      So here’s a few questions for you. What kind of RV do you own and do you perform any outlet testing before plugging into shore power? And have you have ever experienced any kind of shock from an RV, no matter how small it seemed at the time?

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