Trip Date 07/03/2018
Posted On 08/05/2018 16:29:04
Camping | Customizations | Electrical | Power | Spike | Technology Research SurgeGuard | Security | Progressive Industries SSP
When we got our new RV (we call it "RV There Yet?"), I had heard that I need to have a surge protector. Generally, I thought I knew what that was, but what does it do and how much does it cost? I then learned there are many models and features; so which are important? And what is my procedure for using it?
What is a Surge ProtectorFirst, the surge protector protects the electronic components of the RV from unwanted spikes, surges, and even low levels of electric power. It warns you and protects your RV investment from damage. All electrical components can be overloaded and damaged by bad power. It is more than simply a surge protector power strip that you may use on your computer. It is made to work on the 30-amp or 50-amp power that your RV gets at the campsite. The electricity itself has many measurements that, if not in the correct range, can and will damage your TV, battery charge controller, refrigerator, microwave, high-end components, and even the air conditioner.
What can cause these spikes and sags in electric service? Things like lightning or water intrusion in the electrical system at the park can cause spikes or short circuits. Perhaps someone flipping a switch and causing an excessive draw can cause your power to go high or low. Or maybe, the quality if the power itself is bad. For example, maybe the power wave is very square (cycles from low to high very fast - like a tidal tsunami hitting your small boat over and over rather than a gradual up and down of the wave action). These things are not good for electronics.
Features of a Surge ProtectorI realized that there are lots of features of a surge protector and each feature can be important in some circumstance, but which are common or most important?
Here is a list of the common features and considerations that I discovered when researching surge protectors:
- The common brands of surge protectors are Technology Research SurgeGuard and Progressive Industries SSP. Both are good and offer similar features. The Progressive Industries models seem to be a little more affordable.
- Some protectors are hardwired and some are portable. It seems to me that hardwired protectors are ideal for larger RVs with high-end electronics and portable ones are good for smaller RVs.
- Detection of incorrect or incomplete wiring is an important basic feature. Conditions like open ground, reversed wires, open neutral, polarity and voltage range detection are important. Some of these conditions may be bad for your RV. The surge protector will warn you and protect you if necessary.
- Features like time delay or AC (Alternating Current) frequency protection can block out spikes and surges.
- Continuous protection or spike response time may be important considerations for how well the protector works in extreme situations. Continuous will protect your RV all the time, and response time will only protect for a period of time after the spike.
- The amp (ampere) rating is important. It must match your RVs amp wiring with the protector model. This is easy, as the plugs on the portable surge protectors are different. This feature will lessen the risk of fire or overheating if you overdraw power. (Like an overloaded power strip on your Christmas tree, you could have a fire.)
- The joules rating may be an important feature if you have special equipment or heaters that draw lots of power.
- The ease of install versus security may also be a factor. The hardwired protectors will take more effort to install, but are easier long term than a portable one which you have to deal with each time you setup. Some portable protectors have security brackets to keep them from being stolen. This is a start, but more is needed. These surge protectors are not cheap so you don't want them stolen from your campsite when you are not there.
- Weight, price and LED status display may be factors. The combined weight of the protector and power cable may be a factor since the power cable is heavy and many people leave them connected to the surge protector - which increases the weight. You'll need to handle these each time you set up. The price is obviously a cost versus benefit consideration. Some have LED lights showing operating status indicating overload, bad wiring or good status. Some may have a voltage meter or amp meter.
- Noise while operating may be a factor as not all are quiet.
- Rainy day operation is important.
- The warranty of the device should be a consideration. The longer the warranty period likely is an indication of its quality.
What if you are using a generator, do you need a surge protector? I would think yes. The generator may be cheap or old or may not have a good inverter which could lead to bad power. Or, the on/off switch may simply not be good.
Surge Protector Setup ProcedureAssuming that you have a portable surge protector, the setup procedure is relatively simple. Even before using the surge protector, if the plugs look worn out or not well maintained, I use a simple standalone portable wiring tester. This will indicate that the wiring is good.
You should also be careful when plugging in the power cable and surge protector to avoid surges of power that might damage the RV.
Once when we were RVing in a rental before we bought our RV, we plugged in the RV and ended up blowing the master fuses of the converter. The symptoms we had were as follows: the AC power worked and the 12 volt lights worked (from battery), therefore we did not realize that there was anything wrong. However, the converter wasn't charging the battery. This went unnoticed all day until the battery died during the night and the furnace would not run. It got really cold in December! To avoid this problem, you should turn off the switches at the power post and make sure that all AC devices, particularly the air conditioners, are off before you plug in your surge protector and power cable.
With 30-amp or 50-amp service, you can run most common appliances. With 30-amps you can generally run one air conditioner and with 50-amps, you can run two air conditioners. (Remember to turn off air conditioners when breaking camp. This will avoid a potential overload when you plug in again if they try to both start at once, especially if you happen to be on 30-amp or 15-amp service at your next site.) If your RV runs on 50-amp service, you'll need an adapter to plug into a 30-amp or 15-amp plug. Similarly, a 30-amp RV may need an adapter to plug into 15-amps. These are easy to find at most RV supply stores.
With only 15- or 20-amps you have to be careful. Generally, they say you can't run an air conditioner with 15-amps, but possibly you can. On 15-amps you need to be careful because the extension cord (even orange utility cords) may not be rated at 15 or 20-amps - probably it is only 8 or 10-amps. Think of your whole RV as a big power strip. If overloaded, it will overheat and maybe cause a fire and additionally not deliver enough power to your appliances which could damage them. The air conditioners have a compressor which takes a lot of power to get started. Depending on your appliance, it may need more power than 15-amps to start. If so, it will either not start or could trip your breakers. Maybe it will start once, but later when something else happens to be running too, it will not.
When I use just 15-amps, I make sure all air conditioners are off and also plug in my kill-a-watt meter which can easily monitor the usage.
Remember, it is your total amp usage at the power post that is important (not per plug). You can't use 50+30+15 amps which can overload your post. Hopefully the circuit breakers will stop any damage.
My Surge Protector SelectionAfter studying all these issues, I chose the Progressive Industries SSP model for 50-amps. It has been working great. It does not have any noise. It has LED lights to warn if there is an issue and will protect my RV from harmful conditions. I keep it attached to the 50-amp power cable of my RV so setup is easier, but it does make the cable heavier. Also, I have the security cables and locks attached. My goal is to make the setup fast and routine.
Security BracketYou'll spend some good money on the surge protector and you may not be at your campsite all the time, so you may want to lock it up. Additionally, the power cable itself is expensive, and why not lock that up too. What I do is use a security cable (available at many home stores) along with a set of 3 keyed padlocks. The padlocks have medium length necks and came in a set with the same key. I also use a home brewed metal bracket (from the chain link fence section at the home store). I got a strip of metal that I can wrap around the heavy wire power cable and then put the lock through the bolt hole. I lock one end of the security cable to the surge protector bracket and the other end of the security cable to the power cable. The third lock goes around the security cable and is used to lock to the power post or box. This is a flexible system to secure the power cable and surge protector to whatever you find at your power location (which is always different) and it's easy to manage with one key for all locks.
Additionally, to keep the surge protector dry (because mine says not to use it in the rain), I use a clear heavy plastic bag as a cover. I can see the LED lights through the bag, and I made a hole in the bottom to put the neck of the protector through which I sealed with tape. This DIY rig is ventilated on the bottom and covers the important stuff to keep it dry.
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