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RV Heating 2011 -- Electrical Capacity

Me and the '96 Camaro at Nashvegas

A few years back when I was still doing the race car thing,  I trekked off to Nashville Superspeedway for a weekend of racing.   I took the Old Girl and my 28′ enclosed car hauler with the ’96 Camaro in it.  One of the unexpected bonuses to the trip were the parking accommodations.

The 1.3 mile oval Speedway has hosted 2 Busch races and two Truck series races annually since it opened in 2001.  It has never been the site of a Sprint Cup race.   I got to park the Old Girl in the infield  in the spots normally reserved for the driver’s coaches.  I definitely was suffering from a case of the big

The Old Girl in the infield at Nashvegas

head.  The hookups were electric and water only but there was an upgrade.  Each pedestal had 4 50amp hookups… Four! — Two for each site.  I guess those big high dollar motor coaches were power hungry with as many as 4 roof air units.   It just got me to thinking about how woefully inadequate the electrical system is on most recreational vehicles.

The Old Girl is of the old school 30amp variety.  To survive in her world you have to keep a running inventory of what is currently drawing electricity and what else you can add to the load.  Like…. you can run the rear air and the microwave at the same time but not the front air and the microwave.   Miss Kathy has a coffee pot that is now part of the overall operating system. It is a Keurig B-70 Platinum and I have come to accept it.  She asks for little enough special treatment.  Not withstanding is the fact that this power hog should have it’s own mini-nuke reactor to supply its’ power.   When the Keurig fires up, everything else has to be off or the breakers start poppin’ like a pan of Redenbacher corn.

The problem lies in the inadequate power supply to the RV to start with.  30amps is not all that much.  It will not run the 2 rooftop A/Cs simultaneously.  I had to modify the electrical system to accomplish that.  You cannot survive a summer of full Texas heat with one rooftop AC in play. 30amps will run one electric heater at the lower power setting.   All of the 120v receptacles in the Old Girl run off one 20amp breaker.  You can sometimes plug in 2 electric heaters as long as they are both on low  — and sometimes not.  It is just plain frustrating–especially if you are cold.

Let me do a major disclaimer here before we go any farther.  I am not an electrician– or even sorta close.  If I was, I would probably rewire the Old Girl for 50amp or even 100amp and  do it right with new wire and breaker boxes.  I just don’t have it in me folks. I probably would begrudge the cash outlay as well.  I bet it would be damned expensive.  Some of the kludges I am discussing here could get you in trouble.   Overloaded circuits,  inadequate power cords and such are a definite fire hazard and every one needs to be aware of that.

Take our current situation as the base starting point. We are using electricity free of charge as a perk of our oil field gate guard job.  Electricity is supplied via a company provided and fueled 12kw diesel generator. It provides one 50amp rv hookup, one 30amp RV hookup and a 120v 20amp GFCI plug assembly.  I use them all for first one thing or another.

The only way you can run additional electrical items in a 30amp recreational vehicle is to introduce additional power to the RV.   With the exception of the wiring for the second AC unit the rest of my wiring is a kludge (see disclaimer above).   I introduced 2 dedicated lines into the RV via the easiest means possible.  I took 2 lengths of 10ga electrical wire and ran them both from the electrical bay to the inside of the Old Girl.  One runs from the electrical bay in the rear and along the frame rails to the front of the RV. The second one runs from the electrical bay in the rear to the rear bedroom.  The wire ends in the rear bay have male ends.  If I had it to do over again, I would probably use heavier 8ga wire.

The Generator Connections:

50amp male to dual 30amp female RV adapter

I connect  a 50amp male to 30amp dual female adapter to the 50amp receptacle.  I connect two of the heavy RV 30amp extension cords to the pigtail and then connect those 2 RV extension cords to the 2 dedicated lines mentioned above in the electrical bay.  Now some people are going to say I oughta just connect the 50amp receptacle to a 50amp RV extension cord and use it to lead into the electrical bay.  Granted, that would be better from a power loss standpoint.  BUT, those 50amp cords are bulky and expensive.  I have 200′ of 30amp RV extension cord of varying lengths that I can mix and match as need arises.

Progressive Industries EMS HW30C hardwired

I connect a standard 30amp RV extension cord to the single 30amp receptacle and plug it into the default RV power supply box that runs through my Progressive Industries 30amp EMS that is hardwired.  I need to point out that the 2 dedicated lines I kludged in there are NOT run through the EMS and as such, they are not protected from surges, low/high voltage or mis-wired receptacles. I always connect the  RV power supply first and run it through the EMS to make sure it is all good.

I connect the outside lights and the lift pump to the remaining 120v 20amp GFCI outlet.

Electrical Bay Connections:

As detailed above,  the single 30amp connection powers the RV in the traditional manner.

One of the 30amp ‘drops’ from the 50amp receptacle powers the dedicated line running to the front of the Old Girl.

Tripp Lite Surge Suppressor

The second 30amp ‘drop’ from the 50amp receptacle is plugged into a Tripp Lite ISOBAR8ULTRA 8-Outlet Surge Protector (3840 Joules) that affords me some level of protection and additional outlets.  The second dedicated line that runs to the bedroom is plugged into the Tripp Lite.

In Use:

Broan 6201 electric heater- it is just a baby!

It was 37 degrees up here on the Red this morning.  A light frost coated the windshields just before daylight. It is our coldest morning of the winter so far.  Miss K is a desert girl and she likes to sleep where it is warmish.  If I was brave enough to slide that door open a bit to the rear bedroom right now, I would be met with a wave of desert air.  No kidding, I just bet she is sleeping peacefully at about 85 degrees.  During the winter, heat is provided to the rear bedroom by one of the Broan-NuTone 6201 Two Level Electric Heaters.  Power is supplied via the dedicated line.  Since the line runs direct to the generator, the electric heater can be operated on either the high or low setting.

The second Broan-NuTone 6201 Two Level Electric Heater is running up here in the front of the RV.  It is connected to the second dedicated line.  Again, we have the option of running it on either high or low setting.

Electric heaters in an RV are always the subject of much debate this time of year.  One fact remains certain — any electric heater that connects to a 120v source is only going to produce 1500w of heat.  Period.  Its’ the law.  It is how they deliver the heat that separates the crap heaters from the good ones.  I have been through plenty of heaters in the Old Girl over the years.  Oil radiators, towers that twist and turn, fans that sound like jets;  they all suck.   Until we found the Broan-NuTone 6201 Two Level Heater.  I have never paid this much for an electric heater –around $70- and I have never bought 2 of the same kind.  The Broan kicks everybody’s butt.

What if it gets real damned cold…..

Even if this is Texas we still have our few days a year where it might dip into the single digits. When that happens, the electric light bulbs or small electric heaters go into the storage bays to protect the pipes and tanks. Most likely they will be plugged into the Tripp Lite that is on a dedicated line.

I have another inferior electric heater that can be plugged directly into the Old Girl’s electrics and run on low to warm up the front cabin.  We also have the Mr. Heater Buddy Portable Propane Heater as backup.


End Note: Here’s to the Meantime by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals from the This Is Somewhere cd.  If you enjoy strong female vocals and some good rockin’….

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1 comment to RV Heating 2011 — Electrical Capacity

  • Blars

    The 1500 watt limit is due to the safety requirements of a 15 amp plug, theoreticly they could do 1800 watts but not get appropriate approval. You can do more with a different (20 or 30 amp) plug at 120v, or for a built-in.

    In limited circumstances, a heat-pump can output more heat than power it uses. (Generally, when the outdoor temperature is more than 40F.) A peltier device used as a heater will also do this, but also have problems with the cold side gets ice on it.

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