Electrical: Adding Surge Protection

Surge protection is important for an RV’er because when traveling, we often have limited expirience at RV parks when we stop for the night or have just arrived after a long day of driving and it’s stormy or dark and hard to make an eyeball assessment of the service tower. And there are times when the staff just does not care about or want to expend the money to refurbish electrical parts. It’s also true that since RV park electrical outlets might get hundreds of insertions and extractions of electrical plugs they can wear down and become less than a solid connection while still looking acceptable. This is most typical in the section of parks that have that section set aside for transient RV’ers. Because of these and other reasons, it’s smart to install a surge protector.

But for many years, I did without one. In my first 10 years of full time RVing I always carefully checked the 30 Amp outlets quality before I plugged in. Since this is my only home, and this isn’t a camping hobby, it was very important to protect my equipment the best way I could. There were times when I would head back to a RV park’s office and let them know I’d need a different spot because of poor quality electrical equipment. Back then, I didn’t have much income so I didn’t buy a surge protector until the 10th year. There were a few times when I got lucky even though the power sagged enough to damage things. So, no damage over those years except for blowing a couple computer motherboards. They were used and hadn’t cost me much so no big deal, except for the hassle.

Eventually, my social security income started while I still lived in my Bounder so shortly after, bought a Progressive Industries 30 Amp Surge Protector. Mainly because of their reputation. And over the next four years, it actually tripped a few times because of low voltage. And a couple times where the ground was disconnected. There was one RV park I stopped at that had the Hot and Neutral wires reversed, luckily it wouldn’t pass power. Cool. Probably would have damaged something if I hadn’t had the Progressive, but, you never know.

When I bought this 50 Amp model RV, I wasn’t going to risk damaging my stuff so I immediately checked Craigslist and lucky me, found a lightly used one for sale at $150. Saving over $125. That was back in February 2016 just 2 weeks after purchasing the RV, and I just got around to installing it in November 2016. I’d had other things to do.

Here’s what the cabinet looks like where I fitted the Progressive EMS-LCHW50. This is the electrical bay, and the way it’s designed, the water hose snakes through a hole in the bottom of the cabinet…along with the electrical cord…on it’s way over to the wet bay. This is not all that cool of a design as water and electricity don’t mix, so I’m going to have to raise the Progressive up off the decking just in case there is a spill, leak, rain, or water from a wet road makes it’s way in there while traveling. I’ll probably tape up the input and output connectors too. Try to seal them a bit. The cover on the Progressive is well sealed though. That’s a help.

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Here’s a little better view of the space:

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As you can see above, there’s not a lot of room to work in that portion of the cabinet. What I did, with the 50 Amp cord unplugged, was to remove the cover from the RV’s electrical service box, disconnected the 4 wires from under the clamping screws, undid all the cable clamps, pulled out the cable. Roughed in a place where I could mount the Progressive box, then measured how much electrical cord I’d need. There’s several ways to go from here, I could use rubber jacketed multistranded cable that I’d obtain just by cutting a two foot section off my existing RV umbilical cord, or go buy something at a hardware store. And what I chose to do was go buy something. Mainly because I could buy wiring without the thick insulating covers that would just be easier to work with in that tight space.

What I bought was 4 feet of 8 gauge stranded 3 wire with ground, Romex. Indoor rating. Nice stuff. Only $2.08/foot. Easier to work with than the flexible umbilical type cable. Getting the wiring done in the electrical box was the hard part. The new cable is in the center clamp shown below. You can see how much smaller it is compared to the original, that thick cable laying on the deck below the electrical box in the next picture. It’s the same gauge though, so most of the bulk of the RV cable is the jacket and sheathing.

Most of the work for that was done on my hands and knees. After that, I could move to a stool to sit on, and then wired the new wires into the output side of the Progressive while it was still detached from the wall, than wired the umbilical cable into the input side. With the stiffness and size of these wires, it’s a chore to get everything all wired up, but doable for the DIY’er. If you need to hire an electrician, it might take them 2-3 hours for this little job.

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There are only four wires to worry about.

  • L1 – Red 120V
  • Neu – Wht Neutral
  • L2 – Blk 120V
  • G – Bare Ground, aka GND

And it’s code that things have to have labels pointing out which is which. It’s very bad to put the NEU or GND where one of the hot wires should be and visa versa. But the Red and Black can be reversed without damage.

And here it is installed. I haven’t drilled mounting holes for the Progressive in the side wall yet, I’ll get to that later today. The 4 square box under it is just holding it for now, approximately where I’ll be permanently mounting it. I want it up high like that so there’s room under it to stow the umbilical cord while traveling. It’s a heavy cable and difficult to coil so I don’t want any interference from the Progressive. Plus I don’t want to bang into the Progressive while coiling either. The height also prevents any water that might end on the decking from causing any problems.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This mounting isn’t perfectly positioned though. It’s difficult to read the fault display but I have some ideas about that if it becomes a regular issue. I’ll just make up an extension cable for the plugged in display circuit and mount it outside the box somehow. I did consider mounting the Progressive box on the back wall there on the right, but I’d have had to move 3 very large cables and conduits. Not a job I’d want to tackle.

And this is not only the power panel, with the cover back on, but it’s also the Automatic Transfer Switch housing. So this is where that big relay is that automatically switches between shore power and a running generator if it’s started up. Not a bad place for it to be, a hell of a lot easier to access then in my old Bounder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And today I got the Progressive mounted against the wall with screws and nuts. Only able to do two screws, one in each upper mounting hole on either side, as the cable clamps are kind of in the way to do the lower screws. Look at all the nice room under the box, and that space in the back.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And that room is now gone as that’s where I have to coil up the cable. Then with the water hose installed, you can see the Progressive needs to be up off the deck somewhat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And it’s working fine now. I’m ready to travel and visit any and all RV parks and not worry about their electrical systems…much.

Edit: Jan. ’17

I am parked in a RV park along the Sea of Cortez in San Felipe, Baja Norte, Mexico and the owners of the park are remodeling. This park is one of the few parks here in San Felipe that has 50 amp available. They also tore out the too-close-together palapas so there’s room for those of us with larger RV with slides to extend them.

Shortly after I moved here, I had power outages. Once or twice a day, the power would drop out. Took me a couple times before I realized the Progressive EMS might have something to do with that, so I ran out and checked and found the fault code was displaying that it was dropping out when the voltage creeped up to 133 Vac. So it was doing it’s job of protecting my RV. Yea!

Over several days, the power got too high and my Progressive dropped out at least 10 times. At random times during the day and night. So after my complaints, the park hired some electrical guys to move the tap on the transformer, and they found that someone had stolen the copper ground wire off the power pole one time or the other. But they’d cleverly covered it up with a plastic sheath so it looked like it was still there. The crew moved the tap, replaced the ground, and we had 130 Vac. Just 3 volts less than the trip point. That voltage would likely drop a bunch when summer came and people started turning on their ACs.

And the day after power was restored, the Progressive dropped out again. This time the fault code displayed was for the voltage being too low! Gah! It was reading 108 Vac. Jeese. The limit is 113 Vac and then the Progressive shuts down.

The staff and I got together and decided it was a large compressor or water pump or something in the neighborhood that was causing the problem. Making the voltage at the pole decrease. Because moving the power tap back to where it was would not really help my situation of frequent protective dropouts, we decided to leave it as is.

And it’s turned out that the low voltage episodes only occurred 3 times and now days later, I think  I can live with it. One result of this voltage issue is at least I know for certain that my Progressive EMS is working correctly…and protecting my RV’s numerous electrical and electronic devices.

 

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