Electrical Issues – 120 Vac

Electrical Problem – Sept. 2015

Parked at Venice RV Park in Seaside, one morning got up and started to make coffee. Discovered there was no power to the outlet I normally use for that. Hmmm. Checked several other outlets. Nothing. Checked the bathroom GFI outlet. It was fine. Not tripped, both outlets there had power, made my coffee in the bathroom and had breakfast while I perused the schematics for the AC power system that I’d gotten from Fleetwood a few years ago.

I found that half the RV was missing power. Usually this happened after a rain shower had gotten moisture inside the patio outlet but this time, that wasn’t the issue. It took several hours of reading, measuring, and thinking to figure out that the open circuit was between the GFI in the bathroom, and the wiring past that device. Hmm. The only thing I could come up with as a reason was that there’s a junction box after the GFI that had one branch that supplied a second branch. That second power branch was the one that was dead so I figured the connection had gone bad. After all, I could only read 80 Vac when measuring after the junction box, but 120 Vac feeding it. Than I spent hours trying to find that junction box. It wasn’t up in the Circuit Breaker cabinet, it wasn’t under the dinette, it wasn’t inside the raceway that runs along the wall. Only thing I could figure was that it was in the hidden space between the bathroom wall and the pantry cupboard. Probably down or near the floor and covered with paneling. GAH! I wasn’t going to rip that all out.

OK, time to come up with an alternate plan. And after spending the better part of a day studying the drawings and searching here and there, I decided I could modify the AC system a bit. First, I disconnect the branch wires from the GFI. So far so good. With that, I now had a dead branch circuit that covered much of the RV. Both patio outlets, an outlet for the engine block heater in a basement compartment, the entire kitchen, the refer power inside it’s outside access panel, half of the front of the RV on the passenger side and the outlet in the hallway.

I made up a male to male 120 Vac extension cord and plugged into a dead outlet on the passenger side, and a live socket on the drivers. That gave me temporary power for testing. Everything worked on that branch. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t find the junction box that had the near open circuit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   What I did to restore power to all these outlets was to rewire the power from the CB panel that goes only to the microwave (a 15 Amp dedicated circuit), to the electrical outlet above the kitchen counter area next to the sinks. This was because they were at the same height, and, the outlet over the counter was the last one in the original string. That makes rewiring easier. These Romex type wire cables are stiff and difficult to work with…especially if you’re trying to connect more than two circuits, so minimizing the number of connections was a primary goal.

I removed the Microwave and checked the wiring in it’s cubby hole…sure enough, they’d used 12 AWG so that was good for 20 Amp. I could run both the M/W and all the dead outlets off of that wire. I’d want to change the wire from the 15 Amp breaker to the 20 Amp breaker in the breaker panel, in other words, swapping two branch circuits, but that’s not difficult. Damn, the MW is heavy. But, it’s in good shape, nice and clean too.

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First I had to pull up the false bottom of the overhead cabinet. You can barely see the wiring here but I’ve got about an inch of free play under the false bottom. That’s important because I’d have to buy a slightly larger box to replace the original and need the room.

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When I went to buy parts, the local Ace Hardware had a very nice, flexible, 12 AWG 2 wire with ground cable that I bought to make the job easier. Than I got a new CGFI for over the sink, a couple of plastic boxes to mount things in and I’m ready to go to work. This job took several days because I don’t have to work all that fast, but I had extension cords all over the place to run stuff that was originally on all the dead outlets. Heaters, the TV, etc.

Here’s a shot inside the overhead cabinet looking toward the MW wall. That square hole is how you access the electrical plug for the MW so you can take it out for service. Then below that is the hole for the 12 V wiring, and the other for 120 Vac. I had to drill that hole bigger for the new larger electrical cable I was adding. Then had to enlarge the opening for the new GFI since it’s bigger than just a plain outlet it is replacing and needs a larger hole than the old box did. The GFI faces down toward the kitchen sink sideboard.

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And here’s the MW box, after I’d removed the original outlet for the MW. You can see my marking pen drawing that outlined the old outlet the MW was using. That wiring on the bottom of the cabinet is 12 Volt stuff for the fan and light over the stove. The heavy white covered cables on the right are the 120 Volt circuits.

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And here are some of the mods in the MW cabinet. Had to add that blue electrical box and outlet because the original box didn’t have the room for extra 3 wires I had to add. Then the new black covered cable (not shown) goes from that blue box to the new GFI. The returning black cable is the interconnection to that older branch circuit and comes from the new GFI. I ended up using all but one foot of the 15 feet of nice 12 AWG I bought. It’s flexibility made the job much easier as the copper wires are stranded instead of solid and the black cover is flexible too.

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After testing and buttoning it all up, here’s what the sink counter outlets look like now with  the new GFI installed in the overhead cabinet…it now protects this entire branch circuit and all the outlets on it. I had lost patience when I tried to cut the hole larger and made it just a hair too big. An adult has to stoop down to see that mistake.

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I did have to chase down some wiring in back of the CB panel when I first started the job. What a freaking mess behind there. Nasty. The drawings showed a junction box back there associated with the branch I was working on but it turned out to not be involved and in good condition.

Circuit Breaker Panel Wiring

After rewiring the branch circuit, and switching the wiring over for that branch from a 15 Amp to a 20 Amp breaker, I marked up a drawing for the system and taped it inside the breaker box. Also made up a new listing of the circuits for the breakers. Looking at the schematic below, the ‘no connection’ branch WAS the dead branch. It use to be part of #4 branch and continued on after the bathroom GFI. Now it’s wire nutted off at the bathroom GFI.

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Although remodeling any home’s electrical system is a chore, sometimes frustrating as hell, it’s sure satisfying when you figure out an easy way to accomplish what could have been a very expensive and difficult repair involving removing interior walls in an RV. Glad I didn’t have to do that.

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Electrical Short…May ’11

Yikes! So after I fixed my kitchen leak (shown in the following post), I’m sitting on the couch the next evening watching TV and the TV blinks off. Then I hear above my head some obvious electrical shorting going on. Jumping up and looking towards the electrical panel in my cabinet above the dinette, I see wisps of smoke escaping from the cabinet. I can still hear it spitting and sparking inside the circuit breaker/12V fuse panel. Quick like a bunny I run outside and unplug the RV from shore power. Turned out the CB had blown, which I expected. Groaning, I pull out my tools and begin to remove that panel.

Electrical panel, with transfer switch.

The picture above was taken back in 2006. I’d pulled it when I was trying to find the transfer (Xfer) switch…I knew that they seemed to fail often so I wanted to be prepared. I didn’t open the Xfer switch case back then because I wasn’t having any trouble with it at the time.

Obviously, there was something bad going on now. When I got it out this time, there were some wires burned and blackened under the cover. Not good.

Cover removed.

I checked it all out but I couldn’t find any electrical problems with the relays, or the screw on terminals. What I did find was that the freaking factory used the wrong size wire nuts. Over time, with cycling ambient air temps, the hot wire wire nut had loosened enough that it must have bounced off somewhere during my travels. The two hot wires then eventually moved close enough to short out to the metal case, causing the electrical arcing. There was evidence that there was some minor insulation flaming.

All that was necessary to fix everything was to cut out the damaged sections of power wiring. With the slack in the affected cabling, there was plenty to work with. Then I installed the correct size wire nuts and I was back up and running.  I did check out the transfer switch wiring and relays but everything looked fine in that section of the panel. All I did in there was make sure the screws were tight and that there wasn’t any corrosion.

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Sept. ’05 and several other times after…Power lost on the passenger’s side.

As I drove around the country the first year or two after I bought the RV, I’d occasionally be in an area where there was heavy morning fog, drizzle, light rain, or heavy rain. The first time I had an electrical problem, being I was so new to RV’ing, it took me quite a while to understand that only half of my RV had lost power. The passenger’s side. And to figure that it must have something to do with the rain. I didn’t have any CB’s tripped…so that was good, but that made it all the more difficult to track down what had caused the problem. Spent a good two hours measuring everywhere and scratching my head. And then I found the GFI in the bathroom. On the other side of the RV from the problem. Jeese. Way to confuse people.

Anyway, for several years after that first occasion where I’d lost power on the passenger side, and some outlets on the driver’s side, whenever power went out, I’d have to remember…you have a GFI dummy, go check it. And invariably, it would be tripped. But, it’s doing it’s job. What, or rather who, is the culprit causing it!

Eventually, it happened during after a short drive from one RV park to another, but the weather was dry! My computer was still working, and I went to the RV dot net forum and asked people what they might think could be the problem. I got several answers, and checked them out, or already had previously, but one guy mentioned the patio outlets. He pointed out that these outlets were exposed to weather all the time and can rot out. And although mine was protected by the awning, open or closed, I decided to check it out.

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I removed the electrical cover, sealed type for out of door use, and discovered a mess behind it. The neutral terminal had corroded apart and was dangling loose. I could see evidence that it had shorted a few times against the hot wire, which was also loose, because the outlets plastic had started to crumble apart. That explained why it had tripped the GFI this time, without moisture. Those times when it rained, it could get by the seal because it wasn’t entirely sealed against the body of the RV.

Off to Ace hardware for a new outlet. And a package of new closed cell foam seals for the outlet covers (I have two patio outlets, one on either side of the RV). After shortening the heavy Romex cable that they stuffed into that small area, and installing the new outlet, now even heavy rainfall doesn’t faze the GFI.

If you have mystery GFI tripping episodes, especially during damp periods, the recommendation from here is that you carefully check your patio outlets.