Have a Question? (866) 332-7881
Back to store

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What You Need to Know About Surge Protectors for RVs

Keeping up with the needs of your RV can be a lot like owning a home. A smaller, more mobile home - which is why RVs are sometimes considered by similar terms. Among other things, you need to be well-informed about best practices in towing and towing safety, how and when to use a water softener system (and why), all about RV awning care, the differences between RV leveling jacks and stabilizing jacks, and so much more.

When and where should you use RV roof tape? What happens to some RV fridges when the RV isn’t leveled? How can you prevent damage to your appliances, both electrical and those that deliver water?

These are just some of the questions you need to be able to answer readily as an RV owner. Keeping well-researched and informed on these matters will enable you to more effectively deal with problems on the road and possibly even prevent them.

One of the chief electrical considerations you will have to make for your RV is how to prevent damage to your electrical appliances attributable to power surges. To do this, you need not only a surge protector for your RV, but also need a basic understanding of shore power connections, what a power surge is, and why you need protection in the first place.

Starting Out: What is Shore Power?

Your RV has a battery and an alternator which enables the rig to generate electrical power from some of the energy released from the fuel that the engine burns. However, when you’re in camp or elsewhere that affords the convenience of a connection to an external power source, there’s no reason to put that type of strain on your battery. When you’re living in your RV, powering lights and appliances places a great strain on your battery that you can avoid with the use of shore power.

Shore power is basically any power supply that provides electricity from an external source to an RV, enabling you to utilize electricity when you’re in camp or at an RV park. Shore power could theoretically come from a house, but many RV campsites actually offer shore power hookups.

Depending on the size and specifications of your RV, you’ll probably have either 30 or 50 amp service, as these are typical ratings for RVs, whereas many homes have between 100 and 200 amp service. RVs can understandably get away with lower ratings because they are smaller than homes and do not have such a pressing need for power.

This makes it important for you to select a shore power cord that is rated accordingly. Choosing a power cord that is not properly rated can be dangerous, and you should never utilize a shore power cord that does not meet the minimum requirements (that is, do not ever use a 30 amp power cord to draw 50 amps as it can overheat, start a fire or otherwise damage your electrical systems). A good rule of thumb is to follow the ratings precisely.

Connecting to shore power is highly convenient because it frees you from the need to draw from your RV battery (unless you have a generator in which case that might be a moot point). However, once you’re hooked up to an external power source, you need to be very wary of a specific threat to your RV’s electrical system that is more common than many would like to admit: power surges.

Starting Out: What is an Electrical Surge?

Electrical supply is measured primarily according to two metrics, voltage, and current. Current is a measurement of how much electricity is flowing through a circuit for a given unit of time. Voltage is slightly more complex and is treated as the product of current multiplied by resistance. Resistance is a measurement of how much the circuit “pushes back” on the flow of electricity and therefore voltage is a large indicator of how much (for lack of a better term) electricity a circuit can handle safely. This is why appliances and electrical cables have voltage ratings.

Most shore connections are rated to 120 volts, and for that reason, many appliances are rated for 120 volt systems. Appliances are only rated to work properly (or safely) through a very narrow range of voltage ratings. Any change in the voltage rating, either up or down, can damage the appliance, result in a fire, or otherwise post a hazard to health and safety.

A power surge occurs whenever the supply of electricity to your RV spikes, and there are many different factors that can cause this. A power surge can be caused by a malfunction in a nearby transformer that regulates and controls the local voltage or it could be caused by utility companies manipulating the power supply on the grid, which can cause surges and dips in voltage. Power surges can also be the result of natural causes, such as lightning strikes or even interference with a power line, such as a tree limb coming in contact with it.

A surge can actually even be caused by usage inside of the RV. If you have appliances within the RV that draw a lot of power, if they are suddenly shut on or off, they can disrupt or divert the flow of electricity to other components on the system, which can be very damaging. Usually, these surges are comparatively small, but over time they can wear down your other electrical components.

Because many of the most powerful (and therefore the most damaging surges) are the result of unpredictable natural events, it is not practical to avoid them. You must secure protection against them because of the damage they can cause.

Similar to a power surge is a power dip, which is the opposite situation, in which the voltage periodically drops. Although it might make sense to assume that there are no risks associated with power dips, this is not the case. Dips in power, like surges, can be just as negatively impactful for the appliances in your RV.

The Problem with Power Surges

When you exceed the voltage capacity of an electrical appliance, such as what would happen during a power surge, you create a very negative set of circumstances for that appliance. Worse is the fact that power surges occur in the blink of an eye, so they are not something that can be predicted and avoided.

When there is a power surge and unprotected electrical appliances bear the brunt of that surge, the voltage increase inside the appliance can cause an arc across components. The extra energy from the arc is spent as heat which can be extremely damaging to electronics. For example, some electronics are controlled or managed via internal circuit boards that direct and control the flow of energy. When these overheat, they can “burn out,” which in a sense destroys them and renders the associated appliance inoperable.

Even if a surge doesn’t immediately incapacitate a device, over time, smaller surges to unprotected devices can slowly wear out and degrade their components. An electrical device like a TV that has been exposed to too many “small” power surges will eventually wear out and cease to function ahead of its time. Sometimes you can’t see the immediate damage caused by a surge, but overtime surges will shorten the length of electronics’ lifespans.

While smaller surges can damage, destroy or otherwise shorten the usable lifespans of electronics and other electrical appliances, extremely powerful surges can actually be much more destructive. Particularly powerful surges can even start fires, making surges not only a threat to your RV’s electrical infrastructure but also to the safety of you and your loved ones.

In order to protect against these adverse effects, a surge protector for an RV, or an EMS (electrical management system) provides even better, additional protection.

How Do Surge Protectors for RVs Work?

The most basic surge protectors for RVs are themselves fairly simple electrical appliances that serve a few simple functions. The basic and central function of a surge protector for your RV is to serve as an interrupting force to divert or limit extra voltage in the event of a power surge or a spike (which is like a surge but does not last as long)

Surge protectors don’t all operate by exactly the same principle, to take a high-level approach to the protection they offer, they typically divert the excess voltage away from your RV. if the surge protector detects a spike or a surge in voltage, it will shunt the excess electrical potential away from your RV so that your appliances and electrical system do not suffer the damage.

Surge protectors for RVs are not the only way to provide your RV with electrical protection against power spikes and surges. A more comprehensive solution would be an electrical management system, or EMS, which does basically everything a surge protector does and provides additional protection when you connect your RV to an external power source.

An EMS, which will cost you more than a surge protector for your RV, and will provide you additional protection, against both high and low voltages. While the damage that can be caused by high voltage is apparent, the damage that can be caused by low voltage is not as apparent, and low voltage issues are more common than you might expect.

Whenever there is a strong demand on a local power supply, the voltage supplied to your RV can dip, causing your appliances to run on a lower voltage than they should. If this happens and you continuously run your appliances on a lower voltage, they will eventually fail, just as they would with prolonged exposure to spikes.

A surge protector for your RV or even an EMS might seem like a significant investment, but it’s well worth the protection if you ever experience a serious surge that knocks out your electrical system. Consider the cost of wiring issues, rewiring, or even the cost of a new air conditioner or fridge!

What Features to Look for in Surge Protectors for RVs

Now that you know a little more about power surges and why you need to afford protection to your RV, here are some features you should consider if you decide to go with a surge protector for your RV to protect against surges and spikes.

-       Accurately measure power pedestal levels - You’re only as accurate as the information at your disposal; your surge protector should indicate the level of power you’re drawing from the pedestal you’re hooked up to.

-       An LED display or indicator - Many surge protectors come with an LED display that will indicate conditions such as “Power On,” “Open Ground,” “No Power” and even power levels.

-       Portability in surge protectors is a bonus - Look for a model that not only provides adequate protection but is also lightweight and easy to install! There are plenty of portable units in our store.

-       Weather-resistant design and thermal protection - If your surge protector is going to be plugged in outside between the shore power connection and your RV, you might as well get a unit that is resistant to high temperatures as well as the weather - it’ll last longer.

-       High response time - Some surge protectors will kick in and provide protection in as little as five nanoseconds.

-       High and low voltage protection - Many surge protectors do not protect against low voltage, but some do, increasing their utility and overall value.

-       Automatic restart features - Some surge protectors automatically restore power once the surge has ended.

-       Look for a model that delivers alerts - Many surge protectors are compatible with apps like Power Watchdog that can deliver you updates via Bluetooth.

-       A high degree of surge protection - Since surges are unpredictable, the higher the protection a surge protector can offer you, the better.

Choosing a surge protector for your RV to help diagnose and prevent electrical issues is not a task that you should take lightly. The right purchase can make a big impact on the prolonged health and operability of your electrical system. It’s important to get a compatible unit that has the features you desire.

If you have any questions about any of our products, including our RV surge protectors, please feel free to reach out to us and we’ll help you make the best choice. You can reach us at 866-332-7881. Let us know more about your RV, what electrical protection it currently features, and we’ll help you pick the best surge protector for your unique situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment