Last Updated on December 25, 2021
Today’s RV offers all the modern conveniences of home, which includes allowing you to use all types of electrical appliances and other devices. Amazing, right? Thanks to all this technology, you could easily make your RV your full-time home. Whether you plan to make your RV your home or only get to take it out occasionally, it is important to have a basic understanding of how your RV’s electrical system, as well as its major parts, works.
If you’re concerned this information might be a tad over your head, don’t be. We understand that most of us aren’t electricians or engineers, which is why we have put together a short guide that uses basic vocabulary to provide baseline knowledge about everything from panels and wires to cables and batteries.
A Lesson on Electricity
Regardless of where you are, you will never be able to access an unlimited amount of electrical power. This goes back to a formula you probably learned in high school and then promptly forgot. The formula is:
Watts = amps x volts (W = A x V); Simply put, watts (which represents overall power) is a product of amps (or currents) and voltage.
Using this formula, you can determine how many electrical devices you can have running at one time. Provided you stay under your available wattage amount, your circuits will run without any problem. However, if you exceed your wattage, you’ll trip your electrical system’s circuit.
Your RV Has Two Electrical Systems
RVs are equipped with a 12-volt electrical system that is powered by one or more batteries. The 12-volt system is used to power most of the lights in your living space, your carbon monoxide detector, your water pump, and the start-up of your furnace, refrigerator, and water heater. It may also be used to power other things.
Your RV also has a 120-volt electrical system that is powered by a generator or RV electrical hookup plug. It is used to power the items you use daily, such as your larger devices like the AC or Microwave oven.
A Few Words about Batteries
It goes without saying that your RV’s 12-volt system must have a total of 12 volts, which can be achieved using a single 12-volt battery or multiple 12-volt batteries that have been wired together to form a parallel circuit. In most cases, opting to use two 6-volt batteries wired together in a circuit to create a 12-volt battery is a better option than using a single 12-volt battery. Typically, this gives you a significantly longer battery life, known as a deeper discharge time. On the flip side, two 6-volt batteries require more space than a single 12-volt battery. The use of additional space may be worth it if you need an extended battery life while camping.
Anytime you plug into an RV campground electrical pedestal or another power source, your deep cycle batteries are automatically charged. When your RV is not plugged in the batteries can be used to power anything that will run off a 12-volt. You can convert your 12-volt battery’s direct current to a 120-volt alternating current by adding an inverter. This will allow you to use appliances that require 120 volts, as well as your vehicle’s electrical outlets.
Keep in mind that just like any other batteries, your RV’s 12-volt system can run out of juice, meaning it will need to be recharged. This is why it is a good idea to know the amount of discharge time you have.
Choosing an Amp
Most RVs include a power cord that can be used to plug into a campground’s electrical pedestal. There are two options: 30 amp with three prongs and 50 amp with four prongs. The 50 amp allows you to use more electricity at one time.
It’s important to know that not all campgrounds have hookups available for 50 amps. This is why you should invest in a 50 amp to 30 amp adapter. To avoid a voltage drop, use the shorter extension cords and adapter possible. It is not possible to adapt an RV with 30 amp capacity for use with a 50 amp cord.
Before You Plug in
When it comes to electricity, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always use a polarity tester to ensure a campground’s wiring is in good shape before hooking your plug to it. Often available for $40 or less, a polarity tester will ensure you don’t fry your RV’s electrical system.
Also, before plugging in, switch everything on your RV’s electrical system and the pedestal off. After firmly plugging in your cord, turn them back on. You may want to install a surge guard to prevent surges. Be aware of how much electricity your things use and keep them unplugged when not being used.
The Importance of Maintenance
Routine maintenance is crucial when it comes to your RV. Take the time to regularly check your batteries and their connections. Be on the lookout for anything frayed, damaged, or corroded. If you run into anything that doesn’t seem quite right, you should definitely have it checked out before you hit the road.
Be aware of where your electrical panels are so that you can easily check for a blown fuse or tripped circuit if something isn’t working properly. If you replace a fuse, only to find that it immediately blows again, there may be a connection issue, which will need to be checked out by a professional.