Going on vacation is always a great adventure. You bring everything you could possibly need, however you may notice that your trailer’s electrical services are a little different than you may imagine. The outlets aren’t like the standard house hold’s so, what do you do and how do you get to using your power? This post will give you some helpful tips and resources to help you adapt!
Basic RV Electricity Need-to -Knows
As you get to know your RV there are some things you need to be aware of. Your RV or travel trailer will have three different types of electrical sources. It consists of a 12-volt DC automotive system, a 12-volt DC coach system, and a 120 volt AC coach.
I personally don’t speak a whole lot of machine “greek,” but what I do know is that we are mostly concerned with converting power from the outside into your trailer. This will be a focus on the 120 volt AC coach and the 12-volt DC automotive system.
These systems can be accessed on the outside of the trailer. Don’t worry you can still use the plug in’s inside the trailer-just like at home, but going outdoors, you will need a power source.
Trailer parks or campsites that authorize trailers and RV’s will have tall electric boxes near where you will park. These are your best friends. They, of course, give you the power to the heat, washer, and other appliances you may have in your RV or trailer.
Because we are borrowing power here there are a few tips. Just like your hot water heater, you have limits on how much of the resources you have access to on vacation.
It is important to know what AMP you have because that will give you a limit to how much energy you can use on your trip. If you have 50 AMPs you have basically 50 credits to spend on whatever appliance you want to use.
It is very important to not overload the circuits with a bunch of appliances being used at the same time. If we did go over our allotted voltage, we may damage the appliance and potentially the electrical systems in our trailer. Here are a few items to help us visualize what this looks like.
If I had a 30 AMP system for my trailer I could, for example, use my coffee maker and toaster, maybe watch my VCR+T.V. I would be using about 22 AMPs at a time leaving us with approximately 8 AMPs to use somewhere else in the trailer. I also don’t do a whole lot of math, but luckily it’s easy enough.
Be aware that it doesn’t necessarily matter how many AMPS the campground plug in has as to how much it matters to what your RV or trailer has a set up to. For example, even if the sight has a 50 AMP outlet and you have a 15 or 30 AMP system, you cannot use 50 AMPS worth of energy in your 15 or 30 AMP adventure mobile.
It simply will cause a power loss or damage if you plug in too many appliances. If you have ever seen a film entitled, “The Christmas Story” you will be familiar with outlet over load consequences. We still miss that leg lamp. Remember your AMPS are your limits!
Below is a compiled list of common appliances used in trailers and RVs and their AMP intake courtesy of Kampgrounds of America’s website to help users get an idea of how much energy these blessings of modern technology will use.
- Coffee maker – 8.3 amps
- Converter – 8 amps
- Hair dryer – 9 to 12 amps
- Microwave – 13 amps
- Refrigerator – 2.8 amps
- Roof a/c 13.5 amps
- TV – 1.5 amps
- Toaster – 8 to 10 amps
- VCR – 2 amps
- Electric skillet- 6 to 12 amps
If you want to find out how many AMPs your appliances may be using it is pretty easy to find out. Talking with an employee of the company selling the item or by using the Electrical Safety’s website can help you do some quick math!
Which AMP do you have?
First off, before we throw out or purchase needless items, we need to identify what type of set up the trailer has in order to know what cords to buy and how many AMPs we have to use. Standard trailers have 30 AMP setups. However, as stated before you may see 15/20 or 50 AMP outlets.
I’m a very visual learner, but I’m going to describe to you in words what to look for–otherwise, I’d use my charade skills. First off, if your outlet has 4 prongs- three flattened and a round prong on the top, making a diamond shape, chances are that the outlet you are looking at is a 50 AMP.
If it is a 30 AMP it will have three prongs that form more of a triangle in shape. The 15/20 AMP outlets look like regular household outlets and those are two-pronged.
Being able to identify which outlets you have will help you find the right adapters, extension cords, and plugins to be able to get some electricity. Once you identify what set up your trailer has you’ve conquered the first step.
We Aren’t Dogs, but You Might Need a Bone
Not every campsite or place you will visit will match your trailers AMP system. There may be occasions where you will need to either “step up” in wattage or “step down” to match the outdoor outlets at the parks or sites you are visiting to be able to access their electricity via with your plugins. Some campsites may have 50 or 15 AMP outdoor outlets. Though those AMP outlets are less common than 30 AMP.
“Stepping up” simply means adjusting your plug in to match the higher capacity outlet that the sight may have. For example, if you have a 15/20 AMP outlet and the trailer park has a 30 AMP plugin you will need to find an adapter to match what they provide. “Stepping down” for example will look something like a 50 AMP needing to connect to a 30 or 15 AMP connector.
There are several easy and simple ways in converting your AMP set up to the campsite’s. Now we hit the depth of the question of how to make your trailer’s power source to connect to anything. Yes, anything! Well, almost!
We will be talking about two different kinds of ways to do this. First is purchasing “dog bone” adapters. Another option is to purchase conversion kits. You will have to install this into your trailer to replace the outlet size you may not want.
Later in this article, we will discuss the pros and cons to each different type of outlet help in order to give you a better idea on what would be a better match for you and your excursions. You may be surprised!
We will be stopping our current train of thought before we go any further to make this brief safety announcement: Before plugging, pulling, switching and changing anything electrical in your trailer, make sure that the electrical systems are completely turned off!
No one wants to be electrocuted if you can help it. Helpfully, the breaker to turn off the electricity is often times located by the AMP outlets. Makes things a little easier. However, double check around your trailer for other breaker boxes or electrical systems to ensure safety.
Dog Bones and Adapters
If you choose to go the “dog bone” adapter route here are some things you need to know. You may need multiple of these in order to make sure that you will be able to use power where ever you go. Remember how we mentioned stepping down or up? This is where the adapters come into play.
If you have a 50 AMP system, you will need a dog bone adapter that will bring it down to 30 AMP. Rest assured that when you go to Home Depot or wherever they are sold, the adapters only step down in these increments so you won’t have to worry about too many details.
- 50 AMPS to 30 AMPS
2. 30 AMPS to 15/20 AMPS
Luckily not a lot of confusing options are out there! But to every bonus there may be a down side.
Depending on your AMP set up, some RV or trailer owners will have several different AMP adapters. This is to prevent issues in the case they come to a camp site or park that has a AMP outlet that is two steps higher or lower than theirs set up. Better safe than sorry to have both types of adapters instead of being one too short!
Typically these dog bone adapters (called that for their shape) are affordable. Ranging from 12 US dollars to about 20 US dollars. However, on the rare occasion, you will see them priced a bit higher at 60 US dollars to about 100 US dollars or more. Maybe the store would price match for you if you found one you liked.
Here are the steps to using the dog bone or other adapters.
- Identify what outlets the park or camp site has
- Connect the correct adapter to your trailer first
- then if the outlets are only “one step” away then you’re good to go.
- If not, grab your other adapter to go one more connecting it to the adapter connected to your trailer.
- Then hook up to your power source
- Again! Make sure your electrical systems are turned off before you plug in.
- If everything is functioning properly! Have fun!
Electrical Cord Converter Kits
If you are not a huge fan of keeping track of all the cords and adapters that you may or may not need or are having a quality control issue, electrical cord converters (purchasing it in a kit) may be a great option for you and less of a hassle. Be advised that they take a little more work in the installation process, but once installed it works pretty well!
In terms of pricing for electrical cord converter kits you will find a rate of about 65 US to 80 US dollars for some, however, if you don’t have a battery for it or the proper extension/ compliment cord is not in your basket you may have those as an added expense. Sometimes an upwards price of 200 US dollars to 300 US dollars or more for the whole thing.
Keep in mind, keeping the parts you need to convert the trailer or RV’s electrical system in the kit will be cheaper than buying the parts separately. It may eliminate the error of getting the wrong parts as well. Did we already cover the fact I’m not literate with “tech speech greek.”
A few things about converting over would be is that the kits they send you are water proof. One of the reasons why some kits may be water proof is that they also work for boats, two for one deal! Some, if not most kits comes with a lot of different fittings to be able to be customizable for your RV or trailer.
The electrical cord converter kit is a little more convenient as well because it also has a detachable feature for the cord and makes for easier storage. Gotta love the easy management and it looks a little more classy and clean looking as well if you’re concerned about appearances.
A few trailer owners who have shared their experiences with conversion kits mention how the replacements are cleaner, last longer, are less of a hassle and keep wasps from entering your RV or trailer at the cord opening. Maybe a minor luxury to keep the wasps out, but if you are camping with a few people who may not love them (i.e. people like my sisters), it is worth the protection!
To install your conversion kit you will need a few tools like a screw driver and possibly a box cutter knife to remove silicone. Depending on the kit you may need to have other tools, but for the most part you don’t need extensive tools.
I would included a step by step to install your electrical cord converter with the kit, but it is a little more of a process than to include on this article. Here is a Youtube video, I personally found helpful in aiding in the installation.
A word of thoughtful caution, look at the type of converter you are purchasing before giving over the cash, especially since converter kits can be a little more pricey. If you have a 50 or 15/20 AMP set up, getting a converter for the 30 AMP would be a great option as most campsites or parks have those types of outlets.
In Case You Were Wondering…
Many people have asked the question about what other power sources they could connect to. Typically a commonly asked question we wonder about is if we could plug into a house for our energy. Here’s the take:
Go for it, but make sure that you have the right AMPS to be able to get the right hook ups. Most houses only have 15/20 AMPS when your trailer will need 30/50 AMPS to be able to function. Again before you hook up to the house and have a party, turn off the breaker in your trailer or RV AND the house as well. You’ll still be electrocuted if your house is on.
Other than that, houses are fine to be your power source. Happy adventuring!