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Thanks to RV electrical systems, you can use most of today’s conveniences that you have always been accustomed to using at home. It feels great to be able to access everything on the road. That includes an HVAC system, vent fans, refrigerators, and overhead lighting.
With that, it is essential for you first to understand your RV electrical setup. You don’t need to be a licensed electrician or even memorize everything, but you need to know the basics of how your RV plugs and voltages work.
RVs generally come equipped with a 12-volt DC (battery) and a separate 120-volt AC electrical system. In addition, motorhomes and campervans have a third 12-volt DC automotive system that runs the electric equipment in the vehicle.
Similarly, travel trailers run the lights and trailer brakes on the separate automotive system of the tow vehicle connected to the wiring at the hitch.
If you plan to use your RV regularly, it would be of great help if you have a basic understanding of its electrical wirings, plugs, and voltages. This way, you will be able to do understand when something goes wrong.
How Is an RVs Electrical System Set Up?
One thing worth noting about RVs is that they will never give you unlimited access to electrical supply. While some people explain an RV’s electrical system with so much complexity, believe it or not, there is a much simpler way to understand that.
Basically, everything inside the RV is run on Direct Current (DC) power or Alternating Current (AC) power.
The term AC indicates how the electricity flows through the line from the power plant or your generator. The flow of the charge alternates polarity and so the current actually changes direction.
The AC power is supplied by plugging your camper into the outlet at the campground also called shore power. AC power can also be created by a generator that you plug into when no shore power is available.
The DC, or direct current, is supplied by the battery or solar power. Some systems such as lights can be run directly off DC power if wired separately. My RV has a separate light system that is turned on for DC at the panel.
The 12 or 24 volt DC power can also be converted to 110v power with an inverter. (On the other hand, 110v power is converted to DC 12v with a converter. )
With an understanding of the difference between DC and AC power, now we can talk about how power, current, and voltage are related.
It only takes a single scientific equation to understand how an electrical system in an RV works. Don’t panic – it’s really simple so breathe and keep reading.
As mentioned, the electrical system of your RV is divided into two types. For you to understand the electrical power that these systems produce, it would be ideal for you to review the scientific formula that you might have long forgotten —
watts = amps x volts or W = A x V.
This formula means the overall power (watts) of an electrical system is a product of current (amps) and voltage.
Why all the math?
The formula will allow you to find out the number of different electrical devices that you can use in your RV simultaneously. To ensure that your RV’s electrical system will work perfectly, you should not exceed the available amount of wattage. If you do, you will end up tripping the circuit of your electrical system.
What Are the Common RV System Voltages?
We already covered the basics of AC and DC systems. Again, AC is supplied by shore power at the campground. DC is a direct current supplied from the battery bank onboard the RV or solar power.
12-Volt DC RV System
The 12-volt direct current electrical system comes with the battery or batteries placed on the camper. The low voltage DC system will power small accessories like lights and fans but not the microwave or air conditioner.
The battery charger is connected to the AC electrical system to charge and maintain the 12-volt battery. Alternatively, the batteries can be charged with solar power.
The systems are actually separate systems but are connected with a converter. This enables you to have smart systems that run whether you are plugged into shore power or running on the batteries.
In addition, this system has two circuits connected to the camper’s fuse block. If you cannot find where that panel is, you can check the operator’s manual. Apart from that, it will also provide you with information as to how you can perform maintenance if needed.
Moreover, the 12-volt camper electrical system is responsible for providing electricity to typical appliances like:
- Exterior and interior lighting
- USB outlets
- Water pump
- Furnace and blower
- Refrigerator electronics
- Emergency warning equipment such as smoke alarms
- Tongue jack and stabilizing jacks
12-Volt DC Automotive System
It is worth mentioning here that motorhomes have a separate battery-operated system to run the vehicle. Similar to a car or truck the 12-volt DC system provides the needed power to start the engine. The lights and other things like the radio can be run on the battery as well. (Of course, until it dies.)
Similarly, travel trailers use the wiring connections at the hitch to supply the 12-volt DC automotive system to the trailer brakes and parking and brake lights.
120-Volt AC System
The 120-volt power source for your RV is much like the electrical system you have in your house. It is responsible for supplying electricity to your television, all the outlets, and the air conditioner.
Additionally, it provides electricity for the hot water heater in electric mode. The 120-volt system also runs the washing machine and dryers in your RV.
Moreover, the 120-volt power in your camper comes from either a 15, 30 or 50 amp plug.
When you are plugged into shore power many systems will run on AC power.
Interestingly, most RVs are set up with smart systems. So when you are off-grid on battery only some of the smart appliances will Switch over to run on DC. Smart appliances like the refrigerator and water heater use the DC power and propane together when disconnected from the 120-volt system.
The 120-volt AC system generally powers the following things:
- Interior Lights
- Refrigerator when switched to AC
- Air conditioner
- Converter will charge/maintain battery
- Water heater when switched to AC
Common RV Makes and Models and Their Voltages
|RV Manufacturer||RV Model (2020)||DC Voltage(s)||Electrical Plug Type|
|Winnebago||Solis||12-Volt Battery||50 amp|
|Winnebago||Vista 31BE||45 amps Battery Converter||30 amp|
|Leisure Travel Vans||Unity Rear Lounge||12-Volt Battery||30 amp|
|Airstream||Caravel 20FB||12-Volt Direct Current||30 amp|
|Cedar Creek||Hathaway 36CK2||12-Volt Battery||50 amp|
|Keystone RV||Montana 3121RL||265-watt Solar Panel||50 amp|
|Taxa||Mantis||12-Volt Direct Current||30 amp|
|Shasta||31OK||12-Volt Battery||30 amp|
|Venom||V-Series V3815TK||12-Volt Battery||50 amp|
Common RV Electrical Plug Types
Almost every RV found in the market comes equipped with a power cord, which you can use to plug the electrical system at a campground. These electrical plugs are determined by the wiring in the RV and the amount of power necessary to run all the different features in that RV.
These plugs also known as shore power connections are either — the 30 amp and the 50 amp. Some smaller or older Rvs may have 15 amp connections but this is unusual.
A 30 amp plug has three prongs. It is equipped with a neutral wire, a 120-volt hot wire, and a ground wire. This plug type is mainly used on the lower load requirements of a motorhome or travel trailer. Even if you use an adapter, an RV with a 30 amp service will not receive more power than 3,600 watts. The reason is that this power is the maximum voltage that a 30 amp RV can handle
On the other hand, a 50 amp plug has four prongs, a neutral wire, and two 120-volt wires. Additionally, it has two different 120-volt feeds. An RV with a 50 amp electrical service can provide a maximum power of 12,000 watts. If you will use an adapter for it, that power will is limited to 3,600 watts.
Common RV Electrical Questions (FAQ)
Are RV Outlets the Same as House Outlets?
RV outlets inside the RV are essentially the same wiring as a house outlet. You can plugin as you would at home. However, the actual plug assembly may be self-contained and require an RV plug when replaced.
Similar to a house, you will find GFCI plugs in the kitchen and bathroom. These are the same as in a house and can be reset in the same way.
What Happens When You Plug 110 Camper into 220v?
Accidentally plugging in a 110 camper into a 220v outlet could cause internal damage to the electrical systems in the RV. However, the RV is equipped with a breaker box and fuses that will hopefully protect your electrical system.
Chances are you would damage the converter and inverter in the camper and possibly other systems which were switched on. Other systems that could be damaged include the TV, radio, microwave, and AC.
An RV electrician would be needed to work on the electrical system at the cost of over $100 per hour.
Is 50 Amp RV Plug 220 Or 110?
A 50 amp RV plug has 220 volts of power if its plug has four prongs. Two of these prongs are 110 volts to ground or neutral. One of these two prongs should be ground, and the other one should be neutral. Moreover, the voltage between the two 110 prongs will be 220 volts in total.
What is the difference between 30 amp and 50 amp RV hookup?
Before choosing a suitable adapter for your cord, you need to learn about the electrical system you are using.
The main difference between a 30 amp and 50 amp plug hookup is that 30 amps have three pins while 50 amps have four plugs.
A 30 amp RV hookup is more common in smaller motorhome units with fewer appliances that rely on electricity. It also typically has a single 120-volt hot pin, a round ground pin, as well as a flat neutral. A single 30 amp RV cam handle up to 3,600 watts.
On the other hand, larger RVs have 50 amp hookups to power their more luxurious setup. A 50 amp hookup has two 120 volt hot pins around the ground and a flat neutral. In addition, it can provide your RV with up to 12,000 watts of power, which is already pretty substantial.
Can I Plug My 50 Amp RV into My Dryer Outlet?
Usually, you will not be able to plug your RV straight into your home. But there is an exception. Most Class A motorhomes work on 50 amps electrical systems. That means they need a power of 240 volts, which is the same as the modern dryer outlet.
Proceed with caution: You can plug your 50 Amp RV into the dryer outlet if the voltage and amps and plug match your power requirements for your RV. You should check an electrician to ensure the outlet matches your RV.
However, it is essential to note that it tends not to work quite as well. It is because it is possible that your house’s power supply cannot provide the electrical draw that your RV needs.
Can you run a 50-amp RV on 110?
You can run a 50 amp RV on a 110 outlet with the use of an adapter. However, you will be very limited on the amount of power supplied to your RV. You will not be able to run the AC, microwave, or other big appliances.
If you try to run the features that take too much power you will likely flip a breaker in your house.
How Much Does It Cost to Install a 50-amp RV Outlet?
Installing a 50-amp RV outlet requires more electrical work than the outlet itself and will cost $1,500 to $3,000. The cost to install a 50-amp RV outlet will include breakers, conductor wire, upgrading your electric box, and more.
A standard 50-amp RV service seems straight forward but the outlet is just the beginning of the project. You will likely need two 50-amp breakers, heavy gauge conductor wire to run from the panel to the outlet, a 50-amp box, and a receptacle. If you do not have the capacity for the two new 50-amp breakers, you will need to upgrade your service.
- $4-$6/foot for the wire
- $70 for the outlet/service box to plug in to
- $100-$200 for breaker at service
- $100 – $300 for trenching to lay the conduit
- $150/hour for the electrician for ½ to a full day’s work
Final Thoughts on RV Electric Setup Basics
To sum things up, as I have mentioned above, you don’t need to be an electrician or even memorize all of these at once. Just knowing the basics will keep you out of the most common problems. Plus, it can also help you save by knowing what appliances to buy and what products to use.
To read more about RV batteries and other electrical questions about your RV, read these:
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