RV Electric Setup Basics (RV Plugs and Voltages)

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RV electrical systems allow you to utilize the basic conveniences that you’re accustomed to having at home. You have all of your basic amenities while on the road, including an HVAC system, vent fans, refrigerators, and overhead lighting.

In order to properly utilize and enjoy these features, though, it’s important to at least have a basic understanding of your RV electrical setup.  You don’t need to be a licensed electrician but you should know the basics of your RV plugs and voltages. 

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 called a chassis that runs the electric equipment in the vehicle. 

Similarly, the lights and trailer brakes of towable travel trailers run on the automotive system of the tow vehicle. This is connected by the wiring on the trailer hitch. 

If you plan to use your RV regularly, you need to have a basic understanding of what constitutes or makes up a typical RV electrical system. This will help you identify the root cause when something goes wrong, and troubleshoot how to fix it.

How Is an RV’s Electrical System Set Up?

A motor home connect to camp ground tank and power pole
A motor home connected to a campground power pole

Every electrical component or appliance inside of an RV is run on Direct Current (DC) power or Alternating Current (AC) power.

Electricity in an AC system flows through the line from the power source 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 plugging into a generator when no shore power is available. 

The DC, or direct current, is supplied by 12-volt batteries 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 (Alternately, 110v power is converted to DC 12v with a converter.)

What is the Difference Between RV Amps, Volts, and Watts?

Now that we know the difference between DC and AC power, we can talk about how power, current, and voltage are related. 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.

It takes a single scientific equation to understand how an electrical system in an RV works:

watts = amps x volts
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?

This formula will enable you to determine how many electrical devices you can use in your RV simultaneously. By making sure you’re not exceeding your RV’s available wattage you will protect it and all of your electrical devices.

What Are the Common RV System Voltages?

Earlier, we covered the basics of AC and DC systems in an RV power setup.  Again, AC is supplied by shore power at the campground.  DC is a direct current supplied from the battery bank onboard the RV, or by solar power.

We will discuss these in more detail next, and identify exactly which appliances and features of your RV depend on each type of electrical system.

12-Volt DC RV System

The 12-volt direct current electrical system is supplied by the battery or batteries placed on the camper. This 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.  The batteries can also be charged with solar power if you have solar panels. You can find solar panels for RV use on Amazon.

Your RV and batteries are separate systems that are connected with a converter.  This enables you to have smart systems that will still work whether you are plugged into shore power or running on batteries.  

In addition, the DC 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.

LED lights operated by DC power will show you the level of your water tank.

The 12-volt camper electrical system is responsible for providing electricity to typical appliances like:

  • Exterior and interior lighting
  • USB outlets
  • Refrigerator
  • Water pump
  • Furnace and blower
  • Fans
  • Refrigerator electronics
  • Emergency warning equipment such as smoke alarms
  • Tongue jack and stabilizing jacks
  • Slides

12-Volt DC Chassis Automotive System

It is worth mentioning here that drivable motorhomes have a separate battery-operated system to run the vehicle. As in the tow vehicle, a 12-volt DC system (called a chassis) is necessary to provide 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 as well as 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, the microwave, and the air conditioner.

Additionally, it provides electricity for the hot water heater in electric mode. The 120-volt system will also run the washing machine and dryer, if your RV has them.

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:

  • Outlets
  • Interior Lights
  • TV
  • Refrigerator when switched to AC
  • Microwave
  • Air conditioner
  • Converter will charge/maintain battery
  • Water heater when switched to AC

Common RV Makes and Models and Their Voltages

RV ManufacturerRV Model (2020)DC Voltage(s)Electrical Plug Type
WinnebagoSolis 12-Volt Battery50 amp
WinnebagoVista 31BE45 amps Battery Converter30 amp
Leisure Travel VansUnity Rear Lounge12-Volt Battery30 amp
AirstreamCaravel 20FB12-Volt Direct Current30 amp
Cedar CreekHathaway 36CK212-Volt Battery50 amp
Keystone RVMontana 3121RL265-watt Solar Panel50 amp
TaxaMantis12-Volt Direct Current30 amp
Shasta31OK12-Volt Battery30 amp
VenomV-Series V3815TK12-Volt Battery50 amp
The voltage for the AC and DC system of common RVs

What’s the Difference Between 30 Amp and 50 Amp?

RV electrical systems can come in 30 amp and 50 amp systems. Some older or smaller RVs may have a 15 amp system, but these are rare. The difference between 30 amp and 50 amp RVs is the electric load capabilities – a 50 amp RV has a higher load requirement than a 30 amp RV.

Common RV Electrical Plug Types

Almost every RV found in the market comes equipped with a power cord, which you can use to plug in to the electrical system (aka shore power) 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.  

Your RV electrical plug should match the required amps of your RV. These plugs – also known as shore power connections – can be 30 amp or 50 amp. Some smaller or older RVs may have 15 amp connections but this is unusual.  

Similarly, the voltage of RV hookups at your campground will be 30 or 50 amp (maybe 15 as well). Some places only supply 30 amp wires and limit the amount of power you can draw. At your site, there will be a pedestal with one or more receptacles that you can plug into – if there’s more than one, make sure you’re plugging your RV into the receptacle that matches your amperage.

If the receptacles are not labeled, you can tell them apart by the number of prongs

30 Amp RV Plugs

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.

When wondering if a 30 amp RV plug is 110 or 220 volts, you should know that a 30 amp RV requires 110v. This will generate a maximum of 3,600 watts, even with an adapter.

50 Amp RV Plugs

Conversely, a 50 amp plug has four prongs: a ground wire, a neutral wire, and two 120-volt wires. Additionally, it supplies two different 120-volt feeds.

An RV with a 50 amp electrical service can provide a maximum power of 12,000 watts. However, if you use an adapter on it, that power load will be limited to 3,600 watts.

Larger RVs, such as fifth wheels, often have 50 amp electrical systems.

Common RV Electrical Questions (FAQ)

Are RV Outlets the Same as House Outlets?

RV outlets inside the RV are essentially wired the same as house outlets.  You can plug in 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 at the time.  Other systems that could be damaged include the TV, radio, microwave, and air conditioner.

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?

If your 50 amp RV plug has four prongs, then that means it has 220 volts of power. Two of these prongs will carry 120v and 50amps each. As for the other two prongs, one should be neutral while the other should be grounded.

What is the Difference Between 30 amp and 50 amp RV Hookup?

Campground outlets for 30Amp and 50 Amp
Campground outlets for 30Amp and 50 Amp

Again, the main difference between a 30 amp and 50 amp plug hookup is that 30 amps have three prongs while 50 amps have four. 

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, a ground, and a flat neutral. This can provide your RV with up to 12,000 watts of power, which is 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 a dryer outlet if the voltage, amps, and plug match the power requirements for your RV. You should first double-check with an electrician to ensure the outlet matches your RV.

However, please note that this is not recommended and tends not to work very well. This is because your home’s power supply often cannot provide the electrical draw of your RV.

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 may seem straightforward 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. Also, if you do not already 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, while you don’t need to be an electrician or memorize all of this information, you should get familiar with the basics of your RV’s electrical systems. This will help you avoid many common mistakes and problems. Plus, it can also help you save money by knowing what appliances to buy and what products to use.

To read more about electrical components of your RV, including batteries and other electrical questions, read these:

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