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Old 02-28-2012, 09:30 AM   #1
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Surge/low voltage/testing

Good morning! I'm about to go shopping for the stuff I need to plug in. Since I'm a complete electrical dunce, and that's AFTER reading stuff online for two hours, I'm hoping to run my purchase decision by more knowledgeable heads than mine:

I'd like to purchase as little equipment as possible to protect against surges and low voltage. I need it to actually work, and I need it to be foolproof (the fool in question being me). Also, I need something to check for proper wiring of the receptacle, yes?

Is the Hughes Autoformer what I want? And in a 19' Bambi, do I have somewhere to install it, or do I need a locker for it?

Or can anyone advise differently?
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Old 02-28-2012, 09:56 AM   #2
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Zlee

I would like to think that I am far from an electrical dunce, but I don't see why you need anything. What kind of problems have you had or do you expect to have that would require a solution? Why do you think that your receptacles are not wired correctly? Buying nothing costs nothing and weighs nothing.

Sounds like you will be plugged in. If you are boondocking, you may want something like a "voltminder" so you always know your battery voltage and it sounds an alarm when the voltage gets to low.

Dan
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:05 AM   #3
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Zlee,

The autoformer is, technically, a good product that does what it says -- it compensates for voltages that are lower or higher than nominal. It also will disconnect the power in some, but not all problematic circumstances.

However it may not solve any problem you are likely to actually encounter.

The 120v loads in your trailer -- the converter, microwave, air conditioner, and fridge -- are remarkably tolerant of overvoltage and undervoltage and will work OK, in practice, on anything between around 105-140 volts and may work as low as 90 volts. Each has its own protection circuits and will, in general, shut off by itself if the voltage drops below the point where the device will work.

Autoformers are heavy and expensive. I don't carry one.
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:07 AM   #4
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Well, I was advised to get stuff because I do think I'll mainly be plugging in at campgrounds, as surges and low/faulty power has damaged ASs before...not true?
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:33 AM   #5
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The logic goes like this:

1) RV technicians like to blame dirty power for air conditioner failures. They find it far more convenient than blaming poor materials and workmanship by the manufacturer.

2) An autoformer will not protect against everything. In particular they will not protect against the power company shorting the 13.6 kV line to the secondary and they will not protect against spikes that exceed the capacity of the MOVs. I'm not sure what Hughes claims, several hundred Joules I would guess, but surges can be larger than that. A fact to consider is that a surge larger than this will typically destroy the autoformer along with everything else adding to the repair cost

3) On the other hand the appliances in the trailer can handle small surges and voltage changes themselves.

4) You have to decide whether the likelihood of a surge that is larger than 3) and smaller than 2) is high enough to justify the price of an Autoformer, which is a large fraction of the cost of replacing components typically damaged by such a surge.

I plug in at campgrounds all the time and haven't damaged anything yet, even at the famous Current Bush of Doom (see photo).
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:46 AM   #6
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Quote:
even at the famous Current Bush of Doom (see photo).


Well, I can certainly use the money on a macerator instead! Would you suggest a good surge protector then, Jammer, or just go commando, electrically speaking?
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Old 02-28-2012, 11:02 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zlee View Post
Good morning! I'm about to go shopping for the stuff I need to plug in. Since I'm a complete electrical dunce, and that's AFTER reading stuff online for two hours, I'm hoping to run my purchase decision by more knowledgeable heads than mine:

I'd like to purchase as little equipment as possible to protect against surges and low voltage. I need it to actually work, and I need it to be foolproof (the fool in question being me). Also, I need something to check for proper wiring of the receptacle, yes?

Is the Hughes Autoformer what I want? And in a 19' Bambi, do I have somewhere to install it, or do I need a locker for it?

Or can anyone advise differently?
zlee,

We rarely hook-up now, but during our PWD water trial days we did have some very questionable sites to deal with.
After a good bit of research this unit helped quell my mis-givings.
Because of our frequent home outages and erratic power-ups it now gets used more when plugged in on the pad.

Very good tech support and customer service also.

Bob
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Old 02-28-2012, 11:06 AM   #8
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All I do is plug in and check the voltage occasionally using a cheap Camco voltage meter that I leave plugged in, in the galley area:

Amazon.com: Camco 55263 120 V RV Air Conditioner Line Voltage Meter: Automotive

If it's way into the red on the low side (below 105 volts) I try not to run the air conditioner and switch the fridge to gas. It sometimes drops down to 95 volts at the Current Bush of Doom which is usually followed by a main breaker tripping somewhere and most of the campground losing power for a few minutes until someone comes and resets it.

I've never had it go much into the red on the high side although I would probably unplug and investigate if it did. It's not terribly unusual for the voltage to be a little high, 130 or so, no big deal.

I've checked it against a more precise meter and the Camco meter seems to be off by several volts most of the time, especially in the winter when it seems susceptible to static buildup, but it provides enough information that I haven't installed anything fancy.

Works for me.
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Old 02-28-2012, 11:10 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by ROBERT CROSS View Post
After a good bit of research this unit helped quell my mis-givings.
Those are fine and are lighter and cheaper than an autoformer because they don't try to correct marginal voltage.

In my situation I don't believe that the protection is worth the cost but you can make your own tradeoffs.
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Old 02-28-2012, 11:20 AM   #10
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The MOV's in surge protection devices can sometimes cause problems with GFI circuit breakers.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:43 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by TG Twinkie View Post
The MOV's in surge protection devices can sometimes cause problems with GFI circuit breakers.
Yes, usually when they are failing. Often they will not return all the way to a high-resistance state after a large spike.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:32 PM   #12
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It is not unusual when traveling to encounter campgrounds with high or low voltage and on occasion a miswired outlet at the pedestal. These are inexpensive items that are simple to use and understand to determine if the power you are about to plug is good.

Plug these altogether and you have a tool to determine proper voltage and wiring at the pedestal. Plug the meter separately into an outlet in the trailer and you can monitor the voltage at a glance.

If you are concerned about errant spikes or surges, then the $$$ goes up. For about $250 or more you can buy a specified surge protector seen in the last pic. They tend to grow feet and disappear when you're not about so some form of locking mechanism is the next step, or get a hardwired model. I don't think many of us have had any damage, but it only takes one time.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:54 PM   #13
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The top photo in the last post is the unit sold by Camping World and other RV stores. I think Amazon has it too. It plugs into the campground plug and you plug the trailer into it. They sell a locking device separately. You would need the 30 amp. version. You can look it up on CW's website. They also have a hardwire version for inside the RV, but most or all Airstreams don't really have anyplace to put them. Not knowing anything about electrical stuff, you wouldn't want to install one anyway.

You can get small surge protectors for each receptacle. I used those for a few years, but don't trust them very much. I got the big guy last year.

Electronics are more susceptible to surges—TV, computer, etc. That is what I worry about when it comes to surges.

When we went to Alaska some campgrounds relied on their own generators or a community one for power. Was the voltage ok? Proper cycles? Who knows. Though I have a multimeter with me, I didn't bother to test it because there was no way to use anything electronic there unless I wanted to watch a DVD.

The yellow thing in the bottom photo just above will test polarity. That's a good thing to have to check for that. I can't recall right now whether the big surge protector also checks for polarity right now. The voltmeter: they make ones that plug into a receptacle so you can watch it while you cook.

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Old 02-28-2012, 04:16 PM   #14
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You guys rock.
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