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Old 07-29-2019, 08:34 PM   #1
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Campground electric burnout- whose fault?

I camped last night at ny first KOA, in Montreal. My surge protector kept going off and it was very hot, so thinking that there were 100 other campers there I took my surge protector out of the equation, plugged in my 30-amp cable and everything worked.

However, when I got up to leave this morning I found that even though the shore electric was still working fine, the electrical cable and 30-amp socket were fried where they met.

While the campground manager was kind enough to go to a store, buy a new connector for my existing 30 amp cable and a receiving socket on the airstream and rewire them, at my expense, we disagreed as to the cause.

His view was that the campground was faultless. This just happened when it did because with only 30-amp service I was drawing too much current over time. He pointed out that the fried connection was not where the cable met the pedestal, but where the cable met the airstream as grounds for his campgroundís innocence. He said I should have 50 amp service for my one air-conditioner, 27 foot airstream, notwithstanding what airstream installed.

Further, he said do not run the hot water heater, refrigerator and air-conditioning at once because it will draw too much power and eventually cause this problem.

My argument was that if Airstream felt this unit needed a 50 amp circuit it would have installed one, that there was no circuit breaker at the pedestal (he said the campground is 55 years old and the breakers are all bundled at one location) and that the fault was theirs.

One thing Iíve learned from this and what I want to share here is that you should not ignore the surge protector, even if it means no ac on a hot night. I should have contacted the office immediately and not taken it out of the circuit. Iím lucky internal units werenít fried.

What do you think caused this problem?
Is it inadvisable to leave my electric water heater on at all times while on shore power?
Other observations?

Thanks, and I hope the answers help others!
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Old 07-29-2019, 08:52 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fotoman1527 View Post
I camped last night at ny first KOA, in Montreal. My surge protector kept going off and it was very hot, so thinking that there were 100 other campers there I took my surge protector out of the equation, plugged in my 30-amp cable and everything worked.



However, when I got up to leave this morning I found that even though the shore electric was still working fine, the electrical cable and 30-amp socket were fried where they met.



While the campground manager was kind enough to go to a store, buy a new connector for my existing 30 amp cable and a receiving socket on the airstream and rewire them, at my expense, we disagreed as to the cause.



His view was that the campground was faultless. This just happened when it did because with only 30-amp service I was drawing too much current over time. He pointed out that the fried connection was not where the cable met the pedestal, but where the cable met the airstream as grounds for his campgroundís innocence. He said I should have 50 amp service for my one air-conditioner, 27 foot airstream, notwithstanding what airstream installed.



Further, he said do not run the hot water heater, refrigerator and air-conditioning at once because it will draw too much power and eventually cause this problem.



My argument was that if Airstream felt this unit needed a 50 amp circuit it would have installed one, that there was no circuit breaker at the pedestal (he said the campground is 55 years old and the breakers are all bundled at one location) and that the fault was theirs.



One thing Iíve learned from this and what I want to share here is that you should not ignore the surge protector, even if it means no ac on a hot night. I should have contacted the office immediately and not taken it out of the circuit. Iím lucky internal units werenít fried.



What do you think caused this problem?

Is it inadvisable to leave my electric water heater on at all times while on shore power?

Other observations?



Thanks, and I hope the answers help others!


One guyís $0.02 - take with a salt mine....

1) very sorry for that experience - not fun on a lot of levels and you should inspect for unseen damage too

2) what error message did your surge protector give for the shut down? Iím guessing low voltage but obviously I donít know from afar. As you noted - when the protector shuts you down, itís doing its job. Best to follow that advice...

3) you could argue the campground isnít wired properly to send you a low voltage current but you describe hot temps which makes everyone use their AC and that cumulative drain can be a problem.

4) the campground owner is also right that itís best to manage power demand from the trailer side. If we need to run the AC constantly because itís so hot, we put the fridge and water heater on propane. If we use another heavy appliance weíll shut the AC off until weíre done with the appliance. 30a service is perfectly sufficient - 50a not needed for a single AC 27í trailer (we have one) - not because Airstream says so - they could do 50a (and do for dual AC units) but that wouldnít matter if youíre getting low voltage from the pedestal. I plug my EMS in to the pedestal before connecting. It cycles and if all is good Iíll plug in. The problem is - if we arrive on a Thursday morning it might see 117-120 volts and be fine. By Saturday afternoon when the campground fills up and itís 100* outside - the cumulative demand can drop the voltage at the pedestal and shut the trailer down. Again - follow that lead when it happens.

5) that the owner helped repair the visible damage to your inlet and cable was a nice gesture.

Not sure that helps at all. Lessons learned. Good luck and happy camping!
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Old 07-29-2019, 08:59 PM   #3
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Ok so here what probably happened.
Low voltage causes increase resistance and HEAT. As your AMP draw was high the area of highest resistance (poor contact area) builds up to much heat.
Low voltage was the problem.
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Old 07-29-2019, 09:03 PM   #4
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So the failure happened where your power cord plugged into the Airstream, right?

It is possible that a loose connection or corroded contact on either side of that connection could be the root cause. But also, if the campground voltage was low, that would have caused your air conditioner to draw more current than usual, which will create more heat in all of the wires and connections.

So my guess is, the failure had multiple causes.

I agree with point number 4 from SteveSueMac. It is best not to run multiple high-current appliances at the same time, especially if your surge protector has given a low-voltage error.

I do feel OK running the air conditioner and fridge at the same time, but not A/C, fridge, and water heater.
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Old 07-29-2019, 09:07 PM   #5
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Couple other thoughts - I find the water heater keeps water hot for many hours. Start it on electric and then switch to propane. We could even turn it off at night and then start it in the morning on LP and basically itís ready to go in no time.

We also bring a long outdoor extension cord for the 15/20a outlet that often accompanies the 30a outlet on the pedestal. This lets us plug in an induction burner, or toaster, or cappuccino maker on a table outside under the awning where we are probably going to eat breakfast anyway.

Neither of those combats low voltage though...
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Old 07-29-2019, 09:10 PM   #6
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25% koa 7 vs 5% camper fault

KOA could be overload

burned Connector , camper issue

wipe the contacts and clean then wipe on aniti oxide grease.

the melted connector is due to high resistance likely dirty connector

my 2 cents
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Old 07-29-2019, 09:52 PM   #7
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Surge Protector Code

I was traveling across the Midwest and Southwest at the beginning of July in my 27 ft. Flying Cloud with a single A/C and 30A connection and worried about every pedestal I plugged into. I have a Hughes Autoformer and noticed that twice (two different nights) it had to boost the voltage in the late evening. And, that was only when I was checking; I don't know how many other times it was working. I used propane for the water heater and the refrigerator because I was trying to keep my amp draw to a minimum. (We didn't use much hot water, and I think the fridge doesn't consume that much electricity, or propane, but I was trying to err on the side of caution.)



I agree--it would be excellent to know what code your surge protector was giving, because that would probably be a good clue about what happened and why.


It is odd that other campers didn't experience a similar problem, and that your issue was with the connection at the side of the trailer and not at the pedestal. Another reason to know what the surge protector was indicating.


I have also read other threads on this forum where people had similar problems with the Airstream connector, and switched to another brand when they had to replace it. I feel my cord is somewhat loose in the stationary connector on the side of the trailer and always make sure it is well seated in the proper direction and hold it firmly in place when I twist the threaded holder in place. I'm seriously considering changing the stationary connector and cable end to a more secure feeling connection.



I will end with this: I think the Hughes Autoformer saved me from a similar problem this year. It was pricey, but worth it. Also, I think most campgrounds (and I stayed at several KOAs because they were convenient and we were on a tight schedule which kept us on the interstates (which is NOT the way I prefer to see the country!)) seemed to have stable electricity in spite of the heat. Last year there were several campgrounds which had very low voltage and weren't nearly as crowded as most of the campgrounds we stayed at on this recent trip. And I credit the Autoformer with protecting at least my A/C, or not more.



But knowing what code the surge protector was throwing is important. I don't know how it would know about something at the other end of the cable, but it might give us a good clue about what was going on.
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Old 07-29-2019, 10:00 PM   #8
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We always avoid old campgrounds/RV parks during the summer. Most of their systems are overloaded by AC use and/or have damaging faults.

I've NEVER had a park operator admit that his/her park's electrical system was inadequate.

I always pay close attention to the voltage readout on my surge protector and on the plug-in AC meter in the trailer.

I never bypass the surge protector after it rejects a pedestal for a bad ground, bad neutral etc. I usually ask for another site.

Yes, regularly clean all of your connection contacts with electrical contact cleaner.

We run the fridge and water heater on propane unless we are well within the green on the plug-in AC meter inside the trailer.
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Old 07-29-2019, 10:00 PM   #9
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I apologize if this seems rude...but: You spent money on a surge protector that was giving you error messages. You disconnected it and plugged straight in to the pedestal, then have melted parts and are wondering what or who is at fault? Why did you waist your money on a surge protector in the first place if you chose to remove it and plug straight in? Did you not think the protection device was doing what you spent money for it to do?
There is a well know KOA in Nebraska that has ground fault issues that he refuses to correct (too bad it is a really nice site otherwise) and EMS and surge protectors guard against. The owners statement to more than one person on this forum is that you trailer ground system should correct for it.

I have a ems and have changed sites and changed adapters from 30 to 50 amp when the protection device I paid for was giving me error messages.
So, from what you realized in your post it is an expensive lesson learned. One of many that anyone towing a trailer experiences.
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Old 07-29-2019, 10:33 PM   #10
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Quote:
What do you think caused this problem?
Is it inadvisable to leave my electric water heater on at all times while on shore power?
Other observations?

Thanks, and I hope the answers help others!
The main, primary cause of the plug and socket melting was due to high resistance in that connection causing localized heating when a significant current is passed through. Low line voltage is a secondary contributor because it increases the current demand, but the first two parts of the failure would have been preventable by ensuring the plug and socket contacts were clean and lubricated, that all the cable connections to the plug and socket were tight, and that (after you got the surge protector warning) you minimized the current demand by switching appliances to propane where possible.

Airstream is not wrong when they put in a 30 amp system but they also need to build their trailers at minimum cost. So you should expect that many parts of the trailer are good enough to do the job, and no more, and only when those parts are maintained in good working order. If the plug and socket got hot enough to melt together then you could have had a fire there...
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Old 07-30-2019, 05:54 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveSueMac View Post
One guyís $0.02 - take with a salt mine....

1) very sorry for that experience - not fun on a lot of levels and you should inspect for unseen damage too

Thank you!

2) what error message did your surge protector give for the shut down? Iím guessing low voltage but obviously I donít know from afar. As you noted - when the protector shuts you down, itís doing its job. Best to follow that advice...

I don't know, but I just learned another lesson: when it fails take a picture of the display!

3) you could argue the campground isnít wired properly to send you a low voltage current but you describe hot temps which makes everyone use their AC and that cumulative drain can be a problem.

I think that was a major factor.

4) the campground owner is also right that itís best to manage power demand from the trailer side. If we need to run the AC constantly because itís so hot, we put the fridge and water heater on propane. If we use another heavy appliance weíll shut the AC off until weíre done with the appliance.

I routinely turn off the AC when using the microwave or toaster, but until this thread and comments I didn't give enough thought to the water heater.

5) that the owner helped repair the visible damage to your inlet and cable was a nice gesture.

Indeed.

Not sure that helps at all. Lessons learned. Good luck and happy camping!
It does help; Lessons learned for sure and thanks so much for contributing!
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Old 07-30-2019, 05:56 AM   #12
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Points all well taken and gratefully acknowledged, particularly as to my negligent removal of the surge protector (hope that helps others not to repeat that error!!).

One additional point: one of the two KOA campground employees who fixed my rig said that he had blown a 50-amp cord and connector in the same places the same night, but refused to see any connection between the two incidents because a) he was on a different road and hence circuit; and b) he blamed his wife for using too many appliances. Based on your responses I think there was low voltage caused by high demand to an old system.

I needed to do much more, including inclusion of the surge protector, possible site movement, cleaned and lubricated connection and better management of demand.

Lessons learned here and hopefully for others they can learn by reading without going through the experience!

But hey, the RV life is adventure daily, and while not all the adventures are good, they can all lead to knowledge, especially if one is plugged into a great community like this one!

Thanks to all for sharing your knowledge and participating in the discussion!
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Old 07-30-2019, 06:32 AM   #13
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I always pay close attention to the voltage readout on my surge protector and on the plug-in AC meter in the trailer.

We run the fridge and water heater on propane unless we are well within the green on the plug-in AC meter inside the trailer.[/QUOTE]

Thanks for your reply!

What plug-in AC meter do you recommend?
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Old 07-30-2019, 06:32 AM   #14
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If you left the surge protector on, you could have shown the campground maintenance guy what the problem was.

But then again, he already knows.
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Old 07-30-2019, 07:19 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fotoman1527 View Post
My argument was that if Airstream felt this unit needed a 50 amp circuit it would have installed one,
Sorry to hear your power woes. However, Airstream doesn't make the trailer to be able to run everything at once. They make them to be able to adapt to 30 amp power. Airstream could easily say, "If you want AC, hot water, and a microwave at once, get 50 amp service!" I'll bet 80% of Airstreams have 30 amp limits.

Quote:
that there was no circuit breaker at the pedestal (he said the campground is 55 years old and the breakers are all bundled at one location) and that the fault was theirs.
That's big. 55 years? Things changed a lot in 55 years! Heck, in 1970 were there even microwaves or electric water heaters in RV's? Maybe not even AC.
It's always said the breaker is there to protect the wire, unfortunately, I'd bet there wasn't a separate breaker for every site. There might have been a 100 amp breaker for 8 sites. Yes, it doesn't make sense, but campgrounds don't wire for individual sites. So the high current draw didn't trip the breaker.
Lastly, being in Canada, the campground doesn't experience hot summers often, so they got along until now.
This is one of those things where everyone shared some of the blame and you shake hands and walk away. It happens.
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Old 07-30-2019, 07:30 AM   #16
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Hi

One thing that is indeed true: You *can* pull more than 30A in your trailer. The breakers *should* trip at some point. That trip point could be over 60A depending on the breakers and the duration of the overload. Managing loads is important with any RV, even more so when on a 30A hookup.

Having run into a wide range of campground wiring issues, I'd say you got better support than I ever have.

Like it or not, pretty much all power setups depend on "load diversity" when they are designed. In simple English: not everybody is going to pull full power at the same time. In the case of RV usage in the summer with A/C going .... maybe not the best assumption.

Toss in the fact that *all* connectors, no matter who makes them have a a very finite "cycle life". You can plug them in just so many times and they are past end of life. Normal RV usage puts a *lot* of cycles on a connector. Toss in dirt and grit ...yikes. The normal campground pedestal connector takes way more of a beating in a year than it originaly was designed for .... If you pull up and the plug fits loose in the socket - not good.

Lots things to watch.

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Old 07-30-2019, 08:27 AM   #17
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It is a good idea to monitor voltage. If you start getting below 110V you are going to draw more current and put stress on your AC. As voltage gets lower current in devices usually goes up. Most likely the voltage was too low and the load was too high. Yes under prefect conditions you can run the AC, water heater, and microwave at the same time but it is a good idea not to. Also sockets in camp grounds tend to be worn out and lose and then they start arching. I have a big SOB trailer and it is connected to 50A but I usually just turn on the hot water heater when I need it and don't leave it on 24/7. If you use the microwave turn off the AC or water heater. The plug could have been at fault. The voltage might have been low. I have seen volt meters plugged into the wall to monitor voltages inside the trailer. It is not a bad idea. Also not a bad idea to check that the plug is not running real hot. If it is contact the camp ground and get them to install a new plug. Also you can get a 50A to 30A adapter and plug into a higher current outlet that might not have the issues the 30A plug is having. This assuming the 50A is available. So there are several possible contributing factors, low voltage, bad plug, too much current (at least for the crappy camp ground power).



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Old 07-30-2019, 09:16 AM   #18
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What Perry said. Get a voltmeter and keep it plugged into a socket in the trailer. I would never run a hot water heater on electric in a 30 amp trailer. In fact, after using it a couple of times, I just unplugged the electric side of our WH and left it that way. On our older trailer you cannot turn on the microwave and the AC at the same time. In low voltage situations I have turned off the power converter and run the fridge on propane. Some campgrounds just do not have enough power. Got to learn to live with it. And yes, I have unplugged the EMS and gone on using the power. But I was watching what was happening very closely. And sometimes a power cord connection gets dirty and does not make good contact and burns up. Or degrades with use. Maybe a factor here since neither the trailer or the campground breaker blew. Nor the breaker on the A/C. The worst campground low voltage situations I have encountered were in North Eastern Canada. Accept the lesson and move on. Not a big deal. Better loosing something easily replacable like a cord than something internal to the trailer.
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Old 07-30-2019, 09:18 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by turk123 View Post
If you left the surge protector on, you could have shown the campground maintenance guy what the problem was.

But then again, he already knows.
Yes, that has been conceded. Thanks for your comment!
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Old 07-30-2019, 09:22 AM   #20
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Upgrade the Airstream end of your power cord, and the trailer inlet, to the Smartplug system. Massive increase in connection surface area, and a very solid connection. Not always necessary, but when it counts, it really count. I can feel the connection with my hand, and compared to the archaic decades-old connector system, it's much, much cooler when running heavier loads in the trailer.
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