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Old 12-18-2019, 05:51 PM   #1
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I just keep tripping...

I am in my 4th week of Airstream ownership & full time living. My humble home is a 1972 Sovereign 31 foot. When I bought it last month it was mostly gutted with exception of the rear bathroom and the half of the galley that contains the sink, stove and oven. The Sov. does not have a battery. It has a small residential refrigerator. It has a power panel that contains a 30 amp main breaker and then a 20 single and a 20 amp double breaker. Weekend before last I removed the nasty crumbling bath room with the exception of the toilet. I have found 2 skeletal remains of critters, countless nests and heaps of critter poop while removing the bath and while trying to clean under the galley. The trailer sat in a work shop for the last two years but prior to that, I have no idea.
Some of the wiring that was running behind the bath had obvious signs of animals chewing off the plastic sheathing. I am still trying to get my mind around 12 volt DC and 115 volt AC living together. Regardless, I am plugged in to 30 amp shore power. The trailer has an electric water heater, an Atwood model that I can not find any information about.
In the last week, nearly anything that generates heat causes the main breaker to trip. I replaced the breaker but that has had no positive effect. I have wrapped any exposed rat chewed wires with electrical tape, being sure to tape the black and the white wires separately.
Still, I'm tripping. I dont quite think I'm going to burn this mother down since the breaker is obviously working and I subsequently do not use anything that will cause the annoying trip, i.e. water heater, space heater. I have run an extension cord from the shore power 20 amp traditional plug to operate a space heater.
I want to figure this out though. Any suggestions on how I do so?
Thanks!
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Old 12-18-2019, 07:59 PM   #2
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Don't know why there would be a 20 amp double pole breaker.
You say the main 30 amp breaker triips. But none of the 20 amps trip.
If this is the case there is an obvious wiring problem.
I would start by turning off all of the 20 amp breakers. Then check for power at the outlets throughout the coach.
Can you post a pic of the AC power panel with the inner cover removed so we can see the wiring?
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Old 12-19-2019, 06:59 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by TG Twinkie View Post
Don't know why there would be a 20 amp double pole breaker.
You say the main 30 amp breaker triips. But none of the 20 amps trip.
If this is the case there is an obvious wiring problem.
I would start by turning off all of the 20 amp breakers. Then check for power at the outlets throughout the coach.
Can you post a pic of the AC power panel with the inner cover removed so we can see the wiring?
Yeah. You never know how someone else might have wired the trailer up. Getting a good understanding of how that trailer is wired up is a good first step as indicated above.

I would be tempted to unplug the trailer from power and trace all the wiring from the panel. You need to inspect all the wiring anyway from the sound of it.
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Old 12-19-2019, 07:38 AM   #4
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I was sure this post was going to be about camping in the 60s....

You say anything that generates heat causes the breaker to trip and you mention a 110v water heater. What else do you have that generates heat? Do your 110v heat generating appliances operate with the 20 amp breakers off? It sounds like Einstein wasn't involved in the rewire of your Sovereign and possibly your 110v heat generating appliances are not wired through the 20 amp breakers. And I agree with the above, no reason to have a double pole 20 amp breaker in the mix(up).
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Old 12-19-2019, 07:53 AM   #5
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Given that most of the wiring was exposed, my vote is to invest in a thermal camera that attaches to a smart phone. Sure the camera will cost a bit, but so is your time in hunting this ghost. Bonus is that the camera will remain useful for other troubleshooting projects.

Reasoning for the camera is that chances are good something is getting at least warm enough to easily see via a thermal map.

From the description, might consider focusing on junctions / wire splices, connections (ex: where the wires end at the appliance) / outlets, and transitions through ribs in that order.

As a crude substitute to a thermal camera, after the breaker trips, do not restore power, and run the back of your hand along the wiring to sense any spots that are warmer than the other. If it is warm, chances are good there is extra draw or resistance in this location. If nothing is found in a few minutes, restore the power until the breaker trips and repeat along a different path. Reason for using the back of the hand is that it is much better at sensing heat than the palm side.

If the hand method does not reveal anything, then the next best bet is a thermal camera as it will see temperature differences that the hand cannot feel.
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Old 12-19-2019, 08:25 AM   #6
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Hopefully these help.
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Old 12-19-2019, 11:25 AM   #7
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First to some of the other poster. As I knew from the OPs description before the pictures were posted. It is a double 20 amp breaker NOT a double POLE breaker, a way to get a 3rd 20 amp breaker in.


Now to the problem the water heater uses 1400 watts 11.6 amps and a 1500 watt heater on high uses 1500 watts 12.5 amps,if you have the converter on for 12V another 1-4 amps your fridge 2-3 amps, so that is 24.1-31 amps, this puts you close to or over the limit of the 30 amp breaker. An electrician told me that you should de-rate breakers by 20% for continuous duty so 30 amp breaker down to 24 amps which puts you over the limit.
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Old 12-19-2019, 11:59 AM   #8
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Also, I am not expert here but looking at the photos of the system I am wondering about how this is grounded?
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Old 12-19-2019, 12:16 PM   #9
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Missed the electric water heater detail. Apologies.

If there are multiple power draws pulling at the same time, then agree with Wazbro that math might get in the way and the breaker is working the way it needs to in the current scenario.

If the large power loads are more limited (ex: hot water heater only) and the breaker is still tripping, then to me it still raises the question of power loss (arcing, etc) or high resistance somewhere. In this case, something like a Seek Thermal device will help isolate location(s).

Related thought if not already in the plans, consider looking over any information from Airstream in terms of how the AC power loads were distributed across the breaker panel. From there, see how the electric water heater fits within a given breaker's limit as it is likely that the OE unit was gas only an not a factor from an electrical perspective.

Another future factor is that if there are plans to use an air conditioner, there is probably not enough capacity at the main panel for simultaneous use of the electric hot water heater.
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Old 12-19-2019, 12:20 PM   #10
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Just a brief back ground on me, I’m a retired Fire Captain since 11/9/19 and electrician since 1981��*♂️ I’m not a RV electrician so I haven’t started into mine yet So...... my thoughts is that’s a complete mess. I don’t think I’d even bother using thermo camera on this situation. For a main breaker tripping in the panel then you have a problem and i don’t think it’s a heat problem. I’d say it’s a electrical short somewhere. Also that double pole breaker isn’t being used as a 220v circuit as it’s being used as two 110 circuits. I’d finish gutting that trailer and run new electrical wiring and new pex plumbing. That wiring is a electric wiring hazard which is worse being that the trailer is Aluminum!
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Old 12-19-2019, 01:30 PM   #11
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more on my bad trips...

Thanks for the clarification on the 20 amp breaker. I did NOT sleep at a Holiday Inn last night, so I am very ignorant about these things. The water heater in question simply has an off and on switch. I opened up the junction box that is located above it. There are 3 of the yellow AC cables going in as well as two others that come in from the wall (I'm guessing they go back to the DC panel). They are all tied up together in the box (I'll have to post a picture from my phone). The black wires all tie to a cable going on to the heater, the whites all do the same, the ground wires are all linked via various methods BUT the ground going over to the hot water heater is dangling like a participle???

BUT, the heater is only 1 device that causes me to trip. Space heaters and a pancake griddle cause tripping.
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Old 12-19-2019, 01:36 PM   #12
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It leaks too...

Pics of water heater
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Old 12-19-2019, 04:53 PM   #13
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Well if you are tripping with only 1 large load on at a time and looking at all the pictures. I have to agree with Firemanram that wiring is a mess that was obviously redone by a non-electrician. Added to that damage from animals I would worry about using it. You definitely have a much newer fuse/breaker box and converter/charger then what was original for a 1972 AS, by a few decades.

Note if wired properly all the wires with yellow insulation/jackets SHOULD be 120V and all connections SHOULD be in junction boxes.
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Old 12-19-2019, 05:47 PM   #14
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Ok, I am jumping ahead a couple steps...granted.....but bare with me....

First, get rid of the electric water heater. Get a gas water heater. Loading your limited electric availability with an electric water heater is stupid.
Gas water heaters use very little gas...there is such a thing as a gas/electric, which is much more usable than electric only.....
But whatever you do, get rid of an electric only water heater. Its a camper for petes sake....throwing that much usage to only one appliance will limit your "campability" considerably......
Also, it is likely, if not probable, that the breaker that keeps tripping, has been tripping regularly, and every time a breaker trips it weakens it some.....after tripping a hundred times, they will trip at the slightest little surge.....Replace that breaker.....its not rocket science. But whatever you do, get rid of that stupid electric water heater......they are just dumb for a Camper......
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Old 12-19-2019, 06:19 PM   #15
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Loading your limited electric availability with an electric water heater is stupid. .
An electric hot water heater like that draws about 12 amps. He has plenty of power for that.

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Its a camper for petes sake....throwing that much usage to only one appliance will limit your "campability" considerably.....
I think, from the sounds of things, it's more a permanent residence than a camper.

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.....Replace that breaker....
If the OP is any indication, it's already been done.
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Old 12-19-2019, 06:55 PM   #16
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Would investing in a clamp on meter with AC amp function be a possible aid in diagnosing?

I picked up one and it even can record peak amps. Check appliance by appliance and get actual amp usage numbers.
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Old 12-19-2019, 09:29 PM   #17
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You need to determine what each of the 20 amp breakers supplies.
The reason for the 30 amp breaker tripping and none of the 20 amp breakers trip.
It is the accumulative load or bad breaker.
You have 3 circuits. Each with a 20 amp breaker. If each circuit is drawing less than 20 amps none of those breakers will trip.
You could have one circuit drawing 15 amps and the other 2 circuits drawing 10 amps. 15+10+10=35.
This is just an example. The numbers maybe different. If the total exceeds 30 amps the breaker will trip.
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Old 12-20-2019, 05:46 AM   #18
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Based on descriptions, and at the risk of insulting, might consider contacting a certified electrician at this point and paying a few $$$ to get a good plan for addressing that wiring.

Reason for the thought is that there are many possibilities on how to tackle this, but with the stated low level of personal electrical expertise and the apparent condition of creativity from the PO, my vote is to get an on-site expert as opposed to continuing to work this through the ethersphere. Put another way, sometimes it is best to waive for a life-saver rather than trying to keep treading water.
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Old 12-20-2019, 10:31 AM   #19
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It is impossible to offend when you speak the truth.

JayTheCPA & others, thanks for your thoughts and comments.
I am slowly trying to make the most logical updates as funds allow.
At this point I think I should simply replace the entire electrical system. It seems like it would be more logical for all of the systems and controls to be located together at the rear of my Sovereign taking advantage of the large rear hatch to aide in future access to the systems. I am thinking it would be easier to build an entire new system, use new panels and run the wiring along the interior walls within exposed galvanized steel conduit pipe, junctions, boxes and covers. I am also needing to replace the heating system ducts and am looking at an exposed flat oval steel duct product.
But, as noted by others as well as myself, I am not fully up to speed on how the dual 12v 115a systems work together. One comment from another person referenced the presence of an inverter. There is not an inverter currently installed if I understand what one looks like. Inverters are part of my learning curve that needs to be mounted.
I do hope to make the Airstream more road worthy as well. It needs axels, has rear end sag as well as all the rest of an interior. I hope to create a home that can again accommodate my son and myself as well as follow my son to college in the fall of 2020.

Not related to my electrical issues but about how I got here.
I had the opportunity to greater explore the wonders of nature when I became homeless on Halloween. I was living in a tent at a local campground that provided electricity and water as well as access to bathrooms facilities and a place to shower for $10 per day. When the weather forecast included low temperatures in the teens, I decided to place my pride in the mode of "suck it up buttercup" and I started a go-fund-me. I did obviously survive the extreme cold by placing multiple space heaters in a small tent. By the end of the first week the funds were slowly accumulating. Then the father of one of my 17 year old sons friends, a 17 year old as well who had spent lots of time with us prior to our eviction reached out and made up the difference needed to buy the Airstream. A week later it was delivered to the campgrounds.
I have a small monthly retirement income and get a small allotment at the first of each year from a family trust fund. If you care to read more, please take a peak at my go-fund-me by searching for me Joe May in Edmond, OK.
Thanks all!
If you do go all the way to my go-fund-me, please share it to your social media if my story moves you feeling comfort in doing so.
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Old 12-20-2019, 10:46 AM   #20
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‘Time-in-Service’ alone condemns the tank in the water heater – rust never sleeps, that was never designed for forever service for sure. Just one pinhole tank leak, especially if connected to an infinite water source like a hydrant, would really mess up your project.


I also forward the notion we could flood the water system with 35% Hydrogen Peroxide for a few eons and not rid all the surfaces of the slime mat reefs that are alive and well in there no matter how hard we try to overlook them. Particularly alarming is the clear tubing allowing light to promote algae and the red tint seen in the photos posted.


Keep replacing items on a modular as-needed basis and the costs won’t scalp too painfully.
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