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Old 10-18-2017, 08:42 AM   #1
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New 120v/AC Distribution Panel

Trying to decide on an ac panel for my 73 re-do...
I'm actually now in the process of re-installing the skins on the trailer...I got to the back curbside corner, where all the wiring terminates, and realized that I have to have everything designed and laid-out so I can drill new holes to feed the wires through, so I kind of have to get this all planned out first before I can re-attach the skins!

Anyway...the original distribution panels in these 70's units were just a plain house-type sub-panel. 70-amp, 4 slots for circuit breakers. (actually, might be 2 slots...but you can expand to 4 using the slim breakers...the correct terminology escapes me).

I have 4 branch circuits. (original was 2: air conditioner, and "everything else;" I added 2 more dedicated circuits: one for a microwave/convection oven, another is just for an additional outlet for convenience).

I was fussing around with the panel that was in there (not original--about 15 years old), and the plastic structure that holds everything and is screwed to the box just kind of broke off in my hand, so I think this box needs to be replaced.
(I'm wondering if these things really aren't made to sit outside in the cold...seems a bit fragile, but it seems that the plastic was very brittle).

I could just buy a direct replacement of this box, but there is no option for a 30-amp main breaker. not an absolute-must, but nice to have.

Everything made specifically for RVs (from what I can find) is meant to be installed into a deep cabinet. I don't have any such place...I need something that can be mounted on the interior skin in this back closet.

I was thinking of going "marine", but these too seem to be meant to be installed in a cabinet...they don't come in a surface mount box.
I see that Blue Sea makes a fairly low-profile panel that could work, but again, no box. They do make a "back cover" that is 3" deep. So I'm wondering if I could just make my own box/frame out of some 1x4s and a 1/4" plywood face...can mount it to the wall with some angle-ears.

Thoughts?

Here is the panel I'm thinking of:
https://www.amazon.com/Traditional-M...ue+Sea+Systems
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Old 10-18-2017, 10:16 AM   #2
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Here's the original, (pic taken during the dismantling stage).

This corner is enclosed into a closet; the door opening is between the vent stack and the bulkhead wall to the left.
When all the walls are in place, you can easily access what is right above the battery box. (that other white box is a cover that covers up the back side of an exterior 110v oulet). I'd like to put the new ac panel above this, so that it is accessible and serviceable. 12v stuff could be just above the univolt. (replacement converter can sit on the floor in the same spot).

With the ac panel in the original location, it was easy enough to flip a breaker on/off if you had to...but very difficult to replace the box or access internal wiring, etc. (I had to replace the box before, and it was tough to do!).

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Old 10-18-2017, 10:27 AM   #3
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What Airstream did in my 2002 Classic is to use a "Main Lug" box, but use the left-most breaker as a main by connecting the entrance cable to the lugs on the breaker. HD and Lowes both carry Square D brand boxes in two variations, QO and Homeline. I just replaced one for my pool equipment. It holds 3 double breakers, 6 single breakers or 12 thin breakers.

https://www.lowes.com/pd/Square-D-12...Center/3129229

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Old 10-18-2017, 06:08 PM   #4
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well, that would certainly be a cheaper alternative to the marine stuff. Marine stuff looks slick and all, but geez louise it is spendy.
I just had to run to Lowes for something else, and while this particular outlet didn't have the square d boxes (and rather slim selection of breakers, for that matter), they did have a GE model that has 4/8 spaces, and is a bit lower profile than the Square D. I don't know if anyone has any thoughts on the different makes.
the previous GE that was in service (pictured above) proved to be kind of flimsy.
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Old 10-18-2017, 07:03 PM   #5
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This is exactly the box that has been in several Airstream trailers I have owned.
It is set up for 220-240v (two feeder lugs).

https://www.lowes.com/pd/Square-D-12...Center/3134331

Note that this is a QO panel, so you must used the QO type breaker. (heavier duty) The Homeline breakers will not work in this panel.

To make it work for 110-120v use a single pole 30 amp breaker as the main. Feed the power inlet wire directly into this breaker, where it would normally feed out.
Then use a #10 copper wire (black or red) as a jumper between the panel's two normal in feed lugs. This is the way Airstream has done it for years.

You will be able to use either 5 (10 circuits) double switch single pole 120-120v (not 220-240v double pole) breakers or 5 (5 circuits) normal single switch 110-120v breakers to feed out from the panel.

Not sure, but I think slim breakers will not fit this box.
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Old 10-19-2017, 02:04 PM   #6
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I strongly recommend that you install a panel and breakers that are fully compliant with the current National Electric Code (NEC). The 2017 NEC has serious safety improvements that you should have in your trailer. Regardless of what others say about code compliance, SAFETY is paramount. The NEC is a safety standard.

RVIA specifies NEC compliance, and our RV insurance company requires NEC compliance for all upgrades. Don't try to just "make things work". Stay completely with listed devices for your intended use in a system that is NEC compliant.

In our 2004 Classic, our new panel is Eaton CH14B100B - available via Home Depot.

One of the major NEC changes is the requirement for AFCI and GFCI breakers for most all the trailer branch circuits. As part of our upgrade from 30A to 50A service, we now have Eaton combined AFCI/GFCI breakers on all circuits - Eaton CHFAFGF120 except the water heater which is a CHFAFGF115. See below for what we just installed.



Because we had the space, we included panel-bus mounted surge protection (CHSA), and we have two service inputs with a UL approved mechanical interlock.

Even if you stay with a 120VAC 30A service and jumper the two bus bars, recommend you start with a panel that has space for AFCI/GFCI breakers on all circuits.

Design safe, install safe, stay safe.

73/gus
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Old 10-19-2017, 04:11 PM   #7
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well, thanks for opening up that big-ol' can-o-worms, Gus!

That raises some other questions:
Since this trailer is a 1973, does it still need to meet this code? as I'm not really "upgrading"; I'm mostly just replacing what was there, originally.

Why would we need gfci, when all outdoor 30-amp pedestals that we connect to are already gfci?

The way this was originally wired was with 2 circuits: one dedicated to the air conditioner...the other for "everything else". I did add a couple of new circuits--one for a microwave, and another for a convenience outlet in the bedroom...it was just easier to just run a new wire. I had the trailer gutted down to the skin, but didn't change any of the original wiring. I have no plans to ever add an inverter, or electric hot water. 23', so 50 amp is overkill.

A quick search of the interwebs tells me that the afci is required for just about everything...except some dedicated stuff, so I'm wondering if the air conditioner circuit would need it (?).
I found that you wouldn't use afci for a back-fed breaker. otherwise, it looks like at least 3 of the 4 circuits would need it.
4 to 5x the cost for these breakers! yikes!
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Old 10-19-2017, 06:49 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
well, thanks for opening up that big-ol' can-o-worms, Gus!
You're welcome. :-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
That raises some other questions:
Since this trailer is a 1973, does it still need to meet this code? as I'm not really "upgrading"; I'm mostly just replacing what was there, originally.
The NEC is the accumulation of the best safety practice at that date. To me, following NEC guidance is for safety and peace of mind - not a "compliance" issue. Why would you not follow current NEC practice?

I always recommend that everyone upgrade, as they can, to the newest NEC safety standards whenever you do any electrical work. For example, in replacing our Airstream outside electrical outlet, I installed a TR/WR type receptacle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
Why would we need gfci, when all outdoor 30-amp pedestals that we connect to are already gfci?
All RV pedestals do not have GFCI breakers. I see more parks without GFCI in pedestals than those that do.

NEC says for life-safety that you should have GFCI for outside, bath, kitchen, etc. NEC says every TT with any AC power will have GFCI protection on at least one circuit. For life-fire safety, AFCI is an excellent choice in all TT, given the vibration, temperatures, etc. So I opted the Eaton combo for all circuits - especially given our Airstream's metal interior and exterior.

AFCI and GFCI breakers today are highly reliable. Don't consider the "constant tripping" stories, even from just a few years ago. Our A/C runs on Eaton AFCI/GFCI OCPD without any issues.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
I had the trailer gutted down to the skin, but didn't change any of the original wiring.
If you install AFCI/GFCI, and you cannot get the circuit to work, there's a good chance you have "original wiring" problems that can be dangerous - life threatening.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
I have no plans to ever add an inverter, or electric hot water. 23', so 50 amp is overkill."
Agree. Even with 30A service, using a small residential panel with AFCI and GFCI is still a good idea.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
A quick search of the interwebs tells me that the afci is required for just about everything...except some dedicated stuff, so I'm wondering if the air conditioner circuit would need it (?).
Given the TT environment, I recommend that every branch circuit be AFCI.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck View Post
I found that you wouldn't use afci for a back-fed breaker.
Correct, and your single 30A Main OCPD should not be. Our 50A Main backfed breakers are regular CH breakers (Eaton CH250).

However, make sure you install a Backfed Main Breaker Retainer Kit (Eaton CH125RBCS) and a Backfed Main Breaker Terminal Insulator Kit (Eaton QBHWHBAX). Those wires remain "hot" when you turn off the "Main" breaker, and you can still come in accidental, lethal contact.

Quote:
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otherwise, it looks like at least 3 of the 4 circuits would need it. 4 to 5x the cost for these breakers! yikes!
Shop around. We found the Eaton combination breakers on line for 50% off the Lowes and Home Depot pricing. Yes, they are more expensive, $37.95 tonite at Amazon. However, the safety advantage is worth it to me.

73/gus
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Old 10-19-2017, 07:00 PM   #9
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I just bought an eight or ten breaker from Lowes and use a separate Air conditioner fuse box for my main disconnect.

It was cheap, the right size, and it works well.
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Old 10-19-2017, 07:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
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The NEC is the accumulation of the best safety practice at that date. To me, following NEC guidance is for safety and peace of mind - not a "compliance" issue. Why would you not follow current NEC practice?
I'm all for safety...its just that I've found that sometimes, theory and practice aren't always in perfect alignment.
In my new-ish (90's built) house, everything is "code", but I've run into issues that bust the "spirit of the code" wide open. (just one example: number of outlets on a wall vs. total number on a circuit...meant to prevent the need or use of extension cords, but because of the way they actually laid it out, without considering how the room would actually be used...guess what? extension cords. but you can't put a tape on a wall anywhere and go 6' without finding an outlet...so it passes code.).
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All RV pedestals do not have GFCI breakers. I see more parks without GFCI in pedestals than those that do.
Good to know. The one I put in is gfi. I haven't kept a log at campgrounds, but I have run into power problems.
Quote:
Originally Posted by gklott View Post
AFCI and GFCI breakers today are highly reliable. Don't consider the "constant tripping" stories, even from just a few years ago. Our A/C runs on Eaton AFCI/GFCI OCPD without any issues.
That's good to know, too, and I found quite a few gripes on that subject. Perhaps they've improved them since they originally came out? I would think that if anything in my camper would be prone to such problems, it would be the air conditioner, because it is old, and has a motor (that probably arcs a lot).
Quote:
Originally Posted by gklott View Post
If you install AFCI/GFCI, and you cannot get the circuit to work, there's a good chance you have "original wiring" problems that can be dangerous - life threatening.
I looked it all over very carefully when I had the walls out, and everything looked good. I only had to dis-assemble a couple of outlets, and those were all done right, very neat, no sign of any trouble ever.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gklott View Post
However, make sure you install a Backfed Main Breaker Retainer Kit (Eaton CH125RBCS) and a Backfed Main Breaker Terminal Insulator Kit (Eaton QBHWHBAX). Those wires remain "hot" when you turn off the "Main" breaker, and you can still come in accidental, lethal contact.
Not if I unplug the whole damn trailer first!! LOL!

also, I am planning on installing a hard-wired ems/surge protector. Right now, I just have to decide exactly what is going exactly where, so I can make holes to feed the wires through, and re-attach the skin.
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Old 10-20-2017, 09:22 AM   #11
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Quote:
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also, I am planning on installing a hard-wired ems/surge protector. Right now, I just have to decide exactly what is going exactly where, so I can make holes to feed the wires through, and re-attach the skin.
Installed SmartPlug receptacles for our new service entries - as shown just forward of the wheels on street side. Can highly recommend the C30303BM30NT for 30A service.



On the ems/surge protector, the Progressive Industries EMS-HW30C seems to be a nice, UL listed product. Surge protection is a must these days.

73/gus
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Old 10-20-2017, 09:42 AM   #12
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I like that Smartplug, but their pricing seems a little out of line to me.
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