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Author Topic: Important - check this every time you set up  (Read 24153 times)
techntrek
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« on: May 21, 2014, 09:16:30 AM »

(Note to moderators - I know there are a lot of sticky/pinned topics in this sub-forum already, but please consider adding this one.  As I make clear below, this is a very serious issue.)

This is one of the most important posts you will ever read.  It is literally a matter of life and death.
 
You must check for a proper ground connection every time you plug in your camper, and just using a voltmeter or plug-in tester won't detect every wiring fault.   There is a cheap and easy detection device, mentioned below.
 
I've known since I was a kid why ground connections are important, but as with most people, it wasn't until something affected me personally that I finally paid attention.  Last summer I set our camper up in our backyard so I could clean the roof and the A/C coils (easy access from my raised deck).  I've never needed my 30 amp extension cord to reach the 30 amp outlet in my garage, usually the camper is close enough.  I needed to run the A/C, so this time I did.  I had my kids get in their bathing suits to wash the rest of the camper, water went everywhere, the ground was soaked, and they had some summer fun while they worked.
 
Long after they were done, I had to get into the camper, so I did what all of us have done hundreds of times - I grabbed the door handle while I stood on the wet ground.  I received a noticeable shock, and with my electronics/electric hobby background I immediately knew something wasn't wired right.  Worse, I knew that the entire time my kids were washing our camper they could have been killed.  They were far more conductive than I was; I was wearing rubber-soled shoes and my hand was dry, they were soaked all over, deep into their skin, and were in bare feet.  I don't know how, but only by extreme luck did a nice summer day in the backyard not turn into an awful day at the morgue.  I tracked my problem down to a bent ground pin on my 30 amp extension cord.
 
Hopefully you understand now that a shock isn't something you can ignore.  It is just a lucky warning that a deadly problem exists and you need to get it fixed.  Next time it could be an electrocution.  Slightly different conditions and you are dead.  Saltier water (think beach trip) is more conductive, slightly higher voltage at campground A vs. campground B (amps kill you, but higher voltage makes it more likely), or you get the shock through both arms and not both legs (amps through your heart is what usually kills you).  My shock was across my heart (1 arm and 2 legs) so I was just as lucky that day as my kids.  I'm sure because the measured voltage on that fault was only around 60 volts and not the full 120.  That probably saved all of us.
 
Check out these links, especially the article at the first link, which explains the right way to test for ground issues.  The 2nd link explains how voltmeters, plug- in testers, and intelligent surge protectors can report on some faults - but not all

The easy/cheap solution is the Fluke VoltAlert tester he describes (see the last link below), which detects if your camper is potentially lethal.  Keep it in your camper and check every time you plug it in.  At less than $30 it is very cheap insurance to protect your family, and it only takes a few seconds.

http://www.noshockzone.org/rv-electrical-safety-part-iv--hot-skin/

http://www.noshockzone.org/are-little-shocks-ok/

http://www.noshockzone.org/category/rv-safety/

http://en-us.fluke.com/products/electrical-testers/fluke-1ac-ii-a1-electrical-tester.html?fbid=Aav3CZ6uhLM#hashlink=techspecs
« Last Edit: May 21, 2014, 09:19:21 AM by techntrek » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2014, 10:10:14 AM »

VERY,VERY,VERY! good advice. A tragedy occurred on one of our local lakes. A family was boating and pulled up to a dock to do whatever. A young boy decided to go swimming and as he entered the water he was electrocuted. A cousin, another small boy jumped into save him and was also electrocuted. As others tried to help they too were shocked and several ended up in the hospital. It was like a never ending night mare against an invisible foe. There is now a law that all Docks whether private or commercial must get a yearly electrical inspection in order to exist. Its named after the 2 young boys who tragically died that beautiful summer day.
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TRMA18
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« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2014, 10:15:09 AM »

If this isn't made a sticky we can just keep bumping it up. lol
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techntrek
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« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2014, 10:41:28 AM »

If this isn't made a sticky we can just keep bumping it up. lol

True!   Wink
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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2014, 12:44:45 PM »

All right, you've convinced me to get one and keep it in the pup.  Until now I never knew this could be an issue.
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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2014, 12:50:41 PM »

Whoa, scary story. Sure glad no one got hurt.
Great idea to keep this post on top.
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techntrek
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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2014, 04:49:00 PM »

I heard from the author of those articles, Mike Sokol, and he provided more information on tester options:

As far as NCVT (Non Contact Voltage Testers) there are a few alternatives to the Fluke tester shown in my article that are a little less expensive and more available at Home Depot or Lowes. For instance, the Klein NCVT-1 has similar sensitivity to the Fluke VoltAlert and is perhaps $10 cheaper. Klein also makes a dual-range NCVT-2 that will test for really low voltages as well, but it may be a little too complicated for a casual user. So please shoot me a message if you're looking at any other brands before you buy them. I try out all my test gear on a calibrated voltage/distance tester, and not all Voltage testers work exactly the same. I know the Fluke VoltAlert works great, and the Klein NCVT-1 works just as well. And I have a handful of others that also work. But it's best not to go cheap on test gear, especially when lives are at stake.
mike@noshockzone.org
www.noshockzone.org
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pawman
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« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2014, 04:14:34 AM »

Thanks for the post and the reminder. I learned my lesson not while camping, but while boating connected to shore power.
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« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2014, 07:26:32 AM »

Sorry, but can you explain this to me?  Does this Fluke tester just tell you if power is available at the pedestal?  I thought that was a desirable thing, otherwise, why hook up?  (Yes, I turn off the breaker when plugging in first.)

What exactly is the procedure you follow with this, and what are you checking?
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techntrek
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« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2014, 08:30:36 AM »

It tells you that there is voltage present, above approximately 40 volts, on whatever the tip is very close to.  In the case of campers, it is saying the camper frame is "live" when it never should be.  If you touch it you may get a shock, depending on how conductive your body is at the time.  Or you may be electrocuted.

If any camper (or an appliance, or the shell of the power pedestal at a campground) tests positive it means 2 things.  Problem one, there is a fault somewhere which has electrified the exterior metal.  Problem two, the safety ground ("equipment grounding conductor") is not connected properly so it isn't doing its job to prevent problem one from killing you.  So if the tester gives you a positive reading you have 2 problems to fix.  Unplug the camper immediately without touching it, or the power pedestal, only the cord.

To test, grip the tester firmly in your whole hand, not just with your fingers.  Stand flat on the ground outside of the camper, and touch the tip of the tester to the metal frame of the camper.  It does not need to be bare metal.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2014, 09:48:50 AM by techntrek » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2014, 09:49:36 AM »

Thank you mods, for making this a sticky/pinned topic.
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2014, 01:26:11 PM »

Okay, thanks for the explanation.  So you would use this every time you touch the camper while it is plugged to shore power?
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Richard and Moonbeams
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techntrek
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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2014, 06:16:34 PM »

No, just right after you plug in the camper while you set up camp.  No need each and every time, that would get tedious.  But if you feel a tingle later on, then test again.  It also can't hurt to take the tester along and check out your friend's camper when you hang out around their campfire...
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techntrek
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« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2014, 06:28:05 PM »

Mike provided a clarification, apparently you can get a shock (and get a reading with the tester) with the only true problem being the bad ground.  A certain amount of current leakage can legally occur with no actual fault.
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« Reply #14 on: May 29, 2014, 05:41:55 PM »

One (or more) life already saved.  I posted this info on another forum and a member posted a day or two ago that they received their VoltAlert in the mail, took it out to their camper in the driveway and the tester lit up like a Christmas tree.  Bad ground pin on an extension cord, exactly the same problem I had.

You've spent more than $30 on camping toys, none of which will save your life like this can.  Be like Nike, just do it!
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