RV Surge Protectors = Protecting “The Beast” Against Bad Power & Surges With EMS-HW50C
We come to the 2nd part of our electrical upgrade and it’s an important one, so hope you’ve all had your afternoon beverage and are ready to go. We’ll go into a bit of detail here including what a surge protector is, who should have one (spoiler alert -> everyone!) and how to chose a quality make & model.
Once again for those who prefer living color, we’ve made a video which you can click on below. Otherwise just read on…
Why Do You Need A Surge Protector?
Our RVs are basically big roaming houses which are packed with wires and electronics. Every time we move and park at a new RV park we hook up that entire house to a park pedestal and if anything is wrong with that power we are basically putting everything we own at risk.
I know that sounds alarmist, and admittedly it is a bit over the top. I’d say 95% of the places we’ve hooked up over the past 7 years have perfectly fine power, but it’s that 5% that can get you and sadly we’ve seen the effects.
We have personally known folks who’ve had their RVs fried from pedestals that either deliver too low voltage (a common problem in overloaded RV parks in the hot summer months), too high voltage (two RVers we know hooked up to a park that had been incorrectly wired a pedestal to 240V!), reverse polarity or just plain poor (unstable) power. Our friends had thousands of $$ of damage not to mention weeks in the shop to repair everything. The best case scenario is that some of your wires and electronics fry. The worst case scenario is an electrical fire that burns down your RV.
Who Needs One?
So this is super simple. My advice is that EVERY RVer that EVER hooks up to external power should have one. So, unless you’re a fulltime boondocker (i.e. you never hookup), that means you!
It’s one of the top 5 items I recommend every new RVer buy before they start using their RV, and although it’s a bit of an investment (they can cost anywhere from $100 to $450) it’s totally worth it to protect your precious home.
Sure, you can check power manually before you hookup (with a voltmeter, for example), but power can change especially if there’s a surge or drop due to something external that happens, and if you don’t have something actively monitoring that you won’t catch it. Also you’ve got thousands of dollars of stuff hooked up to electricity in your RV (ACs, appliances, TVs, computers etc.) not to mention wires and circuit boards. In relative terms it’s small $$ to protect many, many more $$$$. Totally worth it IMHO.
How Do They Work?
There are several different kinds of RV surge protectors out there, but they all have two basic things in common:
- They Are Your First Line of Defense Against Bad Power -> RV surge protectors are always installed between your RV and the main power line that comes into it. They can be portable or hard-wired (see below) but either way they are the first thing to “see” the power coming from the pedestal and are thus your first line of defense against bad power.
- They Are Designed to be Sacrificial -> RV surge protectors are designed to cut off the power to your RV if it’s bad. They will either cut the power temporarily if power is marginal (the smarter ones are able do this), or they will fry themselves completely and cut off power altogether in an extreme power situation (e.g. big power surge). They are meant to do this = sacrificing themselves to save the RV. So, if your surge protector fries, don’t be disappointed. This means it did its job and protected your RV!
How Do You Choose A Surge Protector?
There’s a few key things that go into choosing a surge protector for your RV:
The first thing you need to look at is the amperage rating of the surge protector and you’ll need to match that to the electrical system of your RV. So if you have a 30-amp rig, buy a 30-amp protector. If you have a 50-amp rig, then buy a 50-amp protector. If you don’t know which type of RV you have you can tell by the type of plug you use to plug-in. If it’s a plug with four prongs, it is 50 amps. If it’s a plug with three prongs, it is 30 amps. Oh, and you only need ONE protector! A 50-amp protector will protect your 50-amp RV even if you hookup to a 30-amp pedestal (you just need a 30-to-50A adapter plug to connect the two together).
Portable Or Hard Wired:
The next thing is to decide whether you want a portable or a hard-wired unit. Both are good and work fine so it just depends a bit on what your preferences are:
Portable Units: Portable units have to be physically hookup-up to the pedestal before you plug in your RV.
- Pros: The main advantages of a portable is that you don’t need to do any wiring work to hook them up. Just plug in the unit to the pedestal, then plug your RV into the unit and you’re good go! Also they’re super easy to replace if they sacrifice themselves. Just buy a new one and you’re up and running again.
- Cons: The main negatives of a portable is that they might get stolen (low probability IMO, but some folks do worry about it -> you can buy locks) and you might forget to plug it in and/or leave it behind (yes, this actually happened to us). The last negative is something we never thought about before we had some experience on the road and that is they tend to drag on the ground, especially if you’re hooking up to a short power pedestal and/or you are hooking up to 30A and need to use a 30-to-50 Amp adapter cable. We’ve traveled with a portable for last 7 years and it has worked fine, but it is rather bulky and we’ve had to put it on a bucket to raise it over the floor many times during rain.
- Hard-Wired Units: Hard-wired Units are physically mounted and hardwired inside your RV, usually right next to your power reel.
- Pros: The main advantage is that they are inside your RV so you never have to worry about hooking anything up. They are hidden from view so there’s no chance that they might be stolen or you might forget to plug them in or leave them behind. Also since they are internal you’ll have no issues with dragging on the floor (with short power pedestals) or water/rain contact. They also tend to be smaller (size-wise) than the portable units so they can actually be more size-efficient depending on where you carry your stuff.
- Cons: The main negatives are that you have to do some wiring to get them installed. Plus if they fry themselves you might have some extra work to do to replace them.
The next thing to look at is the specific features of the unit you’re planning to buy. All surge protectors, even the very cheapest ones will protect against basic surges, but the smarter ones (sometimes called “intelligent” protectors or “energy management systems”) will ALSO protect against other types of power problems too:
- High Voltage = not just surges, but any kind of high voltage. Units may differ in how fast they detect & protect from this so look at that when you’re buying.
- Low Voltage = very bad for your RV and happens more often than you think in overloaded RV parks (e.g. In summer when everyone is running their ACs at once). Personally I think this is a really important feature.
- Reverse Polarity = the pedestal might be wired the wrong way around.
- Open Neutral or Ground = protection if either wire in the RV pedestal isn’t properly connected.
- AC Frequency = protection if the AC power frequency is wrong (it should be 60 Hz).
- Accidental 240V Protection = in case you plug into a pedestal that’s wrongly wired to 240V. Not all protectors have this, but it’s a nice extra feature.
- Time Delay = most units have some kind of built-in time delay to make sure the power is OK before they let power through to your coach. The fancier units may allow you to chose or program this time.
Manufacturer Reputation & Guarantees:
The last thing to look at is the manufacturer themselves. You’ll want someone who has good customer service and stands behind their products.
WHAT ABOUT PRICE? Pricing varies a lot on these units. You can get an inexpensive portable for under $100, but it will just protect against basic problems (e.g. surges, incorrectly wired pedestals) and will not have the extended protection features of the higher-end models (e.g. low voltage, individual line monitoring etc.). At the top end of the scale the portable & hardwired units cost about the same, and you can expect to pay between $300-$450 for either one.
Why We Chose A Progressive Industries EMS-HW50C
In the RV world the two biggest guys in the surge protection business are Surge Guard (made by Technology Research, TRC) and Progressive Industries. Both are good companies that make good quality products which meet the needs of RVers, and honestly I think you’d be fine with either one.
We’ve run with a Surge Guard portable unit (Model 34750 -> today’s model would be 34850) for the last 7 years and other than missing a low voltage situation in Idaho last year (we still aren’t sure why it didn’t catch that), we’ve not had any complaints. But we’ve been looking for an upgrade for a while. We were tired of lugging around our big, bulky portable and having to place it on a bucket every time it rained. So we wanted to switch to an internal hardwired protector both for ease and simplicity. Plus our old portable was missing some of the snazzy features of the newer units (e.g. it didn’t offer AC frequency protection, or accidental 240V protection etc.).
In the end we decided on the Progressive Industries EMS-HW50C (~$320 on Amazon). It’s a nice, small unit (easy to fit in our rear bay) that met all our up-scale feature requirements and comes with a snazzy external display. Plus we really, really like the company -> They have a stellar reputation, are known for good customer service and offer something no-one else does -> a lifetime warranty on their products! As an added bonus the EMS-HW50C is super easy to replace if it sacrifices itself. Just open up the box, pull out the board and replace it with the new board that Progressive Industries sends to you. We were sold!
WORD OF WARNING -> As I mentioned in my last post BE CAREFUL working around electricity. 120V can KILL, so don’t start poking around your electrical system unless you have ALL power turned off to your coach and are 100% comfortable working with electrical stuff. This is a super easy installation, but just be careful.
As we did in the last post, we used local friend and RV tech-guru Mike (Margate, FL 860-884-2095) to help us with the installation. Apart from needing an extra length of 50Amp cord (to go from our protector to our new ATS) and having to hookup the box upside down (because of the way we had wires organized inside our rear bay) the installation was totally straight-forward.
We started by hooking up the shore power inputs to input side (L-side) of the unit. Then we hooked-up the RV (in our case our ATS**) to the output side (T-side) of the unit, making sure to feed our 2 outgoing hot wires through the 2 current sensors first. Finally we wired up all the grounds. All of this is clearly marked in the installation documents.
The only other thing we had to decide before closing up the box was the time delay setting on the internal jumper. If power goes out, this feature delays power start-up by a specific time (either 15 secs or 136 secs) to allow your air conditioner compressors sufficient time to re-start. Our Dometic A/C units have a built-in 2-minute time delay so we left the jumper at the factory setting of 15 secs. If your coach A/Cs don’t have a built-in delay you’ll want to chose the longer setting. Again, the installation instructions have all this detail so just be sure to read the booklet thoroughly.
Once everything was attached, we just screwed on the face-plate, plugged in the external display* and we were ready to go!
*NOTE/ The external display cycles through line power details (voltage, current, frequency, error codes) on a timed basis and can be installed anywhere you please. In our case we already have internal displays (linked to our inverter/charger) that monitor line voltage, current, input/output etc. so we decided to put it in the external rear bin where we can see the results right away as we plug in. For folks who prefer to have it inside, it’s an easy task to run the display line (it’s a simple, long data cable) into your RV and mount it somewhere there.
**NOTE2/ We installed our protector before our ATS, but there IS also an option to install it after the ATS. This is simply the configuration we chose.
If you saw the video you’ll have seen that I ended it with the words “this will change our life”. Again, I may have erred a tad on the dramatic side (maybe LOL) but MAN we love this upgrade!! Our whole plug-in process is now super clean/easy and we LOVE the little display that gives us all the details right there when we plug in. Everything is nice and neat in our rear bin and we feel secure in the fact that we our precious house is now protected against bad power just about any which way we can imagine. We are super happy with the upgrade and look forward to many years of worry-free hook-ups. No matter what kind of RVer you are (part-time, full-time) I urge you to look at and buy a good surge protector. It’s well-worth the investment.