If you are a homeowner, then you likely are already familiar with circuit breakers and how they work. If you aren’t then think about those old fuse boxes that allowed electricity to flow through them. The fuse would pop if there was a surge in power. This was for safety and to prevent appliances from getting damaged. Let’s see shat you need to know about your RVs electrical panel.
Fuse boxes are in the past now as circuit breakers have taken over. They both have the same purpose but a circuit breaker is far more practical. Your RV also needs a circuit breaker to keep it running and safe.
Yet, not many people think about the circuit breaker they have in their RV. it may actually be time for an upgrade if your RV is old and you have high energy demands. In this article, we will go over the basics that you need to know about your RV circuit breaker so you can get the most out of it.
How they work
A distribution panel is where the electricity comes into the RV just like it would in a house. From there the electricity is divided up and sent to different shore power circuits and then circuit breakers. Each of the breakers in the circuit breaker panel acts as a safety device in case of an irregularity in the flow. If there is a surge then the breaker will trip and shut off the flow to prevent injury or damage.
If the breaker doesn’t trip then the wire heats up until it melts the insulation and causes a fire. In the worst-case scenario, it doesn’t break when you touch a current and can be seriously injured.
The difference between a circuit breaker and a fuse is that the breaker just needs to be reset and not replaced like a fuse. Breakers can wear out and do need to be replaced at a certain point, however.
Replacing a breaker
Breakers don’t last forever. At some point, they will need to be replaced because they no longer trip when they are supposed to. There is another reason to replace a breaker; when your energy demands are too high for the amp rating of the breaker.
There are factors to consider regarding each of those scenarios that will help you determine if you need to replace your breakers.
The first thing to do is regularly test your breakers to make sure they flip when they are supposed to. This is a controlled setting so you can safely find out when a breaker is not working properly rather than finding out the hard way.
The testing procedure can be quite dangerous if you are not experienced as touching the wrong thing in there can cause a serious shock. It’s best to let an experienced electrician handle this for you.
An electrician will remove the cover of the panel and expose the breakers and bus bars. These are what supply the shore power to the breakers from outside the RV to your system. Touching one of these live bus bars is extremely dangerous.
At this point, the electrician will use a multimeter to test each breaker. On the ones that are working properly, they will register a reading. Those with no reading are dead and need to be replaced.
The new breaker will slide right into the spot of the old, dead one and generally doesn’t cost much money. Federal breakers are a good budget option if you are looking to save money.
When you have breakers that are always tripping then it may be that your electrical demand is too high. Your panel is likely not rated for the amps that you need to use to power modern devices.
An air conditioner in an RV pulls a big energy load, for example. Take a look at your energy needs by tallying up the amps used for all of your devices and appliances. The breaker panel will show you how many amps you have ready to use. It is very likely that the amperage for the breaker is lower than the number you came up with from your appliance audit.
You will need to replace all the breakers with ones with higher amps to get over the limit for your electricity needs. You can replace the breakers yourself as long as the electricity is not attached from outside the RV. Shut off the shore power or your generator and make sure the electricity is off.
Amps, volts, and watts can be thoroughly confusing to the layperson with little electrical experience. Understanding some of the basics will help to get the most out of your RV, however.
There is a simple calculation that you can do to find out what the amperage is for a device. It involves dividing the volts by the watts. If a device is listed as 2,000 watts and 120 volts then the answer is 16.7 amps. When you have breakers that trip frequently, it is the amps that are the problem.
You’ll have to figure out the watts of the appliances that you run at the same time that cause the breaker to trip. Look at the label for each of the appliances and find out how many watts they use. The volts will always be 120 since that is the voltage of the AC electrical system in an RV.
You can find out what the maximum wattage for your RV is by doing a reverse equation. Check the amp of the breaker panel in your RV. Older ones usually have a 30 amp panel while newer ones have 50. A 30 amp panel times 120 volts means you can have a maximum of 3,600 watts being used simultaneously.
This is not usually going to work for most modern electrical needs so think about upgrading to a 50 amp breaker which will give you 6,000 watts. The biggest draw on your panel will likely be the air conditioner. For reference, a 15,000 BTU RV air conditioner will need 3,500 watts to start up.