Living With Less

 Posted by at 12:08 am  Nick's Blog
Aug 022011

We are driveway camping at my cousin’s house in Traverse City for a few days, so we’re adjusting to living with less. Less, in terms of electrical power. Yes, you can live on just 20 amps, even if you have a big old diesel pusher that is set up for 50 amp service! We’ve done it many times.

In this case, not only are we on 20 amp electric, but the outlet we plug into requires us to run a series of electrical cords about 100 feet. The further the electricity has to travel to reach the RV, the more power you lose in the process. But, again, it can be done, and since it was over 90 degrees yesterday, we even ran our air conditioner!

So how can we live comfortably on limited power? The first step, in my opinion, is to have a good electrical management system (EMS). In our case, we have a Progressive Industries EMS that we got from my pal Daryl Lawrence at Lawrence RV Accessories. Besides protecting us from voltage spikes, open grounds, and a lot of other nasty things that can happen, the EMS will also cut power to our motorhome if it drops below safe levels. In case you are not aware of it, low power will harm your components as fast, or faster, than high power will. 

We turn off all non-essential power loads; such as TVs, DVR, etc. No only do we turn them off, we keep them plugged into power strips, so we can kill all power going to them. This reduces phantom loads, that can be a real problem on limited power. We also switched our refrigerator and water heater to LP, and turned down the charge rate on our inverter control panel. This way, our house battery bank charges much slower, but since we’re not going anywhere, we have plenty of time to recharge.

We also make sure not to use too many things at once. When you’re on limited power, you can’t use your air conditioner, washer/dryer, microwave, coffee maker, and hair dryer all at once. You have to shut some things down to use others. Yesterday, we ran the basement air conditioner all day long, as well as both my desktop and Terry’s laptop computers, and our Cradlepoint wireless router. We kept a close eye on the EMS monitor, to be sure we were not creeping up too high in our power draw.

We kept the window blinds turned down to reduce the light (and heat) coming in, and have our window awnings out to help shield them from the sun. Would we prefer to be in a full hookup 50 amp RV site, where we could use every piece of equipment we have at the same time and not give a thought to power consumption? Sure, who wouldn’t? But my point is that we can do it, and you can, too!  And you should learn how to.

You may not plan on doing any driveway camping, but things happen we don’t always expect. You may find yourself broken down and parked beside a garage for a few days waiting for parts to come in. You may be in an RV park where everybody is running their air conditioners and the power level drops, or the power goes off completely. You may be at an RV rally at a fairgrounds, with limited power. Whatever the reason, you don’t have to freak out and run for the hills, or the nearest Holiday Inn. Just manage your power use sensibly, and you’ll be fine.

On another note, as Thousand Trails members, we’re sad to lose our Resorts of Distinction (ROD) membership, now that Thousand Trials and ROD have severed ties. Each outfit blames the other one for the problem, kind of like the Democrats and Republicans do for the mess the country is in. No matter whose idea it was, Thousand Trails or ROD, the outcome is the same – the members are the ones losing out. If you are an ROD member through Thousand Trails, NACO, or Leisure Time Resorts (LTR), ROD will honor your membership until it expires, but you will not be allowed to renew unless you join another membership campground affiliated with ROD.

Bad Nick doesn’t let hot weather and funky power get to him. He was busy posting a new Bad Nick Blog yesterday titled And You Wonder Why We’re Broke? Check it out and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – Lord give me patience, because if you give me strength I may beat someone to death.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  13 Responses to “Living With Less”

  1. Are you sure about that Nick? I know you’re not a techie guy, and I think you may be doing some very serious damage to your coach. The salesman who sold us our brand new Phaeton said to NEVER plug into anything less than 30 amp, or we’d fry the entire coach.

    To me it’s not worth the risk. If I were you I’d find an RV park and pay for a site and drive over to visit the family, rather than burning up your Winnebago’s entire electrical system. I’d sure hate to see that happen.

  2. William,
    Thank you for your concern, but I assure you that any RV, even your Phaeton, can get along just fine on less than 50 amps of power. You might ask around on some of the Tiffin forums on the internet. Or better yet, try to come to our Eastern Gypsy Journal Rally in Celina, Ohio in late September. Daryl Lawrence will be presenting a seminar on RV electrical power that will have a lot of valuable information, and hopefully make you more comfortable in plugging into power.

  3. William,
    That salesman gave you incorrect information. Electricity can harm both you and your RV, and unfortunately many people think they understand electricity when they don’t. It is really very simple, and I teach this in my seminars. Think of electricity like water. Amps is the reservoir of electricity available for your RV to consume. The higher the Amps, the more electricity you have to use. The difference between 15, 20 30 and 50 amps is simply the amount available to use. If you are on a 30 amp circuit, and you try to use more than 30 amps, you will simply trip the circuit breaker – You will do no harm. Voltage is the key. Voltage is the quality of the electricity your RV consumes, like the quality of the water you drink. So, whether you are on that same 15, 20, 30 or 50 amp circuit, the voltage should all be the same (between 115-120 volts; on 50 Amp, there is (2) 120 Volt lines). The only difference in Nick plugging into 20 Amps vs. 30 or 50 Amps is the amount of electricity available, thus the amount of appliances he can run. Assuming his voltage is OK, he will not fry anything. I have seen cases where a 15 Amp circuit provides better voltage than a 50 Amp circuit. In that case, you are better off plugging into the 15 Amp. Hope this helps explain it a little.

  4. Nick,
    You mentioned using a series of electrical cords totaling about 100 feet, but you said nothing about conductor size. In this case each cord should be no smaller than #12 AWG. The larger the wire the more power goes to your motor home (less power is lost in the cords).

  5. We spent a month at a beautiful campground on a lake in Maine where only 20 amp electrical was available. Nick, we have the same coach as you and Terry, but it wears the nameplate Itasca Horizon. Our Electrical Management System.

    We found it key to read the amps drawn as only one device was activated. Our basement air draws 17 amps. We remained cool and comfortable. Our neighbors were shocked that we were able to cool our 40′ coach on such a small draw.

    Determining the requiared amperage for each device and monitoring the EMS is absolutely key! We spent a couple of weeks up in Lake Lelanau just NW of you that same summer. Beautiful Cherry Country!!!

  6. Nick
    That was a good explanation. Many times we have used our 35 foot Winnebago (gas) wired for 50Amps – in the same circumstances. One thing I would highly recommend to everyone is at least one good-sized solar panel. Using many of the same techniques you suggested, we have camped for weeks at a time with no electricity at all. It has allowed us to be in some peaceful quiet places. It allowed us to spend a month next to a big beautiful farm in Maine and two months in a gorgeous field with no-one around and even 2 weeks on public lands in Arizona. We used a ‘blueboy’ for waste water (and sometimes a dump station in the next town) and rigged up a 30 gallon tank for moving fresh water around on the hitch of our minivan. Totally self-sufficient and love it.

    Of course, like you, we would rather have 50amps, but that isn’t always possible. Right now we are at a campground in Maine with 30 amps and doing great, even with 2 air conditioners on at times. Although don’t need them much here in the summer…lol.

  7. Like Nick, we also driveway camp, and use 15/20 amps, but this year, we had a 50amp plug made that we install in the breaker box, and we have 50 amp service. When we ready to go, we remove the breaker, and off we go.

  8. Nick TT bought out the company I had. After trying to get me to upgrade they decided that since they owned RPI that I could no longer stay in NACO parks which they own. Which is half of RPI.You would think they couldn’t do that but I found out they can change anything they want to. You can’t change anything.I had been in membership camping along time and my dues was low and I think they wanted to run me off which they did. Like they say buyer be ware,

  9. We also can dry camp or use 20 amp service in our class A diesel pusher. You just have to conserve your use of energy. And as many point out just because you have a 50 amp or 30 amp hookup does not mean the electricity is strong enough for your use. Many older campgrounds may say they have 30 or 50 amp service but the gauge of the wire used to wire the campground may not be right for the circuit breakers and outlets.

    Our coach came with an electrical/tanks/LPG monitoring panel. This shows us the amps and volts for leg A and leg B coming into our coach. I also check the wiring in each electrical pedestal in every campground we stay in. I find about one incorrectly wired outlet a year. Which means we can’t use that outlet and have to change campsites.

    Awareness and knowledge are the key to being able to use your coach at all times and in all conditions.

  10. Williams’ first mistake was listening to a salesman.

  11. We also use 20 amp electric when we are at my sisters in Minnesota. We constantly monitor it when we do. We have done this for the past 7 years and had no problems. Like most of you we are able to switch the heater and refrigerator to LP. We have a great EMS unit that we had installed three years or so ago. It is well worth the money that we paid for it, especially in some campgrounds whose electricity is iffy.

  12. The one item built into an RV that doesn’t like low voltage is the air conditioner compressor, especially if using 15/20/30 amp connections. The microwave will work fine, it just requires a longer time to warm a dish. Likewise, the Waterheater will just not warm up as fast. The refrigerator may or may not cool, depending upon how hot it is.

    I am an engineer by training and learned early on that a saleman will say anything to impress a potential customer. Getting the sale is number ONE.


  13. Nick, I am so glad you will sacrifice to be close to family.
    We carry a 2000A inverter generator we use when no plug is available and the big genset is too noisy for the area. This is in our 40′ Silver Eagle bus w/50A power. Sure we miss having all the lux of the 50A but life goes on.

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