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RVBusiness Q&A featuring Mike Sokol

Chuck B 2004 Windsor

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Editor’s Note: The following RVBusiness Q&A features Mike Sokol, commonly regarded as “the nation’s number one authority of RV electricity.” Sokol, the author of several books on RV electricity, frequently writes on the subject at RVTravel, and ten months ago started the popular Facebook group RV Electricity, which has grown to about 6,000 members. He also conducts seminars at many of the popular RV shows and rallies. 

RVBusiness:  Mike, tell us about your seminars and how you got started. 

Sokol: I got started with my first RV website called noshockzone.org about 10 years ago after a friend told me about getting shocked when he touched a band’s tour bus. I’ve been an electrical engineer for over 40 years and have had my master electricians license since 1978. I’ve worked in industrial power, military power, and projects of all sizes. And I’ve taught electrical safety in large industrial environments. 

Many RVers are interested in learning about their RVs electrical system and electrical safety. I started with my first RV seminar about two years ago, and think I have done about 12 seminars a year. Most are for RV owners, but I also have conducted RV technician electrical seminars, most recently at the PRVCA technician training in Hershey this past September.

RVBusiness: What have you done lately?

Sokol: I did a three-day master class seminar at the RVillage Rally in Florida a couple of weeks ago. The facility seated 300, and we were standing room only every day. People were lined up after the seminar to ask me questions. This was my third year of doing the RVillage rally, and clearly, there’s a need for RV electrical education. I have also conducted seminars at the Forest River Owners Group (FROG) Rally, Grand Design Rally, Airstream Rally, Enumclaw RV Show, Hershey RV Show, and earlier this year, the Boston RV and Camping Expo, which, like RVillage, was standing room only. 

RVBusiness:  What are some of the most common questions you hear from RV owners at your seminars?

Sokol: One of the questions I get all the time is, “How do I run two air conditioners off of one 30-amp power pedestal?” And, “Can I use those ‘Y’ cables to plug into the 30- and 20-amp outlets and get 50 amps?” Another frequent question is about hot-skin. “Why do I feel a shock when I touch my RV exterior or my steps?” That’s really, really common.  Batteries are also a hot topic, and I hear questions like, “My batteries keep running down. Do I need a battery tender? Why is the water boiling out of my batteries? Should I switch to lithium batteries?” Questions about batteries seem to be increasing as interest and talk about boondocking grows. 

RVBusiness:  Speaking of boondocking, how else has that changed the conversation at your seminars?

Sokol: Questions about solar panels and generators are popping up more often. “How many solar panels does it take to run my air conditioner?” (Short answer, about an acre’s worth!) and “Can I wire two generators together to get enough power to operate two air conditioners?” RV dealers and manufacturers are not talking about this stuff, so they come to me on my Facebook page or at one of my seminars. I have an acronym for it —J.A.M. — which stands for “Just Ask Mike.”  

RVBusiness:  What do you think RV OEMs and suppliers should be doing differently?

Sokol: I think RV manufacturers are loading up way more electrical devices on a single wire than they should be. In your home, you expect to be able to operate the microwave and a hair-dryer at the same time, but in an RV that can lead to popping a breaker. OEMs also should think about replacing the stab-type receptacle connections with screw-on connections. The stab-type tends to vibrate loose as the RV bounces down the road, and then they don’t do well when you power up your space heater. Another thing I would like to see is OEMs providing full wiring schematics with each RV. Doing this would save hours of technician time at the dealership.

As far as suppliers, I’d like to see all air conditioners incorporate “soft-start” technology, which would reduce the strain on the AC equipment and make it possible to operate more than one unit on a 30-amp power source. I’d like to see the use of more marine-grade hardware. And the industry should adopt 12-volt DC compressor refrigerators in place of propane or 120-volt AC residential models. I’m testing a Vitrifrigo 7 cubic-foot marine refrigerator with a Danfoss 12-volt compressor in my shop, and several other manufactures are beginning to offer 10 cubic-foot RV refrigerators with native 12-volt DC compressors that use much less electricity than a residential unit. I’m looking for a grant to fund a large scale study of this trend. 

RVBusiness:  Where should campground owners focus their attention?

Sokol: I feel sorry for campgrounds. I think they are under assault from power usage. I saw a 30-year-old photo of RVs in a campground taken from a high elevation and, by comparison, the same photo taken recently. Back then, you rarely saw air conditioners on the roof, now every RV has one, two, or three ACs. I know I’m going to be hated-on for saying this, but I think campgrounds should meter the electricity at each site. People waste power if it’s free.

Another step campgrounds should take is to set up a yearly inspection and maintenance schedule of their power pedestals. Pay or train a qualified electrician to test, clean the components, and replace as needed. Put a tag on it and show the inspection date. I’ll bet their insurance company would welcome that. 

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15 hours ago, redstickbill said:

Thanks for posting, Chuck. Very interesting.

Bill B 07 Dynasty

I also would like to thank Chuck B for posting this.  I have Mike's book RV Electrical Safety and refer to it often.  

Mike's comments about campgrounds are exactly why I have the Progressive Industries portable surge protector.  I would never plug into a power source, campground or otherwise, without connecting through my EMS-PT50X.

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