It was now time to address Tallulah Belle’s electrical upgrade. The original wiring was 16 gauge two wire (non grounded) cloth wrapped, and perhaps was adequate in 1960 for three light fixtures. In NO WAY would it be adequate for a modern camper, so it would all have to go. I asked for advice from the gurus on VTT and got some real guidance, which I will now share with you gentle readers. First: perform an energy audit. This means take a pencil and paper, and list EVERY electrical device (which will be drawing current) you might possibly use while camping. This includes cell phones, computers etc. Next to the listing write the amps that device will draw–relax, the amperage can be found on the UL tag of the item.
You will need to get the amps needed for ALL devices, or your total power load. Our chart looked like this:
Refrigerator =1.3 amps
air conditioner=8 amps
Flatscreen TV=.4 amps
game system/dvd player= .2 amps
60W light bulbs x8 = .5 amps
water pump= .2 amps
coffee maker 1.0 amps
radio= .2 amps
TOTAL= 11.7 amps
So the max usage at any one time would be 11.7 amps (round to the next higher whole number). Once you have your max load, add a 50% safety buffer…so in our case this would be +/- 17 amps. Now I knew that I needed to install circuits of 20 amps! NOTE: Most house circuits are 15 amp, but recall that an average room in a house does not have ALL the appliances on one circuit!
Now that load was established, it was time to determine where to install new receptacles and fixtures.
It was time to purchase the supplies for the electrical upgrade so another trip to Home Depot (daily, at this point) yielded a 5 circuit breaker box, 30 amp x1 and 20 amp x4 circuit breakers, grounding kit –VERY IMPORTANT–100 feet of 12 gauge Romex wire, 50 feet of 10 gauge Romex wire and all of the receptacles, boxes, wire nuts and supplies you will need. (Hint–buy a wire stripper. WELL WORTH the $10 price!)
Supplies in hand, it’s time to get started. I had decided that the breaker box would have to be placed in a location where it would be out of the way yet easily accessible. Some old trailers had the breakers under a bench seat, or in really difficult places, but if it’s dark and a breaker trips you want to be able to get to your box without a lot of cursing and thrashing around. Trust me. The logical place seemed to be inside the main cabinet next to the entrance, and on examination this turned out even better than I hoped, because the heater which was now gone had been on the other side of the panel, and there was a ‘chimney’ space about 6 inches deep and 12 wide where the heater vented up to the roof. I measured and made the cutout for the breaker box and there was just enough room behind the panel for the box to sit, and the chimney was used to route the Romex wire to the top of the trailer, where it branched out to the different circuits.
In designing our camper’s electrical system we decided to add several receptacles and so we have 4 circuits, each rated at 20 amps, and the main power in is 30 amps from the shore plug. This will be plenty of capacity to run whatever we need. The box therefore has one 30 amp breaker for power in and four 20 amp breakers. The breakers are the snap-in type, which means that you terminate leads to the buss bars in the box, then just snap in the breaker to complete. OK sports fans…pay attention!! YOU MUST add a grounding kit to your breaker box, and your circuits are all grounded to this buss bar!! Trailers are NOT common grounded like in a home installation…they have a separate ground and this is to prevent you from being shocked from touching the skin of the camper. No joke, people have been killed from so called ‘skin ground’ when trailers are not properly grounded. Electricity does not care, it will find path of least resistance and it that path happens to be you, then so be it…
Oops…forgot to mention, the PO had included a Marinco 30 amp shore power plug, which we used. This is a really nifty outside plug with a waterproof screw down cover, is VERY heavy duty and is made of polished stainless. To use, you unscrew the cover, plug in your 30 amp cord (you DID check amperage didn’t you?) and then screw the plastic retaining collar onto the plug to keep it from being pulled out. Neat stuff, and shiny shiny!
So now the old wires are removed, the new wires are run and terminated, the new receptacles are installed–along with new switches for sconce lights, water pump, etc., and the whole thing is properly installed. Test each circuit, one at a time and make sure that they are working correctly. And just like that, Tallulah Belle was coming back to life!!! With internal electricity I could now work when it was dark, use fans to move air and cool off , all the good stuff!
Remember, this is July in the Deep South.