Gather Tips from an Expert on Campground Electrical Safety
Tim Pool is the Executive Vice President and Director of Engineering at Tec Inc., but in his free time, he can be found enjoying the country's great outdoors. Given his line of work and expertise, he naturally notices when something seems a little out-of-line with electrical design standards.
With the weather getting warmer and more people flocking to campgrounds to enjoy nature with their friends and families, Mr. Pool has been considering the potential needs for these sites. Further, he wanted to share electrical safety tips for RV users headed to campgrounds, no matter their level of experience. In a recent interview, Tim took some time to share his insights regarding these sites, their safety implications, and how electrical design is implemented on campgrounds throughout the country.
To get things started, we’ll keep the conversation light. As our team knows, you like to take your camper around the state of Ohio and enjoy the state’s gorgeous nature and scenery. What are some of your favorite spots to visit when you’re taking out the camper?
I own a 23’ hybrid travel trailer. The travel trailer is hard-sided but has canvas fold-down bunks on either end. This allows us to unzip the windows at night and enjoy the cool breezes. My family and I have camped at almost every State Park in Ohio. We belong to the Ohio State Park Rewards Program. Our favorite campground in Ohio is Punderson. Punderson has campsites on the lake and is very secluded. We also take our kayaks. In addition to Ohio State Parks, we have camped in Florida, Maine, Colorado, Maryland, Washington DC, and Georgia. We take at least one long camping trip during the summer to a remote destination, and I routinely take long weekends to camp in one of Ohio’s State Parks.
You’re in a unique position unique as both a frequent campground user and an electrical engineer; you’re likely going to be one of the first people to notice when something about a site isn’t right. What are some of the common problems that give campers headaches?
I routinely see large RV’s use plug adaptors to connect their 50-amp RV plug into a 20-amp receptacle outlet on the pedestal. As an electrical engineer and National Electrical Code expert, I know this is illegal and potentially unsafe.
Overloaded power circuits can lead to overheating creating unsafe conditions. I also see power pedestals in the wrong locations at the campsites. Article 551 in the National Electrical Code shows specifically where the power pedestals are to be located and many times, the campsite does not have the pedestal in the correct location. This leads to running unprotected extension cords through the campsite again creating a potentially unsafe condition.
In your experience, how frequently do you come across a campground that could use some sort of electrical maintenance or upgrade?
Since campgrounds have a very limited budget and work performed within campgrounds can be invasive to those staying in the campground, upgrading campground services occurs very infrequently. I estimate that 90% of the campgrounds that I stay at have some kind of electrical maintenance or upgrade needed and the electrical system is not installed according to the latest National Electrical Code.
Obviously, campgrounds come with their unique engineering challenges, especially given the site’s constant exposure to the elements. What are some things that add a level of difficulty to these kinds of projects?
In our region of the United States, the biggest challenge is that when the weather is good for construction, the campground is full of campers and when the weather is poor for construction, the campground is empty. Work within campgrounds must be carefully phased. Areas of the campground must be sectioned off to accommodate the construction effort. If construction is to be completed during the winter, expect delays due to weather and difficult conditions for mounting pedestals and curing concrete.
Clearly, with the need to combat the elements, it’s important for owners and facility managers to perform regular maintenance on all electrical equipment on-site. What advice would you give to owners and operators in terms of keeping their sites safe and functional?
Scheduling an electrical contractor to perform yearly maintenance and tests on the panels and electrical equipment will ensure they are in good operating condition and not damaged. Testing should include visual inspections for signs of equipment overheating or corroded connections but should also include infrared scans when the campground is full to determine if there are any cable termination issues. I also recommend a review of the campsites to make sure there are no illegal hookups or plug adapters connected into the existing pedestals.
I’d imagine a lot of inexperienced RV users find themselves experiencing some headache-inducing issues at campgrounds. What tips do you have for unseasoned RV travelers?
I don’t know if I am a seasoned user or not, but I've had my fair share of headache-inducing issues. One time, I unhitched the camper from the car and forgot to disconnect the wiring harness before I pulled away from the camper. The entire wiring harness was pulled out of its connections and the camper was without a connection point and we were in South Dakota. I had to rewire the harness at the campsite climbing under the camper and making all the new connections. It got fixed and life went on. I guess my advice is to roll with it and always bring tools with you for the "just in case" accident. Remember, those kinds of issues happen to everyone, but you are on vacation so relax!
Based on comments from some of the leaders in the RV community, it’s wise for RV owners to take precautions with their electrical equipment before ever plugging into a pedestal. Do you have any recommendations in that regard?
You should shut off the circuit breaker in the pedestal to the receptacle before plugging in your RV. Once the cord is connected, you should turn your head away from the pedestal and turn on the breaker just in case there is an internal wiring issue. Never stand in water or connect your RV during a heavy rain or lightning storm. It is also a good idea to inspect your RV wiring before any road trip. If your camper has been stored outside over the long winter, check the internal wiring for rodent damage or insulation damage prior to connecting it to electrical power. These things seem like simple steps but can make a big difference to safely camping and enjoying your experience.
Executive Vice President
Tim Pool is known for his genuine desire to make Tec Inc. a great place to work. He regularly shares his knowledge with younger staff and walks the walk of an engineer who gives back to our industry and community. Now executive vice president and our director of engineering, Tim runs an internal committee at Tec Inc. dedicated to the future of design; one of our differentiators. Tim is not only passionate about engineering, he also understands the importance of developing meaningful relationships — a value we live by at Tec Inc.