Power Adapters for Pop Up Campers and RV's
Can I plug my camper in at home?
Most smaller recreational vehicles have a plug that looks like this:
Your home, on the other hand, probably has outlets that look something like this:
Therefore, it's not uncommon for new owners of popups or other RV's to ask whether they can plug their camper in at home.
The answer to that question is "yes", but with a couple of qualifications, which I'll discuss in a moment.
Both types of outlets supply the normal 120 volt household current, so it is quite easy to plug in at home. The only difference is that the plug that is on the camper, and which is found at most campgrounds, is capable of supplying more current (30 amps) than a normal household outlet.
Of course, you will need an adapter to make the camper's plug fit your home outlet. Fortunately, these are widely available and very inexpensive. You can find the RV power adapter at WalMart or RV dealers, and possibly at well-stocked hardware stores. (If you buy it at a hardware store, it might be helpful to bring along a picture of what you need, since the larger plug is used mostly on RV's, and not everyone will be familiar with it.) You can also find them online from the links below.
The best type of adapter to use is commonly known as a "dogbone", since that's what it resembles:
This adapter is available from Amazon at the link below:
Conntek 14200 RV 1.5-Foot Pigtail Adapter Power Cord 15 Amp Male Plug To 30 Amp RV Female Connector
If you're going to buy it locally, it's handy to print the Amazon page and take it with you to make sure you're getting the right one. This RV adapter is also available from Harbor Freight at the link below:
30 Amp Female to 15 Amp Male RV Pigtail Power Adapter
One convenient way to get the adapter is to order from WalMart . You can order online and pick up the adapter, usually the same day, at any WalMart store.
You simply plug the camper into the "dogbone", and then plug that into the wall, and you're all set to go!
There is another type of RV plug adapter on the market, which is commonly known as a "hockey puck". They are sold at the same places, and cost a few dollars less. If the store is out of the "dogbone" adapters and you need to plug in your trailer, then they will certainly do the job. In some cases, because of their smaller size, they might be slightly more convenient. This is what a "hockey puck" adapter looks like:
While the "hockey puck" will work just fine, I recommend spending a couple of dollars extra to get the "dogbone" adapter. The "hockey puck" is not as durable, because it can get hot during heavy usage, and eventually fail. It will certainly get you through a weekend just fine, but it's not a very good long-term solution. This is a case where paying a couple extra dollars will pay off.
Canada: In Canada, these adapters should also be available at a well-stocked hardware store. If you can't find them locally, they are available on
at the following links:
When you get this RV adapter plug, it's a good idea to keep it in your camper. Most campgrounds will have the correct 30 amp outlet to fit your camper. However, occasionally, you will run into a situation where this outlet is not available, but a normal household outlet is available. Having the correct adapter can save a great deal of aggravation. I keep the "dogbone" adapter stored in the door of the camper, and it gets used frequently.
It's very rare, but there might be a few campsites that don't have either of the plugs shown above. Instead, they will have an outlet that looks like this:
This is known as a "50 amp" outlet, and is also capable of supplying 240 volts, for the "big rigs".
It is possible to plug your 30-amp RV into one of these 50 amp outlets, but with some caution. To do so, you will need an adapter that looks like this:
I've never had occasion to need one of these, since I've never been at one of those rare sites that has nothing but a 50 amp socket. If I did need one, I wouldn't hesitate to use one. However, there is one safety factor you need to be aware of when using this type of adapter. This type of adapter is not UL or CSA listed, meaning that these safety testing agencies have never "signed off" on this type of adapter. This is because there is a slight risk of fire if there is damage to the trailer's power cord. The circuit breakers inside the camper protect the wiring inside the camper. And the circuit breaker at the campground protects everything in case of a total short circuit anywhere in the system. But there is a slight possibility of damage to the cord (which is not quite bad enough to be a total short circuit) which would cause the cord to be carrying more than the 30 amps for which it is designed. This could potentially cause the cord to overheat and cause a fire. I don't think this is a serious risk, but it is something to be mindful of. But I don't think I would use this type of adapter if there was any possibility that the power cord was damaged. And if I used this type of adapter, I don't think I would allow the camper's electrical cord to remain coiled up inside the camper's "mousehole". Because of the very small risk of fire, I would prefer to keep that small risk outside, lying on the ground, rather than inside the camper.
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As I've mentioned before, I've never had the need to use this type of adapter. But if you camp in one of those rare campgrounds with only 50 amp hookups, you might want to consider getting one of these adapters, as long as you understand the small risk. You can also get the 50-30 amp adapter at WalMart .
I did mention that the 50 amp outlets supply 240 volts, and your camper only uses 120 volts. The adpater shown above only delivers 120 volts, and is safe for that reason. As you can see, the 50 amp plug has three prongs, plus the ground. The "30 amp" plug on your camper has two prongs, plus the ground. The adapter does not make any connection to the extra prong on the 50 amp outlet, and without that extra prong connected, the 240 volts cannot be delivered. So you don't need to worry about the voltage being wrong--it will be hooked up to the same "juice" that your camper normally uses.
Incidentally, occasionally people will make a campground reservation, and then see that they are in a "50 amp site". When a campground advertises that it has 50 amp sites, they almost always mean that the site has a 50 amp outlet, but also has a 30 amp outlet in the same box (and usually also has a standard household outlet). So even though you will be staying in a "50 amp site", you probably do not need the 50 amp adapter. If you're not sure, a call to the campground will almost always clear it up.
I did mention above that there is one qualification to keep in mind when hooking your camper up to a normal household outlet. This really only comes into play if you have an air conditioner, and it might not even be a problem in that case.
Your household outlets are only capable of supplying 20 (or possibly 15) amps, and an air conditioner will use almost all of that. If you are plugged in directly to the outlet, this will usually not be a problem--as long as you limit the use of other electrical items when the air conditioner is running. This includes other electrical items in the camper, and it also includes other items plugged into the same circuit in your house.
This is not a safety concern, because this is what your home circuit breakers are designed for. But if you run the air conditioner and other items at the same time, you might discover that this will trip the circuit breaker in your house. So if you are running the air conditioner using your "dogbone" adpater, you will need to watch your electrical use.
One convenient reason to have the "dobgone" adpater is that it allows you to use a normal 3-prong household extension cord, in case you are too far from the outlet either at home or in a campground. 30-amp extension cords are available, but they are very expensive. For example, this 25 foot cord costs almost $40:
If you plan to run your air conditioner or any kind of heating appliance when plugged in to an extension cord, then you really need the proper extension cord for the job, and that would be one of these expensive cords. You might be able to get away with the heavy-duty extension cord in your garage, but you actually run the risk of damaging the air conditioner due to the voltage drop caused by the smaller cord. And if you run a heater with that type of cord, you run the risk of starting a fire by overloading the cord. (Heaters always include a warning not to use them with extension cords, and that is why.) You can also get an RV extension cord at WalMart
However, if you do not plan on running an air conditioner or heating appliance (including toasters or coffee makers), then there's no reason why you can't use the outdoor extension cord that you already own. The "dogbone" will allow you to do this. You simply plug the camper into the "dogbone", plug that into your extension cord, and plug the extension cord into your normal outlet. This will allow you to safely operate small items such as the camper's battery charger, lights, and small appliances (other than items which are designed to generate heat).
I'm writing this article mostly for owners of popups and other small RV's, with 30 amp cords. Owners of the "big rigs" sometimes have a different problem--they might sometimes want to hook up their 50 amp cords to smaller outlets. There is an adapter available for this purpose. But if you are planning on using this type of adapter, there is an important safety warning that you need to understand:
This type of adapter is not UL or CSA listed, because there could be a major safety problem in some situations. This will not arise in most RV's, but if you are going to use one of these, you do need to understand what the potential safety problem is.
As you can see, this type of adapter gets its 240 volts by combining the 120 volt power from a 30-amp outlet with the 120 volt power from a 15 amp outlet. For this to work, the outlets need to be wired properly. The 30 amp outlet needs to be on the opposite phase from the 15 amp outlet. If the 30 amp outlet is simply wired in parallel with the 15 amp outlet, then the adapter won't work, and could potentially cause damage. If a competent electrician wired up the outlets, then this shouldn't be a problem. But not every outlet in the world has been wired up by a competent electrician!
But more importantly, this type of adapter can be dangerous if there is any 240 volt item hooked up to it. If there is some 240 volt appliance hooked up, and if someone (such as a child) unplugs one of the two cords, then there could be 120 volts present on the exposed metal of the plug that is not plugged in. This is an extremely dangerous situation!
These adapters are used frequently, and we don't hear of many campground electrocutions. The reason why they are not as unsafe as they appear at first is because most RV's do not actually have any 240 volt appliances. Even though 240 volts is theoretically available, there are no 240 volt outlets inside. So if someone unplugged one of the two plugs, half of the outlets inside would stop working, and there might be some voltage present on the exposed plugs, but it probably wouldn't be 120 volts.
If you understand this explanation, then you should know whether or not this type of cord is safe for your particular RV. Even so, you should use caution, and use some method to make sure that children don't unplug one of the plugs. If you do not understand this explanation, then I would advise you to wait to buy this type of adapter until you understand why UL and CSA have never "signed off" on it as being safe.
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