Plugging in an RV (Dog Bones 101)

TheRVgeeks Electrical, Great RV Products, Miscellaneous, Quick Tips 17 Comments

A new RVer recently asked us how to plug their RV into a regular household electric outlet, so we thought we’d cover the basics of connecting different types of RVs into 20-, 30- and 50-amp electric service.

A standard 3-prong household electric outlet provides 20-amp service (sometimes also referred to as 15-amp service). Most medium-sized RVs (usually with only one air-conditioning unit) have 30-amp service, which uses a larger three-prong plug with two of the prongs at an angle. Larger RVs (usually with two or three air conditioners) utilize higher-power 50-amp service, with larger, 4-prong plugs.

Most RV parks offer both 20- and 30-amp service, with many parks also offering 50-amp service as well. But what do you do if you’re staying at a park that doesn’t offer an outlet to match your plug? The answer: Dogbones.

A “dogbone” adapter (named for it’s resemblance to the canine treat) attaches to the end of your RV’s electric cord, and steps it up or down to match an available outlet. Since 50-amp service is often unavailable at smaller or more rustic RV parks, just about everyone driving a big motorhome (like us) carries at least one dogbone — to convert their big 50-amp plug into the smaller 30-amp size. We also carry a second dogbone to further step down to 20-amp service.

It may not sound possible to power a large motorhome on less than 50-amp service, but it’s really not a problem. It’s all about power management. We know that we can’t run both of our air conditioners and our electric water heater element and our microwave all at the same time unless we’re on 50-amp service. But 30 amps is plenty to run 2 or 3 items at once. As a matter of fact, we just spent the entire winter in British Columbia in a 30-amp site without a problem!

Even a 20-amp connection is enough for us in certain cases. It will keep the batteries charged, allow us to watch TV, run the fridge, or power our big computer, or even microwave dinner… just as long as we stick pretty much to one of those things at a time. It’s all about learning how much power each appliance in your RV uses, and living within the limits of the available electric service.

We would certainly never expect to park in a friend’s driveway on a hot summer day and power our air conditioners by running an extension cord to a household outlet in their garage. Larger power requirements demand at least 30-amp or even 50-amp service… or firing up the generator.

It’s a real luxury on a brutally hot August day to pull into a 50-amp RV park, crank up both air conditioners, heat water for showers, and microwaving dinner… all at the same time. Just don’t expect to do that without that 50-amp connection!

Here’s a great article that goes into a lot more detail about this whole topic.


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Comments 17

  1. Have a question about connecting to 50amps. Everytime I connect I see two blue lights telling me all is good. I always get to lights when am at home on my driveway, but today I only have one. The panel inside tells me I have two legs at 120 Volts each and it also shows 50 Amps

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      Hi Hector,

      Hmmm… when you say “I always get two lights”… where are these lights? On your power cord itself? Or on some other component of your electrical system?

      It’s certainly possible that one of the lights has failed, and that everything is OK. But it’s also possible that there is something wrong with the wiring of the pedestal (are you at home or at a different hookup?) that could be serious. Do you have another outlet that you could connect to? We’d err on the side of caution here, since if there’s something wrong with the 50-amp hookup, it could do serious damage to your RV and its electrical system.

  2. You gets are top notch and you are both a walking RV informational library! Being as new to a newbie as I can be I am finding out this RV stuff is confusing at times and I thank you for all of your work and taking a lot of worry out of something so new to many. To put it in a simple way..you guys rock!
    As we move into our holiday season I will refrain from my usual Grinch holiday sport and put aside my Bah HUMBUG holiday cheer and just say Merry Christmas and hope that the Santa Clause brings you all the toys that you have asked for. Enjoy the New Year and let it bring to you both mush happiness and good health. Thanks for helping me along as I surely hope I’ll never start the house on fire!
    < FISAH <

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      Author

      Thanks so much, Mike! You just made our day! We’re so glad that we can help people out and encourage them to get out in their RVs! We hope to see you out on the road! Thanks for the holiday wishes… we hope yours are happy & healthy, too!

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      Author
  3. we have a 2003 mountainaire it appears my water pump controller is not working properly .have you ever replaced one? the # number of the one that i have on now is13302 but the replacement of the one that is recommended is 145 ,but the one that i have also controls the read outs for my tank levels ,battery and propane.unless there is another controller some were else. thank you in advance for your help jim

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      We’ve been fortunate to have never needed to replace our pump or pump controller, but if what you’re describing (that it also controls the tank level readouts) is true, then it is a different system than we have. We did have to replace the controller in our Bounder, and what we have now is identical to that, and strictly allows it to have the ability for multiple switches to turn the pump power on and off, but has no connection to the readouts.

      Since it’s possible that Newmar changed the system between your 2003 and our 2005, we’d suggest calling them with your serial number to inquire about the correct part. Their tech support in the service department is excellent. (800) 731-8300 Please let us know how you make out!

  4. Hello….
    General comment – love your DIY videos! Thanks for taking the time to create these easy to follow videos, identifying the proper tools as well as good practices and the pitfalls.

    Electrical Dog bones – very informative. I was told early on to use a meter to check for reverse polarity and proper voltage before plugging into a campground pedestal. Can you walk us through how to use a multimeter to check the pedestal power connections?

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      Author

      Hi Victor! Thanks for your nice comment. We’ve never checked a pedestal manually with a meter. We have a surge protector permanently mounted in the RV that won’t bring power in until it analyzes for correct polarity and voltage, and then continues monitoring 100% of the time. We use this one: http://amzn.to/2EeLeli, but they make a 30-amp version too ( http://amzn.to/2EFIcnW ) as well as portable, non-hard-wired units.

      1. Perfect. Thanks for the links. I know that I have a hard wired transfer switch but not sure if the unit has a fully integrated surge protection system included or not. Will have to verify. Going back to the DIY videos, can you incorporate projected / average timelines associated with the task, for example, changing the genset oil is 40 minutes. It would be another piece of useful information for the DIYer for planning out their tasks for the day.

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          Some higher-end RVs do come with surge protectors built in. You can either check an original brochure for your year/make/model (if you don’t have one for your rig, some RV manufacturers archive them online), or contact your manufacturer to find out. We’ll consider including time estimates in the future, but it might be difficult, since the job can vary so widely based on equipment type and experience level. I can chance the oil in our toad on my back in the driveway in 20 minutes flat from start to finish, but that’s probably an anomaly, as I’m guessing most would take longer. ;-)

  5. I store my RV next to my home, plugged into a thirty amp breaker. I would like to know if when I periodically start the RV should I unplugged the 120 volts from the house.

    Thank you,

    Bill

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      Author

      Covering the tires to protect them from the sun’s UV rays whenever possible is a really good practice, helping to keep the tires in top shape as long as possible.

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