Ultimate RV Electrical System Protection – Hughes Autoformer & Power Watchdog

TheRVgeeks Electrical, Updates & Upgrades 29 Comments

It’s time to start Phase 2 of our big RV Battery & Electrical Upgrade Project by installing the ultimate protection for our RV’s electrical system: a Hughes Autoformer & Power Watchdog. A massive solar upgrade will be the main event this time around, but first we’ll focus on protecting our entire electrical system and all of our sensitive gear.

Thanks to all of the fine companies that are participating in this project for providing the expertise, equipment and service required to get this big job done.

UPDATE! Amazon prices for Hughes can sometimes be lower. Check here!

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Comments 29

  1. Hey RV geeks: You may be aware but, if not, I wanted to make you aware of apparent changes in Fire Code requirements that may put a abrupt end to the AtuoFormer products that you have endorsed. TechnoRV just today (08-04-2019) published the following information in their monthly news email:

    “The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has announced a change in the 2020 code that could affect how you connect your RV to power. Do you use an autotransformer/voltage regulator? These devices are designed to increase the voltage to your RV should the voltage drop on your power pedestal. These units convert amps into volts to accomplish this, and this process is now being stated to have ill-effects on surrounding power supplies. The committee for the NFPA wrote this, “The use of autotransformers places severe additional stress to surrounding electrical infrastructure not accounted for in the load calculations in this section. Park operators report that low voltage conditions typically exist when surrounding sites use these add-on devices.”

    In a move to lead the way for this change in the code, Surge Guard has immediately discontinued their autotransformer models (10175 & 10176 Voltage Regulators). We have never sold these units at TechnoRV, so it will not affect anything we have sold in the past. There are other autotransformer companies on the market that will be affected by this change. I am not sure what the plan is from the other companies to conform with this new code, but I would guess that this will create change pretty quickly.

    If you currently use an autotransformer, then I would suggest that you follow the news closely on this. I am not sure how quickly RV parks will start enforcing the new regulations, but I am guessing that you will start to see a move to this in 2020.”

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      Hi Dave. Thanks for the note. We’re well aware of this, but need to stress a critical part of this story that certain component manufacturers and retailers are eager to gloss over: this is a PROPOSED rule change. They continue to talk about it as though it’s a done deal, largely because it was spearheaded by, and would benefit, those very companies if it passed. We happen to know that the odds of it passing are anything but assured, and quite likely very low, despite lobbying by those same companies. We will of course stay on top of the situation as it evolves.

    2. I found a switch in one of my storage compartments and I have no idea what it is. I have looked everywhere, it’s not in the useless owners manual and the dealer pretty much dropped my 1st RV off and just left after a hasty walk through. I can send a picture but don’t know how to do that in this forum! Help! Thank you! Kimberly

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        Hi Kim. Sorry to hear you’re having difficulty identifying that switch. What year/make/model is your RV (that may help with identifying it). And for a photo, you’d have to upload it somewhere else online (like Google Photos/Drive, or someplace like that) and link to it here. Without seeing it, one thought is that it could be for the blower for basement heat. Our RV has a switch in our water compartment that enables a blower to come on whenever the furnace comes on… so that extra heat gets blown into the water bays & basement. So maybe that’s it?!

        1. Thank you for responding! I found out it’s the switch to turn on solar power. I’m not sure what THAT means yet either but I’m getting closer! ;-)

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            LOL! Learning a new RV can be a bit frustrating at times… especially since any modifications a previous owner made aren’t documented anywhere! That switch could either be to cut power coming from the solar panels down to the solar charge controller (most likely)… or it could be a cutoff between the solar charge controller and the batteries. If you can trace the wires on either side of the switch, it should give you an idea.

            Have fun! 😉

  2. Hi guys. We’ve been following you for about 18 months and recently bought a new to us 2005 Safari Cheetah DP. Now we are doing the necessary upgrades before we hit the road. I have been researching surge/EMS systems and were between the Surge Guard and Progressive. I just this morning found a reference to your review of the Bulldog and watched it. Now I am leaning towards it. I have two questions that I hope will help me make a final decision.
    1) Hughes’ 2 year warranty vs SG and PI lifetime warranty? On its face their’s would seem the better choice. Why did you go with Hughes. Please don’t sa its because they are your sponsor as we have always looked to RVG for unbiased guidance.

    2) You may have covered this in the video and I missed it but why did you switch from a hardwire to portable system since Hughes makes both?

    Look forward to your reply.

    1. If I may ask one more related question; The current Hughes Autoformer has built-in surge protection but not BT (as I understand it. If you have the current model autoformer the addition of the Bulldog EMS only adds BT app capability. Is this correct?

      1. Post

        Hi Loel! Congrats on your new rig! We hope that an ’05 works out as well for you as ours has for us.😊 Thanks for being here with us, and for the great questions.

        First a quick word about how we end up making videos about certain products and not others. We start with the same process most people do, which is research, and more research. We read reviews about the product, the company, their reputation, customer service, etc. Basically we figure our what we’d be willing to spend our own money on. Since we don’t do “reviews” but rather what we consider to be the equivalent of video testimonials/recommendations for products we use and love, we make it clear to any company that is considering suppling a product for testing that if we don’t love their product enough to enthusiastically recommend it to close friends, we will not make a video about it. Since our close friends include thousand of viewers, we take our responsibility even more seriously to recommend only what we feel are truly worthy products, since the ramifications could be many thousands of “bum steers” (as my Dad would say). And of course as soon as comments start coming in that we’re recommending things people hate, there goes our credibility. We’re keenly aware of this, so we make it our mission to sleuth out, test and recommend only gear we really do love.

        So, all that said… The Power Watchdog is one of the coolest products we’ve added to our RV. When we talk about some of the more expensive gear we’ve added to our rig, we often mention that you sometimes get what you pay for. The PW achieves a rare thing…. it provides highly superior features and performance at a substantially lower price than the competition. We just love it.

        To answer your questions specifically…

        1) Warranty – We were aware of the SG & PI warranties when we made our decision, but we tend to think that it’s a minor issue…. more or a marketing claim than real value. In our experience, if there’s a manufacturing defect, it would more than likely show itself during the 2 years that’s included in the Hughes warranty. And Hughes covers both parts & labor for 2 years, while PI never covers labor at all. We figured that a failure from a manufacturing defect during the most likely time period for it to show itself would lead to a larger repair cost from PI than from Hughes. We’d be miffed to have a defect 2 months in require us to pay for labor. Our original Hughes autoformer has been working without a hitch for over 5 years, so I guess we have pretty good confidence in their build quality and reliability. Not that a failure couldn’t happen of course, but our experience has been flawless so far.

        2) Hardwiring vs Modular/Plug-in – We wish we’d never hard-wired in the first place. There are so many reasons we might want to move or remove an autoformer or surge protector. When we updated our cord reel, it would have been so much easier to just unplug the units and take them out of the way. Same thing for adding in a new solar controller, or accessing our electrical panel in the back of the compartment, or servicing/replacing our transfer switch, which we had to do several years ago. Obviously we like keeping our gear inside our electrical bay, so hard-wiring is a perfectly viable option. But the ability to just unplug and remove gives us quick and easy access when we need it. And that includes a spike/surge that then requires service to the autoformer or surge protector itself. Just unplug it and fix or ship it.

        3) Speaking of repairs due to a surge or spike… The Watchdog (and the autoformer) win from this standpoint by having user-replaceable surge modules. That saves a lot on the cost of shipping, repair and/or the replacement of the entire unit. And since surges and spikes are not covered under any warranty, this is a big one for us.

        4) There is indeed considerable redundancy with using both the autoformer and Watchdog together. There are two benefits that the Watchdog provides that the autoformer doesn’t: Bluetooth, as you mentioned, but also the EPO version (the one we have) adds high and low voltage cut-off. The autoformer will boost low voltage as needed, but if the power gets so low that the unit can’t operate (below 90 volts), it will go into bypass mode, and simply take itself out of the mix, passing the power as-is to the RV. The Watchdog’s Emergency Power Off (EPO) will completely disconnect the power to the RV below 104 or above 132. The autorformer doesn’t have EPO, so does not do that.

        5) The are a few other differences in performance/features/claims, both pro and con for each unit. For example, the PI has an initial 136-second time delay before analyzing and turning on the power to the RV. PW does it in 4 seconds. Our old Surge Guard also took 2+ minutes to think, and we didn’t care for that (not a huge deal of course, but we’ve found that we do like not having to wait). PI lists 3,580 joules protection & SG has 4,200 joules protection vs 4,800 for PW. Since this is one of the main things they’re designed for, we felt this was important.

        5) Cost — We typically see the top-of-the-line 50-amp surge protectors from PI and Southwire (Surge Guard) selling for $50-$75 or more higher than the our Watchdog. And they all have lower joule ratings and no Bluetooth.

        6) Speaking of BT — that display on our phone is like having an electrical auditing system built into the RV. We can walk around the rig turning things on and off to get an instant reading on their power draw. Awesome side benefit.

    2. Hi Guys- and thank for both a quick and through response. My comment on Hughes being a sponsor was meant as a joke but I guess that did not come across in writing. I always have the greatest respect for your integrity. Your points are very though provoking. Having a short term limit budget (still need to replace 6 tires before using this RV) in order of priority would you suggest buying the Autoformer or Bulldog as the first move with the other in about 6 months?

      If I might pass you a tip, using dialectic grease on the plugs makes for better contact, ease of removal and prevents against corrosion for all electrical contacts, especially those that are exposed to the elements. We live currently on the water and every contact, including light bulbs, switches and outlets, etc get a coat of DEG to ensure the best contacts.

      1. Post

        Sorry we missed your joke about sponsorship, Loel! LOL no worries. We think there’s an easy answer on this one: hands down we’d buy the Power Watchdog with EPO first, and worry about the potential for adding an autoformer later. That’s because every RV needs electrical protection, and the PW is much less expensive, while providing all of the most critical protection, while only leaving out voltage boosting. And thanks for the excellent tip about dielectric grease. We have a tube of it, but always forget to use it. Best of luck with you new rig!

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  3. Great description of the ‘what and why’ of your approach. In our Country Coach, the SurgeGuard (Same unit and era as yours.), is tucked behind an audio cabinet in the bedroom, requiring Plastic Man Twisting into the closet and to look into a small access plastic panel to see the lights. We installed our 1st Hughes Autoformer in this same cabinet with the same Shore Power > Autoformer > EMS/SurgeGuard sequences. (Say 1st Hughes, as that unit took one for the team in the Yukon, when a park powered by Generator had a bit of a problem back in 2104. The DW swears at time that she can still smell the burned electrical! Thus, were on unit # 2.)

    About two months ago, we had new burned wire smell coming from the cabinet area where all of this gear is. We rapidly shut off the power at the pole. And I took my infrared gun back in Plastic Man way to start shooting the gear. Hughes = fine, SurgeGuard = fine, the Male plug into the Female wall mount from the Shore Power – was 129 degrees. (Probably 90 seconds from the time we smelled it, and I sent the DW out to turn of the Shore Power before reading the temperature. (Took things apart, and could really not distinguish if it was a failed female or male – as they both showed charred protection of the wires… So replaced both.)

    This now being the second time since 2010 that we’ve had ‘hot electrical smell/burned wires. So I used a bit of our RV Contingency funds, and added two things. 1) A smoke detector within this cabinet; 2) A second one in the bay where the Mangum MS2812 and other electric gear, is located.

    And I then made a punch list to upgrade electrical feed and management into the coach:

    1) The beautiful non snake like 50’ shore power cord!! (Can also ditch out spare 50A Extension Cord!); 2) New Hughes Autoformer, as I like the Modular Repair capability. (Will sell the existing still perfectly fine unit to a buddy with a Grand Banks.); 3) And while I have a perfectly fin Progressive spare EMS to use if ever needed, I’d already decided to upgrade to the Progressive unit with the Remote Panel access…. But then the Hughes EMS/EPO unit came out, and I like the idea of having the Hughes Autoformer working with the Hughes EMS/EPO. And that I don’t need to cut yet another hole in the cabinet for another display unit. The remote access is cool; 4) Well our coach was built in 2003, and will swap out the ATS at the same time…

    We have these currently slotted for our end of year heavy maintenance schedule, as long as nothing else more pressing pop’s up:)!

    I envy your easy access in the bay of the Newmar:)! (But then again, theoretically I should not need to really interact with this gear too often.)

    One key thing your video does to help me, is work with the DW to understand what I’m talking about with all of these changeover’s of gear. Now, the fact that she was recently scared by the smell of hot wires helps!! But I showed her your video, and she say’s ‘I get it!’… So no more argument on this line item for this years expenditures. (Now, if you could just do a video on the necessity of at least 12 year old Scotch – it would be very welcomed too:)!).

    Best to you both, and look forward to the next chapter!

    1. Post

      Oh wow, Smitty! Nothing scarier than that smell of hot electrical components! We know how your wife feels… once you’ve smelled it, you can’t stop! ? We’ll see what we can do on the 12 year old Scotch “problem”! ??

  4. Thanks for the great information. I like the features of the Watchdog Bluetooth System and I will check it out.

    1. Post

      Thanks Roger! The Watchdog is an amazing piece of gear, with lots of bang for the buck, and features that are missing from competitors that cost a lot more.

  5. Last week, I attended an Advanced RV Electric Seminar.During the seminar, it was mentioned that in the near future (a year or three), the electric code that covers RV park wiring will be updated to improve the safety and reliability of RV Park electric service. One change is that, specifically, use of the Hughes Auto Former will NO LONGER be allowed (I believe it had something to do with the introduction of three phase power). Do you know if the company that makes the Auto Former will be making a new model which will be compatible / compliant with the updated code? The Auto Former is an expensive piece of equipment and, I’d hate to have such an expensive piece of equipment become useless is such a short period of time.

    1. Post

      Hi John! We’re aware of the proposed code change you’re referring to, but it is just that… proposed. There is no way of knowing at this point if it will eventually be successful. But one thing we’re confident of is that even if it is, there is no way it will lead to RV parks suddenly having the proper infrastructure. We all want to protect our RVs from damage. Until parks provide clean, robust power, we’re all footing the bill, either by using protective equipment, or through the early failure & replacement of damaged gear. It’s not all about the ability to pull maximum amps… we often see low voltage when we’re just sitting working on our laptops, pulling only 5-10 amps. This is all a result of the NEC only requiring RV parks to be capable of providing full power for up to 80-% occupancy. That’s incredibly unrealistic, and makes it it obvious that the NEC isn’t concerned about protecting us as RVers.

  6. Another good one guys. Too bad Hughes doesn’t put all the features of their surge protector into the Autoformer too, but they are all good units. These things just keep getting better all the time- wish the prices would go down a bit though.

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      We’d love to have 100% of the features in one unit, since, as we mentioned, this ultimate set-up involves both components, of course at higher cost. Hopefully Hughes will be able to incorporate Bluetooth and EPO into the autoformer at some point.

  7. Greetings from Sarasota FLA ! as usual superb I noticed a door over your shoulder with a vent cover Is that your Aquahot furnace extra venting for heat dispersion?? Thanks as always best wishes tommyO’

    1. Post

      Thanks Tommy! The only two things over my shoulder are our Suburban propane furnace and our Suburban propane/electric water heater. Our rig isn’t equipped with hydronic heating.

      1. I see clearly now ;-)) Is that silver grill for ventilation of that area?? Did you add it yourself??

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  8. Great video was wondering does this notify your phone if the park power goes off which can help if the air conditioning goes off and you have a pet in the coach so you can get back to reset.

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      Thanks so much, Pat & Rita! Just to make it really clear, since the Watchdog uses Bluetooth, not WiFi, it only sends messages to your phone or tablet when you’re on board, not remotely over the internet or cellular system. That said, Hughes has partnered with a third-party device called RV Whisper that enables remote alerts for the Watchdog, as well as lots of other benefits: https://rvwhisper.com This would alert wherever you are, as long as your RV and your phone have internet access.

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