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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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Even though we're handy RVers, we're not professional technicians. So although we're happy with the techniques and products we use, you should be sure to confirm that all methods and materials are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.