If you’ve RVed for any length of time then you’ve probably had some weird problems with your sensitive electrical devices. Maybe a phone that used to work fine can no longer hold a charge. Perhaps the battery quit working on a laptop computer. Or a GFCI outlet tripped and had to be replaced.
The most common cause of those problems is unclean–or “dirty”–power at campgrounds and RV parks. And, unfortunately, once the damage is done there is no undoing it. All it takes is one bad power spike, dip, or sag to ruin an expensive electronic device.
This has happened to us quite a few times. As a matter of fact, all of the things I said in the first paragraph happened to us!
In 2015 an expensive Android phone stopped holding a charge. We think it happened in Florence, OR, because when we unplugged the RV’s power cord it was burnt, like the picture you see above!
dirty power a generator that ran out of gas killed a GFCI outlet. (Yes, that was my fault. Mistakes happen!)
And in 2017 the battery on a $1100 laptop stopped holding a charge when the circuit breaker on the electrical post died.
And don’t think the RV parks or campgrounds will reimburse you for these problems! If you mention it to them they will almost certainly activate an NMP (Not My Problem) Field.
What will protect you, then? Well, before we talk about what does work, let’s deal with one of the most common myths.
Surge Protectors Don't Protect You
A common misconception is that surge protectors will protect you from dirty power, but that can’t be farther from the truth!
Surge protectors do:
- Protect you from power surges, with varying degrees of success. Repeated power surges reduces their efficiency, and they are not very effective at stopping extremely fast moving and powerful surges.
Surge protectors do not:
- Cleanup dirty power
- Protect you from power sags and dips (the reverse of power surges)
- Protect you from rapid power fluctuations that are still within the safe voltage range
Unfortunately it is those last two things–power dips and rapid fluctuations–that do the most damage to sensitive electronic devices like phones, tablets, and computers.
Voltage Protectors and Laptop Adapters Help, but Aren't Enough
Laptop adapters (the little brick in your laptop cord) usually have built in surge protectors. Some of them also have other protections like thermal cut-off. If you are dealing with dirty power then a laptop has a slightly better chance of surviving than something without a power brick, but that’s about it. As I said above, we lost a laptop to a faulty circuit breaker.
Laptop adapters are better than nothing–if you only need to protect a laptop, and possibly devices that can charge off of it. A better option, though, is a voltage regulator combined with a UPS.
The Camco 55301 Provides Voltage Regulation To Your Entire RV
The Camco 55301 30 AMP Power Defender Voltage Protector With Integrated Surge Protection is much more than a surge protector, and it serves as a great first line of defense. (The 50 AMP version is the Camco 55306.)
You plug your RV power into it. It sits between the electrical post and your RV. If the voltage is too high or low it will not let the power through. If the voltage fluctuates above or below safe levels it will cut the power.
It usually will protect your RV (and everything in it) from large voltage dips and surges. It will also probably protect your RV if you let your generator run out of gas. I wouldn’t do it on purpose, but accidents do happen! In our experience, the Camco has cut the power to the RV as soon as the generator ran low on fuel.
However, the Camco 55301 and 55306 will not do anything about dirty power that is within the safe voltage range. It plays an important role, and we highly recommend it, but on its own it’s not enough.
(Important Warning!! This winter we had a Camco 55301 go bad and start tripping power to the RV. When we checked it we found that the RV power cord was melted and burnt where it plugged into the Camco. We think that it happened because it got submerged in water during heavy storms. We still use the product and recommend it, but you should definitely keep it dry and check it before and after each use.)
The Opti-UPS SS1200 Provides Voltage Regulation To Electrical Outlets
We no longer use this product, but it does deserve an honorable mention.
The OPTI-UPS SS1200 600W 1200VA Stabilizer Series 6-Outlet Automatic Voltage Regulator works similarly to the Camco voltage protector, but it goes inside your RV. Think of it as a fancy surge protector that will also cut power to connected devices if the voltage gets too high or too low. However, it’s not an actual UPS, even though it has that in the name.
We did use this product for a while and it worked well. We even did a review of it on Road Gear Reviews. You can hear it clicking when voltage fluctuates, and it would cut power if the voltage went outside of the safe range. However, we now recommend that people use what we do: A true UPS with built in voltage regulation.
A UPS With Built In Voltage Regulation Is The Solution
UPS stands for “Uninterruptible Power Supply.” It’s a fancy way of saying that it has a battery that will continue to supply power to your devices in the event of a power outage. If you’ve worked in the IT industry then you’ve probably heard of them. They are installed in almost every business around the world, from your local coffee shop to the datacenters of Fortune 500 companies.
UPSes used to be known for their two defining features: Real heavy and real expensive! However, in the past few years manufacturers have been making more affordable, lighter UPSes for residential use.
A UPS with a built in voltage regulator is the best of all worlds. It will cleanup the power before it passes it on to the electronics. It will also use its battery to supplement power when it dips or sags. And, in case that’s not enough, it has built in surge protection!
We now have 4 UPSes inside of our RV. One powers my work computers, my monitors, our media server, our Internet hotspot, and the living room RV. The other 3 power Kali’s laptop, our Weboost cell booster, and the electronics in our bedroom.
The CyberPower CP1000AVRLCD
We use two models. The first is the CyberPower CP1000AVRLCD Intelligent LCD UPS System, 1000VA/600W, 9 Outlets, AVR, Mini-Tower. We’ve had this UPS since 2015 and we love it! It has 600 watts, which is enough to power our TV, media server, Internet hotspot, Josh’s 2 work laptops, his personal laptop, and his 2 monitors. The battery isn’t huge, but it is enough to keep everything powered on for a couple of minutes if a circuit breaker trips.
It also has a LCD display that shows you the current coming into the unit, the battery capacity, how long it can power the connected devices, and more.
The only thing some people don’t like about it is that it beeps when it has to flip over to battery. That means it will beep a lot if the power is dipping and sagging frequently (meaning you still have power, but the UPS is having to supplement it with battery). Some people open it up and disconnect the speaker. We just move!
The beeping is a good thing, not a bad one! If the power is that unstable then you don’t want to be there anyway! Find a different spot or even a different RV park. Trust me, if the power is that bad then you don’t want to be there!
The CyberPower CP600LCD
The second model that we use is the CyberPower CP600LCD Intelligent LCD UPS System, 600VA/340W, 8 Outlets, Compact. There are three main differences between this one and the CP1000 mini-tower:
- It is 340 watts instead of 600.
- It is flat, instead of a tower. It fits nicely under a futon couch or desk.
- The battery is smaller.
- Since the battery is smaller, the unit is lighter.
We use the Camco 55301 30 AMP Power Defender Voltage Protector With Integrated Surge Protection as the first line of defense. It sits between our RV and the electrical post or generator.
Inside of the RV, all sensitive electronics are plugged into UPSes. This includes cell phone chargers, RVs, computer monitors, laptops, Internet hotspots, and every other sensitive device.
Since we have moved to this setup we have not lost any RV components or personal electronics to dirty power.