what is an surge protector

What Is an RV Surge Protector? Everything You Need to Know

Whether you travel full time or not, having an RV surge protector is a must to protect all of your appliances from unexpected electrical damage. Power surges can occur for various reasons, such as lightning strikes or power line damage. When it happens, it can cause severe damage to your RV’s electrical system and fry up all electronics. The surge protector will prevent this type of damage.

What Is an RV Surge Protector?

A surge can cause all sorts of problems for your devices, including shorting them out, damaging their circuitry, and even causing fires.

An RV surge protector works by absorbing the excess energy from a power surge and then dissipating it safely away from your RV. It protects your rig’s electrical system from damage by the power surge.

The device has to be installed between your trailer’s power source and the electrical system. It can protect all electrical devices and appliances in your rig from damage caused by sudden voltage fluctuations.

You don’t need protection for every piece of electronics. But a surge protector is good for gadgets sensitive to voltage changes, including devices like computers, TVs, and other delicate electronics.

Types of RV Surge Protectors

Depending on functions and features, there are two types of surge protectors.

Basic Surge Protectors

These devices offer a simple function—blocking an electrical surge before it can fry an electrical system and other things dependent on it.

With this surge protector installed, your electronics will be safe from a sudden voltage spike caused by a power outlet malfunctioning, faulty wiring, or a lightning strike.

camper surge protector
A basic protector is a good choice for small trailers. Photo: Camping World

Electrical Management System (EMS)

These are more sophisticated devices that protect a voltage spike, low voltage, and several other electrical defects.

An EMS system monitors the electrical usage of your RV and automatically shuts off power to specific appliances or circuits when they sense an overloaded condition.

For example, your rig’s electronics can get damaged if the voltage drops below 104 or goes above 132 in a 120V AC system. The EMS will safeguard against such anomalies. It also gives protection against faulty wiring at the power pedestal.

What Are the Functions of a Surge Protector?

An RV surge protector offers various protective features for all of your expensive electrical equipment. Let’s see the ways it protects your RV:

Prevents Power Surges

The system protects your devices from power surges by absorbing and dissipating the excess energy. It prevents the overflow from reaching your devices and damaging them.

Now, what most people don’t know is how exactly a surge protector does this. Inside every protector is a metal oxide varistor (MOV), a resistor that can withstand large voltage spikes. When the voltage increases, the MOV conducts more current, dissipating the excess energy as heat.

The MOV is the key component that makes surge protectors so effective. However, other factors come into play as well. The size and number of MOVs, the wiring of the surge protector, and the materials used all play a role in how well the system works.

One last thing to remember is that surge protectors do not last forever. The MOVs will eventually wear out and need to be replaced. Most surge protectors have a lifespan of about two to three years. After that, you’ll need to buy a new one.

Protects from Low Voltage

The system also protects against low voltage. If the voltage drops below a certain level, the protector will disconnect your devices from the power source, preventing possible damage.

Low voltage occurs when the supplied current drops below the standard operating voltage of an electrical device. The reasons for this include power outages, faulty wiring, or even using a lower-voltage power source.

When the voltage is low, there won’t be enough power flowing through the electrical circuit. It can cause the circuit components to overheat, leading to damage or even complete failure.

When an electrical device is plugged into a surge protector, the surge protector monitors the voltage. If the voltage gets too low, the surge protector kicks in and cuts off the power supply to save the appliances from damage.

An EMS device also protects from other electrical anomalies, including reverse polarity, open ground, and open neutral.

Factors to Consider for Choosing a Surge Protector for RVs

Whether you choose a basic RV surge protector or an EMS, it should have some features to give the best output. Let’s discuss the factors you should consider before making a buying decision.

Amp Rating

The first factor to consider is the amp rating. This is the maximum amount of current that the surge protector can handle. RV surge protectors are available in 30 amps and 50 amps ratings.

A 30-amp surge protector is perfect for a 30-amp RV, and the 50-amp rating is suitable for a 50-amp rig. It’s also possible to use a 50-amp protector in a 30-amp trailer if you use an adapter.

50 amp surge protector
A 50-amp surge protector. Photo: GearJunkie

Joule Rating

The rating measures how much energy the surge protector can absorb before it needs to be replaced. Many may wonder how many joules do you RV surge protectors need. The higher the Joule rating, the better.

For example, a protector with 2,000 joules is adequate for small kitchen appliances and low-powered electronics. A high-quality device can have a rating of around 3,580 joules, which is suitable for more powerful appliances like a microwave oven.

Portable or Permanent

In this case, the choice depends on your use case and convenience. Portable surge protectors are designed to be plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet. They’re easy to set up and take with you when you travel. Because it’s portable, this type of RV surge protector is easily to get stolen. There are some measures to take to secure your RV surge protector when using on campgrounds.

On the other hand, permanent surge protectors are hardwired into your RV’s electrical system. They’re more expensive than portable surge protectors but offer better protection against power surges.

Cost

The last factor to consider is cost. Surge protectors vary widely in price, from around $80 for a basic model to over $150 for a high-end model. The EMS devices will cost over $200.

The first step in choosing a surge protector is to decide what features are important to you. You can then look for the models available in your budget.

No matter which surge protector you choose, make sure it has a high enough amp rating for your RV. And, if you can afford it, go for a permanent surge protector for the best protection against power surges.

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