10 Tips on Reverse Polarity & Issues of Electrical Safety in a Caravan.

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“Electricity is really just organised lightning.” George Carlin

And that is why you need to be rather respectful of it. Especially in a caravan!

So as a responsible caravan owner, what are the main points of which you should be aware?

  1. Test to make sure that your electrics are safe. The electrics in most new caravans come with a 3-year electrical safety certificate from the NCC (National Caravan Council.) The Electrical Safety Council recommends that caravans should be tested and obtain an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) at least once every three years. It’s not mandatory, but; it’s your caravan. Your life. Your choice!
  2. Take care in the awning. Some things just don’t mix. Water and electricity is well established as one such. Awnings are often damp and prone to condensation. In general, domestic appliances are not designed to be used outdoors or in damp environments. The appliance might simply fuse or trip your electrics. Alternatively, it might cause fire or electrocution!

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    Some things just don’t mix. Water & Electricity is one such!
  3. Don’t Overload – “You can’t use a hairdryer and a microwave in a caravan at the same time!” I know that my wisdom is almost infallible because some appliances, particularly anything that heats up, draw a lot of power. Site electricity, on the other hand, doesn’t supply a lot of power… If you switch on everything at once, your electricity supply will trip. As a bonus, you might trip all your neighbours’ supplies as well. Another piece of infallible wisdom – this is a sure-fire way to lose friends and alienate people – but you don’t need Caravan Confucius to tell you that!Caravan Confucius Master.jpg
  4. How to Avoid the Overload? – UK site supplies are often 10 or 16 Amp. On the Continent, supplies can be as low as 5 Amp. What Did the EU Ever Do For Us? Well, Voltage is fairly standardised across the EU at 220V (230V in the UK – we have to be different! However, UK appliances work on 220V.) As a rule of thumb, Power (Watts) = Voltage (Volts) x Current (Amps). So if your supply Voltage = 220 and your supply Current = 10 Amps, the power available to your caravan is 220V x 10A = 2,200 Watts (or 2.2 kilowatts.) So don’t draw more than 2.2kW!
  5. More Info Needed. How to Avoid the Overload? – Appliances all have a power rating marked on them, which states how many Watts of power they draw. A powerful hairdryer might use up 1500 Watts (1.5kW) of your allowance. A domestic kettle 2,000 Watts (2kW). If you switch them on together, you’re using 3.5kW. On a 2.2kW supply, that leaves you 1.3kW short, Johnny No-Mates!

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    Johnny No-Mates tripped the site electricity again!
  6. Connecting Safely – would you walk around holding a live 220V electricity cable in your hand? Would you do so in the damp or rain? If the answer is “No” (and it should be!) you will see why it is best to connect your electricity cable to your caravan (which is not live) BEFORE you connect it to the EHU (Electrical Hook Up) bollard, which is. And disconnect from the bollard before the caravan!

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    Electricity generates HEAT!
  7. Unroll Your Electrical Cable Fully – yes, even if it is 25m long and you are right next to the EHU bollard. If you don’t, the heat generated by electricity flowing through the wires can be sufficient to melt the insulation, arc and set on fire. Don’t believe me? Look at the pictures. And I have witnessed an electricity cable coiled neatly on top of the tyre (combustible) underneath the caravan (combustible) in an ambient temperature of 35C. Sleep soundly!

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    Do you still think that you might leave your cable coiled?
  8. Reverse Polarity – not part of the Safety Briefing in the Musical ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet.’ It won’t happen in the UK, but we have encountered it occasionally in Europe. Reverse Polarity is simply when the neutral or earth and live connections in the circuit are reversed. The problem with Reverse Polarity is that it allows electricity to flow even when an appliance is switched off, presenting a safety hazard (we hadn’t quite appreciated quite how much of a safety hazard – see my next blog Le Cock Up on the Côte d’Émeraude!) Fortunately, a cheap, readily available socket tester will allow you to plug in on arrival and tell you immediately if you have Reverse Polarity.
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    A cheap, readily available circuit tester shows immediately that we have Reverse Polarity.

    If you have Reverse Polarity, a cheap and readily available adaptor will allow you to correct it. I bought all of these items from eBay, but a caravan shop will supply them too. We don’t leave home without either – and we never arrive on a new Continental site without testing Polarity! If you think you might forget to do so, write yourself an arrival checklist.

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    If you have Reverse Polarity, a cheap, readily available adaptor will correct it.
  9. Standardisation of Connectors. In item 4, I asked ‘What Did the EU Ever Do for Us?’ They did standardise supply Voltage, but haven’t got round to doing the same with plugs. Some Continental sites have old 2 pin plugs on the EHU rather than the blue, 3-pin European Standard CEE17 connectors. Fortunately, another cheap and readily available adaptor is available for this eventuality, so don’t leave home without that either!
  10. 12V Supply & Invertors – 12V is the standard power available from your leisure battery, usually available through connectors that look like the cigarette lighter in your car. The numbers clearly demonstrate; 12V is obviously a LOT LOWER than a 220 or 230V supply – so normal stuff won’t work on 12V! ONLY 12V-compatible appliances should ever be used on the 12V supply to avoid overloading, which can lead to fire. An Invertor is a device that converts your 12V supply to 230V, which allows you to operate all your 230V electrical devices from your 12V supply. Sounds great, but you don’t get ‘owt for nowt. Invertors are power-hungry little creatures who will quickly drain your leisure battery. For example, an invertor delivering 1A to a 230V device draws 20A from your battery. So put that hairdryer away NOW!
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Avoid overloading your electrics & your invertor. Put that hairdryer away NOW!

This covers the most pertinent points that we have come across regarding electricity on our travels. It is by no means a comprehensive guide and it is up to you to be responsible when using electricity and EHU.

I hope that it highlights some useful caravan-specific points about electricity, however…

…remember, with great power comes great responsibility – and an even greater electricity bill!

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With great power…

2 thoughts on “10 Tips on Reverse Polarity & Issues of Electrical Safety in a Caravan.

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