Motorhomes are really a home from home and as such have most of the comforts you would have in your home. The great thing is you can transport those comforts to wherever you want.
Motorhomes do have plug sockets. A motor home has a mains system that you would have in your home and a 12-volt system for use when you are not using the mains. The mains system will only work when you are plugged in with an electrical hook up.
The rest of the time you will be using the 12-volt system. Let us take a quick look at the electrical system.
Motorhome Electrical System
A motorhome electrical system can seem complicated at first. There is a 12-volt system powered from the leisure battery.
This will power things like the lighting, toilet flush, water pump, fans and any 12 volt devises you may have.
Then there is the mains system that becomes live when you plug in your electrical hook up. This will run pretty much like it would in your home. You can run all mains devices from this system without any problem. This is the circuit that will make the plug sockets live.
This circuit will also run a battery charger that will charge up the leisure battery. It will also power your fridge and any other power hungry appliances you may have, like air conditioning.
By keeping the leisure battery charged it means you can keep the lights on among other things and it shouldn’t flatten the battery. The charging system also keeps the battery in good health and makes sure that if you want to leave, the battery will be in tip-top condition when you unplug. It also means that you don’t need a mains lighting ring fitted in the motorhome.
Will my Sockets Work When Not on Hook Up?
The short answer is no. You need the motorhome connected to mains electricity in order to power your sockets. A leisure battery cant supply enough power to do this.
The mains electrical system is very similar to a household system except it will only power up to 16 amps. This is enough for most things you will need in a motorhome.
In the motorhome, there will be a breaker very much like a fuse in your home fuse box. From there, cables go to power the items in the motorhome that require mains electricity, in ours that would be the sockets, charger, water heater and the fridge. Some modern motorhomes have an electric ring on their cookers now and that would be powered by the mains.
When you plug in your electrical hook up the mains ring gets powered. Although you may have a 16 amp fuse in your motorhome the amount of power you can consume will be determined by the campsite, a lot of them only allow 10 amps and I have heard some are as low as 6 amps. This will be to cut down the power you can use so you don’t have electric rings, heaters and a kettle going at the same time. To give you an idea of what this means a domestic kettle will be using around 10 -12 amps, a camping electric kettle will use 2-3 amps. So it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the amount of power that your applianced use. That way you won’t get abruptly cut off.
Can I Use Mains Appliances from a 12-Volt Battery?
Yes, you can use mains appliances with a 12 volt supply but you will need an additional piece of kit called an inverter, you can see them here.
All you have to do is choose an inverter that is large enough to power the appliances you need to power. Fantastic, that’s the power situation sorted. Not quite. Domestic appliances are power hungry and a 12volt leisure battery is no substitute for the mains. So although you can power mains appliances from a 12-volt battery it won’t last very long. The use of the inverter itself is also using power, there is some power loss when the inverter changes the power from 12 volts to 240volts (or 120volts in the US)
Can I Power My Sockets Without a Hook-Up?
The amount of power you can have when off-grid will be limited but it can still be done. There are several ways to get power when you are not on hookup, each has their difficulties.
A generator is a good way to charge your batteries and get some mains power running through the motorhome without a hookup.
Most campsites, however, will not let you run one. They tend to be very noisy and can really only be used in the middle of nowhere. For me that defeats the purpose of heading into the middle of nowhere, personally, I don’t find the noise of a generator that relaxing.
They can also be quite heavy and will require fuel to run so you will have to watch your payload if you want to incorporate on into your motorhome as a standard piece of kit.
Saying that they are a great emergency back up and do have their place. They can provide a decent amount of power and work whenever you need them, usually!
As the price of solar panels drops so the use of solar panels increases. If you have a lot of solar panels you will need more batteries to make use of the power collected. The more batteries you have the more power you can use with your inverter which will power a socket.
However, all this free electricity comes at a cost – the equipment is expensive and the batteries are very heavy. You have to weigh up how much power you need with the additional weight and the cost.
We do not use much electricity when we are camping as we will put the fridge on to gas and we have converted all the lights to led. We do have a small solar panel on the roof – around 100 Watts. This is enough to keep our batteries topped up when camping and through the winter. If your power usage is higher and you have a tv or use an inverter you will need more panels fitted.
There are some good solar systems available and I have put them into the resources page. Might be a good place to start. There are also some generators that have been recommended by other motorhome owners ads we don’t have one but if we did it would be one of these
There are some wind power options for a motorhome but I have no experience of these. I know that they can be quite noisy but they are another option if you are camping away from any power and will help you stay in the wilds a bit longer.
Plug Sockets Not Working – Causes
If you find that you have plugged in the electrical hook up and the site power is on and working then the first thing to check is the breaker in the motorhome. Make sure that you are actually getting a supply before taking apart your motorhome.
There is a good chance that the fuse has tripped. It will trip if there is too much power draw going through it or if there is a short to earth. Dampness or water at any connection on the ring will also cause the breaker to trip.
I would also like to remind anyone who is fault finding on this circuit that you are dealing with mains electricity. The 12-volt system can lull you into a false sense of security but you will be testing mains electricity and you have to treat it with respect. If you don’t know what you are doing get a professional electrician to find the problem. They will have all the gear and experience for tracking faults.
Make sure you have everything unplugged and then flip the fuse back on. If it trips out immediately then you have a problem in the camper and you need to trace down the fault or call in the services of an electrician. MCBs and RCDs are very reliable – they do occasionally fail but if they are tripping out its usually for a reason.
If the power stays on then plug in the appliances one at a time. If it doesn’t trip again you are good to go.
Generally, the fuses don’t trip but a spike in the power supply could trip the fuse so its not always the motorhome or appliances that cause the problem.