Caravan Electrical Safety
As a NSW licensed sparky, I get quite concerned when inexperience and electricity is allowed to mix. Electricity is our friend, it keeps our beers cold, out bodies warm, and allows us to see when it would otherwise be dark! But electricity has a very nasty split personality, and can kill indiscriminately within milliseconds.The most common post I see in most facebook groups and forums is someone asking how to plug their caravan in at home, which is often followed up by inappropriate and illegal suggestions.
I'd like to set a few things straight, and offer some options in this article !
If your not sure then get professional advice from a reputable and licenced electrician
The most common justification for illegally modifying an extension lead or having one made is that the owner only intends to run small loads. The rules and regulations don't care about the intent of one individual, they deal with what something can be used for. There is nothing to stop someone using that lead to plug a high current device into a standard outlet. The best case result could be nuisance tripping, worst case fire. 10A outlets are rated for 10A appliances, anything more is simply playing russian roulette.
Plug & socket system
We have a pretty good system in Australia of matching the potential current draw of an appliance to the supply capability, including a wide range of plugs (10A, 15A, 20A, 25A, 32A). Any plug will fit into any socket of an identical or higher rating, but not vice versa. Caravans use a 15A outlet to comply with a lesser known standard, AS/NZS-3001, which deals with portable and relocatable premises and their associated supplies. Caravan parks are required to comply with this standard as well, which is why their pillars should all have 15A sockets on them. Never vans have a 16A circuit breaker on their internal switchboard to match the rating of the inlet. This is not suitable when drawing off a 10A supply.
10A to 15A adapters
There are now a few legal adapters on the market, and they all share one thing in common. They all have internal 10A overload and 30mA safety protection. The overload protection will prevent your 15A capable equipment from drawing more power than the 10A outlet can safely deliver. The 30mA safety protection will protect you and other persons in the event of a fault that could kill or injure. This is particularly important with older vans that may not have it built in, or older houses that may still be using rewireable fuses. They do vary in prices and IP rating.IP rating - Also known as Ingress Protection is a system of classifying how resistant a device is to water and dust ingress. Essentially the higher the numbers the better the rating. A device with a lower number (eg IP33) is suitable for indoor use only. A device with a higher number (eg IP67) is suitable for outdoor use. The devices will generally be constructed from a UV stabalised polycarbonate plastic, which means they can withstand exposure to the sun.
Example of IP33 Example of IP67
Indoor model, IP33 http://www.campsmart.net.au/ampfibian-mini-15a-to-10a-rcd-adapter This is the cheaper Ampfibian, it is suitable for indoor use only and I imagine the most popular due to it's relatively low price. Plug this into a powerpoint in your garage then run your regular 15A lead to your van.
Outdoor model, IP55 http://www.campsmart.net.au/ampfibian-rv02-max-15a-to-10a-adapter-with-rcd-pro This is the premium model with weather resistance on the outlet side as well. Ideal if you have an external power point near your van. This model is rated for commercial use, so you know it will take some abuse. Ampfibian also have a new model on the way designed especially for caravaning applications that will be around the $140 mark.
Getting a 15A circuit installed
If you're van is normally parked near your switchboard, getting a sparky to install a 15A outlet is a good option. You will have a safe, reliable supply that will match that provided by a caravan park. Cost of installation should typically be $120-150, or even less if you can bundle other electrical work with them. Of course a sparky can put a 15A outlet virtually anywhere, but the cost may be higher. As with any trade get a few quotes and go with the one you are happiest with.
Some final notes -
If you use a generator or inverter with a 10A outlet to supply your van, the legal adapters can still be used, and the overload will still operate when necessary. However the safety switch will likely not work. This is no cause for concern as the nature of these supplies has its own inherent safety in the form of having no earth reference.
Tagging of leads
It is a WorkCover requirement of caravan parks that all equipment they own must be regularly tested and tagged. This requirement doesn't specifically extend to customers' leads, however some parks do have it as a condition of entry. Tagging is relatively cheap, and offers peace of mind that your equipment won't be a hazard to other campers. No one wants an electrocution to be a conversation starter! So if the park requests it, and you could ask this when booking, it may save you being plunged into darkness one night :)
Safe camping everyone
Article by Scott David Badman