Thursday, May 13, 2010

RV Basics : An Electrical Primer : Amps and Volts

This will seem very basic for many RV folks. I've noticed that many, many RV'ers seem to be very technical people. But I think there are a few very simple articles I need to write to help new folks along and I get to double check my facts and learn along the way.

This is going to be the first article in a series of 3 or 4 in the next few days that attempts to address a few simple electrical basics. I have written a short article on RV electrical basics AC versus DC, but I want to keep going.

I thought about this article series because a friend of a friend of mine sells a thing called powermaster. Powermaster is a device that (for now I'll just be brief so go with it) basically 'fixes' wimpy electrical systems.

There were a few questions that came from powermaster in my mind...

  • Are wimpy electrical systems commonplace in RV parks?
  • Will it really hurt your appliances if you have a wimpy electrical system?
  • How much fixing can something do?
  • What are the implications of fixing?
As I thought about those questions, I really needed to step through the math. And that got me to here - the first article in my little series on RV electrical systems!

Off we go...

Today, lets tackle Volts and Amps. If you MUST know, both terms come from some old guys names who were tinkering with electricity over a 100 years ago. I'm not (honest - this is all from memory) going to look them up, but the names were Voltaire and Ampere. They were two different people.

In America, most outlets are called 110V. The V is for Volt. So in your house, you constantly think Volts.

I've noticed that in RV Parks, everything is Amps. 30 Amp and 50 Amp.

But honestly, you need both. Volts and Amps are ying and yang. Antimatter and matter. 

I can explain this without being technical. 

When you refer to electricity, believe it or not, it has many properties, but for our purposes, you can describe electricity we need with Volts and Amps. Volts and Amps can refer to BOTH AC and DC, but I don't want you to get hung up on AC or DC. Just know that electricity has volts and amps to describe it.

Now, think of electricity as a river. You know that flowing water has power. It can turn a crank, create electricity, destroy cities, and so forth. So really, the POWER is the key word. Water has power. Well electricity has power too. In many ways its the same.

How powerful can water be? Well there are two questions? How much water are we dealing with (volume of flow and total volume)?

If I have a big LAKE and I compare it to a tiny POND they have a different capability or potential to be powerful. This potential to be powerful is the same as voltage!! 

Now, if I poke a hole in the side of the big LAKE versus the tiny POND, then the amount of water that comes through the hole is how much power is being delivered now! If the hole is tiny, then the power is small, if the hole is a crater, then the power is big.

If you poke a BIG hole in the BIG lake you could destroy a village and the flow might flow for days and weeks. If you poke a BIG hole in a LITTLE lake you might simply just get wet. This is an example of POWER. It is the combination of things.

So Voltage and Amps together define POWER. Actually, the TRUE mathematics is (Power = V * I).

And POWER is what gets things done. Power is what cools your food, cools your RV, heats your food, heats your RV, runs your computer, and so on. True in life (power gets things done) and true with electricity.

POWER in your RV is measured in WATTS. 1 volt (times) 1 amp = 1 watt. 

Now if I tell you that your Air Conditioning takes 10 Amps and you know that the Air Conditioner factory ASSUMED that you will have a 120 Volt system, then you have a 1200Watt  air conditioner.

Don't worry too much about exact numbers, if you feel good about the water analogy, and have kind of an understanding of volts and amps now, then we'll do great. 

Lets talk more about POWER tomorrow or Monday!

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