We’ve seen a lot of talk on various camping forums about getting a surge protector for the trailer. The question has been, do we get one or not? And if we do, what style should we get – portable, or hard-wired? If this was a simple $20 item it would have been more of a no-brainer, but these baby’s don’t come cheap! Dale first sourced out what brand he would buy (if we bought) and decided on Progressive Industries. The next question was whether to go with a portable model or a hard-wired one. It was a cost vs. function discussion for us.
One of the features that helped narrow down the choice was the “Canadian Approved” one. We do live in Canada! Our trailer also has a 30 Amp hook-up. So the choice now was the portable 30XL, the HW30C, or the LCHW30. Of the 2 hardwired versions, one has a built-in display, one has a remote display. Dale preferred the remote display, since he would want to hide the actual surge protector unit. So. Portable, or hardwired. Besides the cost, the one other big difference is that the hardwired version also offers under-voltage protection. On the camping forums I often hear people talk about under-voltage being just as much of a problem in some campgrounds as over-voltage. My argument to Dale was that I didn’t want to bother spending a bunch of money on something that only provided half of the coverage we’d potentially need. I’d rather spend the extra bit to get the hardwired version and have all the protection. As you probably long ago realized (from the title/first picture of this post), we did end up ordering one. We chose the HW30C and bought it here. With the USD to CAN conversion rate being so poor right now, never mind international shipping rates, it just worked out cheaper to order from Amazon.
The surge protector needs to be installed somewhere between where the main power comes into the trailer, and where that power line connects to the breaker. In our model (Winnebago Minnie 2455bhs) the line comes in from the rear driver side corner, runs along under the shower, goes down into the floor and runs forward to come up inside the media center where the breaker panel is. In the bathroom is a small access panel which Dale unscrewed to see under the shower. In the end this potential spot to mount the surge protector was less than ideal in our minds, as water and electric are never a good combination. Water really shouldn’t get under there – but why risk it if we didn’t have to??!?!
The first thing Dale did was kill all power to the trailer (unplugged from the power source, and switched the battery disconnect to off). We then realized it was kind of dark in the trailer (no kidding, right??!?) With the door open, and the ‘flashlight’ app on his phone pulled up, we made it work.
There are 2 screws holding the breaker panel in place, so those came out first.
Then Dale was able to pull the box forward enough to see into the space behind it. We spent a lot of time discussing whether or not we could fit the surge protector in there, or whether we’d just mount it inside the storage cupboard directly above this and run the wiring back down into here. Mounting it in the storage cupboard probably would have been the easier choice…..but Dale figured he could probably manage to squeeze it in to this lower area instead and save us from drilling holes through the cupboard floors. Not to mention saving the cupboard space for other items.
Okay, so here’s the thing. We did not have extra cable. Dale was going to have to work with what was already there, and there really wasn’t a lot more slack than what you can already see in the picture above. Here’s what needs to happen to complete the hook-up:
- The power/cable coming into the trailer gets inserted through the silver opening you can see on the left hand side of the surge protector (see below)
- There are 3 wires inside the orange casing: copper=ground, white=neutral, black=hot. The instructions that come with the HW30C explain where to connect each of these.
- The power/cable going from the surge protector to the breaker box gets inserted into the silver opening you can see on the right hand size of the surge protector (see below)
- Once again, the instruction manual will tell you where to connect each of the 3 wires.
- Once connected, the entire box needed to be closed and mounted somewhere inside the cabinet.
The outgoing power cable was easy enough to install. Dale disconnected that portion of the cable from the breaker panel and was able to install it out in the open space of the camper. The incoming power was going to be a little trickier, as he would have to connect it while working inside the small space of the cupboard (remember our lack of extra cable??!?)
Before that could happen we had something else to deal with. Where to mount the surge protector?? With all the wiring back in that cupboard there really wasn’t lots of extra space. Dale looked at mounting it to the back wall of the cabinet, but this is only made of very thin veneer. The solution was this small board that he mounted to the 1″x1″ framing of the cabinet. He pre-drilled holes for where the surge protector would need to go, then mounted the board to the cabinet’s back wall/framing – over to the left enough that the breaker box would still be able to slide back in!
Once that was in place, Dale was ready to install the incoming power cable to the surge protector. Here’s a picture of it sitting inside the cabinet so the cables would reach. It was definitely a tight work space, as the breaker panel was still mostly attached and also sitting in the way!
Then the surge protector was closed up and screwed to the board Dale had prepared. Aside from some photography and phone-flashlight holding, this was the one job I actually helped with. It was incredibly awkward trying to screw the unit down. We had to work with a small/short screw driver (that would fit in the space), had to mostly do it by feel (as you couldn’t see much once your hand got in there to do the work), and somehow put pressure on the screw while holding your arm/hand at an awkward angle. My hands are smaller, so it was ‘easier’ for me to do this. Thank goodness for those pre-drilled holes!!!!
At this point we were almost connected! Dale drilled a small hole through the front panel of the media center, just above the propane detector, and fed the cable for the remote display out through that. (It’s the grey cable on the left hand side of the photo above). He then carefully fed the main power cable, coming from the surge protector, back into the breaker panel as he simultaneously slid the breaker panel back into place. It took a couple tries to get it through (this definitely is a step that would have been easier if he’d had more/longer cable – it just fit!) With the panel back in place, Dale re-connected the wires and screwed the panel back down. He also screwed the remote display to the front of the media center and connected it to the cable he’d fed out for it.
It was time to test everything out! We re-connected to our power source and waited to see what would happen – and it worked!
I like having the display visible. It cycles through telling us how many Hertz, how many Amps, how many Volts, and any error messages. It’s been interesting to see the amps go up as we use various things in the trailer. It gives us a better idea of when we’re approaching our limit, or what all can be run at the same time.
In the end was the cost worth it? I suppose that’s yet to be seen. I do like the peace of mind that comes with having it. As much as the cost made me cringe a bit, I know I’d be cringing a lot harder if something were to have happened to our trailer’s electrical system. That was no small purchase either!!!!
As a final note, Dale wants me to include a few “what I should have done/known before” points.
- Extra cable would have made this job MUCH easier. It needs to be 10 gauge, 2 conductor cable with a ground.
- There is a grey plastic ‘plug’ that the cable runs through to enter the breaker box. It was a real pain to try to get the cable out of it without damaging it (so it could be re-used once the install was done and everything was getting re-connected). He says he should have rather just bought a new one and saved the hassle. They can be purchased here or here (if you’re in the United States) or Amazon.ca has this package available if you’re in Canada. Most hardware stores probably carry them as well.