One of the upgrades on our wish list since we purchased Rover was a full-featured RV power protection system. Every week or two we’re plugging into a different RV park or campground, and there’s no guarantee that they all have consistent and reliable power circuits. We’ve heard from RVers who have had systems in their RV damaged due to high voltage, low voltage, power surges, and even by incorrectly wired RV park outlets that have an open neutral or a short.
From the factory Rover came with a built-in Surge Guard Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) with Power Protection. The main function of this device is the ATS: when the generator is turned on, it switches Rover’s power source over to the generator instead of the “shore line” connection to the RV Park. When the generator is shut off, power is switched back to the RV park power. The unit also does some basic surge protection for the whole RV, but doesn’t protect from many of the common issues we’ve heard about.
At the Quartzsite RV show we purchased a Progressive LCHW50 system. This unit will shut off power to the RV if the 120 volt power drops below 104 volts or over 132 volts, if anything is mis-wired in the RV park’s power pedestal, if there’s a surge, if the AC frequency is off, and in a variety of other conditions. It also has a display that will show the current status of the RV park’s power and if any error conditions have occurred.
Buying it was the easy part, installing it was another matter! If you do attempt an install like this yourself, keep in mind that you’re working with 100 amps of 120 volt electricity… a mistake could damage your RV or even be deadly!
First, here’s what Rover’s power system looks like from the factory (Rover’s a 2014 Tiffin Allegro 36LA), with the Surge Guard system sitting between the RV and the generator/RV park power:
Our plan is to install the new Progressive unit in between the RV park power line and the existing Surge Guard. There are two ways to insert the Progressive into the power line:
Option 1: Purchase a short length of cable at a hardware store like Home Depot for about $6 per foot. Disconnect the existing RV power cable from the Surge Guard and instead connect it to the Progressive. Then run the new cable from the Progressive to the Surge Guard.
Option 2: Cut the existing RV power cable about two feet before it reaches the Surge Guard and connect it to the input of the Progressive unit. The two foot cable that’s still connected to the Surge Guard then gets connected to the output of the Progressive unit.
Option 2’s main advantage is that you don’t need to open the existing Surge Guard at all to remove the RV power cable and later connect the new store-bought cable. The disadvantage is that cutting through the RV power cable cleanly is quite difficult without the right tools. We purchased a short cable (option 1), but that’s because it wasn’t until halfway through the install that I realized cutting the existing cable (option 2) would have saved us a lot of effort reconnecting the Surge Guard.
The cable to buy is either “6–3 with ground” or “6–4”, where the first number is the size of each wire inside (“6” is a pretty thick wire) and the second is the number of wires in the cable. For 50-amp service, three wires plus a ground wire are needed, thus the “6–3 with ground” or “6–4” cables.
Hopefully it goes without saying, but unplug the RV from shore power, and ensure the generator is off. It can’t hurt to flip both the generator circuit breakers to “off” just in case!
Since we purchased a 2-foot long cable from Home Depot to connect between the Progressive and the Surge Guard, the first thing we need to do is open the Surge Guard to disconnect the RV power cord. Below you can see the two inputs to the Surge Guard: the generator input on the bottom and the RV park input on the top. I’ve highlighted in red and yellow the section I’m going to be working on:
Next, we back out the screws holding the four wires in place, loosen the silver clamp holding the RV power cable in place (visible in the photo above), and remove the power cord:
The RV power cord now gets connected to the “input” side of the new Progressive unit. The red, white (or yellow), and black wires go under the three screws, similar to how they were connected to the Surge Guard. Make sure they’re tight—we don’t want these wires coming loose and touching something inside the box! The green (ground) wire gets clamped to a ring connector (included in the Progressive box) and screwed to the ground plate of the box using a green screw and nut (also included in the Progressive box):
Next I prepare both ends of the new 2′ cable from Home Depot. Since the ends were cleanly cut, I need to strip about 3″ of the outer insulation off. I use a utility knife for this but it’s extremely important to work slowly and be careful not to cut through the insulation of the inner wires:
Next I remove about ½” of insulation from each of the inner wires, again using the knife and being careful not to cut the individual strands of wire inside each cable:
With both ends of the 2′ cable prepared, I attach one end to the “output” side of the Progressive. This is particularly tricky since the black and red wires need to be threaded through two current sensors (the black plastic gadgets with black and white wires in the photo below). The 6–4 cable is stiff and hard to bend, and there’s not much space inside the box, so getting everything hooked up takes a lot of trial and error (and four hands—Kathie came to the rescue on this part).
Once the wires and cable are secured, I attach the LCD display and put the cover back on the box. The last part, and another big challenge, is connecting the remaining cable end to the old Surge Guard unit. Again this means lots of fiddling with bulky, non-flexible wires, but this time while curled up inside the storage compartment! Below, the connection is complete: the original RV power cable now goes into the Progressive unit, and the short Home Depot cable connects the Progressive to the original Surge Guard.
I put the cover back on the Surge Guard, and it’s time for the real-world test. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous! I check that the RV park pedestal’s 50A circuit breaker is “off”, and plug the RV power cord in. With one hand behind my back, I flip the circuit breaker on. If I’m going to be electrocuted, I don’t want it running through my heart, so I always ensure that my other hand isn’t touching anything that could complete a circuit!
Fortunately, everything seems to work perfectly! The Progressive display turns on, and 15 seconds later it begins sending power through to the Surge Guard. A few seconds after that, the Surge Guard begins sending power through to the RV. We go inside and confirm that everything is working as it should. Whew!
All that’s left now is some clean-up tasks. I disconnect the power once more and mount the Progressive to the wall under the Surge Guard:
I want to ensure that the cable entering the Progressive unit never gets pulled or twisted, which might cause the wires inside to loosen or detach, so I relocate the two wire harnesses that previously held the power cord in place. Hopefully this arrangement will ensure that the connections remain solid, even if it means we can’t use quite the full length of the power cable:
Now that everything is up and running, I can check the power quality at each RV park, and feel reassured that bad power isn’t going to ruin our day. Here at Catalina State Park, one of the 50-amp feeds is running at 120 volts, and the other at 119 volts. Sounds great!
At several points during the install I thought to myself “why didn’t I just pay someone to install this?” Usually it was when we were trying to connect the wires to the screws inside the two boxes. However, every time we successfully work on Rover ourselves, it helps us better understand how Rover’s systems work and makes us more self-sufficient for the future. Most importantly, I hope this write-up helps someone else with their install someday!