High-Speed Hookups

Today’s motorhomes are sometimes equipped with retractable freshwater hoses and power cords
that greatly decrease the time needed to hook up a motorhome and significantly reduce the
hassle factor each time you make/break camp. While these systems are generally offered from
the factory only on midpriced or highend Class A motorhomes, don’t despair! Most RV dealers
and competent do-it-yourselfers can retrofit them into many coaches. If your coach has a
basement, the space to install these systems is generally readily available. If not, with a
little creativity, you can find a nook or cranny to conceal at least the more compact
versions presented in this article. Once these systems are installed, you’ll never miss the
ritual of untangling, hauling out, cleaning up, draining and storing your “manual” hoses
and power cords. The time you’ll save avoiding those tasks — and possibly the need for
installing removable pressure regulators, water filters and surge suppressors — is an
added bonus. The typical retractable hose reel contains 25 to 50 feet of drinking-water
quality hose with a loose female end that can be pulled from the motorhome and connected to
the water supply at your campsite. The opposite end is piped through the rotating hollow
center shaft of the reel and connected via an O-ring seal to a fixed outlet pipe, which is
then attached to the coldwater plumbing in your motorhome. The hose usually is manually
withdrawn from the coach and can be retracted via the reel’s integral spring (on the manual
version) and via an integral electric motor (on the motorized version). The primary
advantages of the spring-loaded reels are their lower cost and relative simplicity.
However, those are often offset by the effort needed to pull the hose from the coach as you
compress the spring that will later retract it back into the motorhome. Another
disadvantage can be readily observed if you’ve ever seen a spring-loaded reel that was
accidentally released and left to retract in an unrestrained manner. It can reach speeds of
up to 25 feet per second (ft/sec) and develop a whipping radius of 10 to 15 feet. It’s not
a pretty sight when it strikes the motorhome or, worse, a person. On the other hand,
motorized hose reels typically use DC motors to power the hose back into the motorhome when
you break camp. Motor-driven hoses tend to travel at a more sedate speed of around 3
ft/sec. Be sure the hose you utilize with either design is Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) or International Association of Plumbing and
Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) approved for drinking (potable) water to ensure pure,
fresh-tasting water in your motorhome. These certifications are also important for any
parts of the reel that come in direct contact with the water. Since any amount of hose can
remain on the powered or springloaded reels mentioned in this article (unlike some portable
collapsible hoses), you can pull out the exact amount needed with no unsightly excess hose
cluttering up your campsite. If you desire to regulate the water pressure and/or filter
your water supply, consider permanently piping one or both of these devices downstream of
the hose reel so that you will not have to install/remove them each time you arrive at a
campsite. It can be a real timesaver to have no hose, filter or pressure regulator to
unload and reconnect at each campsite. While some motorhome owners feel the need to
rigorously filter every drop of water that enters their coaches, consider elaborate
filtration only for the water you will actually drink. Ask yourself if it is really
necessary to remove every impurity from water that will end up in your gray- or black-water
tank, not in your stomach. You can greatly extend the life of your high-efficiency
bacterial/viral/ impurity filtration and your taste-improving activated-charcoal filtration
by filtering only what you drink (and wash dishes with if you want to cover every potential
contamination source). Consider in-line filters (similar to filtration used in a residence)
that serve icemakers and water dispensers and on-off faucet-mounted filters at the kitchen
sink for your drinking water. These are available from a wide variety of manufacturers. If
you frequently encounter particulates in your campground’s water supply or just can’t stand
the thought of “raw” fresh water entering your motorhome, consider a high-capacity
sediment-duty cartridge filter downstream of the hose reel to protect your entire water
supply. (For a complete examination of water treatment and filtration, see “Safe Water,”
MotorHome, June 1998, available in reprint form; [805] 667-4341.) While many motorhomers
will advocate pressure regulation upstream of the motorhome’s hose to protect the hookup
hose from high pressure, most owners also have experienced the more common problem:
low-water pressure. If you routinely encounter campground water pressures of 100 psig and
less, it may be acceptable to regulate the pressure downstream of the hose reel. All the
reels and OEM hoses covered in this article are rated at 100 psig or greater working
pressure. Although Marshall Brass and Watts Regulator Company make RV-specific pressure
regulators with hose-fitting connections that are easy to install upstream or downstream of
a traditional hookup hose, their compact designs may significantly limit the amount of flow
(gallons per minute, or gpm) that can pass through the regulator during high-flow periods
(e.g., simultaneous shower and dishwashing use) and the devices themselves create a
significant pressure drop. Consider a 3/4-inch or 1-inch NPT-size adjustable
residential-type pressure regulator, permanently installed downstream of the hose reel, to
ensure maximum flow under low-pressure conditions. If you occasionally encounter pressures
above 100 psig, carry a removable RV-specific pressure regulator to attach to the hose bib
at your campsite to also protect the hose/reel itself. Today’s large 50-amp power cords are
thick and heavy and can be a chore to wrestle in and out of storage spaces. Increasing use
of powered storage options is a natural for motorhomes. Like their hose-reel cousins, power
cords come reel-mounted, in spring-loaded and electrically driven flavors. Unlike
freshwater-hose reels, however, they also come in a version that isn’t reel-mounted, but
utilizes a series of rollers to “pinch” the cord between them and drive it in and out of a
bucket or storage compartment. They are typically available in a
10-gauge/3-wire/30-amp/120-volt-AC ora 6-gauge/4-wire/50-amp/240-volt-AC version. Most
utilize hard service cords, classified under National Electric Code (NEC) article 400 as
type STW or SOW, utilizing a thermoplastic or thermoset (rubber) insulation/outer covering,
respectively. The rubber jacket (SOW) offers the best flexibility, and the thermoplastic
has superior abrasion and ultraviolet (UV) resistance and longevity. Companies such as TDI
Products use an SEOW thermoplastic elastomer cord that offers the best of both worlds.
Cords also carry a temperature rating of 60 to 105 C. The higher the rating, the better the
resistance of the insulation to withstand conductor heat. Manufacturers generally subject
their reel assemblies to what is known as a “high pot” (potential) test. The reel is
subjected to 900 volts or more to insure the dielectric(insulation) strength of the
assembly. Problems with nicked insulation, faulty assembly, cracked insulators, etc. will
often show up during this test. The higher the test voltage and duration, the better. This
test can provide the motorhome owner some assurance that during normal 120- or 240-volt
operation, everything will go smoothly. Another critical feature is that the retractable
cord assembly is tested and listed by a third party, typically Underwriters Laboratory
(UL). The UL label is the consumer’s assurance that the entire assembly has been tested and
found to conform to industry safety and construction standards (UL 355) and that the
manufacturer is periodically visited by an inspector to ensure the quality and construction
of the final product is consistently maintained. If you normally install a surge suppressor
or an auto-transformer (to boost/cut the low/high voltage) on your campsite’s power outlet
to deal with electrical problems often present at some campgrounds, consider moving those
devices inside your motorhome while you are installing your retractable power cord. With
these devices installed downstream, you still will be protecting all your critical
electrical devices without the installation/ removal/storage hassles each time you make or
break camp. In the spring-loaded or powered reel-mounted version of power cords, one or
more slip rings and brushes are used to transfer electrical current from the rotating reel
to the internal stationary power feed in your motorhome that connects to the main AC
electrical panel. These brushes and rings transmit power in much the same way that the
commutator ring and brushes of an electric motor pass current to the rotating portion of
the motor. There are stories of power-reel failures due to the inherent nature of this
design. It appears that these incidences are due to an older design that utilized plastic
parts which could not take the thermal stresses of power transfer, warped and ultimately
failed. That specific reel was taken off the market and redesigned. Slip rings and brushes
are commonplace in motor and generator designs throughout the world in many different and
demanding applications. Given that UL has tested and approved many of these power reels,
this concern appears to be a nonissue. Like all electrical items, the reels should be
protected from road grime (especially corrosive road salt) by being installed in a sealed
compartment. In lieu of utilizing a reel at all, Glendinning Marine Products and H&H
Braund eliminate the use of a reel and instead drive the cords in and out of the coach by
means of motordriven pulleys. Glendinning’s robust design positions the cord between a
driven metal pulley and two nylon idler rollers. H&H Braund utilizes two driven nylon
pulleys with replaceable O-rings at their center for traction. Glendinning’s version was
originally developed for the marine industry in 1969 and was adapted for use in the RV
industry in 1991. H&H Braun’s product arrived in 2000. These products eliminate the
need for a reel and its associated rings and brushes, but often at the expense of
compactness. If you’ve got a lot of installation space and cash available, these designs
will give you a brushless, hard-wired connection to shore power. Whether you’re a baby
boomer still working in today’s fast-paced work world, trying to cram a week’s vacation
into a weekend, or a retired full-timer with plenty of time on your hands, you’ll
appreciate the reduction in hassle factor these systems offer.

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