Dan has been a licensed journey-level electrician for some 17 years. He has extensive experience in most areas of the electrical trade.
Whether your RV lives at home all year or only for short periods while you prepare it for either summer use or a camping trip, have you ever thought it would be nice to have an outlet to plug it into?
It can keep batteries charged and healthy during the winter and can provide a much more pleasant environment while working. Air conditioning is available while plugged in, the refrigerator can be operated and stocked for a trip, and tools from a vacuum to a drill can be used. You won't be starting that trip with a dead RV battery, either.
It will take a little effort, but the cost is reasonable and anyone that is handy around the house can add just such an outlet.
Which Outlet Do I Need?
There are three basic types of plugs used to supply power to RV's. All three are readily available from Amazon and most home improvement stores. You will need to choose the appropriate outlet for your specific RV:
- A Regular Outlet: These are just like the ones you see around the house. This can supply power to many smaller tent trailers, some small trailers, and most pickup campers. A GFCI type will be required. Make sure it is rated at 20 amps, not the normal 15 amps most home outlets use.
- A 30 Amp Outlet Designed for RVs: Commonly used by larger tent trailers, most camp trailers, and smaller motorhomes. The NEMA designation is TT-30R.
- A 50 amp outlet: These are common on larger trailers, most fifth wheels, and larger motorhomes. The NEMA designation is 14-50R.
In addition, there is one more consideration in what size you will install. Adapters can be purchased—you likely have one already—that allow a 50 amp RV to plug into a 30 amp outlet, or a 30 amp RV to use a 20 amp outlet.
The smaller the outlet, the easier and cheaper it will be to install, but the more limits it puts on the number and type of appliances your RV can use. An RV requiring 50 amps, for example, will not be able to operate two AC units at the same time if plugged into a 30-amp outlet, and an RV designed for 30 amps may not be able to run its air conditioner at all if it is plugged into a 20-amp outlet. A refrigerator will not be a problem, but electric hot water heaters or other appliances with high current requirements will simply trip the breaker.
Other Materials Needed
In addition to the outlet you will some other materials:
- Wire: A GFCI will need 12-2 wire, a 30 amp outlet requires 10-2, wire and a 50 amp outlet will need 6-3 wire. All of these need a ground in them as well.
- Wire Staples: Make sure they are appropriately sized for the wire.
- Electrical Box
- Cover Plate for the Outlet
- Cable Clamps: Use these as necessary for metal boxes and the electrical panel; #12 and #10 wire will do fine with a ½" clamp, while the #8 wire for the 50 amp outlet will need a ¾" clamp.
- A New Breaker for Your Electrical Panel: Make sure your new breaker is designed for your specific panel and sized according to the outlet being used, whether 20, 30, or 50 amps. The label inside your box will likely list what brand and style of breaker you need. A 20 or 30 amp breaker will be "single pole" (it has just one handle and one spot for wire), while a 50 amp breaker must be "double pole" (it has two handles, connected, and two spots for wire to go to).
The electrical box and cover plates are a little complicated; read the next section before buying one.
|RV plug||Electrical Box||Cable Clamp||Wire Size|
Choosing a Location and Box
Here's where it begins to get interesting, for there is a very wide variety of options here. It's simple enough to say that 20 and 30 amp outlets require a single gang box (one designed for a single outlet) and that a 50 amp outlet requires a double gang box (one designed for two outlets or a single, larger, outlet), but it doesn't stop there.
If you're fortunate enough to park your RV indoors, perhaps in a garage or a dedicated shed, it is a little easier. A 20 amp outlet can use a plastic box, preferably mounted flush with the surface of the drywall. Even an "old work" box will work here.
A 30 or 50 amp outlet, though, requires some backing to the box to keep it from being pushed into the wall over time if it is mounted flush to the surface. RV plugs, as you already know, are sometimes difficult to plug in and require considerable force. If this is your choice, you will need to open up the wall and add some backing material, perhaps a 2X4, between the studs, and then mount the new box to that backing. Any sheetrock that has been cut out can then be re-installed with an opening to match the new box.
However, double-gang boxes are not designed to be flush mounted and will need an adapter—a "mud ring"—to bring the surface flush with the wall and to mount the 50-amp outlet to. It needs to be the same size as your sheetrock or other wall covering, usually ½" deep.
The other option is to mount the box on the surface of the wall— to nail or screw it through the sheetrock directly to the studding in the wall—and this is often done, particularly when a 50 amp outlet is being used. Mount the box off center from the stud so that there is room alongside the studding for a cable clamp and for the wire to enter the box. It projects out from the wall a couple of inches but that is not generally objectionable.
Flush mounting the box, inside the wall so that the surface of the box matches the wall covering, may be more difficult, (particularly for the larger size outlets) but it will make pulling wire to it easier as there is a large hole in the wall to "fish" the wire out of. Without that large hole that you can reach into it will be difficult to get the wire out of the wall.
Types of Boxes
Mounting your new outlet outdoors presents so many options that it is impossible to discuss them all here. Will it be flush mounted or surface? Is the mounting surface brick, cinder block, concrete, wood, vinyl or other? Will it be remote from a building, requiring the wire to be underground? There are some general considerations, though:
- Consider the location carefully. While it will depend on where the RV is to be parked, you will very likely end up opening the inside wall at that location to facilitate running the wire. It will be much more convenient if that wall is inside a garage rather than your living room!
- If the outlet is to be mounted to brick or other masonry, you're going to have to drill a hole through that material to get the wire to the outlet. Better if it is wood or vinyl, something easy to handle.
- If flush-mounted, the outlet will require backing, and uneven or non-vertical surfaces will be very difficult to handle. You will probably want to mount it on the surface of the wall rather than putting it inside the wall. The flush-mounted outlet pictured below was in an unfinished shop, where there was no wall covering inside the building and it was easy to run wire and supply backing to the outlet.
- Exterior boxes must be waterproof and require a cover that can be closed while the RV is plugged in, preferably a metal cover rather than a plastic one. Bear in mind such things as lawn mowers or weed eaters; is a box extending out from the wall several inches going to be a problem? Will you bump it with the lawnmower until it is destroyed? Will your teenager, already irritated at mowing the lawn, do so?
- If the box is mounted remote from the building, what will it mount to and, more importantly, how will you get wire to it? Type UF wire can be buried two feet underground, but how will you get it out of the wall and underground without leaving any exposed wire? Don't forget there is a concrete foundation and footer under that wall!
- Any exterior work must be waterproofed. The edges of any boxes must be caulked. If the wire enters through a hole drilled into siding, that area must be made waterproof so that dripping rainwater cannot enter the building there.
- If your box is exterior, and surface mounted, Amazon sells a 30 amp RV power outlet and box combination. You might want to consider it.
Exterior Mounted Boxes
Running the Wire to the New Outlet
With the planning finished and materials purchased and on hand, it's time to install the new wire between the electrical panel and the new outlet. If you have never pulled wire before, a suggestion is an article on adding a new outlet that is a good resource to read. It isn't about adding a whole new circuit as you will be here, but it does contain a section on how to run wire.
Begin by making it possible to get the wire to the panel. In the photo below, the wall above the panel was opened just enough to make the top of the panel accessible. Begin by pushing enough wire down to the panel, with about 3' extra, to get it inside. Do not open the panel yet or put the wire inside it.
Run the wire to the new outlet location, pulling it out and free of the wall. Make sure to fasten it every 4', but do not install it on the surface of any wall within arm's reach where it can be touched or damaged. Not even a ceiling. If you have a metal box, install the cable clamp. Insert the wire into the box and tighten the cable clamp as necessary.
Install the box into or onto the wall, making sure the wire is not kinked as you do so. Replace any sheetrock that was removed to mount the box.
Wire the new outlet. If you have a GFCI outlet you are installing, an article on installing GFCI's gives explicit instructions on how to wire it. Outlets that are 30 and 50 amp have labels on the back indicating which wire goes where - see the photos below of those outlets. The 50 amp outlet shows "white", "X", "Y" and "green" in this case - the "X" and "Y" terminals refer to the two, black and red, hot wires and it doesn't make any difference which goes where. Make absolutely sure the white and ground (green or without insulation) go where they are supposed to. A hint for 30 and 50 amp outlets; most RV plugs are designed so that the prongs are at right angles to the cord, unlike an extension cord, and with the ground prong at the top, not the bottom, when it is plugged in. Take a look at the cord on your RV and turn the outlet so that the cord will hang down, not up, when plugged in. Install the wired outlet into the box.
Install any covers, as required. Remember that a requirement for any outdoor outlet is that it has a cover that can be closed with the cord plugged in, and that it will have to match the size of your box. Amazon carries such covers, as do home improvement stores (although such stores often do not carry the metal covers, just plastic ones), in both single and double gang styles. Make sure you buy one that hinges at the top, not on the side.
Wiring the Breaker Panel
Now comes the only tricky part of the entire project—entering the panel box. Turn off the power! I can't emphasize this enough.
Turn off the power, and be careful!
If you have a main breaker in the panel, a large breaker mounted differently than the others and stamped "100 amps" or more, turn it off.
If your panel does not have a main breaker, it means that a different panel has a breaker that feeds the one you are working in. Turn that breaker off, and tape it off, or in some way ensure it won't be turned on by someone else while you are working.
Even with a main breaker turned off, there is still live electricity in the panel at that main breaker, though, so take extreme caution. If you touch those terminals you will receive a very nasty shock, and if you touch them with a screwdriver or other tool you will fill the air with droplets of molten metal. As an electrician I will do my best to work in panels that even might be hot with one hand in my pocket and only one hand in the panel. Be careful here.
Remove the panel cover and, if possible, check with a voltmeter or a non-contact voltage tester that the power is dead everywhere except the main breaker. These non-contact voltage testers are handy safety equipment and are inexpensive. There is always one in my pocket when on the job and I highly recommend them for anyone working around electricity.
Breakers in nearly all home panels are held in place by "hooking" the outside edge, the edge closest to the side of the panel, and pushing them firmly down in the center. See the photos below that show removing and re-installing one. Locate the empty space you will put the new breaker in, make sure it is turned off, and install it into the panel box. It may take considerable force to get the breaker fully pressed down, but hammers or other tools are not necessary. If it won't go down with your fingers it hasn't been hooked just right.
Bring the new wire through a cable clamp and into the panel. Tighten the screws on the cable clamp. Strip off all the outer sheath of insulation inside the panel, being careful not to scar the insulation on the wire itself. This is probably going to bring your fingers and tools near to that main breaker - the one that still has power to it. Be careful! Never forget where your fingers are, or just where that knife you used to strip the cable sheath is.
Neatly route the ground wire to the ground bus, following the path of existing wires, to where all the other grounds are terminated, loosen a screw as necessary and terminate the ground wire. Again, that bare ground wire is likely going to come close to the hot main breaker. Be careful! Do the same with the white neutral wire after stripping about ½" of insulation from it. The last wire to be terminated is the hot wire(s), on the breaker itself - the black, and if a 50 amp breaker, red wire. It doesn't matter which color goes to which screw on a 50 amp breaker. Make sure the termination screws do not contact the wire insulation but don't leave a lot of bare wire sticking out, either. Tug on each wire to see if you can pull it out - you should not be able to.
Remove any blank spaces in the cover as necessary by grasping it with pliers and bending it back and forth until it breaks.
Re-install the panel cover and any wall covering that was removed to facilitate getting the wire into the panel. Label your new breaker on the panel schedule that states which breaker is for what.
Enjoy having power at your RV whenever parked.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: The common and ground buses in my main breaker are tied in together. The smaller breakers are dual pole 30 and 20 amp. I wired my RV 30 amp just like the others, nothing came on, except the microwave, then a slight smell, and everything shut off. What went wrong? And how can I correct it?
Answer: Hopefully you did not wire your new outlet to a dual pole 3 amp circuit. That would supply 240 volts to the RV and burn out anything turned on, including the microwave which is "on" whether running or not.
Out side of that I have no suggestions; check all your connections and check the voltage at the new outlet.
Question: Are gfci/afci breakers needed for 30 amp RV service?
Answer: No. A GFCI is only required on an outdoor 20 amp circuit (or one in a non-living area such as a garage), not on a 30 amp.
Question: What size wire and conduit do I need for a 50 amp outlet?
Answer: You will need #6 wire and a 1" conduit if a conduit is necessary. One option might be UF wire it the conduit is because you are underground. Be aware that you cannot put a 6-3 romex in conduit - you must use individual wires, each a #6 and it must have at least a white, green and 2 other colors (black and red, two blacks, etc.)
Question: I have 10-2 wire now and am getting a 50 amp motor home. Will I have to change the wiring or will it work as is?
Answer: If you want a 50 amp outlet, yes you will need new wire. A 50 amp RV outlet requires 6-3 wire, although you can purchase an adapter to operate most (but not all) of your new RV on a 30 amp outlet.
Question: How much do you estimate an outside connection with 50 amp service would cost in materials for a 100ft run?
Answer: If you do all the work, prices for various models of the outlet, breaker and wire can be found on Amazon. Add perhaps ten or twenty dollars for incidentals such as wire nuts.
If you're going to have it done it is impossible to estimate without knowing your local prices and what you will be digging through as well as just how the wire will exit the house.
Question: Can I use a 10 gauge extension cord to power a 30 amp RV receptacle?
Answer: Yes. For instance, I built my own extension cord using 10 gauge wire in case I couldn't park close enough to the power pedestal.
At the same time it is illegal to run extension cords either through a wall or within a wall or ceiling space. Even if that isn't done, it isn't smart to use an extension cord long term; that wire should be inside a wall or at least a conduit, protected from physical harm. If you're going to use that cord long term you're better off to install a proper outlet.
Question: How does installing an RV outlet at home work with the RV cable pointing straight up? Shouldn’t the receptacle be rotated 180 degrees?
Answer: It is probably wise to mount the outlet with the ground up, rather than down. Most, if not all, modern RV cords are designed that way. Older ones may not, however, so do check your cord before installing the outlet into the box.
Question: I'm running a 30 amp outlet about 100 feet from the house. Is a 10-2 cable inside conduit large enough for that length?
Answer: It is marginal. If you anticipate considerable use I would upsize to #8 wire. If it is only occasional, to keep batteries charged or do some work on the RV it will be fine. It will be much easier to use THHN wire rather than Romex cable, though - cable does not pull well through the conduit.
Question: Reading your article I understand that the red and black are connected to the breaker at the panel. Won't that create a 240 circuit?
Answer: The 50 amp outlet is indeed 240 bolts and requires both red and black wires, connected to the breaker. All others are 120 volts and do not have a red wire in the cable.
Question: Can you help? The box I have has a 30amp outlet and a 20 amp outlet. My question is what size wire do I use and what size breaker do I use in the main panel going to this box.
Answer: If there is no overcurrent protection in the box you will have to use #10 wire and a 30 amp breaker. This is not optimal, putting a 20 amp outlet on a 30 amp outlet, and it will provide almost no protection to any 20 amp device plugged into it. Another option is to run another #12 wire, on a 20 amp breaker, to the 20 amp outlet. Or provide a 20 amp fuse or breaker in the box, solely to protect the 20 amp outlet.
Question: Do you need a permit to install an RV outlet at home?
Answer: You may need one or you may not. It is totally dependent on local laws. Check with your local planning and zoning commission or with whoever issues building permits.
Question: I would like to install an outdoor box, attached to outer wall about 12’ from my main power box - and install a 30 amp RV receptacle and a regular receptacle for powering tools or lighting. Is there a problem running a wire from the RV receptacle connections to the smaller receptacle in the new box?
Answer: Yes. Nothing plugged into the outlet, or the outlet or the wire feeding it will be protected at the proper level. The maximum breaker size for the outlet, wire, and anything plugged into it is 20 amps; it will only be protected at the same 30 amp level the RV outlet is. You would be better off, particularly as it is only 12 feet, to run a second wire and tie it into another 15 or 20 amp breaker. Don't forget, too, that any outlet mounted outside must be a GFCI style (this does not apply to the 30 amp RV outlet) and must have a cover over it. Another option is to use the outside outlet nearly all RV's have - plug in the RV and plug whatever you wish into an exterior outlet on the RV. That's how I run my air compressor when winterizing each year.
Question: The electrician who wired our shop put in a 4-wire bundle to our RV outlet but it is a 30 amp breaker. How do I connect my 30 amp Rv outlet when the box has 4 wires black, red (both have caps on the wires) white, and the copper wire ground?
Answer: First, check the breaker. If it is a single-pole, 30 amp breaker, look at seeing what color wire is on it. Use that wire, the white and ground. If it is larger, it should really be changed to a 30 amp. If smaller (perhaps a 20 amp), do NOT put a larger breaker in - you will just have to limit the current you used in the RV.
If it is a double pole breaker, use either the black or red, plus the white and ground, leaving the fourth wire capped. A double pole breaker may be used as a single-pole with the other "hot" wire simply left capped off.
Question: Can I tie in with my dryer breaker and run both off the same breaker?
Answer: Assuming you want a 30 amp circuit, you can. Be aware that if you ever run them both at the same time you will very likely blow the breaker.
Question: I have 10-2 wire and a 20 amp breaker, can I change to a 30 amp breaker?
Answer: If that is the only wire on the circuit, then yes. If there is any #12 wire anywhere in the circuit, no.
Question: Can I install a 30 amp outlet with #6 wire, just not attaching the red wire? Then if I ever go to 50 amp outlet, I'll switch out the breaker and switch to 50 amp and then attach the red wire. Will this save me from running a new wire?
Answer: That will work very well and is a good example of thinking ahead. Just be sure to put a wire nut on the red wire, both in the breaker panel and the outlet box. Also, be sure to use a two-gang box for the outlet, even though a 30 amp outlet will fit in a single gang. That's because the 50 amp requires a two-gang box. Of course, if the box is surface mounted and readily accessible, easily changed out, that may not be necessary.
Question: Can I mount a waterproof 30 amp outlet to a tree?
Answer: Not a good idea. Not only does vegetation move but it grows and neither action fits well with electricity. Don't forget, too, that incoming wires must be supported and will suffer the same problems if mounted to a tree.
Better to sink a post nearby and mount it on that.
Question: Can I run 2 campers off 1 #6 SO cord?
Answer: Yes of course, just as you can run two vacuum cleaners off of one extension cord. What you cannot do is overload the breaker, and that breaker cannot be over 50 amps. This means that you can operate some of the equipment in both campers, or all of it in one camper, but not all of it in both campers as the same time.
Question: Can a 50 amp service neutral and ground share the same bar in the panel?
Answer: If it is the service panel and not a sub panel is fed from the primary service to the building, then yes. If it is a subpanel then the answer is "No", and it must have separate ground and neutral bus bars.
In the main service, the neutral and ground bars are connected anyway, and some older homes do not even have separate bars.
Question: Do I need a double pole or single pole breaker for installing an RV outlet?
Answer: A 50 amp RV outlet requires a double pole, while 20 and 30 amp outlets require a single pole breaker.
Question: I have 10-2 wire going to a 20 amp box and a 20 amp plug from RV. I need to change the 20 amp fuse over to a 30 amp fuse. Do I have to change the outlet and the plug end to 30 amp also? There are no other wires involved just the RV wire and the 10-2wire!
Answer: Nothing you plug into that 20 amp outlet will be protected at the 20 amps it needs, although the wire, at a #10, is fine. I'm not sure if you are asking if you can leave a 20 amp outlet for the 30 amp RV, but if so the answer is "No". You stand a good chance of burning the outlet out and possibly causing a fire as the RV will pull 30 amps and the outlet is only rated for 20 amps. If you are going to change it to a 30 amp circuit, change the plug where the RV goes to a 30 amp plug at a minimum, and good practice would be to remove any other outlets on the circuit.
© 2018 Dan Harmon
Tammy Winters from Oregon on August 16, 2020:
Very useful for everyone who has RVS
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 03, 2020:
You may operate two 30 amp outlets on one 30 amp breaker, but will not be able to draw a lot more than 2 refrigerators, some lights and the converters charging the battery. Even one AC unit could well blow the breaker.
This is much like putting multiple outlets on one breaker in your home. For example, my kitchen (an older home) had 4 outlets on one 20 amp breaker. We had an electric skillet, a coffee maker, a microwave and a toaster all plugged in but could not operate more than two of them at any one time without blowing the breaker.
So yes, you can use 10/3 wire to power two 30 amp RV outlets, but cannot use full power on both at the same time.
Nancy on July 03, 2020:
We have 2 campers-a 50amp fifth wheel and a 30amp Lance pickup camper. We want to run 2 outlets, both 30amp basically to keep refrigerators and lights on. Do we have to run 2 separate 30amp breakers to 2 separate rv outlets or can they be shared on 1 breaker? I have 10/3 wire. Can i use that? Not sure if they can be pigtailed.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on April 12, 2020:
That is acceptable. Do be aware, though, that at 80 feet you are at about the limit for 30 amps without unacceptable voltage drop due to the distance. Don't forget that if the barn is 80 feet away you most likely have 100 feet or more of wire to get there.
I'm assuming you have copper wire, not aluminum, and if so then you are fine to switch the breaker to a larger one.
Dan on April 12, 2020:
I have a 10-2 wire connected to a 20 amp breaker in my house running 80 ft to my barn. Can I change out the breaker to 30 amp without running new wire?
Darrel on March 11, 2020:
Thank you for the tutorial. It was very helpful. My new RV30 plug works perfectly.
bhattuc on December 17, 2019:
Well explained. Nice reading. Thanks.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 20, 2019:
Quite possibly. I would use #8 wire rather than #10, and if the total length of wire is much over that 150 feet, such as going up walls or around obstacles, even #6 wire.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 30, 2019:
No, 75 feet is fine. Typically, wire size is increased if the total run is 100 feet or more, but be careful here - if the straight line distance is 75 feet you will use more wire than that. Up the wall into the panel, up from underground or around walls and corners, up into an attic and back down, that sort of thing. The straight line distance is never enough.
Lee on October 30, 2019:
You said run 10-2 wire for 30 amp outlet. Does the wire size need to increase if you have to run the 30 amp outlet 75 feet from the panel box?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 07, 2019:
@Dan: Yes, of course, just as you can run two vacuums off of an extension cord.
What you cannot do is pull 50 amps into both campers. You are still limited to whatever the breaker is rated at, and that should not be over 50 amps. This means you can run all the lights in both campers, but not all of the equipment: air conditioners, appliances, etc.
Dan on October 07, 2019:
Can I run two campers off #6 SO cord?
Gary lively on April 20, 2019: