Electrical Management System (EMS) – Surge Protector and Voltage Regulator

Sometimes no matter how long you’ve been at something and how much you think you know, there’s always more to learn.  Unfortunately, sometimes those lessons have nasty surprises no matter how much research you’ve done before a purchase.

lightning-plugI’ve been fulltime RVing since 2001 and I don’t think I ever heard of an Electrical Management System (EMS) when I first took off.  But when I traded for a newer 2012 motorhome with many more electrical and computer driven bells and whistles, I started hearing more about the potential for disaster due to low or high voltage spikes.

Caution High VoltageExperienced and more knowledgeable RVer friends I really respected said they wouldn’t be without this kind of protection.  They talked about reverse polarity, open neutral and open ground issues, and although I mostly had no clue what that all meant, it sounded like I should be protected from them anyway. I understood the need for a surge protector for my computer, so I started doing my due diligence research to protect my motorhome’s electrical components.

Nick Russell’s blog post “How Much Is Your Life Worth?” was persuasive with the question he answered:

“Why do I need an EMS? Don’t campground power outlets have to be up to code?” I don’t know what the local codes may be, but judging by the number of bad power pedestals we’ve encountered in our time on the road, I’m sure a lot don’t meet the standards. I have seen a lot of RVs damaged by both high and low voltage, and the cost or replacing things like TVs, microwave ovens, and air conditioners, plus the possibility of those appliances shorting out and starting a fire, is a lot more than the investment in an EMS system.”

I watched this easy to understand YouTube video that explained how it works and what you are protected from.

hot flash

Been there, done that

 

So I was sold on the necessity (and I certainly didn’t want a “hot skin condition”), but what exactly is best for me and my motorhome?

 

 

surge-protector-only

Basic surge protector

hard wired

Hard wired with remote display

I discovered there is a range of choices, from  simpler surge protectors for less than $100 to full protection electrical management system with remote display in the $300 range.

I decided to buy from RV Safety Accessories because I saw good recommendations from friends and it turned out I had camped next to owner Daryl years before and when I got back in touch, he offered me a discount.  Plus I liked the fact that they offer 7 day a week tech support to their customers.

I ordered the Portable EMS with Integrated Display after considering the following:

Hard wired vs. portable choice:  The Amazon reviews for the hard wired model HW50C were almost unanimously positive.  But having to pay for installation steered me toward the portable model PT50C and the reviews for it were even a little more positive.

I appreciated Daryl’s opinion on other considerations in making this choice:

“Both offer the exact same protection and the same Lifetime warranty. The only difference is location of the unit.

EMS-portablePortable Unit:
Advantages:  No extra charge for installation; can take it with you if you trade rigs.
Disadvantages: Suggest you lock it (though theft is not really a problem); cannot be serviced on the road – must be shipped to factory for service because it is sealed for waterproofing; one more thing to “plug in.”

EMS-hardwiredBuilt-in Unit:
Advantages:  Easily serviced – can be serviced on the road because it does not have to be waterproof; Always on – no need to plug anything extra in; secure, not necessary to lock.
Disadvantages:  Extra charge for installation; can’t easily be transferred from rig to rig.”

Other friends told me they liked the portable model since they could more easily test other poles within a campground if a problem was indicated.  This made sense to me, so that part of the decision was made.

I told Daryl that another friend of mine who had the exact unit I was considering wrapped a black plastic bag around it to protect from rain and he said that was not necessary.  As long as the unit does not lay on the ground, it is “weather resistant” so rain should not be an issue.

I asked about security and how it looked like it could easily be stolen.  He told me that a lot of campground pedestals have a metal lid where you could insert a padlock once plugged in.  But he also advised carrying a bicycle cable to wrap around the pedestal and unit and secure with a padlock, so I got both and so far, so good in that regard.

EMS - lock options

So, everything seemed to be working well for about six months when I was hooking up in a new campground and for the first time, I got an error message instead of the all clear code.

Of course, I had just arrived, hungry and road-weary and was not amused that electricity wasn’t coming through to the motorhome. Error code E-3 means high voltage, so I checked with the office who told me somebody had just left that site that morning and as far as they knew, they had no problems in the campground. I checked three other poles and got the same error, but with different voltage readings, so I called Progressive and thankfully actually got a live person, Kathi, who took me through a few troubleshooting steps and finally concluded that I would have to send it in for repair. She said they had been having problems with the seals letting in moisture but they were doing something new now that addressed that issue and that would be done during my repair.

OK, filed under it happens  Although I wasn’t thrilled that I had to get it packaged up and deal with post office lines during the holidays, I did that and just tried to laugh at my luck with the extra bonus this was Friday afternoon after post office was closed, so add 2 extra days to the four day repair time she estimated.

Progressive EMS surge protector

I  turned to my Facebook friends for sympathy and to whine a bit and posted:  “It took me forever to get settled in my new spot because my Progressive Electric Management System kept giving me high voltage error. Called Progressive and they asked if I could see condensation in the little reader window and there was. They say it’s water resistant if not placed on ground and it wasn’t, so I’m not impressed that I have to hassle with returning it and I’ve only had it since June.”

Friends replied with their own experience with similar units:

 

Surge guard - DarrellA fulltimer friend, Darrell of Goza’s Wanderings, sent this picture of his setup with his comments:

“I’ve used mine constantly for two years without any problems and it has laid flat on the ground before. Does yours look like mine?  Mine came with warnings about not laying flat, but there are times when there is no choice in campgrounds with low pedestals. Mine has saved me several times.”  (Click pictures for larger images.)  The bottom part is the lockbox he got to secure it.

I noticed he had the Technology Research Corporation (TRC) brand and when I was initially researching what was out there, I looked to see what people were saying since TRC and Progressive were the major brands on the market.   I came across an Amazon review comparing the two products.   Since the reviewer had owned both brands, what he said was pretty persuasive, including the fact that Progressive is made in America and offers a lifetime warranty vs. 1 year.  Other TRC reviews I saw were not as positive as Progressive’s, so at that time I was confident I had made the right choice.

When I spoke with Daryl at RV Safety again, he also said he had heard about the problem with the seals and that they were redoing them.  When I gave the readings I was getting off to him, he said the indication of high voltage was so high that the whole park would probably be fried if the readings were true and agreed the problem was with the unit.

I sent it out via 2 day mail on December 7.  On December 14, I got a notice of shipping from FedEx estimating that my package wouldn’t be delivered until December 18.  Since this was way beyond what I expected, I called and later spoke with Progressive customer service representative, Anthony.  I told him I thought the repair wouldn’t take that long.  As a fulltime RVer, it’s not always easy to provide an address for return when I might not be in the same place for almost two weeks.  He said they always use ground shipping unless the customer pays for it.  He said four days meant that’s how long it would take them to fix it, not turn around time.  OK, even though inconvenient, I can chalk that up to my misunderstanding.

fix itI also wanted to know what had been done to keep the same thing from happening again.  Kathi had said that they were aware of some bad seals but were now replacing them with something different.  Anthony said this was not the case, and that most people think water gets in through the top of the unit.  But he said sometimes the back is not installed correctly, causing the gasket not to fit perfectly, leading to water penetration.  They have to open the back of the unit to replace the defective circuit board and they replace the gasket at the same time, but they weren’t really doing anything different now.  This leaves me a bit worried that I’ll have to deal with the same thing again in the future.

I could tell he wanted to be helpful, so I asked Anthony if there was anything else he extension cordrecommended to keep this from happening again.  As a fulltime RVer, my EMS gets constant use, meaning it is frequently in the rain.  The only thing he said was I could get a 50 amp RV extension cord and run that from the pole to the inside bin of the RV where the EMS would be protected.  Once I looked up the cost of that, it just doesn’t seem right to me that I’d have to spend another $170 or so, besides dealing with another long and heavy cord and if that were necessary, they should reveal that before purchase.  He said other people had rigged up some kind of umbrella or plastic covering that didn’t completely envelope the EMS.  I told him I thought it was the company’s responsibility to change the design, reveal the problem, or come up with an alternative after-market solution, but it shouldn’t be left to the customer to come up with something on their own.  He said the company is exploring options, but nothing concrete is being done at the moment nor is there a deadline for one.

We discussed the difference between “waterproof” and “weather resistant” but I told him cloud badthat if they say you can use these outside and don’t need extra protection for the rain as long as it doesn’t lay on the ground, that should mean I can use it outside even when it rains, no matter the semantics.

I told him I totally understood that despite our sometimes unrealistic expectations that things we buy will work perfectly, when they don’t, it’s the way a company handles those issues that can make or break a customer relationship and how they perceive the company.

When he asked what I was still dissatisfied with, I told him I thought that since I had the unit less than six months and had used it strictly as recommended, they should at least cover the $17.25 postage and insurance fee to send to them for repair.  Anthony told me they don’t do this.  But to the company’s credit, he did call me back later to say if I sent the receipt, they would issue a check to reimburse me for this charge. I appreciate this, but I still think it should be a regular company policy if the unit fails within the first year.

wrap up package

Wrap Up:  So, overall, I’m not sorry I bought this product.  I do believe in the need for it and wouldn’t be without one now from everything I’ve read.

But it’s obvious the company knows there’s a problem with water penetration on the portable units and it’s not an isolated occurrence.  I think they either need to come up with a solution or be totally upfront about the potential problem on their website and through their distributors.  If I had the full information and experience I have now, I would have opted for the hard wired unit.

A lifetime warranty is good in that they’ll repair the problem, but the hassle of the procedure is something I don’t think should be such a burden on the customer, especially with no assurance the problem won’t keep repeating.

truckin

Overall, I’m disappointed in how soon this product failed and the possibility it will again, but I don’t think there’s one thing about RVs that doesn’t have unexpected problems way too frequently.

But since I’m still in love with the lifestyle, if not the manufacturers, I guess I’ll keep on truckin’.  🙂

Updates:

12/21/15:  Anthony at Progressive called to let me know they are actively exploring different options to solve the water penetration problem, but they want better than a mediocre fix, so there’s no estimate on when that might happen. He also emphasized this was something that didn’t happen all the time, and they do think it’s a periodic problem in the manufacturing stage when the gasket is not seated properly.  He offered to replace mine with the new model when they figure out the fix and I appreciate that.  I’ll keep this page updated in that regard.

He did say that any solution a customer might want to try should not include opening the back of the unit in any way because breaking that seal would definitely void their lifetime warranty.

Another Update:

9/8/16: I sure was thankful I had this system today. This morning, my electricity went out and after confirming it wasn’t just a thrown breaker, I noticed the EMS had Error 6 (Line 2 Low Voltage). I tried it on another pedestal next door and did not get that error. The maintenance man came and replaced the 50 amp breaker, but it still gave the same error. He tried to tell me the reason why I didn’t get an error on the other pedestals is that it wasn’t plugged into coach. So I called the place where I bought it and he informed me that the maintenance guy was wrong – the EMS checks the pedestal and the coach doesn’t have to be plugged in.  I just thought I’d pass this little experience along in case somebody else comes across this kind of misinformation.  I changed sites and all is well now.  But obviously, that pedestal developed a problem and instead of it damaging my motorhome, it shut everything down first.  I was a little resistant to spending that money last year, but it probably paid for itself today!

two-centsYour Two Cents Welcome!

I’d love to hear from you with your own experiences or questions, so please feel free to comment below.

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  • J.C. Webber III

    Yep, internal installation is the way to go. I was lucky, mine was factory installed.

    • Definitely another case of hindsight being golden for me. I do still think there are good arguments for the portable kind, but given the problems they’re having with water penetration, I would go with the hard wired kind at this point.

      • Daryl Lawrence

        Hello Everyone,
        This is Daryl Lawrence, the President of RV Safety Accessories Inc. Malia asked me to respond to some of the various questions on the board, and I am happy to help in any way. First, let me say that our company has been the #1 seller of Progressive products for the past 8 years, so we have basically seen any problem that may occur. The water intrusion problem that occurred with Malia’s unit has occasionally happened in the past, but the percentage has been very small overall and the company has taken steps to eliminate this problem. While it can be an inconvenience to have any problem occur, remember that Progressive will fix this for the lifetime of the unit to the original owner. They are the only company that does this. Also, placing a bag over the portable unit can be done without any issues, because these units are not transformers and do not generate heat. With regard to the Portable vs. the Installed units, both offer the exact same protection. Much of the time a customer has no choice but to purchase a Portable unit based on installation access, such as some Class B & Class C motor homes and 5th Wheels. Also, some customers want to be able to simply take the unit with them should they trade. If any of you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us at 866-200-9773 or by visiting our website at http://www.rvsafety.net. Safe travels to all.

        • Daryl, thanks a bunch for this info. I’m glad to hear that covering with a plastic bag is ok since that’s what I’m doing now. The original regular sized black trash bag I used blew away, so I replaced it with a longer plastic leaf bag, and that goes all the way to the ground, and I used rocks to weight it down. Hopefully, I won’t have to use that lifetime warranty again! 🙂

  • Leslie Whitt Comer

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Malia. I wonder if you will be
    wrapping it with a plastic bag from here on?

    • I still don’t like the idea of covering with a plastic bag. Something about that just doesn’t feel right to me. It seems besides worry about overheating, the condensation build up under there could cause the same problem. I’m hoping somebody that reads this or Progressive will come up with a better solution than I’ve heard so far. It’s raining now and I’m curious to see what happens. Maybe it was a fluke and by making sure the back was replaced with the gasket properly seated will solve the issue. I’ll keep this updated, and thanks for the comment.

  • I’m also going to include emails I receive about this so that hopefully it will turn into a good resource for suggestions and ideas, so here’s the first one:

    Really appreciate your taking the time to fully explain the problem and Vendor feedback on the Surge Protector. I don’t own one as yet, but expect to buy one before our trip to Alaska next year. We haven’t run into problems yet but don’t want to take a chance especially traveling from here (Indiana) to Canada and beyond. I have had very good luck on several occasions using Aquarium Sealer for wet or outside exposures. It might be worth a try considering your recent experience. Just a thought. Thanks for the in-depth report. B&K

    It looks like aquarium sealer is a silicone gel or something that would be applied around the back, but before I used something like that, I’ll contact Progressive and see what they say. I wouldn’t want to use or do anything that might void the warranty. I’ll report back when I hear their response.

  • I suggest you read the “Lifetime” warranty very carefully to see the limitations. I bought a TRC unit from Camping world 11 years ago hardwired and have had no problems fulltiming all that time. Any company, US made or in the case of TRC, Honduras, can have quality problems like you have had. How the company handles it makes all the difference.

    • Great point, John, and that’s why I wanted to share both the good and bad things I found out in my research, including the way Progressive handled the problem. The inconvenience was a bummer, and I do wish they’d be more upfront about potential problems they know about with the portable units at this point, but so far I’ve been satisfied with how they’ve responded. I’ll definitely keep this page updated and I appreciate a pro like you responding with your experience! 🙂

  • Nancy Adams

    We had an interior Progressive Ind. one installed in our previous RV for 10 years and not one problem. We bought a new 5th wheel last year & my DH installed one in it. Again, not one problem. They have both saved us numerous times when a campground has a shoddy electrical system. You just never know what you’re getting into!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Nancy. By far, the majority of the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive about their products and for sure I wouldn’t be without one now. I hope I can just chalk this incident up to bad luck and a bad production run on that one. More and more, though, it’s obvious to me the hard wired deal is best.

  • This comment from Facebook: I had a surge protector, my only problem with it is if it trips for any reason, such as someone unplug it (to move it around to make room for their plug…and didn’t reset it) my AC will not be running until I get back. What will happen to my pet? She will die from the heat!! Almost every place I use it, it trips…Gave up on it… (Kat)

    • Valid point, Kat, I hadn’t ever thought of that. I don’t know what kind you had, but with mine, if power is interrupted for any reason and then the problem clears, power is restored without having to reset anything. You might check into a deal like that – links to different kinds are given in the above page.

divider-greenMailboxYour comments and feedback matter to me. The only way I know if this site is of any value to you is if you tell me about it. I love hearing from you and my mailbox is always open. Contact me or please leave comments above. Comments from folks who have "journeyed" with me at Malia's Mailbox.

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