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Old 05-26-2016, 09:42 AM   #1
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Need help shocked turning on the water heater

I got shocked turning on the water heater element, after I purged the relief valve. Everything was wet and I was standing in the grass. No other shocking issues anywhere else on/in the trailer. No shock when we were leaving and I turned the switch off.(it was dry then) I know this is a safety issue for me and my family so how can I test for and hopefully fix this. I'm not an electrician but I can use a multi-meter. Thanks for any help.
It's a Suburban water heater.
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Old 05-26-2016, 12:20 PM   #2
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Let me send out the bat signal to Mike Sokol, who is the defacto best there is at these things.

In the mean time, check this thread out as others had water heater element problems:

I get shocked when touching RV
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Old 05-26-2016, 12:55 PM   #3
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My first guess would be a failed electrical heater element.

However, if that is ruled out then consider the following excerpt that says it better than I can: Why is My RV Shocking Me?

These electrical shocks can be caused by a reversed polarity problem in the electric receptacle that your RV is plugged into, a polarity problem in the extension cord you are using to plug in your RV or to a shorted wire somewhere in your RV's electrical system. This problem can also be caused by an improper ground in the receptacle, extension cord or in the RV.
..... reversed polarity which is the most common cause of "Hot Skin" in RV's.

Now we need to determine which part of the electrical system is causing your problem. You can use your polarity tester to help determine the cause.

First, Unplug your RV from Shore Power and then plug the tester into the receptacle that the RV was plugged into. To do this test you may need a 30 amp male to 15 amp female electric adapter so that you can plug the adapter into the 30 Amp plug. You may find that the tester will indicate that the polarity of the receptacle is reversed. To solve this problem the electrical outlet needs be rewired properly or you will have to plug into a known good receptacle.

If the outlet shows no problems then we know that is not causing the shocks. If you are using an extension cord to plug in your RV we need to check that next. Plug the extension cord into a known good outlet and plug the tester into the extension cord. If it indicates that there is a problem with the extension cord then the extension cord needs to be disposed of.
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Old 05-26-2016, 01:16 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by TonyD View Post
My first guess would be a failed electrical heater element.

However, if that is ruled out then consider the following excerpt that says it better than I can: Why is My RV Shocking Me?

These electrical shocks can be caused by a reversed polarity problem in the electric receptacle that your RV is plugged into, a polarity problem in the extension cord you are using to plug in your RV or to a shorted wire somewhere in your RV's electrical system. This problem can also be caused by an improper ground in the receptacle, extension cord or in the RV.
..... reversed polarity which is the most common cause of "Hot Skin" in RV's.

Now we need to determine which part of the electrical system is causing your problem. You can use your polarity tester to help determine the cause.

First, Unplug your RV from Shore Power and then plug the tester into the receptacle that the RV was plugged into. To do this test you may need a 30 amp male to 15 amp female electric adapter so that you can plug the adapter into the 30 Amp plug. You may find that the tester will indicate that the polarity of the receptacle is reversed. To solve this problem the electrical outlet needs be rewired properly or you will have to plug into a known good receptacle.

If the outlet shows no problems then we know that is not causing the shocks. If you are using an extension cord to plug in your RV we need to check that next. Plug the extension cord into a known good outlet and plug the tester into the extension cord. If it indicates that there is a problem with the extension cord then the extension cord needs to be disposed of.
Sorry, but the above information is incorrect.

First - Reversed outlet polarity (Swapped Hot and Neutral) will NOT cause a hot skin condition if the ground wire (EGC) is intact and correctly bonded all the way back to the incoming service panel from the power company. That's an old wives tale that I'm still beating to the ground.

Secondly, none of the 3-light polarity testers will find a really dangerous mis-wiring problem I've name an RPBG (Reverse Polarity Bootleg Ground). Please read this link where I introduce the idea to the RV industry. The RV Doctor: Friends of Gary - Mike

Thirdly, an electric hot-water heater element with a broken hermetic seal will leak current (around 1 or 2 amps) to the chassis of the RV. But if the RV is properly bonded/ground back to the service, then it's impossible for any significant voltage to exist as a hot skin. Maybe 1 or 2 volts, but certainly not the 40 volt threshold where it gets dangerous.

Fourthly, a loose, missing. or broken ground wire (The EGC or Equipment Grounding Conductor) by itself may no cause a voltage to be noticed when touching the skin of the RV. But virtually EVERYTHING leaks a little current to its chassis when plugged into an outlet. And it's allowed to leak these small (under 1mA) currents and still be UL listed and NEC compliant. But all these little leakages from your various appliances are additive, so you may not feel a shock if not much is turned on inside your RV. But even a single MOV power strip can leak enough current (1.5 mA) that you can feel it. Again, if you have a proper ground wire on your shore cord connected to a properly ground-bonded receptacle, then it's impossible to develop a hot skin voltage. The circuit breakers will trip first.

Finally, it's a bad idea to stand in the water and flip any switches connected to electrical power. That's because even if your RV chassis is properly ground-bonded, you still can have conductivity via any water on the switch itself.

I think that the quickest and best way to test for an RV hot-skin condition is still a NCVT such as a Klein NCVT-1 or Fluke VoltAlert. You just need the standard 40 to 1,000 volt versions, not the 24-volt versions. See

I've had all my above information peer reviewed by a bunch of other EE's and have done my own experiments, so I know it's correct.

Mike Sokol
No~Shock~Zone
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Old 05-26-2016, 03:08 PM   #5
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Quote:
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My first guess would be a failed electrical heater element.
X2

The one and only time I've run into a a hot skin condition with my trailer a bad heating element was the culprit.
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Old 05-26-2016, 03:36 PM   #6
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Mike, thanks for your reply and all of your articles on RV safety! I've been reading over them and will test my trailer (after/if it stops raining!) I did not test the state campground power box and never got shocked going in/out or touching the trailer, just that one time when water was present at the water heater. I even filled and tested the water heater at home hooked up to shore power and didn't get shocked turning on the heater element switch in wet conditions. Makes me think it was the campground power box. Can I test the water heater with a voltmeter to find the source of the shock I received at the w/h switch area? I will be testing all campground power pedestals from now on! I am also going to upgrade my SurgeGaurd to a PI 30 amp system, which I should have done in the first place. ( as a newbie I went with what the dealer said was best ) I did have hot water the entire trip using the electric side of water heater, so I don't think it is the element
Thanks to all for your responses, that is what I love about this forum
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Old 05-26-2016, 03:58 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Iwritecode View Post
X2

The one and only time I've run into a a hot skin condition with my trailer a bad heating element was the culprit.
However, as I've demonstrated many times, a bad heating element can't shock you unless you also have a failure in the ground-bond connection. This high-resistance failed connection can be anywhere between the frame of the RV and the incoming power panel's Ground-Bond bus. Typically it's in a cheap dog-bone adapter, but can also be in the campground pedestal itself. And a separate ground rod won't help "ground" an RV since it's impedance is typically between 25 to 100 ohms. A proper EGC bond (safety ground) has to be under 1 ohm impedance to be code compliant. A 100 ohm ground rod connection will only draw around 1 ampere even with a direct short to the RV chassis, and that's not enough to trip a 20 or 30 amp circuit breaker.
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Old 05-26-2016, 04:16 PM   #8
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Would a bad cg pedestal only shock me at the water heater and not anywhere else? Or was it the flowing water and wet conditions?
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Old 05-26-2016, 04:55 PM   #9
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Just sounds like you got a 115 volt tingle from your water heater electric element on/off switch because of the wetness. That switch is not highly insulated from its mounting position and it's not a very well made switch. JMO.
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Old 05-26-2016, 05:09 PM   #10
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Just sounds like you got a 115 volt tingle from your water heater electric element on/off switch because of the wetness. That switch is not highly insulated from its mounting position and it's not a very well made switch. JMO.

I would concur. The switch is not waterproof.
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