Let’s chat about the electrical systems in a ’93 Airstream — what they are and how to use them, shall we?
But before we really dive in, you shouldn’t be “shocked” to know that Mack and I have zero knowledge of electrical systems in general, let alone, in our kinda vintage Airstream. So, we are learning along with you and in no way claim to be experts on the matter. But we’re here to share our experiences with the simple hope that this insight will help you too (if you own or decide to purchase a 90’s era Airstream). Okay, so with your little disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it!
Airstream Electrical Systems
How to Plugin and Utilize Electrical Systems — 30-Amp + 120-Volt
First, things first. Let’s get power into the Airstream for everyday use. To do this, you first need to locate your 30-amp cord that plugs into the shore power box provided at most all RV parks. For us, our 30-amp plug is located in the under compartment in the back-left quadrant of our Airstream. All RVs that require 30-amp should come with this large plug included, so you literally just have to plug that into the shore power source at your RV spot — and you’re good to go. Well, mostly. Your 30-amp will power things like your microwave, air conditioning and more.
Now, if you also have 120 voltage, as we do, you simply need a normal extension cord to plug into the 120-volt port in that same shore power box and into the Airstream exterior (there’s an exterior three-prong port to connect the extension cord to the Airstream and into the shore power box). Our 12-volt power keeps all of our outlets going, refrigerator/freezer running, AND it charges our batteries through the converter. Our batteries (we have two, 12-volt batteries in the front of the Airstream) power our electrical dump valves, shower fan, solar panels and our outdoor lights on the Airstream. All this for 300 square feet, you bet!
Breaker Box + Fuse Box
Let’s just say, we had a little electrical snafu when Mack was at work. The RV repair people asked me where these two, very important, components of the Airstream were located, and I had no idea. Zero. So, for the wives out there, this is for YOU!
There is a 30-amp/50-amp breaker box in our ’93 Airstream. It is located at the rear of the interior, within an upper cabinet. If you’re looking at our bedroom, it’s in the upper shelf on the right above the bed. This is where you can reset the breaker, just like you’d do in a normal house. AND now you know where it is, so there’s that!
There’s a GFI breaker in that box too! Now, I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain this well. SO, in an attempt to be an actual resource and not confuse you further, I found this article which sums it up pretty well!
The important thing to know is that if you overload the circuit by sending too much amperage through it, you will trip the breaker, and everything in the Airstream will shut off. To avoid overloading the amperage on the electrical system – unplug items that are not in use and even minimize use on those items that are plugged in to lower the draw. Basically, everything can’t be on all at the same time. Being mindful of the amperage draw is important when living tiny!
Next, let’s switch gears to the fuse box! For us, this is located underneath the front galley window behind a little latch that also houses the 12-volt distribution panel. The fuses are on the exterior of each circuit. There are eight circuits in the distribution panel which connect the eight-prong plug to the trailer for towing. If you happen to trip a fuse, you just have to push the fuse back in after accessing the distribution panel. AND if anything in the Airstream randomly stops working, like your electrically-actuated dump values for your tanks for example, ALWAYS check this fuse box first. You can identify a popped fuse very easily and just pop it back in with your finger. And save yourself $200 from having an RV repair person come out to pop a fuse back in. Been there, done that! Don’t be like us. Deal?
Be Cognizant As You Drill into Walls
This may seem like DUH. But we really didn’t think about it. Until it became a problem! Airstream walls are not like your typical walls that have drywall and tons of insulation. You get the point — they’re thin. And we drilled right into electrical wires when trying to hang our super cute “floating” vases. And in doing so, we hit a wire, there was a spark and now our converter switch is totally dead. Which means we have to plug an extension cord in every. single. night. to power our batteries through the night (they’re charged by the sun through our solar panels during the day). While we’re beyond thankful for the workaround, since we need our batteries, we were also so mad at that moment. Eventually, we will get this fixed, but not right now. And if you want insight into our workaround, just let me know.
Or be smart and follow these rules of thumb as you drill into walls in your Airstream: (1) Observe the area around where you want to drill to see if there are any outlets. There will always be wires just waiting to be hit by your drill if you do so anywhere near an outlet. So that’s number one — if you see one, don’t drill there. (2) Minimize the need to drill at all. Instead, opt for command strips or hooks that can replace nails and screws without penetrating the very thin Airstream wall. And (3) If you must drill, do so very carefully and slowly. Do a little bit at a time to ensure you don’t hit a wire in the process. It’s not hard to get through the wall, so don’t use much force when drilling and you’re safe.
The best part of all of this? We don’t even use those dang floating vases. But we had to have them! You live, you learn, right? We hope so.
If you’re still with me at this point in the post, you probably already own an Airstream! So, was this helpful? Do you have additional questions? If so, Mack is more than happy to help you further! Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll help ya out (as best he can)!