Cover Story
Plugged in
With the sudden interest in shore power, truckers can retrofit their trucks to enjoy plugged-in comfort

By Jeff Barker
contributing writer

 

With shore power connections at truck stops becoming more common, even tightwads can enjoy a comfortable night’s rest.

Truck stop electrification makes it possible to enjoy a comfortable night’s rest if you are supplementing your auxiliary power systems or even if you are without an APU or other power option.

Setting up a truck for comfort on shore power is easier than you might think. Depending on what you want, it can often be done right for less than $800.

Getting wired
To wire your truck, you will need to figure out where and how many 120-volt outlets you will need. You will need to limit the total power consumption of all of your stuff to the 30-amp connection that’s available at most shore power locations including truck stops and RV parks.

For reference, 30 amps is usually enough power to run a 13,000 Btu air conditioner or electric heater, a laptop computer, a flat-panel television and a cell phone charger simultaneously. Anything more will require you to budget your power so you don’t trip the circuit breaker. In other words, you may need to turn off the air conditioner or heater while you use your coffee pot, microwave oven, hair dryer or other high-current items.

Once you have decided where you will need your outlets to be, you can neatly route a few 30-amp heavy-duty extension cords. I have three 120-volt receptacles on either side of my sleeper to power up everything I need without a spaghetti bowl of cords running across the floor. Also, you need to determine where you will need a plug to power up your heater or air conditioner.

While this is done “on the cheap,” do not cut corners on the quality of cords. You need heavy-duty cords. You are not putting lights on a Christmas tree. Electrical barbecues are never fun.

Once you have the extension cords laid out, it’s easy enough to hide them under the rubber floor mats, cabinets, or carpet in such a way they won’t be visible or stepped on whenever you move about in your cab and sleeper.

Also, once the wires are connected to the outlet, be sure to secure the outlets and box them as you would in a wall – even if you are not permanently installing into the walls of the sleeper – to avoid any unintentional contact with bare wires.

They can all be routed and connected to a junction point like a 3-into-1 power splitter with a circuit breaker that can be placed in the side box of your sleeper.

To avoid pinch points that can collect heat or rub through the cord’s insulation, drill a hole into the side box and use a rubber grommet to help protect the cord.

Get at least a 50-foot extension cord to connect the splitter to the shore power outlet where you’re parked. Be sure to put a sign on the steering wheel to remind yourself to unplug before you move on out.

Depending on how long you are parked and how much current is drawn by the 12-volt accessories you use, you may want to connect a 12-volt 2-amp battery charger to your shore power system to keep your starting batteries ready to go.

Creature comfort
Obviously, you need to have heat or air conditioning to be comfortable in temperature extremes when parked. With shore power setups it’s pretty easy to do within the $800 budget. Most free-standing 13,000-Btu portable air conditioners with a built-in heater can be had for around $500 at most hardware stores nationwide. The only drawback is that they will take up some floor space and need to be secured while the truck is in motion.

If you are alone in your truck most of the time, you could remove the passenger seat and keep the unit  there. You will need to set up a vent hose for these units. If you have an IdleAire adapter or a window screen lying around, you may be able to adapt it to work with a hot glue gun, a Dremel tool, and a plastic plate.

Window air conditioners are another option, but their weight is a consideration. They will need to be lifted and set into place in a fabricated window frame whenever you want to use them, and the weight can put a lot of stress on your window mechanism. Cutting a hole in the sleeper for them isn’t a good idea as you will likely be dealing with water leaks and reduced truck resale value.

Able to spend a little more?
If you have a bit more money, you can mount gang boxes and run conduit tubing to keep your wiring hidden and out of harm’s way instead of running extension cords.

It’s easier to use surface-mount gang boxes, but you can also go with flush-mounted units. Just choose a mounting location to where the plugs to your appliances and other stuff will be out of the way when you’re moving about in your cab and sleeper. Then mount a junction box with a 30-amp circuit breaker in your sleeper side box and wire it up to the 50-foot 30-amp heavy-duty extension cord to plug into the shore power connection.

If you have a flat-top or mid-roof sleeper on your truck, you may have better results with an RV-style roof-mount air conditioner. If your truck has an 86-inch or smaller sleeper, you should do just fine with a 12,000 Btu air conditioner with heat strips.

With a larger sleeper, you should look into at least a 13,000 Btu unit. Also, consider a unit with a controller that can be mounted close to the bed so you can control it easier without getting up during the night to adjust the settings. Make sure you find a reputable truck body shop to install this unit so that they can be sure it’s braced and secured properly and can seal it up to avoid possible water leaks.

If your truck has a condo sleeper or you’re not comfortable with the thought of cutting a hole in the roof of your sleeper, a few under-bunk all-electric heat and air systems are available. Products like the ones mentioned in Paul Abelson’s article on Page 53 can be paired up with shorepower to get the job done. Be sure to check with the manufacturer to see if there are special installation concerns.  LL


Editor’s note: This article is for information purposes only. If you’re not sure about performing the work yourself, it’s advisable to seek the help of a competent professional.

Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He can be reached at truckmaintenancestuff@yahoo.com.

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