These days, most folks I think cannot live without their personal electronics - even when camping. Many campgrounds these days have some kind of WiFi presence, but if your device runs out of battery, it won't be much of an advantage to you. And it would be a sad day to have your teenage children moping around the campsite because their iPhone's battery died.
I didn't even realize this was a project until I was in my local Menard's store recently (mid-western US regional version of Home Depot), and discovered these cool 120VAC receptacles with integrated USB jacks in them. Unfortunately, I could not find a brown outlet. They had several different brands and models of white, beige, grey, and black outlets, but no brown ones. Since my coach has brown outlets, I wanted one to match.
I did a lot of research on-line, checking manfacturer's websites, and found that only one was manufactured in brown - made by Bryant. And I found it at Amazon.com, but unfortunately, it was on back-order. But I ordered it anyway, and in about 4 weeks it arrived.
There are many different varieties of these outlets, and they vary by one of two characteristics; USB power output and port location. USB power of the outlets are typically either 2.1A or 3A, and orientation of the USB ports either to one side, in the middle, or replacing one of the 120v duplex outlets. Prices for these outlets range from around $15 to $40. The Bryant USBB15 outlet I purchased is the 3Amp version, but it also is quite expensive.
One thing to note that most of these outlets have integrated tamper proof covers over the 120V sockets as
2011 NEC Article 406.12 (National Electric Code) requires all 120V receptacles in dwelling units to be Tamper Resistant.
Obvously the first thing to determine is where to install the new outlet. Many motorhomes are installed using Wirecon or "Speed Boxes" which are essentially a single unit that contains the outlet plus the electrical box. And the term "speed" supposedly comes from the fact that the connections are insulation displacement type - meaning the connectors pierce the wire insulation, with no screws to tighten. I suppose one reason they are popular in RVs is the boxes can be very shallow, which means the walls of the coach can be narrow.
They work well enough I suppose for new work, but when adding a new receptacle to the circuit, they can be a bit of a pain to work with. And since the USB/120V outlets are more conventional (i.e. no Wirecon version), they have the traditional screw-down posts, and must be housed in an outlet box.
That means I may not be able to simply replace the outlet in a speed box, but rather, cut in a new outlet somewhere in the coach.
Seems the manufacturer of my coach was a bit stingy, and a bit wierd when locating outlets. I have one outlet hidden in a cabinet, one under the kitchen cabinet, one in the bathroom, two on the pedestal bed in the bedroom, and one in the rear corner of the dinette. There are really no easily accessable outlets in the coach at all.
So we decided to put a new outlet in the front corner of the dinette, so that it would be a lot more accessable. And since the existing outlet in the rear corner of the dinette was easily accessable, and more importantly, at the end of the circuit, we could easily wire off that outlet.
So the next task was to open up the dinette base... and I was shocked. Here I found an example of some of the most shoddy manufacturer work to date on the coach. The wiring for the LP gas detector was simply lying in the bottom of the cabinet, unsecured.
And I ultimately discovered that the 120VAC outlet was not properly installed, so I would have to fix that as well. Since I was going to wire into that outlet anyway, I could fix it as I did so.
Once we decided on a location for the new outlet, we masked off an area for the pull box that we needed to install. As I always say; think twice... cut once (as opposed to measure twice, cut once). You need to think about making the cut into the panel - not just measure it.
Thinking about the cut means; is the outlet centered properly and (in this case) aligned and level with the existing outlet? Are their any obstructions, such as stiffener boards on the back-side that are in the way? And are there any wires or other items you could accidently cut? Yea - think twice... cut once.
The tool I used was a Porter Cable Oscillating Multi-Tool, and it made a very nice, clean cut. This is definately the tool for this kind of job. However, if you have never used one - practice on a couple pieces of scrap wood before taking on cutting a hole in something you cannot easily replace.
When I attempted to repair the existing speed box, and wire in the new circuit, I busted it. This was a Pass & Seymour brand box, and while I suppose they work well enough, it did not seem is was very "rework" friendly. I happened to have a Hubbell-Wirecon speed box, so I used it instead.
There is a tool that you can use to "close" the speed boxes, but they are impossible to find, and I found that the Hubbell-Wirecon installation guide recommended using a C-Clamp to close the box, along with a piece of cardboard to keep from marring the surface... so that is what I used.
I found that I had to do each side at a time, and clamp down several times before everything snapped into place. I have to say, I really don't see the "speed" in these boxes... cheap perhaps, but it didn't seem any faster than traditional wiring methods.
Inspecting the Wirecon box connections.
The next step was to wire the new box for the USB/120VAC outlet. This was pretty standard wiring technique, without any additional wiring required for the USB ports. The power supply for the USB ports is inside of the receptacle, so it is completely self contained.
Wiring the USB/120VAC outlet.
The final step is what we used to call the "smoke test" in the Air Force - that is, applying power. Fortunately, everything worked out fine, and I used an inexpensive Camco 120VAC Line Voltmeter to ensure I had power to the box.
Then I tested the USB port by plugging in my iPod Touch, and sure enough, the battery started charging.
One issue I suppose is that if someone were to use the USB port, that would prevent access for anyone wishing to climb into the dinette, but I think it is manageable all the same.
I had considered replacing the existing outlet at the rear corner of the dinette with the
USB/120VAC outlet for this reason, but then I realized it might be harder to plug the USB cable into the outlet from such a "vantage point".
As I began to button up the dinette base, one last task was to properly secure the sloppy wiring job that the manufacturer did by securing the cabling - not only the new wiring I installed, but the LP wiring - to the sidewall by using those cable ties that had an eyelet in them.