Updated: Apr 16
Headed out for your first trip or maybe some boon-docking and wondering how to get power? Generators can be your best friend but determining which one will work best will differ for everyone. The list of items you have that use electricity is going to look different, there may be more or less. Wether you love the luxuries of all your electronics or a minimalist who needs just a little to get by, there is a generator for you.
What is a Generator and Types
You probably have at least some idea of what a generator is but you know that it produces electricity. They do that by converting rotating mechanical energy into electrical power. Portable generators use an engine, typically running on gasoline, diesel, or propane, to turn an alternator which produces alternating electrical current.
A Power Inverter is an electronic method of producing Alternating Current from Direct Current. It draws power from a power source such as a car battery or solar panel and uses an electronic circuit to invert the direct current into alternating current. When Direct Current power is inverted into Alternating Current electricity, the result is an unvarying electrical signal. Properly filtered, it has the same characteristics as perfect alternating current and is safer for electronic devices and other sensitive equipment, such as computers and personal laptops.
Portable Inverter Generators combine the two principles. They generate an alternating current that varies in frequency with the engine speed. A higher engine speed results in a higher frequency which for our purposes means it is generating more current. A lower engine speed equals less current. The variable frequency current is rectified into Direct Current. The generator's inverter circuit inverts the Direct Current into a steady 60 hertz Alternating Current that is free from glitches, spikes, and surges, a perfect Alternating signal.
On a Conventional Portable Generator, the engine speed is fixed—typically at 3600 RPM—and always runs at that speed. A portable inverter generator varies speed to produce the power required, Turn on a few lights, the engine speed increases. Turn them off again and the engine slows down. This is how a portable inverter uses fuel more efficiently.
A generator can run off of three different types of fuel: Diesel, Gasoline, Propane. Some generators can use two different types of fuel, something that is helpful if you run out of one type and need a backup plan. When shopping for a generator, you will want to decide which fuel types is most convenient for you and narrow your options from there.
The decision you’ll have to make is whether to purchase the louder, heavier conventional style of generator, which is prone to power surges, or something lighter and quieter, but more expensive. Generally speaking, we highly recommend the inverter style of camper generator, even if it does mean spending a few extra bucks.
Things That Use Power
We are so use to having power at hand that some things can be overlooked. Break down what items use power in your RV to start. This is a generic list, but pretty much sums up what takes power in an average full time RVer. This is also a good way to wean out things you may or may not need in order to save on energy or to prepare with the proper generator.
Kitchen: Fridge, Dishwasher, Electric Grill, Coffee Maker, Microwave, Slow Cooker, Blender, Toaster, Oven, Electric Kettle
Entertainment: Television, Video Game Console
Technology: Laptop, Charging for portable devices, printer
Personal: Hair Dryer, Fan, Electric Blanket, Iron, Vacuum, Space Heater
Subscribe and comment below if you have all of these items, more, or less!
After making your list, check the product’s owner’s manual or google to determine how much wattage the device needs to run. Multiply the running wattage of the device by three. Add the running wattage to the starting wattage for the total wattage the device needs to operate.
For example, a small refrigerator uses about 350 watts to run, so it’s starting wattage would be approximately 1050 watts, or three times its running wattage. Therefore, the total wattage you need to run a small refrigerator is about 1350 watts. In this case, you’d need a generator with a minimum of 1000 to 2000 watts. Written out formulaically it's: (Running wattage x 3) + Starting wattage = Total wattage needed.
Tip: For best results, always use a generator that can comfortably handle all your power needs while using no more than 90 percent of its capacity.
Power Output & Size
There are three categories of power consumption to consider when powering your RV: air conditioning, kitchen appliances and everything else. The important thing to remember, when choosing a portable generator or other power source, is that not all your devices will be running at the same time.
Most RV generators put out between 2000 and 4000 watts of electricity. Know what you’re looking for going in. Do you have a smaller trailer and limited power needs? A 2000-watt unit should be plenty for you. However, those who wish to run the air conditioner or microwave will need something offering 3000 watts—and in some cases even more.
If you have a fifth wheel RV or a larger Class A or C, you’re going to need a ton of power. You probably even have a built-in generator. If not a higher watt generator will be needed.
What Uses The Most Power
Your air conditioner will be the biggest energy waster. If you do not use your A/C then a lower watt generator should work for you. With a 13,500+ AC unit, you’re going to need a generator over 3,000W. If you have a single 15,000 BTU AC unit, then your best option is getting two small 2,000W generators. You can hook them up in parallel (connecting them so their combined watts is 4,000W).
Ways to save on energy
Switch from electric to gas stove
Use the A/C only when necessary
Air dry your hair often instead of blow-dry
Turn off lights and open windows during the day
Best RV Generators
There are a number of excellent RV generator options out there, and there is absolutely no way we could talk about every good option on the market.