What generator do I need for my RV?

An RV can have all the electronic conveniences of home, but not all campsites have electrical hookups. What can you do in this case? Well, you make your own electricity.


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Making your own Electricity at the Campsite – Options

You can install solar panels on your RV to utilize the power of the sun to create electricity and charge your RV’s batteries. Or you can buy a generator.

A fuel-powered generator has a motor that you run in order to generate electricity.

Different generators run on different fuel supplies.

Some generators run on gasoline. Some run on diesel fuel. Some run on propane.

And there are some generators, such as this one from Champion available on Amazon, that run on two different fuel sources: gasoline and propane.


A lot of newer RV’s have generators built in.

But what if your RV doesn’t have a generator?

You can buy gas-powered generators at lots of different stores including Wal-Mart and Amazon.



A Generator for your RV needs to:

  1. Meet your electrical requirements
  2. Be quiet enough to allow usage in campgrounds
  3. Be light enough so that it is actually portable
  4. Use a fuel source that you can readily purchase (gas, propane or diesel)



How big of a generator do I need? (aka meeting your electrical requirements)

This question is like asking how much food do I need to buy for dinner. It depends on your family. What is your “appetite” for electricity?

Do you need lots of electricity because you are running several electrical appliances at once?

Or do you keep your camping experience quite rugged and natural?


The largest electricity user in your RV will be the air-conditioner.

And starting an air-conditioner takes more electricity than keeping it running. Have you ever heard your air-conditioner kick in? You can almost hear it groaning that it has to get back to work.


Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay



So what size is your air-conditioner?

I don’t mean physical size, I mean BTU’s. An air-conditioner is rated by BTU’s.

(This stands for “British Thermal Unit”. It is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one-degree Fahrenheit. But when it comes to air-conditioners it is thought of as ability to remove heat from the air…hence the cooling effect. Larger the BTU’s, the more it can cool off.)


But generators are rated as WATTS. So we need to know how many watts we need



So what generator do I need to run my air-conditioner?

According to this article at SteadyPower, a 15,000 BTU air-conditioner will use about 3500 watts to start and then slightly less while running.

And the same article states that a smaller 13,500 BTU air-conditioner will use about 3000 watts to start and slightly less to continue running.


So check your air-conditioner on your RV to see how many BTU’s it is rated for.


Once you know the BTU’s of your air-conditioner you’ll have a better idea of what size generator you need.

Buying an under-sized generator will mean that it will not provide enough electrical current to start the air-conditioner. If you can’t start it, then obviously it won’t run.


But buying a huge generator that vastly exceeds your needs will come at a cost. Not only a financial cost, but also a size, weight and sound cost.



Noise Levels

Above we mentioned that a requirement for RV-ready generator is that it needs to be quiet.

The US National Parks have limits on noise pollution.

They have a rule that states you cannot operate motorized equipment that is louder than 60 decibels measured at 50-feet. 60 decibels is considered to be as loud as conversation in a restaurant (reference).

And to be a good camping neighbor, you’ll want to have a nice, smooth quiet generator.

Who wants to go camping in nature only to hear your neighbor’s generator droning away all night.


So for consideration of your fellow campers (and for yourself to get a good night’s sleep), look for a nice quiet generator.



Size and Weight of your Generator

Another consideration for RV-ready generator is that it’s portable.

And to some extent this depends on your ability to lift and haul the generator. Examine your own limitations.



Many of the generators suitable for your RV will have wheels.

If you have a travel trailer then you may be able to wheel the generator up a ramp into the back of your pickup truck.

But if have any older motorhome, do you have the storage space for a generator? Do you have an under-carriage compartment that will fit it?

I guess you could drain the fuel out of the generator’s tank and then wheel it up into the living compartment of the motorhome, but that’s up to you.



Fuel Source for your Generator

You can buy generators that run on different fuel sources. The most common include gasoline and propane, but you can also get diesel generators too.

And some generators can use both gasoline and propane.

So if you run out of gas, you could steal the propane tank from your barbecue, hook it up, and you’re back in business.



Costs of Generators

Most people reading this will want a generator in the 3,000 – 4,000 watt range for their RV (or potentially slightly more). This is if you are running an air-conditioner. If you do not use an air-conditioner, then you can get away with a smaller generator.

Higher-end generators include those may by Honda (click here to check out some models on Amazon) can be efficient and quiet, but they can cost $2,000 or more.


On the lower end of cost there is a generator listed on Amazon made by WEN that has decent reviews and it is currently less than $450. Purchasers of this generator warn about the weight though. So make sure you’re able to actually move it around if you require portability.


Middle of the road prices are offered by companies such as Champion.

Their 4,000 watt model shown below is usually available on Amazon at a good price. But this is manual pull-start model. You’ll have to pull a cord to get it started. (Interestingly, this 4000 watt model weighs about 15 pounds less than the 3100 watt model described further down.)



Want a remote start generator?

Some modern generators have the option for remote electric start. So, you push a button and your generator will start running!

This saves you from having to go outside (probably in the hot weather) and yank a cord to get it running.

The generator shown below (made by Champion) has a remote start. If you’re curious about this option and its price you can click here to view on Amazon.)

Click image to view on Amazon

The generator shown above though is a 3100 watt RV-ready generator. It weighs in just shy of 100 pounds. And the Amazon product listing claims its noise level is 58 decibels.

According to the stats I showed above from the SteadyPower website this would be suitable for a 13,500 BTU air-conditioner, but it would be under-sized for a 15,000 BTU air-conditioner. This shows the importance of knowing the size of your air-conditioner.



Summary

When buying a generator for your RV, look for a generator that states “RV-ready.” And you need to know how much electricity you will be using and this primarily comes down to the size of your air-conditioner.

The bigger the air-conditioner the bigger wattage generator you’ll need.

Noise. You’ll want to find a quiet generator that won’t break campground noise pollution laws (such as the 60 decibels at 50-feet level allowed at US National Parks).

Physical Size. You’ll want to make sure you can physically move the generator around and transport it in your RV if you need portability. If it weighs too much for you to lift, it’ll stay at home in your garage and that won’t help you at the campsite.

Fuel Source. You can get generators that run on gasoline, propane, or diesel. And some generators even have the option to run both gasoline AND propane (dual fuel option).


I hope you’ve found this helpful. Thank you.

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