What Size Generator Should You Get For Your RV?

Whether an RV newbie or seasoned enthusiast, one of the biggest questions that come up time and again is how to determine what size generator for RV power usage.

The answer to this puzzle is first to determine what power requirements you have; then pare the list down to choose the right generator.

RV Generators – A Want or Need?

RV generators are specifically built to run RV appliances and provide a stable, consistent source of energy for your home away from home. 

An RV generator keeps you and your family comfortable during camping trips or longer road trips.  If you are into dry camping, independent parking or the more commonly known term of boondocking, an RV generator is most definitely a need.  If going off-grid or having access to only limited power and amenities, it is both safe and practical to rely on your own source of power.

RV Generators – Selecting the Right Size and Style

The key to determining the correct size of RV generator is first to figure out what requires power.  Here are some ideas to get you started in determining your power requirements:

  • An RV Refrigerator uses anywhere from 400 to 1000 watts of electricity, depending on the size of the refrigerator.  Typically, RV refrigerators use heat as a means to cool the unit, via a chemical counter-balance reaction.  The heat required to produce the cooling effect uses a 110-volt electrical element or propane.
  • An air conditioner uses anywhere from 1,400 to 2,400 watts of electricity.
  • TV 200-600 watts
  • Laptop 250 watts
  • Coffee Maker 900 watts
  • Toaster 1,150 watts
  • Microwave 1,000 watts
  • Hair Dryer 1,000 watts

Keep in mind that anything that requires a compressor during start up and shut down cycles can double or triple the wattage. 

An air conditioner, for example, uses a compressor to generate cold air.  When the compressor kicks in to start the air conditioner, the 1,400 to 2,400 running wattage doubles or triples upon startup.  The same principle applies as the compressor runs during the shut off cycle.

As you add up all the power necessary to run appliances, power up mobile devices and other power needs, it will give you a total wattage usage.  The amount of wattage needed will help you determine how much power you need and what size generator for RV power needs.

While you don’t want a power overkill situation due to safety and circuit overload potential, you do want an RV generator that efficiently and reliably generates enough power.

Here is a formula to keep in mind while figuring out the power requirements for things you may be running at the same time:

  • Amps = Watts / Volts
  • Watts = Volts x Amps

The standard in most countries is 120 volts.

Remember that the larger the generator, the more power it produces.

Another consideration is whether it’s possible to power things with fuel, such as propane or gas, rather than using electricity.  If so, this can help you save on precious wattage.

RV Generator Styles

Generators specifically designed for RV’s, while efficient and quiet, are more costly than conventional generators.  They are sold through RV manufacturers and come in a variety of sizes, with varying features and prices.

If you are replacing a generator in a used RV, carefully measure the compartment to get a snug yet precise fit.  Allow for proper venting and access for maintenance and repairs.

Based on preference, you may choose from either a permanent or portable RV generator style.

Permanent Generator

Many RV enthusiasts want a more permanent generator, something that is encased, enclosed and vented.

An RV generator has approximately three times the horsepower of conventional generators and built to last for years.

A feature of a permanent generator is a transfer switch, which automatically turns the generator on and off.  If connected to an electric grid, you can simply plug into power outlets just like at home.

A permanent generator is considerably more expensive than a portable model but is an investment that will last for years.

Portable Generator

A portable generator is ideal if you want to use the generator for things other than RV purposes.  If you want to use it in a garage or workshop and don’t mind the moving, lifting and set up every time you use it in the RV.

Portable generators work well for short camping trips.  Most models are reliable, fuel efficient, and quiet.  Additionally, most inverted generators allow for the connection of additional generators for increased power capacity. 

While portable generators are less expensive than permanent models, they are not built for consistent heavy usage over the years. 

Fuel

There are many different sizes and models of generators and there are also different sources of fuel. 

Diesel burns cleaner than other fuels, so if being “green” is a priority for you, this fuel source may be more appealing to you.  Some fuels are just more cost or energy efficient, providing more run time than other sources of fuel. 

It boils down to how much often the generator will be used and for how long.

Types of RV fuels

  • Gas - An inexpensive, easily accessible fuel, which burns fast.
  • LP (Liquid Propane) - Propane stores better than gas or diesel, but for efficiency, outputs approximately 10% less power by comparison.
  • Diesel - This fuel burns cleaner than gas and produces more power than propane.  It’s recommended to use a dialed generator with a diesel-powered model.

Among RVers, the most popular fuel choices are gas and propane.  Both fuels do a nice, consistent job of heating an RV.  As for efficiency, propane produces approximately 91,500 BTUs per gallon; while gas produces approximately 125,000 BTUs per gallon.

Propane has a longer shelf life than gasoline because it is stored in a sealed canister.  Gasoline does not last as long, and due to its high flammability, should never be stored inside an RV.

Other Factors

Noise

No one likes to listen to a loud generator.  It is always a good idea to keep the noise levels of your generators down as low as possible as a courtesy to neighboring campers or RVers.  Read manufacturers specifications as they relate to sound decibels.

Weight

Portable generators come in a lot of different sizes.  The more power you need, the bigger – and heavier – the generator may be.  Based on how and where you use the generator, make sure it is not too heavy to transport, pick up and move easily.  The lighter, the better for you and your RV.

How much do RV Generators Cost?

After reviewing wattage requirements and seemingly ever-increasing power needs, a 3,600-watt generator is a good starting point to cover power needs.  Of course, every RVer can scale the wattage up or down based on individual needs.

Estimated new RV prices for a 3,600-watt generator:

Portable units are available for as low as $229, with an average mid-range price of between $350-$559.

Permanent units are enclosed, vented and more expensive; typically $3000+.

Measure carefully and know the fuel type if purchasing a replacement generator in a used RV.

Conclusion

After taking into consideration the total of power requirements, continuous usage, space, and factors such as type of fuel and noise levels, these tips alone will save you tons of research time. 

Using helpful tools like RV Finder, it’s never been easier to find an RV generator that meets the power requirements for your budget and RV lifestyle.

 

 

 

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