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Choosing a Generator for your RV

Choosing a Generator for your RV

We’re all hooked on our creature comforts and a lot of them need power to keep us, well…comfortable. Just because we want to enjoy the outdoors in a motorhome or travel trailer, we don’t want to leave those items behind. Indeed, your RV has a lot of built-in features that you need power to enjoy. So, when you decide to spend time on a remote site without electrical service, this boondocking lifestyle means that you will need an auxiliary power source. Solar has limitations, so most RVers use a generator.

There are two types of generators used with RVs – built-in or portable. Portable generators are less expensive and take less of your valuable compartment space, while the built-in type allow you to have instant on-demand power without any setup. Portables also you allow you to place the running generator (and the noise) farther away from your motorhome or travel trailer.

Aside from these differences, there are two main considerations you should be aware of when you’re shopping – size and noise.

RV Generator Sizing

When we refer to generator size, we’re referring to its power output capacity. The first step should be to do some math to figure out the maximum draw (load) of the items you will want to run at the same time. Be sure and include any draw that will be required to recharge your battery bank.

Power draw is measured in either amps (A) or watts (W) and generators are generally rated in watts only. Find out from your owner’s manuals or plate/sticker on the appliance what its rated draw is. If it is in amps, you’ll need to multiply that amperage rating times the voltage to get the wattage draw (the formula is amps X volts = watts.) If the appliance is 110 volts, multiply by 1100 and by 12 for 12-volt items.

Once you have that wattage for each appliance, simply add all the wattage values together to determine the size of generator you will need.

The biggest power draw in an RV is the air conditioner, usually about 25 amps (2750 watts) to start a single one up and about 2500 watts to keep it running. Generators usually have a “surge” rating for heavy draws during appliance start-up and a “continuous” rating for normal use.

Other major power hogs are heaters, microwaves and AC refrigerators. In other words, stuff that generates heat or cold. Furnaces and LP Gas fridges are exceptions, because power is not being used to create the heat, only to spark the gas and, in the case of an RV furnace, to move the air. The rest of the items you may want to run off the generator won’t draw much, but still need to be added to the total.

You can minimize the size of generator required for your motorhome or camper by being careful how many appliances you add to the list, especially the ones with a heavier draw. You can also reduce generator size by doing things like upgrading to LED lighting or adding solar panels for battery charging.


Because….the larger the generator you require, the noisier it will be. After all, you did on some level want to be camping because of the peace and quiet, right. Plus, you don’t want to disturb your campground neighbors anymore than you must. In fact, some campgrounds will have a ban on generator use, especially through the night, for that very reason.

In general, you want to look for an Inverter generator for RV use, because they are much quieter than conventional generators that might be used in, say, construction or emergency situations. This is because inverter generators store the generated power in a small battery, then create the 100V output power, so they also have the added advantage that you will get cleaner, more constant, power to your appliances. Electronics or anything with a circuit board will like that clean power better.


Finally, check what type of output connection is on the generator. Many generators have a three or four-pin “twist lock” receptacle, which means you will have to purchase at least one adapter to be able to connect a standard 30A or 50A RV plug to power it up.

In short, do your selection well and your new RV generator will help you to maximize enjoyment of your time spent in the outdoors.

March 11, 2017

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