Portable Generators

Question

Generators are a great tool to have around the house in case of emergencies. They can provide you with much needed power during power loss events. I live about sixty miles outside of the Kansas City area near a fairly rural town. We have around twenty acres. It is peaceful, but can also be quite isolated. When we have severe weather rather it be a storm, ice storm, or blizzard we can lose power. When power losses occur out here in the country they can linger for a day, or more. I remember once years back that we lost power for four days straight. Having access to a generator saved our food from spoiling and also allowed us to watch television during this time.

Generators can do more then just power your home though folks. They can also provide you power while camping or RVing across the country. Typically when you’re RVing you stop at designated rest stops found along the highway or at national parks. These rest stops provide shore power via  thirty or fifty amp connection for your RV. However, if you decide to go off-roading or ‘dry-docking’ and there is no power source to be found then you will need a generator to power everything in your recreational vehicle. Your vehicle’s batteries will only get you so far and you will need to recharge them. Generators not only provide you power but also allow you to recharge your batteries.

In most cases there two main types of generators. You have your portable systems that are able to be moved as you require and then you have your permanent standby models that are anchored in place and hooked directly up to your home. There are pros and cons for both the portable and standby units. In this article we are going to take an in-depth look at exactly what those are. Should you purchase a portable system, or should you go with the standby model?

How do You Plan to Use It?

The first question I have to ask you is how exactly do you plan to use your generator. This is an important point to consider as if you wish to have a system that you can take with you for camping or RVing then you obviously need a portable system. On the other hand though if you are looking for a system that can power the entirety of your home during a power loss then a standby system is what you need.

There are also in-betweens here where you want to power your home, but maybe not all of it. Or, it could be that expense is an issue as standby generators are much more expensive. So, if you wish to power basic functions in your home and are worried about cost then a portable system is meant for you. This also allows you to take the portable system wherever you go so it could also be used during camping trips.

Standby systems offer peace of mind. Yes they are significantly more expensive then portable systems but once you purchase one and have it installed you never really have to worry about power loss again. If the power does go out you will only notice a flicker of the lights before your standby system automatically kicks on. This automated process occurs even if you are not at home. As an example, if you are on a business trip in the middle of the summer and a storm rolls through near your house. The power goes out and you will not be home for another day. The standby system has you covered. Your food will not be spoiled. Your air conditioner will still be running. Everything will be as it was.

So, looking at those points, what type of generator is that you wish to purchase? Keep your answer in mind as we move to the next section for more considerations.

Your Sizing Needs

Once you have determined how you wish to use your future generator we next need to figure out what size of generator that you require. Generators can range from one-thousand watts all the way up to forty-thousand watts. The question now is to determine exactly how many watts that you need for your specific application. Now the best way to determine sizing for your generator is to add up the watts of everything that you wish to run on your generator.

Most appliances and electronics will have a wattage amount on their labels/stickers. If you cannot find it on the label then you can check the instruction manual. In today’s world most everything has their instruction manual online as well. If you find that there is no mention of wattage then do not worry. You can still figure it out. Look at the label/sticker of the product and see if there is an ‘Amperage’ rating or ‘Amps.’  You may even see it labeled as ‘A.’ This amperage rating gives you what you need to determine wattage.

Take the amp rating and times it by the volts. The volts a machine requires is just the type of plug-in that it uses. Most everything uses a one-hundred and ten volt outlet. Some of the larger machines out there like an oven or clothes dryer can use two-hundred and twenty volt outlet. As an example let us look at a coffee machine. When we look at the label we see that it says six amps. Now we know that coffee machines plug-in to your standard one-hundred and ten volt outlet. So the math problem is six amps times one-hundred and ten volts equals six-hundred and sixty watts required to operate the coffee machine.

Now that you know how to calculate wattage usage you need to go through everything that you wish to power with your generator and determine the total wattage. Once you have that total wattage number increase it by about twenty or thirty percent to give yourself some leeway. It is always better to overshoot your needs then undershoot.

Starting/Surge Watts

There is another point to consider here folks and that is what is known as starting/surge and running watts. With more complex appliances such as air conditioners or refrigerators you are going to run into what is known as starting watts. These are also known as surge watts. Let’s look at refrigerators as an example. A refrigerator uses the refrigeration cycle to generate a cold environment. A key component of the refrigeration cycle is the compression of refrigerant using a compressor. Compressors require a significant amount of power to start up and running. This is where the term surge/starting watts comes into play.

It may take an extra twenty or thirty percent, sometimes more, watts to actually start your refrigerator. Once the fridge has started and has begun to run the initial peak of watts required will diminish and it will move to a running watts number. This is why it is called starting watts. That large surge of watts is only required when the machine is turned on. Once it has been turned on it will quickly taper back down to a running watts number.

Here is the important part. You MUST include surge/starting watts in your sizing calculations. If you do not then you will not be able to power everything that you wish to. Surge watts are important. That being said, there is a slight work around that can be done if you are tight on wattage. Using the same refrigerator example as above let’s say that you are very limited on wattage. Some folks will ONLY connect the refrigerator to the generator and then turn it on. This allows the fridge to handle the surge watts and then settle down to running watts. Once the fridge has moved to running watts the generator now has more room to handle other machines.

I typically do not recommend going with this strategy though . I find that it is always better to exceed the total wattage that you need by that twenty or thirty percent marker. Going this route allows you some wiggle room in case you ended up forgetting something or miscalculated the wattage of an application you wish to use.

Sizing Guidelines

So now that you understand starting watts and running watts as well as how to size the generator for your needs, I can give you an estimated size of generator that you need for your application. Be aware that this is just an estimate and like we said before the best way to determine the right size is to add up the total wattage of all of your appliances and electronics you wish to power.

Let us start from smallest to largest. First, if you are going on a camping trip and need to power your phone or laptop while you are out in the wilderness then a generator with one-thousand or two-thousand watts will provide you with enough power. If you wish to add a coffee maker or other basic appliance then you will most likely need to increase in size. If you are camping with your RV, camper, or motor home then you are also going to need some additional power. In these examples I like to recommend a generator between four to five-thousand watts. This allows you to power the basic appliances in your RV as well as an air conditioner and other appliances.

Sizing a generator for your home can be a bit tricky. You first need to determine exactly what you want to power within your home. If it is just the lights, refrigerator, electronics, and furnace then you can get away with sizes ranging from six-thousand to ten-thousand watts. If you wish to power everything in your home then you are most likely going to need a standby generator. Standby models typically start at around seven and a half thousand watts and go all the way up to forty-thousand watts. Now a typical twenty-five hundred square foot home will need a twenty-two thousand watt standby system. If you have a significantly smaller home you may able able to get away with a fourteen or fifteen thousand watt system.

To help you in estimating your wattage needs I highly recommend a generator sizing tool from Champion Power Equipment. It walks you through your needs step by step, gives you an estimated starting/running watts of the appliances you choose, and at the end gives a full wattage number. The tool can be found by clicking here. Note that again, this is an estimate. While this tool can be used as a guideline the safest approach is to add up the wattage needs yourself.

Portable Generators Pros & Cons

In the next few sections we are going to take an in-depth look at the various pros and cons of portable generators and standby generators. At the end of these sections you should know exactly what type of generator you need. Firstly, we’ll start with portable generator. These portable systems are just that, portable. This means that they can literally be taken anywhere that you need. If you are on a camping trip or  cruising around the country in your motor home a portable system will provide you with the power that you need. They can provide the same comfort when the power goes out at your home.

You will also find that portable systems are significantly cheaper then standby whole home systems. A low wattage portable system can cost only a couple hundred dollars. The larger sized portable systems can cost as much as twenty-five hundred dollars. While that amount may seem high that is MUCH lower then the cost of purchasing and installing a standby system. These portable systems are highly recommended for those of you on a budget or if you just need some power for camping trips.

Now, there are quite a few downsides when it comes to portable systems as well. The first and most glaring is that they are all manual. What I mean by that is that it is completely manual to set these up when you need power. The unit will have to be rolled out from storage and placed twenty feet away from your home. You then have to get all of your extension cords out and hook everything up that you want to power. This can be a pain.

On the larger portable models there is an option to install a manual transfer switch on your circuit board. If you get this installed then you really only have to worry about one extension cord to your circuit board. After that power will flow normally throughout your home. These transfer switches are required if you wish to power your air conditioner, furnace, water heater, or other appliances that are hooked in directly to your home’s circuit board. These can cost around three-hundred dollars and will need to be installed by a professional. An example transfer switch can be found by clicking here.

In many instances portable systems may not be able to power your entire home. This is due to their size. Portable systems typically stop at around ten to twelve-thousand watts. Anything higher then that and you are going to need a standby system. Remember earlier I said that a twenty-two thousand watt can most likely power a twenty-five hundred square foot home? In this example you have no other choice but to go with a standby generator system. Portable just will not cut it. If you do have a small home you may be able to get away with a portable system providing you full power, but it is going to be close.

The other big downside when it comes to portable systems is the fuel. Generators are comprised of an engine and an alternator. The engine creates mechanical force by burning fuel and the mechanical force is converted into electrical energy by using the alternator. To operate the engine needs a constant supply of fuel. When researching generators it is wise to look at how long a system can run before needing to be refueled. Some can do four to five hours while others can last up to ten hours. This is important to know as every time your generator needs refueled you need to shut the entire thing down and wait for it to cool. Once cooled you can refuel and then start it back up. I can see this being a pain if you have to do this every four or five hours. Remember, NEVER refuel the generator while it is running.  Also keep in mind the actual storage needs of the fuel. A generator can burn between twelve to twenty gallons of fuel per day. Do you have room for that much gasoline or diesel?

I mentioned earlier that you need to have the portable system setup twenty feet away from your home. This is due to the carbon monoxide risk when running a generator. Remember, generators are engines and engines can produce carbon monoxide just like your car does. If left in an enclosed area you could suffocate. Do NOT run a generator in your home, in your closet, in your garage, or anywhere near your home. You MUST be twenty feet away with the exhaust pointing away from your home.

Moving portable generators can be a hassle in itself. As you go up in wattage size you also go up in weight and bulk. Some of the larger systems can weigh over a hundred pounds. Now some come with wheels on one side to make it a little easier to move… but some models do not. Be prepared for this. Look at the generator when buying to see if wheels come with it. If they do not determine how heavy the unit is and if you can easily move it yourself back and forth.

The last con to mention on these portable systems is the noise. Portable systems can range in noise volume between fifty to one-hundred decibels. At the higher end of this range is about the sound of a lawn mower operating nearby. It can be quite loud and intrusive. If you are camping you may find that certain types of generators are banned from being operated due to the noise. On the opposite side of the spectrum at fifty decibels it is about the sound of a dishwasher running nearby. Much quieter. Pay attention to the operating decibel volume when looking at units. Also consider where you will be running the generator. Could noise be an issue?

Standby Whole Home Generators Pros & Cons

Standby generators are a great investment for your home. They provide you with an easy solution to power your entire home during a power loss. Just like with portable generators there are a variety of pros and cons to purchasing and installing a whole home generator system. Let us first look at the pros. Firstly, and the most obvious, is that a standby system can power your entire home. When I say whole home I mean it. This includes your air conditioner, furnace, water heater, refrigerator, oven, lights, electronics, and so on and so on. You will be hard pressed to find a portable system that can do this. Portable systems simply do not have enough wattage to accomplish this.

If you have a standby system during a power loss then you may not even notice that the power has gone out. Standby systems are all automated. What that means is if your power does go out the standby system will automatically sense this and switch your circuit board’s power source away from the electrical grid and over to your standby system. In most cases this will look like just a flash of the lights as your whole home system turns on. You do not have to worry about rolling the generator out, messing with all of the cords, and plugging everything. It is all done automatically for you. Standby systems are the ‘easy’ button when it comes to power generation.

All generators need a fuel source rather they are portable or standby systems. With portable units you have to constantly refuel them as they burn through gallon after gallon. Standby systems though are different. They can either be hooked up to your own natural gas line and be fed a never ending source of gasoline from your city. Or, they can be hooked up to a propane tank. A few years back when I lived out in the country we had an eight-hundred gallon propane tank. It provided fuel for our oven, furnace, water heater, and other things. With standby systems you can either leverage the existing propane tank you have on site or you can purchase another one strictly for your standby system. No matter what fuel source you choose to go with you will not have to worry about constantly refueling your generator with a standby system.

The last pro that I am going to mention also bleeds into a con. A standby generator system is an investment into your home. It can be a very expensive investment. The good news is that you get some of that investment back. A fully installed whole home generator will raise your home’s value equal to about fifty percent of the total cost of the system. So, while you will not recoup all of the money spent you are able to get some of it back if you decide to sell in the future.

Alright folks, so now we are onto the cons of these generators. As you can guess the biggest and most obvious is the cost. A portable system can cost five-hundred dollars up to fifteen-hundred… maybe two-thousand dollars but that is rare. A standby system can cost you four to six-thousand dollars and then you have to have it installed. The install cost is typically the same as the unit itself. If you purchase a four-thousand dollar system then expect to pay another four-thousand in installation for a total cost of eight-thousand dollars. This price range varies depending on the size of standby system you need. If you only need a sixteen-thousand watt system then you are going to pay significantly less then a forty-thousand watt system.

While we touched on install just a second ago it is still worth mentioning that you will need a professional install done by someone at the dealership you bought the generator from. On top of that you will also need a plumber to hook up your new standby unit to either your natural gas line or to you propane line. Lastly, you may even need to have it inspected by the fire department or by your propane supplier. In some cases you will need a permit as well. If you are unsure of your local regulations then check with the dealer that you are purchasing the unit from. This is why these installations can be so expensive.

Besides the overall cost and install there is one other con worth mentioning. This is maintenance. Your standby system will need maintenance performed after ten days of running. This maintenance includes checking the oil level, changing it if necessary, and also checking and or changing the filter. If you are unsure of how to do this then most generator dealerships offer an annual maintenance plan where their technician will come out and maintain your generator. I’ve seen these plans range from three-hundred to six-hundred a year. While on the topic of maintenance you may notice that your generator turns on automatically for about fifteen minutes each week. This is intentional and allows the unit to operate and stay functional. Nothing to worry about.

Conclusion

Alright folks I believe we have covered absolutely everything there is to cover on the matter of portable generators versus standby systems. As you can see there is a whole lot of content here but in the end it basically boils down to two main points. The first is how do you want to use your generator? Is it for camping, recreation, or as an emergency power source for SOME appliances in your home during a power loss? If so, then you need a portable system. However, if you are looking to power your entire home then a standby system is for you.

The second point is cost. Portable systems are significantly cheaper then standby systems. When I say significant I mean that standby systems can be five or ten times more expensive then a portable system. The question you have to ask yourself is do you want to pay more to have the convenience and peace of mind with a standby system? Or, would you prefer to save a heap of money and go through the manual work of rolling out, running cords, and setting up your portable generator when your power goes out? The choice is yours.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

Question

Camping is always an adventure. Even if you end up going to the same campground every single time or you venture out to find new ones with each trip. You never truly know what each camping trip will bring. I’ve always enjoyed camping as it allows you to get away from it all. It allows you to take a step back and rest. Camping has changed a lot in the past twenty years or so though. In the past all you really needed to bring with you was the bare essentials. There wasn’t need for a power source out there at the campsite unless you had an RV or camper with you.

However in the world we have today nearly everyone has a smart phone. Nearly everyone has a laptop for work. These require power. Heck, maybe you even want to bring your Keurig with you. Whatever kind of electronic or appliance you decided to pack with you will require power. Now in some cases folks will use their car’s battery to recharge their phones. But, what do you do if you have multiple phones with you or you have other devices to charge or power?

Some people may look at purchasing a power inverter that converts your car’s DC energy over to AC energy. This would allow you to essentially plug-in devices into your car such as a laptop charger or a coffee maker. However, the big downside here is that this WILL drain your car’s battery. If left plugged in for a decent amount of time you could end up with a dead car battery. This definitely something you want to avoid when camping in the wilderness…especially if your phone dies to. It will be difficult to find someone to give you a jump.

The other more realistic option here is to look at purchasing a portable generator. Generators can provide you with that needed power source without the risk of draining your car’s battery. They come in a variety of sizes as well so you can truly pick the right generator for you and everything that you need to power. The other day I wrote an article that goes in-depth on what size generator that you need for camping. It can be found by clicking here. I highly suggest reading it to familiarize yourself with generators.

There a third option here that can provide you with power and is overall friendly to the environment. Solar. Yes, there are portable solar systems that people can setup either for their campers or even if they are just using a tent. One such example of these can be found by clicking here. This model provides you with only eighty watts, but it gets the job done if you all you need to do is charge your phones or laptop. Just note that solar panels are not always the most reliable and that you need direct sunlight for it to work. Overcast or rainy days may prove difficult to charge your phone.

Conclusion

So folks in conclusion there are a few different ways that you can obtain electricity during your camping trips. Out of the three options I gave you above the best bet is going to be using a generator. They are reliable and can provide you with ample power. There is no risk of draining your vehicle’s battery and stranding yourself. There is no risk of the sun being blocked out. Generators also can provide you with as much power as you need whereas a solar system is going to have it’s wattage limits capped.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

Question

I remember when I was a child my family and I would go camping nearly every weekend during the summer. We lived about an hour outside of Flint, Michigan and each Friday we would pack up the car and start driving. Most of the time we ended up crossing the border into Canada, finding a good beach, and setup camp. Fires would be made. Hot dogs cooked. Even cherry pie made using those cast iron pie makers. It was an overall a good time and memories that will stay with me.

I haven’t gone camping in quite a while and when we were doing our Canadian camping trips cell phones, internet, or any of that was not around. There wasn’t much need for electricity out in the wilderness. In today’s world though things have changed. Nearly all of us have smart phones. Heck my ninety year old grandfather is on his iPhone all day long. Along with phones many of us have laptops we haul around with us for work. These require power.

Even though the point of camping is to get away from it all many folks find that difficult. Many of us still want to be connected while we are enjoying nature. Depending on how long you are camping these electronic devices we bring with us will eventually need to be charged. Now there are a couple ways to do this. In many cases your car’s battery can charge your smart phone. You just have to be careful not to drain your battery. If you end up having multiple phones to charge, or a computer, or other devices or appliances that need power then your car’s battery is not going to cut it. You do not want to risk it either with your car’s battery as having a dead battery in the wilderness will not be a good time.

You need a portable generator. Generators do just what the name suggests, they generate power. They can provide you with the needed power to power your phone, your computer, maybe even your hair dryer or coffee maker. Generators come in all different sizes ranging from a thousand watts all the way up to twelve-thousand watts or higher. If your camping trip consists of a tent, sleeping bags, your phone, and a laptop then a small generator will cover you. But, if you are taking a camper with you that has an air conditioner, microwave, coffee maker, and everything else then a generator will still get the job done for you. You will just need a larger model.

It is all a matter of wattage. I won’t get into sizing your generator in this article, but just yesterday I wrote a fairly in-depth article about selecting the right size of generator for your camping trips. It goes into finding the various wattage requirements and also a look at different considerations that should be made such as weight, noise, price, and fuel types. I highly suggest reading it to learn more about the topic.

Conclusion

So folks to wrap this article up the answer is that it really depends on you and what you want out of your camping trip. If you wish to disconnect yourself entirely and only bring the bare essentials with you then a generator is most likely not even needed. Leave your phone in the car and charge when you drive home. Enjoy nature and enjoy the isolation. However, if that is not what you are looking for and you still want to catch up on emails/news and have a warm cup of coffee in the morning then you will need a generator.

If you do decide that you need a generator then we recommend taking a hard look at this two-thousand watt model from WEN. It is an inverter generator which means that it runs very quiet and can last for around ten hours on a quarter load. So, if you wish to charge that phone, computer, and make some coffee in the morning this would be your generator. If you are wishing to run a camper though with air conditioning or other appliances you will need a larger wattage generator such as this thirty-five hundred watt model from Generac. Both of these generators are great options but to get a more personalized approach I suggest reading our article we referenced above. This article will break things down further and allow you to pick just the right generator for your needs.

I hope this article was helpful and able to answer any questions that you had. Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

I remember in the late 1980’s when I was a child and living in Michigan about a half-hour from Flint. We didn’t live in the big city but we were still in a neighborhood and surrounded by other homes. During the summer months my parents would pack us up and hit the road. We wouldn’t stop driving until we made it into Canada. Once there we would find a decent spot along the shores of Lake Huron and setup camp. We would never stay too long, maybe a day or two but these types of trips I will always remember even to this day.  Camping can be liberating. It gives you the freedom to get away from it all and it also allows you to get in touch with nature which so little of us do.

In today’s world many folks enjoy camping just as we did… but they also do not like being completely out of touch. Or, they do not like giving up ALL of their creature comforts. These could be just the ability to charge your smartphone or your laptop. Or, it could be a bit more where you want to make yourself a pot of coffee in the morning. Whatever the reason is there is more and more a need for power in the camping world of today.

Now depending on how much power you need some campers will opt for using the battery in their vehicle to charge phones or other devices. Maybe they even have a power inverter to power some of the different appliances. The downside, as you can imagine, of using your car’s battery is that you can drain it. If you do end up draining it you could end up with a dead battery at your camp site with no way to get back to civilization.

I do not recommend using this approach. While it may get the job done there is risk involved. Instead, I suggest looking into purchasing a portable generator. A generator will give you that needed power but will not end up stranding you at the camp site. Generators also come in many different sizes so you could power as much or as little as you want.

Sizing A Generator

While generators are a great fit when it comes to powering your electronics and appliances during a camping trip it can be confusing to know exactly what size generator you will need. Generators come in sizes ranging from one-thousand watts all the way up to twelve-thousand watts and higher. The range can be a bit staggering. Luckily, identifying what size you need is a relatively simple process.

In order to size your generator correctly you need to first determine what you are needing to power. Obviously, the more appliances you wish to power the higher your wattage demands will be. We can give you some basic estimates here though. Let’s say you only need to power a few smartphones and your laptop. Since this is a relatively small load you can most likely get away with a one-thousand to two-thousand watt generator.

However, if you wish to power more appliances such as a camping stove, coffee maker, hair dryer, or perhaps even an air conditioner if you have a small camper with you then you are going to need a generator between three to four-thousand watts. In some cases you may need to go up to five-thousand watts if you wish to power all of these at the same time. Chances are though that you will be just fine with a two to three-thousand watt generator.

To know for sure what size is needed you will need to determine the wattage that each appliance/electronic uses and then add them all up for a final wattage number. If you are unable to find the wattage listed on the appliance you are looking at then you can determine it yourself. All you need to do is find the volt amount and the amperage amount and then multiply them together. The volt amount is very easy to find. This is the type of plug-in that the appliance plugs in to. In most cases this will one-hundred and ten volts (This is the standard plug-in). The amperage required should be labeled on the appliance or electronic you are wishing to power. For an example let’s say we want to determine the wattage for a coffee maker. The amperage states 6.5 and the volt amount is the standard 110. So, 110 * 6.5 = 715 watts. Now that you know how to calculate the wattage it is time to add up the wattage of everything you wish to power.

There is one more thing to keep in mind here and that is the difference between starting watts versus running watts. Some appliances, usually the larger ones, will have what is known as starting watts and running watts. A great example of this type of machine is the air conditioner. Air conditioners require a surge of power when they are powered on. This surge of power starts the compressor and other components within the machine. To do this the air conditioner will need a much higher starting watt number, but once the machine has started the surge goes away and the air conditioner transitions to what is known as running watts.

If you have a machine you wish to power that has starting or surge watts then you MUST include the starting watts number in your calculation. If you do not then you will not be able to start the machine. Now, if you are on a budget some folks will plug-in the appliance that uses surge watts first. They’ll let it run for a bit so that the starting watts have gone away and then they’ll plug in the rest of the appliances they wish to power. This is kind of a work around to get the power you need… but I still recommend purchasing a larger generator to cover for the surge watts.

Generator Considerations

Now that we understand what size of generator you need for camping we should also look at a few considerations and options of these generators. While there are a variety of options out there for generators there are only about three or four main factors to review before purchasing. The first question I have to ask is will noise be an issue to you? A standard portable generator can produce noise while running that ranges from seventy to one-hundred decibels. That can be as loud as a lawn mower running close by. If you are camping this noise may disturb the nature that you are trying to enjoy.

There is another option though that has a much quieter operating volume. Inverter generators have a decibel ranging from fifty to seventy decibels. If you find one under sixty decibels then you are looking at about the sound of a dishwasher running nearby. As you can imagine, that is much quieter then a lawn mower. Inverter generators are a variation of your standard generators. The main difference is that a standard model has two completely separate components: The engine and the alternator. The engine produces the mechanical energy and the alternator converts that mechanical energy to electrical energy. An inverter generator works the same way, the only difference is that with inverters the engine and alternator are not completely separate. In fact they share a lot of components. This results in less moving parts and a much quieter operating volume.

Along with inverters performing quieter then standards you will also notice that they are significantly lighter. Again, this is due to it leveraging shared components between the engine and alternator. Now size of the generator may not be an issue for you if you only need a few thousand watts but as your wattage goes up so does the weight of the generator. Having an inverter generator can not only keep things quiet but also save your back when moving the unit around.

There is a downside to inverter generators though folks and that is cost. As you can imagine inverter models are much more expensive then your standard generators. This is where the decision falls to you. Ultimately, they both produce energy. It all boils down to do you want to spend more money and have quieter and lighter generator? Or, are you OK with a louder model and saving some cash?

Rather you decide on a standard or an inverter model there are still a few more factors to weigh. One of these is run time. How long do you need your generator to run? Is it just for an hour or two to give you a charge on your phone or computer? Or, do you need an extended run time? When looking at generators this should be one of the features you review. Not all generators are created equal and some may be able to run for a few hours while others can go for eight or ten hours. Be on the look out for run times when shopping.

The last option to look over is what fuel type you want for your generator. There are three main fuel types that generators use today. The most efficient and the cleanest burning is going to be diesel. Diesel is widely regarded as the best option when it comes to generators. The downside is it can be harder to find and it typically costs more then standard gasoline. Unleaded gasoline is another fuel source. It is not as efficient as diesel and it burns dirty. The upside is that it is easily found anywhere and is applicable to nearly every other machine out there including your vehicle. The last fuel option to look at is liquid propane also known as LP. This is the same propane that you would use for your grill or other applications. Propane is by far the most environmentally friendly fuel to burn when running a generator. It is not however the most efficient and can shorten run times. It can also be difficult to find at times. If it was me folks I would opt for the diesel option. It is tried and true and you know exactly what you’re getting.

Conclusion

As you can see there are quite a few options and varieties when it comes to selecting a generator. If you are looking for just a basic camping generator though then I am going to recommend this fifteen-hundred watt model from WEN. It will provide you with enough basic power for charging your phone, some lights, and other small things. It is priced competitively as well. This is a standard generator though and it can be loud. If you are looking for the quieter approach then I recommend this two-thousand watt inverter generator model from WEN. It operates extremely quiet at only fifty-one decibels. This is about the sound of a conversation being held nearby.

I hope this article was helpful and able to answer any questions that you had. Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Generators are a great tool to have with you in case of emergencies. They can give you that much needed power source during a power loss event. They can also be helpful if you are on a camping trip or perhaps just having an outside event where you need some lights or other things powered. Whatever your reason is for using a generator there are always questions that come up with their use. In today’s article we are going to look at one of those questions: What kind of gasoline do generators use?

Before I answer this question we first have to determine what kind of fuel your generator is taking. Not all generators use gasoline. In fact usually only the smaller sized models end up using gasoline. The larger models will use diesel. You may also find some liquid propane models out there as well. However, if you discover that the generator you are looking at does use gasoline then we can look into this question further.

Now when it comes to generators the first thing I am going to say is to consult your owner’s instruction manual. Each generator is different and it is impossible for me to tell exactly what make and model you are looking at. The owner’s manual is always your safest bet. That being said, I can make a generalized recommendation. In most cases it is recommended to use unleaded gasoline with a level eighty-five octane or higher. However, you may not even be able to find an eighty-five octane as this can be rare in some states. You are perfectly fine to use eighty-seven octane as well. This is the standard gasoline that you will find across the country. Generators typically use the lower octane gasoline rather then the higher. They also prefer ethanol free gasoline but in some cases they can take blends up to E-10… but again, check your owner’s manual.  There is no special generator gasoline on the market. It is the same type of gasoline that you put into your vehicle.

When working with generators there are a variety of safety concerns that need to be taken into consideration. I won’t go into all of them here, but I would recommend you check out our generator safety guide by clicking this link. When it comes to refueling your generator you should ALWAYS ensure that the generator is off and has been off for at least a few minutes before you try to refuel. A good rule of thumb is to see if the generator is hot to the touch. If it is then wait a bit longer before refueling.

Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

Generators can be used in a variety of applications. It could be that you are out on a camping trip and need to power your phone and computer. Or, you are RVing across the country and need to recharge your batteries. Or, you are at home with your family and your power goes out during an ice storm. Whatever the situation is your generator will be there and be able to provide you with that much needed power.

There is a surplus of options and features when it comes to generators. They can range from one-thousand watts all the way to fifteen-thousand watts. Some are quieter then others. Some are bulky and difficult to move where others can be picked up and carried with you no problem. In the next few paragraphs we are going to focus on one particular feature of these generators and that is fuel.

A generator works very similar to how your car works. An engine is used to generate a mechanical force. This mechanical force is then converted over to alternating current (AC) energy. This AC energy is what is used to power your electronics, appliances, and your home. If you plug something into your home then you are using AC energy. Now because your generator produces power using an engine then it would only make sense that the engine needs a fuel source. With generators there are three main types of fuel that you can find.

  1. Diesel
  2. Liquid Propane (LP)
  3. Gasoline (Unleaded)

The most efficient and cleanest burning out of these three is diesel. There are no other contenders here. Diesel is by far the most recommended fuel source when it comes to generators. This is because it burns cleaner then gasoline and can actually produce more for your dollar then propane. There is a reason why diesel cars are a thing. They are overall more efficient then their gasoline counterparts. The downside of diesel is it can be harder to locate in some areas and it is overall more expensive then gasoline.

If you are not comfortable with diesel then my next suggestion is going to be unleaded gasoline. It is not as efficient as diesel but it is more efficient then propane. It can also be found nearly anywhere. Gas stations are a dime a dozen and can be found practically anywhere. It also can’t hurt to have some extra gasoline in storage with you during camping trips. You never know what is going to happen and you could use that gasoline for your generator or even for your vehicle. The downside with gasoline is it a ‘dirty’ burn and produces more pollution then diesel and propane.

If you are environmentally conscious then I would suggest looking at propane. Propane produces very little pollution but it is the least efficient of the three fuel types. Propane is a bit harder to find but still won’t be that bad. Most grocery stores will carry these containers without issue. This is the same propane tank that you would use for your grill. So again, if you are camping or even if you are at home during a power loss event you could realistically swap out the propane tank in your grill to be used in your generator.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

RVing across the country has always been a dream of mine. I am still quite a ways out from achieving that dream but I know that I will eventually get there. For those of you who are lucky enough to already be doing this I envy you. The world is open to you. All it takes is pointing to a map and driving. The freedom of it is enticing. Like with many things though it is not all fun and games. There are still many questions and topics to learn when it comes to caring, maintaining, and enjoying your recreational vehicle.

In today’s article we are going to take an in-depth look at one of these topics: Batteries. As you know your RV, or motor-home, comes with a battery or batteries. These batteries store direct current energy that power everything in your RV. This includes the lights, the radio, the refrigerator, and even your furnace. Without your batteries your RV loses all of its creature comforts. This is why it is so critical to watch the charge on your batteries and to ensure that they do not get to low. Most people recommend not letting the charge on your batteries drop below fifty percent. When your batteries do drop to that fifty percent threshold you need to know HOW to charge the batteries back up to ninety or one-hundred percent. Let’s take a look.

How to Charge the RV Batteries

RVs, or motor homes, can come with one battery or multiple. Along with that their location can vary by make and model. If you do not know where your batteries are stored please consult your owner’s manual, call a dealership, or worst case canvas around the outside of the vehicle until you determine where they are. Once you have found them then we can begin to look at how to charge them.

To understand how to charge your batteries we must first look at the various ways that your battery can be charged. Throughout my research I have found that there are four main ways to charge the battery. Now as I list these I am going to rank them from best to worst. Some of you may disagree with this ranking, but I believe it is well sourced.

  1. The RV’s Alternator
  2. Shore Power
  3. Generators – Built-Ins & Portable
  4. Solar Power

RV’s Alternator

The most common way to charge your RV’s batteries is the old-fashioned way by using the engine and the alternator. This is the way every vehicle on the road today produces power. The engine creates mechanical force which is converted over to electrical energy by the alternator. In essence your RV, or motor home, is no different then that of a standard car. They both have engines and alternators. The only real difference that you are going to see is that the size and number of batteries. The overall process remains the same.

Using the RV’s alternator to recharge your batteries is widely regarded as the best and most efficient. The alternator produces energy but it also produces direct current (DC) energy which is the exact same type of energy that is stored in your batteries. If you were to recharge your batteries using shore power or a generator then you would have to convert their alternating current (AC) power over to DC power by using a converter. With an alternator you get the DC energy upfront.

When charging your batteries with the alternator it is important to remember that the appliances and electronics that you have on during this time all consume battery power. The engine’s alternator provides DC power which is stored into the battery. This DC power is then converted to AC power using an inverter. The AC power is then used to power your air conditioner, furnace, refrigerator, etc. If you have too many appliances on you could actually end up draining your battery even while your engine in is running. This is why it is important to have most of these off during charging with your alternator. Many people will just turn their inverter off to prevent any battery drain. If you do choose to have appliances on during this time watch your battery’s charge percentage to ensure that it is not only moving upwards but it is at the right amount of speed. If it charging very slowly it may be time to turn off some appliances.

Like with anything, there are downsides to using the alternator charge method. The first is it can take a significant amount of time to get back up to full charge. If your battery is below forty percent you could be looking at eight, nine, or even ten hours to get a full charge. That eight hour window may not seem so bad if you are already on the road and are planning on a long road trip… but if you are staying still at a camp-site for a couple of days then you definitely do NOT want to idle your vehicle for eight hours at a time. So, while using the alternator is one of the most efficient ways to charge your batteries it is not ideal for everyone.

Shore Power

If you are going to be staying put at a camp-site or RV park then charging your batteries with your alternator is not an option for you. I know that you do not want to idle for hours on end and none of your camp site neighbors want that either. Now depending on the park you have chosen they can have what is known as ‘Shore Power.’ Shore power is just the RV term for a power source at one of these camp-sites.

If the camp site does have power it will either be a thirty or fifty amp outlet. The thirty amps are for smaller to medium sized motor homes whereas the fifty amp is for the larger models. Either way, it is a straight power source that will give you all the energy you need to power everything within the RV. This could be your furnace, air conditioner, refrigerator, computer, phones, coffee maker, and whatever other creature comforts that you have with you. NOTE that you can also hook your RV up to your home using a fifteen or twenty amp power outlet. This may take some configuration of your circuit board depending on your home.

The best part is that when you connect to these shore power systems your batteries will automatically begin to recharge themselves. This is done by converting the alternating current (AC) energy that you are receiving from the camp site over to direct current (DC) energy. This DC energy is then stored in your batteries. The downside when using shore power connection is that your charge to the batteries is limited by the capacity of your converter.

As we discussed earlier, the shore power connection gives you access to AC energy, but if your batteries hope to store that energy it needs to be converted over to DC energy. This is where your RV’s built-in converter comes into play. This is also where a possible bottle neck can occur. Your converter has a limitation of how many watts it can transfer from AC to DC at a time. The lower the limitation the longer the charge will take. You are essentially getting unlimited power from the shore connection but if your converter is bottle necked then you could still be looking at long recharge times.

As an example, if your battery’s charge is below fifty percent then you could be looking at over eight hours of charging to get you back up to one-hundred percent. Now, if you are staying at the camp site for a while this might not be a problem. This holds true if you are spending the night. Your batteries will charge overnight and there is no inconvenience. If that eight hour charge time proves to be too long there is another option. You can upgrade your converter. There are converter overhaul kits out there that when done can shrink that charge time down to just a couple of hours. One such example of these can be found on Amazon or by clicking here. Be aware though that these kits can cost upwards to three-hundred dollars. It is up to you if you want to invest to save the time or just wait it out each night for a full recharge in the morning.

Generators – Built-Ins & Portables

Generators rather they be built-in to your RV or are an outside portable unit work much the same as a shore power connection does. They provide alternating current (AC) power and have a thirty amp plug-in that allows you to connect your RV directly. Many motor homes nowadays come with built-in generators. These come in handy as you do not have to do any setup. They are already connected to your RV’s power system and they most likely already use fuel that is built in as well. Depending on the built-in they could use their own propane tank or they could use the same diesel/gasoline that your RV uses for its engine. They are also much quieter then a standard portable generator as they are shielded by an outside compartment in your RV which acts to muffle the noise.

The problem with built-in generators is that they come with the RV during the manufacturing process. What this means is that the built-in RV generator typically only comes with enough energy to power all of the stock features of your motor home. If your RV does not come with an air conditioner and you decided to purchase one then chances are you are going to exceed the wattage limit of your built-in generator. The same example can be said if you try to plug-in a bunch of extra appliances like a coffee maker, microwave, hair dryer, or computers. All of these require power and all of these add to your total power required.

If you are exceeding the power of your built-in generator you have a couple of options. The first is to find an alternative built-in generator that provides more power, that will fit in the same compartment, and that will connect properly. This can be easier said then done. Do some research yourself and also contact the dealer where you purchased the RV from. Chances are they do have recommended generators for power upgrades. The downside here is that this can be expensive. Most things are when going through dealerships. Trust me on this, as I have many years of experience working with dealerships.

The other option here is to go with a portable generator. The same can be said if your RV doesn’t even come with a built-in generator. Portable generators provide the same purpose and also have a variety of benefits over built-ins. Portable generators can be any size you want them to be. You can find some starting at around one-thousand watts all the way up to twelve or even fifteen-thousand watts. You will not want for power. They hook up just like your shore power or your built-in generator connection. You’ll also find that they are significantly cheaper then a built-in model. Our recommended portable RV generator is this model from Durostar. It provides over three-thousand watts and should be enough power for most applications.

The downsides here is that portable generators can be rather bulky, especially the higher up in wattage you go. In some cases they can easily be over one-hundred pounds. The good news is that these larger sizes do come with wheels. It will still be a burden though to haul one of these around with you during each camping trip. Another big downside of the portable solution is the overall noise they produce. In many cases camp sites have quiet areas or quiet times. These are times where portable generators cannot be run. This is done in an effort to preserve the serenity and nature of the camp site.  Some portable generator models can have decibel levels ranging from seventy to as high as one-hundred. They can be as loud as a lawn mower running next to you.

If noise is a problem for you there is an alternative portable type known as an inverter generator. These inverter generators are known to be super quiet. They have a decibel range between fifty to sixty. That can be similar to the sound of rainfall on the low end and about the sound of a dishwasher running on the high end. They are much quieter then your standard portable models. The downside to these inverter units though is their cost. Inverter generators can be significantly more expensive then standard portable units. Our typical recommended inverter generator is this model from Champion. It provides over three-thousand watts… but as you can see you are paying a premium for it.

Another important factor to consider is that when going with a portable generator over a built-in you need to consider what fuel source you will need. I mentioned earlier that lugging these generators around can be a hassle, especially on the larger models… well now you have to haul some fuel with you on top of the generator. The portable models will not use the same fuel that is built into your RV. Generators can handle a variety of fuel sources rather it be propane, gasoline, or diesel. Typically I like to recommend diesel as it is the most efficient and cleanest burning. Whatever fuel you decide on you should look at how long a gallon of fuel will last for your generator. This will give you an idea of how much fuel you need to have stored.

The last thing to mention when looking at portable generators is the size of the generator that you will need. If you purchase a size too small then you are not going to be able to power everything you wish. If you purchase something too large then you are going to be wasting power and fuel. Finding the right size is key. I wrote a separate article on sizing generators for your RVs which can be found by clicking here. I highly suggest reading through this article to ensure that you are buying the right sized generator for you and your RV.

Solar & Wind Power

Over the years solar power has become more and more popular. It is a green an energy efficient way to produce power. It also allows you to go truly off-grid when boon-docking. If you think about it even when you are relying on generators you are still reliant on having a constant fuel source of gasoline, diesel, or propane. With a solar system all you need is the sun. It truly gives you freedom to live that off-grid lifestyle.

These systems come with a set of solar panels which then feeds into what is known as an ‘Amp Controller.’ These are also called ‘Charge Controllers.’ These controllers prevent your batteries from overcharging. For those of you who do not know, overcharging can completely ruin your battery, so it is a good protection to have. When purchasing a solar system there are two types of controllers to choose from. The first is known as pulse width modulation charge controller (PWM) and the second is maximum power point tracking charge controller (MPPT). The MPPT is more efficient and the better choice over the two but it is more expensive, so it is a matter of preference.

Along with choosing what type of charge controller you want you also need to figure out what size charge controller  you need for your application. These sizes, or power levels, are calculated in amps. To successfully charge your batteries using solar power you need to ensure your charge controller has more amps then your solar panels and battery combined. To determine this all you need to do is divide the watts of your solar panel by the number of volts in your batteries. So, for an example let’s say you have 1 twelve volt battery and 100 watts solar panel. The formula becomes 100 watts / 12 volts = 8.33. So, by using that 8.33 number we know that our charge controller has to have amperage of 9 or above. If you had 2 twelve volt batteries then you would multiple the twelve volts to get a number of twenty-four volts and so on and so on.

While the 9 amp charge controller will get the job done in the above example it may be worth your time to invest in a larger charge controller in case you want to increase the wattage of your solar panel down the road. I’ve always been a firm believer that it is better to buy bigger with room to expand then to buy the smallest size and have to end up buying it all over again when it does come time to expand. In this example solar kit from Amazon we can see that it comes with one-hundred watt solar panels and a thirty amp charge controller. This gives you plenty of room to expand your solar panels if you wish to down the road.

There are even some folks out there that have opted for using wind turbines to power their motor-homes. These wind turbines work the same as the solar system. They come with a charge controller as well. The only real difference is that the turbine needs to be setup and they are NOT meant for travelling. Wind turbine power is something I would recommend if your RV is mostly stationary on your land. They are not legal to operate while driving and it can be a hassle to have to set them up each time you stop. This is why it makes the most sense if you are living out of your RV on your land. You also need to ensure that you have enough wind to support it.

Jumper Cables

Yes, yes I know I stated that there were only four ways to charge your batteries. The only reason I put it that way folks is that charging your battery with jumper cables  is not ideal. These are emergency measures if your battery is completely dead. If you do run into this situation you can jump charge your battery much the same way you would with any other vehicle. Park another vehicle close enough to your RV’s batteries where you can safely connect jumper cables. Connect the cables like normal, turn the vehicle on, and let the battery charge.

One thing to keep in mind here is that you should turn off ALL accessories on the RV. This means appliances, electronics, and even your inverter. Turn it all off as you do not want something draining your battery’s power while you are trying to jump it. Once you have the battery charged to a point where it is no longer dead then I recommend moving towards a more traditional charging method rather it be using the RV’s alternator, shore power, generator, or something else.

These traditional methods are tried and true and are best for your RV’s batteries. After all, if this was  regular vehicle you do not charge the batteries all the way to full when jumping your car. No, you give it enough juice from the other vehicle so that you can turn the thing on. Once it is on the alternator takes over and you are good to go. The same principle applies here. Get that initial charge and then move towards a more stable method.

Surge Protectors

Power spikes can be a problem rather you are using shore power, generators, solar power, or anything else. These power spikes can occur randomly and without warning. If left unchecked they can end up damaging the appliances and electronics within your RV. To protect against these power surges it is recommended that you insert a ‘Surge Guard’ between the power intake and your RV. This surge guard prevents the power spikes by only allowing continuous power into your RV. It acts as a guard or stopper and catches those power spikes before they get to your RV. Here at ToughAssTools we recommend this Surge Guard on Amazon. It has nearly five-hundred reviews with the majority being positive.

Conclusion

Well folks I believe we have covered nearly everything there is to know about charging your RV’s batteries. Overall, it is not too complex of a process if you stay on it. Just be sure to watch the charge percentage of your batteries and ensure that you do not drop below that fifty percent threshold. If you do find yourself dropping below fifty you should be OK in that forty to fifty percent range, although it is not ideal. Any lower and you can risk damaging the battery.

One more point I wanted to mention in this before closing the article is that in many cases it can take a significant amount of charge time to go from ninety percent to one-hundred percent charge. If you are pressed for time or just want to move on and not worry about charging you will be fine with that ninety percent number. It will save you time and still get the job done for you.

If you are still hungry for more information on this topic  than  I highly recommend the below articles from other websites. These links helped me a lot when researching for this article.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

Question

It has always been a dream of mine to own an RV and travel across the country. Like many people I’m going to have wait on this dream until my kids are older and the wife and I can slip away for a few days at a time. Those of you who are lucky enough to cruise across the country stopping at your leisure I envy you. Such freedom. Being able to wake up each morning, point somewhere randomly on the map, and start driving.

It is not all fun and games though. There are always problems and hiccups that can occur when driving and camping in your motor home. One of the most common is not having a reliable power source when camping. Most camp sites nowadays have a RV thirty or fifty amp plug-ins available. When these are available it is as easy as plugging in and then you have power to run whatever you need within your RV rather it be your air conditioner, coffee maker, microwave, etc.

When you arrive at a campsite and discover that there is no plug-in, or if you decide to dry-dock it and camp in an off-grid manner then you are going to need an alternative power source. This is where generators come in handy. The generators, either built-in to your RV or a standard portable one, provide alternating current (AC) power to your RV. Most of the appliances in your RV require AC in order to function.

A common question though is will the generator also charge your RV’s batteries? The batteries in your RV are similar to your vehicle’s batteries. They provide you with the power to start the engine. They provide basic lights. With RVs they also provide some other basics such as water pump functionality and even a small television. But that is about all they can do. You need the generator or the plug-in to power the rest of your appliances.

With RVs and motor homes there are two types of power sources. We covered that generators/plug-ins create alternating current (AC) power. This is just like your home. Everything in your home uses AC to power it. This could be your furnace, air conditioner, refrigerator, water heater, etc. The other power source in RVs is known as direct current (DC) power. DC power is just like what you find in your personal vehicle. This is the power that is generated and stored in your vehicle’s batteries. If your batteries drain completely then you will not be able to start the motor home, just like what happens to a car.

The good news here is that most RVs come with what’s known as an inverter and a converter. The inverter converts the DC energy over to AC energy. The converter converts AC energy over to DC energy. SO, if you have your generator plugged-in and running then you are also generating DC power which in turns charges your batteries. The opposite is also true. If you are driving down the road then you will also have AC power based on the DC power inverting over to AC power.

These two power sources loop into each other so as long as you have one you have the other. That being said, DC power is significantly weaker then AC power. Remember, DC is only powered by your vehicle’s batteries. AC power is powered by either plugging your RV into a power source or by an actual generator. You will always have more power from an AC source. As an example, you could technically run an air conditioner using only your batteries… but your batteries would be drained after only an hour or two of use. If you had AC power then your air conditioner can run indefinitely or until your generator runs out of fuel.

Conclusion

In short folks, yes your RV’s batteries will be charged by your generator. They will also be charged if you are docked at a camp-site or RV park and plugged-in. Either way the batteries will be charged and ready to go for the next day’s journey. Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Driving across the country with your RV or motor home has to be one of the most liberating things that I can think of. Being able to wake up each morning, point somewhere at a map, and start driving. No timeline. No objective. Just drive. When you’re tired you find a spot to setup camp and rejuvenate. It is something that I look forward to in the next ten years or so when my kids have grown. For now though, it is just something that I get to write about. All you folks out there who are doing this should enjoy it!

When you do go on these road-trips with your recreational vehicle a constant question is where can I get power? In most cases if you decide to stop for the night at a rest stop or at an RV park you will find power available. These power sources found at these locations are typically thirty or fifty amp and your RV can plug right in so that you can enjoy all the creature comforts of home such as air conditioning, furnace, coffee maker, toaster, etc. Using these plug-ins is known as ‘Shore Power.’

The question that arises now is how do you obtain power when one of these shore power plug-ins is not available? Or, perhaps you do not enjoy the RV camps or rest stops but instead want complete peace and quiet. While this is great you will still need to find a way to power your appliances.

Generators

Before we look at generators lets first look at your RV’s batteries. There is a misconception that your RV’s batteries can power everything within the RV. RV batteries are there as a temporary power source. They are not meant to power large appliances like air conditioners. While they technically can do that, you will drain the battery very quickly. Without a power source you could only run an air conditioner for an hour, maybe two, before the battery dies.

Motor home batteries produce DC power. This is the same type of power that your car produces. When your RV is running it will charge these batteries just like your car charges its batteries. When it comes to RVs this direct current power from batteries is then converted to AC (Alternating Current) power using an inverter. The AC power allows you to turn lights on and run basic things within the RV such as the water pump or television set.

So, now, to answer your question of do you need a generator for your RV? It depends. Do you plan to always have a plug-in available for shore power? If so, then you may not need a generator. Or, will you be RVing in a minimalist fashion? In other words, will you not be using any large appliances such as air conditioners, furnaces, coffee makers, toasters, etc? If so, then you can most likely rely on battery power for an overnight stay. In most cases these batteries can last for a couple of days.

However, if you wish to run more then the basics in your RV then you are going to need a generator. The good news is that most RVs nowadays come with a built-in generator on one of the outside compartments. These built-in generators have a few benefits. The first is that since they are built right into the RV they are most likely tied to the same fuel tank that your RV uses. (Diesel most likely.) This means that you do not have to worry about lugging fuel around with you wherever you go. Just be sure to pay attention to your fuel gauge… you do not want to run out of fuel while camping and be stuck there waiting for someone to bring some more diesel your way! The second beneficial point of these built-ins is that they are built-in and covered with insulation. This insulation helps to dampen the noise these generators produce. A very common complaint at campsites is the noise of generators. In some cases they can reach as high as one-hundred decibels. That is the equivalent of a lawn mower running next to you. Quite loud!

A downside of these built-in generators is that they were built specifically with your RV in mind. While that sounds like a Pro what this means is that the generator is sized to power everything in your RV and not much else. So, if your RV does not come with a standard air conditioner but you have installed one… then your generator most likely will not be able to power it. Or, if you bring in a bunch of additional appliances then your generator may not be able to power them as well.

The solution here is a portable generator. A portable generator can be as big as you want it. They range from a thousand watts all the way up to twelve-thousand watts or higher. They will definitely be able to provide you with the power that is needed. Set the generator about twenty feet away from your RV, turn it on, plug-in, and you have power! Easy as that.

As you can imagine there are downsides of these types of generators as well. The first is that they can be rather bulky and difficult to move. This only increases as the wattage increases. If you decide to go with a six-thousand watt generator then you may find it difficult to move around as it could weigh over one-hundred pounds. Along with that weight you also have to lug around a fuel source for your generator. This could be propane, diesel, gasoline, or even solar. Whatever fuel you decide on though it will have to be brought with you.

The other big con here is noise. These portable generators can be quite noisy. I had mentioned this earlier but they can reach decibel levels between seventy to one-hundred. These louder ones can be as loud as a lawn mower. You can imagine how disturbing this would be to fellow campers. In fact many camp sites do not allow louder portable generators due to noise complaints. There is a solution here though folks. There is a type of portable generator known as ‘Inverter Generators.’

Inverter Generators are known as ‘super-quiet’ generators. Their decibel volume ranges from fifty to seventy. That is about the sound of the dishwasher running in your kitchen. Much different then a lawn-mower running nearby. Inverter generators are overall better then standard portable generators, the only real downside here is that they are much more expensive then the standard units. I won’t get into all of the details of inverter generators in this article, but if you wish to read more on them click here to read an article we wrote dedicated to the topic.

Conclusion

So folks to answer your question, yes I do believe you need a generator for your RV. Even if you do not plan to dry-dock it is always better to be safe then sorry. If you are in a situation where there is no shore power nearby you can rest easy knowing that you have a generator that can power everything up without issue. Even if you are into minimalist RVing… it still makes sense to have a generator with you, just in case.

Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question Marks

Hello folks and welcome to ToughAssTools.com. Today we will be taking another look at RVs, batteries, and air conditioners. There has been a trend lately of dry camping, also known as boon-docking. This consists of going off-grid for your camping adventures. No power-source nearby. Just you and nature. While this sounds appealing it is not for everyone. Many folks find that they miss the creature comforts of home, such as air conditioning.

This is where today’s question comes from. Is it possible to run your RV’s air conditioner while only on battery power? To answer your question… yes, it is possible. The distinction here though is how long do you want to run your air conditioner? You see air conditioners require A LOT of power to run. If you are running the unit solely on your batteries then at most you are going to get an hour or two out of it, and that is if your power inverter is even big enough to convert your wattage over from DC (Direct Current) to AC (Alternating Current).

With RVs, or motor homes, there are two different power sources. DC is the same type of power that your car or other vehicle produces. This type of power is created by the engine and alternator. It is then stored in your batteries. The other type of power is known as AC. This power is just like what we have in our homes today. Since RVs are a mobile home it makes sense to have both vehicle and home power sources.

Since an air conditioner is a home appliance you are going to need AC watts to power it. There are four ways to obtain AC power for your RV. The first is what is known as ‘Shore Power.’ Shore power is when you are at a camp-site or RV park and there is a thirty or fifty amp power source nearby. All you need to do here is plug-in your RV and you now have full AC power. You’ll be able to power your air conditioner and any other appliance you need.

The second type of power source is using a portable or built-in generator. The generator acts the same as shore power, but it is mobile. In other words, you are not tied down to using a camp-site. You can get AC power as long as your generator has fuel. This is the top choice for most dry-dockers. Another option for creating AC power is storing DC power in your batteries as your RV’s engine runs. Then, when you need AC power, a power inverter runs and converts the energy from DC over to AC. As we mentioned above though, this is not sustainable for air conditioners. They simply require too much power.

The last option to get AC power for your RV is by using solar panels. I’m going to tell you the same though as I did when it comes to battery DC power. There just isn’t enough power provided by solar panels to allow the powering of an air conditioner. You would need a ton of solar panels to make it feasible and no one is going to have the space required for this. If you have your heart-set on using solar panels then you will NOT be using your air conditioner. It is as simple as that.

A Further Look

Let’s look at this a bit further now. Most RVs, or motor homes, come equipped with a standard fifteen-thousand BTU air conditioner. They require around thirty-five hundred surge watts just to start and can take any where between fifteen-hundred to two-hundred watts to continually run the appliance. On these larger appliances, like air conditioners, they require an extra boost of power just to start the appliance up. This is known as surge watts. Once the machine has been turned on and begins to run it moves over to running watts. These running watts are much lower then surge watts. If you do NOT have enough watts to cover the initial surge then you cannot start the appliance. Simple as that.

To power this fifteen-thousand BTU air conditioner you are going to need an inverter that converts the battery’s DC power over to AC power. Some RVs do come with inverters… but the factory installed models are typically only rated to convert between one-thousand to two-thousand watts. To power an air conditioner you would need a power inverter rated at a minimum of four-thousand watts. In some cases, on larger RVs, they have a larger sized air conditioner or multiple air conditioners. So, now you would need a power inverter of nearly seven-thousand watts.

For example’s sake though lets say you have the inverter in place and you have three one-hundred amp-hour lithium ion-phosphate batteries (These are the top recommended batteries for RVs). With all of this in place you would be able to run one fifteen-thousand BTU air conditioner for a few hours before the batteries are drained. It just is not worth it.

Conclusion

In short ladies and gentlemen, if you want to power your air conditioner for your RV you need one of two things. You either need shore power by plugging in your RV directly or you need a generator. There are not other options here. The good news here is that most newer RV models out there come with a built-in generator and if your unit comes with an air conditioner then chances are the generator is strong enough to run the air conditioner. To make this even easier most of the built-in generators share the same fuel tank that the RV’s engine uses. SO, this allows for a seamless setup and gets you cold-air right away.

Lastly, please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools