Question

What is an RV Generator Used for?

Hello folks and welcome to ToughAssTools.com. Today we will be doing another in-depth article on generators, only this time we will be focusing on recreational vehicles and motor homes. I love the idea of RVing across the country. My grandparents did in the 1990’s and my parents are doing it now. There is so much freedom involved in it. Every morning being able to wake up, point at a map, and start driving. Not having to be anywhere. Just enjoying the open schedule and the open road. I am definitely envious.

All that being said, it is not all glory when living in a motor home. One of the biggest challenges folks face is finding a source for power. Sure many campsites nowadays have the option to plug-in your RV but not all of them do. When you come across this situation how do you get power to your vehicle? How do your run your air conditioner or your furnace? Up until recently there was not a good answer for this problem.

Generators for recreational vehicles are still a relatively new concept. It originally started when recreationists started bringing more and more appliances from home. These could be toasters, coffee makers, hair dryers, computers, whatever. Each new appliances required more and more power. The batteries on these RVs could not keep up with the demand. This led to folks bringing in their own portable generators to campgrounds. This offered power but it also came with other problems. Portable generators are noisy and can be very disruptive when trying to enjoy the peacefulness of the campground. Another solution had to be created.

It was at this time that RV manufacturers begin including built-in generators with their models. These built-in models were insulated which caused a significant reduction in noise. This solved the noise pollution problem and made things a lot easier for novices to get power to their vehicle. In today’s world nearly every RV or motor home comes with a built in generator. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that does not come with one. In this article we’re going to take a look at exactly what the generator is used for and the various types that are out there today.

What is an RV Generator Used for?

Most recreational vehicles come with two electrical systems: Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC). The AC system is what you normally find in your home whereas the DC is what is typically found in vehicles. The DC system runs off the batteries that come with your RV. DC power will provide you a basic source of power for things like lights, fans, water pump, and even your television. However, if you want to run larger appliances like a furnace or an air conditioner then you are going to need a source of AC power. When it comes to motor homes AC power comes from an outside source. This outside source could be you plugging your generator into an outlet at a rest stop/campsite… or if there is no plug-in available then from a generator.

The good news here is that the two AC and DC systems in your RV are connected to each other. So, if you are at a rest stop and have your RV plugged into an AC connection then your batteries, which provide the DC connection, are being charged automatically from the AC feed. The component that does this conversion from AC to DC is called a converter. There is also an inverter that comes with most RVs that converts DC over to AC. SO, it is possible to run your furnace or air conditioner using only your batteries… it just won’t last very long without a direct AC power source.

When camping most folks use what’s known as ‘Shore Power.’ Shore Power is just a fancy name for plugging your RV directly in at a camp site or other rest stop facility. These plug-ins are typically thirty amp or fifty amp. They will provide you with plenty of AC electricity to power whatever you need rather it be your air conditioner, furnace, refrigerator, television, etc. When you approach a campsite that does NOT have a plug-in connection though is when generators come into play.

A generator accomplishes the same thing that as Shore Power does. It provides you with a continual source of alternating current power. This power allows you to have all of the comforts at home while travelling and it also charges your batteries so you have DC power for when you put the generator away. Generators can provide a lot of comfort to those of you on the road, but they can also be quite intimidating. There are a lot of factors and options to consider when looking at generators. Let’s look at some of them now:

Permanent VS Portable

As I had mentioned in a previous section there are two different types of generators that you can use with your RVs or motor homes.  Nowadays many newer RVs come with built-in generators. These are located outside of your RV in their own compartment. In many cases the compartments are insulated so that the noise of the generator is reduced significantly. A generator out in the open can be extremely loud. Their average decibel volume ranges from seventy all the way up to one-hundred. This could be as loud a lawn mower running next to you. It definitely kills the mood of the campsite.

The generators built-in to the RVs are known as permanent generators. They are not meant to be removed from the unit and used for other purposes. They are stationary and serve only one purpose which is providing power to your RV. These are the easiest generators to work with as everything is done for you. The downside with these units is that they can be expensive. Many cases RV OEMs require specific brands and types of generators to be used. This can result in an expensive repair or replacement bill. In most cases you’ll have to go to the dealer to get it repaired as well.

The other major downside to built-in generators is their size. These generators are sized to handle the exact amount of power of the appliances that come standard with your RV. There is going to be some buffer room there but in most cases if you try to add a significant amount of additional appliances/electronics then your RV’s generator will NOT be able to handle them due to you exceeding the wattage limit.

It is important to note that these permanent generators are found in motor homes but not in towable campers. There may be the occasional instance where you find a generator on a camper but the camper would also have to have a fuel tank added to leverage the generator. A motor home, or RV, leverages the existing fuel tank to power the generator. So, if you own a camper or an RV that either doesn’t have a built-in or the built-in generator no longer works then you need an alternative solution.

This my friends is where the trusty portable generator comes into play. Portable generators give you the flexibility to provide power wherever you want without the restraint of a limited power supply that a built-in has. While you can have ‘unlimited power’ these portable units come with a host of downsides. The biggest con to these units is the noise. In many cases campsites will ban portable generators if they are TOO loud. Remember earlier how I mentioned that they can be as loud a a lawn mower? If you do opt to go with a portable generator you should research inverter generators. I’ll get into these in our next section.

The other major downsize to these portable generators is that you now have one more thing to pack with you when you go RVing. Portable generators can quite heavy as well. In some cases they could be over one-hundred pounds AND they will need their own fuel supply as well. This can take up needed space and also end up being a hassle to set up as you have to lug around that generator to get sufficiently far away enough from the RV. (Remember, these are engines and they produce carbon monoxide.)

Inverter Generators

The noise of the product will have to be a consideration when looking at generators. You’ll notice that when looking at generators there is a decibel rating on the units. The higher the decibel the louder the machine will be when running. Ideally, you would want one under seventy decibels. This would be the about the sound of a dishwasher running in your kitchen. You can find some as low as fifty or sixty decibels though.

As you look at these you may see some that are marketed as ‘super quiet.’ These generators are known as ‘Inverter Generators.’ These generators are built differently then your standard units. You see a standard generator has two major sections: The engine and the alternator. The engine creates power by burning fuel. That power is fed to the alternator which converts the power to AC electricity. You now have the ability to plug-in your appliances/electronics. An inverter generator operates in a similar fashion only the engine and the alternator work together and actually share some of the same components. This means that there are fewer components in this machine which makes for an overall quieter noise level.

Inverter generators also produce what’s known as ‘Clean Power.’ A standard generator produces ‘Dirty Power.’ What this means is that the standard generator’s power production can fluctuate and is not a constant stream of electricity. The power provided to your electronics is directly tied to the performance of the generator’s engine. So, if the engine stalls, stutters, or does not perform exactly how it should then you can have variables in your power source which can in turn damage your electronics or appliances. An inverter generator on the other hand produces power FIRST as DC and then converts that DC power over to AC through regularly scheduled intervals. This provides you with a consistent power source, or ‘Clean Power.’

Overall inverter generators are a better product. The only downside there is with them is that they can cost significantly more. So, if you are on a budget and noise level/clean power is not a concern then go ahead and get the standard generator model. However, if you want to spend the extra money to get the premium product then opt for the inverter generator model. Our recommended inverter generator for RVing is the WEN 563080i thirty-eight hundred watt generator.

Fuel Type

The last point to look at is the type of fuel that you want your generator to use. If your motor home comes with a built-in generator then you most likely do not have a choice as to what fuel it uses. (Most likely the same as your vehicle’s engine takes.) However, if you have a portable unit then there are a variety of fuel choices to review before you make a decision. Now, I’m going to tell you right off the bat here that the best choice out of all of them is diesel. It burns the cleanest and is the most efficient. In other words, you get power for longer and do not have to worry about the same pollution that gasoline causes.

That being said, there are a few other options. There is gasoline and it is very easy to get as you all know. The problem with it is that it burns fast and hot. It is not very efficient and will not last as long as other fuel types. You also have the option to have propane. Propane works great and lasts longer then gasoline… but not as long as diesel. The upside to propane is that it is a lot more environmentally friendly then diesel.

The last option to consider is solar powered. These can be more expensive then the other fuel types we mentioned above. The obvious upside here is that they are environmentally neutral. They do not harm the environment in the slightest. The downside here is the increased expense and also the fact that you now have to lug around the solar panels with you as well. BUT, you do not have to carry the extra fuel.

I am still a fan of good old reliable diesel, but each one of these choices here will get the job done of providing power to you and your family.

Sizing

Size is important. If you purchase a generator with not enough power then you could be left out in the cold… literally. Finding the correct size of generator for your RV can be quite tricky. Generators come in all sizes ranging from just one-thousand watts going all the way up to fifteen-thousand watts or higher. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to determine what sized of product you need. To help with this we created a ‘RV Generator Sizing Guide,’ that can be found by clicking here. It is a bit of a long read but it should answer any outstanding questions you have when it comes to sizing your generator.

Conclusion

Alright folks well I think we have covered nearly everything there is when it comes to RVs and generators. I do hope that this article was helpful and was able to answer some of your outstanding questions. If you see anything that we missed please reach out to us and we will get this article updated. 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

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