When you’re out adventuring in your RV away from shore power, you need an energy source that meets your needs. For many campers, this means investing in a good generator.
Not all generators are built equal, though. They come in a variety of sizes, power outputs, and weights for you to choose from. Finding the right one for your RV (and lifestyle) can be intimidating because of the sheer number of options. To help you make the right decision, we’ve compiled this guide to help you figure out what size generator you need for your RV!
A generator is a generator, right? Well, not exactly.
Finding the right generator size for your RV is important because it’s what will supply your RV with electrical energy. You don’t want to get a generator that’s too small and will fail to power all of your appliances and necessities. On the flip side, if you go way too big, you’ll have a clunky, heavy generator weighing down your RV for no good reason.
The weight of your generator will affect your fuel efficiency and mileage, so getting the right size will save you money and hassle.
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There are several factors to consider when choosing the right size generator. At the end of the day, most of them boil down to how much power you’ll need for your RV. Here are the major things you need to look out for to figure out what generator you should buy.
RVs will either have 30 amp or 50 amp electrical service, and which one yours has will make a huge difference in the generator you should buy.
30-amp RVs are limited in how much power they can use— with this type of electrical setup, you can safely consume only 3,600 watts of power at any given time. This means that if you were to purchase a 4,000-watt generator for your 30-amp RV, you’d be letting power go to waste.
50-amp RVs, on the other hand, can use much more power— up to 12,000 watts at a time— so you’d probably be looking for a generator that could deliver more juice to your RV.
Either way, check on the amperage of your RV before buying a generator so you can avoid accidentally wasting money on something you can’t fully use.
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How much power you need to generate is, of course, one of the most prominent factors in deciding whether you need to go big on a generator or not.
Take stock of all the appliances in your RV that you’ll use and note how much power they’ll need. You probably won’t be using everything at the same time so keep in mind that you won’t likely need enough power for everything at once.
A good strategy is to create a realistic picture in your mind of a typical day in your RV. What do you do on a day-to-day basis that requires power? Are you doing activities like cooking, watching TV, and using heavy air conditioning at the same time? Are you just using the generator to charge your batteries? You want a generator that will realistically fuel your lifestyle the way you want without having to make sacrifices. Make sure you don’t leave out items we take for granted either, like your refrigerator or water heater.
Possibly the most power-intensive appliance you have in your RV is your air conditioner. They use a ton of energy and are often running most of the time in people’s RVs, so you can’t forget to account for this. Check on what kind of A/C unit you have too. 13,500 BTU air conditioners will use less energy than 15,000 BTU ones, so if yours is 15,000 BTU, you’ll probably want a solid size (4,000+ watt) generator regardless of how many other appliances you have.
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Many RVs come with a generator already inside them for power, which will certainly affect how much power you need from a portable generator. If your RV doesn’t have a generator, you’ll want a bigger portable generator (or maybe even multiple ones you can link together) than you would if you already had a generator to use.
Built-in generators tend to start around 3,000 watts and cap out around 12,000. For some people, a built-in 3,000-watt generator may be all they need, so you might find that you don’t have to buy a new generator at all. Regardless, be aware of how much wattage your RV already has before you buy a new portable generator to add to it.
Of course, how much you’re willing to spend on a portable generator will affect the size you want to buy. Typically, the more wattage a generator can produce, the higher the cost. You probably don’t want to shell out thousands of dollars for a generator you’ll only use a fraction of the power of, but you also don’t want to find that you didn’t buy a big enough one. It’s usually safe to buy a generator that’s 500-1,000 watts more than you think you’ll need, if you can afford to do so. If many of the generators are out of your budget, you might just have to cut back on your appliance usage.
Not only does the price go up the bigger the generator you get; the noise does too. If quiet nights are something you place a lot of value on, you should keep this in mind when you decide the right size generator for you. You might be able to get away with a small one for your power needs, allowing you to enjoy more peace and quiet.
The same is true for the weight of your generator. A small generator won’t weigh your RV down too much and will be easy to move from place to place which is a nice bonus. A heavy generator, on the other hand, will make your gas costs go up as your fuel efficiency will be worse. This is something else to consider for your generator size choice.
Keep these factors in mind when choosing your generator, and you’ll find yourself with the perfect power producer for your RV needs! If you decide that using a generator isn’t for you, remember that you have other power options like shore power if you’re at a campsite, battery power, propane, and solar power. Happy travels!
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