youtubeWith the wave of new RV owners, it is harder than ever to obtain a campsite with an electrical hookup these days. This has lead many first time RV owners to purchase a generator. However, many don’t fully understand what size (output) or type of generator they need. More importantly, when and how long to operate a generator. This lack of understanding leads to poor generator etiquette in the campground. The results are upsetting campers in neighboring campsites and causing headaches for the campground host who has to deal with the conflicts.

The first thing new RV owners need to know is that your RV doesn’t require a constant source of household electricity (120 volts AC) via a shore power hookup or generator. Your RV is equipped with batteries and likely a power inverter to supply the electrical needs of the essential functions of the RV like refrigeration, heat, pumping water, lights, water heater (operating the TV – essential to some), etc. The next thing to know is that you don’t need to purchase a generator that is the same size or larger than the rated electrical system of your RV. The majority of RVs come equipped with the 30amp electrical cord and electrical distribution box. This equates to the RV being able to consume 3600 watts (120 volts X 30 amps) during peak usage. What most new RVers don’t understand is that this amount of power is rarely, if ever, needed. RVers can easily do with less power when armed with the knowledge of how to manage the power they have available via a smaller generator.


A 2,200 Watt Generator is the Choice for Many New Rvers

Here are some suggested links for obtaining that knowledge:

  • Click here to calculate how many watts you need to operate your RV.

  • Click here for a list of alternatives items that don’t require 120 volts to operate.

  • Once you have determine how large of a generator you will need to meet your electrical needs, click here to learn about other points to consider before purchasing.


Just Because Your RV Has a 30 Amp Plug Does Not Mean You Need a Generator with 30 amp Output

If you studied the above links and others, you have come to realize the main function of a generator is to keep your house batteries charged and run 120 volt appliances now and then, typically for short periods of time. The question now becomes; “How long to run the generator to charge the batteries”? This is another subject where new RVers (some seasoned ones too) lack knowledge.

The example above would be typical of most new RVs with a “smart” charger and a couple of RV / Marine house batteries. As you can see from the chart, the time to get from 90% charged to 100% charged can be lengthy. How long you run your generator is up to you, but for many (author included) reaching 90% in a short period of time is preferable to running the generator for long periods of time to reach 100%. After all, you are likely to repeat the process each day while camping without shore power, so why spend the time to get to 100% only to discharge them again?

Using the chart above, let’s say each vertical bar represents one hour of charge time and you have a battery bank that can deliver 100 useable amp hours. Note: Never discharge lead acid batteries more than 50% of rated capacity. For easy math and to help stress the point, let’s say each horizontal bar represents 20 amps. If you draw 20 amps out of your battery bank when it is 100% you have used 20% of the capacity. Using the chart above you will need to run your generator just under 3 hours to recharge it to 100%.  Let’s say you are content with only charging your batteries to 90% (80 useable amps) when camping without shore power. If you again draw 20 amps out of your battery bank you will have discharged them to roughly 70% which will take just over one hour for your generator to bring your battery bank back to 90% capacity. That is considerably less than half the time to put the same amount of amp hours back in your battery bank. Less generator run time equals less fuel consumed, less noise, happier neighbors and less wear and tear on your generator.

Hopefully, the above information will help new RVers determine what size and type of generator is required to meet their specific needs and most importantly, minimize run time which is key to keeping peace in the campground.

Here are other generator etiquette tips:

 - Turn refrigerator from electricity to propane, if so equipped.

 - Learn to read your monitor panel or a volt ohm multi-meter, as the house batteries do not need to be maintained at full charge.

 - If the house batteries don’t require a charge and you’re not using the air conditioner or other major electric appliances, turn the generator off.

 - Your house batteries are likely 100% charged when you arrive at your campsite and won’t need charging via a generator until the next day.

 - TVs in most RVs will operate via the battery system and do not require operation of the generator.

 - Invest in a quiet inverter type generator. Open frame contractor type generators are loud and don’t provide “clean” power for delicate electronics.

 - CPAP users, click here to learn how to operate your CPAP without running a generator all night.

 - Always observe generator quiet hours.

 - Shut your generator off by 10PM if no quiet hours are posted.

 - Respect the “no generators allowed” in designated camping areas.

 - Respect your neighbors: Locate your generator away from your neighbors, point the exhaust away from them, locate it behind a rock, tree, or other obstruction to muffle the noise and consider running it when they are away from their campsite or when they are running their generator.

With all the places to camp in the Northwest that don’t offer electricity, you will likely find yourself enjoying camping more often and at more places once you learn you can survive via a generator. Just remember to be a good neighbor, obey quiet times and minimize generator run time.

Questions? Comments? Please add your thoughts below.

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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