So you want to go camping, huh? You're excited to fill your lungs with fresh mountain air and feel at one with nature. You can't wait to lie out under the stars and take in the beautiful sounds of nothingness. You'll de-stress, decompress, and deliberately leave all the headaches of the modern world behind. But what about when you need that morning cup of coffee and those fluffy scrambled eggs? And isn't your favorite MLB team on a winning streak and they're playing while you're gone? And the Weather Channel has temps climbing into the hot and sticky zone for your entire trip. That's not going to be fun for sleeping. Well, you can breathe easy because thankfully your RV is equipped with a generator that'll make cooking, watching TV, and staying cool a breeze. Don't know much about generators? Read on to learn everything you need to know about RV generators.
There are two main uses for an RV generator. It can be used to charge the house battery bank of an RV, or it can be used as a direct power source for the 120V AC outlets into which you'll plug your small appliances like a microwave, hair dryer, toaster, and more. We recommend using it for the latter, as using it to charge the house battery bank is not very efficient. It charges the battery bank through the converter charger, which only delivers a limited amount of amperage. Because of this, the generator will have to run for a long time to charge the house batteries. Also, you run the risk of overcharging your batteries from the generator's DC output that lacks a regulator.
Types of Generators
There are 3 types of generators, each with its pros and cons. If you're replacing an existing generator, it's smart to stay with the fuel type that you've been using with your old one. However, if you're adding a generator to your RV for the first time, then take this information into consideration before making your decision on fuel type.
If your coach runs on diesel, then you'll be better off choosing a diesel generator so you can run both your RV and the generator off of the same fuel source. No sense in complicating things, right? Diesel is a great fuel source in that it produces more power than liquid propane, it burns cleaner than gas, it won't explode, and it's safe to store. However diesel generators are often louder than the other types and they usually contain very heavy parts and components (and adding a lot of weight to your RV is not something you want to do!).
For an eco-friendly choice, go with LP gas, as it expels cleaner emissions. It also has a longer shelf life, meaning you won't have to replace unused portions as often. But propane might not be ideal if you're a full-timer or like to go on extended trips. Run time is limited to the size of your LP tanks. When it's gone, it's gone. And if you're camping in the middle of nowhere and there isn't a store nearby that sells LP, you're out of luck. Power output is also less than diesel and gas. So while you might be doing Mother Earth a favor by using LP gas, you might have to put up with a weak A/C or dim overhead lights.
Gas is everywhere! It's hard to find a street corner in America that doesn't have a gas station on it, so gas is a smart choice. But where diesel burns slowly, gas burns like a raging fire! And speaking of fires, gas is extremely flammable. Using a gas generator for your RV could definitely add a spark to your camping experience, but not in a good way! And if you plan to have a lengthy amount of time between RVing adventures, gasoline has a shorter life span than the other two, so you'll find yourself having to replace the fuel more often.
How to Choose the Correct Size of Generator
Base the size of generator you buy on the wattage of your RV's A/C unit. This appliance will use up the most power, so it just makes sense to look here. However it's the starting wattage that you need to focus on, not the running wattage. Just like when a runner takes off after the starter pistol has been fired in a race, he surges ahead and then levels off at a nice consistent speed so he can go the distance. It's the same with a generator. When you flick the A/C on, there's a surge of power to jump start it, but then it levels off and runs smoothly until you turn it off. Choose a generator with a wattage that is at the high end of the starting watt range for your A/C. So if your A/C has a starting watt range of 2500-2800W, choose a 3000W generator. Also look on the stickers of the other appliances you'll be using and add them up according to ones you might be running at the same time to get a good idea of more wattage requirements that you'll have to consider.
"Exercise" Your Generator
Just like people, generators need regular exercise to stay in tip-top condition! If they sit idle for too long, they'll get slow and lumpy (just like people). Ok, maybe a generator won't get lumpy, but if it sits for too long without being used, the engine could experience starting and surging problems. It only takes a month of inactivity for the fuel in a generator to start breaking down and gumming up the components. Mark your calendar every month to run it for about 1-2 hours, and make sure you turn on some appliances so that it has to work, such as your A/C unit or a small portable heater.
An Odorless Threat!
Generators give off carbon monoxide, so always make sure the exhaust system is in good working order. If it needs repairing, do not use it! If you're using a portable generator, make sure the exhaust system is facing away from your RV so that none of the poisonous gas makes it into the confined spaces of your RV. And never run one at night! This should be easy since campgrounds usually prohibit generator use after a certain time at night (quiet hours!), but if you're boondocking then there's no one around that it'll disturb. Make sure you turn it off anyway to keep you and your fellow campers safe while you sleep!
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