RV Inverter Generators – The Pros & Cons Explained

So what are RV inverter generators anyway?

One thing they are not is the loud and obnoxious construction type of generator. Those may be fine where heavy construction is going on, but don’t bring them to a campsite.

If you do, you will be sure to make enemies quickly. The noise and fumes from those generators will annoy everyone around you. And you won’t like it either!

RV inverter generators are much smaller in size. And although they do make some noise, it’s very low in comparison.

And they are very fuel efficient too. They can usually run several hours non-stop on just a gallon of gas.

So these kind of generators are well-suited for use with RVs, especially while boondocking. But they may not be the best choice for RV power for everyone.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons and see who benefits most from the use of an inverter generator.

RV inverter generators - are they better than solar power?
Watch my video on RV inverter generators by clicking the image above

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website

The Pros Of RV Inverter Generators

  • When compared to the cost of RV solar power, it is much less. A solar system that can run most appliances in the RV other than ACs can cost $5000 or more. An inverter generator that will run everything in the RV including an AC unit is under $1000.
  • Inverter generators can easily run high wattage devices like microwaves, hair dryers, and yes, even air conditioners.
  • They are so simple – all you have to do is plug in the RV power cord and fire up the generator. It really is that simple. The generator will adjust to whatever load is placed upon it up to its power limit.
  • They work in any kind of weather. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sunny or rainy, foggy or clear, night or day. An inverter generator will keep chugging along as long as you provide the fuel for it.
  • Inverter generators produce clean and safe power for all of your sensitive electronic devices.

But What Are The Cons?

  • Noise – yes, the noise level is much reduced when using an RV inverter generator. In fact, if you get more than 15 feet away, you may not even hear it at all. But some noise is produced. And it’s constantly there. This can be unacceptable to some RVers.
  • Weight – Especially if you choose an inverter generator that is big enough to run all your RV appliances and an AC unit. In that case, the generator will probably weigh about 100 lbs. And that kind of weight is not easily moved around. Smaller ones that will only charge up your RV batteries after a day’s use will weigh about 50 lbs.
  • Storage – you have to find somewhere to store the generator when it’s not in use. Many people use the bed of their pickup. Others use a storage compartment in the RV. But these units both take up space and add weight. So you have to plan for that.
  • Requires fuel – inverter generators usually run on gasoline. This means that you will have to bring along a supply of gas and make sure that it is stored safely. Of course, some generators can also run on propane and they are called dual fuel generators. This can be very convenient for RVers since they already carry a supply of propane with them.
  • Needs regular maintenance – all motors and engines will require some kind of maintenance and care. And that is true of these generators too. But the good news is that the needed maintenance is fairly easy to do. In fact, almost anyone can do it.

Who Should Use An Inverter Generator?

RV inverter generators are really nifty devices that bring AC power wherever you need it.

So if you like to go off-grid a lot, or boondock, an inverter generator can be a great purchase. They work particularly well for travel trailers and fifth wheels.

Many motorhomes have a generator already permanently installed. So an additional inverter generator may not be needed.

But towable RVs often do not come with an installed generator. So a portable generator can be a great addition in these cases.

However, if you spend all your time in campgrounds plugged into shore power, a generator may not even be necessary.

Another point, some RVers just cannot stand the background noise that a generator produces constantly. Even a relatively quiet one. So it may not fit their RV powers needs at all.

Others have a substantial solar power system installed in their RV. And if so, they may not feel the need to have an inverter generator as well. Although having one as a backup may not be a bad idea.

If you have an RV inverter generator,
please answer this anonymous poll:

Is your inverter generator a Honda or Yamaha?
Is the noise level from your inverter generator bothersome?
Do you use a combination of solar and generator power?

Which Brand Should You Buy?

For many years, the best inverter generators have been made by Honda and Yamaha. And they continue to be excellent products even now.

But times have changed and other manufacturers have entered the inverter generator market. And many of their products are much less expensive.

Of course, that does not mean that any old inverter generator is a good buy. But it also doesn’t mean that Honda and Yamaha are the only prudent choices anymore.

Don’t get me wrong here. Honda and Yamaha inverter generators are still excellent choices. But don’t rule out others that cost as much as 50% less, just because they are a different brand.

In fact, some of the newer products in the field have Amazon user ratings that rival Honda and Yamaha. So compare wisely and choose the brand that fits your budget and needs.

What Size RV Inverter Generator?

The size of generator needed depends on your power needs. And power needs can run the full gamut between individual RVers.

But generally speaking, if all you need to do is charge your batteries at the end of a day’s usage, a 2000 watt unit will do fine. And they are lighter in weight too.

But if you need enough power to easily run all of your RV appliances and maybe an AC unit as well, more is needed. Probably 3000+ watts will be required in this case. And that means a heavier unit.

But there is another interesting choice though. This is because two inverter generators can often be hooked together to run simultaneously.

This means that their ouput is almost doubled. So you could have two 2000 watt inverters on hand.

You only use one of them when your power needs are low. But if your power requirements grow, you can run them both together through the use of a parallel cable.

Again, this is an individual choice. You may feel that having only one inverter generator that meets your normal RV power needs is appropriate. But there is always the option to add another one and nearly double your power output.

Click here for a Honda 1000 watt inverter generator

Check out a Yamaha 2200 Watt inverter generator here

Compare a Wen 2000 watt inverter generator here

View a Champion 3400 watt dual fuel inverter generator here

Click here for the Wen parallel cable that runs two inverter generators

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Combine Solar And Inverter Generators?

For many RVers, the perfect boondocking, or unplugged power source is not either solar or RV inverter generators. It is a combination of the two instead.

If your power needs are fairly high, you can always supplement an installed solar system with an inverter generator. This can be especially beneficial if you are camping where the sun doesn’t always shine a lot.

On the days when the sun is out in full force, the solar system can quietly handle the power needs alone. But sometimes on cloudy or rainy days, solar power is not able to keep up with power demands.

In that case, having a good old fossil-fueled inverter generator may be just what you need.

Other RVers with smaller power needs may still get the benefit of a combination of solar power and generator power too.

In this case, many RVers may choose to use portable solar panels instead of the permanently installed panels.

In the morning, they run the RV inverter generator enough to recharge the batteries up to about 80% of capacity. From there, they shut off the generator and deploy the portable solar panels.

Portable solar panel setup
Example of a portable solar panel setup

Through the day, the solar system tops off and maintains the batteries at full charge. Then battery power can be used for power needs overnight starting with a full charge at evening time. The next day, the process is repeated.

There are other ways to use solar and generator power together for handling RV power needs. You can design a system that works best for you, your rig, and the way you like to camp.

Click here for the Renogy 200 watt portable solar panel unit

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Conclusion

RV inverter generators are a great source of AC power when you are off-grid or boondocking.

They allow you to run all of the modern conveniences built into RVs at a very low cost. And almost anywhere. Plus, they can even be quiet enough to meet the needs of most RV owners.

So they have a lot of distinct advantages for RV use. But they are not for everyone.

So weigh the advantages and disadvantages of these generators carefully. Then choose from my recommendations above or find a well-reviewed model that works best for you.

With careful advance thought and planning you will make a good choice for your RV power needs.

Have safe and happy travels my friends!

An RV Solar System – Who Needs It?

In this article we are going to discuss the use of an RV solar system.

How do they work anyway? How much will it cost you? Can you install it yourself? What are the pros and cons of using solar power?

Also, when is solar power needed? And should all RVers have a solar system installed in their RV?

Let’s get started and try to answer those questions now!

Do you really need an RV solar system. Watch this video to find out.
Watch my video on RV solar systems by clicking the image above

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website

How Does An RV Solar System Work?

Put simply, an RV solar system gathers sunlight and converts it into energy that is then stored in your battery bank.

It is important to understand that solar panels usually do not run any appliance or item on their own. Instead, they create DC electricity that can be used to power whatever appliance or item is needed.

So a group of solar panels needs a bank of batteries to store the electricity that they create.

Also, there is another piece of equipment needed between the solar panels and your batteries. It’s called a solar charge controller.

This is necessary to avoid overcharging your batteries and damaging them.

When the battery is at full capacity the solar charge controller limits the incoming electricity from the solar panels. It then maintains just enough charge to keep the batteries in their fully charged state.

What Are The System Components You Will Need?

There are 5 components of a proper RV solar system that you will probably need, and they are:

  1. Solar panels
  2. Solar Charge Controller
  3. A battery bank
  4. An inverter
  5. Heavy gauge wiring and fuses
A typical 200 watt RV solar system setup
A sample 200 watt solar panel setup

As you can see, there are several components of a solar system. And added together, the cost is not cheap either.

Also, the real work involved is in actually installing the system into your RV. And unless you are very familiar with solar power systems, you really should have a professional do it for you.

If this equipment is installed incorrectly, there could be serious safety hazards at play. But on the other hand, having that professional installation really increases the cost of the system.

So a small solar system for an RV can only be a couple thousand dollars in cost. But if you go for a high end system you may be looking at $10,000 – $15,000 or more, including installation.

Most RV solar systems you see in use today will fall somewhere in the middle for cost. That is, about $4000 – $6000 including installation.

Let’s discuss each one of the solar system components now, starting with the solar panels.

Click here for a 200 watt small solar system

This link is for a 400 watt medium size solar system

Click here for a 600 watt larger solar system

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

How Many Solar Panels Will You Need?

This is the question that most people want to know right away. And no wonder, because the roof space on an RV can limit the number of panels you can install.

Most solar panels you will see for sale come in 100 watt units per panel. So how many of those panels will be needed to accomplish your power needs?

Well generally speaking, 100 – 200 watts of solar panels are enough to recharge your batteries after a night’s usage. Especially if you only use enough 12-volt battery power to charge up your devices, and run some lights.

But if you want to watch several hours of TV, use your microwave and other high wattage appliances, you need more. Many RVers that have 400 – 600 watts of solar panels can run almost anything other than their AC units.

Solar Charge Controllers

As mentioned before, you will need to have a solar charge controller between the solar panels and your batteries. This will make sure that the batteries are protected and kept at a high level of charge.

There are two kinds of solar charge controllers in use today, PWM and MPPT. Essentially the PWM unit is a switch between the solar panels and batteries.

The MPPT unit is more sophisticated and is able to maximize the transfer of power from the panels to the batteries.

To put it in lay terms, the PWM does the job. But the MPPT does the job better and will give you as much power as you can get from your solar panels.

Of course, the PWM controller is cheaper than the MPPT controller. Either one will do the job fine. But the MPPT will probably pay for itself over time with the extra power it produces.

Your RV Solar System Battery Bank

The subject of batteries and which ones to use for an RV solar system is complicated and lengthy. So for this article let’s focus on how many watt hours will need to be stored in the battery bank.

Generally speaking you will need about 100 amp hours of “usable power” to run most small 12 volt items in the RV daily. This includes lights, fans, charging small devices and maybe even a couple hours of 12-volt TV.

But you need more power if you want to run 120 volt appliances like a microwave, hair dryer, coffee maker, etc. Probably about 200 – 250 usable amp hours of power will be needed in that case.

What is meant by the term “usable power”? Well, if your battery bank is made up of lead acid batteries, you can only use 50% of their amp hour limit.

This is because if you drain those batteries any lower than that consistently, you will damage the batteries. So if the battery capacity is 100 amp hours, but you only use 50%, you only have 50 usable amp hours of power.

How Many Batteries Will You Need?

Many RVers use 2 6-volt golf cart batteries wired together in series to make the 12 volts needed for an RV system. These kind of batteries are popular because they last a long time and can take a lot of repetitive charging and discharging cycles.

A golf cart battery is often rated for 200+ amp hours and these remain constant for both batteries used together this way. This is because when batteries are wired in series, the voltage is doubled, but the amp hours remain the same.

In this arrangement, the “usable amp hours” is about 100, not the full amp hour limit of the batteries. Remember, this 50% discharge rate is to make sure that your batteries last a long time without damage.

Some RVers have an RV solar system that only has to produce about 100 amp hours per day for their power needs. And in that case, the 2 golf cart batteries wired in series will work fine.

But if you want to run more power intensive items in the RV, you will probably need at least 4 of those batteries. This will allow you to store around 200 amp hours of power daily.

Of course, you have to have more solar panels to adequately fill a larger battery bank too. So more amp hours requires more batteries, which also requires more solar panels to fill them.

Much more can be said on this subject, but that is for another article.

Click here for a 4 battery bank set usable for solar power

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What Is The Inverter Used For?

This is a part of the solar system that most people aren’t too clear about. So what does an inverter do anyway?

To answer that, let’s see what our solar system is capable of doing so far. We have a group of solar panels feeding electricity into a bank of batteries that produces 12 volt electricity.

These 12 volts can be used for any item or appliance that runs on 12 volts. But what about all of the appliances and devices that need to run on 120 volts instead?

They are easily recognizable by the power cord plug that goes into a residential home type of wall socket. So, can you even run those appliances and devices from batteries?

The answer is yes. But only if you use an inverter. It effectively steps up the voltage coming from the batteries from 12 volts to 120 volts as needed.

So if you plug in a blender to the wall socket in your RV, it can run just fine. But only if you have the right size inverter to manage the electrical load needed.

Inverters come in two main varieties, True Sine Wave and Modified Sine Wave. And they can come in several sizes.

A Xantrex 2000 watt inverter
A Xantrex 2000 watt inverter installed

The details of which inverter best meets your needs is just too lengthy a discussion for this article. So here is a little information that can help you learn more about real world usage of inverters in an RV.

Suffice it to say that if you want to run 120 volt devices in your RV, you will need the right size and kind of inverter to do the job.

Click here for a Xantrex 2000 watt inverter

Click here for a Xantrex 3000 watt inverter

(These are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Wiring For An RV Solar System

The final ingredient in an RV solar system is heavy gauge wiring and fuses.

This is where a lot of mistakes are made by DIYers. They get all the correct pieces of equipment, but join them together with insufficient wiring.

This is a safety issue. So make sure that the wiring is appropriate for whatever size solar system you choose for your RV.

To help with those calculations, here is some information about proper wire sizing and fuses for use in RV solar systems.

The Pros Of RV Solar Systems

So here are the pros of installing an RV solar system in your RV:

  • Quiet – solar systems make no noise at all. Even inverter generators make some noise.
  • A solar system allows you to take your RV off-road and still have modern conveniences with you. This is because you can produce the power for those devices without being hooked up to a power grid. You are your own power grid!
  • There is very little to go wrong with a solar system. And almost no maintenance either.
  • Solar power is good for the environment. It is clean energy that produces no waste or pollution.

The Cons Of An RV Solar Power System.

Of course, as with anything, there are cons to be considered too. And here they are:

  • The cost – An RV solar system is not cheap, especially one big enough to handle most of your daily power needs. The main ingredient that increases the cost is professional installation. But unless you really know what you are doing, it is really necessary in most cases.
  • Solar power loses effectiveness on cloudy days. In some cases the power output from your solar panels may drop by 75% on cloudy and rainy days.
  • Solar can’t be expected to run air conditioning units on RVs in most cases. Of course, very high end large solar systems can run ACs for a while. But not continuously for more than just a few hours at a time.
  • If your solar power system is permanently mounted on your RV, it will go with the RV when you sell it. It just doesn’t make sense to install a large solar power system on your RV if you plan to sell it soon. It will not be cost effective to do so. The cost of solar power can only be recovered over a long period of time.

Who Needs A Solar Power System?

Solar power only becomes really useful if you plan to camp off-grid a lot.

Camping while unplugged from shore power is often called boondocking. And if this is the style of camping that you prefer, solar power makes a lot of sense for you.

You can literally take your RV almost anywhere and produce power while the sun shines. There is a lot of freedom in that kind of capability!

On the other hand, if you like to spend most of your time in campgrounds, solar power may not be the best choice.

Campground camping usually means being plugged in to a source of AC power. And that kind of power can run everything in your RV, including air conditioning units, quietly.

So why go to the expense of adding solar power unless you really plan on using it?

Conclusion

An RV solar system really shines when it is used for boondocking and off-grid camping. And it even becomes cost effective if you keep your solar-powered RV for a long time.

But clearly, it is very expensive. And it’s not very cost effective if you mostly stay in campgrounds and trade RVs regularly.

So decide whether solar power is something you really need. It’s simply not for everyone!

Have safe and happy travels my friends!

The 5 Best RV Road Trip Tips

In this article I’m going to share with you my top 5 RV road trip tips.

We are going to discuss ways to make your road trip more pleasant and enjoyable. And this is important, because for many an RV road trip is stressful and sometimes dreaded.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just a few RV tips from the pros who have learned how to make time on the road more fun, can be all that’s needed.

So let’s get started right away with my first tip!

The 5 best RV road trip tips on video
You can watch my video on the Top 5 RV Road Trip Tips by clicking this image

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website

Tip #1 – Don’t Be In A Hurry!

When you are on the road traveling in an RV, it’s so easy to get in a hurry. After all, you have to break camp in the morning, drive for hundreds of miles, and set up camp again.

Add into this mix stopping for fuel, for food, for bathroom breaks and so on.

And quickly a go, go, go mindset starts to take over. For many RVers it becomes more about the destination rather than the journey.

When this happens, stress starts to rise and mistakes are easy to make. Tempers can flare, and then the RV road trip becomes a nightmare.

So how do you avoid all of this? Well for us, the start of the day often sets the tone for the whole trip.

We make sure that we get up in time to leisurely wake up and have a bite to eat.

Then we use a checklist to steadily work through breaking camp. That way we don’t miss anything by simply forgetting to do it.

Once we are on the road, we make good use of the rest stops along the way to take a break. We often get out of the RV and take a good brisk walk around the rest stop area and have a snack.

It’s amazing how this simple activity can change a dull and boring RV road trip into one that is more pleasurable.

And that brings me to my second RV road trip tip.

Tip #2 – Practice The 3/3/300 Rule

A surefire way to increase stress and anxiety on a road trip is to try to cover too much ground each day.

So we use the 3/3/300 rule on our RV road trips. That is, we only travel 3 days in a row without stopping for a few days to rest. Then we only travel a maximum of 300 miles in a day and we plan to get to our destination by 3 o’clock.

Traveling no more than 3 days in a row is a big stress reliever. That’s because breaking down and setting up camp every day in an RV is a real chore.

It adds so much more effort to traveling on the road. And many campsites and hookups require you to be flexible and a good problem solver too.

So not having that added anxiety for more than three consecutive days is a good thing.

And making sure that the day’s driving is no more than 300 miles limits the fatigue that inevitably sets in after several hours on the road.

Finally, getting to the next campsite by 3 o’clock insures that you won’t be arriving in the dark or during rush hour traffic.

This is huge because if you have ever tried to set up camp in the dark, you know how challenging that can be.

If you leave by 9AM in the morning and plan to travel 300 miles that day, you will probably be arriving by 3 o’clock.

This is because we have found that counting rest stops and lunch breaks, we tend to average 50 MPH. So do the math and you can see that it all works well together.

Now for my next road trip tip.

Tip #3 – Plan Ahead For Your RV Road Trip

I know that a lot of folks love to live their life in the most spontaneous way possible. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But if you have a rig any larger than a Class B van, you will really benefit by planning ahead more.

Large Class Cs, Class As, 5th wheels and travel trailers need to know what is ahead of them. This keeps the trip more manageable and stress-free.

This is because bigger rigs require more advance thought when you are in areas that you don’t know well.

So we like to use an online trip planner called RV Trip Wizard to plan out our long trips in advance.

It will let you know where rest stops, fuel stations and campgrounds are located all along your planned route.

And you can print out the route and have a handy guide for that day’s travels right in your hands as you go.

The yearly membership to the site is really affordable, and it has been a very reliable source of on-the-road information for us. I highly recommend it!

But one more suggestion in this area is to make sure that you also have a reliable and trustworthy road atlas handy too. Don’t just rely on online maps or GPS units to always steer you correctly.

The truth is that no one RV trip planning tool does everything and is infallible. So have some printed backups on hand at all times, just in case.

Learn more about RV Trip Wizard by clicking here

Click here for the Rand McNally Road Atlas

(Some of these are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Now for the fourth tip.

Tip #4 – Use Helpful Apps And Guides

There are several useful guides to travel on the road but we have found a couple of them to be exceptionally useful.

There is a real need to know what services are available at each exit before you get there.

For instance, you may need to fuel up, or maybe stop off for a bite to eat, or even a sudden bathroom break.

But how do you know about all the services that are located at each exit?

One of the best sources of information we have found is a book called “The Next Exit”. It conveniently lists pretty much all of the offered services at each exit and gives you valuable information about them.

There is also an app that does a very good job of providing this kind of information too if you prefer apps. The one we like to use is called “I-Exit”.

Again, it’s not a bad idea to have more than one tool in this area. It helps to give you a complete picture of the offerings available at each exit.

This allows you to avoid wasting time searching at exits for needed services. Instead, you will know what to expect from every exit before you get to it.

This is another real stress reliever on an RV road trip!

Click here for the Next Exit Guidebook

Click here for the I-Exit app

(Some of these are affiliate links for the product on Amazon. It does not cost you any extra to buy the product using my affiliate link if you choose to do so)

Now for the fifth and final road trip tip.

Tip #5 – Stow Anything That Can Move

One of the biggest irritations of traveling on the road is having to clean up a mess after a long day.

And traveling down the highway subjects all RVs to all sorts of bumps and shakes that can move things around in your RV.

So before you leave for the trip that day, stow anything that can move. Tie it down. Tape it down. Bungee it down. Put fragile items on the couch or bed.

Whatever you do, just make sure that RV travel is not going to make a mess in your RV.

The end of a day’s travel is not the time to be dealing with a mess. Especially so, because you now have to set up camp and get dinner going too.

A little advance preparation in this area will make the end of the day much more pleasant.

We have found that having a checklist helps us remember what needs to be done in this area too. Just follow the checklist and most spill accidents will be avoided.

Conclusion

RV road trips have their own set of unique challenges and difficulties.

But if you are well organized and do a little advance planning, road trips can be much more enjoyable.

So how do you make RV road trips better?

  1. Don’t be in a hurry
  2. Use the 3/3/300 rule
  3. Plan ahead with RV Trip Wizard and an Atlas
  4. Use guides or apps to know what is at each exit
  5. Before you go, stow anything that can move

I hope this information has been helpful for you.

Have safe and happy travels my friends!