RV Utilities: Electricity / Batteries
RVillage members share their experience and helpful advice about RV batteries and charging.
Photos top, clockwise: Bythebuffalo; Bob rader; Cinn.
Safety disclaimer: Please be very careful when working with electricity. It is recommended to hire trained professionals when needed.
Your RV has one or more "house" batteries; and if you have a motorhome, you'll also have a chassis or "cranking" battery that starts the engine.
Chassis batteries (for motorhomes)
What exactly is a battery? Here's a short primer on batteries, volts and amp hours, and wiring in series or parallel:
When the house batteries need replacing, what should you look for?
Often, when upgrading any type of batteries, the "charger" will need upgrading, too. Learn from this discussion. (More on converter/chargers and inverter/chargers below.)
Lithium batteries have gotten more popular, as well as (a little) more affordable. However, they are very different from standard lead-acid batteries or AGM (glass mat/gel) batteries. They do not tolerate very cold temperatures, and may not work with your existing charger, inverter, or solar charge controller. You'll need to get the specifics from the battery manufacturer.
Lithium batteries may require an adjustment to (or replacement of) the standard converter/charger.
Converters and Inverters: What's the difference?
Converters change incoming AC (alternating current—from a pedestal or a generator) from 120 volts to 12 volts, for use with standard RV 12-volt components such as: lights, the water pump, the fan for the furnace, the igniter for the 3-way refrigerator, etc.
Inverters change 12-volt DC (direct current battery power) to 120 volts, to supply outlets you can plug your electronics and household gadgets into—such as your TV, coffee maker, small appliances, and also computer equipment & devices.
The inverter must be pure sine wave (not a "modified" sine wave) to run sensitive electronics such as laptops and cellphones, or they will not function, or possibly be harmed. Learn about sine waves, with a list of which devices and appliances require a pure sine wave to operate.
Most RVs come with a converter/charger. Ironically, they are notorious for not being efficient battery chargers. This lengthy discussion covers that topic. (Most standard converters are not compatible with lithium batteries.)
Read more about changing out an old converter.
Newer RVs are being outfitted with the more efficient inverter/chargers, which provide "smart" charging for the batteries. Learn more about smart inverter/chargers here, and more great information here. Whole-house inverters supply power to your existing outlets.
The purpose of a stand-alone inverter is to provide some 110 outlets that you can plug your devices and appliances into, without the expense of re-wiring the existing outlets in the "house." It be can wired to your existing batteries before—or even without—using solar to charge the batteries. Which brands do RVillagers favor? See suggestions.
The wattage of the inverter determines how large of a household appliance can be plugged into it, and there must be corresponding battery power. Some RVers have a separate inverter to power a residential refrigerator. Learn about that configuration here.
Understanding how batteries get charged
In a motorhome, do the batteries get charged while driving down the road?
Charging with solar
Get LOTS more information about solar here:
Related post: RV Solar
If you have solar, do you need to supplement charging your batteries with a generator?
RVillagers have LOTS of helpful answers.
Related post: RV Generators
RVillagers say "keep an eye on the discharge level of your batteries!" Running them down below 50% will shorten their lifespan. There are many different types of battery monitors. See RVillagers favorites.
Batteries just won't stay charged?
Helpful RVillagers offer trouble-shooting suggestions.
Other battery issues?
Having deep-cycle or lithium batteries and a great charging system enables you to take your RV on boondocking trips. Learn more:
Related post: The RVillagers Guide to Boondocking
So many helpful groups to join and learn more. Also share your knowledge and experience with others:
- Solar and Alternative Energy for RV's
- Boondocking with Solar
- Why Didn't I Think of That? Tips and Tricks
- Handy RV Tools and tips
- RV Repair Club
↪ Return to: RV Electricity
Disclaimer: The information gathered here is compiled from the posts and opinions of RVillagers, and not of RVillage itself. RVillage assumes no responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions.
Never miss a new RVoices blog post ➞ Get alerts!
Not a member of RVillage yet? Join the community today. It's FREE.