RV electrical systems are probably the least understood systems on board. RVillage members share their knowledge and helpful tips on this topic.

Top photo: RV converter/charger. Credit: DjDarren

Understanding electrical systems: 12 volt, shore power, solar, generators. RVillagers are a wealth of information. Ask questions and share your experiences in the discussions below. If you don't understand all this, it's best to hire an electrician. (Unless you are one!)


Safety disclaimer: Please be very careful when working with electricity. It is recommended to hire trained professionals when needed.

The RV 12 volt system

RVs were designed to be camped in, and are self-sufficient in many ways when not plugged in, provided the batteries are strong. Typically, the cabin lights, water pump, fan for the gas furnace, and fan over the cook stove will run on 12 volt. Refrigerators in newer units may have a 12 volt setting, while most have a switch to run on either propane or 110. RVillagers share their tips for trouble-shooting 12-volt systems.

Shore power

Electrical outlets are powered by shore power, generator power, or an inverter which pulls from the batteries—usually installed with solar (but not always).

Shore power is when you are plugged in to a pedestal at an RV park or at home.

See all the great responses explaining the difference between 30amp and 50amp hookups.

IMPORTANT: "Hot skin" is very serious issue, and occurs when the RV is not grounded properly.

Can you plug your RV into a 110 outlet?

See VERY helpful responses, with photos and diagrams.

Converters and inverters

RV converter/charger. Photo credit: Badang

See a discussion about converters.

What's a pure sine wave inverter? RVillagers share their knowledge.

Trouble-shooting power issues

See responses here.

Should you use a surge protector or an EMS (energy management system)?

RVillagers feel very strongly about using a surge protector and/or EMS when plugged in anywhere, and share WHY:

Learn about surge protectors, and about a couple of EMS brands here.

Hardwired or portable? Answers differ, with some helpful wiring tips.

See clever tips for storing that bulky shore power cord.


FullRiver AGM 6 volt golf cart batteries. Photo credit: Cinn

What exactly is a battery? A primer on volts and amp hours; and wiring in series or parallel:

LOTS of great responses here. And more tips for choosing batteries.

Lithium batteries will require an adjustment to the standard converter. See the bottom of this thread.

Batteries won't stay charged up?

Helpful RVillagers offer trouble-shooting suggestions.
And LOTS more information here.

Monitoring battery levels is important to preserve the life of those expensive batteries. What's the best way to do that? A few ideas here.

Camping off-grid

Photo credit: Steve Paynter

When the RV is not plugged into shore power, you'll be doing what's known as “dry camping” or “boondocking.” For short-term stays, you'll need strong, fully charged batteries—as well as an inverter or a generator for powering anything that is not 12 volt. For longer-term off-grid stays, solar is more ideal than frequent use of a generator.

How do you setup an RV solar system?

See the wide range of solar setups fellow RVillagers have on their rigs.

Learn more about RV solar

Many helpful responses about ENERGY MANAGEMENT, which is important when running off just batteries! (Solar or no solar.) More tips here.

Related post: The RVillagers Guide to Boondocking.


On-board motorhome generator by Onan

If you're not a full-timer or snowbird, you may not want or need to invest in solar. Motorhomes and some other RVs come equipped with on-board generators, or you can purchase your own portable unit. When purchasing a stand-alone generator, be kind to yourself (and your neighbors) by choosing a quieter model if possible.

On-board units can be fitted with a Gen-Turi extension pipe to divert the exhaust fumes above the roof. (Just don't drive off with it attached!)

Important discussion about transfer switches and generators.

How long will you need to run the generator?

View the discussion on generator use.

Can you run the air conditioner?

Whether using an on-board or portable generator, you'll need to watch the total power consumption, or the A/C may not operate.

Many RVillagers report successful use of the SoftstartRV unit when powering their air conditioner by generator.

Watch Mike Sokol's video describing how the SoftstartRV works.

Learn more about the SoftstartRV and purchase with an RVillage discount.

Annual safety maintenance of RV electrical systems

See more important information here.


Join these groups to learn more, and share your own tips and information!

A little electrical humor...

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.