RV Utilities: Electricity / Generators
RVillage members discuss generators for RVs, and share their tips.
Safety disclaimer: Please be very careful when working with electricity. It is recommended to hire trained professionals when needed.
Go solar or use a generator? (Maybe both?)
Can't decide which route to go? See a range of ideas here. If you're not a full-timer or snowbird, you may not want or need to invest in solar to supplement your electrical needs. Most motorhomes and many towables come equipped with on-board generators, or you can purchase your own portable unit. When purchasing a portable generator, be kind to yourself (and your neighbors) by choosing a quieter model, and limit how long you run it.
What do you use them for?
Generators are used to charge the "house" battery bank, to supply AC power to the outlets, and for running the large appliances: the air conditioner(s), the microwave/convection oven, and the refrigerator (residential, or 3-way in "auto" mode).
If you are 50amp unit and you are dry camping using the generator, you will only be able to run one AC (if you have two) unless you have the SoftStart device (see below). Trying to run too many appliances (especially a hair-dryer) may trip a breaker or a GCFI switch.
Running air conditioners on generator power
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.
Can you use electric blankets while running a generator?
Gas-powered rigs with generators will usually draw from your main gas tank, so be sure you have a full tank of gas if you're going to be parked without hookups for a length of time. The good news is the system is designed to shut down when your main gas tank reaches 1/4 full—to keep you from becoming stranded!
Exercise it monthly
These units must be exercised monthly to prevent old gasoline from gumming up the carburetor, and to exercise the electrical system under a "full load." After starting the generator, turn on the air conditioner (or do some baking in the convection oven), and let everything run for a couple of hours. Before turning off the generator, power off the appliances first, so that you are not starting it under full load next time you turn it on.
Make sure it has enough (but not too much) oil, and change the oil and filter annually, or sooner if it looks dirty. Not taking care of this unit can result in very costly repairs, and it can sometimes be challenging to locate certified/trained Cummings-Onan repair professionals. Major repairs are not DIY.
Divert the exhaust with an extension pipe
On-board units can be fitted with an inexpensive and easily-installed Gen-Turi extension pipe to divert the exhaust above the roof, so fumes don't accumulate underneath your rig and seep inside. (Just don't drive off with it attached!)
Diesel-powered motorhomes (and bus conversions) typically have diesel generators, sharing the same fuel tank. Where do you find service or parts for these units? Here's a link to a Genarac manual, and a long discussion thread on trouble-shooting tips for when it won't stay running.
Some RVs have on-board propane generators installed.
See some possible solutions for this issue.
Are there safety concerns with running a propane generator located under a bed?
Related post: RV Utilities: Propane
Running the generator while driving a motorhome
Can you run the on-board generator while driving down the road?
RVillagers say yes, and explain why you would want to.
Possible issues with on-board generators
Note that with some RVs, the shore cable has to be plugged into the generator itself when it not on shore power.
What about oil leaks? Maybe it's just the oil plug—which can be prevented by changing with each oil change.
Remember to turn off the generator (and air conditioner) before plugging into the pedestal!
This is what happens when you don't.
RVillagers offer a range of trouble-shooting advice for various potential generator issues.
Fire hazard: The generator exhaust pipe must be kept away from dry grass!
Which brand and size to get? Note: sensitive electronics will run better with an "inverter/generator."
RVillagers report: having a SoftStartAC device on your air conditioner allows you to run a smaller generator. (RVillage members get a discount!)
from Ramona Cox a/k/a "SkyChick," Honda ambassador.
Fuel consumption & noise:
Choose a model with Eco-Throttle, which will save you money on fuel consumption, and also run quieter. This technology allows the generator to automatically adjust the engine speed to produce only the power needed for the current load.
Use fresh fuel:
Untreated fuel will last approximately 6 months. Using a fuel additive can increase the lifespan up to one year. If the fuel is older than that, empty it and replace it before use. It is best to run the generator once a month to burn off moisture, lubricate the engine and charge the battery.
The importance of oil:
Regularly check the oil level. When adding oil, ONLY add to the full mark, do not overfill. Always use the manufacturer's recommended oil.
Keep your generator a minimum of 10 feet away from your RV. Several Honda models are available with CO-Minder technology which automatically shuts off the unit if dangerous levels are reached. Also, Keep your generator a few inches off the ground to help maintain adequate airflow and keep the unit from becoming too hot and shutting down.
Honda recalls: If buying Honda, be sure to watch the Honda website for recalls.
Solar generators/power banks
See helpful explanations about these units.
What's the best way to transport a generator?
"Quiet box" or "hush box"
If you don't have a quiet model and want happier neighbors (and yourself), you can build a "quiet box" to lower the noise level of your generator. Learn more in this discussion thread.
How long do you need to run a generator?
Related post: The RVillagers Guide to Boondocking
RV owners who run their generators all day or all night, may either have really old worn-down batteries that should be replaced, or don't understand how batteries are charged (or how to monitor charge levels). Learn more in this related post: RV Batteries & Charging.
So many helpful groups to join, learn, and share your knowledge and experience with others:
- Why Didn't I Think of That? Tips and Tricks
- Handy RV Tools and tips
- RV Repair Club
- RV Education 101
- Boondocking with generator
↪ 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.
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