Can You Run an RV off a Generator

Thanks to the ever-evolving technology, RVs are starting to feel more like our second homes. You can watch TV, cook dinner in a microwave, sleep under a rooftop AC, and start your day with a refreshing cup of coffee.

Ideally, all these appliances run the smoothest on shore power. However, if you want to explore untapped sites, you should free yourself from the confines of shore power in traditional campsites. In this case, your best bet would be a generator.

Can you run an RV off a generator, you might ask? The answer is yes, with some limitations. Let’s find out!

Let’s Revise Some Electrical Terms First

Luckily, camping doesn’t need an expert. You can have the best time by only following basic tutorials. However, I always encourage reading about technical information. This will come in handy if you ever encounter a problem that needs thorough troubleshooting. If you already know your way around your RV’s systems, feel free to skip this section.

Amps, Volts, and Watts

The flow of the electrical current in a wire is measured with amperes, or amps (A). This is the main parameter that determines how many appliances you can run. You’ve probably heard it before if you’ve come across 30-amp and 50-amp campsites.

The second parameter is the voltage, or volts (V). This determines the force that drives the current in your wire. Inside your RV, you have two electrical systems with different voltages: 120 and 12 volts, but more on that later.

For any electrical appliance to run, it needs to receive a certain amount of amps driven by a specific voltage. Instead of worrying about 2 numbers, you can depend on the wattage, or watts (W). If you’re curious, W = A x V.

Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC)

Like I said earlier, your RV has two electrical systems.

The first one runs on a 110V AC line. This is the power you drive from the wall outlets to power a TV, coffee maker, toaster, or any other “luxuries.”

The second one operates via a 12V DC line. This power is solely derived from your RV’s house batteries. It powers the necessary stuff that you can’t live without, like the water pump, propane fridge, lights, and your RV’s safety warning devices.

So, Can You Run an RV off a Generator?

Technically speaking, yes. You can use your built-in generator to power your RV’s electrical systems. You can also connect a portable generator to your RV’s receptacle to act like shore power.

But while shore power is usually unlimited, generators are capable of supplying a limited amount of electricity. In other words, if you picked the wrong generator, it may not be able to run your RV appliances the way it should.

How to Select the Right Generator?

Before purchasing your generator, you must calculate how much power your RV consumes. For accurate results, I recommend inspecting the actual wattage rates of your appliances. For now, we can settle for the following average rates:

  • Air conditioner: 1,400 – 2,400 watts
  • Non-propane refrigerator: 400 – 1,000 watts
  • TV: 200-600 watts
  • Laptop: 250 watts
  • Coffee maker: 900 watts
  • Toaster: 1,150 watts
  • Hairdryer: 1,000 watts
  • Microwave: 1,000 watts

Let’s say you want to relax in front of your TV while chilling under your AC unit. Meanwhile, your significant other is charging the laptop while making coffee. And surely, the refrigerator is running continuously in the background. All in all, you’ll be using between 3000 and 5200 watts.

In that case, you ought to buy a generator supplying at least 6000 watts. If you decide to opt for a more affordable 4000W model, you may have to sacrifice some of your luxuries to use more important stuff.

Keep the Starting Power in Mind

It’s important to understand that some devices can use wattage higher than their average rate. As a rule of thumb, appliances that depend on compressors can utilize double or triple their usual wattage.

An air conditioner is probably the most prominent example. Since it uses a compressor to generate that heavenly cool air, it can use between 3,000 and 7,000 watts to start.

Typically, most generators can exceed their limits to supply an additional amount of power for those devices. The “starting watts” is the value that denotes this ability, while the “running watts” relates to the general power output.

Can You Run an RV Generator While Driving?

If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably want to keep the laptop and TV running while driving to keep them entertained. But would that be safe? Well, it depends.

If you have a portable generator, I highly advise against running it on the road. Since it emits toxic carbon monoxide, you may expose yourself and your family to the risk of serious poisoning.

Built-in generators, on the other hand, can run whenever you want. The exhaust system of these models is fully directed outwards with little to no toxic potential.

Can You Run an RV Generator While Sleeping?

Running any combustion engine unattended by a responsible person isn’t a good idea. If the slightest power overload occurs, it can quickly escalate into a serious situation.

If we assume you figured out a safety hack, it still wouldn’t be a convenient idea if you’re staying in a communal campsite. Gas generators are generally noisy, which would be unfair for other campers.

Final Thoughts

Can you run an RV off a generator? Yes. If you correctly calculate the voltage, a generator will let you enjoy all your electrical devices when shore power isn’t available. This is particularly useful for folks who prefer dry camping or boondocking.

Before buying your generator, make sure it’s equipped with an overload safety system. Without getting into technical details, such models have components that will instantly shut off the circuit if the power demand increased beyond limits. Otherwise, the generator will overheat, which may lead to an unfortunate fire hazard.

Stay safe!