How to Choose a Portable Generator for Your RV

by Contributor

RVs need a reliable source of power for times when you're camped away from a power supply. Portable generators provide an economical and effective solution to your electric power needs, on the road or at the campsite. There are several factors to consider when choosing a generator to best fit your needs.


Determine the size of the generator for your RV by knowing how much power you will use. This will narrow down the choices you have when selecting a portable generator.


Survey your RV for appliances that run on 120 volts. The TV, microwave and other kitchen appliances generally require the most power, but smaller appliances can add up. Most RV lights are 12 volt but some may be 120 volt. Your RV air conditioner is the biggest power user.


Next, add up the power requirements, in watts, for all the devices that you are likely to operate at the same time. Wattage ratings are printed on light bulbs; other devices like hair dryers and electric heaters are also described by their wattage requirements. If the device doesn't provide a wattage requirement, you can determine watts by multiplying volts times amps. Be aware that some electrical devices have starting wattage requirements that are larger than the running watts, like the air conditioner or electric refrigerator. If so, use the starting wattage requirement for the largest of the devices you want to run and the running watts for all other devices. The total is the minimum wattage you will need from a generator.


There are two types of portable generators: contractor and RV. Contractor generators are generally inexpensive, but very noisy, and not suitable for an otherwise quiet campground. RV generators are purpose-built, providing quiet, reliable power that your camping neighbors will thank you for. They are expensive but are well worth it in the long run.


There are a wide range of portable RV-type generators, with each manufacturer having a wide range of noise levels. Honda, Yamaha, and Kipor all make super-quiet portable generators. Match your power requirements with the model that has the lowest decibel noise rating.


Starting options for portable generators are either pull start, like your lawn mower, or electric start using a key. Generally speaking, electric start generators are available in the 3000-watt range and higher. If you have a bad back or just want the convenience, shop for one with electric start. There is even a wireless remote option that can be retrofitted to most electric-start generators. It's costly but can be very convenient if you don't want to go outside to turn the generator on or off.


Consider how long you will run your generator. Some portable generators have small fuel tanks -- less than 1 gallon -- while others have much larger ones, up to 5 gallons. Generally speaking, the larger the power output from the generator, the larger the fuel tank capacity. There are options though to add additional fuel capacity. Check the rated running time.


Think about how you will transport your generator. Larger generators weigh up to 175 lbs. with fuel. You can transport it in the back of your truck, so be ensure to get the optional wheel kit for the generator and use ramps to make it easier to roll the generator in to the back of the truck. You can have a platform built on the back of your RV to carry the generator. Never transport your generator in the back of your SUV. Gas fumes are explosive and in the event of a fender bender, you don't want a 175 lb. chunk of metal flying into the passenger area.

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