How Big of a Generator is Needed to Power an RV

The devices you want to power with your generator will determine how big of a generator you will need.

The devices you want to power with your generator will determine how big of a generator you will need.

When you find yourself in a campground with no power supply – or taking your RV off the beaten path, having a generator along can be not only a luxury but a welcome necessity if you have slide outs or self-leveling jacks that require heavy duty draws of your batteries.   If you RV doesn’t have a built-in generator, then the next best route is to use a portable unit.    The most common question though is how much power do you need to fit your power requirements.

The first step would be to survey the appliances that run 120 volts on your RV – both installed and the ones you will add such as phone chargers etc.   Appliances that require the most power would be the cooking amenities such as the microwave and ovens or anything with a heating element.   Don’t forget small appliances such as chargers because they would also add up.    And most of all, your RV air conditioner is the appliance that requires the most power from your generator

The next critical step is adding the power requirement of all your equipment in watts. The wattage specifications your equipment are usually printed on the device itself. If the watt is not specified on your devices, multiply the voltage and the ampere of your devices to get the power in watts. Be carefully in adding these as one incorrect multiplication can undersize or oversize your generator.

It should be noted that some air conditioners and motors are rated in horsepower and not watts. To convert the horsepower unit to watt, multiple it to 746 then add the product to all the wattage requirements of your devices.

In general, most users are advised to purchase a 3000-watt RV generator or a much higher rating depending on your power needs.

DeviceApproximate Continual Power UseStart Up LoadLoad Amps
13500 BTU RV Air Conditioner1500 watts3500 watts15 Amps
1000 watt Microwave1600 watts3000 watts15 Amps
Toaster800 watts800 watts6 Amps
Clock Radio50 watts50 watts1 Amps
30″ LCD Television125 watts125 watts1.65 Amps

There are two types of generators being sold in the market which are the contractor and the RV. The first type which is a traditional generator which is generally less to purchase – but is also louder when operated in a closed environment like a campsite or an RV – and many campgrounds today have noise bylaws / rules on how loud and when you can run a generator.

The other option is what is called an inverter generator  –  which are quiet and economical in the long run but are more expensive to purchase.
Most generators can be started by a pull cord that is similar to your lawn mower or an electrical starting mechanism which is operated by a key or push button. If you have a very bad back, it is advisable to purchase an electrical start. It might be more expensive but health wise, it is a better choice. Another option is a wireless remote which can turn on the generator remotely if you don’t want to go outside of your RV.

It is also important to consider the sizing of your generator because some portable generators have smaller tanks which have capacity of around 1-gallon. It is important to check the running time of your generator before purchasing one.

What Size of Generator Do you Need ?

We recommend for a standard size RV a minimum of 2000 watts if you are NOT planning on powering your air conditioner.   A 2000 watt generator will power all your devices including your microwave with out much trouble and are still small enough to move around with one person.   A unit such as the the Yamaha EF2000is ( click here to see our video review of this unit ) will set you back about $1000, but it is likely the best model of its kind for the value and reliability it provides.   ( not to mention nearly half the price of a comparable Honda Unit )

If you have a larger RV and are planning on traveling / living in hotter climates which will require you to run your AC unit – then you will need to go to a minimum 3000-watt unit.    You can’t beat the Honda HONDA EU3000iS Inverter Generator but at $3000 it will set you back a fair amount. Comparable models include Champion and Yamaha and Amazon.com offers a wide selection as well as reviews on the various models available.

View Amazon’s full selection of quiet generators

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