What Size Inverter Do I Need for My RV in 2024?
Would you be surprised to learn that not all of your appliances will run all of the time when you are in your RV? Or, imagine embarking on an RV adventure only to discover that your inverter isn’t the right size for your needs, leaving you powerless in the great outdoors.
To prevent this from happening to you, it’s essential to understand RV inverters and their role in powering your home on wheels. Using an inverter has become pretty standard in RV life and it’s important to choose the right inverter for your power needs.
- Understanding what RV Inverters are and how they work is essential for planning your power system.
- Research your power needs to decide if an inverter is necessary and determine the right size with wattage of all appliances and devices plus a 20% safety margin.
- Consider pure sine vs modified wave, features, battery bank capacity/compatibility when choosing an inverter plus installation tips and maximizing energy efficiency options.
Understanding RV Inverters: Types and Functions
An RV inverter plays a key role in your RV’s electrical system by transforming DC power from batteries or solar panels into alternating current (AC) power, which can be used to run most of your household AC appliances and devices.
In other words, if you plug the appliance into a standard electrical outlet in your home you will need to either be plugged into shore power or have an RV inverter compatible with your battery bank capacity big enough to power the device.
RV inverters come in two types: pure sine wave and modified sine wave inverters, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. We’ll cover each in more detail below.
Essentially a pure sine wave inverter is recommended for the use of sensitive electronics such as laptop computers and cell phones. Whereas a modified sine wave inverter will power electronic devices less sensitive to fluctuations in electricity.
Inverters can range in size, and their primary function is to provide power for your RV’s AC devices such as TVs, laptops and potentially even air conditioners. A small inverter may plug into a cigarette lighter for powering smaller devices. While a larger inverter may be 1000W, 2000W or larger.
The power for an RV inverter can come from the RV’s main house battery, extra batteries or even directly from solar panels. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines or consulting with a professional is imperative for a safe and efficient RV inverter installation.
Difference Between An Inverter and a Converter
Despite both being pivotal in your RV’s electrical system, inverters and converters perform contrasting functions. An RV inverter converts DC power into AC power, allowing you to power your appliances and devices.
On the other hand, an RV converter takes AC power from a power source such as shore power and turns it into DC power charging your RV’s batteries.
Both inverters and converters are common in any RV power system. However, having a proper understanding of what each is and what it does is essential to making the best choice for your RV power needs.
Related: Check out this post to learn more about the differences between an inverter and a converter.
Do You Need An Inverter
Contemplating your RV lifestyle and power needs will help you determine if you need inverter power for your RV. If you plan to live off-grid or use AC-powered appliances and devices frequently, an inverter can be a valuable addition to your electrical system.
Inverters offer several perks, such as utilizing free solar energy, being quieter than generators, and providing a convenient power source. Because appliances that use AC power are so common, RV inverters are become a standard addition to any recreational vehicle or trailer.
However, some newer RVs come with built-in inverters as part of the power system. if your RV’s pre-installed inverter meets your power needs and you mostly stay at campgrounds with shore power then an additional inverter may not be necessary.
To check if your RV has a pre-installed inverter, see if your 120V AC outlets work when you are not plugged into shore power and the generator is off.
Assessing your power requirements and RV lifestyle will help you decide if an inverter is essential for your specific needs.
Determining The Right Size Inverter: How Much Power Do You Need?
An RV inverter size is rated by how much power it produces, in watts. Thus the first step in determining what size RV inverter you need involves listing the wattage of your AC devices and appliances, compiling the total wattage and incorporating a safety margin.
This process will help you make an informed decision about the size of the inverter you need.
Listing Wattage of Appliances
The first step in determining the right size inverter is to list the wattage of all appliances and devices you plan to use in your RV. You can find the wattage on the label or in the user manual of each appliance.
If you don’t know the wattage, use the highest wattage rating listed on the label or in the user manual. You can also look up common appliance wattage ranges online.
Keep in mind that some appliances have different wattages when starting up or running. For example, a microwave or coffee pot may have a higher wattage during startup and a lower wattage while running.
Be sure to include both startup and running wattages when listing your appliance wattages, especially if you want to run multiple devices simultaneously.
Also, keep in mind that you will need a suitable inverter for any high-power devices that you plan to run. Thus if you plan to use a device that requires 2000W of power you will need 2000 watt inverter or larger (see below about surge wattage).
Summing Up the Total Wattage
Once you’ve listed the wattage of each appliance and device, calculate the total wattage by adding up the wattage of each item. Remember to account for both the running watts and surge wattage requirements, as some appliances have a significant surge when they first start up.
Power = Current (in amps) x Voltage (in volts)
Be sure to use the highest wattage rating listed on the label or in the user manual if you’re unsure of the actual wattage.
Adding a Safety Margin
Once the total wattage is calculated, it is advisable to include a safety margin to cater to power surges and future electrical needs. A 20% safety margin is recommended.
By adding a safety margin, you ensure the inverter can handle unexpected power demands and protect your RV’s electrical system from potential damage.
Keep in mind that using a larger inverter than necessary can lead to inefficiencies and faster battery drain. Conversely, a smaller inverter may not provide sufficient power for your appliances and devices, causing issues during your RV adventures.
Choosing the Right Inverter for Your RV
Having established your power needs and incorporated a safety margin, the next step is selecting the best inverter for your recreational vehicle or trailer. This involves comparing pure sine wave and modified sine wave inverters, as well as considering additional features that may be beneficial for your specific needs.
Pure Sine Wave vs. Modified Sine Wave Inverters
Pure sine wave and modified sine wave inverters are two types of RV inverters. Both offer different advantages and drawbacks depending on the needs of the user. Pure sine wave inverters produce a smooth and consistent power output, ideal for sensitive electronics.
On the other hand, square wave inverter, a type of modified square wave inverters, offers a less consistent output at a lower cost. Understanding these differences will help you make an informed decision when selecting the right inverter for your RV:
- Produce a smooth and consistent power output
- Ideal for sensitive electronics like laptops and smartphones
- Generally more expensive
- Offer better performance
- Can run almost any electronic device
On the other hand, modified sine wave inverters provide a less consistent output at a lower cost, which might affect the AC voltage quality. They are suitable for most basic AC electrical devices, such as lights and charging.
However, a modified sine wave inverter may have trouble running larger appliances and could potentially damage sensitive electronics or produce a humming sound.
Weigh the pros and cons of each type of inverter to determine which one best fits your RV’s power requirements and budget.
Considering Inverter Features
In addition to selecting between the type of inverter, consider additional features that may be beneficial for your RV.
Some inverters offer surge protection, which helps protect your electrical system from sudden increases in surge power. Another useful feature is the automatic shutdown, which shuts off the inverter when it detects an overload, protecting your RV’s electrical system.
USB ports are also a handy feature, allowing you to charge your devices directly from the inverter without needing additional adapters. And higher quality inverters come with ground fault alerts to prevent damage to your batteries and devices.
By considering these additional features, you can choose the right inverter that not only meets your power needs but also provides added convenience and safety.
Battery Bank Capacity and Compatibility
Ensuring compatibility between your inverter and battery bank capacity is crucial to prevent power issues during your RV adventures. Here are some steps to follow:
- Determine the wattage of your inverter.
- Check the total battery capacity of your battery bank.
- Make sure the capacity of your battery bank is compatible with the wattage of your inverter.
In other words, it is possible to have a battery bank that is too small to power larger inverter. Even though the inverter may be able to handle the power requirement of the intended devices, it does not mean that the battery bank is large enough to support the inverter.
For example, a 100 Ah battery in a 12V system will not have enough capacity to handle a 2000W inverter attempting to power devices that require 100 amps of current.
By following these steps, you can ensure that your inverter and battery bank are compatible and will provide enough battery power for your RV needs.
Installing an RV Inverter
Adhering to the manufacturer’s guidelines or seeking advice from a professional can make the process of installing an RV inverter straightforward. The exact wiring diagram for an inverter will vary depending upon your electrical system.
However, the most basic installation will include the following:
- Determine where to install the inverter, ensuring it is in a dry, safe, accessible location for maintenance and monitoring and preferably in a well ventilated space.
- Ensure that you have the proper tools for cutting and crimping wires as necessary and be sure that you have the correctly sized wire gauge for connecting your inverter to your RV power system.
- Connect the positive terminal of the inverter to the positive buss of your distribution center or buss bar. It is preferable to use a red wire.
- Connect the negative terminal of the inverter to the negative buss of your distribution center or bus bar. It is preferable to use a black wire.
- If your inverter has a ground wire, be sure to connect this wire to the ground in the distribution center or otherwise ground it to the vehicle chassis.
- Double-check the connections to ensure that all cables are secure.
Once the installation is complete, test the inverter to ensure it is working properly and providing power to your appliances and devices.
Many RV inverter models will offer a remote control option for turning the inverter on and off. This makes it convenient to mount the remote control switch where it is accessible and thus you can install the inverter in a location where you do not need to readily access it.
Multiple Inverters: Benefits and Drawbacks
Some larger RVs and trailers have larger electrical systems that may lend themselves to requiring more than one inverter. The utilization of more than one inverter in your RV can result in benefits like:
- Enhanced power capacity, facilitating more efficient power supply to specific items
- Using a smaller inverter dedicated to a residential fridge, which may be more efficient than running a larger inverter
- Linking inverters together to increase capacity or provide higher voltage outputs, such as 240V.
However, there are drawbacks to using multiple inverters, including faster battery drain and requiring a substantially larger battery bank.
Do Inverters Power the Entire RV
Certain inverters are capable of providing inverter power to an entire RV, dependent of course upon the size of the power source (battery bank). However, it may not be necessary to have a power inverter that powers the entire RV, as you can wire it to handle specific power draws or connect it to a subpanel.
When connecting your inverter to a subpanel, ensure it can handle powering the devices you plan to plug into the subpanel. This approach can provide a more efficient and tailored power solution for your RV, allowing you to power specific appliances and devices without needing a larger inverter.
For example, you can wire your inverter using a secondary transfer switch such that the inverter is capable of powering only select AC power outlets, such as those that power specific appliances like microwaves and refrigerators.
Choosing the right size inverter for your RV is crucial for a successful and enjoyable RV experience. By understanding the types and functions of inverters, comparing the types of inverters, and considering additional features, you can select the ideal inverter for your RV.
Don’t forget to assess your power needs, ensure compatibility with your battery bank, and maximize energy efficiency with solar panels and generators. With the right inverter in place, you can power your adventures and enjoy the freedom of the open road.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I calculate what size inverter I need?
To calculate the size of the inverter you need, simply add up the largest number of watts you'll use at one time and add 20%. For example, if you're using 1,500 watts simultaneously, add 1,500 + 300 (20% of 1,500) to get 1,800 watts.
This applies both to high-powered single appliances you may run by themselves - such as microwaves and coffee pots - as well as to the cumulative sum of devices you may power simultaneously - such as multiple cell phones, computers, television, etc.
What can a 2000 watt inverter run?
With a 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter, you can run most larger appliances such as microwaves, coffee makers, refrigerators, toasters, computers, TVs, stereos, and ceiling fans.
Note that you must have an adequately sized battery bank in order to have an adequate power source for the RV inverter to power most appliances.
How big of an inverter do I need to run AC?
The answer to this question depends on the power requirements of your AC and how many AC units you may have. For example, most RV air conditioners require around 3,500 watts of power (including surge requirements at starting). Thus a 4,000 watt RV inverter could potentially power an AC unit of this size, assuming you had a large enough battery bank to provide the required power needs.
What can you run off a 1000W inverter?
With a 1000W inverter, you can run most laptops, televisions, blenders, power tools and phone or camera chargers - making it perfect for most simple setups. We don’t recommend anything less than a 1000W inverter and, in fact, recommend larger inverters if you plan to spend any amount of time off grid and/or you plan to work on the road.