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What Will an RV Battery Run? – A Guide To Powering Your RV

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Last Updated on June 9, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine

Are you trying to figure out the answer to, “What will an RV battery run?”

When you live in a traditional house, it can be easy to take the detailed and complicated systems that power your home for granted. You flip a switch, the lights come on. You press power on the remote, and the TV flickers to life. Most of the time we don’t put much thought into the electrical systems in our home until there is a problem. RVs are different. As an RV owner, it’s your job to be aware of the safest and most effective ways to power your RV. This guide will help you understand what runs on electricity, what runs on battery power, and how to ensure all systems are running smoothly. 

Shore Power

When you pull into a camping spot and plug your rug into the electrical box, you are using shore power. Typically, RV parks and campgrounds offer 20, 30, or 50 amp outputs. Big rigs with two ACs and multiple slides usually need 50 amp hookups, while smaller rigs and pop-ups can be powered with 20 or 30 amps. One of the first things you’ll do when you pull into a spot (after you chock the wheels of course) is connect the rig to shore power. Inside, you’ll immediately hear your RV come to life, as the shore power is responsible for running the AC and sending electricity through the outlets so you can play music, run fans, and charge your devices. 

Electrical Adaptors

Many RVers carry adapters with them to ensure they always have the electrical power that they need. If your rig requires 30 amp but you pull into a spot with 50 amp, a 30 to 50 amp adapter will allow you to plug in and get the power you need. It also works in reverse. 50 to 30 amp adapters work the same way. These handy tools will ensure you can camp almost anywhere and aren’t limited to spaces that only have 30 or 50 amp outlets. 

Learning Your Rig’s Electrical Balance

One thing new RVers learn really quickly is the delicate balance of how much power can be used at the same time. Some appliances in your rig take more power than others, which means running these along with other things could cause a shortage in the system. Kitchen appliances like microwaves, coffee makers, and toasters take a lot of power, and you’ll learn through trial and error that you can’t make coffee and toast at the same time. 

Safety and Shore Power

Whenever you’re working with electricity, safety is of the utmost importance. Some things you can do to make sure you’re safe when you’re setting up to shore power include:

  1. Make sure the electrical pedestal is switched off before you plug anything n
  2. Use a voltmeter to check for proper electrical wiring 
  3. Purchase and use a surge protector. 

Battery Power

Not all of your RV systems and appliances have to have shore power to run. Some things like the lights, water pump, and small appliances can run on battery power. When your battery is charged, it can also be used to open and close the slides. The RV batteries are charged when you’re connected to shore power, generator, solar power, or a vehicle engine. 

If you’re boondocking, you may rely on your battery to power different things in your rig. Older RVs typically have a 12v light bulb, which doesn’t produce a lot of light but does require a lot of power. If you’re not careful, leaving lights on can drain your battery very quickly. 

Another thing that can be run by the battery is the water pump. This is also useful when you’re boondocking and not connected to a water source. The good news is that the water pump only uses power when it’s running, and even then it doesn’t take very much power. 

Your bathroom fans and the light and fan above the stove also run on battery power, but only require about 20 watts an hour to run. While this may not seem like a lot, leaving these things on can also drain your battery. 

Prolonging RV Battery Life

The best defense against a dead battery is to be proactive. There are a few ways you can prolong the life of your battery. 

  1. Be aware of devices and appliances that cause a parasitic drain. This happens when you have something plugged in (like a laptop or phone) when you aren’t using it. Some devices will slowly drain your battery even if they’re off and not being used, simply because they’re plugged in. Unplug it. 
  2. Run your fridge on propane whenever possible
  3. Consider investing in a portable fridge that runs off of its own battery instead of the RV battery
  4. Remember that when a lithium battery is exposed to extreme cold for a long time, it will start to drain. Avoid keeping your RV (and in turn the battery) in really cold places for long periods of time. 
  5. Keep in mind that batteries that sit unused for a long time will also begin to drain. 

Generators

To live comfortably without shore power, many RVers rely on generators. A generator runs like portable shore power, allowing you to plug your rig into it and power the bigger appliances in the rig. A traditional generator runs on gas, but there are also solar generators. 

Generators work in watts rather than amps. A small RV will work fine with a 1000-watt generator, while a 3500-watt generator can power large RVs and multiple systems at a time. Because generators use gas, they emit carbon dioxide. This is why it is critical that a generator is never run indoors or outside an open window. Another thing to remember is that generators can be noisy, and many campgrounds and RV parks have rules about running them during quiet hours. It’s also considered bad RV etiquette to run a loud generator all night when you’re surrounded by other campers. 

Solar

The sun is a reliable and free source of energy, and the RV industry has learned how to harness that energy for a greener lifestyle. While solar panels can be expensive up front, there are ways to use solar to help power your RV systems and appliances. RV solar panels are typically mounted on the roof of the RV where they’ll have the most exposure to sunlight.

According to EarlySage.com, “Most solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power, and an RV needs about 120 watts of energy on average. This means that an RV will need three 400, ten 200 solar panels, or any other combination of power outputs to meet its typical energy demand of 120 watts” 

Going solar makes the most sense for RVers who spend most of their time boondocking or off the grid. If you spend most of your time at campgrounds that have electrical hookups, it usually makes more financial sense to pay the campground fees vs. investing in solar. 

Propane

Just when you thought you understood all of your RV powering options, there’s propane. Propane can be used to power things like ​​Heaters, water heaters, and refrigerators. These appliances can switch back and forth between running on propane and running on electricity. 

The RV rule of thumb when it comes to electricity vs. propane is this: 

When you’re connected to shore power, use the electricity to run these things and save the propane for the things that ONLY run on propane (like the stove and the oven.) When you’re boondocking, use the propane option.

You can also use propane to heat your rig, but when it’s really cold this can deplete your propane supply quickly. Many RVers opt for electric space heaters to warm their rigs instead of using propane. 

RV Battery Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about RV batteries with these frequently asked questions.

How long do RV batteries last?

A well-maintained RV battery can last six years or even more.

Are all RV batteries the same?

No. Do your research before upgrading your RV batteries because they are not all created equal.

How long does it take to charge an RV battery?

Expect to spend a minimum of ten hours charging your RV battery.

The Bottom Line 

When you live in a traditional house, it can be easy to take the detailed and complicated systems that power your home for granted. You flip a switch, the lights come on. You press power on the remote, and the TV flickers to life. Most of the time we don’t put much thought into the electrical systems in our home until there is a problem. RVs are different. As an RV owner, it’s your job to be aware of the safest and most effective ways to power your RV. This guide will help you understand what runs on electricity, what runs on battery power, and how to ensure all systems are running smoothly. 

Shore Power

When you pull into a camping spot and plug your rug into the electrical box, you are using shore power. Typically, RV parks and campgrounds offer 20, 30, or 50 amp outputs. Big rigs with two ACs and multiple slides usually need 50 amp hookups, while smaller rigs and pop-ups can be powered with 20 or 30 amps. One of the first things you’ll do when you pull into a spot (after you chock the wheels of course) is connect the rig to shore power. Inside, you’ll immediately hear your RV come to life, as the shore power is responsible for running the AC and sending electricity through the outlets so you can play music, run fans, and charge your devices. 

Electrical Adaptors

Many RVers carry adapters with them to ensure they always have the electrical power that they need. If your rig requires 30 amp but you pull into a spot with 50 amp, a 30 to 50 amp adapter will allow you to plug in and get the power you need. It also works in reverse. 50 to 30 amp adapters work the same way. These handy tools will ensure you can camp almost anywhere and aren’t limited to spaces that only have 30 or 50 amp outlets. 

Learning Your Rig’s Electrical Balance

One thing new RVers learn really quickly is the delicate balance of how much power can be used at the same time. Some appliances in your rig take more power than others, which means running these along with other things could cause a shortage in the system. Kitchen appliances like microwaves, coffee makers, and toasters take a lot of power, and you’ll learn through trial and error that you can’t make coffee and toast at the same time. 

Safety and Shore Power

Whenever you’re working with electricity, safety is of the utmost importance. Some things you can do to make sure you’re safe when you’re setting up to shore power include:

  1. Make sure the electrical pedestal is switched off before you plug anything n
  2. Use a voltmeter to check for proper electrical wiring 
  3. Purchase and use a surge protector. 

Battery Power

Not all of your RV systems and appliances run on electricity. Some things like the lights, water pump, and small appliances can run on battery power. When your battery is charged, it can also be used to open and close the slides. The RV batteries are charged when you’re connected to shore power, generator, solar power, or a vehicle engine. 

If you’re boondocking, you may rely on your battery to power different things in your rig. Older RVs typically have a 12v light bulb, which doesn’t produce a lot of light but does require a lot of power. If you’re not careful, leaving lights on can drain your battery very quickly. 

Another thing that can be run by the battery is the water pump. This is also useful when you’re boondocking and not connected to a water source. The good news is that the water pump only uses power when it’s running, and even then it doesn’t take very much power. 

Your bathroom fans and the light and fan above the stove also run on battery power, but only require about 20 watts an hour to run. While this may not seem like a lot, leaving these things on can also drain your battery. 

Prolonging RV Battery Life

The best defense against a dead battery is to be proactive. There are a few ways you can prolong the life of your battery. 

  1. Be aware of devices and appliances that cause a parasitic drain. This happens when you have something plugged in (like a laptop or phone) when you aren’t using it. Some devices will slowly drain your battery even if they’re off and not being used, simply because they’re plugged in. Unplug it. 
  2. Run your fridge on propane whenever possible
  3. Consider investing in a portable fridge that runs off of its own battery instead of the RV battery
  4. Remember that when a lithium battery is exposed to extreme cold for a long time, it will start to drain. Avoid keeping your RV (and in turn the battery) in really cold places for long periods of time. 
  5. Keep in mind that batteries that sit unused for a long time will also begin to drain. 

Generators

To live comfortably without shore power, many RVers rely on generators. A generator runs like portable shore power, allowing you to plug your rig into it and power the bigger appliances in the rig. A traditional generator runs on gas, but there are also solar generators. 

Generators work in watts rather than amps. A small RV will work fine with a 1000-watt generator, while a 3500-watt generator can power large RVs and multiple systems at a time. Because generators use gas, they emit carbon dioxide. This is why it is critical that a generator is never run indoors or outside an open window. Another thing to remember is that generators can be noisy, and many campgrounds and RV parks have rules about running them during quiet hours. It’s also considered bad RV etiquette to run a loud generator all night when you’re surrounded by other campers. 

Solar

The sun is a reliable and free source of energy, and the RV industry has learned how to harness that energy for a greener lifestyle. While solar panels can be expensive up front, there are ways to use solar to help power your RV systems and appliances. RV solar panels are typically mounted on the roof of the RV where they’ll have the most exposure to sunlight.

According to EarlySage.com, “Most solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power, and an RV needs about 120 watts of energy on average. This means that an RV will need three 400, ten 200 solar panels, or any other combination of power outputs to meet its typical energy demand of 120 watts” 

Going solar makes the most sense for RVers who spend most of their time boondocking or off the grid. If you spend most of your time at campgrounds that have electrical hookups, it usually makes more financial sense to pay the campground fees vs. investing in solar. 

Propane

Just when you thought you understood all of your RV powering options, there’s propane. Propane can be used to power things like ​​Heaters, water heaters, and refrigerators. These appliances can switch back and forth between running on propane and running on electricity. 

The RV rule of thumb when it comes to electricity vs. propane is this: 

When you’re connected to shore power, use the electricity to run these things and save the propane for the things that ONLY run on propane (like the stove and the oven.) When you’re boondocking, use the propane option.

You can also use propane to heat your rig, but when it’s really cold this can deplete your propane supply quickly. Many RVers opt for electric space heaters to warm their rigs instead of using propane. 

What Will an RV Battery Run? – The Bottom Line 

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to powering your RV, and a lot of that learning comes through trial and error. Whether you’re new to RVing or buying a new rig, it’s important to know and understand the systems of your RV and how they work together.  

Electricity, batteries, generators, adapters, and propane will all work together to keep your rig up and running, and the more you know about what powers what, the more effective you’ll be in diagnosing and fixing the most common RV issues.

Before you head off, make sure to check out these other RV articles.

How Do RV Dump Stations Work?

Can You Wash an RV with Dawn?

When Is the Best Time to Sell an RV?

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