How many watts generator do I need for my RV? That depends on what you consider a necessity to be able to run at the same time. Look at the load you plan to power via the RV generator at the same time. Pick two to five things that you require to be able to be supported by the generator. Note that starting watts tend to be higher than running watts, so you’ll have to total up both starting watts and running watts for all of these items.
If you don’t know the actual load of your RV appliances, you can use general rules of thumb. The typical RV fridge needs 600 watts to start and 180 watts to run. Slow cookers need 170 to 270 watts both starting and running, while a 650 watt microwave needs 1000 watts from start to finish. A small flat TV needs 120 to 200 watts. Don’t forget the power many smart TVs draw even when officially off so they can come on instantly. Satellite receivers need about 250 watts continually as do laptop computers when powered by the generator. A radiant heater uses around 1300 watts at both startup and when continually running.
Air conditioners are the energy hogs of the average RV. A seven thousand BTU rooftop RV AC needs around 1700 watts to start up and 600 watts to keep it running. A larger ten thousand BTU RV AC needs around 2000 watts to start up and 700 watts to keep running. After you’ve added up the starting watts and running wattage of what you consider the base load, you know how much power your generator needs to provide. Using the examples of a small AC, fridge, TV and microwave, the starting load if you turned them all on at once would be 3420 watts while the running load would be about 2000 watts. And that doesn’t take the load of any light bulbs into account. So if you want to be able to run an air conditioner and a few other basic appliances around the same time, plan on at least a 3000 starting watt generator and 2000 watt running output.
If the generator can support the base load you want to have but not the starting wattage, determine which appliances you need to start first and let run before you run anything else. In most cases, you’ll want to turn on the AC and let it get running before you turn on anything else. Ideally you should pick a generator that lets you turn on everything when you get in the RV, though this is not always an option. However, knowing that you can run the microwave or electric grill along with the air conditioner with the generator you can afford allows you to plan on taking the charcoal grill instead. Picking a smaller TV for the RV or leaving the DVD player at home could reduce demand on the generator, whether you choose to run other appliances like a coffee maker or buy a cheaper, less powerful generator is your decision. Some generators come with an extra 500 watt boost for a few seconds to meet the spike when an energy hog is turned on without killing everything else in the RV.
Let’s use the example of the fully decked out RV with a fridge, electric heater, laptop computer and fan that run continuously in the winter. The computer’s starting load and running load equals 250 watts. The heater uses 1300 watts from the moment you turn it on until you turn it off. The fridge needs 600 watts at startup before dropping down to 180 watts. A small fan uses 120 watts at start up before drawing 40 watts to run. In this case, your RV generator needs a minimum of 2270 watts if you turn on everything at once and then 1770 watts continuous output to run everything. Throw in a few light bulbs, occasional cup of coffee and you’ll need at least 2500 starting watts and 2000 watts of running capacity to run things in the winter.
If you can afford it, you should get a 3500 watt generator. This would let you run a fridge, large TV, DVR and air conditioner continuously while plugging in a smart phone for recharging or laptop without disruptions in service. Or you could switch to a propane powered fridge to take several hundred watts off the generator load and manage with a 3000 watt generator for those who aren’t roughing it while in the RV.