Inverter on an RV – What Is It and How to Use It

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Enough power supply is the first thing that comes to mind when camping in an RV. Let’s face it, nobody wants to get disconnected these days, and you need electricity to power your devices, so what’s the solution? An RV inverter may be all you need, but what is it, and how can you use it?

An RV inverter is an electrical module that converts incoming DC from your vehicle’s battery into usable AC. You just put a portable inverter into a 12V socket, turn it on, and plug in whatever device you need to power with 120V AC. However, remember that you cannot use them to run heavy appliances simply because those inverters do not have enough capacity. 

Some RVers only need an inverter for their television or laptop, while others use an inverter to power larger equipment like microwaves and coffee makers.

Read on to learn more about an RV inverter and its proper use.

What Is an RV Inverter?

rv inverter

It is an electrical module that converts incoming DC from the battery into usable AC. This inverted AC can power your RV’s household appliances and other electrical items.

Inverters allow you to camp off-grid while still having access to appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, and televisions.

An inverter can also convert incoming DC currents from a solar panel on an RV into usable AC. This strengthens the whole electrical grid and lessens the drain on the battery bank of the RV. 

How Does an RV Inverter Work?

Requires a 12V Battery

Even though the purpose of an inverter on an RV is to let you live off the grid, you will still need to power the inverter itself, and that power comes from batteries.

You will need a 12-volt battery for a typical inverter in a motorhome, providing enough energy to supply 120 vacuums of power to the outlets.

Theoretically, an inverter might provide enough electricity to run every electronic appliance in your RV. Sadly, you quickly learn that your inverter can only supply as much power as you give it.

The energy from your battery will increase by ten as it passes through the inverter. This means that devices that consume a lot of electricity, such as air conditioners and hair appliances, would rapidly deplete the battery.

Inverter Gets Electricity from the Battery

In simple terms, the inverter gets electricity from the battery, which has a fixed amount of power. You will need ten times as much energy as you have in your battery when you transfer the energy to the appliance you are trying to use in your RV.

90 to 95% Average Electrical Turnover Rate

An inverter in a motorhome usually has an average electrical turnover rate of 90 to 95%.

You can see why it would not be a good idea to run power-heavy equipment on an inverter, given that motorhome batteries only carry roughly 60 amperes for an hour unless you want to swap your batteries around every hour or something.

Inverter vs. Converter

Many people are unable to distinguish between an inverter and a converter. They are opposites of one another. Each one of them changes the energy that flows through them but in entirely different ways.

An RV inverter converts 12V DC power to 120V AC power, enabling you to use the batteries in your RV to power 120V devices like a microwave, television, or laptop charger. Meanwhile, an RV converter converts 120V AC power to 12V DC power.

Is a Mobile Home and RV the Same Thing?

How to Choose the Right Inverter for Your RV

Deciding which brand, size, or type of inverter to buy is not that easy:

1. Brand

Go with products with a solid track record, come from a reputable company that has been around for a while, and have all the necessary CSA or UL certifications to ensure they will function properly in your RV. 

2. Size

So, what inverter size should you get for your RV? Your specific needs and your RV’s expected power consumption will determine the inverter’s sizer.

It’s essential to remember that, in contrast to the AC loads in your home, RV loads may need to be watched over and managed to ensure that they don’t exceed their rated output or rapidly drain batteries.

Most RVs should run on inverters rated at 2000 to 4000 watts, depending on size. Inverters often provide surge loads 1.5 to 2 times higher than their rated continuous output to accommodate high-demand startup loads like refrigerators and compressors.

3. Type of Inverter

There are many types of inverters to choose from. While many older inverters have modified sine waves and may not be able to power today’s sensitive gadgets, many new devices need pure sine wave inverters that output the same clean power you get from the outlets in your home. 

While modified sine wave inverters are often less expensive, pure sine wave inverters are still more common and available in various sizes. 

Types of RV Inverters

rv inverter installation

High-frequency Inverters

High-frequency inverters use electronics to convert DC battery electricity to AC and are more common. 

Although these devices usually weigh less and are less expensive than compressors and inductive motors, they might not be able to supply enough high-demand surge loads.

Transformer-based or Low-frequency Inverters

On the other hand,transformer-based inverters are designed as workhorse inverters capable of handling higher surge loads. They are often bigger, heavier, and more expensive because copper makes up most of the transformer.

Remember that you will need enough battery capacity to keep those inverters going and those AC devices operational. In general, larger inverter sizes demand larger batteries.

2 Excellent Inverters to Buy This Year

Below are two excellent inverters to choose from:

1. Go Power! GP-IC2000-12-PKG Pure Sine Wave Inverter 

Click here to see it on Amazon.

Includes an Automatic Transfer Switch

With the Go Power! Inverter, you get features, quality, and performance in one device. It includes an automatic transfer switch and a battery charger. So, there are fewer devices and cables to install, which saves space and makes installation easier. The IC2000 provides two 50 amp legs. 

Equipped with a Battery Temperature Sensor

You can use up to 12,000 watts of power when connected to a 50 amp service at 240 volts of shore power! You also get a battery temperature sensor on a 25′ cable as part of the IC2000. 

The IC2000 receives the temperature information and automatically modifies the voltage to maintain safe and proper charging. 

Manage and Monitor the Inverter Using IC Series Digital Remote Control

You can add an IC Series digital remote control to your accessories list to fully manage and monitor your inverter.

Main Features

  • 3400-watt surge
  • 90% inverter efficiency
  • Battery converter/charger with 100 amps
  • Automated transfer switch 100 amp (50 amps per leg at 120V AC)
  • Built-in handles to make installation simpler
  • 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter (5 seconds) with built-in temperature sensor and dual 50 amp transfer switches
  • Your generator can receive an additional 2000 watts of power through a power share
  • UL1741 and UL458 certifications
  • Three-year warranty

2. Renogy 3000W 12V Pure Sine Wave Inverter

Click here to see it on Amazon.

The Renogy 3000W Inverter is ideal for the majority of off-grid systems. It will protect your appliances and electronics and prolong their lifespan thanks to the sophisticated Renogy pure sine wave technology.

Your electronics will operate more smoothly thanks to the high inductive loads and quiet operation.

Main Features

  • Modern pure sine wave technology offers grid-quality AC power to safeguard your devices.
  • Powerful DC-AC that reduces conversion loss with an efficiency rate of 90%
  • 3000W continuous, 6000W peak surge at load startups
  • LED indicators for short circuit, over-temperature, and over-load
  • Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection and cooling devices
  • It comes with a 19.8-foot wired remote control, 3 AC outlets, 1 AC terminal block, and an integrated 5V/2.1A USB port
  • ETL certification for product safety and quality
  • 1-year warranty

Again, what does the inverter do on an RV? An RV inverter allows RV owners to watch TV and use microwaves, computers, coffee machines, and other appliances. It takes 12V current from your RV’s batteries, then converts it to 120V AC.

How Do You Choose an Inverter for Your RV?

rv inverter not working

1. Reliability

A suitable inverter must be long-lasting even though it cannot tolerate hot and humid temperatures. Inverters typically feature built-in cooling mechanisms to combat the heat factor. Just be aware that the average inverter will accumulate dust and require cleaning from time to time.

2. Power

It may seem tempting to power all your electronics and appliances inside your RV, but you must first determine the energy you need before buying an inverter.

As mentioned earlier, the more power required, the bigger your battery should be. You might end up paying a pretty penny for that.

You do not need a powerful inverter if you’re charging your phone! On the other hand, some people will want to use the least amount of electricity possible regardless of the device. Doing so is excellent, and you won’t have to worry about batteries for a long time. 

There are always different options to choose from, no matter which end of the spectrum you are on. In some cases, you could use two or more inverters simultaneously. You might, for instance, have a set for your microwave and refrigerator and another for your television and phone chargers.

3. Wiring an Inverter

It would help if you planned where you wanted your power to go and had a basic understanding of the layout of your motorhome to wire your inverter correctly.

You must take the cost of all of this into account too. There is no worse feeling than realizing after finishing a project that you lack the funding to continue it.

4. Inverter Installation

Installing an inverter in a motorhome is a reasonably straightforward process. You wire it in, and you’re good to go. The challenging part is getting the voltage to the right place in the proper proportions.

You must disconnect all the outlets you want to receive power before connecting them to the inverter.

Using some basic cables and extension cords from the outlet to the inverter is the simplest way to route power to the outlet. You could also wire the whole thing, but this will be a bit difficult, given that the inverter location on an RV is very dynamic.

RV Inverter Problems

1. No Power Supply

You will need to check your battery terminals. Tighten them if they are too loose. Clean them if they are corroded or sulfated. Change the internal fuse and flip them around if they are inverted (positive to positive, negative to negative).

Make sure that the polarity of any batteries connected (either in parallel or in series) is not reversed. The inverter will not function if your batteries are dead.

2. Beeping and Overloading

Do Not Exceed the Load Requirement

If your inverter is not producing the 120-volt power it should, it could be because of an overloading issue. The likelihood that your inverter will shut down unexpectedly and go into “overload” beeping mode increases if you load it ABOVE its rated capacity. 

You should provide the inverter with some leeway ABOVE rating and not exceed your complete load requirement.

Although inverters have a peak surge rating (usually twice their capacity), this rating is only effective for a short period before switching to the average rating.

Remember that many cheap inverters on the market exaggerate their ratings, which may also contribute to the overload issue.

How to Prevent Overloading Issue

  • Sum up the wattage of all the tools or appliances you want to use all at once. The general guideline for loading inverters is no more than 80% of rated capacity. Your inverter’s efficiency and performance may suffer if it constantly operates at full load. This also applies to inexpensive inverters, which typically aren’t able to handle loads greater than 80% of their rated capacity.
  • Unplug or turn off any extra devices as soon as the inverter gets overloaded, and the light begins to flash (often with a steady beep).
  • Then, if it has one, hit the reset button; otherwise, cut the power and reconnect it.
  • If it works, but you still want to connect all of those devices, it’s time to consider buying an inverter of a larger size! 

Other Reasons Behind the Overloading Problem

Another potential reason for the overload issue is internal errors or short circuits within the inverter.

The same happens when a battery in an inverter becomes low, so it begins to beep. 

3. Overheating

When an inverter overheats, it could be because of the following reasons:

  • Lack of a fan
  • Lack of ventilation
  • Overload
  • Incorrect cable size
  • Electronic components inside the inverter may be harmed if the fan has a problem preventing the inverter from cooling down. 
  • An inverter inside your vehicle and under the sun could result in high internal temperature, eventually malfunctioning.

Make sure there is room between the inverter and any other items so that it is not placed too close to them. Keep in mind that undersized or low-grade cables may provide a fire risk.

How to Test the Inverter on an RV

You should follow a few measures if you experience any problems mentioned above or want to ensure your RV inverter is in good condition.

You should first test your DC batteries. For this, you need to follow the steps below:

  1. Switch off the inverter, engine, and generator and unplug them from any power sources.
  2. Test each battery by connecting a DMM (Digital Multimeter) to them.
  3. If the battery keeps a steady charge between 12.3 and 12.9 volts, you know it’s working correctly. Any less is a bad indication.
  4. Next, verify that AC power is being delivered properly at the voltage box using your DMM to ensure there is no issue.
  5. Test your inverter now using a DMM at the DC distribution panel.
  6. Take one of the batteries you tested and connect it to the DC distribution panel and your DMM to finish up.
  7. Connect the DMM to the panel after that.
  8. Finally, you’ll want to check and see if the inverter successfully converts AC power to DC power.
  9. The inverter works well if the meter reads 12.3 to 12.8 volts. If it is either less or higher, you have got an issue.

How to Reset an Inverter on an RV

You will sometimes need to reset an inverter to fix some issues. To do a reset (also known as a soft reset), press and hold the power button for roughly fifteen seconds or until the LED turns on and starts flashing quickly.

Once the power button starts to flash, let go of it. As soon as you release the button, the LED will turn off.

Conclusion – What Is an RV Inverter and How to Use It

An inverter is your best bet if you are somebody who loves camping and enjoys RV trips. It will allow you to transform power from your battery into usable AC and then use it to power household appliances and other electrical devices plugged into the outlets inside of your RV.

Keep in mind, though, that you cannot use portable inverters to power large appliances.

Above all, inverters are pretty easy to use, and installing one in your RV is simple. You wire it in, and then you can power any gadget with 120V AC!

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