Your Guide to RV Appliances
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These days, we take for granted that we can just plug an appliance into an outlet and expect it to work. In fact, many of us rely on various electronics and devices to make our lives easier. However, when you’re staying in an RV, things are much different. You don’t have unlimited power from which to power your appliances, so you have to be careful.
Fortunately, many RV-friendly gadgets can give you the comfort and convenience of home without worrying about blowing a fuse. Today we’re going to talk about the kinds of appliances you can use in an RV safely, as well as various considerations you should make when utilizing them.
When figuring out the best appliances for your RV, it’s imperative that you understand the different classes. Depending on your class type, you will have different power requirements that can affect the number of appliances you can use, as well as how strong they can be.
Starting us off is the largest class of RV. A-type vehicles are massive and self-contained. They have their own engines and don’t require much in the way of accommodations. For the most part, Class A RVs are going to come with a generator to help power your appliances, many of which are built in.
For reasons we can’t explain, B Class RVs are the smallest self-contained models. These are usually about 17 to 19 feet long, and they are perfect for couples, although they can sleep up to four. These RVs are not going to come with a generator, but you will still have a deep-cycle battery that operates your 120-volt appliances (more on that later).
In the middle of the pack (but last on the list) are Class C RVs. These vehicles usually have a standard truck cab with a living space attached to it. In many cases, there is a bed above the cab for extra sleeping and storage.
Class C RVs can come with a generator, but not always. However, since they are relatively big (up to 31 feet), it’s not uncommon.
We should also mention that there are a variety of towable RV options out there. Since they don’t have an engine, these units will likely have two sets of batteries (12 volt and 120 volt) to power your appliances. The larger ones may also come with a generator.
Towable RVs are either travel trailers, pop-up trailers, or fifth wheel (the largest of the three).
Using Appliances in an RV
While your class will determine your power output, you also have to pay attention to the batteries your RV comes with, as well as whether or not it has a generator. As I mentioned, there are two sources of power in an RV, 12-volt, and 120-volt. Here is a breakdown of how they operate.
Your batteries are going to provide you with 12-volt power. Typically speaking, there is one for the engine and another one for the rest of the RV. The reason for this difference is that one battery is designed for starting, while the other is known as “deep-cycle” because it’s meant to power things for longer periods.
You can either have a single 12-volt or two six-volt batteries hooked together. I prefer the latter method as you can get a lot more power that way. Usually, these batteries will operate low energy devices like interior lights, as well your water pump and smoke detectors. 12-volt power can also be used to start systems like your furnace, water heater, or refrigerator.
However, when it comes to plugging appliances into an outlet, you need 120-volt power. If you don’t have a generator or you’re not plugged in anywhere, then your RV will have a converter that allows you to draw 120 volts from the battery. Be aware, however, that it will drain much faster that way.
The only way to generate this kind of power without a battery is to use a generator or a plug-in from the electrical grid. While you can use a battery converter, you want to make sure that you have multiple batteries from which to draw so that you don’t run out of power very fast.
120-volt systems are there for plugging in and operating an appliance, such as a TV, a blender, or a coffee maker.
Wattage and Appliances
Because you have a limited amount of energy from which to draw, you have to make sure that you’re not going to overload your system. As such, you have to pay attention to the wattage level of your appliances.
When determining how many watts are available, you can use this formula:
amps x volts = watts
Looking at your batteries, you will see how many amps they generate. These are referred to as amp hours. For example, if your battery has 60 amp hours (AH), that means that you can use one amp per hour for 60 hours, or 20 amps per hour for three hours.
When using an appliance, you know that you are operating at 120 volts. So, using our equation, let’s say that we have a 500-watt coffee maker. Since watts are volts x amps, we can figure out how many amps we’ll be using when we have the coffee maker on.
The equation will look like this A x 120 = 500. From there, we can determine that you’ll be drawing about four amps per hour (500/120).
This equation is helpful for when you have multiple appliances plugged in and turned on. If you know how many amps you have (i.e., you’re using a generator that produces 20 amps), then you can figure out your total wattage available and plan accordingly.
Saving power is crucial when you’re in an RV. As such, you want to unplug any device that you’re not using, since they draw a little bit of energy from the outlet at all times.
Refrigerators in RVs
If your RV comes with a fridge installed, then it’s imperative to understand that it operates much differently than the one you have in your home. For one thing, it doesn’t use a compressor to cool the air. Instead, it draws the heat out from the inside. As such, most RV refrigerators operate with either 110-volt AC power or propane.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the refrigerator uses heat to cool everything down. It has to percolate a cooling solution made of various chemical and minerals, which then draws warmth out of the fridge. For the most part, gas-powered refrigerators are better than those that use electricity. I prefer gas because I don’t have to worry about draining the battery when I park the RV for an extended period.
With gas fridges, one thing you have to do is keep the elements level. If they are at an angle, they won’t work for safety reasons. Usually, this is only a problem when you’re parked on an angled driveway or something. If you’re on relatively flat terrain, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
If your refrigerator allows you to operate it with either propane or electricity, I would highly recommend using the latter only when you have the generator on or when you’re plugged into a reliable outlet. Doing this will help save the amount of gas you have to use.
There should be a switch that tells you which power source you’re drawing from, and be sure to change it before doing anything.
Another thing to remember is that if you’re turning your fridge on after a long time (i.e., months of being parked), you will have to wait for the gas line to fill with propane since it will still have air in it. To speed up this process, you can turn on the stove and wait a few minutes. Afterward, you shouldn’t have any issues powering your fridge.
The Best Appliances for an RV
Since you will still have to use a variety of devices to help make your next trip more convenient and enjoyable, you want to be sure that you’re picking the right kind of appliances for your RV. With that in mind, here are a few considerations to make when picking them out.
- Size – storage space is always limited in an RV, so think about where you can store it while you’re driving or not using it.
- Power Requirements – if you don’t have a generator or you’re not going to be near a power source, consider appliances that won’t drain your batteries.
- Multi-Use – since you don’t have much room for anything, you don’t want to waste space by bringing a device that’s only good for one thing. Either you can find new ways to use your appliances (i.e., cooking in a coffee maker) or you can decide if it’s worth the hassle of bringing it.
Keeping those considerations in mind, here are my top picks for essential RV appliances. If possible, try to get battery-operated models unless you know that you’ll have reliable access to a power source. There’s nothing worse than having a dead battery while you’re on a trip.
- Slow Cooker: since you don’t have an oven, this is the next best thing. I prefer to get a unit that can be used for other things, like steaming or cooking rice. Usually, these appliances don’t draw too much power, so you can leave it running for hours without wasting all of your juice.
- Kettle: although you could boil water the old-fashioned way, it doesn’t take long to use an electric kettle. However, they can use a lot of watts, so pay attention to what you have plugged in besides the pot itself. I like these better than coffee makers because they are multipurpose.
- Personal Blender: making meals in your RV is always a challenge if you want something more than just sandwiches. Having a blender that also works as a food processor is a blessing. Plus, you don’t have to keep it on for long to get what you need.
Thanks for reading my blog! I hope that you feel much better about using appliances in your RV, and I’m excited to see what kinds of creative solutions you can find for living the good life while on the go. Overall, just keep in mind that power is a finite resource, and always be sure to top off and recharge whenever you get a chance.