Anyone who has gone boondocking in a rural area knows there’s not always a power supply. Even campgrounds can have limited access, making shore power inconvenient and unreliable.
For these reasons, generators have become essential for many campers and travellers.
But which one is right for you? Which size of generator do you need for a camper? Is there a generator powerful enough for a class-A motorhome? And where do you even start calculating your power needs?
We address these questions and more. Here’s everything you need to know about getting the right size generator for motorhomes, vans, and campers.
Types of motorhome Generators
Generators for motorhomes come in two basic types: portable and built-in/stationary. Portable options provide additional backup power, while built-in generators often come pre-installed.
These options further break down into different fuel types, the most common being solar-powered and petrol or diesel generators. Here are some of the differences between solar and fossil-fuel-powered generators:
- Solar-powered generators use solar panels to generate electricity and store the energy in a portable power station, which is like a giant battery bank. Solar generators like the DELTA series can power class-A motorhomes and class-C motorhomes. Solar power has become an increasingly popular energy source for campers and motorhome owners who want to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and their carbon footprint when they’re out in nature or off-grid.
- Petrol and diesel generators are relatively affordable, easy to use, and can run continuously with sufficient fuel. But they are also noisy, dirty, and require regular refuelling and maintenance. It pays to consider the toxic fumes and greenhouse gas emissions that fossil fuel generators create and the long-term costs of refuelling regularly.
How Much Electricity Do You Need in Your motorhome?
There are three major questions you should ask when determining how much electricity you need:
- How much power do your appliances and devices need? Your wattage requirement is an essential baseline because it dictates what size generator you’ll need. If you have a lot of high-powered devices (such as a microwave or hair dryer), you’ll want to buy a higher-capacity generator. In contrast, someone with only low-powered devices like smartphones and an electric blanket could get away with a smaller setup like the River solar generators. Check the amps (A) or watts (W) requirements of each appliance and device to estimate how much power your appliances and devices need.
- What is the usage pattern of your appliances and devices? Usage patterns will vary depending on what kind of camping you’re doing. For example, if you’re staying in a motorhome park with a hookup, you’ll likely use more energy than if you were boondocking out in the middle of nowhere with no utilities available. The same goes for whether or not there’s sufficient power to run AC or a space heater with your generator. If it’s too hot or cold outside to open up some windows or throw on an extra blanket, electrical cooling or heating becomes necessary at night. Estimating your usage patterns will let you figure out how much power you need at any given time.
- What is the starting and running power for your appliances and devices? Starting power refers to the electricity needed to start up an item, such as your stove or laptop. Also called “surge power,” it is usually higher — often double — than the wattage required to run the device. On the contrary, running power or continuous power refers to the electricity needed to maintain power continuously.
How Much Power Does a motorhome Air Conditioner Use?
Air conditioners require more electricity to run than any other equipment in a motorhome, about 1,200 to 2,400 watts. While most motorhomes can operate without air conditioning when temperatures aren’t too high outside (generally lower than 80°F), it’s always best practice to have some form of a cooling system in your rig just in case things get hot!
How Much Power Does a motorhome Heater Use?
The typical motorhome heater draws around 500 to 1500 watts of energy, depending on the size and model. That’s a lot of juice! To find out how much power your specific motorhome heater requires, check the label or manual that came with it.
How Much Power Do Common motorhome Appliances Use?
Knowing the amount of power used by common motorhome appliances lets you calculate the generator size required for your rig. Here are some common appliances to consider in addition to the ones discussed above:
- Average stove: 900 to 2,500 watts
- Microwave oven: 1,000 to 1,500 watts
- Coffee maker: 650 to 1,750 watts
- Hair dryer: 1,200 to 1,875 watts
- Camper TV: 150-400 watts of electricity when running (or more if it has a high-definition display)
- Washer/dryer combo unit: 1000-1500 watts during operation; this appliance alone could easily exceed 10% of your total electrical load.
How Do You Calculate Watt Usage?
Besides the wattage, you’ll need to estimate the run time to determine the total watt usage. Use the following calculation:
Watts x run time (hours) = watt-hours
For example, let’s say your laptop has a wattage power of 50W, and you use it for two hours a day. That would require a generator with at least 100Wh capacity to run your laptop.
However, you’d also want to leave room for the surge power and a bit more room to avoid draining the generator’s battery completely. A safe estimate here would be a generator with a portable power station with at least 200Wh. Something like the River portable power station would be suitable with 256Wh capacity.
Remember that this is only the wattage for one device. You’ll need to find the sum in watt-hours for all your appliances and devices to figure out the electricity usage for your camper. You can use an appliance energy calculator to estimate the watt usage for your motorhome for a year.
Once you’ve got our total wattage requirements calculated and tallied up, the easy part is checking what size generator you need.
Portable motorhome Generator Sizes
Portable generators are a great way to keep your motorhome’s electrical systems running when you’re not connected to shore power. They’re also an excellent backup power source in a power outage.
Generally, portable generators come in capacities ranging from 288Wh to 3600Wh. But with smart extra batteries and linking multiple portable power stations, setups like the DELTA Pro let you expand that capacity to as much as 25kWh.
A significant difference between portable and built-in generators is that the portable type requires minimal installation. They’re also lightweight, compact, and portable, so you can take them wherever you go.
Built-In motorhome Generator Sizes
Most large motorhomes already have a built-in generator that you can turn on and off depending on how much power you need. Sizes of built-in motorhome generators vary but typically range from 3,000 to 12,000 watts. A built-in motorhome generator is a permanent installation and can provide backup power or directly power your motorhome.
Built-in generators are different from portable generators in that they are wired into your motorhome’s electrical system. They generally use the motorhome’s batteries as a fuel source, although some models use propane or natural gas. They’re also typically quieter than portable fossil fuel generators.
For motorhomes that don’t already come with a built-in generator, you can purchase modular Power Kits that integrate with your motorhome. These systems come in sizes ranging from 2kWh to 15kWh.
What Size Generator Should You Get For Your motorhome?
When it comes to motorhome generators, bigger is not always better. You need enough power to run your appliances and charge your batteries. But you also need a generator that is powerful enough to run your devices without causing damage to them or the generator itself.
There are three factors to consider when selecting the right generator size: watts, volts, and amps.
- A watt is a unit of power. The number of watts you require will tell you what size generator you’ll need.
- A volt indicates the flow of electrical current through a wire. For a motorhome, it tells you how much voltage the motorhome can handle. The plug on most motorhomes is 220-240 volts.
- The amps tell you how much current the motorhome can handle at any given time. Motorhomes in different classes will have different amperages, usually 6 to 12 amps.
When figuring out what size generator you should get, you’ll need to check your motorhome’s amp rating. Then use the following calculation to figure out what capacity you need in watts:
Amps (A) x volts (V) = watts (W)
What Should I Look for When Shopping for a Portable Generator?
Portable generators come in all shapes and sizes. Some are designed specifically for motorhomes, while others are more versatile and work for off-grid camping and backpacking, home backup, and more. Some run on fuel, like the EcoFlow smart dual fuel generators, while others use solar energy.
Before purchasing a portable generator, make sure it’s compatible with your needs by considering several factors.
The first thing you want to look at is the generator’s capacity. This is the amount of electricity it can produce at once. If your generator has a higher wattage rating than the appliances and lights you want to power, it should be able to handle them all together without any problems.
Next, look at the recharge options. Some require you to fuel up, while others come with portable solar panels that let you take advantage of renewable, clean energy. Many generators also recharge using shore power and car adaptors.
Recharge rates are also critical since you don’t want to get stuck at the campground recharging your generator for too long. The faster the recharge rate, the quicker you can get back on the road. With roof-mounted solar panels, you can even recharge when you’re on the move.
Finally, look at the weight since that can impact portability. Some options are lightweight and compact but come at the cost of lower capacity, while others have higher capacity and diminished portability.
How Much Power Do You Really Need?
The average home in Australia uses around 540 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month. Considering that many motorhomes are like traditional homes on wheels, this is a reasonable estimate for campers and motorhome owners who live on the road full-time.
That said, when it comes to generators, you may only need enough power to run your essential appliances. For example, if all you want to do is keep some lights and a television on at night while you sleep in your camper, then a 2,000-4,000 watt generator may be adequate. A larger generator will be necessary if you run multiple appliances at once (like air conditioning and refrigeration) or operate other devices requiring more power.
The Short Answer: motorhome Generator Size
The generator you need depends on your motorhome or camper size and energy consumption. A small pop-up camper may only need a 1500-watt generator, while larger motorhomes and motorhomes require more power. When it comes to generators and motorhomes, there are three main sizes:
- 2000 watts – Perfect for smaller motorhomes with limited electricity needs, like pop-up campers or travel trailers
- 4000 watts – Perfect for most light-duty motorhomes and small travel trailers with basic appliances
- 6000 watts plus – Ideal for larger motorhomes with more power-hungry appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, and more
The bigger the camper and its power requirements, the larger the generator you want.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will a 3500-Watt Generator Run a Camper?
A 3,500-watt generator is an excellent size for most campers, especially 6-10-amp motorhomes. With this size, you can run a small air conditioning unit or other appliances like microwave ovens and refrigerators. You may also be able to run a few lights at the same time.
The DELTA Pro portable solar generator can produce 3,600 watts of electricity with a maximum amperage of 12.5A. It’s a convenient way to keep your motorhome running while travelling. The unit’s compact design makes it easy to store and transport, while its quiet operation allows you to use it anywhere.
The biggest thing to remember with generators is that they need to be appropriately sized for your needs. If you’re trying to run too many appliances at once, it will overload the generator and cause it to shut down. A generator this size performs best when running one or two appliances at a time — not an entire house’s worth of stuff!
Will a 5000-Watt Generator Run a Camper?
You can get by with a smaller generator if you have a small motorhome, van, or pop-up camper. But if you have a larger motorhome, we recommend getting a 5,000-watt generator. This capacity is enough to power most appliances in your motorhome and keep things running smoothly.
As mentioned, the higher capacity the generator, the larger it will typically be. As a result, you can get up to 7200Wh by pairing two DELTA Pro generators, but you may have to sacrifice portability and floor space.
The EcoFlow power kits eliminate this problem. The power hub contains all the core components in one compact size, and you can get capacities from 5000Wh up to 15kWh.
You’ll want to remember that any device that draws more power than your motorhome has available could cause problems with the generator or cause breakers to trip.
Can You Run a motorhome Generator While Sleeping?
While technically, you can run a generator while you sleep, it is not necessarily advisable for the following reasons.
- Safety: For safety reasons, motorhome fossil fuel generators should not be on while sleeping. They are a fire hazard and can expose you to deadly carbon monoxide. A solar-powered generator is safe to run at night since it won’t produce fumes. Just remember that you won’t be generating any additional power without sunlight.
- Noise: Running a fossil fuel motorhome generator at night will produce significant noise that could keep you (and fellow campers) awake all night long. For this reason, many campsites and motorhome parks restrict the use of petrol and diesel generators at night.
- Fuel Consumption: Running a motorhome generator overnight often consumes extra fuel or stored solar power compared to running it during daylight hours when there are fewer demands on your batteries due to lights being off, etc.
Choosing the right generator for your camper can be a tough decision. This guide should help you understand the significant factors in determining the right generator for your motorhome.
Whether you need a portable generator for your camper or a permanent installation, knowing the power needs of your motorhome is required to choose the right one. Do your research before making a purchase, and don’t forget to consider the long-term costs of refuelling and maintenance for fossil fuel generators.