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Caravanning has long been a favourite British pastime — and for many people, it’s a way of life. According to a recent government survey, the number of residential caravans in the UK rose by 33% between 2012 and 2022 — from 19,261 to 25,653. And those figures don’t account for many of the motorhomes and caravans people in Britain use for leisure.
Whether you live in a caravan full-time or motorhome part-time on weekends, chances are you need a reliable source of off-grid electricity — even if you spend most of your time at grounds with electrical hookups.
That’s where “leisure” batteries come in…
What Is a Leisure Battery?
A leisure battery is an off-grid electricity source for caravans and motorhomes. Leisure batteries — like EcoFlow’s portable power stations — come in a wide variety of sizes, electricity storage/output capacities, battery chemistries, and more.
You can purchase a small leisure battery like the RIVER 2 to keep your consumer electronic devices charged up and running when you’re on the road. Or you can buy a modular Power Kit expandable up to 15 kilowatt hours (kWh) for off-grid full-timing in your caravan or motorhome.
Want to find out more about the leisure battery options that are out there for you?
Types of Leisure Batteries by Class
There are two primary ways of classifying leisure battery types in the UK.
The National Caravan Council — a trade organisation — has a system that distinguishes between leisure batteries by class:
- Class A: For caravan and motorhome owners who spend much of their time off-grid, a leisure battery (or batteries) will need to have significant storage capacity. Class A batteries are the largest of the classes. EcoFlow’s DELTA Pro and Power Kits can meet the needs of caravanners who spend most (or all) of their time off-grid. Because all of EcoFlow’s portable power stations offer solar charging (with PV panels), you can generate your own electricity and stay off-grid indefinitely.
- Class B: If you spend the majority of your time on sites with an electrical hookup, your electricity storage and output requirements are likely to be significantly lower than Class A. DELTA 2 can power camping appliances, lights, a television, and much more when you’re driving or taking a short off-grid excursion. With a running wattage of 1,800W AC output (2700W of starting output using X-Boost), DELTA 2 can turn on and operate more than 90% of home appliances. If your off-grid electricity needs grow, DELTA 2 can grow with you. Add a Smart Extra Battery to increase your total storage capacity to 3kWh.
- Class C: The baby of the leisure battery bunch, Class C is for you if your off-grid electricity needs are very minimal. Need to run a few lights on the roads or keep your smartphone charged ready? RIVER 2 is an affordable yet robust option that will more than meet your needs.
Types of Leisure Batteries by Chemistry
The NCC classes are easy to understand, and if you’re purchasing a leisure battery from a manufacturer who uses the system, it’s a helpful starting point for finding the best option.
However, to make a truly informed purchase decision, you at least need to know the basics of battery chemistry. Traditionally, leisure batteries for caravans and motorhomes have used lead acid chemistry.
Lead acid and Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) battery technology dates back to the 1800s. For decades, they were the only available options for off-grid rechargeable batteries. NiCd batteries rely on cadmium to function — a heavy metal that poses a significant environmental threat, especially when improperly disposed of. NiCd battery manufacturing is now banned or allowed only under very specific circumstances in many parts of the world, including the EU. We won’t cover NiCd batteries in detail for this guide, but you can learn more about Nickel Cadmium batteries here.
In the 1990s, lithium-ion batteries started becoming more prevalent for many applications — especially when portability is a significant concern. Now, you’ll find them everywhere, from your smartphone and laptop all the way up to Electric Vehicles (EVs). As demand for Li-ion batteries — and newer subsets like Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) — has increased, prices have dropped, and the technology continues to improve.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of lead acid and Li-ion chemistry — the two most commonly used for caravan and motorhome leisure batteries.
Lead Acid Batteries
Despite recent innovations in battery technology, lead acid leisure batteries remain a popular choice. The primary reason for this is cost. Lead acid batteries are by far the cheapest option if you only look at the sticker price.
However, over the long term, you will likely save money by opting for a Li-ion or LiFePO4 battery — not to mention all the other benefits modern battery technology has to offer.
Before we dive into the pros and cons of lead acid, it’s important to understand that there are several subcategories of lead acid leisure batteries:
- Wet-Cell is the oldest form of rechargeable battery technology. Wet-cell batteries rely on a liquid electrolyte — typically sulfuric acid — mixed with water. The solution is usually 65% water and 35% sulfuric acid. Fossil fuel-powered vehicles use wet-cell batteries as part of their starting mechanism. Sulfuric acid is a highly caustic and dangerous chemical. Special care must be taken when handling, installing and maintaining a wet-cell battery in your caravan or motorhome.
- Gel batteries are a newer form of lead acid battery. Gel battery chemistry offers numerous advantages over wet-cell. Instead of being mixed with water, sulfuric acid is combined with fumed silica and other additives to create a gel or paste-like solution. Unlike wet-cell batteries, gel batteries are valve-regulated and require little to no maintenance. Gel batteries can also be installed in spaces with limited ventilation. Wet-cell batteries produce dangerous fumes and must be used with caution in confined spaces (like the inside of a caravan).
Here are some additional advantages of gel vs. wet-cell leisure batteries.
- Longer lifespan (cycle life)
- Better suited for deep cycle applications (where a battery is frequently discharged below 50% of its storage capacity)
- Spill-proof and less prone to cause injuries from sulfuric acid burns
- Despite a higher upfront cost, gel lead acid batteries cost less per cycle (discharge/recharge) than wet-cell batteries, making them a better long-term investment
- Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries are a relatively new form of lead acid technology, dating back to the early 1970s. Like gel lead acid batteries, AGM batteries are a valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) technology — also commonly known as a sealed lead-acid battery (SLA). AGM batteries offer many of the same benefits as gel. But instead of using additives to turn sulfuric acid into a more inert paste, AGM relies on thin glass fibre mats infused with electrolytes. AGM batteries are highly stable and versatile in how they can be constructed. A few advantages of AGM over gel batteries are:
- Wider range of operating temperatures
- Greater depth of discharge
- Less maintenance
- More lightweight
- Often less expensive
Pros and Cons of Lead Acid vs Lithium Ion Leisure Batteries
Now that you know the basics behind lead acid chemistry for leisure batteries, let’s briefly sum up the pros and cons of lead acid vs. Li-ion for caravan and motorhome batteries.
- Cheaper upfront price
- HUGE variety of manufacturers and model options — especially for the 12V electrical systems found preinstalled in many motorhomes
- Installation can be easier than some Li-ion leisure battery options
- Can be more cost-effective than Li-ion for short-term applications
- May operate better in extreme cold than some Li-ion leisure batteries
- Much lower depth of discharge. Many lead acid batteries can’t be discharged below 50% of their storage capacity without causing irreparable damage and shortening their lifespan.
- Significantly longer charge times
- Lifespan: Some lead acid batteries (typically the cheapest ones) have a cycle life of only 300-500. Cycle life is how manufacturers measure a battery’s lifespan. Rather than chronological time, it measures the number of full charges and discharges a battery can withstand before diminishing in performance — and eventually dying altogether. LiFePO4 batteries from manufacturers like EcoFlow can be fully charged and discharged 3,000 times before storage capacity decreases to 80% — 10 times more cycles than many lead acid batteries.
- Wet-cell and gel lead acid batteries require routine maintenance. Wet-cell batteries are prone to spills that may lead to significant injuries.
- Lower energy density — Lead acid batteries must be significantly larger and heavier than Li-ion to output and store the same amount of electricity
If, after reading the section above, you’re thinking the only area where lead acid comes out on top over Li-ion leisure batteries is price, well…
When it comes to longevity and performance, lead acid batteries simply can’t compete. Crucially, In the confined space of a caravan or motorhome, you’ll get significantly more electricity storage and output capacity with a far smaller footprint with a Li-ion battery.
That’s not to minimise upfront cost as an essential consideration. If you only use your caravan infrequently or spend most of your time at caravan parks with electrical hookups, an inexpensive lead acid battery may be all you need for the limited amount of time you spend off-grid.
But if you’re a caravan or motorhome full-timer and spend significant amounts of time off-grid, you’ll want a Class A type leisure battery to enjoy all the comforts of home without worrying about the lights going out.
Even if your off-grid electricity needs are minimal, an affordable solution like EcoFlow’s RIVER 2 Max gives you all the benefits of Li-on battery technology at a surprisingly competitive price.
Speaking of EcoFlow’s off-grid electricity solutions, the current range of portable power stations and Power Kits all feature lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4/LFP) batteries — a newer, more efficient, and longer-lasting subset of Li-ion technology.
Here are the key benefits of LiFePO4 leisure batteries over traditional Li-ion (and consequently, lead acid) batteries.
- Blazing fast recharge times: Lead acid batteries can take upwards of 10 hours to recharge. Li-ion batteries are significantly faster. But the LiFePO4 batteries in EcoFlow’s portable power stations beat them all. For example, the award-winning DELTA 2 Max can recharge from 0-80% in just 43 minutes when you multi-charge using a standard AC wall outlet and portable or rigid solar panels. Using solar panels alone, the DELTA 2 Max can fully charge in 2.3 hours of direct sunlight using 4 sets of 220W Bifacial Solar Panels. All of EcoFlow’s off-grid power solutions offer solar charging — allowing you to achieve true energy independence.
- Expandability: Your leisure battery system can expand as your off-grid electricity needs do. By adding Smart Extra Batteries, DELTA 2 Max is expandable from 2kWh to 6kWh of electricity storage capacity.
- Industry-Leading Cycle Life: LFP battery chemistry and proprietary technology like Ecoflow’s Advanced Battery Management System (BMS) give DELTA 2 Max a cycle life of 6x times longer than competing Li-ion leisure batteries or up to 10x plus lead acid batteries. Get 10 years of regular daily use before any noticeable diminishment in performance. Your portable power station won’t stop working. It will just store 20% less electricity than when it was brand new.
- Lightweight and Portable: Sticking with DELTA 2 Max as an example, it’s by far the most lightweight 2400W leisure battery in the industry — 30% lighter than similar power stations.
It also has a tiny footprint, leaving you more room in the limited space in your caravan or motorhome.
- Outstanding AC Storage and Output: With 2048Wh of electricity storage capacity and 2400W output (Surge 4,800W), DELTA 2 Max can run 99% of appliances right out of the box. Thanks to X-Boost’s intelligent power management, DELTA 2 Max can actually run up to 3100W of appliances simultaneously. Enough for even the most power-hungry caravan or motorhome.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Leisure Battery?
One of the great attractions of caravan or motorhome life is the freedom to roam. Without a leisure battery, your freedom is significantly restricted if you want any home comforts. At least the ones that require electricity!
The benefits of having reliable off-grid electricity on the road should be obvious to any experienced caravanner, but here are just a few.
Without electricity, the appeal of spending time in a caravan or motorhome is greatly diminished. If you can’t run your appliances and consumer electronics like televisions, laptops, and smartphones, a caravan is basically just a more spacious car. If you limit yourself only to caravan parks with electrical hookups, you’ll spend more money to stay there and severely restrict your options of where you can go. Depending on your caravan’s wiring, you may not have electricity on the road. No matter whether your off-grid electricity requirements are Class A, Class B, or Class C, a leisure battery gives you energy independence for as long as its storage lasts between charges. For true energy independence, purchase a leisure battery that can recharge using portable solar panels or a permanent off-grid energy solution like EcoFlow’s Power Kits. With Power Kits, you have a maximum solar charging input of 4800W. That means you can connect up to 12 x 400W rigid solar panels — or any combination of rigid, portable, and flexible PV panels that suit your caravan’s needs.
Smooth, Reliable Power
Many motorhomes and some caravans allow you to connect appliances to a built-in 12V electricity supply that runs off the vehicle’s battery. Almost invariably, caravan starter batteries are wet-cell lead acid and designed primarily to provide a short burst of electricity to start up the vehicle. Operating appliances for extended periods can quickly wear down your caravan’s battery. Not only that, there will be significant variations in voltage during operation. In short, starter batteries supply erratic “dirty” power. Using it to power your caravan appliances can significantly shorten the lifespan of the main battery AND your appliances. Leisure batteries are designed to provide clean, consistent electricity to power your caravan appliances for extended periods. Having a leisure battery is also an excellent backup — it means you’re not solely reliant on a single source of power.
Power When Parked
If you stop for an extended period at a location without an electrical hookup AND run a 12V system using your caravan’s starting battery, you’ll quickly run out of juice. Electrical systems that run using the vehicle’s starting battery and alternator rely on the caravan frequently being in motion to recharge. With a leisure battery, you can stay in one place until your storage runs out. Your ability to start your caravan and get back on the road won’t be impacted. As mentioned above, if you choose a portable power station that allows solar charging, you can stay off-grid indefinitely.
Power Just About Anything — Not just 12V
Let’s face it — 12V appliances can’t compare to household appliances in terms of quality, variety, and design. Many motorhomes come with a 12V system preinstalled, but most caravans don’t. If you’re purchasing a new-build caravan, why limit yourself to 12V appliances that — let’s face it — just feel cheap. With a portable power station or Power Kit, you can operate just about any household appliance you need. Household appliances typically offer better quality for less money than 12V appliances. Why limit yourself?
How To Maintain Your Leisure Battery
Lithium-ion and LFP (LiFePO4) batteries require no routine maintenance whatsoever. Some sealed lead acid (SLA) leisure batteries — particularly AGM — also require little to no maintenance. Gel — and particularly wet-cell lead acid batteries — require extensive maintenance on a regular basis. With wet-cell batteries, maintenance comes with a significant risk of injury from sulfuric acid spillage.
The maintenance of wet-cell (or flooded) lead acid batteries deserves its own article, but here’s a brief summary of the necessary steps.
- Always wear protective gear when handling wet-cell lead acid batteries. At a minimum, you should use gloves and eye protection. Otherwise, you risk serious injury.
- In the process of recharging/discharging, wet cell batteries lose water. The right mixture of water and electrolyte (sulfuric acid) is essential for the battery to function. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions and your usage patterns, you’ll need to refill your battery with distilled water every 2-4 weeks.
- Check the water level every 15-30 days when it’s fully charged. To do this, you’ll need to open the vent well and check the water level visually. Again — wear eye protection!
- Be extremely careful not to overfill the battery with water. There should be a line that marks the maximum water level. Carefully follow your owner’s manual for refilling instructions. Overfilling a wet-cell battery can negatively impact performance and result in irreparable damage.
- Regularly clean terminals and cable connections to avoid corrosion.
- Use a refractometer regularly to measure your battery’s performance and state of charge (SoC). Some batteries come with a monitor, but these tend to be inaccurate. Failure to fully charge indicates the wet-cell battery is defective or nearing its end of life.
Factors Affecting Leisure Battery Performance
Numerous factors can affect leisure battery performance. Here are the most crucial.
As covered extensively above, battery chemistry is the most crucial determiner of leisure battery performance. To summarise, Li-ion — and particularly LiFePO4 (LFP) batteries — significantly outperform lead acid leisure batteries by every metric other than price.
Operating a leisure battery in extreme heat or cold significantly impacts both charging and overall performance. No matter the chemistry, batteries generally function best at room temperature.
Temperature shouldn’t be an issue if you’re keeping your battery inside the caravan. Also, temperatures in the UK rarely approach extremes where battery performance is affected.
For reference, here are the operating and charging temperature ranges of the main types of leisure batteries.
|Leisure Battery Type||Maximum Operating Temperature||Maximum Charging Temperature||Charging Advisory|
|Lead Acid||–20°C to 50°C||–20°C to 50°C||Charging takes longer at temperatures below freezing and above 30°C|
|Lithium-ion||–20°C to 60°C||0°C to 45°C||Do not charge below freezing|
|LiFePO4/LFP||–20°C to 60°C||0°C to 45°C||Do not charge below freezing|
Note that these are the maximum discharge (operating) temperatures for each battery type. All three perform best between 20°C to 30°C. The further you charge and operate batteries outside that range, the greater the negative impact on lifespan and performance.
The temperature ranges listed above are just a guideline. Always follow the battery manufacturer-specific instructions for operating and charging temperatures. Even at the high/low end of the specs, expect diminished lifespan and performance.
Operating your leisure battery outside the recommended temperature range will result in decreased functionality and longevity and could pose severe risks — such as explosion and fire.
Lithium-ion and LiFePO4 don’t measurably decline in performance with age — only with usage. That’s one reason why a battery’s lifespan is measured in cycles, not over time.
Lead acid batteries, on the other hand, are more subject to degradation over time. SLA batteries fare better than wet-cell batteries. The amount of time a lead battery can sit without being used or charged without permanent damage varies significantly by manufacturer. As a general rule, time is considerably more of a factor in how fast a leisure battery degrades with lead acid rather than Li-ion.
A substantial advantage of Li-ion and LiFePO4 batteries over lead acid batteries is that they require no routine maintenance. Wet-cell batteries must be regularly monitored, topped up with distilled water, and cleaned. SLA batteries require less maintenance, but only AGM lead acid can claim to be “maintenance-free.”
How Do I Choose a Caravan Leisure Battery?
Choosing the right leisure battery for your caravan really comes down to your specific needs. Here are the crucial factors to consider before making a purchase decision:
- What Do You Need to Power? To choose the right leisure battery, you need to know exactly what you want to start up and run off-grid. Remember that many appliances, like fridges, require more wattage to turn on than to operate. Calculate the total starting and running watts — or amps/milli-amps (A/mA) — of all devices and appliances you want to run simultaneously. Ensure that the portable power station or leisure battery/inverter you purchase can output sufficient AC or DC power to meet your electricity consumption requirements.
- For How Long? Is your caravan Class A or Class C? Carefully consider how long you’ll need to operate your electronics off-grid between charges. Then, check that the leisure battery has sufficient electricity storage capacity to last. Electricity consumed over time is measured in watt-hours/kilowatt hours (wH/kWh) or milli-amp/amp-hours (mAh/Ah). Once you know what you want to run — and for how long — you’re at least ¾ of the way to make the right purchase.
- Frequency of Use: How often do you plan to use the battery? If you plan to use it infrequently, an inexpensive lead acid battery might suit your needs. But not too infrequently! Most lead acid batteries must be used at least every six months to retain functionality. If you plan to use your leisure battery daily or weekly, Li-ion or LiFePO4 is likely a better choice.
- Battery Chemistry: We’ve covered this at length above, but it boils down to choosing between price (lead acid) and performance and longevity (Li-on/LiFePO4)
- Quality of Manufacture: Like anything else you buy: caveat emptor. Most of the time, you get what you pay for. No matter what your budget is, choose a reputable manufacturer in your desired price range.
- Price: Last (but likely not least), consider your budget. Just remember that what’s cheap upfront can easily cost you much more (in time, money, and headaches) over the long term.
What Size Leisure Battery Do I Need for My Caravan?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Even two people with the exact same caravan or motorhome might need different-sized leisure batteries to meet their electricity consumption needs. To answer this question accurately, you will have to do some simple math.
As mentioned above, first calculate the total wattage or amperage of all the electronics you want to turn on and run simultaneously. Then, estimate how long you’ll want to operate your electronics between charges. This is crucial for traditional leisure batteries that can only recharge using electrical hookups.
Or you can opt for a portable power station or solar generator and stay off-grid indefinitely by recharging your leisure battery with solar panels.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long you need to charge a leisure battery depends on numerous factors, including: level of discharge, battery chemistry, storage capacity, temperature, charging method, and more. Lead acid batteries can take 10+ hours to charge depending on the size and quality of manufacture. Li-ion or LiFePO4 batteries with a similar battery can take under an hour to charge.
Numerous factors go into how long a leisure battery lasts. The most crucial are cycle life, battery chemistry, maintenance (if required), regularity of usage, depth of discharge, quality of manufacture, and more. As a general rule, Li-ion and LiFePO4 batteries last up to 10x more or longer than lead acid and can offer over 10 years of daily use.
The difference between Class A and Class B leisure batteries is that Class A batteries are designed for long-term off-grid use. Class B batteries are designed as a supplemental or backup power source for caravans and motorhomes that primarily consume electricity through a mains or DC hookup. Class C batteries have the smallest output and storage capacity and are intended for infrequent or light off-grid use.
Living in caravans and adventuring off-grid in motorhomes continues to grow in popularity in Britain — and there are so many reasons why. One of the most compelling is the freedom to explore the country and move from place to place with ease.
Without some degree of energy independence, that freedom is severely curtailed. A high-quality leisure battery is virtually a prerequisite for off-grid caravan living and traveling.
EcoFlow has a wide range of portable power stations and Power Kits that offer numerous advantages over traditional lead acid leisure batteries. You can even add solar panels to live off-grid in your caravan indefinitely!
Check out EcoFlow today!