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What To Look For When Buying a Portable Generator

Your dream of RV ownership is finally a reality and you're planning your first big getaway into the great outdoors! You've chosen the perfect RV that's loaded with all the luxuries of home that you don't want to go without. It has a kitchen with full appliances, an A/C unit for those hot summer nights, a great flat-screen TV with DVD player, and recessed lighting throughout. But it's not equipped with a generator to power everything. So you've ended up here, in search of the right generator for your RVing needs. To help you make the right buying decision, here's what to look for when buying a portable generator for your RV.

Wattage for Your Cottage

When shopping for a generator for your new RV, whether it's a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or toy hauler, first look at approximately how much wattage you'll be using on a daily basis. This is probably the biggest determining factor in choosing the size of a generator. An A/C unit will use the most wattage, followed by smaller appliances. Let's take a look at estimates of how much wattage some RV appliances use (but refer to your appliance tags/stickers for exact amounts):


13.5K-BTU A/C 15K-BTU A/C Refrigerator Microwave Coffee maker Crock pot Small flat-screen TV Laptop DVD player Hair dryer Portable fan


2800-3000W 3300-3500W 600W 1000W 600W 170-270W 120-200W 250W 350W 1900W 120W


1500-2000W 1300-1800W 180W 1000W 600W 170-270W 120-200W 250W 350W 1800W 40W As you can see in the table above, all items have a starting wattage and a running wattage. Even if an appliance has a running wattage of 180W, like the refrigerator, but it has a starting wattage of 600W, you'll need a generator that is powerful enough to get the appliance started. So in this case, you'd need a generator with a wattage of at least 600 to power the refrigerator. The same goes for the A/C unit. For the 15K unit, you'd need a generator with a wattage of around 3400 to get the A/C unit started. Before deciding on the wattage of your new generator, think about which appliances you'll most likely be running at the same time. For instance, in addition to your refrigerator, you might be making dinner in your crockpot and melting butter in the microwave at the same time. When you add the wattages of all three appliances together, you have around 2000W that need to be powered. So you'd want to look at generators that have a wattage maximum over this amount to ensure that you won't be regularly blowing fuses when using multiple appliances. Refrigerator 600W + Microwave 1000W + Crock pot 200W = 1800W, so you would need a generator around 2oooW.

Noise Pollution

Just like people, generators have different noise levels. Some are tolerable, and some are not. You'll want to consider how much noise you (and your campground neighbors) can stand. When you consider that human conversation is generally around 60dBA (decibels), a generator with about this rating would be a very quiet one. Whereas one with a rating of 65-70 dBA would be closer to the noise level of a vacuum, making it hard to sleep soundly at night. Many quality generators stay within the tolerable range of about 50-60dBA, perfect for the close quarters of a crowded campground. If you're a full-timer in a fifth wheel or destination trailer, you'll probably want to opt for a quieter one since you might be using it more often.

Weight Matters

When packing up your travel trailer or fifth wheel, you have to pay attention to your payload. If you go over your vehicle or trailer GVWR (the amount of weight you can safely tow), you run the risk of damaging your vehicle or being unsafe on the road. So when you're adding a heavy generator to your list of items, you need to be especially conscious of how much it weighs. Under no circumstances do you want to exceed the maximum towable amount of either your vehicle or RV. Also, your generator has to make it inside your RV somehow, which is probably going to mean that you're physically lifting it up and in. Think about how easy this will be to do. Most larger generators (3000+ wattage) come with wheel kits for easy transport, but not all of them do. An option to consider that makes this part of camping easier is to buy two smaller generators that you can linked up together. A bonus of this set- up is that when you don't need the full wattage of a 3000+ generator, like if you're A/C is off and you're not using many appliances, you can run just one of the two generators.
When buying a big-ticket item like a portable generator, it's always best to do your homework. Talk to salespeople, do your research online, and ask your camping friends about their preferences. The salespeople at Gillette's Interstate RV are a great resource for this type of information. Some quality brands to consider are Cummins, Champion Power Equipment, Generac, Sportsman, Honda, and Yamaha. Do you have any advice to share about choosing a new RV generator? Share it with us in the comments!

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