If the rig you have picked out already has a generator, you can skip this part of the guide all together. Otherwise, we’re going to talk you through the common options, and show you a couple of tricks to stretch your budget.
Why do I need a generator?
In our RV Electrical Crash Course we talked about your 120V system…you know, the thing that powers all the important stuff like your TV and laptop. Most folks get juice to this part of the system via shore power but you’re probably a smarty-pants that doesn’t want to be tied to RV parks. This is where the generator becomes useful. Instead of plugging your rig into the outlet at a campground, you plug it into your generator.
What if I Have Solar?
You’re still going to want a generator, albeit a small one. Unless you have a ridiculously large solar setup, you won’t be able to run your air conditioner. Go ahead, try living without one…that first day when it’s 100 degrees out will have you wishing you’d ponied up for one.
Minimize Generator, Maximize Solar
Here’s the deal with generators: they are loud (even the quietest), need fuel, and require maintenance. There are also times when you can’t run them (quiet hours in state parks, for example). Frankly, they’re a major PITA compared to solar that just…works. So, in an ideal world you’ll have a small generator JUST for your air conditioner and everything else will run off solar.
Generator Crash Course
There are a bajillion different brands and sizes of generators but the two big names are Onan and Honda. The prior is typically what you’ll see for ‘on-board’ generators, meaning they’re more or less built into the rig. The latter typically comes in a smaller, more portable form meant to be moved around.
Onan – these guys come in two varieties: gas and propane. Each has their pros and cons; gas is more efficient (meaning you can run longer on gas) but propane can be plumbed into your RV’s propane tanks and doesn’t require carrying around extra fuel. Onan’s are considerably more expensive (starting around $3,000 and up).
Honda – Basically, you only ever see these fueled by gas. They’re considerably cheaper (starting around $1,000) and far more portable. They’re known for being super quiet, always starting on the first pull, and every old guy has a story about how his still runs like it first did 30 years ago.
Other brands – Your options are limitless but if you like the good stuff you’ll stick with one of the two above. This is without a doubt one of those areas where you get what you pay for. Could you go pick up a contractor grade generator from Home Depot for $299? Sure. Will everyone you ever camp next to hate your guts? Absolutely. Don’t forget to pick up some good ear muffs if you go that route.
Choosing your generator
First and foremost, you need to decide on how much you’re going to use it; that’ll dictate what size (how many watts) you need. If you have a nice solar setup, or don’t need a ton of 120V juice, a 2000W generator is probably enough. If it’s going to be your main source of power, and you want to microwave last night’s pizza while the coffee pot is running you’ll probably want to move up to something in the 3000W+ range.
The next thing you need to take into consideration is the size. Think about where you’re actually going to put the damn thing. Take measurements and then check the spec sheets of each generator; you’ll probably rule out quite a few because they won’t fit. If you decide you need 3000W but can’t find a generator small enough to fit, there are models such as the Honda 2200 Companion that can be tethered together so that two of them can run in parallel.
Finally, think about run-time. If you buy a tiny little generator with a half-gallon gas tank, are you really going to want to be running out there and filling it up multiple times a day? There are ways around this though, see below.
Our recommended Setup
As mentioned above, generators are largely a PITA compared to solar. So, investing in enough solar to run your electronics and appliances, and buying a generator strictly for running your air conditioner is the best route.
So, what’s the magic formula? It looks like this:
Honda EU2200IC Companion + Auxiliary Gas Tank + MicroAir SoftStart = Awesome
Why the Honda EU2000IC Companion?
Because it is a sweet little machine that can be had for around $1,000. It’s small and can fit in almost any storage space, and it’s capable of being tethered to a second EU2000IC if you decide you need more power in the future. It’s very light weight and you will barely hear anything from the inside of your rig when it’s running.
Is 2000 watts enough to run my air conditioner? If you ask this question in your favorite Facebook group the answer will overwhelmingly be ‘no’. But, those people aren’t as well-informed as you are about to be. The secret to running your AC on a 2000W generator is the EasyStart.
Why the Auxiliary Gas Tank?
Because the EU2200IC holds less than a tank of gas which is only 3 hours of run-time at full load (which you’ll be at if you’re running your AC). By hooking this puppy up to your generator you can get a full day of AC if you need it.
What is This MicroAir EasyStart Business?
This is the secret sauce that makes the world go ’round on a 2000W generator. Most 2000W generators can run your AC, they just can’t START it. When an air conditioner first starts up it sucks a TON of amperage; more than your generator can provide. It’s only for a brief second, and then it settles down into something manageable with a small generator. The EasyStart gets you over this momentary hurdle by slowly ramping up the juice. $300 gets you a little gray box that you wire into your air conditioner. It may sound scary but once you get to the actual install, you realize that most RV AC units are identical and the EasyStart has just four wires that you need to connect.