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What Size Generator Do I Need For My Camper

what size generator do i need for my camper
Written by Jamie Masterson

Generator sizing

Although the robust appearance of a generator might make you think that generators are sized in tonnes or kilos, surprisingly, they are sized in watts! Watts= Amps x Volts. This equation can tell you the amount of watts your electronics will require to operate. Apart from this, you can also use the chart below to decide how many watts your electronics need to run through the day without any problems.

Wattage by appliance

Approximate Starting Wattage Approximate Running Wattage
TV – Tube type 300 300
TV – Flat Screen 120 120
RV Air Conditioner 11000 BTU 1600 1010
RV Air Conditioner 13500 BTU 2800 1800
RV Air Conditioner 15000 BTU  3300  2000
RV Refrigerator  600 180
Blender 850 400
Electric Grill (tabletop)  1650  1650
Slow Cooker 170-270 170-270
Hair Dryer (1600 watts) 1900 1800
Microwave Oven (650 watts) 1000 1000
Coffee Maker 600 600
Radiant Heater 1300 1300
Laptop computer 200-250 200-250
Satellite Receiver  250  250
Radio 50 to 200 50 to 200
Two-Way Radio 12A 360W 360W
Two-Way Radio 23A 840W 840W
Two-Way Radio 35A 960W 960W
Fan (portable) 120 40
DVD Player 350  350

You need to figure out exactly what you are going to use in your camper. Whether it is going to be just to power small devices like the phone, lights, tv or radio, or whether you’re going to enjoy the air conditioner.

At this point, you probably know that most generators have running watts and starting watts. So although a 3000 W generator might initially give you 3000 W to start your air con, for using it in the long term, it might be only rated as 2600W. Hence, it is important to keep note of the trailer and how much power is required to run things inside it because after your 3000W gen set starts your 13,500 BTU air conditioner that may run at 2000W, you will have about 600Wto power up other items.

However, out of all the other appliances and electronics, it is the air conditioner that will take up the most wattage out of all the rest. Astonishingly, it is starting the air conditioner that requires more power than to keep it running. As a result, the minimum wattage of the generator needed equals the starting wattage of the AC.

What Size Generator Should I Pick For My Camper?

Since deciding on the size of the generator can be fussy due to all the calculations, below is a cheat sheet to make your life a good deal easier.

Generator Use
1,000 Watt Powers small appliances, lights and minor electronics.
2,000 to 3,000 Watt Along with the fridge, microwave and hot water heater, it powers everything. An AC is an exception though.
3,600 to 4,000 Watt Powers everything in your camper; even your AC.

Should you get two generators?

If you have two AC’s that you only use for a couple of hours but not all the time, then like some campers, you can get a small and a large generator. The small generator can be used regularly, whereas the large generator can be used mostly for the days when the air conditioner needs to stay alive and blowing throughout the day. On one hand, a  2000-watt generator will actively run all the things in your camper except an AC. On the other hand, a 4000-watt generator will power everything and a little more by running the AC too! A 1000-watt generator will  run everything except the AC and the microwave, which is still a lot for its size.

So, if you feel that your overall usage is pretty low, and you won’t be using an AC on your camper, be sure that a 1000 Watt generator would suffice you 90% of the time.

If you don’t want to use the cheat sheet or you are proud of your math skills and hence want to use numbers to find out the size of the generator on your own, following these three steps will make your job a lot easier.

The steps:

1. Calculate the power needs

First of all, you need to calculate the watts that will be used by all your electronics and appliances in your camper.  To make your calculations a lot easier, a table is provided below to give you an estimation of the common appliances used in a camper and their wattage.

However, note that in order to get the most accurate information, it’s best to look at the specific appliances and check the level of wattage they actually use to operate.

Appliance Estimated Watts
Air conditioner 2000 at startup
TV 150
Microwave 1,000
Refrigerator 400-600 at startup
Coffee maker 1000
Toaster 1100
Hair Dryer 710
Phone charger 4
Laptop 60
DVD player 17
Electric blanket 400
Space heater 1250
Water heater 1500
Other 0

Tip: Just in case your product shows amps only, by using this simple formula, you can calculate the watts.  Watts= Volts x Amps. So, if a microwave is of 10amp and 120 volts, Watts= 120 x 10 =1200.

2. Figure out the size of the generator required

Now that you know the total wattage that your camper could use any instant, it’s time to select the size of the generator that’s perfect for your camper. The most ideal way to make sure that you choose a generator that has enough power is to choose a generator that can totally cover all the appliances operating at once.  As a matter of fact, it’s wise to add 10% to the total wattage just to stay on the safe side.

As an example, if your camper has a requirement of 3,500 watts to run at its highest capacity, to avoid any of the electronics from failing to run later on, it’s a good idea to look for a 3,850 watt (or higher) rated generator.

Remember that in terms of camper generators, NEVER make the buying decision with a ‘less Is more attitude.’ Because if you do so, it is likely that you may be left without the level of power you actually need.

Without a doubt, money is also a big factor when it comes to buying generators. So, as you purchase your generator, even at the very least, choose a generator that can power all the must-have appliances that switch on and off on their own. Apart from them, your generator should also power those appliances or electronics that you can use throughout the day, especially the appliances you need to use simultaneously.

3. Finding the perfect generator.

Once you know the size of your generator for the camper, it’s about time to find a model that is reliable and fits all your necessities.  But with the hundreds of different models and brands of camper generators, finding the best one for you can be tricky. But if you cleverly go through the highly-rated and reviewed models of various wattage and price points, choosing the right generator for you shouldn’t be so complex anymore.

About the author

Jamie Masterson

With decade-long experience as a generator technician, Jamie has worked with USA’s top generator manufacturers and suppliers as an independent contractor.

The long years of service to the industry has taught Jamie the ins and outs of troubleshooting, repairing, and maintaining all kinds of generators in home, industrial and outdoor settings.

Jamie thinks this platform is a great opportunity to share his tips and tricks with you so you can make the most of such power equipment for better living.

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