How to Choose the Right RV Power Invertert for Your RV


What RV Power Inverter Should I Buy?

It depends on what you’re going to use it for. You don’t buy a 20-ton truck to pull a 10-foot camper. You don’t pull a large trailer with a tiny plastic car. If you only want to operate a computer or similar low-energy user, all you may need is a small (300 watt) inverter. If you’re going to run a microwave or power tools, you may need a 1,200 watt or larger inverter. You may actually find it more efficient to have more than one inverter.

Types of RV Power Inverters

Not brand, but type. Just as there are types of engines (gas, diesel, etc.), there are types of inverters (or different technologies). Cost plays a part. You may still find low-tech, square-wave inverters for sale. They’re grossly inefficient, using most of the electricity they consume just to run themselves. Their simple electronics lead to other problems also — such as square TV pictures. If you’re just going to run a simple item for a few minutes, you might get by with one of these but compare prices with power inverters using better technology… you may not much difference.

Technological advances have led to very sophisticated, solid-state inverters. From 100 to over 5,000 watts, ultra-efficient, with all sorts of advantages. Some of these use less than 10% of the energy consumed when fully loaded and way less than 1% at lesser outputs to operate.

At first glance, these Power Inverters are not cheap. But in terms of efficiency and the doller per watt cost compared to what you get out of them, they’re cheaper than the less-efficient units.

Some can be held in your palm and simply plugged into a 12VDC receptacle. Other, larger output models, require elaborate installation. Some have features and options well worth an added cost.

What Size RV Power Inverter do I Need?

Do you want to use a Microwave or mutiple appliances at the same time? You’ll need over 1,200 watts capacity. You’ll also need at least 200AH (Amp Hours) of battery capacity (to run a microwave for brief periods). You’ll need more battery reserve for longer periods and heavier loads. If you’ll be cooking full dinners for 30 minutes, you’ll need a 400AH battery capacity.

Just want to operate a TV or computer? Usually a 200 to 300 watt inverter is enough.

When it comes to buying an RV power inverter there are two ways to go:

One. Get a good, efficient 1,200W or larger inverter and feed the whole place. The best ones are 90+% efficient and no longer need to be matched to the load. They’ll do nearly as well running a small load as a big one. Incredible but true.

Two. If you don’t need a big inverter, consider having one or more smaller power inverters and use the size appropriate for the job at hand.

Maybe have an 800W for everything except a microwave. Perhaps a 300W for TVs, VCRs, stereos and satellite systems. A 200W palm-size may operate a small TV, small stereo, computer or breathing machine. The breathing machine is a prime inverter use. A palm size can be easily plugged into RV or tow vehicle cigarette lighter receptacle and can bring freedom to the camp-ground bound.

COST: The cost of power inverters, in general, has gone down over the years and they are more affordable now than they have ever been. But you need to compare barands and models carefully and be aware that the cheapest unit may not be the best ‘deal’.

A good quality, brand-name 1,200+ watt power inverter may cost over $1,000. A power inverter made specifically for RV use may cost even more.

A “variety pack” may cost about the same as a singler large power inverter but probably less. And an advantage of having a variety… you don’t have to buy all the power inverters at the same time.

RV BATTERIES: Technically, you can run anything you want from an inverter — if it’s big enough and you have enough batteries and if you have a way to keep the batteries charged. But an RV, while it may be a home, is not a homestead. Space and weight are considerations. So practically you woun’t be able to run your aircoditioner on a power inverter. And you probably won’t be able to run everything at once even with a large RV power inverter.

Small inverters can be used on a one-battery system with hardly any difference in amp draw. Large inverters will demand two batteries or four (or more) with heavy loads.

You may also want to read: RV Power Inverter Basics

Full Time RVing and Working on the Road

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by Steven Fletcher:
Earning a living while full time RVing depends a lot on your lifestyle and how much money you need to get along… if you have some pension, have a lot of bills etc. There are as many ways to full time RV as there are full time RVers and as many ways to work while full timing as there are full timers who work. Everyone’s health and abilities and interests are unique and that’s what determines the kind of work they do.

To get an idea of the jobs available for RVers visit Workamper News and Workers on Wheels You will find lots of listings for jobs at both sites. Most of these jobs are in campgrounds and RV parks as managers and maintenance. registration, bathroom cleaning, mini-mart, and grounds keeping. But other kinds of jobs are also listed. Also check out the Coolworks web site. It’s not specifically for RVers but does have jobs for and of interest to RVers.

If you have construction related skills you will have no problem finding work. The park we called nome-base for many years always has several construction workers. Most professional skills will allow you to full time.

There is also seasonal work… that’s what Fran is doing as I write this. She works at the local peach cannery dispatching trucks that haul the peaches into the cannery. The job lasts about three months… July thru September… and pays enough to get work done on the truck and RV etc and put a little in savings. She gets to draw unemployment most of the rest of the year and that, along with a little social security, gets us by. If we manage to pick up a few dollars with an odd job or two that’s all the better.

I know of a couple who ran off and joined the circus… she tutored the circus children. I don’t remember what the husband did if anything.

I knew a young man who was a computer programmer and telecommuted to his job from an RV park in Lake Havasu Arizona.

There is a couple who manage mini-storage lots temporarily until the company can find permanent managers.

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Kay Seliskar does professional seminars all over the US. If they can’t drive to the next seminar she flies there. Tom, her husband then often drives on to the next place they want to visit and she flies back to the nearest airport. Tom does photography and is developing a business.

The bottom line is it is easy to find work, or make work, but you might have to be flexible about what you are willing to do.

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Don’t Over Idle Your RV’s Diesel Engine

by Steven Fletcher
I don’t know why diesel engines are so noisy compared to gas engines. I’m sure there’s a good reason, I just don’t know what it is. But I do know they’re too darn noisy.

My biggest complaint, without doubt, is diesel owners who idle their engines incessantly, especially at 6:00 a.m. Certainly, most diesel owners are considerate… thank you… but it happens far to often.

In a few cases they really are inconsiderate people but most times these diesel owners think it’s good, even necessary, to let their engines idle for twenty or thirty minutes after startup or before shut down. Truth is, besides being wearisome to neighbors excessive idling can be harmful to your engine.

How Long Do You Really Need to Idle an RV Diesel Engine

I don’t expect you to take my word for it so I emailed Cummins customer support. I couldn’t run the complete reply because it’s too long for this article but here are the key parts:

The definitive reply is contained in your Operation and Maintenance manual for the engine. The guidelines are set for extreme conditions such that the engine is protected if one follows the guidelines.

<snip>…. your engine will last relatively longer or shorter depending on how well you abide by the suggestions in the O&M manual. If it’s not severely cold out and you’re using high quality, clean 15W-40 engine oil or 10W-30 below 70 deg. F, you may start the engine, let it idle for 10-15 seconds and slowly drive away (at modest power levels) with no ill effects.

If running hard or pulling up hill, the engine may need to be run as long as 5 minutes at idle to uniformly cool internal components and reject heat away from turbo bearings; running slowly off the Interstate ramp and driving at low power levels to the fuel stop counts for some of this time, but if running on the highway, it’s a good idea to idle for a couple of minutes before shutting down.

Cummins does NOT recommend excessive idling of the engines, since it can cause excessive carbon buildup on the pistons, piston rings, injector tips, valves, etc.

Over-the-road truckers and bus operators keep their engines running to keep the heaters and/or air conditioning going, however, they run the engines up to about 1200 rpm or so and that will usually keep the coolant temperature in the 140 to 160 range. It still is not recommended by Cummins…

For RV applications, it is recommended that the vehicle be driven for an hour rather than be started and ran at idle for an hour. <end snip>

I have received a few e-mails from readers that tell me their motorhome requires as much as six minutes to build up air pressure in the braking system. Here’s my reply.

“You’re right, of course about building up air pressure for your motorhome’s braking system. That issue is not specifically ‘excessive engine warm up’, which was my complaint, but is a reason for idle at startup.

However it’s not an excuse to annoy your neighbors. Especially if you’re one who likes to leave the RV park at the crack of dawn. Many diesel motorhomes have an auxiliary air compressor and so do not require the engine to be running in order to build air pressure. It’s my opinion that responsible owners of diesel powered motorhomes should have auxillury air compressors.”

Now I don’t want you to think I’m obsessed with diesel engine noise or that it’s some kind of cause’ for me… I’m not and it isn’t.

I probably tolerate diesel engine noise as well as the average RVer does.

I don’t hate diesel engines or the people who own them. I accept the diesel engine as part of RVing. But a few RVers have the idea that because their RV came from the factory with a noisy diesel it’s somehow not there fault when they wake the neighbors while leaving the RV park at 5 a.m. I just thought someone should say, it is your fault and you have an obligation to mitigate the noise as much as you possibly can.

Acme or POL valve required for RV propane cylinders & cylinder re-certification

The Federal government prohibited the sale and use of POL valves found on older DoT type propane cylinders. (POL is an abbreviation for Prest-O-Lite, for the company that first produced the valve). These valves have the familiar female left-hand-thread in the valve and are the type most of us currently have. Cylinders with this type valve were discontinued beginning in the year 2000, and may may no longer be refilled.

The old POL valves were replaced by a new Acme type which uses a QCC (Quick Closing Coupling) connector. This connector has an external (male) right-hand thread on the valve. A pigtail hose can be connected and disconnected by hand… no wrench required. These valves also have the old-style POL internal left-hand thread, so they can be used directly in place of the old valves without modifying your RV. If you like the no-tools convenience of new style connector you may want to replace your pigtail hoses with new ones having the QCC connectors.

The new ACME or QCC valve also contains an OPD (Overfill Protection Device). So you may find them called ACME valves, OPD valves or QCC valves, depending on the supplier. The OPD feature prevents accidental overfill of the cylinder. An internal float mechanism shuts off the valve when the propane tank is 80% filled. The 20% empty space is necessary to prevent the cylinder from venting large amounts of propane when the temperature rises. (ASME type cylinders in most motorhomes have had this OPD feature for many years). The new OPD valve also contains another safety feature – it will not release gas unless the pigtail hose is properly connected, even with the valve open.

POL Valves

The old-style cylinder valve is known as a POL valve, named for the manufacturer that devised it. You tighten the connector of the regulator pigtail by turning the fitting counter-clockwise, and you usually need to use a wrench to make the connection tight enough to prevent leaks. With a POL valve, if you open it with no fitting attached, propane is freely released. That’s why a plug is required to be screwed into the valve during transport of the cylinder and when it is stored or not connected to your RV. The plug is an attempt to prevent an accidental opening of the valve from creating a dangerous situation.

This valve also has a built-in bleeder valve the service technician uses to check for proper filling and a pressure relief device to prevent over pressurization of the cylinder.

ACME Valves

This valve is also known as QCC (Quick Closing Coupling) or OPD (Overfill Protection Device) The New ACME valve looks bulkier because there are external threads visible. The external threads don’t necessarily require a change to the connector on the end of the regulator pigtail hose. They are compatible, as the left-hand-thread fitting on your RV regulator will screw into the internal POL threads of the new ACME valve.

However, one of the benefits of the new connector is that it is designed to be attached to the cylinder without tools. You only have to hand-tighten the connector. And, you tighten as you would normally tighten a threaded fitting, by turning it to the right (clock-wise). So at the cost of a few dollars it may be good to replace the pigtail hoses.

Propane Cylinder Re-certification

If you have an older RV��you should know that according to Federal law, DoT cylinders may only be used for 12 years after their manufacture date. After that, the cylinders must be “re-certified” which provides another five years of use. The cylinders can be re-certified every five years thereafter.

Propane dispensers are legally required to look at the date stamped on the cylinder before filling it. Some dealers actually do look. We’ve been reminded a few times that our cylinders were about to expire. Check the date stamped on your cylinders… don’t rely on your rig’s model year even if the cylinders are original. It’s quite possible they are a year or more older than your rig. Ours were.

Re-certification is usually done by the large bulk propane suppliers but we found one of our local RV repair shops was certified to do the job and they do it for free! Call around to see who may do it in your area.

A safety note for you: Propane cylinders of the DoT design must be transported and stored in an upright position so the pressure relief device will function properly. Laying the cylinder on its side in the trunk of your car is a potentially very dangerous situation.
You may also want to read: Propane Safety Tips for RVers

Portable Generator or RV Generator for Recreational Vehicles


Portable Generator Question:

We just bought a new fifth wheel. I’m researching the different alternatives for a 4kw generator. My question is, are portable generators such as those available at Home Depot, adequate for occasional (non-campground) use?

I’m thinking of just throwing it in the bed of the truck to use when the A/C is needed for sleeping or we want to run the microwave on a boondocking trip. I can’t really afford a good RV class generator right now.

Answer:

Most experienced ‘campers’ have gone through this dilemma and many of us have learned the hard way (is there any other way?) that the RV class generator is the only way to go. The basic reasons are that RV generators have about three times the horse power and run at around 1800 rpm., which is much easier to muffle. They also have electric start and are built for many hours of continuous use.

But if a portable is the only thing you can afford then here’s few thoughts compiled from a discussion on an online discussion group mailing list.

Portable or “contractor-grade” generators typically have cruder engines which are noisier of themselves, and run twice as fast as RV-type generators creating more noise. Compare the noise ratings. To make a fair comparison, make sure that the rating is given at the same distance e.g., “55db at 20 feet”.

These days portable or contractor grade generators have gotten quieter so if you can hear one run you may be satisfied with the noise level. Still it’s not likely to be as quite as an RV generator.

Check the height of the generator to make sure it doesn’t stick up past the bed rails of your truck and *rob* your clearance between your fifth wheel and the truck.

Running a generator in the truck bed often amplifies the sound. If you plan to leave it in the truck while it’s in operation, you can (1) mount the generator on sound-absorbing feet or thick rubber pad, and (2) supplement the stock muffler with an automobile or other large muffler. This will not reduce the mechanical noise made by the motor though.

Boondocking in the desert at Quartzsite we saw many RVers with portable generators set down in a wash (below grade) away from the camp site. This significantly reduced the noise level. The drawbacks are having to unload the generator and locate it in the wash and the need for a heavy gauge extension cord long enough to reach the RV. Also consider the walk out to start and stop the generator when you want to run it. There is a possibility of theft. And of course what’s quiet for you may be noisy for your neighbors.

“Throwing” a 150-lb generator into and out of the truck bed can really get old.

The exhaust system may not be an approved spark arrestor type, as required in many camping areas… although it’s sometimes an option.

An RV air conditioner is a large load for all but the biggest portable generators. Consider if you will be using the A/C, and therefore the generator, for several hours at a time. Make sure the generator is rated for continuous use.

The above also applies to a travel trailer assuming it’s pulled by a truck but motor home owners will have the added problem of storage. If you have space in your motor home to store a generator you should really consider installing an RV generator.

There are many RVers who are using the very small and quiet portable generators from Honda, Yamaha and other manufacturers to provide minimal power for TV’s, computer systems and Microwaves. While most are not powerful enough to run an RV air conditioner or a number of lesser appliances at the same time the RVers who use them are satisfied with them for what they can do. Also, these small generators are used more casually for short time use.

You may also want to read: Most Frequently Asked Questions about RV Generators and RV Electrical System Basics

Dry Rot can destroy your Motorhome, Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer!

by Steven Fletcher
I received an e-mail from Mark, Fran’s #1 son, describing how the paneling around the front window of his Class C motorhome had pulled away from the window frame and the wood underneath was soft and crumbly. He said the best way he could describe it was that it looked like termites had gotten in but he just couldn’t imagine termites in a motorhome! What did I think?

Of course I knew what the problem was and wrote back to say he had dry rot. To make things worse, they had just purchased the motorhome last spring and no doubt the dry rot was an existing problem. It would have been nice to have spotted it before he closed the deal.

The term “dry rot” is actually a misnomer because the decay is caused by certain fungi capable of carrying water into the wood they infest. The water can be transported far away from the source and the wood will often feel dry to the touch thus the term dry rot.

Gradually, the wood decomposes and its strength is lost. And, as Mark knows too well, such damage is often inconspicuous until it’s final stages, working behind the paneling on the structural framing of the RV.
This travel trailer was in the shop to have the siding replaced due to hail damage. After the siding was rempved, the dry rot was found.
( click photo to see closup of damage )

Dry rot in an RV can be caused by an undiscovered plumbing leak but is usually caused by a leak in the outer skin which lets rain water in.

And that’s about all I knew about dry rot when I received Mark’s e-mail. But it got me wondering.

I couldn’t find much information on the internet about dry rot in Motorhomes, Fifth Wheels and Travel Trailers so I drove over to All-Rite RV Parts and Service in Yuba City, California. If I can’t fix it myself Dave Allred and Dave Stewart are the guys I call. Here’s what they told me.

Almost everyone is good about re-caulking the roof seams but that’s only part of prevention. Cracks can develop in the rim of plastic roof vents well above the seam. Dave said he’s seen it often enough that he recommends replacing plastic vents with metal ones.

Marker lights are often the source of a leak. Make sure you at least check them each time your reseal the roof. And be sure you replace any broken or missing lenses.

Windows are a major source of water leaks. Especially the front overhang window on class Cs. Partly because they get the full force of rain while driving but mostly because they are too hard for most people to inspect. Or too easy to neglect. Dave advised those of us with RVs over ten years old to have all the windows removed and resealed.

Inspect your RV Regularly

On the outside, look for irregularities around window and door frames. If you have screws that won’t stay tight you may have a problem. If the screws are rusted or corroded you DO have a problem and it’s a good indication of dry rot.

A day or two after you’ve washed your RV or after a rain storm check along the bottom edges. If it is still wet you probably have a leak. Check it out.

On the inside, look for water marks on the ceiling especially around roof vents. Remove the vent flanges and air conditioner shrouds and look for discoloration in the wood. That’s a sure sign of a leak and possible dry rot.

And, of course, check around the windows. Look for discoloration, softness of the paneling and loose screws.

Get any Problems in Your RV Fixed

Repairing the leak is only part of the repair. You must make sure the wood is dry. If there is any sign of dry rot treat the wood with an antifungal solution. Dave says regular household bleach works for him but there are commercial formulas of disodium octaborate tetrahydrate or sodium borate with brand names of Bora-Care�, Guardian�, Jecta�, Shell-Guard�, Tim-bor�.

If the wood has decomposed enough that the screws won’t hold, don’t just put in longer screws! Dave and Dave said Git Rot, an epoxy like product, can rebuild dry rotted wood, but if you wait until the long screws won’t hold there may not be enough wood left to rebuild.

No doubt dry rot is responsible for the early death of many Motorhomes, Fifth Wheels and Travel Trailers simply because it isn’t spotted and repaired before it gets out of hand. Your RV doesn’t have to be one them.

The repairs to Mark’s RV wound up costing him $7,000! The good news is his motorhome is nearly as good as new and has many more miles left to go.

Keeping Your RV Refrigerator Cool… the Basics

RV refrigerators don’t work the same way your home unit does. Your RV unit uses heat to start a chemical reaction which, through evaporation and then condensation, cools the cold box. The primary heat source for RV refrigerators is a small propane burner. Many units include a 120 volt AC electric heating element for use when the RV is hooked up to curbside shore power. When you are not hooked up, obviously you will need to operate on propane. In camp, with shore power, it’s a matter of choice as to which you use; propane or 120 volt. You may prefer electricity simply because it increases the time between propane fill-ups. But a refrigerator uses very little propane compared to a water heater or furnace.

Some refrigerators installed in motorhomes also have a 12 volt DC heating element. These are often referred to as three-way refrigerators… propane, 120 vAC and 12 vDC. The 12vDC heating element draws several amps and can discharge a battery in a short time. Therefore three-way refrigerators are usually found in motorhomes and are intended to allow the unit to be operated while traveling. Remember, when the engine is not running the battery is not being charged by the alternator. Also, make sure the alternator in your vehicle is large enough to power all the lights, charge the batteries and operate the refrigerator.

It is important to keep an RV refrigerator level during operation to avoid irreparable damage. This is especially important in older units… pre 1986 or so. For newer refrigerators it’s only necessary to keep it reasonably level… if your motor home, travel trailer or fifth wheel is comfortable then the refrigerator is likely level enough. Before you use your refrigerator for the first time place a small bubble level on a refrigerator shelf. Adjust the the level of your RV until the refrigerator is level. Then find a countertop or some other place on the RV that also reads level. This will be your reference from now on. If you keep the level in the frig and you open the door several times to check for level the refrigerator can take an hour or more to recover.

Here’s some tips for getting the most from your RV refrigerator.

Pre-cool the refrigerator for several hours before use.

Put only cold things in the refrigerator… buy cold sodas and beer or pre-cool them in your home refrigerator.

Keep the refrigerator well stocked with items that hold the cold well. Things like cans of soda, beer and bottles of water etc. will give up some of their cold to the air in the refrigerator and help keep other things cold until the refrigerator can recover.

Plan ahead. Know what you will need from the refrigerator before you open the door. Get everything at the same time and put it all back at the same time.

You may also want to read: Is it okay to travel with my RV Refrigerator on propane?

How to Sanitize Your RV Fresh Water System

by Steven Fletcher:

Insuring clean, safe drinking water in your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer requires sanitizing your fresh water system. For a new or new-to-you RV you will want to sanitize before your first use of the system. You may also want to sanitize the system if your RV has not been used for some time, for example if it has been stored for the winter.

Generally Accepted Method to Sanitize Fresh Water

The generally accepted method of sanitizing your RV’s fresh water system as outlined below involves filling the fresh water tank with a solution of household bleach and running the solution through each faucet. Then letting it stand for at least three hours. Finally, flush the system once or twice to remove the taste and smell.

This procedure is one you’ll find in most any book about RVing it tried and true but be sure to read on to find out what I do.

Start with a nearly full fresh water tank.

Turn the water heater off and let the water cool.

Dilute 1/4 cup of household bleach for each 15 gallons of tank capacity in to a gallon of water.

Add the chlorine/water solution to the water tank. (Never pour straight bleach into the RV fresh water tank. )

One faucet at a time, let the chlorinated water run through them for one or two minutes. You should be able to smell the chlorine. (Make sure you are using the water pump and not an external water supply.)

Top off the RV fresh water tank and let stand for at least three hours over night is better.

Completely drain the system by flushing the faucets for several minutes each. Open the fresh water tank drain valve to speed up emptying the tank.and Open the hot water tank drain plug and drain until it is empty.

Close all valves and faucets and drain plugs.

Fill water tank with fresh water.

Flush each faucet for several minutes each repeating until the tank is again empty. (Make sure you are using the water pump and not an external water supply.)

Fill the tank again. The water should now be safe to drink but if the chlorine odor is too strong you can repeat the fresh water flush.

Your RV fresh water system should now be safe for use.

The way I Sanitize My RV’s Fresh Water Tank.

A friend and fellow full time RVer, Bill Randolph told me how he uses something other than household bleach which works well for him and I also started using it. I think it is worth passing on to you. Before he retired, Bill spent twenty years in the swimming pool business. He’s an expert when it comes to sanitizing swimming pools and spas and says the same rules apply to RV fresh water systems.

Bill uses Chlorinating Concentrate (Sodium Dichloro-s-Triazinetricone or Sodium Dichlor for short). Sodium Dichlor contains 62% available chlorine. Compare that to household bleach which has something close to 3%. One pound of Sodium Dichlor is equal to 8 gallons of bleach! Also, household bleach contains other stuff, including a lot of salt, and that salt and other stuff is what causes the bad taste and why you have to flush the fresh water tank so well.

Bill says it takes only 1 teaspoon of the concentrate per 100 gallons of water to initially sanitize the system. Remember to run water through all the faucets. It’s okay to use the full teaspoon even on smaller tanks because you will be flushing the tank before adding the water you intend to drink but it seems wasteful.

Like most of us, Bill travels with a near empty tank to reduce weight. So if he arrives at park where he plans to stay and they have well water, he drops a half teaspoon per 100 gallons of the concentrate into the fill tube and fills his water tank. This insures the system will always be sanitized. No, you do not have to flush again. It’s the equivalent to drinking chlorinated city water. If you are filling your tank from a source that is already chlorinated then you don’t need to add the concentrate.

That said, if you don’t like to drink chlorinated water, don’t add the concentrate to the water you intend to drink. Assuming, you fill your water tank from a trusted source you should be safe. Or, you can add the concentrate and then filter the water you drink or cook with.

Truth is I almost always seem to be filling the fresh water tank from a chlorinated source (city water supply) so I seldom need to to use the concentrate. And we do filter our drinking water.

This is not a case where more is better. This stuff is concentrated and it’s best to use just what Bill recommends.

Because Sodium Dichlor is so highly concentrated you only need to carry a very small container… buy the smallest container available. And it is dry crystals so there is less chance of a spill. However, because it is so concentrated it is highly corrosive so you do have to be careful how you store it and use it. You should be able to find Sodium Dichlor (Chlorinating Concentrate) at any pool supplies or spa store. Bill says there are several brands to choose from but brand should not be a factor in your choice… it’s all the same stuff.

You may also want to read: RV Fresh Water System Care and Maintenance and RV Fresh Water System Accessories

RV Electrical System Basics

The electrical system in motorhome, fifth wheel and travel trailer recreational vehicles is really two electrical systems: 120 volt alternating current and 12 volt direct current.

The 120 volt system is generally used to run the microwave oven, TV and RV air conditioner. Some lighting may also be 120 volts. To use the 120 volt appliances in your RV you’ll need an external power source (campground or home outlet) a RV generator or inverter.

The power for the 12v system is supplied by an onboard RV battery or batteries. The RV’s 12v system provides power for most of the lights, the water pump, furnace, radios, vent fans, power jacks and stabilizers, and sometimes the refrigerator. The 12v system is a big part of what makes your RV ‘self-contained’.

Your RV will most likely have a combination converter/ battery charger.

When hooked-up to outside 120 volt power a converter changes or converts 120 volts AC to 12 volts DC to operate the 12 volt system. It also charges the 12v RV battery or batteries which operate the 12 volt system when not on external power.

Generally you should not operate the converter without batteries connected because the RV batteries act as a filter of sorts and provides a more stable voltage to the electronic circuits of modern RV appliances.

Is it Safe to Travel with My RV Refrigerator on Propane?

By Steven Fletcher

Driving your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer with the RV refrigerator on while traveling is definitely okay as long as you operate on 120 volt AC or 12 volts DC assuming your unit has the capability to do so. To operate on 120 volts you will need a generator or inverter. RVers with motorhomes frequently run their generators so that they can use their RV’s air conditioner, TVs, Microwaves etc. They can also operate the refrigerator.

To operate on 12 volts DC, check with your RV mechanic to make sure your alternator and batteries will handle the extra load.

Remember, when you park the rig for more than a few minutes the rig must be level or the refer must be turned off to avoid damage to the refrigerator.

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not to travel with the refrigerator operating on propane.

After hearing both sides of the debate, I can tell you that there is no real consensus and both sides are adamant in their beliefs. As far as I can tell there is no right or wrong answer, it’s up to you to decide. Here are the arguments

Many RVers can see no danger in running the refrigerator on propane while on the road. They say they have traveled for years with no problems whatsoever. They point to the safety of propane powered vehicles and argue that we travel with tanks full of gasoline which is much more dangerous. Generally it is legal to travel while using propane, but keep in mind that it is illegal to have any open flames while near a service station fuel pump. And some tunnels and bridges may have restrictions too.

Other RVer’s, claim that traveling with the propane on is a disaster waiting to happen. They argue that in an accident a broken propane line could increase the possibility of fire, even an explosion. For them the only safe way to travel is with the propane tank valves closed!.

You may not have to travel with your refrigerator on at all.

If you travel less than four to five hours a day you can turn your refrigerator off and it will still stay cold enough to keep your food fresh. You can even open the door to get lunch or a cold drink if you don’t open it too many times.

If you decide to travel with the refrigerator off here are some tips for keeping things cold.

  • Start the refrigerator the day before you plan to travel.
  • Put cold soft drinks and beer etc. in the refrigerator the night before.
  • Pack the refrigerator full. Use the cold drinks to fill space.
  • Pack the freezer full.
  • Make sure everything is cold before you turn the refrigerator off.
  • Plan ahead… know what you want before you open the door and get everything you want at one time.

You may also want to read: Keeping Your RV Refrigerator Cool… the Basics