If you own an RV or are thinking about owning one, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about a power inverter. They’re at the top of most “must-have” accessory lists, and some RVs even come equipped with them! So what’s the big deal about an inverter? Well, if you want to be able to run things in your RV such as a computer, LED TV, or other items that are usually found in a house, you need to power them properly! Here’s why you need an inverter for your RV!
AC & DC
No, we’re not talking about the band! We’re talking about alternating current and direct current. Before you can understand what an inverter is and does, you need to understand the difference between these two. AC is alternating current and DC is direct current. The current created by both AC and DC is a flow of electrons. DC flows in one direction, usually coming from a battery or solar panel, and is a constant flow at around 12V. AC changes directions, is usually around 120V, and is what you get from shore power or the electricity that runs through a house. AC works much like your heart does when it pumps blood as it pushes with contraction and pulls with relaxation. Because there are two different types of current, you have to be careful as to what you run on each. Some electronics are made to run off DC, usually those that need low voltage, like the vent fans in the bathroom and kitchen, the water pump, and the LP leak and smoke detectors. DC is also what’s needed to charge your batteries. Items that run off AC are usually the larger items that require a higher voltage rating like the microwave, air conditioner, your TV, and the electrical setting of the refrigerator. If you have a residential refrigerator, then it only runs off AC.
Inverter vs Converter
A power converter changes an AC current to a DC current. When you’re plugged into shore power, the converter is going to kick in and take that 120V coming in and reduce it to 12V for the things that need it, including sending a current to your house batteries to recharge them. These typically come standard on RVs.
A power inverter does the opposite. When you’re running off of your batteries or solar panels, such as when you’re out boondocking, the inverter takes that 12V current and converts it to 120V current to send to the items that require it. Most items that are in an RV are going to draw DC, but some of the more residential stuff will require AC, such as residential refrigerators, TVs, space heaters (some like to use these to cut down on propane usage), the microwave, etc.
Do You Actually Need An Inverter?
An inverter is good to have on hand no matter where you camp because you just never know what may happen. If you like to boondock or camp in places that don’t offer electrical hookups, and you have luxury items such as a TV, computer, air conditioner, or a microwave, you'll need an inverter. These items won’t run off the battery or solar panels alone because they supply 12V DC. These items need 120V AC. If this sounds like you, then you definitely need an inverter!
The Best Inverters
Now that you know whether or not you need an inverter, you need to know which type to get. You’ll find a modified sine wave inverter, a pure sine wave inverter, and lots of different sizes. AC power sine waves on a graph flow up and down in a smooth, rounded motion. A modified sine wave inverter attempts to replicate this but mainly can only make straight lines, not wavy, so it looks very blocky on the graph. This blocky way of doing it reduces the amount of power sent and can actually cause damage to some items, while other items won’t even work off it at all. If you have items like a TV, higher-powered coffee maker, laptop, etc., and/or you want to be able to run more than one item at a time, you need to go with a pure sine inverter.
Now the decision comes to the size of the inverter. This will greatly depend on what you’re running and how many things you need to run at one time. With a 1500-watt inverter you can usually get away with a few things running at the same time, but eventually it may not be enough. If you’re a full timer, the 1.5K isn’t going to cut it. As Nikki and Jason from Gone With The Wynns found out, if they turned on the TV and DVD player for movie night, and then popped some popcorn in the microwave, their 1.5K would pop its fuse every time. They upgraded to a 3K inverter and are now able to run pretty much everything they need.
So, if you like to travel with the luxuries of home while running off your battery or solar panels, you’ll need an inverter to ensure everything works! If you don’t have much in your RV because you just like to be outside and only use it for sleeping, it still may be a good idea to get a small inverter. This is just for those emergency situations where you may be stuck somewhere and have to use something you didn’t really plan on.