Retro RV with open door parked in a green, leafy area with a text overlay 'Powering Your RV Adventure: A Guide to Choosing the Right Generator'.

How Big of a Generator Do I Need to Run My RV AC?

Are you getting ready for an RV trip and wondering how big a generator you need to keep your air conditioning (AC) running? Here’s all the info you need to stay cool and comfortable. A generator between 2,200 and 3,000 watts is usually good for smaller RVs such as ‘Class B’ (17 to 23 feet) and ‘Class C’ (20 to 30 feet). However, for ‘Class A’ RVs (26 to 45 feet), you might need something stronger, like over 4,000 watts. The right size also depends on what else you're powering up besides the AC. 

Understanding Your RV AC's Power Requirements

When planning a trip in your RV, one of the top comforts to consider is your AC. To keep the temperature right, and the AC running without a hitch, it's important to know the power needs– this will help you choose the right generator.

RV AC units require power in two main ways:

Starting Power (Surge Watts): This is the initial burst of power the AC needs to start up. Think of it as the energy required to get the AC's motor running from a stop. It's a lot at first, but it doesn't last long.

Running Power (Rated Watts): Once the AC is on, it needs consistent power to keep operating. This is usually less than the starting power.

Most RV AC units will need between 1,500 to 3,000 watts to start up. After starting, they typically require 600 to 1,500 watts to keep running.

Why is this important? 

Knowing these wattage requirements helps you pick a generator that's just right. If the generator is too small, it won't be able to start your AC. Too large, and you may be using more power than you actually need.

But there's more to it. 

You'll likely be running other appliances simultaneously with your AC. So, you'll need to consider the total power use of everything you plan to run simultaneously to ensure your generator can handle it all efficiently.

Calculating Your RV AC's Power Consumption

Think about how you use your RV. Are you powering a single AC unit and a few lights or running multiple appliances simultaneously? Your usage will guide the size of the generator you need.

Step 1: Check Your AC's Manual

Your RV's air conditioning manual or a label on the unit itself should provide information about its starting and running power. Figure out how much power your RV's AC uses, including starting power (surge watts) and running power (rated watts). If you have this information, that's great! Otherwise, it's important to know that a typical RV air conditioner requires about 1,500 to 3,000 watts to start and 600 to 1,500 watts to keep running.

Step 2: Add Other Appliances

Consider the other appliances or devices you plan to use besides the main power source in your RV. For instance, you might use the lights, run the fridge, and charge your phone. Each of these activities requires power, so it is essential to check the manuals or labels to determine how much power each one needs. Please note this information for future reference.

Step 3: Do the Math

Add up the running watts of all your appliances, including the AC's running watts. This will tell you how much power you need to keep everything running. Next, look at the starting watts required for each appliance. Your generator must meet or exceed the highest starting watts out of all your motor-driven appliances so everything can start up without tripping your generator.

Starting Watts
Running Watts
Phone Charge


Total running watts needed: 1,200 (AC) + 200 (fridge) + 100 (lights) + 50 (charger) = 1,550 watts

Highest starting watts: AC's 2,800 watts

In this example, you'd want a generator that can handle at least 2,800 starting watts (to start the AC) and provide at least 1,550 running watts for everything to work smoothly together.

Sizing Considerations for 30-Amp vs. 50-Amp RVs

Choosing the right generator for your RV is more than just picking the biggest one you can find. It's about matching the generator's power to what your RV can handle and what you need. 

Generator Size for 30-Amp RVs

30-amp RVs are common. For these RVs, you need a generator that can provide between 2,200 to 3,000 starting watts. This is the power required to get your AC and other appliances up and running. After that initial start, your generator should offer 1,500 to 2,000 running watts to keep everything running smoothly.

Generator Size for 50-Amp RVs

If you have a 50-amp RV, you're dealing with a larger setup offering more space, possibly more AC units, and the ability to run more appliances simultaneously. You'll need a generator with at least 4,000 starting watts and about 3,000 running watts.

Generator Options: From Portable to Built-In Solutions

When it comes to powering your RV, you've got options. Your choice between a portable and built-in generator depends on your RV use and what conveniences matter most to you. If you love the idea of 'set it and forget it,' a built-in might be your style. But a portable generator could be your best bet if you're all about flexibility and saving some cash. Let's break down your choices for generators into portable and built-in solutions.

Portable Generators:

You can take them anywhere, set them up quickly, and they're ready to go. They're great for RVers who move around a lot and need flexibility. These generators are typically more affordable and can be stored away when not in use, making them perfect for occasional use or for those who prefer a more minimal setup. However, while versatile, they can be noisy, require setup outside your RV regardless of the weather, and may need extra measures to secure them against theft or protection from the elements.

Built-In Generators:

Super convenient, built-in generators are a part of your RV, ready to power up your adventures without the need for setup. These are fantastic for those who use their RVs often or for long periods, offering convenience and power at the push of a button. Built-in generators are more expensive up front, occupy space within your RV, and can be complex to install if your RV isn't already equipped for one.

Enhancing the Efficiency of Your RV Generator

Optimizing the efficiency of your RV generator is similar to maintaining a high-performance car. Proper care and usage can substantially improve its operational efficiency and fuel economy.

Keep it Clean & Include Regular Oil Changes:

Maintaining cleanliness by keeping the air filter and spark plugs clear of debris is essential for optimal performance. Similarly, regular oil changes are vital, similar to routine vehicle maintenance, to prevent overheating and guarantee smooth generator operation.

Load Management & Conscious Consumption

Load management is about avoiding an overburdened generator, as overloading can strain the system and increase fuel consumption, similar to how overloading a vehicle affects its engine. To minimize the load, utilize only essential appliances and deactivate unnecessary ones, enhancing a vehicle's fuel efficiency by reducing excessive power consumption.

You can also use apps to monitor and automate your RV generator's efficiency, which offer real-time insights into power usage. Techniques like enhancing your RV's insulation, using reflective covers, and employing pre-cooling techniques can significantly reduce the demand for heating and air conditioning systems.

If within your budget, you can also add alternative energy sources such as solar panels or wind turbines to reduce your generator's workload. Implementing these strategies adds to your generator's life, cuts fuel expenses, and supports more sustainable and resource-efficient practices.

Sustainable Alternatives to Traditional RV Generators

More eco-friendly RVing experiences are turning away from traditional fuel-powered generators in favor of sustainable alternatives. These alternatives lessen environmental impact and offer quieter, more cost-effective solutions for powering your RV adventures.

Solar Power Systems

One of the most popular and accessible sustainable options is solar power. Installing solar panels on your RV can capture the sun's energy to power your appliances and lights. This option is particularly appealing for those who love to camp off-grid but still want the comforts of home. Solar power systems can range from small setups designed for charging batteries to larger systems capable of running the entire RV.

Wind Turbines

Though less common than solar power, small wind turbines can also be an option for RVs, especially in windy areas. Similar to solar panels, these turbines can charge your RV's battery bank, providing another renewable energy source that works day and night, as long as there's wind.

Hybrid Systems

For the ultimate efficiency and reliability, some RVers opt for hybrid systems that combine solar panels, wind turbines, and sometimes even smaller traditional generators. These systems can switch between power sources based on availability and need, ensuring you always have power without over-relying on fossil fuels.

Transitioning to a sustainable RV power system starts with evaluating your power needs and considering the best setup for your lifestyle, whether a simple solar kit for weekend trips or a hybrid system for full-time RVing.

Making the Right Choice for Your RV Lifestyle

Selecting the ideal generator for your RV goes beyond merely comparing power outputs and price tags. It's about aligning your choice with your RV lifestyle, travel habits, and environmental values. Here are key factors to consider to ensure you make a decision that enhances your RV experience:

  • Understand Your Power Requirements
  • Match Generator to Lifestyle
  • Environmental Considerations
  • Balance Cost with Convenience
  • Plan for the Future

Whether you opt for the latest solar technology, a traditional gas generator, or a hybrid system, the goal remains to power your journeys safely, efficiently, and in harmony with the great outdoors.

Final Thoughts

Making the right choice for powering your RV is a decision that extends beyond technical specs. It's about considering how you use your RV, where you go, and the experiences you seek. 

Sustainable options like solar power are becoming increasingly possible and popular, offering the dual benefits of environmental stewardship and operational efficiency. Yet, traditional generators still have their place, especially for those requiring high power output or facing budget constraints.

When choosing an RV, it's important to pick one that allows you to enjoy the freedom and happiness of RVing without sacrificing comfort, convenience, or your values.

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