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Buying a Portable RV Generator

You have an RV, and you are shopping for a portable generator to power your air conditioner and appliances. The obvious question is:

How big of a generator do I need for my RV?

The answer to that question is very much determined by another:

How big of a generator do I need to run my RV air conditioner?

 Your air conditioner will likely take the most wattage by far, so you need to start here.  You also need to know that it takes more power to start the air conditioner than it does to keep it running.  The minimum wattage of the generator you need is equal to the starting wattage of your air conditioner.

Size of Air Conditioner Approximate Starting Watts Approximate Running Watts
13,500 btu 2800-3000W 1500-2000W
15,000 btu 3300-3500W 1300-1800W

So a 3000W generator can start your 13,500 btu air conditioner.  Once the air conditioner is running you could also run other select items.  How much power might those other items take? The following chart will give you approximate power usage, but the best thing to do is check the tags or stickers on your electronic items:

Item Approximate Starting Watts Approximate Running Watts
KITCHEN ITEMS:    
RV Fridge 600W 180W
Coffee Maker (4 cup) 600W 600W
Slow Cooker 170-270W 170-270W
Microwave (650W) 1000W 1000W
Electric Grill (Counter-top) 1700W 1700W
ENTERTAINMENT ITEMS:    
Small Flat TV 120-200W 120-200W
Small Tube TV 300W 300W
DVD Player 350W 350W
Satelite Receiver 250W 250W
Radio 50-200W 50-200W
Laptop Computer 250W 250W
OTHER ITEMS:    
Hair Dryer (1600W) 1900W 1800W
Radiant Heater 1300W 1300W
Portable Fan 120W 40W
Lights See Light Bulb See Light Bulb

 At this point you also need to know that most generators have a max wattage rating and a running wattage rating.  So a 3000W generator might give you up to 3000W to start that air conditioner, but for long term use might only be rated 2600W.  So after your 3000W generator starts your 13,500 btu air conditioner which might run at 2000W, you have around 600W to use on other items.  You might watch TV with your satelite receiver, or start your slow cooker while listening to the radio. 

If you are going to use your RV fridge after starting your AC, you have only about 400W to use for other items: 
3000 Max Watts: 600W Fridge Startup + 2000W AC Running + 400W Other
2600 Running Watts: 180W Fridge Running + 2000W AC Running + 420W Other

Needless to say, if you plan to use much more than your AC, fridge, and lights, you probably want a larger generator.

Another important factor in buying a portable RV generator is noise level. You don't want your generator keeping you awake at night or disturbing any neighbors near by. Portable inverter generators are known for their quiet operation - around 50-65 dBA.  Another chart might help:

Activity Noise Level
 Normal Speech / Air Conditioner 60 dBA
 Vacuum Cleaner 70 dBA
 Hair Dryer 80 dBA

Every 10dBA increase is twice as loud as the earlier noise.  So in the chart above, a vacuum cleaner is twice as loud as normal speech. A hair dryer is four times as loud as normal speech.  So a little change in dBA makes a big difference.

One final factor in buying a portable RV generator is weight. The larger you go, the more it weighs. While most 3000-6500W generators include a wheel kit as a standard or optional feature, getting the generator in and out of your RV or truck is an important factor to consider. For a lighter option, consider buying two 2000W generators that can be linked in parallel to offer up to 3600W together.  At less than 50 lbs each, this option is easily movable, and when you don't need to run your AC, you may be able to use only one.

Now that we've considered wattage needed, noise level, and weight, let's tie all of this information to real portable RV generators you might want to consider buying. Honda and Yamaha offer quality portable RV generators with excellent engines, quiet operation, and three year warranties.  Don't forget to buy a RV plug adapter if you aren't buying a package!

3000W
RV Generators

Will start your 13,500 btu
air conditioner.
After starting AC, you can
run a few smaller items.
3000W+
RV Generators

Will start your 13,500 or
15,000 btu air conditioner.
After starting AC, you can
run a few smaller items.
Two 2000W
RV Generators

Will start your 13,500 or
15,000 btu air conditioner.
After starting AC, you can
run several items.
Lightweight - Easy to lift.
4500-6500W
RV Generators

Will start your 13,500 or
15,000 btu air conditioner.
Offers lots of extra power -
even when starting your AC.
hondaeu3000.jpg
Honda EU3000iS
Max: 3000W / 25A
Running: 2800W / 23.3A
Recoil/Electric Start
49-58 dBA / 134 lbs.
$1999.00

yamahaef3000iseb2.jpg
Yamaha EF3000iSEB
Max: 3000W / 25A
PLUS 500W Boost
for 10 seconds
Running: 2800W / 23.3A
Recoil/Electric Start
53-60 dBA / 150 lbs.
$2222.10

hondaeu2acc.jpg
Honda EU2000i 
RV Package
Package Max: 3600W / 30A
Individual Generators
Max: 2000W / 16.7A
Running: 1600W / 13.3A
Recoil Start
53-59 dBA / 46.3 lbs.
$2170.00

yamahaef4500is.jpg
Yamaha EF4500iSE
Max: 4500W / 37.5A
Running: 4000W / 33.3A
Electric Start
58-60 dBA / 194 lbs.
$3059.10
hondaeu3000ihandi.jpg
Honda EU3000i Handi
Max: 3000W / 25A
Running: 2600W / 21.7A
Recoil Start
57-65 dBA / 78 lbs.
$2299.00
  hondaeu2comp.jpg
Honda EU2000i/Companion
RV Package
Package Max: 3600W / 30A
Individual Generators
Max: 2000W / 16.7A
Running: 1600W / 13.3A
Recoil Start
53-59dBA
EU2000i: 46.3 lbs.
Companion: 45.9 lbs.
$2130.00
yamahaef6300.jpg
Yamaha EF6300iSDE
Max: 6300W / 52.5A
Running: 5500W / 45.8A
120/240V available
Electric Start
58-64 dBA / 200 lbs.
$3689.10
yamahaef3is-1.jpg
Yamaha EF3000iS
Max: 3000W / 25A
Running: 2800W / 23.3A
Recoil Start
53-60 dBA / 136 lbs.
$1799.10
  yamahaef2000sidewinder.jpg
Yamaha EF2000iS
RV Package
Package Max: 3600W / 30A
Individual Generators
Max: 2000W / 16.7A
Running: 1600W / 13.3A
Recoil Start
51.5-61 dBA / 44.1 lbs.
$2049.00
hondaeu6500is.jpg
Honda EU6500iS
Max: 6500W / 54.1A
Running: 5500W / 45.8A
120/240V available
Electric Start
52-60 dBA / 260 lbs.
$3999.10