Do RV Outlets Work on Battery?

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Understanding an RV electrical system (or a camper electrical system for that matter) isn’t always easy. Many RV owners find it confusing and have questions.

One of the questions that crop up is: Do RV outlets work on battery? Our answer is yes and no. Technically, the outlets when correctly wired will perform as expected. However, there are usually two distinct electrical systems (12-volt and 110-volt/120VAC) in an RV, trailer, or camper. Therefore, the right kind of power for different RV outlets to work.

In this article, we go into more detail about running RV outlets on battery systems. We know it sounds confusing, but we assure you that it’s easily understandable when explained clearly. Hopefully, we can do that.

Also Read: Can You Watch TV in an RV While Driving?

Two Battery Systems

There are two battery systems within an RV (a towable like a camper or trailer are different). The two systems are Starter/Chassis at the front of the RV and House/Coach in the living space.

Starer/Chassis Battery System

Usually, a single battery is used to start the engine. Typically, this requires a substantial burst of power output to do so, which is why it’s a different type of battery for this purpose.

The battery is intended to power the engine, some basic lights, perhaps a cigarette lighter near the driver’s seating in the front cab, and maybe a USB port. The main purpose of the starter/chassis battery system is to get the cold engine going. It runs off 12-volt DC power.

House/Coach Battery System

The house or coach battery system uses one or a bank of RV deep cycle batteries situated in the living compartment. Sometimes, it’s stored beneath the dinette’s seating, but it can also be elsewhere depending on the RV’s make and model.

These are 12-volt battery systems as well. They have used to power some systems like water pumps, perhaps a 12-volt RV refrigerator, and a 12-volt TV on the wall. There will be a handful of 12-volt sockets scattered about. RV owners can purchase 12-volt appliances to plug directly into these. However, you’ll also own some household appliances and other devices which use either 110-volt or 120-volts (120VAC) AC power.

Read Also: How to Watch TV in RV without Generator?

Do RV Outlets Work on Battery?

The batteries can provide 12-volt DC power to the living quarters. This power comes from the coach/battery system. As long as there is a stored charge in the battery bank, then you’re good.

What About 110-volt/120-volt AC power?

The standard US electrical system is now 120VAC (120-volts). However, it’s still possible to see 110-volts, 115-volts, and other variations. This is why we refer to “110-volt/120-volt” systems.

Essentially, this is what’s used in US homes today. Also, when either plugging your RV into a house electrical system by a cable and converter, or to an RV campground’s 30-amp or 50-amp shore power, you’re receiving 120-volts or similar.

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What happens is that your batteries convert the higher voltage down to 12-volts to store spare capacity in the batteries. So, you still do not have a 110-volt/120-volt supply.

Also Read: Do Outlets Work in an RV While Driving?

How Do You Get 110-volt/120-volt Power in Your RV?

The answer is that you’ll need a power inverter.

An RV inverter is a piece of equipment that takes a source of 12-volt DC power and converts it to 110-volt/120-volt AC power. The equipment uses a little bit of power when turned on, but it is capable of harnessing the 12-volt power stream from the batteries and converting it to what’s needed. This power can then go to the 120-volt outlets inside the RV. Then they’re usable.

Most inverters also have several outlets built into the device itself, plus USB ports too. So, devices can be plugged directly into the unit, and that way that operates when the inverter is turned on.

Will 120-volt Outlets Work When the Inverter Is Powered Off?

No, they will not.

While the house batteries may have an adequate charge, remember that is 12-volt DC power. It must be converted to 120-volt AC power to be usable by household appliances and other equipment.

Will Some Equipment Not Run Off Batteries with an Inverter?

Yes, there are.

Power-hungry equipment or devices that consume power faster than the batteries can supply won’t likely function without a dedicated power source. These include the AC on the roof, a refrigerator or fridge that’s usually electricity, and heaters that rely on resistance.

Some of these appliances could operate for a short time, but quickly the batteries will be expended unless you have a huge bank of them. Most people do not.

How Do You Run High Power Consumption Equipment in an RV?

You will need to be connected to house for power (usually 20 to 30 amps only) or shore power through a 50-amp or 30-amp adapter connection plugged into your RV. This will provide sufficient continual mains power supply to satisfy the power-hungry requirements of these types of electrical products.

Laptops and other equipment will be fine. But power tools and AC units, etc., will most likely require shore power to both receive enough amps to draw on and sufficient wattage too.

What RV Inverter is Sensible to Get?

When turning on appliances or other devices that require a high amount of watts to operate, they often have a burst of power consumption when first powered up. This then calms down to a regular, lower wattage requirement after a while.

For RV owners, it’s necessary to look at all their devices that will run on 120VAC and determine the total wattage requirement. The back or underside of most devices confirms the wattage requirements. However, as mentioned above, allow for additional total wattage for the burst of what’s needed when first powering up a fridge and other devices. So, even if you’ll not need more than 600 watts, a 1,000-watt inverter or a 1,500-watt inverter is going to be a better option.

However, don’t go overboard on the wattage on the inverter though because there’s a power drain when the inverter is switched on. The larger the capacity, the greater the power drain.

Furthermore, watch out for RV inverters that use a pure sine wave system. Don’t get one that uses a modified sine wave because it won’t always be compatible with every 120VAC electrical device and potentially could damage their internal circuitry too.

Here’s our currently recommended RV inverter:

Can Additional Power Be Supplied by a Solar Power System?

A solar power system is going to eventually feed power into the 12-volt battery bank.

It’s unlikely that you’ll use it to directly provide sufficient power for a 120VAC system (120-volts) because the stream of energy is not constant enough. Therefore, it needs to be converted and fed into the house batteries to keep them topped up.

Also, as a side note, while the engine running may feed a little extra charge to the house batteries too, this is not always the case and typically it’s minimal, at best. Solar is a good option.

Can Additional Power Be Supplied by an RV Generator?

Many RVs come with generators. These can be run to provide more power.

The thing to be aware of with RV electrical systems is that the power from the generator may not be 100 percent safe to use for some electronics. It is often described as “dirty power” because it’s irregular and can cause problems with sensitive equipment. Generators can also have hiccups or sudden unexpected surges that can reach anything plugged into them.  

It’s significantly safer to use an inverter that regulates the power to adjust it safely. Then plugging in laptops, smartphones, and other equipment isn’t usually a worry at all. Also, it avoids the potential surges which is a weight of an RV owner’s mind.

Closing Thoughts

Using 12-volt DC power from your house batteries provides consistent electricity for low-energy electronics. It’s what RVs (and boats) use. Many appliances are designed to run off 12-volt power including LED strip lights, RV fridges, and many more.

For 120VAC or similar 110-volt/120-volt AC power usage to plug-in household appliances, an inverter is required to convert stored battery power to AC and the 120-volts required. For high energy requirements, it’s best to also be plugged into shore power to feed enough amperage to the RV to keep up with the current demand (and avoid draining the battery bank).

Therefore, RV owners need to always consider their power needs, and when they require the use of certain devices or appliances. Then they can plan to be plugged into shore power at an appropriate time to manage those requirements.

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