RV inverters have some major benefits to offer RVers. Especially if you spend time camping off-grid. In a typical RV system, you have certain appliances that run on 12 Volt D/C (direct current) power like your lights, your slide, and your refrigerator on propane, among other things.
RV manufacturers do this so that if you’re not plugged into shore power you can still operate the basic items on your rig. You cannot however plug items that require A/C (alternating current) power. These would be things you plug into a normal wall outlet like a hairdryer, computer, phone charger, or coffee maker. In order to use these you would unless you have a generator.
We both work online and love boondocking. But we hated having to turn on the generator every few hours to charge our laptops so we could continue working. That’s why we got an RV inverter.
What is an RV inverter?
An RV inverter converts the 12-volt DC power that is stored in your RV battery bank into 110 volts AC. A/C Power is the power most standard household items use for electricity. This allows you to use your TV, microwave, Instapot, air conditioner, Nespresso milk frother, or any other common appliance you plug in without needing a generator or to be plugged into shore power.
Types of RV inverters
There are two types of RV inverters. Modified sine wave and pure sine wave inverters. Other than the price tag, the biggest difference between the two is how it inverts D/C power to A/C power.
We read a lot of blogs and saw a lot of RV videos that nerd out on this topic. But what’s important to know is that pure sine inverters convert energy more efficiently. They replicate the energy that is created or produced in a home.
Certain appliances, especially new technology and clocks can be damaged by a modified sine wave inverter. Or they simply won’t work at all. For this reason, we suggest getting a pure sine wave inverter.
Modified sine wave
- Cheapest option. Can be $100 – $300.
- Converts energy in modified waves with pauses built into the current.
- Can damage appliances or items that use newer technology (like laptop or camera chargers, induction burners, milk frothers, or fancy new coffee machines, etc).
Pure sine wave
- The most expensive option. Can be $500 – $1,000+
- Converts energy in a pure wave without pauses.
- Safe for appliances and items that use newer technology (like laptop or camera chargers, induction burners, milk frothers, or fancy new coffee machines, etc).
- Replicates energy created in a house.
To determine what size RV inverter you need, you’ll need to do an electrical audit on the amount of power you use. If you are not sure how that’s done, we explain the process here. Most RV inverters are sized in watts. First, determine the maximum wattage your appliances use. Then, choose the inverter that fits your needs.
Always go higher than the maximum wattage. This leaves room for additional appliances that you may be using as well. For example, if a blow dryer uses 1,500 watts I don’t want a 1,500-watt inverter. I would want a 2,000-watt inverter at minimum. This leaves room for things that might be using power to operate at the same time.
If you don’t need or want a full inverter on your RV, go for a portable inverter like this one.
We ended up with an AIMs 2000-watt pure sine wave inverter. Aims is a super reputable company that has been in the solar energy business for a long time. We have friends who have used their inverters before and were pleased with their quality and functionality. So we decided to give them a try.
We really liked that the inverter has a built-in 70 amp battery charger. That means when we’re plugged into shore power or our generator is on, it uses A/C power to recharge our batteries automatically. It has a battery-type selector on the top of the unit that allows the ability to adjust the voltage provided to the bank or we can adjust the settings as needed.
The biggest benefit is the automatic generator start. The inverter can tell if the voltage has dropped below a specific level and automatically start your generator to prevent damage to your batteries.
This would have been GREAT on our fifth wheel when we had an AGM battery bank. Unfortunately, this won’t work with our lithium battery bank because the voltage remains the same even if the batteries are 0%, so the voltage reader won’t be alerted in order to start the generator.
The Aims inverter also has a built-in 30 amp transfer switch, which will automatically detect when you’re switching from shore power to battery-bank power. Even though it’s a 2,000-watt inverter it does have a 6000-watt surge for 20 seconds. Although we hope we never test that out!
Adding an RV inverter to our RV has been a game changer. There’s nothing better than being able to use items on your comfortably and freely no matter where you are camping. Hopefully, this post has helped you better understand RV inverters. And see why RV inverters are a game changer for RVing.