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RV electrical systems can seem fairly complex compared to the electrical system in your house. Items like an inverter are present which are not required in your brick and mortar home. RV inverters can seem like relatively complicated electrical devices, and it’s hard to know when they should be left on or turned off.
For most installations, an RV inverter should be turned off when not in use. This is because an inverter can drain power from batteries even when there is no power being used. But different situations can affect if you should leave it on, like the inverter type or the manufacturer’s recommendation.
The circumstances around your inverter’s function are just as important as assessing the inverter itself to determine whether it should be left on or shut off when not in use. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about inverters, their function in powering an RV, and if they should be left on or not.
What Is an RV Inverter?
Simply put, an RV inverter is an electrical module that changes incoming DC current from the battery into usable AC current. The inverted AC current can be put to work running household appliances and other electrical devices plugged into outlets inside an RV.
Inverters allow people using an RV to camp off-grid without access to a generator plug-in or shore power, but still have access to some of the comforts of home such as refrigerators, microwaves, and televisions.
Inverters can also invert incoming DC current from the RV solar panels into usable AC current for the outlets. This helps diminish the draw on the RV’s battery bank and reinforces the overall power grid.
Inverters vs. Converters vs. Converter-Chargers
People often get confused when discussing the various components of an RV’s electrical system. The fact is that converters, inverters, and chargers all perform very different functions in an RV’s energy production and distribution.
An inverter inverts incoming “Direct Current” or DC current into “Alternating Current” or AC current for use in appliances that run on regular household 115VAC current.
In contrast to this, a converter takes 115VAC current from shore power or a generator and converts it to 12VDC current to operate appliances that run on DC current like the RV batteries supply.
A converter helps to prevent your RV’s main battery from being drained while you’re using DC appliances with shore power. In contrast, an inverter allows you to use AC appliances while you’re off-grid.
A converter-charger not only acts as a normal converter but also charges up battery power when it has excess supply.
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Inverters vs. Dual Units
A single inverter only functions to invert DC current into AC current, but newer models of inverters are now coming designed as a dual unit that contains both inversion and conversion/charging capabilities.
If you have a dual unit, this means that your inverter is more integrated into your RV’s power system, and is likely designed to be left on because the converter will handle maintaining battery levels when the inverter is in use.
If you have just purchased your RV, check to see if you have an inverter. If so, and the RV is a newer model, it is likely to be a dual unit. These have increased in popularity over the past several years and are considered a more efficient option than separate inverters and converters.
Reasons to Leave an Inverter Turned On
There are many reasons you might want to leave an inverter running in your RV. Here are some of the reasons it is more beneficial to leave an inverter turned on:
- While actively traveling you’ll want to leave an inverter running in order to be able to use AC appliances in the RV.
- If you’re expecting to lose access to shore power but want to keep using your appliances, you’ll need to leave your inverter on.
- If you are leaving a campground and disconnecting from shore power, leaving the inverter on will make sure your appliances continue to work when you break the connection, leaving you with uninterrupted power in the RV’s cabin for travel.
- If you have an AC refrigerator in your RV, you’ll likely want to leave your inverter on to ensure that its contents remain cool, especially if you are carrying foods that are temperature sensitive, such as meat or dairy.
- If your inverter is a dual unit (an inverter-converter combination) you will want to leave your inverter on so the converter can do its job and charge house batteries while using shore power.
- Leaving an inverter on ensures continuous AC power which means you won’t lose any settings (such as clock settings) on devices like alarm clocks or microwaves.
- While traveling, you’ll want to leave an inverter on if you plan to charge your laptops and other devices using standard wall chargers.
Whether or not you leave your inverter on depends heavily on whether your inverter is an inverter-only type, or if it also has converter functions. You need to check the make and model of your personal inverter and look at its specifications to see whether it has converter ability or not.
Reasons to Leave an Inverter Turned Off
While there are several reasons it might be beneficial to leave an inverter turned on, there are also reasons why it would be better for you to turn it off when not in use. Here are some of the reasons you might choose not to leave your inverter on all the time:
- Some inverter manufacturers recommend that inverters be turned off when not actively in use. Check your inverter user manual and see whether it is recommended for you to turn it off or not and proceed accordingly.
- One major reason to turn your inverter off when not in use is that it is a serious battery hog. The inverter needs to draw upwards of ten times as much amperage off the battery as it is required to supply. When left on it can drain an RV battery quickly.
- Turning off your inverter when not in use can save on significant amounts of wear and tear of the device and can extend its life longer than if you left it on continuously.
- Some people find it easier to run a generator when AC power is needed rather than drain the batteries by using the inverter all the time. Having an automatic start function connected to your generator that monitors battery levels can protect your batteries from damage.
- If you don’t have any appliances that require constant AC power, you can save a lot of energy consumption by shutting your inverter off.
Inverters Drain Batteries
The biggest problem with inverters is that they drain batteries fast in order to perform the function of inverting DC current to AC current.
Even when in standby mode, the inverters draw small amounts of power from the battery banks of the RV to power their electronics. If an RV or trailer is parked for an extended time this small trickle can deplete the batteries.
Having a robust battery system along with a solar installation or gas generator will guarantee your RV is powered at all times. It will easily support the constant or near-constant use of an inverter.
But if you have only limited battery capacity on your RV and no charging source its safest to restrict only having the inverter on when it is required.
Many RV’s and trailers have multi-fuel appliances like refrigerators, rooftop AC units and water heaters that run on propane as well as AC power. Using “2 way” appliances reduces the need for an inverter to power these devices.
Inverters can be extremely handy if you’re wanting to use electrical devices off-grid when you’re boondocking. You just need to stay aware of your battery’s voltage level and have a way to replace that power via a generator or other means if it gets low.