If you compare them to your home’s electrical system, RV electrical systems may appear quite complicated. For example, there are things you don’t need in your brick-and-mortar home, like inverters. RV inverters sound like intricate electrical devices, and people often wonder whether they should be left on all the time.
Generally speaking, you should leave an RV inverter off when not in use because it can drain power from batteries. It also adds to the wear and tear of the inverter and shortens its life. But if you leave it on, it mostly comes down to the inverter type or the manufacturer’s recommendation.
The fact is that your inverter’s functioning largely depends on the circumstances around it.
In this article, we cover the key characteristics of inverters, their functioning, and whether they should be left on or not.
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What Is an RV Inverter?
An RV inverter is basically an electrical module that changes incoming DC current from the battery into usable AC current. The inverted AC can be put to work running electrical devices plugged into outlets inside an RV.
Namely, an inverter takes 12 Volt DC power from coach batteries and inverts it to provide 120 Volt AC power to run household appliances and other electrical devices. In this way, these appliances can operate without the need for a 120-Volt power cord connection or a generator. Despite the power loss in the inversion process, about 90 percent of the power consumed turns into usable energy.
RV Inverter Types
If you are into RVing, you need to get informed about RV inverter types. Although there are different types of inverters, they generally fall into two broad categories:
- Smaller – (usually 300 to 1000 watt) units are used in many RVs to power the TV and entertainment systems. With smaller units, you don’t have a battery charging function, but you can do it with the RV Converter.
This is a unit that takes the 120V AC power from the power cord or AC Generator and “converts” it to 12 Volt DC. You use it to charge the batteries and operate lights and other 12-volt equipment. With newer converters, you can fully charge/maintain the coach batteries.
- Larger – (2000 to 3500 watt) units that can supply power for most AC appliances. Most of these inverters come with an inverter-charger combining a larger capacity inverter with a 3-stage charger. It can fully charge and maintain the larger coach battery banks when you connect it to an AC source.
Moreover, these large inverters have automatic transfer switches. They automatically transfer the AC load from the power cord/generator to the inverter in case of a power loss. In this way, the full function of the AC components connected to the inverter is maintained in case of power loss.
If you have an RV, an inverter will allow you to camp off-grid, enjoying some of the comforts of home, including televisions or refrigerators. Besides, inverters can be used to invert incoming DC from the RV solar panels into usable AC for the outlets.
Inverters, Converters, and Converter-Chargers
The often complex composition of an RV’s electrical system may seem confusing to some people. This is because inverters, converters, and chargers have different functions in the production and distribution of energy in an RV.
- An inverter inverts incoming DC into AC to power appliances that run on regular household 115V AC. It allows you to use AC appliances while you’re off-grid.
- A converter takes 115VAC current from shore power or a generator and converts it to 12VDC current. This is for use in appliances that run on DC. It prevents your RV’s main battery from being drained.
- A converter-charger acts both as a normal converter and charges up battery power.
Inverters vs. Dual Units
A single inverter inverts DC into AC. But, if you have a newer model, you know that they’re designed as a dual unit providing both inversion and conversion/charging function.
With this newer model, your inverter is more integrated into your RV’s power system. Dual units are typically designed to be left on. This is because the converter will maintain battery levels when the inverter is on. Most new RVs come with dual units.
Why Should You Leave an Inverter Turned On?
Basically, if you have an inverter/charger, and an Auto Gen Start (AGS) feature on your RV, you should leave the Inverter ON when using the coach. And also if you will turn off the inverter when not using the coach. Here are some of the reasons why you should leave your inverter turned on:
- When using AC appliances in the RV while actively traveling.
- If you want to keep using your appliances but expect to lose access to shore power.
- When you plan to leave a campsite and know you’ll have to disconnect from shore power. This way, you’ll have uninterrupted power in the RV’s cabin.
- If you want to use an AC refrigerator in your RV. This is important to keep it cool, especially with temperature-sensitive foods.
- When your RV has a dual unit. This way, the converter will charge house batteries while connected to shore power.
- If you want to ensure continuous AC power – for example, for microwaves.
- When you plan to charge your laptop (and other devices) using standard wall chargers.
If you plan to use electrical devices off-grid, inverters can be extremely handy equipment. You just need to monitor your battery’s voltage level and have an alternative charging source (i.e., a generator). Besides, many RVs have multi-fuel appliances like water heaters or refrigerators that run on both AC power and propane.
Ultimately, your decision to leave your inverter on (or not) depends mainly on whether your inverter is an inverter-only or an inverter-converter type. Therefore, you need to make sure you’ve read and understood its specifications.
Why Should You Leave an Inverter Turned Off?
In addition to reasons in favor of leaving your inverter on, there are some reasons why you should also consider turning it off when not in use. Here’s the list of the main reasons you should consider leaving your inverter off all the time:
- The manufacturer’s specifications may indicate that you should turn off the inverter when not in use. It means you should turn it off accordingly.
- Leaving your inverter on when not in use can drain your RV battery quickly.
- You can save a considerable amount of wear and tear of the device by turning off your inverter when you’re not using it.
- You may find it easier to run a generator when AC power instead of draining the batteries by having the inverter on all the time. Besides, having an AGS function connected to your generator that controls battery levels can prevent your batteries’ damage.
- You may want to turn your inverter off in case you don’t have any appliances requiring constant AC power.
You should know that even when your RV is in standby mode, the inverter will drain small amounts of power from the battery. Even if your RV is parked for an extended time, their electronics can drain the batteries.
If you opt for a powerful battery system in combination with a gas generator or solar installation, you’ll be pretty sure to be able to power your RV at all times. Moreover, it will uphold the use of an inverter. On the other hand, if you have no charging source and a limited battery capacity, you should only leave the inverter on when needed.
The Final Word
An inverter can be quite handy regardless of where you camp because you cannot always rely on other power sources. It means you’re free to boondock or camp in places without electrical hookups. And still, be able to use your air conditioner or microwave. These devices cannot run off the battery or solar panels alone as they supply 12V DC and these devices need 120V AC.
If you prefer staying in your comfort zone, then an inverter is the right choice for you. Now that we’ve explained the reasons for leaving your inverter on/off, the only thing left is to check the manufacturer’s manual.
There is a variety of inverter types available on the market, including a pure sine wave inverter or a modified sine wave inverter. They all come in different sizes. A pure sine inverter is a right type if you want to run multiple devices at a time.
The size of the inverter is largely dependant on the type and number of devices you’re running at one time. If you’re going with a 1500-watt inverter, you can run a few items at the same time, but you should not rely on that. An upgraded 3K inverter will be a much better choice as it will allow you to run just about everything you need.
Anyway, if you like to travel home-style, you’ll need an inverter to ensure everything works smoothly. But if you’re more of an outside type and only use your RV for sleeping, a small inverter may work just fine. And you can even turn it off when not using it. Leave it for emergencies where you need to use (re)sources you didn’t really plan on.