Choosing a generator can be a daunting task, if you are new, with an abundant selection on the market these days. Do you just go with a name brand from a big box store or ask your friends and family what is best?What about maintenance and care for your generator? Do you just fill up gasoline and pull the cord and whamo you have power! Well not so fast. It’s a steep learning curve to learn everything you need to know when choosing a generator. Fortunately, I have distilled pretty much everything you need to know to get your first generator so you can feel pretty confident when you purchase your first generator you have made the best decision. So let's get started.
When it comes to generators for RV’s there’s really only 2 types of generators to choose from:
The two types of generators run on gasoline, diesel or propane to produce electricity for your use in your RV or elsewhere. However, there is a third type of generator that has gained momentum in recent years due to the energy efficiency movement, though it's not really a generator, but more of a battery as it does not generate electricity, but stores it till needed with lithium batteries. I will not elaborate on it here, but save that for another article.
Built-in RV generators today are primarily dominated by one company that produces a variety of wattages of generators from small to fairly large generators for RVs. Cummins Onan generators are the majority shareholder in the RV industry. The great thing is, that a built in generator is typically integrated into your electric system and the confines of your RV, so it’s not easily noticeable you have an onboard generator unless it is running. Plus you have the added bonus of an electric start, so it can be started with a push of a button from within the comfort of your RV.
Portable generators are also typically cheaper than your onboard generators and smaller, plus they have the portability of moving them around where power is needed. Plus many of the portable generators today are inverter generators, so they are more efficient at producing a cleaner power. However, you would need a location in the basement storage of your RV when not in use, or some kind of storage for when not in use.
Most portable and built-in generators use gasoline, but some use only propane, and some use both gas or propane to run the engine to produce electricity. It’s possible to modify the carburetor to have your generator to run on either gasoline or propane as alternative fuels, but not diesel. As diesel engines operate differently.
Built-in generators draw on the fuel that you have in the tank of your RV. So there’s no need to worry about carrying additional fuel to run your generator when you are out boondocking or needing that extra power when you need it.
There are two types of generators. All fuel powered generators (gas, propane, diesel) use a motor to turn an alternator to generate electricity. Here is the difference:
Conventional Generators - need to run at a constant speed (usually 3600 revolutions per minute) to produce 120 Volts AC / 60 hertz. The fluctuations in the motor can alter the quality of the power that comes out of the generator. Any speed difference can alter the quality of the electricity coming out.
Inverter Generators - are similar to conventional generators in that it produces AC electricity, but is then converted to DC, then back to AC using electrical circuits. If you want to read more about inverters, you can go here. In this process the power can be boosted up to the desired AC output with a smaller motor and thus lighter weight and more fuel-efficient. Plus, they are also more stable in producing a steady electrical flow and cleaner power, with the added bonus of being quieter than the conventional counterparts. If power demand increases, they will typically ramp up power to meet the needed drawl on power.
Every running generator makes noise, but how much is too much and how much is tolerable? Choosing one that’s too loud can be quite annoying not only for you but others nearby camping.
The noise from generators are calculated in decibels, this calculation is the audible level of the machine while it’s running at different speeds. The higher the decibel the louder the generator is. Noise comes from several different parts of the generator: exhaust, engine noise of the piston moving, the alternator. Majority of the noise comes from the exhaust of the generator. Generators running in the 50 to low 60 dB is ideal, as this is typically conversation noise and not loud enough to be disruptive to your camping or others around you. Assuming your portable generator is placed about 10 feet away from your rig on the back side away from your campsite and others.
Here’s a simple chart that shows you how loud certain noises are to give you a reference point for sound. You can learn more about it here from the CDC
Average Decibels (dB)
Refrigerator / Rustling Leaves
Washing Machine or Dishwasher
Traffic / Gas powered Lawn Mower
80 to 90 dB
Train / Car Horn / sports event (hockey, football)
Shouting in Ear or Barking
Firecrackers going off
140 to 150 db
When it comes to built in generators, they tend to be a little louder inside your RV, than a portable generator as you can’t get distance between you and the generator and you can often hear the rumbling of the motor within your RV. The typical range for most built-in generators are about 60 to 70 dbs. Aside from noise, generators come in an inverter model or convenventional type.
Lowering the noise of an existing generator can be achieved through a couple of methods.
There are a number of things to consider when when running a portable generator:
When transporting your portable generator from location to location, it’s important to make sure to follow a few safety precautions to protect yourself and your generator from damage.
The season almost always ends for most of North America when it comes to Rving and storage of your generator becomes almost inevitable. Here are a few key points to remember to make sure your generator will start again the next time you need it.
Scheduled maintenance is probably the most important activity you can do to extend the life of your generator and to have it start when you need it. Here are a few things to consider to make sure your generator is in top shape and be there for you when you need it.
Here’s a video that goes into depth on inspecting and maintaining your generator
So does a well known brand actually provide the highest reliability when it comes to starting every time you need your generator to start up? Looking for the longest warranty from a generator brand is going to give you a hint of exactly how long the company expects that your generator will last. The longer the warranty, the longer the company expects that it’s generator will last. It only makes economic sense for the company to provide a warranty long enough so that they will not be providing too many replacement generators or they may be out of business.
Portable generators make up the lion share of all generators sold, 70%, around the world that are in existence. The USA has the most in ownership of portable generators, while other places in the world it is gaining traction. The most popular of the generators brands are:
Why is this important? Well, if you come across a brand you are not sure about you can check to see if this is some no name brand that is a fly by night operation that will be gone in a few years or are around for a long time and you just haven’t heard of them before.
Regardless of brands a typical gasoline portable generator should have a lifespan of 2000 to 3000 hrs. As opposed to diesel generators that are meant to last 20,000 to 50,000 hrs. The lifespan really depends on the preventive maintenance and oil changes of the portable generator.
EPA (Emissions Protection Agency) ratings are standards put out to control the emissions of motors. This does not tell you the longevity of the generator itself. Though it does indicate that the generator is built with higher standards, to ensure that the generator will meet the EPA standards for a longer period of run time.
There you have it pretty much everything you need to know before you lay some cash down for a new generator. From portable generators to built-in generators. If you think I missed anything, reach out to me to let me know what I might have missed in this article.