Running Your RV Air Conditioner

Running Your RV Air Conditioner

How to Power an RV Air Conditioner with a Generator

Jared, the Generator Expert
By 
Generator Expert

Owning an RV opens a world of possibilities. You can drive from sea to shining sea on your terms and camp out amidst the most beautiful natural wonders our country has to offer.

If youíre taking a summer trip, though, it can get hot on the road. Even if youíre fine with opening all the windows, your passengers may prefer the comfort of home. You might consider an RV air conditioner to keep your trailer cool during the summer. If you do, itís important to understand that powering an RV air conditioner isnít like powering a couple of lights and a TV. Higher electricity demands require a more powerful generator.

Weíll walk you through the options for powering your trailer A/C, as well as important points to consider before buying anything.

RV Air Conditioner


How Much Power Does an RV Air Conditioner Use?

When powering any air conditioner, first consider the amount of electrical wattage needed to start the A/C motor. This is called surge wattage, and it is always higher than the amount of wattage needed to run the motor once itís started. For example, while an average 15,000 BTU air conditioner may need only 2,000 watts of electricity once itís running, it might need as many as 3,000 watts to start the motor. That means if your RV generator only puts out 2,000 watts, youíll never start the A/C.

So, the first step in powering your RV air conditioner is to figure out its minimum starting wattage. Keep in mind, once you know the A/C wattage you will still need to add on the wattage of anything else in the RV that you will want to power before choosing a generator. Fortunately, we have made sizing a cinch with our generator wattage calculator that you can use for free.

Choosing an RV Generator

Once you know how much wattage you need to power your air conditioner(s), itís time to look at RV generator options.


There are two types of RV generators. The first type is a traditional open frame or inverter generator that sits outside your RV (just like a backup generator for your home). The second is a built-in generator that is hardwired to your RV.

Portable generators are your only option if your RV doesnít have a built-in generator compartment. This is common for small travel trailers and pop-up campers. In this case, you would connect your portable generator to your RV breaker box using a special RV power cord.

Portable RV Generator

In general, portable generators are less expensive. However, they require manual fuel changes (sometimes in the middle of the night), are heavy to move and set up, and can be very loud. The point about noise is particularly important with many campgrounds and rest stops now enforcing decibel limits. Unless you are using a quiet inverter generator, chances are that a portable unit capable of powering an air conditioner will be louder than what the campsite allows.

If you do go the inverter generator route but need extra power, you have an option to parallel two generators together to get double the power.

Built-in RV generators are the more expensive but preferred option for powering an A/C unit if your RV comes with a generator compartment. Once installed, there is no manual setup when you need power. Your RV air conditioner and everything else will run automatically, just like at home. The generator also connects directly to your RV fuel tank, so there is no need to manually add gas.

Man holding RV Generator Cord

Built-in RV generators also have a higher wattage range than portable units. This matters when it comes to powering air conditioners because you have a better chance of meeting surge watt requirements and still powering other RV items like a fridge or microwave.

You can learn more about the nuances of RV generators by checking out our RV generator buyerís guide.

Stay Cool on the Road

If youíve invested in an RV, you might as well invest in comfort by including an air conditioner. To power it, we recommend a built-in RV generator (if you have a compartment) because youíll get the most power for the least hassle. However, a portable generator option will also work great if your power needs are basic. Either way, installing the right generator for your RV will keep you cool, so you can enjoy the sights and sounds of your trip.

If you need more help finding a generator to power your RV air conditioner, please contact us at 800-800-3317. 

 NEXT: Browse Generators for Your RV

Jared, the Generator Expert
By 
Generator Expert
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