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rv trips & travel

How an RV Electrical System Works

Looking to go camping or spend some time outdoors but still want modern conveniences? Camping in an RV could be a great solution for you. Electricity in an RV can give you some of the comforts of home and make you feel more prepared for an outdoor adventure. If you own an RV or are looking to buy one, you might be wondering how the RV electrical systems work.

RV electrical systems usually use both AC and DC to power the tiny home. RV grounds usually offer an electrical hookup and are AC powered. The AC power will give you the electricity to your appliances and the DC powers the engine and the battery.

AC stands for alternating current and is generally 115 volts. It will run the air conditioner and other devices. The DC or direct current system is 12 volts. It will run the lights, switches, and thermostats. Your refrigerator or other smaller appliances might run on propane fuel.

Electrical Energy

If you don’t have solar panels, you will be using electrical energy in your RV. All RVs have two systems, the AC and the DC. The 12-volt DC runs the electrical components of your RV’s engine and battery. The 12-volt AC will power anything that is plugged into an outlet.

RV site hookups will be 20-, 30-, and 50-AMP outputs. The larger your RV, the higher it uses. So, if you have a small camper, it probably runs on 30. If you have a large trailer or RV, it probably runs on 50.

The AC power will come from the power hookup on the RV campsite. Your RV has an AC power control panel that will give the power out to all the appliances and outlets.

It is recommended that you keep 30 to 50 or 50 to 30 adapters in your RV in case you need it at a site hookup. Using the wrong one can blow out the power to your RV leaving you stranded with no electricity. Even worse, you could blow out the electricity to the entire RV park.

Do I Need An Inverter Or Converter?

An inverter is needed if you want to switch DC power to AC power. Inverters can also be good in situations where there is no AC hookup. The larger the inverter, the more appliances it can run.

A converter is needed when you need to convert AC into DC power. This might be used for small devices that need less than 120 volts of power. Converters are used less often than inverters.

Inverters and converters both need to be high quality and bought for the right use. Always refer to your RV’s instruction manual to ensure you are using the right one.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Many people choose to run their RV solely off solar energy. It allows you to camp off the grid and keep you from looking for an electrical hookup.

Panels can be installed on your RV roof, or you can get a portable one that you sit outside of the RV. They are also environmentally friendly and will keep you from inhaling emissions and fumes.

RV Electrical System Kit

You will need a few things to complete your electrical system kit and make sure it is ready to go.

  • House battery (the number will depend on how large your RV is)
  • Battery monitor
  • Inverter
  • Converter
  • Monitor panel
  • Surge protector

This basic setup should get you started and keep you covered when starting to camp in your RV. Remember to monitor all electricity levels to keep your home safe.

RV Electrical System Design

An RV electrical design does not need to be complicated, especially if you only use your RV a few times a year.

Most designs will consist of a 110 V A/C breaker panel that will disperse power throughout the wall outlets and then into your appliances.

Then from the panel, there will also be a charger or converter. Here, power is reduced from 110 V to 12 V and stored to charge the house batteries. It also supplies power to the fuse box. The 12 V fuse panel will give power to your water pump, fans, 12-volt lighting, and anything else running on 12 volts.

Placing Power Outlets

Most RV owners recommend two 110V outlets near the kitchen or food prep area. There should also be two in the living area and two in the bedroom area. Two or three outlets should also be placed outside for lighting and other items you may use when not in the RV.

Power outlet lighting though is left up to personal preference. Put them where you will use them the most.

How To Check The RV Electrical System

Before using your electrical system, especially after a while of no use, remember to check the system before using it. When using a hookup system, always inspect the system before you use it.

Here are some general tips for making sure your electrical system is in good shape and is ready to be used.

Checking The Cords

All cords should be free of damage, cracks, cuts, and breaks. There should also not be any cracking, crumbling, or sticky spots. Also, check that the prongs are intact and secure. They shouldn’t wiggle or be bent.


Check the RV battery fluid levels. Also, check that they are not expired and there is no corrosion or battery acid. If there is battery acid, try cleaning it with baking soda and water. Always wear protective clothing and eyewear when touching or handling a battery that may have acid on it.

Know Your Breakers And Fuse Boxes

Flip the circuits on and off to ensure that they are working. Make sure all breakers and fuses are marked to indicate what they control. Fuses and circuits that require a repair should not be used, especially if there are signs of corrosion or other deterioration.

Always have a replacement breaker or fuse for emergencies.

Check All The Appliances Before Using

Check all your appliances are working before you plug them in or use the electrical hookup for them. This includes:

  • Air conditioner
  • Water pump
  • Furnace ignition system
  • Refrigerator
  • Brake lights and marker lights
  • Propane tank level indicators
  • Clean and dust all debris and cobwebs away

Look At The Line Voltage Before Plugging In

Line voltage meters are cheap and can be used to check all the hookup lines. This can help prevent any of your appliances from becoming damaged. A polarity test kit will also show if the plugs are wired correctly.

If you are at a site where one of the tests fails or isn’t wired correctly, ask to be moved immediately. Never risk plugging into a bad hookup.

The line voltage meter should always show the level to be between 105 volts and 130 volts.

How Do You Troubleshoot An RV Electrical Problem?

If you notice an appliance is not working or your RV can’t receive electrical power, a few things could be out of place.

Usually, the problem is with the breakers and fuses or the 12-volt system.

What’s Wrong With My Fuses Or Breakers?

Breakers and fuses are built into your RV home to protect you from harm when electrical current fails. A sign that one is not working could be because your RV is not plugged into a properly regulated hookup. The electrical voltages could also be too high or too low for your RV.

Sometimes resetting the breaker or the fuse is enough to get it working again. If the breaker still does not work after a reset, the problem could be a broken breaker. If you are shopping for a replacement fuse, the color matters.

Each color of breakers represents its own amperage rating. You should always buy a replacement that is the same color and same amp rating as the original one in your RV.

Some people make the mistake of getting a higher-powered breaker thinking it will work better. This can actually cause permanent damage in your RV or cause an electrical fire.

12-Volt Problems And Their Fixes

This is a problem in your DC system. Appliances, slides, and lights operating on the DC power will not work if there is a 12-volt problem. You may notice appliances or lights flickering on and off as well.

Check the following to see if it is a problem with the DC:

  • Check if your batteries have enough water. If they don’t, add some distilled water.
  • Check that the connections to the converter are stable and not loose.
  • Check the fuses on the back and front of the converter.
  • Check that the batteries are charged. The voltage should be between 13.4 and 14.5. If it isn’t, replace the batteries promptly.
  • Check that the fuse isn’t loose.
  • Check that connection to the DC battery are not loose.
  • Check that the connections to the fuse or breaker box are not loose.

You might also need to replace your converter. Remember to use high-quality inverters only.

Final Thoughts

RV electrical systems are easy to use once you have all the right components and setup.

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