RVs are quite the flexible vehicle on the road. You can live in one, drive in one, and literally have a mobile home. One subject that confuses some RV owners is their use of electricity while out and about.
RV owners have the option to plug their RV into “shore power” or power from an outside source. This is most often found at an RV park. The question is, with your battery and other equipment – should you leave your RV plugged in when not in use.
This depends in part on what would remain plugged in. Battery power can be unplugged when sitting for a while. RV park power should be plugged in as necessary. Unplugging the RV can also be helpful for the environment in general.
Why unplug the battery in the RV?
RV and car batteries are vulnerable to sitting for long periods of time. The battery can drain slowly due to the weather or short term appliance usage. Drained batteries are not great surprises when you try to start your RV or appliances don’t quite work the way they should.
You should certainly leave your battery unplugged if you intend to not use your RV for more than a couple of weeks.
Disconnecting your battery involves using the battery disconnect switch or using a socket or wrenches to remove the connections to your battery terminal.
Note that your battery will discharge regardless of whether it’s plugged in or not. Like regular household batteries, RV batteries are incapable of holding a constant charge. You should expect to need to at least check your RV battery’s power levels before using it, especially if you leave it off for a couple weeks.
Since you can’t control how much power leaves your batter while you are not using it, you can at least control how well maintained your battery remains with a battery tender.
One option to help conserve and support your battery is to use as battery tender. A battery tender charges the battery slowly over time. They are also often capable of stopping electrical flow to the battery once it is fully charged.
Battery tenders are a great option. With a bit of planning, they can keep your battery running well for a long time without worrying about unexpected charging needs.
Some newer RVs have built in “smart” battery tenders that also protect the battery from overcharging. These are great products to use to keep your battery functioning and safe. They also don’t tend to add much to the price of an RV.
Should I unplug appliances in the RV?
Unplugging appliances that are plugged in can be helpful. Appliances can use “phantom power” when not in use. Phantom power refers to electricity that is sent to the RV, whether battery or from shore power, and sent to appliances that aren’t on to consume it.
Simply unplugging appliances also tends to be significantly easier than disconnecting your battery. In the process, you might also learn if you have a parasitic power draw somewhere. If no appliances are running and your battery runs down, this is a great thing to know about before it makes electrical problems worse.
At the RV park with “shore power”
One of the main purposes to go to an RV park is to use shore power or do other maintenance to the RV.
Plugging into shore power can be very helpful. RV users plug into shore power to allow their appliances to run on a source of power besides your battery or generator.
Shore power also helps charge your battery when necessary.
When should I not plug into shore power?
As an RV owner, you might find yourself in the scenario where outside power is available but the RV isn’t in use. To name a few, going on a mini vacation in your regular vehicle, or just storing an RV at an RV park.
In these scenarios, you could just leave your RV unplugged. Your battery has a capacity, and doesn’t need additional power beyond that. The electrical use would be both environmentally wasteful and potentially harmful for the battery’s capacity in the long run.
Especially if you do pay for power besides a set monthly fee, you could even unplug your RV from power overnight. Most refrigerators are capable of keeping food at least chilled overnight, so that generally shouldn’t be a problem.
If you are parking your RV for storage, you are probably better off not plugging it into any kind of power. You may also want to leave the battery disconnected so nothing can draw power, even by accident.
While one can worry about appliance use and the battery, the environment is also a concern. Using power when you don’t need to isn’t helpful for the electrical grid or the resources needed to create energy. Consider your location and whether or not they have had power issues.
Unplugging while in an area known for blackouts, or otherwise known for excess pollution, can be a smart idea for the environmentally savvy RV owner.
Not plugging in your RV is a very simple way of helping use natural resources in the best way possible. This is especially easy overnight and when the RV isn’t in use.
If you do leave your RV plugged in
If you leave your RV plugged into shore power, you should consider at least adding a surge protector. A surge protector will keep the RV itself safe from any sudden large amount of electricity. The surge protector won’t necessarily conserve power, but in the event that something happens outside of your control, you’ll be in better shape.
This is also true if you are living in your RV. The weather and electrical surges are beyond your control. So use a surge protector or inverter to plug your RV into shore power or a generator.
We have gone over a few scenarios in which you might not want to leave your RV plugged into power, or when your RV doesn’t need electricity. Everyone’s need regarding power are a little different. For the sake of your battery, you might consider unplugging most everything while in storage.
Unplugging can also generally be more economical. Some RV parks can have you pay per usage like the power company, and leaving it plugged in will definitely use more.